Gran Canaria Marathon

The expo was a two day affair so I expected things would be quiet when we turned up around opening time. Sadly no. A strange one-way system was in operation and it was clearly VIP time too. And I didn’t know which queue to join, because I didn’t know my bib number, because I wasn’t on the start list. I was paid and registered and everything, but on the sheet lists pinned to noticeboards there was no mention of me.

Still, shy bairns get nowt. So I joined the shortest queue. The queue for bib numbers 1 to 100. I was viewed with some suspicion (can’t think why, don’t I look like someone who’d wear the numero uno?) but who cares. The front of the queue came soon enough and I tried to explain. In English. The volunteer’s English was a million times better than my Spanish but we still struggled. Eventually they found me, on another list, and I walked away happily with number 922, and a mental note not to go to expos the second the door opens. Wait for other runners to find the bugs.

We were staying, more through accident than design, at roughly kilometre 37 of the marathon, as it prepares for its final fast approach to the finish. This, with the hotel serving breakfast from 6am every day as a matter of routine, meant I had a very civilised start to marathon day. I looked out the window and got that strange marathon tingle you get when you start seeing other runners, in ones and twos and groups, drifting in from all directions and making their way to the start. I eventually joined them and was wandering around the start in good time trying to find the baggage drop. It was elusive, time was ticking, and I began to get anxious. I spotted a runner who looked like he was on a purposeful baggage drop trajectory so I tapped his kit bag and yelped Dónde?! He pointed up and replied Arriba! Well that was all clear enough and I reflected that I may have learned more Spanish from watching Road Runner cartoons than from text books.

Gran Canaria Marathon – Jan 2018

By start time I was quite relaxed and chilled waiting in my pen. Away we went and I settled down into a comfortable pace in the cool morning sunshine. My training put me around a 4:15 marathon and I knew better than to try deceive myself that I was capable of faster. Still, it’s nice to experiment and after about 10km I began to test my pace. I was feeling comfortable but I’ve learned so much from my hot marathons last year, especially Lanzarote  where I pushed too hard and ended up blowing it. So for the first half of the race I gently pushed the envelope, testing how I felt, recognising my limits, and easing back. I was running without a heart-rate monitor but I trusted my instincts on perceived exertion and kept within my limits.

The sun had very much got its hat on by now and I reckoned it was time to get the sunglasses on and turn the cap round backwards. The sweat was dripping in my eyes but, oddly, it wasn’t stinging.


Very odd. Then with a start I remembered something important that I’d forgotten! Despite the leisurely start to the day I had managed to leave the Factor 50 untouched on the bed side table. I’m normally very particular about this and now suddenly I was worried. Wear Sunscreen! There wasn’t much I could do about it now, and in the Old Town of Las Palmas there were decent slabs of shade if you chose a good line. Roberta had realised the same thing around the same time and despite heroic plans to unite me with some sunscreen she realised that it was an impossible task. Our hotel was on a narrow strip of land that the course zig-zagged through in the final kilometres and was effectively locked down to taxis and buses.

The marathon course was, on the whole, a bit unremarkable. This is the 9th running of the race and much fanfare was made of the fact that the marathon would be a single loop. It sounds good but the single loop often involved running a long way up a dual carriageway, around an orange cone, then back again. In fact kms 9 to 16 were so astoundingly dull that the organisers didn’t even put it on the map.

But that was all behind me now. We’d also left the interesting streets of the old town and were heading back towards the city. I was still pushing the envelope from time to time but I knew to trust my instincts and not crash and burn as I knew I would if I chanced my luck. With about 10km to go I saw Roberta waving a bottle of suntan lotion but by this time I was more interesting in scooshing water over my head and letting fate take its course.

Although I thought the course overall had been a bit dull at times, it makes up for a lot of that in the closing stages. The last few kms are a fast belt down the lovely Playa de Las Canteras. I wasn’t as fast as I’d like to have been, but I hadn’t blown it either, and I managed a strong controlled finish without the nagging doubt that I could’ve or should’ve gone faster.

Gran Canaria Marathon – Jan 2018

I finished in 4:16, marginally faster than Lanzarote, but I ran a poorly executed endgame in Lanzarote, whereas today I had got it about right.

