Zurich Marathon – 2h47:56 PB!

I recently saw a flashback photo that was 4 years old, it was from the Paris Marathon, my PB is from Berlin in 2016, bloody hell that is ages ago! As you can see from my last few posts, things have been going well, my training has been more relaxed, I haven’t lost much weight, but I don’t feel overtrained and I feel ready.

That was until Tuesday, when I started feeling a bit ill. I went to the Roche run and had shortness of breath, not too bad but noticeable. I did my 5x1min intervals but they felt hard. On Wednesday it was a bit better and better again on Thursday, not great but ok. On Friday I had an easy 35 min run with 5 mins faster and I was flying! A slow jog was 4:20/km, so I was healthy again, all good!

I got the train to Zurich, checked into my hotel and went straight to get my start number, there were loads left to be picked up considering there was little time left. I brought food from home but probably overate a little.

The race starts at 8:15, really early, so I had alarms set for 5am, I was awake at 4:30 anyway! I ate my peanut butter and honey on baguette and sat, stood and walked around the room until just before 7am when I was ready to go to the start.

It’s 3.5km from the hotel to the finishing area, where you can hand over clothes bags, then it’s another 1.5km to the start. I felt that would be too much for before the race, so took an e-bike to the finish area. It was really cold, and that was with extra clothes on, that I would have to take off.

After the bag was gone, I was in arm warmers, a hat, gloves, a buff around the neck and my normal shorts with TCEC vest. It was pretty damn cold, but I still decided to bin the arm warmers just before the start. At 8:05 I had my last pee and went to the start block, but it was really full so I had to push forward. I could see the 3h pace group way ahead, so I wanted to start a good bit before that.

The race started and I found my stride pretty quickly, the first km was 4:05, which had me a little worried, but I was soon ticking off 3:55ish kilometres. I was noticing that I was constantly slightly faster than my goal 4:00/km pace, I didn’t want to do too much too soon, but it felt fairly comfortable so I continued on, passing 10km in about 39:20.

I found a great group for the long out and back into a very slight headwind. People kept shouting for someone called Nicola, including a “You’re a legend, Nicola” shout. There was a women running next to me, so I said, “wow, you must be famous”, she didn’t reply.

I soon thought, famous, Swiss Nicola who is running at sub 4 mins per km pace…. Nicola Spirig the Olympic Gold winner in the triathlon? Oh, yes, that was her, but it wasn’t the woman I had spoken to before! We even had a TV camera with us for quite a while.

The awesome group into the headwind

The group paced perfectly for me, it was 3:55 per km and we passed the 21.1km half marathon in 1:23:30. I shook my head, that is so far to fast it is unbelievable, I was working on an optimistic goal of 2:50, but here I am running 2:47 pace, this could end badly.

But the kilometres kept coming and going, every peep of the garmin started with a 3 and I felt fine. Spirig kicked on ahead and after the turn around our group disintegrated, which was a shame. I had the feeling that I was usually running downhill, though obviously I wasn’t as it was pretty much flat. With 27km done, I had more than 1h02 to run the last 15km, looking good!

I started to feel like I might need to stop for the toilet after about 28km. It wasn’t too bad, but I felt like I could go when I see a toilet, or I might be forced into the bushes later. I knew there was a drinks station at 36km, and they are about every 4-5km, so I was looking for one from 30km onwards. I eventually found it at 32km, it felt like it took ages (strava suggests 30 seconds) but I was done and good to go to the end.

I was playing everything very conservatively, I had about 2 minutes in hand and felt fine, but I took a planned little walk break at 36km to take my last gel and drink some water. I was off again and going to the finish line. After 37km, I had 23 mins to beat my goal time and I still felt fine. I couldn’t really judge my pace anymore, but the old garmin kept saying 3:57 or so, sometimes 4:02 or so, but that’s a rounding error at this stage.

After 2h31m, the groups are gone and it was a more solo battle

My mental maths was going into overdrive, if I don’t blow up, and I don’t feel like I’m going to, then with 2.2km to go, I’ll be able to average slower than 5:00/km and still do it… this is in the bag! I was overtaking more people than were passing me, which I don’t think had been the case for the last 10km. In the town the course is a bit more twisty, but there are more people cheering.

After about 41.5km, I could see the finish on the otherside and I knew I had done it. I was grinning but could feel the emotion coming too. It was a little further to the finish than I thought, and I realised that sub 2:48 was still on, so I kicked a little and finished in 2:47:56 – a dream!

Just missed having a good finish line photo

I couldn’t/can’t believe it! This is the time I wanted and deserved in 2016, I have been working for ages for this and it has finally happened. I cried a bit at the end, as I am prone to do. I was just so happy that I got the result that I think I deserve.

So, it’s over. I actually feel pretty much okay 1 day after the race. My feet are a bit of a mess, but I’m not destroyed. So where does that leave me now? Well I’m not going to do an Autumn marathon, too much stress. I do want to do the Raffeisen Oberland Challege series, which is a load of different races throughout the year. I have the feeling that I could maybe beat my best 10k time on a good day. My 5k time of 17:31 or whatever it is should be a sitting duck on a fast course, who knows, maybe my HM time could go too!

