Well this was it. The big training run marathon dress rehearsal. Wear what you plan to wear on the Big Day, sort out your fuelling and re-fuelling strategy. For me it would be the first time running more than 20 miles so a potential big landmark.
As with the main marathons the Cranleigh 15/21 has a 9 AM start. However, contending with not much sleep on Friday night plus the clocks going forward an hour early Sunday morning, it felt like I had only just gone to sleep when the alarm woke me up at 5 AM. I did feel better after having a cup of tea and a light breakfast. 6-6:30 AM consisted of me messaging the people to whom I was giving a lift just to check they were awake and ready for the 7 AM pick up at agreed rendezvous point. Thankfully they were all awake and adjusted to British Summer Time!
I had not been to Cranleigh for years and the journey was straightforward enough. Thanks to us leaving in plenty of time we were probably one of the first to arrive and park in the Cranleigh Leisure Centre Car Park. Enough time to go to the loo, collect the race number, drink water, eat a banana, go to the loo, get a BVR tattoo(!) (even Simon Cooper braved one!), oh, maybe one last visit to the loo?
We ambled over to the start line and were met by some cheery faces including Carrie Webb who was marshalling and carrying a bag containing what looked like every emergency provision. We then lined up, were given some last minute instructions… and then at 9:01 we were off!
My race strategy was to run the first 15 miles at easy pace and then if my legs were up to it, the last 6 at my target marathon pace. It seemed like every other BVR runner shot past me in the first mile and the temptation to go with them was strong. “Resist” I told myself. Then around half a mile in I got chatting to a lovely lady who wanted to run the first half of the race at a similar pace to mine so I had a very pleasant few miles of conversation until she sped on ahead a bit. I felt comfortable with my pace so kept it going through the undulating course (I will be having words with the person in the loo queue who assured us the course was flat!).
The route is a 9 mile loop that takes you out on the lanes and main roads, then back into Cranleigh high street, through the car park and into a 6 mile loop that you do once for 15 miles and twice for the 21 miles. The roads were fairly quiet for the first part of the race although I did see several cyclists whizz pass in the opposite direction looking like they were also part of a race – maybe not the best planning to have a running and cycling event both on the same morning? Anyway, an enjoyable first part of the race.
It was lovely coming into Cranleigh high street at 9 miles and a small crowd cheering me on and then through the leisure centre car park (thank goodness it was well marshalled as by that point I had lost sight of the runners ahead of me!) and then into the 6 mile loop. I was refuelling around this stage which was good (wish I had refuelled again properly a bit later on in the race!) so still felt strong going into the first 6-mile loop with various fast runners whizzing past on their final 6 mile leg (scary how fast some of them run even after so many miles!). I felt good even going up a few hills (definitely not a flat course!) and coming into the end of the first 6 mile loop was met by a small crowd including some BVR support and Dave Porter taking various paparazzi shots. I gave a thumbs up. It was going well. I still felt strong. Time to quicken the pace!
So quicken the pace I did as I started the final 6 mile loop and I felt good. I was doing it! Race plan unfolding well. 16, 17 and 18 miles (sip of water and Lucozade). So pleased with how the race was going! But uh oh, what about the re-fuelling? Well truth be told I feeling so chuffed with myself for doing so well with the pace I completely forgot to take another bite of peanut butter sandwich (and should have taken a second gel with me… lesson learnt!) and was starting to run on empty. I got to 19 miles, still felt good whoop whoop, in the 20th mile..oooh starting to feel it a bit now but hey, the furthest I had ever run… !Then I am not sure how much of this was in my mind but I passed the 20 mile marker and it literally felt like I had run out of petrol. Suddenly my legs felt like they were starting to seize up, I was aching and my knees and feet were hurting. I stopped briefly to walk for a few seconds and I then I had to talk to myself out loud to convince my legs to start running and keep running. I was literally counting down the tenths of that final mile. I stopped to walk again and thought no, not a good idea and again, the talking out loud to myself to force myself to start running again. Yes, nearly there, I could see a small crowd on the main road, the countdown to the finish. A turn left into the field and the finish line beckoned like an oasis in the desert upon which I summoned every ounce of strength and somehow stumbled across to the support of some of the BVR gang who had kindly waited to see me finish (some of them had an ulterior motive as I was giving them a lift home!)
I think I rambled a bit at the finish, took my medal, and grabbed a cup of squash, high-fives and hugs: I had done it and almost within my target time! How I managed to walk back to the car I will never know but somehow managed it and the drive back home. I think the feeling was one of relief and also elation; maybe a little deflated the wheels came off in the final mile and I did not keep the quicker pace going to the end but lesson learnt; these practice runs are the place for making the mistakes and hopefully on marathon day I will get it all right!
Overall Carleigh 15/21 is a worthwhile race and a great long training run ahead of a spring marathon or even just as a standalone event. It was great to see some familiar faces out on the course, John Hogg (it felt like I saw him several times or was I hallucinating?) I did not notice Carrie Webb at the end but I know she did a great job volunteering, lots of other people offering support. The course is certainly not flat and a lot is run on main roads that are not closed so had to be a little aware of the traffic especially later on in the race when the roads were getting busier. I suppose the difference between today’s race and the marathon (apart from the latter being a mere 5.2 miles longer!) is that there will be much more of a crowd support and I will have learnt something from today’s race and hopefully made any mistakes today rather than on marathon day. So feeling quietly confident that I can now actually make it round 26.2 miles, one last 15 mile run and then to start tapering and carb loading ready for the big day itself!
Thanks to Suzanne Anderson for the Race review