• Barry Gerhold

Phoenix Summer Marathon 2017

Phoenix Summer Marathon, 2nd event in the firebird series.

This event is 4 laps of a 6.6 miles course. I have run this route 4 times before and haven’t done too bad, my average time here being 3hrs 36mins, but I wasn’t planning on having that sort of race today. I wanted to run at a comfortable pace, starting off at a heart rate of 150-155bpm, which is approximately 70% of my max and when my body begins to tire, then letting that rise to 160bpm (75%) in the 2nd half of the race.

My mate, Jon Drake was here today too. It’s always a pleasure seeing Jon at these events as he is easy to talk to, runs at a similar pace and is equally happy to let you get on with your own race if needs be. Jon’s plan was to go out and see what he could do; happy to get a sub 4hr but would set out at quicker pace than this.

I set off as planned and as expected, I gradually had runner after runner overtaking me. Jon had already set off at a good pace and slowly went out of sight early on. I managed to hold back any excitement to catch up with these runners and stuck with my own plan. The reason for this plan is that I have signed up for my longest ever Ultra event next year. I will put another post up soon about next year’s goals, but everything I do now will be in preparation for that. I did not want to go out hard today and suffer the consequences of restricting my training over next few days.

Some people do not like lapped events and I can understand why. Seeing the same scenery, time and time again can get a bit monotonous, but this one has many distractions. Firstly, there are the other runners. Taking time out to greet other runners, as they travel in the opposite direction certainly takes your mind off your own race for a second or two. However, every now and again the odd runner ignores you, which I do find quite bizarre, but maybe they are so focused that they have blocked everything else out. Then there are the pedestrians and cyclists. Most will wish you a well done or say, “Morning,” which is so different from running around the roads of Croydon.

The Thames path is quite narrow in places, so you can occasionally get a bit held up, but this does not happen too regularly. Although, what happens more frequently, is a dog without a lead will find its way into my path and nearly trip me over. This seems to happen to me so much. I must give of some sort of dog attracting odour!

Anyway, back to the distractions... All day you’ll find rowing clubs training along the river. The speed these people travel along the water is phenomenal! As well as these sights, the route takes you past a lock and a park, which opens up the space a bit. This is nice, but also means you are exposed to the sun a little more, which wasn’t a major issue today until the last 6 miles.

Photo by: Jon Lavis

Back to the run... As I was trying to keep my heart rate low, I found myself checking my watch quite regularly to ensure I was still within those zones. Most of the time, I was and for the first 13 miles (2 laps) the plan was spot on. These miles seemed to be flying by and the pace did not seem too bad. I had my watch set up to notify me every mile, what my average pace was. I should have turned this off, as I was paying too much interest to it and later on, it sort of took over.

On the stretch back to the start/finish line, miles 10-13.2, I found myself slowly catching a group of four runners. Within a mile or so, I caught up with a chap wearing some pink calf sleeves and coming back into the aid station, at mile 13.2, I found myself beside the remainder of the group. These three runners seemed to be sticking together. Being led by 100 marathon club member, Noel. Noel I have seen at a few different events. He seems to be able to run at a very even pace throughout the events. The two other guys seemed to be running well. One had a white top and the other I noticed had two blisters, one on each foot and both were bleeding. Surely this would cause him a few issues, I thought.

Sitting at the back, I decided to stick with this group and I felt great. The running was very comfortable and I started planning the rest of the race and how I may approach the final lap or so, thinking that I may be able to push hard in the final 5k. I had to remind myself of the plan today and chill out a bit.

The guy in the white top dropped off around the 15 miles mark and both Noel and the chap with the blisters stopped at the aid station (16.5 miles). I did not need to stop so ran ahead, but I ran slowly as I expected them to pass me and that would enable me to sit on at the back a little more… a bit cheeky perhaps. Only Noel passed me though and I stuck about 2-3 metres behind him. This continued for the next

2.5 miles until I bumped into Kat (McVicar). Kat runs at many of the same events that I do (and more) and was running her 103rd marathon today. I congratulated her on joining the 100 marathon club and had a brief chat and then continued in search of Noel. This section towards the start/finish turnaround point, at mile 19.8, I felt my legs beginning to tire.

Into the final lap, miles 19.8 – 26.4, I was certainly feeling quite tired. The pace had dropped off dramatically and in trying to prevent this, I saw that my heart rate sometimes rose to 165. There are several reasons why this might be happening:

  1. Cloud cover had reduced somewhat and I could certainly feel the heat from the sun.

  2. I was possibly becoming a little dehydrated.

  3. It was impossible to run the whole route of my last two events, due to hills etc and I was reduced to walking relatively early on. The last time I ran 20+ miles non-stop was at the 50 miler back in June, so my endurance/stamina has probably taken a hit.

In a usual marathon, this elevated HR would be fine. It is what I usually aim for as an average, but I didn’t want to risk that today, so I decided that if the heart rate did not drop, that I would do some walking sections to try and reset it a bit. I held off walking until the final turnaround point at mile 23.1. I walked along drinking some water, letting my HR drop back down. Once it was around the 140 mark, I would begin running again. I did this for each the final miles, walking for about 200 metres of each. This obviously reduced my average pace a bit and Noel was going further and further into the distance. No chance that I’d catch him.

About a mile from the end, a female runner whom I later had a chat to, flew past me. Kasia was looking very comfortable and I didn’t have any hope of sticking with her. She would finish strong and obtain a PB and her 1st sub 4 hour time. Well done!

I kept up my running after being overtaken by Kasia and finished in a time of 3hrs 57mins. Craig Lovelock was there greeting runners that were finishing. Craig is raising money for St Catherine's hospice by running 136 marathons within a year, which in itself is an amazing effort! Recently, he has run 13 marathons in as many days, has had one day off to try and recuperate and then managed to get a 3hr 37min time today. I really haven’t got a clue how he does it…?

Jon finished in a time of 3:42:02 and had left by the time I finished as he had some pacing duties to take care of on the North Downs Way, where he’d run a further 10 miles on a tough hilly course… Rather him than me.

Fantastic running, everyone! 😊

Photo by: kasia lubowiecka

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