By Luke Ashton
After plenty water and a breakfast of Oats, Hemp, Pea Protein, banana and an Avocado I think we set to grease up our feet and tape up our toes! My partner Sunday is running his first ever Marathon and has been training so well I’m actually really excited for him as it takes me back to my first one back in 2010. Surprisingly I’m not as nervous as my usual races and think Sunday has took them all onboard today!
My very close friend Helen is running her 5th Marathon this year in aid of the Olympic rings so it is an extra special one already. We also have some friends from our BOSH-Run group on Facebook meeting us shortly. Darren and Tanya. This will be Darren’s 2nd Marathon and he is hoping for a PB as is Tanya!
Think we just about set, drop bag full of Coconut water, recovery shakes, bananas, Cliff bars and water. Jackets, gloves and buff on already as its exceptionally cold up north and I really take a while to warm up when it’s this cold. The sun has decided to shine for us today so we can get some warmth whilst waiting at the park. We head down to reception and find Helen and Darren waiting for us, looking rather nervous! Last minute toilet stops and we head to James Street Metro station 10mins away. We find many other runners walking up towards the station and see Tanya waving and making her way to us. She is feeling the cold too but is in good spirits!
We board the train and luckily already purchased our tickets the day before in advance. We walk to the rear carriages as the front seem rather full already. The ride only takes 7mins to Birkenhead Park 4 stops away but as we not local it was the best option and glad as it is so chilly first thing here. We arrive on time and all shuffle our way out the station like sheep, lots laughter and chat on the way to ease the nerves. We head towards the park and see many other runners walking from other directions our way, one group of guys just park up and throw on some bin liners to keep warm which find quite amusing. Today is the Wirral 10k and Liverpool marathon so there is a big turn out by the looks of it.
We reach the park entrance and can see the starting pen to the side. Darren goes to collect his drop bag, we already picked ours up yesterday. As we make our way over through the park I spot the toilets as be needing them again soon and can see the lorries on the other side to drop our bags. The girls head to the toilets and we take some photos amongst ourselves. Darren and Sunday already take there jackets off but I’m not quite ready yet, I want to keep hold just a bit longer yet…. As the girls come back more photos are taken then one of the official photographers snaps a few of us, so we make sure our Bosh bands are visible for our running group! Heading over towards the lorries Helen is already getting soggy feet in her Vibram Five Finger’s so we walk quicker. I’m quite glad I have my NB road shoes on at the moment although I favour my VFF’s I cant go the full distance comfortably without bit more added protection as I can land pretty hard when fatigued in road races.
Bags dropped and last minute alterations to our gear we spot RUN247 filming us sneaky from the side so call him over. Most of us follow the videos online so we have a good chat with Paul about our goals today and he films us for the highlights video. We walk the path that reaches the start pen and stop for some sunshine and pics on the way. Last min toilet stop and wishes of good luck to everyone then I head further down to the front as I know how crowded it can get quickly and want to find a good spot.
I’m penned in around good 100 or so runners now and do some final stretches and jumping as really want to get moving as the cold is quite harsh on my skin now. I can see some elites up front and the Mayor of Liverpool next to the Olympian torch bearer on the balcony by the starting archway.
Last few announcements then the countdown 10,9,8,7,6,5,4,3,2,1 large Horn sound and off we go!, I can hear all the Garmin starting bleeps and ‘activity started’ from Runkeeper! I soon see the runners upfront tearing down the pathway around the park ahead and remember that those most probably for the 10k race, well I’m hoping!, I steady myself and try to get my pacing at an average 7:15-30 min/miles but find it a struggle with runners flying passed around me so just keep an eye on my watch every so often. Soon we exit the main path from the park over a big blue felting mat on the cobbles, which is still very uneven and bumpy beneath my feet so I can see some may trip here from behind me….
Heading over the road and onto the main high street of Birkenhead I get to see the local shops, cafes and take aways which predominately cover this neighbourhood. Lots of spectator cheers in the thickest Liverpolian accents come from both sides of the road.
