The Joy of Marathon Racing Around a Race Course (and a PB by 2 Hours!)

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Kempton Race Course Marathon

28th May 2021 @ 8.30am

3h 27mins 18secs (PB by 2hrs 11mins)

My journey to Kempton Park Racecourse for my second marathon was a long one, in more ways than one.

Not just because it was fourteen years since my only other marathon, at London Marathon 2007, or because it was offered by Richmond Runfest as a replacement for the twice COVID delayed Richmond Marathon. Nor the taxi and train journey following my 4.45am alarm on Saturday morning. 

This journey was more important than that. It felt like a defining moment and evidence of my progress in my journey to improve my mindset, as well as my race times.

And that is why, after 26.2 miles and breaking my target time by close to 3 minutes, and my previous personal marathon best by over 2 hours, I couldn’t help but punch the air, and scare a few bystanders as I screamed ‘Yes!’ after crossing the finish line.  

On arrival by train in Kempton Park (35 mins from Clapham Junction) the race track is immediately in front of the station. A short walk through the carpark and I was greeted by the first of many friendly race day crew directing us round past the Kauto Star Statue up the stairs to see the race course for the first time.

It’s a pretty cool venue, with many great horse races, in particular the King George VI Chase, won a record 5 times by the aforementioned Kauto Star, hence the statue.

 

The course was 8 laps of tarmac, after a brief detour at the start around the outside of the course.  Following completion of lap 8 a final 2k remains which split off at the end to the finish line.

Once again, COVID safety protocols, quite understandably, meant a staggered start. I was in yellow wave two which was promptly walked around to the outside of the course and after a couple of minute pause, we were off. 

I turned on my audio book (Rich Roll – Finding Ultra) and settled into trying to keep to 5 min per km pace, the slowest I had run for many a month. The first kilometer and a half or so was on trail road before snaking into the back end of the first lap on tarmac.

I was pleasantly surprised to see a quorum of supporters congregating around one corner of the course which we passed eight times, and on each occasion gave great support and encouragement to all runners.  I felt sheer joy seeing, and being party to, human interaction in such a positive atmosphere. The various fancy dress wearing support crew were brilliant, with megablasters and microphones making me laugh and smile in equal measure.

Each lap was clocked at 5km intervals by timing mats and a fuel station offering water and lucozade.  We had 50 metres or so to guzzle down the chosen liquid before the litter disposal area ended unless you wanted to carry the bottle for another 5k.  It became a bit of a conundrum but as the weather heated up I drank and dosed myself with water in equal measure efficiently enough to discard the bottle in keeping with the protocols.

Further nutrition came in the form of my orange SIS energy gels which I consumed at 35 mins and every subsequent 30 mins after that. Six in all.  These were carried in my Naked running belt, alongside my iphone XR, which was surprisingly comfy despite the extra weight. 

I will be reviewing my fueling strategy so if anyone has advice on what works for them, in particular recommended liquid consumption on a warm race day please let me know in the comments.

The first 5, 10 and 15k splits were comfortably under 5 mins per mile however I was ok with that as my heart rate was below 160 for the most part.

I decided to break the race down into 3 parts: the first ten miles, the second ten miles, the final ten kilometers.

The only hindrance in the first ten miles of the race was the realisation I had forgotten to apply sun cream (despite bringing my factor 50) and the temperature was warming up to about 18 degrees Celsius.  As per usual I felt I needed the toilet from about 15k (too much early fluids) yet this evaporated, quite literally, as the race wore on.

At about 21k I recall a fellow runner commenting we were well on for breaking 3hr 30 target for both of us. It was his first time so I advised to keep something back for the last ten km, which was precisely what I did. After the first ten miles I immediately settled into a mindset that what proceeded was my warm up for the second ten miles, and counted them down one at a time.  

It was not all plain sailing.  The gradual increase in temperature, occasional crossing of the undulating horse race track, the uncertainty around whether the 5k lap was marginally longer than anticipated, placed a small amount of doubt and concern in my mind which I quickly ejected (with the help of Rich Roll in my ears).  I kept my mantras of “Let go and live in the present moment” and “Progress over perfection” at the front of my mind and on my lips on regular occasions.  

That said, my final four laps of 5k were progressively quicker with my final 5k the quickest of the day as I pushed on to ensure my target time was secured.

The final three KM were tougher than others, and I thought about my two sons and wife during this time, dedicating each of the three remaining KMs to one of them. I could feel my heart rate increasing as it peaked over 170 for the first time, partly due to the increased pace (the last half a mile pace was 7:11 per mile) and a touch of anxiety as I got closer to my 3hr 30min goal time and was aware my watch already had me clocking off the marathon distance and I still had a good three to four hundred metres to go.

I needn’t have worried, I crossed the finish line in a gun time of 3:28:42, my watch said 3:27:27 and my final official time was 3:27:18.   

I had done it! My elation and relief was huge. Whilst I felt like I had more in the tank and hadn’t hit the dreaded wall, my legs were pretty spent and seized up soon after picking up my medal and goody bag.  I took a few photos and proceeded to bag collection and plonked myself down on the stadium stand stairs.  

My achievement of a two hour eleven minute personal best, dawned on me and I couldn’t stop smiling or chatting to other runners.  It was great to hear everyone else’s stories.

Why, you may ask, would I be so happy if I felt I had more in the tank? Well this was a training/benchmark run before my proper training kicks in for the London Marathon next week. I had a lot of unanswered questions of myself which had been sitting with me for fourteen years.

 Can I run a marathon without stopping? Can I achieve what I set out to do? What If I do not finish? What will people think of me if I fail? 

These were all fixed mindset questions tying my identity to my results that are ultimately out of my control.  By flipping my dialogue, specifically believing in myself, and focusing on learning and getting better at something if I commit to it. Then applying these skills, executing, tying my identity to progress not perfection, or the opinions of others, has had a dramatic impact on many areas of my life, including running.

And this was the redemption, the marker, the tangible evidence of progress that I can now build upon.

Thank you @richmondrunfest and that you reader, you are incredible and able to achieve whatever you want to achieve if you are willing to put the effort in to determine the skills you need to achieve and get good at to reach your goals.

If I can, so can you. I believe in you, make sure you believe in yourself.

Speak soon and enjoy your running.

Phil

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Picture of Philip Laslett

Philip Laslett

I’m an author, speaker and marathon runner who is an advocate for the empowerment of others, in particular children, through exercise and technology.

I am on a mission to improve the outlook and sense of wellbeing in others and committed to my belief that enjoying exercise and expressing your creativity can be a launchpad to build self confidence and lead to a better, more fulfilling life.