During the past 2-3 months training had gone from being out with injury to consistently getting out the door almost daily with a peak mileage so far of 61 miles. I had thrown in some fast shorter runs and some good threshold sessions so I knew that my PB was very soft and under threat.
Today however was not just about me it was also about raising money for an incredibly brave little girl, Joni-Mai Stevens.
Joni-Mai Stevens is a beautiful 5 year old girl who near the end of last year was diagnosed with Ewings Sarcoma a rare childhood cancer which affects the bones and fewer than 30 children a year are diagnosed with the condition in the UK. Not only is Joni receiving chemotherapy but she is also to undergo a hip replacement in the next few weeks and the long journey to recovery continues. CLIC Sargent is a leading child cancer charity who provides families like Joni’s with invaluable help and support during treatment, at home and in hospital and after treatment. Holly, Joni’s mum wants to give something back and she believed this was the ideal way to do so….
There are 16 runners in our Run for Joni team with the majority having children who attend the same small school/class as Joni hence the support for the family and their chosen charity. To see more about Joni's journey please go to http://www.joni-mai.co.uk
Sundays weather didn't start off too well as it was very cold / foggy when I arrived at the start line but with the forecast predicting a sunny 18C it was going to warm up pretty quickly so I was pleased to be wearing a vest today. The race has grown significantly over the years and had attracted 3200+ runners this year.
There were two start time this year. One gun for runners under sub 1:30 pace and the other 4 minutes later for the remaining runners. I knew that I wasn't on for a sub 1:30 so I lined up with the majority of runners awaiting the off. I had changed my race goal time several times over the past 4-6 weeks leading up to the race but settled on trying for a sub 1:35.
Time seemed to stand still while waiting for the off but thankfully I had a jacket to keep me warm while waiting, "hold on I have a jacket!!!!". I had completely forgot to give this to my wife pre-race so this was not the best of starts. Fortunately I knew she would be aligning the street immediately after the start line so took a chance on standing on the right hand side of the road ready to throw the jacket at her the instant I saw her. The first gun went off and the first band of runners were away.
The second gun went off and like a stampede of wild animals the rest of us were moving. As predicted my wife was just beyond the start line and I threw my jacket at her to her surprise then sprinted away.
My first mile was a quick 6:47 but I knew that this wasn't going to be race pace so as soon as I cleared the majority of people in front I settled down into a pace that felt comfortably hard. I really didn't want to blow it in the first half of this race because the second half is uphill so I knew that sub 7 pace was just not going to happen.
Unlike my faster sessions I had been doing during the last 2-3 weeks the pace did feel fast but the legs felt strong and I believed I could hold onto that pace for hopefully the duration of the race despite the undulating course profile. Approaching the 3 mile point (splits of 6:47, 7:01, 7:17) I heard someone behind me call my name out. To my surprise it was a friend of mine Pete who I haven't seen for quite some time.
As he caught up with me we chatted about a a few things including the fact he had only got a place for the race the night before! He was taking part in his 3rd London Marathon this year and wanted to get a decent time under his belt (Aiming for around 3:15 at London).
The miles ticked by quickly and I found myself able to maintain a consistent pace. Splits for miles 4 to 6 were (7:19, 7:19, 7:04) and thankfully I had warmed up nicely during the past few miles I had as the sun began shining through so I took the opportunity to have a quick drink at the upcoming water station.
Running with a friend at a similar pace really did help the miles tick by quickly. Mile splits for 7 to 9 were (7:04, 7:06, 7:27). Mile 9 was a little slowere mainly due to the uphill nature of the course at this point but I still felt pretty good, in fact I had never felt this good running at this pace for this long but knew at that point that this is where the race really starts and it will hurt at some point!
My perceived effort level through miles 10-12 had definitely felt a little more laboured (splits 7:13, 7:09, 7:02) and at Mile 11 my friend Pete pulled away. I thought to myself that I had blown things and that my pace was slowing but actually looking at my splits post race I realised that he had actually started running sub 7 minute miles and I just couldn't hang on to him!
Passing the 12 mile marker I dug in deep and was focused so much on embracing the pain and try and hold onto the pace kept all throughout the race all the way to the finish. As we climbed a gentle hill (didn't feel gentle at this point) and passed the mile 13 marker (split 7:13) I headed down the 200m straight to the finish and could see two other runners charging towards the line. I mustered every bit of strength I had left and was sprinting for the finish.
I passed the other two runners on the line and clicked my stop button on my Garmin.
1:34:09!!!!!!!! avg 7:10 pace
Oh my god was my first reaction as I stood there gasping for air. I couldn't believe that I had crushed my PB by 15 minutes. I met my friend Pete at the finish (he clocked a 1:32) and congratulated him. Following the race I headed up to my wife and kids to cheer on the rest of team Joni.
Setting PB's is one of the reasons we runners get out there however the whole experience and day was bigger than that for me and the 16 other runners I knew out on the course who were running for Joni.
We have so far raised a staggering £9,427 however it's not to late to give some thing so if you can help it would be greatly appreciated.