Last Sunday April 24th, at the time that this post is being published I was in the departing line of the marathon of Albi, a French town in the South West of France, famous for its cathedral and the museum dedicated to the painter Toulouse-Lautrec.
My brother Jaime came with me to the marathon as support team, but this time I would race alone. I had subscribed to the race a few months earlier in order to force myself to keep up with the training.
And it did force me, but not that much. The typical training plan that I use to train for marathons consists of 16 weeks, with series sessions during the week and a long run each weekend. This time, I lacked the motivation to start head on with the planning and it took me about a month to start with the series training. From then on I more or less tried to keep up with those sessions.
On the other hand, the long runs went even worse. I didn’t manage to complete single run of over 30 kilometres or even 2 hours. The longest ones I did were of 21.1 km, half marathons, one training and one in competition (Blagnac semi marathon on March 13, training calendar week number 11, in 1h40′, a moderately good time).
Apart from that, on April 3rd, David, our second child was born. And just before and after that (training calendar weeks 12 and 14) I fell heavily sick, having to drop running alltogether for 9 and 10 days each time. All in all, I arrived to the race with just 530 km of training in the legs. About 200 km less than if I would have met the plan at about 80% (a moderately good completion that I have managed previous times). I knew I would pay for it. The question was how much I would pay and since when.
The marathon of Albi departs and finishes in the athletics stadium of the city. It makes an initial detour through the city center and then goes along the river Tarn for about 18 kilometres and back. Part of this route goes through small villages, part of it at the side of the river with wonderful views and part of it through 2 tunnels of 900 m and 400 m, both ways, a strange experience. Along the route there are some groups of villagers cheering the runners but the atmosphere is rather silent. There aren’t many runners neither: 362 at the departing line, a handful less at the finish line. This running event is mostly about you running by yourself along a small road by the river.
The organization of the race had several pacers. I decided to start with the 3h45′ one, knowing that I would not be able to keep up with him until the end, but knowing as well that that pace (5’19” per km) was a comfortable one to start with for me (having finished several marathons in around 3h45′). And so I did. However, the pacer in question started running consistently below the target pace, despite of some remarks made to him by other runners in the pack. We went the first 12-13 kilometres at a pace of about 5’05” – 5’10” which is not much faster but enough to take its toll on you when you’re short of training. I therefore decided to let them go and soften my pace from the km 13. I still arrived at the half marathon at below 1h52’20”, the target pace for 3h45′. However, as you can see below from the kilometre 24 and especially the 29 I started to notice the lack of training, of long runs. The hill was coming.
After having completed several marathons and a couple of ultra marathons, the difficulty in keeping a pace or seeing the pace deteriorating did not bother me especially. I knew I would finish. I just didn’t know whether I would make 3h55′, 4h, 4h05’… I especially softened the pace between the km 34 and 39, where we encountered a couple of small climbs and supply posts and in the end I clocked 4h10’14” of net time, which is the worst time I have managed in the last 15 years, about a minute worse than what I did in Toulouse in 2011. It didn’t matter. I already knew at the departing line that it would not be the best marathon nor the second best or… I came in order to complete another one, to keep up with the running and to collect the prize of having pushed myself to keep training for the last four months, even if I didn’t quite manage it as I wished I had.
The best part of the race were the last 3 km, already back in Albi, when I stepped up the pace, thinking about the children and the last lap at the stadium that was about to come, where I met my brother again, who took some nice pictures, one of them I share below, indicating that this was the 14th marathon that I have completed so far.