My Route

Lanzarote Marathon

The empty Start

We’d booked a week at Club La Santa at low season, when you can get a lot of sun for your money. And on impulse, I typed Lanzarote Marathon into Google. Two words that I knew must go together, but hadn’t expected them to be an item while we were there. But there it was, a proper hot marathon while we were there on the other side of the island. These things are sent to taunt us, and it couldn’t not be done.

So instead of being at Aykley Heads on the 10th December we found ourselves driving South towards Costa Teguise. I’d been nervous about parking but my fears proved to be groundless. Although this was a typical combo weekend, with 10K, Half and Full, we were all starting at different times and from different places. So for the early starting marathon runners, things were nice and quiet.

It wasn’t so long after Palma and I’d rested and trained and thought and thought, and on the whole I was feeling fine. The number of marathon runners was a lot less than I expected and there was no need for seeding pens, self-regulated or otherwise. I wandered around the starting area content in my own little world thinking I was a Stranger in a Strange land, until out of the corner of my eye I spotted George Routledge! Last time I saw him was when I heard him shouting me on in Palma. We had to stop meeting like this.

Bumping into George (again)

The gun went and about 40 seconds later I crossed the Start Line. That was the busy bit over with. Then we headed along the coastal paths on the straight out and back Marathon route. I was feeling pretty comfortable but had the discipline not to push things and settled in with the 4:15 pacer somewhere on the horizon. That suited me. I let him go and he drifted in and out of view from time to time. No worries. Past the airport where bemused passengers looked down on us from the windows of the taxiing planes, then the turnaround where the half-marathoners would be starting soon.

The psychological half-way point done, I considered my strategy on the home run. I was feeling fine and the 4:15 pacer was within easy reach should I wish to step on the gas. Closer and closer I edged until at 18 miles I was sitting comfortably in a little 4:15 bus. 7 miles to go, and it was time to leave the pacer behind.

It was, as Seven of Nine might have put it, to be my undoing. Looking at my HR graph I can pretty much see the exact point in which over-confidence kicked in (at 18.65 miles), the pace went up, as did the HR, and then, a mile or two later, the radiator boiled over. I knew I’d blown it. I walked a bit, put on the hazards, pulled over and took an enormous interest in some roadside palm trees which were, quite literally, very supportive. I suppose it was in these last few miles that the pacer must have passed again, along with perhaps fellow Strider Stuart Barker (doing the half) who I never saw but I see finished well within 2 hours.

Crashed and Burned

I didn’t recover from my ill-judged effort and walk/jogged to the finish clutching an empty bottle of water like a comfort blankie all the way to the line. I was 12 minutes faster than Palma but didn’t feel particularly clever about it. I reckon I would’ve been faster if I’d just stuck with the pacer and not made a dash for glory. If you can’t stand the heat, don’t push your luck.

Palma de Mallorca Marathon

Palma de Mallorca marathon – Oct 2016

The weather forecast was for a sunny 25C with no breeze and I was fine with that. Well, more sort of horribly fascinated. I struggle in hot races and ever since London, where I’d been well prepared and trained, I’ve been exasperated by my inability to deal with hot weather. I wasn’t expecting a fast time today but I was hoping to finish feeling in control and not vowing never to run a marathon again.

It was also my first big overseas race. Something I’ve always fancied and I think I chose well. There were 48 nationalities which handily meant that English was the unofficial lingua franca. We started at 9am sharp and headed west along the seafront. I knew it was race to be run with the head, not the heart, and I settled into a steady pace. The breakfast run on Friday morning had been useful in finding out how I dealt with the heat and I realised, somewhat to my disappointment, I would be wise to stick to 6:15min/km and see how it went. (A 4 hour marathon is 5:41min/km). The first 10km are an out and back turning at the naval port and it was a little congested towards the turn, probably because the first lap of the marathon is shared with the half marathon.

I was slower than I wanted to be but in control and comfortable. Back past the cathedral then into the old town. This was just amazing and shows how a city can embrace its marathon (are you listening Edinburgh?). The marathon route unashamedly blasted past the front door of the cathedral, and probably the side door and back door too. Then up and down so many narrow alleyways that I was completely disoriented. But life and business went on as usual. Waiters paused at cafe doors before nimbly stepping through the race to look after customers on the terraces, and if ever there was a choice of going round an obstacle or straight through the middle – the direct route usually won. Any second now I half expected James Bond to burst out of a side alley in the middle of a high speed car chase.

