Seville Marathon

|||Seville Marathon

I crossed the line just outside two hours and 10-minutes, just under 90-seconds inside the Olympic Marathon Qualifying time and close to a two and a half minute personal best. I’d done what I needed to do.

After Berlin Marathon in September I sat down with my coach and manager and devised a plan to qualify the Olympic Games, my ultimate goal within the sport and indeed life. In the perfect world I would of ran inside 2:11:30 at Berlin however as we all know running is very rarely the perfect world. This would of given me a slim chance of automatic qualification but with Callum Hawkins finishing a fantastic fourth in the World Champs the following week this would have been a very slim chance indeed.

London is the traditional trial for major championships within the UK. Having run London for the past three years I know full well the pitfalls of the race. Incredible event that it is, the weather is often unpredictable and I’ve yet to really run well there, my best being a 2:13:30 last year. For an elite British athlete there is a lot of media attention on the race, my personal sponsors New Balance also sponsor the race and as a result I often have several media responsibilities before the race. I totally understand this, it’s part of the sport, it helps it grow and justifies sponsorships & appearance fees, however we decided to avoid the ‘circus’ of London for one year and focus solely on running the time. We discussed a few races but eventually decided on Seville Marathon in February. This gave me enough time to recover and build up to the race. Eight marathons in, I probably don’t need as long to build up as if it was one of my first marathons and so I was happy with the plan, if a little nervous given the top two Brits at London would qualify for the Olympics in Tokyo, providing they finished inside the qualifying time of 2:11:30. If you take Mo Farah out of the equation, it’s been a number of years since two Brits ran inside this time. London is a very good marathon, but it’s not the fastest, especially taking into account the factors above.

In my coach Steve Vernon and my manager Jurrie van der Weldon I trusted their advice and opinions. For Jurrie, it meant forgoing any appearance money he would earn a percentage of at London to run Seville. This for me is another reason why I trust him with my career and value his advice. It would have been the easy decision for him to suggest running London with British athletes earning excellent appearance fee’s and in a bid to support British athletes wonderful prize and bonus structures. In comparison Jurrie had to negotiate meals at the athlete hotel to enable me to run never mind any type of appearance fee in Seville. I didn’t mind, as I wanted to run wherever gave me the best chance to qualify for Tokyo.

We put a few feelers out and quickly word spread that there was going to be a very strong group of like-minded runners running Seville; athletes in a similar position to myself desperately looking for the qualifying time. Along with Malcolm Hicks of New Zeeland we encouraged other runners to consider Seville and over time the group chasing the magical 2:11:30 barrier grew. As did my confidence that we’d made the right call.

I spent four weeks of my build up in Albuquerque, New Mexico training with my teammates at Team New Balance Manchester. We travelled out just after Christmas so it was sad to leave my wife and cut short one of my favourite times of the year, but this is what being a professional athlete is about. It may look glamorous and indeed it is lovely getting to travel around the world but I do miss home when I’m away, especially since our new arrival a black Labrador named Buncus! He is now 6-months old at the time of writing this and such a character!

Back to training things were ticking along nicely, I paced Valencia Marathon in December helping a good friend Andy Davies to a British V40 record and this seemed to bring me on too after a few below par weeks not feeling 100%. I raced Stockport 10 just before Christmas and this was another sign things were going well running a decent time on an undulating course.

Once we arrived in Albuquerque the real meat of the training started logging big miles and starting to run some real specific marathon sessions. After traveling with a cold I took a few easy days to adapt before Steve through me in at the deep end with a 16-mile steady state run, he meant business! We knew we had to push harder if we were going to make the next step up. I could run 2:12 having done it twice already but we needed to push the boundaries if we were going to make a bigger improvement.

Mid way through camp I was knackered, starting to have doubts that I’d over cooked things, but we adjusted a few things and after dropping out of a session of 15x1km I was pleased to finish camp with an excellent session of 7x3km with 1km float, by far the fastest I’d ran anything like this before. ABQ was a big success and I went home excited and confident, looking forward to seeing the puppy who’d grown so much by the time I got back after a month away!

I ran the Alsager 5-miles after a 10-mile tempo recording a time of 23:52 a big confidence boost that things were going to plan. All I needed to do now was make the start line healthy and in one piece, which is easier said than done sometimes! But after a few niggles and a bit of a cold 10-days out I arrived in Seville to be greeted by glorious sunshine a welcome break after the past two weeks of training battling Storm Ciara and Dennis.

The race started early to beat the heat and it was near enough perfect on race day. There was a slight breeze but I honestly think this helped rather than hindered as it helped keep the temperature down. The course is very compact so means it’s great for spectators, with Steve, Sophie and my Mum all traveling to watch. The group was bigger than we expected and it was nice to tick off the early miles stress free.

seville marathon

Normally in a race groups dwindle, but there’s something about an Olympic year that just seems to raise the game for everyone and by half way there was still close to 30 of us all running together, which is just incredible. By 28k I was running through a rough patch and didn’t know what to think, my mind wandered thinking well maybe I can just go to London and drop out now, but I stuck to the process and reminded myself to stay in the moment and focused on working through the rough few km. By 32km I felt great, the pacemaker had now dropped out and I was one of a few athletes pushing the pace at the front of the group, which was now down to ‘just’ 20 or so runners. We ran through the very scenic old town around Plaza de Espana and passed the 40k mark. I knew now that we were well on schedule. I didn’t know that I was close to running sub 2:10 though. Had I known here who knows if I would have been able to find an extra few seconds…

Either way I was delighted to cross the line in a big new personal best and we all shared the moment together with a lot of man hugs celebrating our qualifying times. For me I couldn’t get too carried away as I still knew that qualification wasn’t in my hands. I still had to wait until London to see how my main rivals and competitors got on. If two athletes run 2:11:25 that would be enough to seal their qualification alongside Callum Hawkins.

For me I had ran a big PB, 18thfastest ever in the UK but still 2ndon the Liverpool Harriers club rankings behind a certain Boston Marathon winner Geoff Smith. Ah well.