MBNA Chester Marathon

Today was the big one that I've been working towards for several months.  The build up has not been without its mishaps; mainly an injury I sustained to the back of my knee a couple of months ago resulting in my weekly mileage actually being less than in the run up to the Greater Manchester Marathon.  On the back of Manchester I was selected to represent England in the V35-39 category at Chester in a match against the Celtic nations so the race was a step up in importance to me.  Before the race I was hoping for sub 2.26 (2.27.59 PB), maybe even sub 2.25 if everything fell into place.  The plan was to play to my strengths and go through half way in 73 mins, and try to increase the pace in the second half.  Easier said than done, but I also gave myself a get out clause that if I started to get into the mix then I would then focus on my race position rather than time - there is no point in just going purely for time if the race conditions dictate different tactics.  That said, I never really considered that I would be anywhere near the front, it was more a case of thinking that I had a good chance of getting some prize money for being in the top 10.  Deep down I thought maybe 3rd could be possible, but more likely to be 4th - 8th as on paper I knew there were at least 4 runners entered with faster times than me.

Proudly wearing my England kit just before the start.

Following the usual pre-race preparations I did a few quick stretches and off we went.  I consciously tried to not get carried away and settled into the leading group.  There were a couple of small but sharp inclines early on and each time we came across one I would suddenly find myself at the front of the group before falling back a bit on the flat.  I went through the first km in 3.25 which was more or less bang on target pace.  Over the course of the next couple of km the large group of 10 started to break into two and I was in the front group of 3.  However, the two others I was with eventually drifted away and I dropped back to the second group.  The weird thing was that every time we got to an incline I would get ahead of the group I was with and catch the leading pair.  Eventually though the leaders moved away again and that was that.  Soon after I was joined by another runner and we started to run together for a few miles.  There was a group about 20 metres back and they were always in touching distance so I never felt that 3rd / 4th position was safe.

A couple of km in.  Safely in the leading pack.

Up to about 8 miles it was more of the same.  To be honest I wasn't feeling great at all really and it felt like too much effort to achieve my target of 73 minutes at half way.  At about 5 miles the other runner I was with moved ahead by about 20 metres and I could hear chatter from a group of 5 runners behind me.  It had all of the hallmarks of a race that was not meant to be - too many km splits that were off pace, not by much but it all added up.  I soon managed to catch the runner just ahead and from this point on it was me doing all of the work (as usual!).

Not a great photo but shows the leaders pulling away early on with me and 4th place in the distance.

From mile 8 to half way, the leaders had pulled even further away and eventually had a lead of about 70 seconds.  I was starting to feel a little better and just tried to keep a reasonably even pace and run my own race.  The group that wasn't all that far back a few miles earlier had started to drift behind as I could no longer hear them.  I got to half way in about 73.15, just off my target pace which was a little disappointing but considering how I felt earlier on it could have been much much worse.

The plan now was to hold fire and try and do a few more miles of the same and then see whether there was anything left in the tank though it really didn't bode well.  Aerobically I felt good but the legs just felt lethargic.  That said, as soon as we passed half way the runner I was with started to fall back.  Ok great, now I'm 3rd so in an instant I half decided to push on a bit and try to make my place stick.  I had the benefit of a lead cyclist going with me (as I was in 3rd) and he was actually telling me how far I was pulling away so never needed to look behind!  That said, the leaders were by now so far away I could only see them on the straight roads and it was going to be a big ask to reel them in.  Bit by bit though I sensed that the gap was not getting bigger, if anything it was starting to close a little.

As I pushed on my watch splits were starting to get faster and faster.  Gone were the 3.27min/km average splits and I was now going about 3.21 and at one point even did a 3.13min/km.  Somehow I was now in a groove and flying!  To be honest the splits also scared me as it was way too fast but I kind of just went with it.  Soon enough 4th place who I had dropped was no longer in sight and the gap to first and second was closing so rapidly that by 28km I had caught 2nd and the leader was only a further 10 seconds up the road.  I decided to now go into race mode and run alongside him for a bit but at this point the pace differential was so great that it didn't make sense to hold back.  About 500 metres later I caught the leader who must have wondered where I had come from!  Now I was jointly in the lead I decided to let the race conditions dictate the pace, but again I felt good and wasn't comfortable with the much slower pace he was running at.  I therefore took the lead and pulled along the other runner with me before he started to fall away.  I was now the genuine leader of the race!  I should mention the cyclist who had been just ahead of me for a while.  I could tell he was secretly gunning for me, as I think he was taking a lot of pleasure overtaking the other two cyclists and it was fun for him to see how the race was developing.  Every now and then right to the finish he would give me an update of what hills were ahead and the gap behind.

Pushing on in the lead.

In the groove.

