Race Date: Sunday 14th May 2023
Race Report by Victoria Johnson
A – Sub 4:00
B – Sub 4:13:12 (average a 6:00/km pace the whole way around)
C – Finish
The Leeds Rob Burrow Marathon 2023 is the first edition of this race, and also my first marathon. I had heard about it back when it was first being publicised (maybe last year? Year before?) but never considered running it because marathons are for chumps. Then I did consider running it because the 2022 London Marathon ballots happened, and it piqued my interest in the marathon distance. I’m now also a chump. I signed up while I was feeling impulsive, but I would like to say I took the training rather seriously; mainly because this event is very expensive, and definitely not because I have a pathological need to prove to myself that I can be good at things too.
I started what I called ‘pre-training’ on the 1st of January. This is because I was very excited to start, and I didn’t want to wait until 16 weeks before the event (which would have made my first training session 22nd of January). I had never followed a training plan before, but on the suggestion of my soon-to-be father-in-law (FIL) who ran London in ‘22 I used the Lucozade improvers training plan, which has 4 runs per week. There is a beginner’s plan, but I felt I would be fine coping with the improvers plan, and it would challenge me a bit more.
The first half of the training block was a mess because I felt that I could do better than what was being asked of me. I often ran 50% more miles than I should have at that point in the training, with random 9/12/16 milers scattered through the weeks. Happily, I never had issues at that stage. I am 26 and made of rubber bands.
The second half of the block was a lot more measured, and honestly a lot more fun. My mileage was exactly what the plan asked of me (except for one week when I was away for a conference and was too busy to run). I started doing speed sessions, which I’ve never done before. I spent less time on the treadmill and more in the great outdoors (albeit mostly laps of Hillsborough Park). I PB’d by about 15 minutes in the Sheffield half, which made me even more hell-bent on doing the marathon training right. When I started the training block, my ‘A’ goal was a sub 4:30 time, but by this point I realised I was probably capable of doing a sub 4:00 so I readjusted my expectations and pushed myself a bit harder.
The longest run was 20 miles (which I did in the form of laps of Hillsborough Park) and the highest weekly mileage was 39 miles. The taper was 3 weeks long. In the last week, I never attempted to carb load as this is just my normal diet. I did however try to drink more water.
The race starters were sorted into waves of different colours – blue, red, green, yellow and purple (fastest to slowest). Unfortunately, because I had been expecting a much slower time when I signed up, I was placed into a wave (yellow) that wouldn’t have a 4-hour pacer (green). I worried that this would mean that I would try to catch up with them, and therefore go too fast too early, during the race.
On the day I managed to grab a lift from my mum and sister who were planning on cheering us along. I arrived in the stadium with about 20 minutes before the planned start of the race, found some toilets, and lined up in the yellow wave queue. It was already quite warm by then, but I didn’t think anything of it and just enjoyed sunning myself (I had put suncream on). The race start was delayed by about 20 minutes, which now seems standard for Run For All events, Kevin Sinfield said some words, and then the blue wave set off.
It took about another 20 minutes before the yellow wave set off. The support in Headingley was incredible. The streets were several rows of spectators deep and people were cheering, whistling, there was music and banners, it was great. The course was very crowded in the first 3 or 4 miles so I found myself weaving around other runners trying to reach my target pace of 5:40/km. The first couple of miles were downhill, and then there were a few more uphill to Lawnswood. My plan was to take water from every water station (3 miles) and gels from every fuel station (6 miles) – I did my 20 mile run in training like this and it worked really well so I was very conscious of how important it was to stay fuelled. I passed my FIL and MIL as well as my mother and sister at about 10km and waved at them, in high spirits.
Sadly, it wasn’t to last. By 7 miles I could feel blisters forming on my feet. I’d never had that in training so I was blindsided and it damaged my confidence. By 10 miles I was starting to feel heavy. The heat was getting really intense, and I’d done no hot weather training (thanks Britain). The hills were much hillier than I’d anticipated. I reached the half-way mark at 2:02:25 – quite a bit later than I hoped. However much I tried, I really couldn’t keep my pace at the sub-4 level.
