Valencia Marathon

If you read my blog last year then you’ll know how much I loved the Valencia Marathon. I was on such a high afterwards that when the email came out inviting me to go back with a €10 discount, the temptation was too much and next thing, I’d booked two places, flights and Sooze’s apartment again! Oh and then I broke the news to Howard – ha ha!

I ran Valencia last year in 4:01. Yep, I know! I honestly hadn’t been going for a sub-4 as it was Howard’s first marathon and my second (following a very hot 2018 London marathon, finishing in 4:26). Based on our training we thought we could get either side of 4 hours – and we did! Howard hit the wall at 40k last year and made me run ahead so he finished in 4:04. This year in May I ran Liverpool with Daz, helping him run his first marathon. There were some long inclines and 3 miles of fierce headwind at the end and we finished in 4:08.

Given the conditions and the fact I was supporting a friend, I started to think sub-4 might be a possibility. I knew it would be hard, I have so many friends who are faster at 5k to half marathon times than me, but they haven’t managed the sub-4 marathon. Only 1% of the population ever run a marathon and only 25% of those get a sub-4. Could I do it? Marathon #4 a sub-4? It had a nice ring to it. We started training for Valencia early as we had a holiday in August. If you’re training for a winter marathon, don’t go to America for 3 weeks in August where it’s too hot to run. Although, Florida parkrun and running along Miami beach were pretty special.

The wheels came off my training plan when I got back and tried to do my long runs; they were so, so hard. It was only with 7 or 8 weeks to go that I started to feel better and I got the 20 and 22 milers out of the way quite well. I’m not sure I managed all the efforts and tempo runs though as I developed mild plantar fasciitis a few weeks before the marathon and had to ease up a bit to get rid of it. We flew out from Stansted on a plane full of marathon runners, most of them sporting t-shirts with their bestest running/Tri/Ironman events printed on them. I wore a Hard Rock Café t-shirt in case you’re wondering. The weather was a bit cloudy and windy on arrival but by the time we’d reached the apartment, it was warm and sunny. After weeks and weeks of rain, it was amazing to see blue sky!

The marathon organisers build a 300m long pontoon over the water each year which goes to the finish line. The pontoon is coated in blue so you look as if you’re running on water.

The Expo seemed bigger this year which was good as there were 4000 more places. The volunteers were really strict though, the whole system was one-way so this meant a lot of walking if we wanted to go back to a photo opportunity or stall we had seen on the way round.

There’s lots of good stuff at the Expo and bargains to be had, but there are some differences between this and UK Expos. There are no freebies, no samples, no sports massage, no physio or taping. It’s basically all sell! There are some great photo opportunities though and although this year there was no giant medal, they had some new interactive video screens.

We headed upstairs first to collect our bibs, running tops, wristbands and goodie bags. The goodie bag was really heavy so we couldn’t complain about the expo stalls not giving freebies or samples.

We headed to the chip control point to have our bibs scanned and then took a look round the rest of the expo.

The paella party had been extended by another hour this year with the eating area made bigger. The organisers had really took on board feedback and made everything more streamlined and spacious to allow for the extra participants. The crazy Paella Party host was back again and the music being played was great. I like the fact that the organisers don’t give out tickets for drinks, so you can keep helping yourself; some people went up to the stage for extra portions of paella too. We headed back to the apartment for a rest before heading to a local Italian to carb-load on pizza. I had booked a table via an app called “The Fork” and I’m glad I did as runners were queuing out the door as we left. All the walking had not done my foot any good as my plantar fasciitis started to twinge again. I went into a bit of a panic as pounding the streets for 26.2 miles with a foot injury is a really bad idea. There was nothing and no-one at the Expo to help me, but Howard proved to be my knight in shining armour again and suggested we go to the local shopping centre (between the City of Art and Sciences and Ayora, where we stayed). After a mall proved fruitless, the top floor of a department store revealed a massive sports section and there it was … kinesiology tape!