Through the middle of a major shopping centre and suddenly it’s the Tour de France. Policemen blasting on whistles and waving the crowds back who were either surging forward because they were watching the race, or drifting onto the course because they were on their way to lunch. It was fantastic fun. Roberta was trying to track my progress from my smartphone but it was doubtful whether it was helping much. In the end she settled for drinking coffee and walking the few yards to the race route when she thought there was a chance I’d be showing up again.

I’d lifted my pace a bit in the erratically shaded alleys and soon we were back down to the seafront to start the second lap. If I was going to run a negative split, then this was about time to begin splitting my negatives. Along the coast road for the second time and I was feeling pretty good. Always mindful of the heat I was micro-calibrating my speed more on perceived exertion and comfort rather than too much attention to the Garmin. Things were going well until about 22km, and then suddenly they weren’t going quite so well. I had half-expected it but was still disappointed. I’d trained well for this race but racing is always full of surprises and I knew that I might have problems. But I’ve learned a lot from London, and many other hot races, and I knew the trick was to stay in control of the race, not the other way round.

I dropped my pace until I felt comfortable, then simply micro-adjusted my pace until I wasn’t so comfortable, then back down again. We’ve all done it. Eventually the relentless heat of the seafront gave way to the old town again and it was great to get into the shade. I was irritated to be feeling so stuffed as I’d really enjoyed this bit of the race first time round and wanted to enjoy it again! Still, I was still in control of the race and steadily passed walkers and much slower runners as I maintained a reasonable running form but at a maintainable pace. I did some tactical walking at aid stations and on the hills (that I hadn’t noticed on the first lap) and so never really slammed in the wall as I have done in previous marathons.

The last 2km run in to the finish were a gentle downhill straight through the cafes and main shopping street which were all open of course, it’s just the roads that were closed. There were a couple of “C’mon Striders” and “Well done Elvet” that were uncannily reminiscent of the Harrier League, right down to the accents, although “Go UK!” was a new one for me (your national flag is shown on your bib).

I was a bit disappointed to finish in 4:30 but was pretty happy that I’d run the race about right; tactically and responding to the conditions so that I had pace and form to the end. As my first experience of an overseas race I have to say it was an absolute blast. The carefully balanced chaos of running through the old town like a street mob and the carnival atmosphere surround the event were wonderful. There really isn’t anything about the race I didn’t like.

Loch Ness Marathon

Not since London have I trained so seriously and systematically for a marathon. The training had gone well and I was reasonably confident of finally getting a sub-4 and being able to stop doing marathons.

The Start

And so into the taper, and just the small matter of a few old favourites that I would slip in as, I told myself, ‘part of the taper’. GNR, well it was a half-marathon and I needed to do that distance a few weeks before the marathon anyway, and then the LDMT, that was all hills and an endurance slog, so that didn’t count, and perhaps just a cheeky little fell race the week before. I’m sure it’d be fine. What could possibly go wrong?

Through the half-way point of my 5th Loch Ness Marathon in around 2:01, pretty much on race target and on schedule for a negative split. Still feeling fine. This was looking good and I was confident that this was going to be sub-4 day.

In the Loch Ness Marathon they quite conveniently provide a physical as well as metaphorical wall for you around the 19th mile. It’s not a particular big hill, but it’s not really what you want to see around this stage of the race. The wheels on the bus stopped going round and round and I knew with certainty that the game was no longer afoot. Rather than hit the wall head-on I sidled up to it gently, put an arm around its shoulders and said, “Look, I’m sure we can sort out a deal here. What if I accept the race is blown and just concentrate on getting to the finish in as little pain as possible?”. I think the reply was along the lines of “Whatever”. I took my foot of the pedal, stopped running and started jogging.

It was still pretty tough but it could’ve been far worse. My tactical defeat saw me shuffle over the finish line in 4:21, almost exactly the same time to the second as two years earlier, where, co-indidentally, I’d done the LDMT and GNR and a fell race or two during the taper too.

This year the lesson has been well and truly learnt though. I lost 20 minutes in the second half of the race due to running out of energy. All that careful marathon training down the drain. Don’t waste the training. Respect the taper.

plenty loos
Download file for GPS