I said in a blog post last year that marathons come down to just a few moments, sometimes they can just come down to 93 collected seconds.
Moscow Marathon had seemed like a far off venture for so long that it some how managed to sneak up on me rather unprepared. After Lakeland 50, my first ultramarathon, my training had just been ticking over quietly, and all of a sudden it was the week for the race.
With a wedding on the Friday followed by an early flight the following day, I knew I wouldn’t be arriving to the start line of the Moscow Marathon in peak physical condition. Add a niggling achillies injury into the lack of sleep meant I wasn’t feeling too positive about my chances of breaking the sub 4:30 goal I had set myself. So, as we made our way to the start under the watchful eye of a huge Lenin statue the rain began to intensify, my outlook, much like the weather, was bleak. I often tell runners about to run a new distance to just enjoy the experience, go in to it with a smile. Today I just couldn’t practice what I preached no matter how many times I told myself how lucky I was to be running here. Despite my best efforts to shift my scowl I crossed the start line with my head down.
Because of the horrific weather I was wearing a long sleeved top with thumb slits which covered up my watch and crucially my pace. I still think that this was a good method despite the fact that two of my slowest miles were in the early stages, as it alleviated the pressure of time keeping. By not focussing on pace I relaxed and allowed myself to enjoy the experience of running somewhere completely new, which paid dividends in the latter stages of the race. I often find that by constantly clock watching it leads me to get anxious which in turn affects my running. A vicious circle of my own creation which destroys my morale.
The first 8k was along the Moskva River, offering misty and atmospheric views of the city before looping into the high-rise financial district. Because we had only arrived the day before, and had no time to see any of Moscow, the marathon was both race and sightseeing tour. It did not disappoint, offering rain soaked glimpses of all the major sights so long as you remembered to look the right way which I regularly forgot to do, sorry St Basil’s Cathedral!
The sheer scale of this race and Russia’s security fears became more apparent as we entered the middle stages, where we often ran along eight to ten lane roads that were completely closed off to traffic. Each road that led onto the course was blocked by a lorry or rubbish truck, and the whole route was littered with hundreds of rain-soaked security staff.
At the 32km mark I had one hour and four minutes left, 4:30 was totally doable, I naively thought.
In the shadow of the Kremlin and with 6km to go I still had time in hand, was it finally going to happen? I had set the goal to go sub 4 hours and 30 minutes in October 2016 with the aim of doing it in Athens in November of that year. A stress fracture threw that plan out the window and my lacklustre training in 2017 blocked my ambitions that year. London and Paris this year were catastrophic failures as once again I wasn’t focussed enough. But in the lead up to Moscow I felt differently, I believed in myself again like I did back in 2016. I had finally found that love of running which I had lost somewhere along the 365 days of last year.
Not only was I wearing the long sleeved top but I had also slipped on a very slimming rain poncho before the start in an attempt to warm up in the freezing temperatures and protect myself from battering rain. While it offered protection it would also act as a sail when the winds gusted the wrong way. Despite that I kept it on until the last five kilometers where I ripped it off epically, well it felt like that anyway, it probably looked more like an awkward strip tease in hindsight. The final few kilometers were a mix of pace watching and pushing my limits, I knew it was going to be painfully close as my energy levels began to falter.
As I turned the final corner I caught my first glimpse of the finish line, I was almost there. I tried my best to sprint, time was still on my side, I thought if I can just find one more surge of strength. I lengthened my stride and began to sprint but within three or four metres I came to a crumbling halt. I simply had no energy left within me, I was completely and utterly spent. I gazed helplessly as my watch ticked tauntingly past 4:30. I had come within touching distance but fallen just short at literally the last minute. With lead filled legs I was forced to walk across the finish line. Battered and beaten but with a huge smile on my face.
I should be feeling negative that once again I failed to break that barrier but I don’t. I did not have the best taper so I had already put myself at a disadvantage and yet still managed an 11 minute PB. I ran the furthest I have ever run without stopping for a cheeky walk, 23 miles, and ran in the footsteps of revolutionaries and royalty.
The difference in my time and the sub 4:30 goal is only two seconds per mile. Tauntingly tiny though it may be, it feels like the gauntlet has been thrown down.
Marathon number 15 has retaught me something I learned during my first but forgotten somewhere along the way; that I absolutely adore pushing my limits and surprising myself. By falling short today I feel like I have truly salvaged tomorrow.
New York Marathon will be my only real chance this year. Challenge well and truly accepted…
Highlights: The organisation was probably the best I’ve seen in a race. The aid stations were well laid out, the medal hefty and I felt very safe. The huge open roads and the impressive Moscow sights made running a real joy.
Lowlights: The sheer lack of support was astounding. I don’t know if it was down to the weather or what but there were more runners than supporters by a huge margin. There wasn’t much of a race atmosphere at the start or finish either but that too could be put down to the weather.