Back at the apartment, with the help of a YouTube video, Howard expertly taped my foot and the next morning, I found that I could walk pain free! After my toilet-stop-free marathon in Liverpool, I tried to manage my hydration in the morning by having only one cup of tea followed by tiny sips of water before the start. I’d learnt at the London Marathon Expo that drinking too much water on marathon morning is not a good idea; it all needs to come out again and there’s a risk you can over-hydrate and dilute your minerals; you need salts! We headed to the start a little later than last year; it was only a 15 minute walk from the apartment and we found it was so well organised before. All we had to do was drop our bag, pop to the loo and go to our start pen which takes very little time as everything is so close together. Again the organisation had been improved as the start pens were bigger and there were toilets lining the road all the way to the last pen. As you can see it was dark and cool at 8am, the temperature at the finish was 20°c and we didn’t feel too hot while running.

We were in the penultimate pen (3:45 to 4:01) and we arrived early and went to the front to try and spot Javi. Because Javi had run the Valencia Half Marathon in 1:44 two months previously, he’d been allocated a bib for the pen in front of ours. We spotted Javi but he was too far away. Javi had been ill before the race and not managed all his long runs, so had told us the night before that we would catch him up. The race pen atmosphere was great with music blaring and commentators getting the crowd going. Again the organisation had been improved by starting the waves with 10 minute intervals to give the runners space. As were towards the front of the pen, we were led almost to the front of the start line. The archway is huge! The commentator announced “Sssssshhhhhhh” over the microphone and everyone shushed. The sound of a heartbeat played from a speaker over the hush, then a Spanish song which has become the marathon theme played, everyone applauded and cheered and the starting pistol sounded. It was amazing! Luckily there was no argy-bargy so it was ok being at the front of our wave. The crowd lining the bridge were fantastic and the entertainment started almost immediately. So many drumming bands and themed cheer stations. This is one of the bands who supported the marathon. There are loads of bands lining the route and they are fantastic! Howard and I had been discussing memories of last year the previous day. The Valencia Marathon is a Gold IAAF marathon like the London Marathon, it attracts elite runners and has a blue line painted along the route. We kept spotting the line while sightseeing but not remembering the roads from last year. This year we made more of an effort to look out for things, one of which was our favourite café in the first few kilometres. I hadn’t slept well the night before worrying about my foot (which was fine!) so I was tired and stressed about keeping pace. Me and Howard wanted to get a sub-4 and we’d not made any secret of it. You know those people who say “Oh I’m not after a time, I just want to enjoy it”? It’s bollocks isn’t it? ? No-one runs a marathon without a time in mind. Running 26.2 miles is a bloody long way, it’s bloody hard and it takes a bloody long time so don’t give me that fun run nonsense. ? So anyway, in order to get a sub-4, we needed to be running our splits between 5:30 and 5:40 minute kilometres. This would bring us home between 3:55 and 3:59. We didn’t want to be way under 4:00 and I didn’t want a Good For Age time (especially after the London Marathon organisers took 4:15 minutes off all the ladies GFA times this year!). We just wanted our time to start with a 3. I kept looking at my watch which was my first downfall. My watch is set to actual pace and Howard’s is set to average. Every time I looked at my watch it said 5:45 whereas Howard seemed unpeturbed. I then saw that every time my watch bleeped a split, it was under the time we needed so I was obviously looking at the pace when I was tired and slowing and not when I was running well and enjoying the surroundings. I tried really hard to let Howard pace me so I could enjoy the sights and entertainment. Unfortunately our later start meant I needed a wee at 11km, but unlike last year the loos were empty, clean and I only stopped for one minute. I took on half a bottle of water every 5km, we used electrolyte tablets and we took all our gels at the right times. The gels and Powerade drinks really helped me pick up