At the first water stop I grab a bottle from the line of volunteers with there arms out, it’s rather like watching a choreographer in action as one by one a bottle is taken. I have just a few swigs as I’m a little thirsty but not so much so I need all of it yet. I toss the bottle aside with the rest but close enough to the person clearing up. I find my pace and take in the sights of the Wirral, we head onwards up the main road and cross bridges by the industrial works following signs to New Brighton.
6miles in I can see the sea from the right appear and figure we must be in the area where the 10k almost finishes, I then here a big voice over speakers to the park on the left calling out ‘well done just 20 meters to go’ just as I heard the announcement I see runners sprinting off to the left on another road. I try to look away as I stay with the group and think to myself I’m only just warming up!
The marathon runners head up the sea road onwards, we pass many more spectators along the seafront edge and I feel myself lift and can’t help but thumbs up and keep smiling at all the crowd who turned out on this chilly morning! A mile or so up the route switches back to the other side the road and back on ourselves with the sea to the left and the city of Liverpool can be seen over the Mersey in the far distance.
9 miles in and the course leads onto the seafront promenade of New Brighton, over a few bridges and sanded areas, past playgrounds and kept flower beds with many passing public cheering as we pass. I see the light house out at sea and the high buildings of the city coming into view. As I realise the tunnel must soon be approaching I figure be good time to have one my SIS energy gel and have that familiar fatigued feel starting after 10miles of a steady 6:15-30 min/mile pace.
11 miles or so I see the bridge from the industrial works and we go back over this from the other direction now and then follow the round about towards Birkenhead Tunnel. The toll is all closed off and it looks like we are trespassing as this is a road usually in use for cars! We head towards the huge dark opening and as the darkness surrounds me I have a sudden flashing moment to a film set rather like Independence Day or an alien invasion. It’s such an eerie spooky feeling to be running down into a dark tunnel under the river that occupies three car lanes usually, acceptt today all that can be heard is the tap tap of runners feet and the dull humming from above. As I approach the bottom of the slope I see other runners ahead dotted through out the tunnel and we each go over the half way marker with a bleep.
I can see the tunnel starts to ascend upwards so try to see if there is any light at the end but it doesn’t look like any is ahead just an empty road that leads nowhere! I start to feel rather low at this stage and try to keep focused and positive that not long now I will have reached the opening and to the city of Liverpool well over half way! Eventually the route is coned off to take the left turn tunnel out but again I don’t see any light at the end just further up hill and round a bend. After covering over 15mins in the tunnel I finally can hear live drums and a band playing music from the exit…. Then there it is finally ‘The Light’ at the end if the tunnel it looks like the sunshine to me now as I’ve been running in this dark rabbit hole it feels like forever! I start to speed up my pace so I can get closer to getting out! I have no idea how fast I’m pacing as my phone and Garmin watch have lost all service and GPS deep under the river here….
13.5-14 or so miles at a guess?… I reach the opening to freedom and the clean bright air of outside! We are greeted with an almighty cheer from the crowds and a big drum band playing with dancers. I notice the hotel from over the road and look up to see The Atlantic Towers where we are staying! It looks so familiar it’s also rather depressing being do close to our room but still having to finish the race…
We carry on up the road away from the docks and ferry terminal for a good few miles before cones corner off the road for another switch back on ourselves down the other side of the road. I check my pace is still in my target of around 6:15/20 and although now I’m feeling heavy muscle soreness from the constant road beneath me I still feel strong and confident I can finish this at around my usual 3hr 10min goal time. Passing another much needed water stop I gulp down nearly the whole bottle of water provided and take a High5 gel that is offered. This is a caffeine orange energy gel and helps prevent fatigue and I find can prevent that wall approaching! I follow the gel with some Cliff shot cubes of my own I’m carrying in my trusty bum bag.
