My road running journey continues by Paul Morris.
When I wrote the report in March on the England v Wales Masters 10k race I never thought that I would be back in Chester representing England in the Chester Marathon which was also the England Masters Championship, a home international against Wales and the British Masters Championship.
How did I end up there? Serendipity is the word that comes to mind. The journey starts in 2019 when my children, James and Joanne, decided to enter the ballot for the 2020 London Marathon and with a classic case of FOMO I had to enter as well. Unfortunately the children did not get a place but I did. With the Covid pandemic my place was postponed until April 2023. In the meantime, I had moved to Keswick and thanks to KAC found out about the England Athletic Masters programme for veteran runners.
I realised that the London Marathon 2023 was a qualification race for the 2023 Masters marathon so I completed the Masters’ registration not thinking I would qualify in such a competitive race. But, I had a good run in London (3:35) and to my surprise was in the top 3 in my age category who had registered for the Masters programme. So was invited to join the England Masters team at the Chester Marathon. As I already had an England vest how could I refuse.
The lead up to a ‘big race’ is always a nervous time – build up the road milage, calibrate the pace on long runs, don’t get injured (don’t go away near a fell race) and try to keep well. None of the build up went according to plan and the weather in Chester was forecast to be unseasonably hot. My expectations travelling to Chester were not high.
Being at England Masters athlete means you have use of a dedicated team room and toilets near the start and a separate start pen at the front. We are all proudly wearing our England and Welsh vests in our spacious start pen trying to not think about the nearly five thousand other runners crowded in the start behind us.
After what seems like a long time we are off. A marathon is a long way so I thought I had better have a race plan which was basically run within a target pace range to be under 4 hours and ignore all others runners – easier said than done.
The race route starts at the horse racecourse, goes through the centre of Chester, out into countryside towards Wrexham, crossing into Wales, through a few villages and back over the border to Chester. Very well organised with the bonus of being on closed roads. Normally for a long race I break it down into segments based on landmarks or natural features – just a run to the next landmark. Not knowing the Chester Marathon route I decided to use the drink stations – race info says there are 9. With the weather on the day they were all need.
One of the features of the Masters races is that all competitors have to wear a back number with their age category. The idea being that you can identify your age competition – also works the other way round. Talking of age categories I have found that the older I get the more obsessed with my age category and more importantly how many are in it. What I have found is that the number competing in an age category decreases as you get older and if anyone dared to ask why I keep running the answer is because I can. This age category obsession can lead to some embarrassing conversations. I have found that it is not the done thing to ask someone at the start line, during a race or at the finish their age. Apparently I am not very good at estimating age – sometimes I have been wrong by 20 years. The Masters takes away that problem with age category back numbers.
As expected the race started at a fast pace and by mile 8 I was well ahead of plan, the 3:15 pacer went past with me singing to myself ‘Let it Go, Let it Go’ from Frozen. The sun was out and the temperature climbing, good job I had my sun hat and sunglasses with me, and my pace dropped to my target range. By mile 15 the 3:30 pacer had gone past me –‘Let it Go, Let it Go’. By mile 18 I was struggling to keep the pace and had lost count of drink stations. I have read that a marathon race starts at mile 20 but for me the only thought was must get to the finish. Run to the next mile marker take on some water and run to the next mile marker. The heat was taking its toll and I lost count of the number of runners by the side of the road being attended to by medics. At last I am in the final section by the river to the finish.
In the circumstances happy with my time of 3:49 which in the overall Chester Marathon results put me 5th out of 13 who finished in my age category 70-74.
Much to my surprise after I had hobbled back to the England Athletics team room I was awarded the bronze medal for a 3rd place in my age category for the British Masters Championship. If you are offered an unexpected medal take it with a smile and try not to look too surprised for the photo. Only those who had registered with British Masters for this race were eligible.
The important thing is I did finish and have a picture of me proudly wearing an England running vest. I never thought a year ago that I would wear an England vest once, let alone twice, and would encourage other veteran runners to have a go.