I would like to try another marathon some time. I weigh about 80kg now. I can get to 75kg, but I don’t think hard training and weight loss works for me. I need to start my training cycle at 75kg or less, then I think I can start to look towards 2:40 as a crazy goal time. I may well never beat my time from yesterday, but that wouldn’t be too bad. It fits with my other PBs well, it always annoyed me that I’d never run a good marathon before, but now I have 😀

Ronde van Vlaanderen 2022

The first big event I’ve done in ages, RVV was finally going to happen. Adrian had said last year that he really wants to do it, and I said straight away that if he does, I’ll ride it with him. Only later did I decide to do a marathon, which happens to be 8 days after the ride, but RVV shouldn’t be too tough, so it’d be fine……

Weather wasn’t looking good on the way there

I flew to Brussels from Munich and unpacked my bike bag and left it at the airport so I could stay mobile all weekend, Adrian picked me up at the airport. We went straight to Oudenaarde to get our start number, my T shirt and finisher medal, a bit weird!

We were staying in Ghent, which is 25km from Oudenaarde, we thought we’d get the train to the start, but were pretty worried that the bike places would be full and we wouldn’t be allowed to travel. We were planning on getting to Oudenaarde at 8:30 and we had to start by 9am, so it would be a bit tight if we couldn’t get the train.

Everything worked out though, the train was jammed with bikes, but we were allowed on. We got straight to the start and set off. There were a lot of people on course, I worried it was going to be a case of us crawling around for 144km, we even waiting in a queue to go around a tight corner after a few km!

In the first 30km there were a shitload of cobbles! I’ve never ridden cobbles before and pretty much hated them immediately. My bottle holder shook loose on the first cobbled section and I stopped to fix it. My multitool fell apart in my hand, so I just chucked the bottle holder and put the bottle in my back pocket.

On the next cobbled section, my GPS shook loose and fell on the road, that went in the back pocket too.

It was about 0°C and windy at the start, I was dressed nice and warm. I had a long arm top, then a baselayer, then a long arm jersey, then my warm jacket! I also had my leg warmers (which constantly fell down) and heat pads on my toes, along with neoprene overshoes. I was warm enough when we were riding, but still cold when we stopped or descended!

Selfie with a mouth full of waffle

On the first cobbled climb of the day, I dropped my chain at the bottom and it jammed behind the cassette, I could fix it but it took a while. I had the best click in of my life to get going again just as the gradient kicked up.

Adrian was riding well and had waited after my many mishaps at the start but soon was getting ahead of me on the climbs too. I was luckily faster on the descents and more technical sections (not cobbles) so we could still ride together.

I could feel that my legs were getting tired way before the end of the ride and I also was a little hungry going into the 2nd food stop after about 78km. I ate a bit of cake, 2 waffles and a gel and was good to go. Almost straight away we hit the Koppenberg, maybe the hardest climb of the day. It was damned hard, over 20% and cobbles, luckily it wasn’t too long and I never felt in trouble, even though I was crawling, my main worry was that someone would stop in front of me, which they luckily didn’t.

Top of the Koppenberg

On we went, my bike had stopped falling apart (my cross bike btw) but my gears were pretty jumpy, I was having some problems using my bottom gear, even though I really needed it.

Adrian was generally getting away from me on the climbs and cobbled sections now, I still felt generally fine, but my climbing legs were done. As soon as the climb was done, I could speed up and kick on again though.

The rest of the ride kind of passed by and soon came the famous last 2 climbs, the Oude Kwaremont and the Paterberg. The Oude Kwaremont started on road but changes into cobbles. By this point I hated cobbled so much and just wanted to survive the climb. I was looking out for the church at the top but couldn’t see it (it’s on the Muur, not the Oude Kwaremont!).

I was waiting for the steep bit to come, but it didn’t, the climb is more of a bad cobbled section than a hard climb really, if it was asphalt, it would be a breeze.

So on we went to the final climb, the Paterberg. It’s supposed to be a bitch, but when we got there, it really wasn’t so bad. It is steep and it is cobbled but it is also very short. It felt like it was over before it began and the climbs were over, it was time to get the head down and do the last 14km to the finish.

Adrian had been putting ever more time into me on the climbs and led on the way to the finish. There was a big headwind, so I tried to take the lead a bit. Soon we were in the last 5km and I was on the front, I felt like I was riding through treacle, I could come to a stop! With only about 1.5km to go, I looked back and saw that Adrian had dropped, I guess he wasn’t cruising as much as I had assumed. I waited and we rode the bolt straight last 1km to the finish. I considered doing the Gilbert stop and bike pick up, but decided against it with so much traffic.

At the finish line

It was over, I didn’t much enjoy the ride, but I am happy to have done it. I will watch the pro races with a new respect in the future, how they race up the Koppenberg and others is beyond me! I would quite like to try again with some more bike fitness, but I’d also like to never ride cobbles again, so I’m not sure.

Well deserved beer afterwards

As long as I didn’t catch Corona at the ride or afterwards, I don’t think it hurt my marathon too much. I currently have a bit of a cold* on the Wednesday after the ride, but if that clears, I’m good to go on Sunday, the weather forecast looks great, I’m scared, please let me be 100% fit and I’ll break 2:50.