Report by: John Egginton
Race Date: 3rd December 2023
TLDR: Overcame numerous injuries and race day illness, ran a marathon, smashed some PBs!
Well known to be one of the fastest marathon courses in the world, Valencia Marathon – with its incredibly flat elevation profile (around 170ft over 26.2 miles!!) and generally pleasant December temperatures – is a big draw for runners from all around the world aiming for a PB, this included myself and Hannah Murton representing the Steel City Striders for the 2023 edition. The decision to enter this race was made back in December 2022 when entries opened for the following year. We had both decided to set ourselves huge time goals for the marathon distance and that this race would be the perfect opportunity in which to hit them.
I had decided to try to achieve the holy grail of a sub-3hr marathon whilst Hannah was aiming for a sub-3:45 with the hope of trying to gain a GFA place at London 2025. These times would represent huge PBs for us both should we achieve them after racing our debut marathons at Manchester 2022 in 3:12 and 3:55 respectively, so we knew it was going to be tough and that a lot of hard work and dedication would be required to allow us to do so.
Those that know me will be aware of the frustrating number of injuries I’ve suffered and unfortunately, I had once again been struck by injury earlier in the year. This time a possible stress fracture of my sacrum sidelining me for a good 6 weeks or so before I could even attempt running again. My return to running was then very steady and gradual over the next 3 months and didn’t go without bumps in the road and setbacks with the injury. Knowing I would need to start marathon training at least 12 weeks out I had set myself a target of taking part in the Newark HM. The hope being that this would give me confidence that I would be able to handle the distances required at the start of the training plan, give the marathon a real crack, and not give up on my sub-3 dreams before I even started!
So August came around before I knew it and my running progress had been going really well. However, low and behold 1 week prior to Newark I developed a bad heel pain (which still isn’t resolved!) that once again stopped me in my tracks, bloody typical! This wasn’t what I needed just a few weeks before my training plan would start. Having had to miss out on lots of big races earlier in the year I wasn’t prepared to let this new issue stop me doing the marathon. I was ready to run through any discomfort the heel gave me as that was going to be easier for me to deal with than my mental state would have been if I had to sit out and watch on from the sidelines once again.
Official training commenced on September 11th and we had 5 weeks to get ourselves ready to take on the Manchester HM that we had decided would be a good opportunity to race as part of the training. This would be a good indicator as to how well the training was going and whether our marathon targets were achievable in another 7 weeks’ time. This proved to be a great decision with both myself and Hannah overly exceeding expectations and producing huge PBs over the distance, which filled us both with great belief that what we were doing was paying off and that our dreams were very much alive! Following this then came the loooong Sunday training runs and with such a flat course awaiting us in Valencia, there was nowhere else to practice marathon pace on these runs other than the monotonous laps of Rother Valley! I’m sure this sends shivers down the spine of many Striders who have previously undertaken marathon training and endured the many laps of those lakes dodging prams, kids on bikes, and extendable dog leads as they go! If we could hit the pace here though then come race day it would be a breeze!
Clearly things had been going far too well (and my body wasn’t happy about that!) and at the end of week 8 I was hit by injury once again! This time a calf strain out of nowhere – at the end of a deloading week – putting me back on the injury table. Unlike the heel pain this was something I couldn’t just ignore and knew it had real danger of putting the race in jeopardy. This meant enforced time off and missing one of the highest mileage weeks on the plan including the third and final 20+ mile long run, not ideal when already undertaking a short 12-week fast-track plan to start with! It’s safe to say this was hard to deal with and I just had to hope and pray that it was only a minor issue. Not wanting to do any more damage I reduced the mileage and intensity of the remaining runs on my plan to nurse me through the final weeks and switched to cross training in the gym should I feel any issues with my calf. Whilst this aligned with the taper weeks of training, my confidence was fading with each day that passed that not only would I not hit my target due to a lack of training, but I simply wouldn’t make it around the course without causing significant damage to my leg. I’d even accepted the fact that just finishing the race was becoming my new target and that sub-3 had become just a pipedream.
December 1st was here in a flash, time for me and Hannah to head out to Spain a couple of days pre-race. However, a lack of direct flights from the UK to Valencia meant we had a brief 45-minute visit to Frankfurt airport where we had an impromptu shakeout run through the terminal just to make our connecting flight! Unfortunately, the same can’t be said about our luggage which hadn’t made it in time and got to experience Germany for a few hours longer until the next flight left. Luckily, we had packed all our race kit and nutrition in hand luggage should this happen, so the worst-case scenario meant we would still be able to do the race! Included in this race kit was a shiny new green & gold Striders vest – made of a wonderful new lightweight material that doesn’t rub like the older Ronhill vests – that Helen Smith and Emily Green had very kindly organised for us to wear during this important race for us. We were so grateful to be given this opportunity to trial these new vests and it really did enhance the race experience even further!
