Great Welsh Marathon

As the name suggests, the Great Welsh Marathon is in Wales.  More specifically, Llanelli, just to west of Swansea.  It was a 2 lap course on the Millennium coast path, which was generally flat and scenic.  Scenic is another way of saying exposed, which given the wind forecast for the day meant it would be a little bit harder than we had anticipated.

Karen had found this one and ‘persuaded’ Matt P, James C and Matt King to take part – you can decide for yourself who was easiest and hardest to persuade.  Vicki was also along for a weekend away and important pre, during and post race support.

Saturday stroll to start/finish area – Looking forward to seeing this mile marker on Sunday

The goals the team had were Good for Age times (to secure a London marathon place and PB’s for Karen and James (sub 3:45 and 3:05 respectively) and support/encouragement/pacing assistance for Karen by Matt P. Matt K wasn’t really saying, but has a string of impressive (sub 3:00) marathon times, so fairly decent things were expected.

We are ready – Sunday morning.  Don’t judge the empty wine bottle in bottom right of picture

Race day arrived and the forecast turned out to be correct – a strong south easterly wind and early rain (which did clear up about 1/2 way through race).  The coastal and out & back nature of the course meant on both laps we would be facing 5 miles into a strong wind with occasional other sections where the wind was a challenge.

We were set off at 9:00 and Matt K and James were soon over the horizon and far away while Matt P did his usual, ‘easy’, ‘steady’, ‘gentle on the hills’  marathon monologue.

At the first turn, Matt K was in the lead, James in about 10th and Karen 13th woman, but that was only 5-6 miles in and you only really find out ‘whose got it’ in the last 6 miles of a marathon.  Turning to face the wind was fairly tough and I think we were all looking for some shelter behind other runners – definitely easier on lap 1 when the field was less thinned out and there were also half marathon runners to ‘hide’ behind.

At the end of the first lap (so 13.1 miles), Matt K was still in the lead, James had moved up to 8th and Karen was holding steady in 13th.  At this point Matt P thought there was no chance of a podium and told Karen.   As we headed out to the western turn, Matt K was running in the opposite direction and the lead was pretty impressive (around 90 seconds), we also saw James motoring along well.  Karen picked up a few places but the primary target was a GFA, so we wanted to avoid going too fast, blowing up and missing that important goal.  Rounding the eastern end of the course, we passed mile 24 and  GFA was looking good.  Just after that a marshall confirmed Karen was in fourth.  At mile 25 I knew GFA was achieved for Karen short of collapsing (& she was looking really strong).  Then we saw some other female runners ahead of us and the pace picked up a bit …

When we crossed the finish line I was amazed, Matt K had won the marathon, James had finished 8th with a new PB and Karen was second woman, achieving GFA and a new PB (by 14 minutes).

There was a lot of celebrating in Llanelli on Sunday afternoon/evening.

We must also thank Vicki Clarke who was supporting us all throughout the entire race (which entailed a lot of cycling between different parts), waiting in the wind and rain, even handing out lucozade on course to Matt P when he needed a boost.

The women’s podium, congratulations to all 3 medallists

For those of you that find it easier to read words than tables;

Matt K was always in the lead.

James was really consistent but struggled slightly in the last windy section.

Karen and Matt ran negative splits (2nd half faster) only 12 people out of the 310 finishers managed this!

Now to hear from some of the runners;

Matt P

Karen and I run together quite a bit and having done the New Forest Marathon last year (with Matt M), we also learnt to run long distances well together.  The goal for this event was sub 3:45 to get Karen into London marathon 2019, this equates to 8:35 per mile.  I thought this was achievable, thinking she’d finish in the very low 3:40’s.  We set off and I was my usual, ‘slow down’, ‘easy’, ‘take it gentle’ self – its far to easy to get carried away at the start of a marathon and then lose a dozen or more minutes later on.  Getting to half way in 1:47:44 was a big boost, but I was more pleased that we were both feeling good and running well.  The headwind on the 5 mile east bound second half was hard, I tried my best to be a wind block, but it was tough running.  We then got to the final 2.2 miles …

