Seville Marathon. The one that went really shit.

It was a case of deja vu when we arrived in Seville for the marathon, but things were very different to 12 months ago when we’d made the same trip. I was meant to run Seville marathon in 2017 and my training had been on track to achieve my 3:15 goal, but a few weeks before race day, I started missing targets in sessions and my running began going backwards. I didn’t know why at the time (when things got worse I had blood tests which diagnosed me as iron deficient and anaemic), but what I did know, was that there was absolutely no way I could run a marathon anywhere close to the pace I’d been training for, so after lots of tears I made the decision to DNS Seville and just went over to support Tom.

In contrast, I arrived in Seville this year with a big smile on my face. Training had gone like an absolute dream; I’d had a bit of down-time after Patagonia, and then Ian increased volume and intensity gradually though December, so by the start of January, I was ready for 8 weeks of hard marathon training. Whilst my mileage wasn’t massively high compared to some marathon runners (averaging about 65 miles a week), there was a lot of quality mileage, alongside plenty of easy running. And the outcome of it was I felt in absolutely brilliant shape.

Typical Ian Sharman long marathon training run

The other main difference this year was that I focused 100% on the marathon. In the past (and one of my biggest failings as a runner) I’ve tried to do EVERYTHING at once. So when I’ve trained for a road marathon in the past, I’ve become fixated on trying to PB at all my shorter distances, to the point that when I was training for Barcelona 2 years ago, I became more bothered about making parkrun women’s sub 20 list than I did about the marathon! This time, there were no 10ks sneaked onto my training plan, and although I did run a couple of parkruns, I was under instructions from Ian to just treat them as hard speed sessions and as long as I was running low 20s then I was in the right ballpark (although somewhat ironically I did run a 19:42 parkrun PB the week before Seville).

So all the training groundwork had been set, my 19:42 parkrun and a 1:33:20 half marathon PB at Worthing on tired, untapered legs and in windy conditions 2 weeks before Seville, suggested that I was on track for sub 3:15; however I knew from experience, good training runs and tune-up races count for nothing if your legs don’t produce the goods on race day.

As we’d been to Seville before, we’d fine-tuned race logistics. The early Saturday morning Easyjet flight from Gatwick to Seville, straight to the Expo (which logistically makes sense as it’s out of town/away from the marathon start) and then to our hotel, Exe Isla Cartuja, where we’d stayed last year, and which is directly adjacent to the marathon start/finish at the Olympic stadium.

Obligatory race number photo

Seville marathon is the flattest in Europe and normally brings perfect running conditions, so is a popular choice for those looking for an early spring marathon. Tom likes running a road marathon once or twice a year, but he doesn’t like training for them (anyone who follows him on Strava knows his training is somewhat unconventional!), so he’d decided a couple of months previously that he wouldn’t race Seville, but instead would pace me. He got out of marathon training, I got my own personal pacer. Win win!

Race day dawned with perfect running temperatures; 8 degrees at the 8:30am start rising to about 14 degrees by midday. Staying directly adjacent to the start meant we didn’t have to bother with bag drop and toilet queues, and went straight from hotel room to start pen. I love European road marathons and they’re very different from UK marathons for two reasons:

Firstly, they are ‘serious’ affairs, not in the atmosphere which is typically Spanish fiesta-like, but in that they only attract ‘serious’ runners who are there to race – there’s no fancy dress, no fun runners and certainly no mid-race selfies! I love this attitude, when I’m on a start line I’m there to race and not have a bit of a jolly.

Secondly, they are predominantly male affairs; out of 13,000 runners, a teeny 13% were female (this compares to an average of 60/40 male/female split for UK marathons). However, as a female runner (especially one in pink socks and a skirt!) the support and encouragement I got was phenomenal.

I was nervous on the start line, but I always get nervous before races – I think the day I’m not nervous is the day I stop caring. I knew what I had to do and whilst I’ll never be the type of runner who is brimming with over-confidence, based on my training I had the belief that I could do it.

At 8:30am we were off; I’d been allocated to the 3:00 – 3:15 pen, so was over the start line in seconds after the gun went off. My race plan was to run at 7:20 pace. This wasn’t a pace I’d randomly plucked out of the air, this was the pace I’d been training at and fine tuning as my marathon pace over the previous 8 weeks. And it had felt easy, exactly as you want your MP to feel, in training.

However, today 7:20 didn’t feel as easy as it had done in training. I couldn’t settle into my rhythm and felt all jittery, I tried to ignore it and just put it down to pre-race nerves which would soon pass. I know how a marathon should feel in those first few miles and I know how I’d felt in all my training runs at MP, yet here things were already feeling laboured.

Tom knew something was wrong as I wasn’t bouncing along with my trademark smile, and instead was looking tense, worried and like there’s nowhere I’d least rather be, despite me looking forward to this race for months! He told me to relax, smile, enjoy myself and remember that I was more than capable of running at this pace.