Upon arrival to Valencia it was time to head to the Expo and collect our race numbers, pre-race goodie bag, and souvenir vests which was a welcome change to a t-shirt (this was available though should you wish). Things were getting real now, it was happening! A very early start and a long day of travelling had taken its toll on me though and I woke up the following day feeling pretty dreadful. An organised 5km breakfast shakeout run in the wonderful Turia gardens was on the cards for this morning though and this seemed to sort me out and perk me up. The plan to do absolutely nothing for the rest of the day was already written off though; a quick trip back to the airport was required to collect our luggage which had finally arrived! Yay!! Now it was finally time to focus on relaxing and eating all the carbs, pizza obviously.
Sunday 3rd – Race day!
It was finally here, 1 year after booking it was time to do the big dance! And obviously I had the worst night sleep possible and woke up feeling unbelievably ill!! I felt horrendous and just wanted to sleep, not go and try to run 26 miles as fast as I could! My confidence couldn’t have been any lower now with this on top of me wondering if my calf was going to hold out. Luckily Hannah was all good, just a little tired from the early alarm. Her training had gone perfectly in the lead up and I knew she was in a great position to achieve her target time!
We were staying in Russafa, an area just south of the city centre and was around 1 mile to the start. This provided us with a gentle leg stretch and walking warm up as we nervously made our way to the start area along with the other 33,000 runners taking part. We arrived a little later than planned but fortunately found some toilets with a relatively short queue. Next up was the bag drop although Hannah had to wait a little longer as her start wave had a different location to use further up the main street where all the different waves were being held. This was a very swift process though and was in and out of the area within a matter of minutes, Run for All should probably take note on how it should be done!
I was starting in the 2nd start wave so didn’t have far to walk to reach my starting zone while Hannah was a little further back and wasn’t leaving until 40 minutes after I started. It was finally time to say goodbye for now and wish each other good luck for our own races, there were a few nervous tears shed but some reassuring words seemed to help calm Hannah’s nerves a little. When I got into my starting area my wave had already started making its way to the start line so I didn’t have much time to think. This was probably a good thing as the nerves were hitting hard now! I placed myself just in front of the 3-hour pacers, I know how often these are super crowded and didn’t want to get stuck behind a big group that would be following them. A few moments later and we were all away, 26.2 miles lay ahead!
The miles were flying by and I was feeling surprisingly good considering how I’d been feeling all morning. I was ahead of time on the 5km splits (which I’d noted on my arm so I didn’t forget!) so I was pleased knowing I was building a little bit of buffer time should I start falling apart later in the race without going out too fast. More importantly, my calf was feeling ok and wasn’t causing me any issues which was a great relief! I hit the halfway point in 1:28:12 so pretty much exactly where I wanted to be. My confidence was now building as the race progressed and I was starting to believe that sub-3 was actually going to happen.
That was until I hit 22 miles and the wheels felt like they were about to well and truly fall off! I’d fully boarded the struggle bus at this point and could feel my goal slipping away with every agonising step. This was the closest I’ve ever come to having to stop and walk during a race, my quads were on fire and still had to somehow keep going for another 4 miles! One final gel taken at 23 miles seemed to give me a little surge and I managed to increase the pace again, although I still don’t know how? One thing that was helping was the unbelievable support of the Valencian crowds, they were magnificent the entire way around the course and really helped when things got real tough! As I entered the final 1km I could see the Arts and Science museum where the finish line was and knew the pain was almost over if I could just keep digging for a few more minutes. The final few hundred metres arrived and it was time to run on the famous blue carpet over the water, this moment was something else and the noise from the supporters was crazy.
I crossed the finish line and knew I had smashed my target getting a time of 2:58:04, I was so happy! But I was also so tired and dazed that I just didn’t know how to react. I wanted to cry in disbelief that I had managed it but my body just didn’t function in order to do so! I was then onto tracking Hannah on the app and could see she was absolutely nailing the race and was getting faster throughout. I waited to see her finish down the blue carpet and was so, so proud to see her finish in an unbelievable time of 3:42:59.
And that was it, we did it! 12 weeks of hard work but it was worth it and meant we achieved our goals. I’d definitely recommend the race to anyone, it’s certainly a great experience with amazing crowds!
The race was won by Sisay Lemma from Ethiopia in a new course record time of 2:01:48! The first female was Worknesh Degefa also from Ethiopia in a time of 2:15:51.
Full results here.
|Pos. (Cat pos.)