and I noticed Howard was so much more upbeat this year. Unfortunately I had a dark moment at 27km. It came from nowhere and it really panicked me because it was only 17 miles in; I’d trained to 22 so I had no idea why. I said to Howard “Go without me, I can’t do it any more”. Now, Howard isn’t one of those people who will go all soppy on me when I struggle to run, he won’t say “come on, you can do it!” or other such positive and inspiring phrases. Howard deals with me being a miserable runner by ignoring me, not looking at me and running faster so that I have no option but to follow him. The 27km marker was also the point I needed to take my third gel, so I sipped on that to take my mind off the misery. The next thing I knew my watch bleeped and I’d run a 5:17 split – my fastest all morning. My husband does annoy me when he’s right. So there you go, I didn’t hit the wall and I didn’t let the running demons in. Instead I gave myself a very long talking to in my head: •You love this marathon •You’ve waited all year to do this again •You’ve trained hard for this •You want that sub-4 and you can do it I then thought of all the things I was looking forward to when I finished: •A cup of tea •A cappuccino •A beer •The Cava we’d put in the fridge •A shower •Dinner out to celebrate •To run over the blue pontoon •To cross the finish line •The medal •The Amstel Radlers at the finish •Chocolate •Cake I then went back over this list and wondered why the first thing I’d wanted was a stupid bloody cup of tea! ??‍♀️ So I managed to keep the pace and we maintained it for 40km. We’d had a bit of a panic at 13 miles because we had needed to be there at between 1:55 and 1:57 to allow a few minutes in the 2nd half, but we gained over 500m in distance due to weaving round runners and hit halfway at 1:59! Due to feeling tired I was scared I wouldn’t be able to do the same half marathon again which probably accounted for the 27km wobble. At around 30km we saw Javi in the distance, he looked as if he was struggling but he was smiling as ever, gave us both a hand squeeze and after exchanging a few “Venga Venga!” and other words of encouragement, we carried on. We felt bad but Javi had told us we’d overtake him and he knew we had a time to chase. As 32km (20 miles) we passed the “Beat the Wall” arch which I love and a little later I saw this guy and got a high-5! I started to enjoy myself once we were over 35km although I stupidly walked while drinking a cup of Powerade and my legs felt terrible! Luckily I got going again, took my last gel and headed into the final miles. We looked at our watches and saw that we had 30 minutes to do the last 5km. Even though this was our 8th and a half parkrun in a row, we knew we could do it. We had to do it. The time we wanted was within reach and we knew we’d be so disappointed if we didn’t make it after being so close. I went over my positive self-talk again and my list of post-marathon treats I wanted. I told myself to work my arms and my legs would follow so that I didn’t think about the pain. At 40km the route narrows due to the crowds; they stand on the blue line which is supposed to be the centre of the route so that’s how little room you get. The support in the last 5km is just like the London Marathon; the route is lined with crowds, there’s drums, music, DJs blaring dance tracks. It’s nuts and deafening. Due to the narrow route and the other participants, we couldn’t run side by side so I forged ahead, weaving through the runners and hoping Howard was behind me. At 41km I saw the City of Arts and Sciences in the distance and I knew I was going to make it. I’d done the same as last year, I’d dug deep, found reserves and picked up my pace to 5:00 min km. I charged down the slope, turned right and then left on the blue pontoon. I was so tired, so out of breath and in pain but I kept going. The run to the finish is spectacular and that pontoon is a bit bouncy so it really helps! I did my last sprint at 4:38 min km pace. I could see a 7 on the clock and I knew I was going to make it. I crossed the line in 3:57:55. I turned to find Howard and couldn’t see him! I started to worry. Our wave had started 20 minutes after the official start and the clock said 4:18. Once it got to 4:20 it would be game over if Howard didn’t cross the line before then. Honestly, it was like a scene from a film, the two runners standing in front of me parted and there he was walking towards me smiling, just as the clock turned 4:19. Howard had finished in 3:58:49. We’d done it! Oh my goodness we hurt but