From miles 5-10 I tried to focus on this, I’m a huge believer in running with a smile as it makes everything feel better, but it was feeling forced and whilst I might have looked like I was smiling on the outside, inside all I could think was how hard this was feeling.

By the time I got to mile 10, my legs felt like they’d already run 20 miles. This shouldn’t be happening. And I told Tom I was finding it really hard today. He reassured me that some days just feel harder than others and I was still absolutely on pace. I ground out the next 2 miles, hoping that at some point things would start to feel easier, but it just kept getting harder and harder and at mile 12, all I wanted to do was sit down at the side of the road and cry. I’d gone from thinking I was going to be able to run a marathon at 7:20 pace to wondering if I was even going to get to the finish.

I told Tom that I had nothing in my legs to carry on running at 7:20 pace and was going to slow down a bit and see if that helped. Mile 13 was when the wheels started to come off (7:30 pace) and whilst on paper I crossed the half way point in 1:36 which was perfectly on pace, getting to this point had felt so much harder than the half marathon I’d run 2 weeks prior to this in 1:33.

I wanted to try and salvage anything from the race so whilst I could see my sub 3:15 dream rapidly fading away, I thought maybe I’d be able to do enough for a PB (sub 3:19).

The wheels started to fall off at an alarming rate though, with each mile getting progressively slower, and by the time I got to mile 16 I had to keep stopping to take walking breaks. I don’t ever run to heart rate as I don’t like relying on gadgets and always run to feel, but I had to keep stopping to walk as my heart rate was going through the roof and I was out of breath. If you’d told me beforehand I’d be struggling to run even at 8 – 8:30 pace in the second half of a marathon, I’d have laughed at the thought of not even being to run at my ‘easy pace’, but I genuinely couldn’t. My legs were heavy and leaden, my breathing was heavy and laboured….if I’d been bothered what I looked like to the supporters, I must have looked like someone who’d turned up on race day without doing any training!

Each mile passed agonisingly slowly. There was no relief when I got to mile 20 and thinking just 6 miles to go. All I could think of was at the pace I was moving, how much longer was I going to have to suffer for.

The finish line in the Olympic stadium didn’t seem to be getting any closer, but with about 3 miles to go, I worked out that if I could maintain my (admittedly very pathetic) pace I’d finish under 3:30. If you’d told me beforehand that I’d be looking at a 3:30 marathon, I’d have felt like it wasn’t worth getting out of bed for. As it turned out, and considering how awful I’d felt and what a struggle it had been, all of a sudden sub 3:30 seemed like a fairly decent result.

We entered the stadium for a lap of the track, this couldn’t have been more removed from the finish line scenario I’d played out in my head – after the DNS disappointment of last year I’d imagined this was going to be the perfect fairy tale finish. Instead there was no finish line elation as I crossed the line in 3:28:26, I was just so relieved that it was over. I didn’t even have that post-race feeling when you’ve given a race everything, my second half had been so slow and interspersed with so many walking breaks, I didn’t even feel like a bonafide marathon finisher.

A finishing smile that says ‘thank god that is over’!
Perfect pacing from Tom, pity I was the weak link!

On one hand I couldn’t have been more disappointed with my race, the time and my performance. But on the other hand I know how hard I had to work to get to the finish, so sometimes you’ve got to change the goal posts and just be glad of a finish.

The race had been so bad that despite my disappointment the only thing I could do was laugh about it. I can analyse and re-analyse, but I genuinely can’t think of one reason why my race went so badly.

Training had gone brilliantly; conditions were perfect; I’d eaten well the day before the race and on race day; I used exactly the same nutrition that I’d used on all my training runs (Mountain Fuel, 32GI and GU gels) and I had no stomach issues; and I felt completely rested as I’d had 8 hours solid sleep the night before. For whatever reason, and however stupid it sounds, my legs just didn’t want to work!

Of course I’m disappointed with my time, as this year more than anything with my running, I wanted to finally run a good road marathon, but there’s no excuses or complaints or regrets from me, and I think it’s one of those days that I’m just going to have to file under ‘race shockers’ and move on. In the past after a bad race I’d have beaten myself up and been desperate to make ‘amends’, but I don’t think there’s any point making knee-jerk reactions. There’s no point letting a bad race define you, and I’ve got 6 weeks of training now for Crawley 24 hours and I’ve got no reason to think I won’t race well there.

Although this was one of the worse races I’ve ever run, I’m always of the opinion that a race is only a bad race if you can’t take any positives from it. So I’m focusing on the good bits – that I’d had a brilliant training block which will stand me in good stead for my next races; I managed to get 2 PBs in the build-up for races that I wasn’t training for; I ground out a finish when all I wanted to do was give up; and surely when I run my next road marathon (Valencia in December) it’s not going to be anywhere near as hard as this?!

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