Last year wasn’t a great running year for me, having been injured for most of the year and missing several races. So when my sister posted something about this race I decided to register as we hadn’t been back to England for 4 years. I started getting shock wave treatments for my Insertional Achilles Tendinopathy but after 6 sessions it hadn’t really done anything and now it was too late to have the operation and recover in time for the race in April. So early December I decided it was time to train for it, not knowing if I would rupture my Achilles in trying or what else could go wrong. My first few runs hurt and I would have to take a couple of days off as my heel was objecting but I kept at it and eventually it started cooperating. I bought a pair of Sauchony Endorphin Pro 2’s on sale as they have no heel counter and the back was soft to minimize rubbing on my heel and it appeared to be working. They’re more of a racing shoe rather than training but I had no option. In fact I loved them so much that after my second run I bought another pair and the week after another pair.
So now I was able to run I started to hit the bridges again for my training, the Belleair Bridge is a 75 feet climb and 0.75 miles from side to side, which I would eventually run over almost 200 times in the next 3 months leading up to the race. I took Monday and Friday’s off and ran back to back long runs Saturday and Sunday building up the distance a little until I hit about 50 miles a week and every 4th week a scaled back. I didn’t run on the beach due to the angle as I didn’t want to aggravate my hip at all and also didn’t enter any races as I didn’t want to risk injury as I focused on my A race for the year. In addition I would try to do some hip strengthening exercises 4 times a week along with some foam rolling, in addition to daily squats, Bulgarian split squats and lifting a set of 15lb bar bells daily along with alternating standing and sitting at my work desk. I never really pushed my training hard, I just ran how my body felt that day and most of my training was fasted with no water. If I can run well with little to no carbs or anything, my theory is come race day I can run better taking regular, but not too much, nutrition.
The only speed work of any kind was on my Tuesday night run with David & Brian, we would do a gentle progression run with the last 2 miles in the mid to low 7 minutes, and on Wednesday I would try to run a couple of miles just sub 7. I knew I could go the distance as I had ran 27.5 miles one day running over the bridge 37 times, but didn’t have any long distance runs at or near my marathon goal pace. I didn’t want to risk injury by running far at a faster pace so just kept everything easy, hoping consistency would get me over the finish line on race day. My goal was to run a sub 3:30 marathon which I thought I could do, but my “A Goal” was 3:20, which is a 7:38 minute/mile pace. Fitness wise I thought I could do it, but wasn’t sure how my heel or hip would hold up to it, but I decided to go for it rather than run an 8 minute pace for 3:30. Last year I tried a similar strategy at Big Sur only for my hip to start complaining at mile 13 and eventually at mile 17 I had to pretty much just walk to the finish. I knew my family would be watching me so it meant a lot for me to have a good race and I had done everything I could in preparation for it. I knew my marathon was either 3:17 or 3:19 but didn’t check as I didn’t think I could beat it.
Flight prices were ridiculous, most around $3K for the 2 of us and that usually included a stop which usually adds considerable time. So after much research I found a flight on Aer Lingus for about $1,600, with a stop in Dublin on the way over and direct flight to Orlando from Manchester on the way back, about 2 ½ hour drive from home. As we hadn’t been to Dublin before I decided we would break the trip and spend the first 2 days there before heading over to Manchester. Normally I try to fly to the race about 2 days before so I can allow time for any delays, race and then enjoy my vacation without worrying about what I’m eating or drinking, normally I don’t drink for 5 days before a big race. However that would have cost another $1,000 so we left on Friday 8th, 9 days before the race. So the weeks leading up to the race I tried to get my weight down to my goal race weight of 147 pounds (Dad’s maximum snooker break) as I knew I would probably put on a few pounds once we left. When we left for the trip I weighed in at 146 so everything was on target. I wore my compression socks on the flight and stood up a couple of times and stretched my calves for about 10 minutes to avoid the tight muscles I normally get.
We arrived in Dublin Saturday morning around 9:30 having practically no sleep on the plane and we got an Uber to the hotel so we could drop our bags off before doing some sight seeing. When we got to the desk they said there was a room ready so we were able to take our bags upstairs before we head off. Within a couple of minutes the phone went, the front desk was asking if our room was fine which I said yes. A couple of minutes later while Judy was cleaning her teeth there was a knock on the door, I’m thinking “what do they want now, they just called me”. I opened the door and was shocked to see 2 of my sisters and their husbands outside, my immediate thought was well there goes a quiet weekend and it will now be more eating and drinking than I had planned. I underestimated how much more drinking there would be with Saturday being mainly bar hoping during the day and a nice dinner in the evening with no sleep to try to catch up on the jet lag. Sunday was another boozy day including a trip to the Jameson Whiskey Factory and several more Guinness pints, but we were having a great time so just went with the flow. It was the perfect start to a vacation, but maybe not so much for a racecation.