I kept pushing on but by 32k I was starting to feel it.  This was hardly surprising as between 22-32km I was effectively running at 10k PB pace at times and the rest of the time I was around HM PB.  I knew the gap behind me was now pretty substantial and I really didn't want to throw things away.  This was MY opportunity to WIN and I didn't want to throw it all away.

Between 32-35k I could no longer sustain my earlier pace and I was now starting to feel really uncomfortable.  Gone were the 3.15-3.25km splits and I was now back onto my early race pace of 3.24, 3.27 and 3.26km.  Ok, far from a disaster but I sensed that I was having to put far more energy in just to keep going at a decent lick.  At 7km to go I was starting to feel like the wall was coming - a 3.34 followed by a 3.36.  I knew these two splits would not be enough to lose the race, but my pace was ebbing away.  Keep going!

I managed to steady the ship at KM 38 & 39 by doing 3.31 and 3.33 but by now I was desperately asking the lead cyclist whether he could see anyone behind me.  Mentally I was gone, my legs were really feeling like lead and I just felt like I was constantly just a few strides away from having to jog.  It was not helped at all by having to tackle a number of short and sharp climbs which just added to the suffering.

Like this pic - arty suffering!

...yet this pic around the same place better reflects how I was really feeling!

At KM 40 I was told it was the last serious climb and when I saw what I had to tackle I began to think whether I could even get my legs up the hill.  Eventually I was over the top and did the km in 3.50 which was pretty shocking but in fairness the climb probably accounted for a good 10-15 seconds.  It was now just a case of getting to the finish and at this point I just mentally ticked off every 100 metres.  With about a mile to go I had a quick look back and still could not see any one which meant my lead was at least 45 seconds.  Only at this point did I know the race was mine.  It was then just a case of entering Chester Racecourse and completing the last 500 metres on a very boggy field which just sapped my strength even more.  Even though I was so tired it was great to hear all of the cheering for me and it was just a case of raising my arms as I went through the tape (being a new experience I just did what I thought all winners do!).


It turned out I won by about 1 min 20 seconds overall with 3rd place another 40 seconds behind, so actually a bit more comfortable than I thought.  It turns out that the person who I overtook to take the lead ended up blowing up pretty spectacularly and came home in 2.46.


The splits in the table below show how the race developed and where I did some damage to the other competitors.  Whilst the last 10km doesn't show me blowing up at all, it was very much a case of two halves with the earlier 5k at a good pace before rapidly falling away.

The table shows my splits relative to the others.  It was clear that I was losing ground towards the end - about a minute in the last 12k, but by that point my lead was so large that it didn't make enough of a difference.  I could have probably found a bit of extra time as well had I really needed to defend.

KM Splits - Spot the injection of pace and the subsequent decline!

The table below breaks my splits down into 5km chunks.  Some pretty good pace going on there, albeit with a fairly poor last 5km.  Technically I did a negative split too, so perhaps I'm overplaying how much my pace fell away at the end.  I think that whilst I achieved the holy grail of getting the negative split, the way in which I achieved it was probably a bit unorthodox!

Overall, it goes without saying I am ecstatic with the end result.  Never in my wildest dreams did I seriously think I would win a pretty big UK marathon (I reckon its in the top 10 of UK marathons).  If I'm honest my time was a little on the disappointing side, but that is just a side show - the course was nowhere near as flat as I though it was going to be (probably accounts for a minute), plus whilst my pace dropped away by another minute towards the end of the race this is easily rectifiable and was simply caused by lack of long runs due to my injury.  Finally, had I really had to defend I'm pretty sure I could have found some further time if I needed to, but I didn't need to defend so just switched off in the last couple of miles.

The big question is was my tactic of pushing on between 22-35k the right thing to do?  Even with the benefit of hindsight I think the answer was yes.  I could have held back and stayed with the then leader, but as it turned out he completely hit the wall.  It would have then been much easier for the runners behind to have closed the gap or at least be in touching distance by which point it would have been a very different race.  I would like to have thought I would have still been on for the win in any case, but it made sense at the time to try and make the decisive move when I did even if deep down I probably knew I was going to be hanging on at the end.

I did it! (I also needed help getting back off the chair...)

Next to the title sponsor.

Bottle of champagne (plus a cheque for £1,000)

In addition to the prizes I also got a further medal for being first V35 in the England vs Celtic Nations match.  Soooo, where do I go next from here?  Well whilst London Marathon does not have the same draw for me as it does for other people, realistically I think all paths lead to London next April.  In the meantime my immediate priority is to have some downtime and perhaps do a few shorter enjoyable races between now and the New Year.

As I write this its now been a little over 24 hours since winning the race and I'm still on a high.  I think I'm now a bit more on peoples radar as a number of people with great marathon pedigree have added me on Strava.  I think until now I've just floated in the background and people have been wondering who on earth I am!

No doubt the best running day ever and one I will remember for a long time to come.


  1. Fantastic achievement Lloyd - really well done. An interesting read too.

  2. Congratulations a worthy winner and a great read too


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