Report by Steve Smith
Race Date: Sunday 6th October 2019
With Chester marathon being known as a flat and fast course (reportedly 70% of participants hit a pb last year), and not too far away, it was a good target for me after starting to make progress with my long term goal. Hoping to hit a pb at Manchester in April this year and qualify as good for age for London next year, my plans were scuppered with the moving of the goal posts, and a rather large milestone of a birthday. A sub 3hr 15 at Manchester, at the age of 49, wouldn’t be any use getting into London when I’d be in the next age category. So Chester it was to be. The weekend after my 50th, which hampered the celebrations somewhat, was to be my unswerving focus for the year.
When you invest so much into one event, it always sets up a nervy few weeks before the big day. With all 3 children struck down with nasty colds, which they’d passed on to both sets of grandparents, and my wife in bed for a week with tonsillitis, I was literally the last man standing the week before the race. I tried to avoid my family as much as possible, but that was tricky with the birthday build up (have I mentioned the big birthday?).
3 days before the race, the forecast was looking grim: clear but cold for the early part of the morning, but then at 9am (race start time) I was due to be standing around in shorts and a vest in a thunderstorm. Not the best start. A few nights before the race, I thought I’d better check the route (altered due to the recent heavy rain) and height profile. Oh dear, not as flat as I thought. Elevation gain of 895ft according to Strava, when Manchester had been only 311. Trying my best to forget about the factors that I couldn’t change (weather and route), I kept my focus on the training plan (Hanson’s: thanks to Jason Brannan for the recommendation), which I’d tested out on a slower race pace target for Manchester, and I knew that I’d put the time and effort in and that the plan works.
A quick recce the day before with my 3 kids (wife still at home with tonsillitis) to choose their start and finish viewing spots and find a parking spot settled the nerves. The forecast was looking better and I was feeling ready. Race day came and everything was running smoothly. Car parked, bag dropped, body warmed, no rain. The race infrastructure all running smoothly too despite the last minute changes.
9am and we were off. I started just behind the 3 hour pacers and just worked my way up to race pace letting a lot of runners past. I knew that many would be off and away aiming for faster times, but some would be off too fast, and I’d see them again later; always a great boost towards the end of a marathon. The first part of the course weaved through the streets of Chester and provided a few sights: the Cathedral, Northgate Street, the City walls. There were a few ups and downs but no serious climbs. Then it was over the River Dee and off out into the Cheshire countryside. I settled into my race pace and aimed to do a steady first 10 miles, holding the pace and hoping to have plenty left in the tank for later. The sun shone, it rained, the sun shone again, it poured down, the sun broke through again. The wind blew, but not too strongly and there was only one stretch, about mile 16, where I felt it was hindering my pace. A right turn soon afterwards meant that it was no longer an issue.
The crowds were sparse at times, but the support where it was, was fantastic, and the marshals all around the route were encouraging too. After about 12 miles, well into the Welsh part of the route, there is a u turn so you get the chance to look out for your fellow runners, and see the guys flying at the front. 16 miles brings you back out of the Welsh countryside and into the village of Holt, where a friend of the family was waiting to cheer me on whilst trying to follow the route on her bike. She gave the hardest high five I’ve ever had, but rather than knocking my over backwards, it spurred me on to keep up the pace on what can be a difficult stretch of the marathon.
20 miles in I was still feeling good, an earlier hamstring niggle and tightness in my left calf had eased, so I decided to push on. Two of my fastest miles followed, and I started to get the buzz of steadily running past people. Most satisfying of these was the Totley runner who’d ran past much earlier and given me the “Well done Strider,” comment. “Don’t you just hate a show off” said the runner next to me. I said at the time that I’d try to reel him in later, so it felt great to be passing him, without any comment, at this stage of the race. I did speed up a bit just after I’d gone past him though, just to be sure.
I finished the final miles of the race strongly and looking at my watch was well under my pb time of 3:14. Could I break through under 3:10? It looked like it was on, so I started to crank it up even more. Then came the last mile. Not the ideal finish. The route had changed because we could no longer finish on a waterlogged Chester racecourse which didn’t need a ‘goingstick’ to tell us it was going to be heavy. Instead we weaved through Grosvenor Park, where there was a u-turn and a few too many other turns for my liking. I saw three runners pull up on this part of the route. From the park we descended to the river where we were faced with wet and slippery cobbles on a tricky corner and for a good 100m or so. A bit of a slip here made me slow down and shorten my stride before the final push along the finish straight. The kids were placed as planned and cheered me through, waving the flag they’d made the night before, to a 3hr 10 min 15 sec chip time. Four minutes off my pb so very satisfying to hit my ambitious target time and achieve the aim I’d set for myself at the beginning of the year. Enough marathons for now (3 in the last 2 years). Windermere, Manchester and now Chester had proved good progression. Another attempt at a London entry next with a GFA time hopefully helping me to get a place this time. Everything had gone perfectly to plan for this year with 2 new marathon pbs and no illness or injury …..if only I could’ve chipped off those 15 seconds though…..
The race was won by Tom Charles of Trafford Athletic club in a time of 2:29:29.
First lady was Abbey van Dijk (unaffiliated) in a time of 03:01:38.
9 striders took part in the marathon (with over 3000 finishers). Graham Goff came 1st in his category.
Full results here.
|Pos||G/time||C/time||Name||Gender pos||Cat||Cat pos|
|239||03:10:33||03:10:15||Steve Smith||230||MV50 (50-54)||15|
|482||03:26:11||03:25:56||Adrian Fisher||444||MV45 (45-49)||68|
|623||03:32:28||03:31:18||Graham Goff||565||MV70 (70-74)||1|
|864||03:43:57||03:42:27||Fran Allen||101||FV35 (35-39)||18|
|954||03:47:00||03:45:28||Regan Hanson||833||MV35 (35-39)||177|
|1342||04:00:26||03:58:56||Emma Beal||211||FV35 (35-39)||44|
|1771||04:18:44||04:16:24||Vikki McAuley||323||FV50 (50-54)||28|
|1984||04:29:27||04:27:01||Stephanie Street||393||FV60 (60-64)||4|
|2431||04:49:33||04:47:05||Ian Blackburn||1847||MV60 (60-64)||50|
Chris Powell (Knowsley Harriers) won the metric marathon in a time of 1:30:47 and Es Burford was first lady in 1:49:17. Cara Hanson was the only strider to compete:
|Position||Finish time||Chip Time||Name||Gender position||Category||Category position|
|240||02:25:26||02:24:47||Cara Hanson||68||FV35 (35-39)||12|