We descended into Arthington and I spotted Kevin Sinfield pushing Rob Burrow on the other side of the road. That made me feel strangely emotional so I picked my pace up a little bit to the gel/water station – and then the wheels really started to come off.
I managed to drink some water and eat the gel and walked for a little bit as I wasn’t feeling too great. We were only at 13 miles. “I shouldn’t be feeling this tired,” I told myself. I ran a little bit more, then had to walk again. The section of the course from Arthington to Pool was very exposed and there was no shelter from the sun. I knew by this point that I wasn’t going to make sub-4. “Maybe I can make my B goal,” I told myself. “6:00/km is manageable.”
All bets were off by mile 16. Still with 10 miles to go, I was crawling along, running when I could, walking when I couldn’t. I abandoned all targets and just set my mind on finishing. The weather was beautiful/terrible. I managed to nab an electrolyte drink at the station between Pool and Otley and sipped on that for a while. I jogged into Otley and waved to MIL and FIL at the turnaround point, who had cycled from Lawnswood. I wondered how soon-to-be brother-in-law was doing, as he had entered too. I hadn’t seen him so I was feeling hopeful for him.
Then it was the hill. 3 miles from Otley to Bramhope. The incline was much shallower and the distance much shorter than the Sheffield half, so I’d been telling myself all throughout training that it would be a doddle.
I walked nearly the whole thing.
Some people were out with hoses and that made a huge difference. Some people were camped out on one of the big rocks on the Chevin and were yelling encouragements at me. I smiled and waved and then dragged my corpse a little bit further up the road.
I started missing gel stations. The last one I ate was at half-way, despite being aware of how important it was. I was cramping constantly. One consolation was that everyone around me was walking too, so I felt much less alone. I overheard a man on the phone next to me who was saying how hard the course was. That also made me feel better.
I didn’t feel that I had the energy to run, but when I walked, the pain in my quads became excruciating. I stopped multiple times from Bramhope to Headingley to stretch out. I wanted to quit more than anything but I kept going. I knew I’d have to do it again if I quit. I seriously considered lying down in the grass on the side of the course – did I mention I can be a little dramatic when I’m in pain? I’d seen loads of injured and sick people being attended to by medics – I was glad that wasn’t me.
I managed to start running more consistently in the last couple of miles from Lawnswood back to Headingley, and I saw Jamie, my partner, and Dom, my mum’s partner, out on the course cheering me on. I used gravity to my advantage in those last kms and coasted back down to the stadium, cursing Pheidippides the whole way.
Finally reaching the finish line was the best feeling in the world. I was so relieved it was over. I collected my medal and goodie bag, and had a chat with FIL, who was near the finish line, about how difficult it was. The finish line spat us out at the back of the stadium, and I knew I couldn’t stop or I’d never start again, so I weaved my way around other competitors and spectators until I found the way out. I sat down on a kerb – or tried to. Then I had to get back up again.
Here’s my analysis on What Went Wrong. Firstly, I should never have hyped myself up into thinking I could do my first marathon in under 4 hours when that was a shaky bet at best – this meant I started too fast. Secondly, the heat was too much and I didn’t compensate for it. Thirdly, I should have been taking salt tablets, which would hopefully have mitigated the cramps in my quads in the last third of the race. I’m also not sure if taking in more gels would have helped, because I felt so sick, but it’s something to look out for in future races.
I finished in 4:53:33, nearly an hour after my ‘A’-goal. Given how hard it felt, I’m thrilled that I finished, and I’m already planning my next marathon.
12,000 people entered and there were 8366 finishers. The first man was Nathan Edmondson of Ilkley Harriers AC, in 2:29:14. The first lady was Eleanor Baker of City of Sheffield and Dearne AC in 2:39:40.
11 Striders took part in the marathon.
* Philip Kelly has since moved on to Lonely Goat RC, good luck on your future running adventures Philip.
Full results can be found on the Chip Timing website.