Monday, September 14, 2015

First ever full - Farnham Pilgrim Full Marathon

Phew, ran my first full marathon ever at Farnham Pilgrim. It just wasnt your usual run-of the mill 42.2 km. With an elevation of 1781 ft and a route comprising tarmac, gravel, steps, sand, mud, busy road crossings, wooden stiles, and gates, it was a mini obstacle course.
  
But there was no masochism in choosing this as my first marathon. I have run about 8-9 half marathons, most on road. 21.1 km distance had become less of a challenge, and I thought its best to check a full marathon off my list before I turn 40. Over the years, I have also realised that road running is a lot less fun that trail running - road  is monotonous and harder on your knees, trail is varied, and more stimulating. The route changes every few feet - grass, mud, gravel, hill - making you alert and forcing you to run a bit slower. At the same time, you use of more of your leg muscles to stabilise your feet, so helps strengthen them rather than breaking them down.

At the same time, mass participation events have become a big turn-off for me. Farnham Pilgrim is still a small event with a total of 700 runners for full and half marathon. The entry fees are not a rip-off and places are guaranteed even at the last minute. You are not herded like sheep at the start of the race and its easier to mingle with family and friends at any time. In spite of it being a small event, the organisation was top class. It has consistently rated in top 10 marathons since its inception.

Knowing how tough it was going to be, I was less focussed on the time, and more on finishing it. Didn’t want to face the embarrassment of not completing it due to injury or hitting the wall.

I trained the best I ever trained for, for any event. Apart from a few missed runs (due to illness and travel), I was mostly on track. Joining my local running club – The Striders – also helped tremendously. Training with others during speed sessions was the key in training at the right intensity which you just don’t achieve when you train alone. At the same time, learnt a few warm-up/cool-down routines which I then incorporated in my sessions.

The plan I followed was of another trail marathon. Didn’t want any more than 4 sessions per week as I know I would struggle to make the time and it would be harder on the body. If you are a regular runner and are only aiming at completing a marathon in good shape and not in any ambitious time, 4 sessions is more than enough.

I even ran most of the Farnham Pilgrim route a month before the race to familiarise myself with the course. Glad I did, because it gave me a sense of the challenge that lay ahead. This race was not to be taken lightly.

Photos from recce run

Photos from recce run


The race day itself was perfect – lightly overcast, but no rain, and temperature in mid teens. 


I had decided to start slow around 6:30 min/km mark. However, just like most runners, got carried away in the moment, and the aim of running negative splits was soon going to go out of the window. For a first timer, it is hard to judge whether running slower will actually help you run negative splits and if you will still have the strength at the end to run faster.

Anyway, was hovering around the 6:00 min/km mark for most of the first 10 kms. This stretch has minimal climbs, so it was easy to keep the pace without feeling fatigued. Though there were some steps to be climbed on the way, the first (and biggest) real test was around 20 km mark at Church of St Martha-on-the-Hill . 

The climb here is continuous 1.5 km or so with a LOT of sand. It was so hard to find a grip that almost everyone was walking up rather than running.


From here, it was steep downhill run for a while. However, there was no scope for taking it easy. There were 5 hills one after the other. Fatigue and pain had set in at this time. Having done distances longer than 30 km in training, I knew that the pain was pure fatigue related and wouldn’t stop me from finishing the marathon. However, now the run was taking a mental toll. Every water station was an excuse to stop, every hill was an excuse to walk, especially when other runners were doing the same.

At around 2 miles to finish, decided to run at a steady fast pace. In my mind, it felt like I was running at 5:30 min/km, however, in my watch, it was hovering around 6 min/km. The legs were heavy as logs and no amount of exertion was making me go faster.

Caught up with a female runner who was running steady. Instead of overtaking, got into first real conversation with her. But she decided to pause before the last hill, so I kept going. Wife and daughter saw me coming and I ran with my daughter to the finish line



I finished the marathon in 4 hours 39 minutes, which was slightly more than what I had anticipated, but can’t complain. The legs are stiff, and my gait will take a few days to get back, but haven’t got any serious injuries. Overall, am glad that I registered for the run and then completed it in good time. One of the highlights of the year, and probably, my life.

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