18miles and we have just passed the Albert Dock and cut through the city pass the town hall, I notice the restaurant we went to last night, the Olive Press for our Pasta pre-race dinner. The road then looks to be going up! Again! Surely not.?? Next time I will maybe take a look at the elevation map as I just thought being a city marathon this would be more on the flat side. After the depressing tunnel and steady hill up I didn’t expect to be greeted with yet another! Oh well what goes up must come down right….
My pace drops some here as I start to feel the dull ache in my quads and my feet start to feel swollen from the Tarmac pounding…. Once the road starts to flatten out we pass a few mini round abouts and then enter some gates to a park, the path beneath is of gravel and is quite a welcome relief and break from the roads. I recognize a few runners from the start and slowly over take saying well done as I pass, some return the gesture others just grumble under there heavy breathing. Lots of walkers and strollers out in the park and I look at my Garmin to see 2hrs 30mins has passed so know its about midday by now.
Damn this means I have less than 30mins if I ever want to get that sub 3hr finish…. I quickly push the thought aside as that 2nd hill slowed my pace and I still have 4miles to go yet….
As we follow the road back out the park it goes down the other side from when we came in and I have the view of all the other runners approaching the park, I spot my Sunday at a glimpse then run nearer to the right side and shout him! He thumbs up to me and says he doing well, he is big smiles so I know that he will finish today! I get a nice warm feeling inside and feel rather proud knowing how far he has come to get where he is today!
As the road starts to lead down hill at last from where we just climbed I see from the markers we are at 24miles so are very close to the finish already! I start to feel slack again and my glutes are getting tight with the slight discomfort that of cramping. I have some more Cliff Shots and a Caffeine SIS gel that’s on me followed by water at the next stop.
Just 1 mile left to the finish! I check the Garmin and see I can’t make my sub 3 today but may just well gain a PB ever on a Marathon! The glutes start to tighten more and I pray the muscle doesn’t cramp! I can’t help but feel the pain approaching and it slows me some. The crowds towards the finish at Mann Island are screaming at us now, clapping and cheering as we pass, the support is truly intense on this side and I feel myself almost shed a tear of joy, it quickly passes as all of a sudden a muscle cramp hits my glute and I have to slow to a trot and rub the area. Luckily it fades some and I have the will to pick up again and head for the finish.
The road turns into Mann Island and I see the big archway finish. I try with all my energy and any power I have left to sprint to the finish, it’s not my fastest sprint but its the best I can do without another cramp stopping me. I hear over the big speaker Luke Ashton is just finishing and look up to see the clock time of 03:02:55
Way hay! A PB and 6mins slashed off my Brighton Marathon best in April. I’m greeted by Paul from Run247 who congratulates me and then my medal.
I’m so glad to be walking and have a bloody good stretch as I take in the moment and the memories of the race…. My first Liverpool marathon BOSHED!
I have time for a cold shower and change before the others come in so head back to see Darren gain his PB of 4:09, Tanya then Sunday finishes his first in 4:21. I get Sunday in a cold bath then we head back for Helen to finish….
1: Once finishing the marathon drink plenty of water and I recommend a high carb protein shake. I currently use a Vegan mix of pea and hemp protein as its plant based, lighter than Whey and dairy free. I put a teaspoon of super green powder and Chai seeds in for added antioxidant boost post race!
2: Run a cold or better still ice bath to cool the muscles in your legs, sit in shallow water for 10mins, uncomfortable as it maybe after a few mins you will already feel less inflammation or aches. The next day your legs will thank you!
3: Wear the right shoe for the terrain. With road races I use a minimalist shoe, today I wore my New Balance MT10 as they have just that bit more protection on the sole over my barefoot shoes.
4: Remember to grease up your feet and toes, cover toenails with plasters if they suffer from bruising, and wear a good running sock. I have to tape up all my toes when wearing my NB. With any Marathon you will get the odd small blister but by doing this you will prevent the worst that could stop you in a race.
5: After an hour to 1.5hr have a very well balanced meal to aid your recovery and start to replace all those calories burnt. You would have burnt between 3000-4500 calories in a marathon.