Unfortunately the rest of the week would pan out to be very similar. Monday we flew to Manchester and were staying on the south side with Judy’s family, starting off with a party for her nieces 18th birthday. Tuesday was a little quieter but still had cocktails and wine. Wednesday we went to Liverpool to stay with Judy’s best friend from school, more cocktails, wine and beer. Each day I was getting up and having to go for a run. I had only planned to run 2, maybe 3 times leading up the race but each day ran 4-6 miles to run off some of the food and drinks from the night before. Back to Judy’s side on Thursday and out for dinner and more drinks before heading to my sisters on Friday. They picked us up and we went out for lunch before heading to her house where we were supposed to be going out for dinner with the other sister that visited us in Dublin. Around 4:30pm a white pig roast truck pulled up on the drive and started setting up outside. Sheryl had surprised me again this time setting up a party with about 60 guests including Judy’s family. By this time I said to Judy “Family’s more important than a race, if I’m 10 minutes slower so be it”. We had a great time and retired to bed while the party was still going on. I woke up Saturday morning with a slight hangover and went for another run to clear my head.
We had to go into Manchester to pick up my race packet and bib, they had put me in a slower pace group than I requested, 3:50 rather than 3:30. So I asked at the desk and they switched me to Red B which was 3:30 but I knew that would be tough to get 3:20 with 28,000 runners trying to get past a wave ahead of me. They had pace groups for 3:15 and 3:30 and my original plan was to start somewhere in between these. We went for a walk in the country later before going to my nephews house for a BBQ of my pre-race favorite Rib-Eye Steak and Sweet Potato. During the BBQ Jen said to David about running part of the race, they had paid for the marathon but about 4 weeks earlier both had decided to drop out to lack of training. They agreed they would come down, see me off and then join their coral and run the first 10K. By the time we had got home Jen was already regretting that and thinking about not running or at most just 5K. I didn’t drink that day to try to prepare myself as best as I could and went to bed around 10pm. However it took me forever to get to sleep as Judy was snoring, she had been drinking. I didn’t sleep well for a couple of days before also for the same reason. Eventually I did get to sleep but as usual when I set my alarm, I wake up every hour worried I may oversleep. The good news was that the race didn’t start until 9am for the elites and my wave would leave at 9:30, unlike the 6am start that’s customary in the US. I had a granola bar and a banana before we left the house and headed to the race start.
We parked the car about a mile away from the start and made our way, passing Old Trafford, home of Manchester United, my favorite soccer/football club and a couple of miles away from where I was born. We weren’t quite sure where the start was and could see the elite and White A & B wave’s at the start line, we asked a volunteer and he said Red A would be coming up soon and then Red B, so we decided to just wait there for them to come. When the next group came I heard someone say it was both Red A & B so I joined them and waited, about 10 minutes Red B came up and waited on another side road but I decided to stay in this group. I looked around to try to find the pacers but couldn’t see any flags, so I just kept a few rows back from front of that group. Judy, my sister and her husband and about 6 others from the family split up so they could see me down from the start. The weather was 50 degrees and overcast with a slight chance of light rain during the race, pretty much perfect race conditions. I felt relaxed, maybe not peak condition but my training had gone well so I was going to give it my best.
Eventually the gun went off and the elites ran off and about 15 minutes later it was time for my coral. We went out and I stayed to the right as I knew most of the group had gone down that side of the road. About 200 yards down the road I saw Judy and my sister and further down the others cheering me on. It was very tight with a lot of runners in the group so I just fitted in with the group. I looked at my watch about ½ mile in and we were running a 6:45 pace, crap I thought, this was way to fast but it’s the same at any race and they’ll settle into a nice pace soon. My mile beep went off and I looked at my watch, 6:55, I knew I needed to slow down and I tried to adjust a little. Another mile and I looked, 6:48, this was way too fast, it’s a marathon not a 5K, again I tried to slow down a little. The third mile was pretty much the same, 1 second quicker. I was actually breathing okay, didn’t feel like I was hurting but knew this was way quicker than I could run and I would blow up, perhaps sooner rather than later. I hit the 10K mark at 42:30, I time I would be happy with in a 10K race so what was I doing running this in a marathon. I didn’t panic, I still felt okay and just kept running in the group. The aid stations were 3 miles apart, they had bottles of water only and gels at 4 of the aid stations, I had a couple on me so decided to take one now. I don’t usually take one that early in the race but at that speed I thought it could only help me.
The next 5K went by just as quickly, now I’m starting to think about a PR, if I could just hold on for another 3 miles or so, then even if I start to slow down I had a chance of a sub 3:20. To my surprise miles 9-12 were all in the low 6:50’s and I eventually hit the Half Marathon mark at 1:28:30, which I think would be about my second fastest half. I had no idea what I was doing, I hadn’t trained for this pace and my final week preparation didn’t support this but I kept going. The race had been mostly very flat up to this point and now we were on a long stretch out before turning back. I had seen my supporters at various places along the race which always helps. Mile 16 saw the biggest inclines but still very manageable, so I slowed down a little not to increase my heart rate, which I hadn’t looked at and this was the first mile over 7 minutes at 7:03. The next mile was pretty much the same with 2 small climbs and the same mile time, I still felt strong and kept going.