A marshall confirms Karen is fourth, but I can see 500 yards down the road and there is no sign of 2nd & 3rd women, I’m thinking fourth is absolutely amazing.   At 25 miles, still no sighting, 25.5 miles, I say ‘is that a woman ahead?’ Karen confirms it is, ‘do you want to go for it?’ ‘I’m worried about the (final) hill’, I started timing the gap, 14 seconds, 1 minute later, its 10 seconds and falling fast, no need to time it anymore, Karen is going for it. We crest the top of the final hill (25.8 miles) and Karen moves into 3rd and onto the podium, 100 yards later I look behind, the (now) fourth woman is not coming back, but Karen has a new goal, second place is 50 yards ahead and the speed differential (Karen faster), is obvious, she is absolutely determined now and speeds past into second place, again I look back and she isn’t being chased.

Moving up to second place

I’m racing to keep up, but I have a ‘money can’t buy’ grandstand view of a superb finish and I’m not giving it up, she flies across the finish line, arms aloft in a superb time.

At the finish line, Karen is surrounded by race officials, given her medal – which was a special silver one, space blanket etc, I’m thinking ‘where’s mine’ until I realised I had to slum it down the ‘average joe’ finish funnel 🙁

However, once I’d collected my standard race medal, Karen had a lovely surprise for me …

She might be surprised to learn that running together actually helps me maintain a sensible pace at the start and then suffer a little more in the final few miles.  The knowledge that if I make mistakes with the pacing I am damaging her chances as well, adds some (nice) additional pressure.

The race is best summed up by Naomi’s comment on Karen’s strava activity

Wowsers!!!!  Well done Karen Connell … ridiculous time!!!!!

Suffice to say, it was an absolutely fantastic run by all 3 other runners, 2 PB’s and 2 Podiums is incredible.

Karen 

The race was on

My race really kicked off in the last 5 miles. We cruised along comfortably for the first half in 13th position (Matt P’s exact words: “Short of a miracle, we’re not looking at the podium”), but then the second half became a lot more interesting. I knew we were definitely on for my target time of sub 3:45 (the time I’d need for a Good For Age place at London Marathon) so the last stretch was definitely all about the competition. When we jumped up to 4th near the end I was over the moon, but then when I saw the 3rd place woman in the distance with only 1km to go, my slightly competitive instinct kicked in. I focussed on how irritated I’d be if I’d missed out on the podium by a few seconds and powered on. She glanced behind and saw me approaching as we climbed the final hill and I jumped into 3rd place. Then, at the summit I could see the finish line a few hundred metres ahead, and I also spotted the 2nd place woman nearing the line! The race was on and in those last defining moments I managed to take 2nd place, a new marathon PB and a GFA qualifying time!

Best bits / worst bit
The best bits were getting a massive boost seeing Matt K and James speeding past us in the opposite direction and spotting the ubiquitous Vicki all over the place. Matt P’s phenomenal pacing powers, allowing us to achieve another rare negative split marathon, and leaving me with enough energy to put in a solid race at the end! And receiving my prize at the podium alongside Matt K was a very proud and happy moment too.
The worst bit was the weather! The cold and rain while we waited to get started, then battling with a serious headwind for half the race! But at least it wasn’t hot!!

Thankyou!!!
Thankyous… I really can’t take all the credit for this result!! Thanks to Viv for giving my legs a great pre-race service. Thanks to everyone who kept me company on my long training runs, including Matt King, my dad on his bike and Matt P. Thank you to Vicki Clarke for supporting us out on course in the wind and rain, I don’t think I’ve ever seen one supporter so many times in the space of one race! Thanks to the very enthusiastic and cheerful marshals! Thanks to everyone who’s given me advice, encouragement and put up with me banging on about my marathon for months! Thanks to everyone who’s helped me out with childcare and to my little boy who put the pressure on me to win something for him!

The biggest thank you of all is to Matt P, pacing me to my marathon targets was a massive sacrifice and to have done it the week before he runs London Marathon is just a bit insane! Matt’s brilliant pre-race pasta-fest also fuelled me well. Matt, I am eternally grateful for everything you’ve done to help me (but do note that I will be coming after your marathon PB next 😊).