we were so happy! We hobbled to the barriers and collected our beautiful medals and goody bags with the usual bag of Valencian oranges. We then headed to the Amstel Radlers tent for the best pint ever! After collecting our bags we met Javi who had done so well with so little training and finished in 4:26! Typically, being the happiest man in Spain, he said “You have to come back next year so I can improve my time!” I don’t know how he does it; anyone else who went through his marathon would have said “Never again!” ? All I remember after the marathon is: stretch, protein, coffee, cake, Strava, Cava, shower and trying to walk properly. Poor Howard had a hurty knee (probably IT band) so it was lucky we bought that tape because it was then me taping him up with the help of YouTube. Oh and my foot only twinged when I started running fast. Thank you foot, I promise I will make you better! ? We headed into the city on the metro rather than walking! We had a beer outside followed by a Hard Rock Cafe dinner – needed the salt from a burger and fries. I’ve never slept well after a Marathon but I slept like a log that night. We had a bit of a convoluted journey home due to Ryanair being late with releasing the return flights and being stupidly expensive! We went home with Iberia via Madrid, although Madrid has a huge airport and it’s a nice place to kill a couple of hours with a celebratory lunch and beer. The next day we got an email offering us €10 off next year’s Marathon and we signed up! We didn’t get into the 40th London Marathon in 2020 so we are going to run the 40th Valencia Marathon in 2020 instead! VC running are dropping the parallel 10k race next year, increasing the marathon places to 30000 and trying to get upgraded from Gold to Platinum IAAF standard. It explains why the organisation was so slick this year, they were making sure they could manage the numbers. The Spanish know how to party, the medal will be new and we can’t wait! We’re not going to push for a sub-4 next year, we’re going to try for “there or thereabouts 4 hours” instead, we know we can do that and enjoy it at the same time! ? The watch-checking and worrying about not making under 4 hours took the enjoyment away, but we still have a goal – as I said before, it’s not a fun run. If anyone wants to know how we did it, bearing in mind I’m not a professional runner and I’ve only run 4 marathons, my advice is this: •Stick to your training plan unless you’re ill or injured (recover fully! ?) •Don’t go to Florida for 3 weeks in the middle of your training ??‍♀️ •Do a long run once a week but bring the distances up and down every three weeks (e.g 10, 12, 14, 10, 13, 15, etc). Don’t increase your distance every week, it’s not big or clever •Do hills or efforts once per week and a tempo run once per week. Just running the same routes at the same pace, week in, week out will do nothing for improving your pace or stamina. •Find new routes, otherwise you’ll get route boredom and your pace will decrease. Get in the car and drive somewhere if you have to •I cannot stress this enough: you need strength. I don’t just mean your legs, you need it in your core and upper body too. It’s not just for running, it prevents injuries •Re: the above, use weight machines, do squats, go to classes like Body Balance, Yoga, Pilates, Pump or Body Combat •Stretch, have Epsom salt baths, use a foam roller, a tennis ball, a spiky ball, take on board hydration, carbs and protein at the right times depending on whether it’s before, during or after running Lastly, if you want my personal opinion, ignore all those articles that say you should run the first half of a marathon fast and the second half slower. That’s complete bollocks if you ask me. Utter tosh. Why on earth would you run the first half of a marathon at just below your half marathon pace? You’ve then got to run that whole distance again with depleted salts, depleted glycogen, lactic acid in your muscles and tiredness. Put all that in a pot, stir it with a big wooden spoon and out come the running demons to tell you how crap you feel and that you can’t do it, you need to walk, you’ll never make it … It’s also a recipe for upsetting your tummy. Run comfortably and you’ll just keep going and if there’s anything left in the 2nd half, you can pick it up. If you can’t do this, you need to go back to my first list above – probably the bits about efforts, hills, tempos and strength training. Oh and get some sleep and don’t run on a hurty foot – unlike me!

Vikki Harper3.57.55PBSILVER
Howard Harper3.58.49PB