About 0.2 of a mile down the road, as my right leg extended behind and started to come forward, the runner behind me clipped my foot and I went down hard, landing on my left hand and then on my left side with buts on my knee, hip, hand, elbow and shoulder. Whoever clipped me didn’t even say sorry or stop, I don’t even know if they were male or female. Then I had runners jumping over me before shouts of “runner down” and people started swerving around me allowing me to get up and start moving again. I pretty much suspected I had broken my hand immediately with the pain in my hand. I could feel my hip a little which prior to this point had been silent, as had my heel. I knew I was on target for a massive PR so at this point I wasn’t going to give in, I was going to give everything to continue as best as I could and get this PR. I thought back to Big Sur the year before when I had to walk due to my hip at mile 17, but this time I wasn’t going to stop. As I got back into my stride I noticed a pace group just ahead of me, while I was down the 3 hour pace group passed me, what the hell, how was I front of this group.
The aid stations were on the left side of the road so grabbing a water and opening it became harder, as did opening a gel. I was running keeping my left arm at my side rather than it running in stride to my right leg. The next 3 miles still went pretty well around a 7:10 pace but I could feel it was getting harder. I couldn’t keep in touch with the 3 hour pace group and was now aiming to see if I could finish with a sub 3:05. With just 10K to go I now had to dig really deep, I was hurting and struggling but I wasn’t going to let it beat me. I fought as I hard as I could, it felt like I was running slow but I was still running around 7:40, I knew I couldn’t let it slip to an 8 minute pace so I kept a closer eye on my watch and kept pushing hard. The course was running a little long with my watch about 0.2 of a mile more than the mile markers, when you’re struggling you’re fighting every inch of the course. I knew a sub 3:05 had gone by but it was still going to be a great PR and way faster than I could have imagined.
As I passed the 26 mile mark I picked up my pace for the final push, and on the right side I saw Judy and Jen, Jen handed me a USA flag but I wasn’t able to hold it high due to my hand so just draped it over my shoulder. Later they said it was odd I didn’t run in with it but they didn’t know about my injury. I crossed the finish line in 3 hours, 6 minutes and 25 seconds, a massive 13 minute PR, 10 years since my PR and 13 years since my hip replacement, at the age of 63 still getting faster. As I walked through the village, my hip felt great. Normally after a race my hip is screaming at me and I can hardly walk, also my Insertional Achilles Tendinopathy hadn’t bothered me at all during the race. The Sauchony’s had done their job, light, cushioned, soft and amazingly fast. I didn’t know where I was going to meet them so I just sat down on the ground. Eventually Jen found me and later Judy and Sheryl. By this time my body couldn’t keep warm and I was shivering and went to the medical tent to get some pain killers. I kind volunteer gave me his warm jacket while I waited. Eventually I got Sheryl to drive us home as I couldn’t warm up.
Jen and Andrew had run together for the first 10K and then Jen told Andrew to go ahead, Jen ran another 3K to run 13K. Andrew as around 25K when we were driving home so rather than going to the ER that day I told Sheryl to drop us off so she could go back and watch Andrew potentially finish his first marathon. He had slowed down considerably and so Jen and a few others jumped on a tram to meet him at the 32K mark and Jen was going to run the last 10K with him. She took off her timing chip so it wouldn’t count for her and they ran together to the finish line. Andrew had ran a full marathon and Jen 23K, more than half a marathon, on very little training and only deciding to run the day before, amazing what the human body is able to accomplish when you push your mind to overcome what your body what telling you.
The following day I did go to the ER and they confirmed I had a fracture of my scaphoid and they put it into a cast for my return trip home. 2 days later I was running again in a cast from my elbow to the top of my thumb, not the easiest but at least I can keep my fitness level somewhat decent. I was lucky, my first few runs my knee was very stiff, my hamstring felt like I had a slight pull in it and my hip was bruised and sore, very painful to lie on. The race outcome could have been very different, perhaps my endorphins from the race set aside these issues allowing me to finish, maybe it was the pain from my hand dulled the other aches, whatever it was I’m so grateful to have finished the race in a great time. My first race outside the US, in front of my family, was the perfect finish to an amazing vacation, one of our best ever. There was no cost visiting the UK ER system, but a follow up visit in the US to have X-rays and a new waterproof cast stung me with a bill over $1,250. Was it worth it, yes I would do it again tomorrow, exactly the same, no changes.
I had a massage the following weekend which sorted out my knee and hamstring and my hip is slowly feeling better. My heel has started to hurt a little more every day, but I’ve ran 12 out of the 13 days since returning home including running a 19:42 5K race, my first 5K in 4 years. This last week I ran 45 miles with my cast which will probably be with me for the next 8 weeks or so. Oh well, always look on the bright side, I’m running, I had an amazing vacation with family and an awesome marathon race, one I will never forget.