Sunday, 8 May 2011

The hills of Antrim - Belfast marathon 2011

Somewhere near the end, evidenced by the single gel, empty bottle and general countenance of someone who's had a rough day!

The location of our hotel was ideal in relation to the marathon start on Donegall place outside the city hall. Following a five minute walk I was at the start line and near the front. Following a brief chat with a fellow Fetchie; see for more on that, we were off on time.
My strategy was to go out at 06:40 mile split pace, and following completion of the hills just after halfway, to increase the pace and aim for sub 02:55 if I was still feeling strong.

The first six miles were largely according to plan with splits of 06:41, 06:38, 06:46, 06:40, 06:41, 06:43. We had headed east away from the city and then turned west back into the city past the airport and moved west away from the city centre whereupon the hills began. Miles seven, eight and nine elapsed in 06:41, 0649 and 06:45. By now we had passed the infamous Shankill and Falls road areas of west Belfast. The hills were also tougher than I had anticipated; none were especially steep but were relentless and did have the occasional steeper section.

Miles ten, eleven and twelve passed in 06:58, 06:42 and 06:59. I was now longing for the end of the hills and was struggling to make pace a little without the heart rate going into the 170s. Going up the Antrim road with Cavehill off to our left I could smell the end of the hills. Here I encountered what I do so often on my training runs; an idiotic cyclist. He was acting as support for a runner but he was not exactly the most deft of individuals when it came to handing materials to the runner and broke and swerved all over the place. He did this trick just as a runner tried to go past him, causing the runner to take evasive action and pull up, which halfway into a marathon is not ideal!

For another quarter mile I stayed behind him but slowly closed and had seen him get in people's way during this time. I resolved that I would not deal with this nonsense and so as I closed to within a couple of yards let out a bellow of 'get off the f*cking course!!' as loud as my lungs would allow. This had the desired effect as he radically veered off to the right. A mile later and we had passed the halfway mark in 01:29:10; not great but the hills ended in another mile.
As we turned right shortly after fourteen miles we had come to the top of the hills, seven miles of them! Here you saw how high we were when you looked east out across the entire city with Belfast lough to the left and Stangford lough and the Irish sea easily within view a little to my right.

Here you begin a steep descent, giving away all the elevation gain of the previous seven miles in less than two miles. At the bottom of I was not feeling at all confident about staying on sub three pace and my legs felt like they did at the beginning of the Newton hills in Boston last year. Accordingly the mile split went north, miles eighteen, nineteen and twenty in 07:03, 07:17, 07:22 respectively. Now I was done! We were now off to the left of the M2 motorway and then moved onto a rather nice cycle pathway but the wind was an additional obstacle now. By now I had slowed significantly towards eight minute miles. However, my heart, lungs and head felt good and the HR dropped into the 150s. Additionally, I was now talking away to other runners, including some who I had briefly chatted to earlier in the race. Talking is not something I can normally do at this stage in a marathon!

In the final three miles the legs continued to tighten and the pace slowed. Mile twenty-five involved a brief left hand turn into Ormeau park, where the race would ultimately end, then back onto Ormeau road, which was a hill I was not expecting. Finally the last mile down Ravenhill road took us back into the northside of Ormeau park and through the finishing suit in 03:11:06.

I was not exactly happy with this time to say the least but I was sanguine about the whole thing, knowing that I can and will do better. However, I knew exactly why I was not prepared in this race and will need to do consistent core and strengthening work to improve my running economy and enhance my endurance. To use a motoring analogy, I have a powerful engine but one of a 4X4 and not a Toyota Prius, and the chassis of a Cold War Lada.

Some brief comments on the race generally; it was very well organised, especially considering it had 16,000 relay participants. This was handled by primarily having the relay runners go off to the right down a changover chute thereby avoiding congestion with the marathon runners and it was also a nice way to include crowd support along the way. The medal was quite a nice one.


ElmerM said...

Hard luck my man. Enjoy the recovery and come back stronger for the experience. You did last time!

Westley said...

Thanks Elmer. I hope your own recovery is going well.

Thomas said...

I did that marathon several years ago. The course has changed, but it still looks reasonably similar, according to that map.

I don't remember any hills, though!

What I do remember is the wind and the fact that my legs started cramping before the halfway mark(!!). It's still my personal worst and will probably remain so for some considerable time.

Better luck next time!