Parakeet Marathon #2

Yesterday Peter Grecian and I ran the Parakeet Marathon for the second time, nearly a year after first running it. A spate of unfortunate occurrances and illnesses had resulted in everyone else who I thought would take part having to drop out, so there were just the two of us. But one of the event’s names is The World’s Smallest Marathon, so 2 participants is appropriate for that! My aim was to improve on my previous time of 6:41, and to get round in much better shape, and if possible to get up all the hills at something approaching a run, rather than the shambolic stagger I was reduced to last time. All of these I can safely say I achieved, thanks mainly to Peter’s stalwart support and encouragement.

Because of the way the run went for me last year, I decided to try not tapering my training this year, building up my stamina from 20 to 22 to 24 miles in the 3 suceessive weeks before the event. People were sceptical of this strategy, because it flies in the face of conventional wisdom, but I’m glad to be able to report that this worked well for me. I know it won’t work for everyone, especially those who are training seriously to try to attain a particular time, or to race as well as they can, but that was not my aim. This year I felt more ready for the distance, confident that I would be able to complete it, having run 24 miles the week before and not suffering too badly afterwards. Often the psychology of running is as important as the physical side.

Just as we were about to start, Peter found that he had been sent a text message from Dave Wilson, telling us that he had decided to walk the route again this year. That meant that there were 3 of us taking part.

Everyone tells me that if you start running too fast, you will run out of energy before the end. Peter is a much better and more experienced runner than I am, and he helped me control pace from the off. Also, because he very generously was prepared to run at my pace the whole way round, we were able to talk, and the first 15 miles slipped by in 3 hours with my barely noticing the distance. Outside the Hawker Centre on the riverbank a large group of friends who had run Kingston Park Run earlier were waiting to wish us well as we ran past.Thank you to all of you, your support was greatly appreciated.The weather was rather cold, but bright, and it felt warmer when we were in the sunshine. I took 2 pairs of gloves, thinking it might get warm enough for me to need to change into the thinner ones after a while, but it never did. (My hands do get cold very easily.)

On our way back over Kingston Bridge for the second time, I suddeny spotted Alice Tozer and hailed her as we ran past. But as she was crossing the road at the time, there wasn’t the opportunity to stop and talk!

After 15 miles we were back where we started from at the car park at Kingston Gate, where we paused briefly while my wife served us drinks and a few jelly babies, then set off on the second leg of the marathon. Peter took the opportunity to divest himself of his outer layer, so he was running in just a shirt and shorts. He also runs without carrying any drink, whereas I rely on my Camelback for distances over 10 miles. I don’t know how he does it. I would be dropping from thirst after running 15 miles without a drink. I have also taken to using gels, which he doesn’t bother with. Again, it might be psychological, but I think they help – and that’s the whole point.

The Wimbledon Common leg is tougher, with 4 hill sections, and a couple of short but very steep mounds to get over. In fact I wished I had tackled that leg first. The riverside / Bushy Park / Home Park section is almost completely flat.We kept the pace steady and slowed down on the hill sections. I needed to stop to catch my breath when I got to the top of some of them, and my legs started to get twinges of cramp, but I was able to continue after a bit of stretching.Richard Goulder phoned me and arranged to rendezvous with us at Robin Hood Gate of Richmond Park to accompany us for the last ~3 miles. He was on his bike, but he managed to negotiate the muddy tracks we ran along. As the sun sank lower it got colder, and I worried that Peter would start suffering because of it, but he reassured me that he was alright. Where possible I ran on tarmac for the latter stages where I would normally stick to the grass verge. My legs were tired and I found a hard surface was easier than a soft one. With Peter and Richards’ encouragement I managed to pick up the pace a bit in the middle of Richmond Park heading to Ham Gate. At Ham Gate I checked the distance we had run on my Garmin. There is always the possibility of a discrepancy between what a route measuring program on a computer measures, and what a Garmin measures on the ground. I wanted to be sure that I could say I had completed at least 26.2 miles as verified by my Garmin. It said ~25.4 miles, and I thought that it was about a mile back to Richmond Gate car park, so that would be fine. I explained to the others that if the Garmin was reading less than 26.2 miles when we got to the end that we should run on some more until we had made up the distance. As the car park came into sight, I re-checked, and was disappointed to find that the Garmin was only reading 25.9 miles. So I explained this to my companions and decided we should run past the car park, through the gate, until the reading reached 26.1 miles before turning round. This we did, and the final distance when we got back to our start point was 26.23 miles, and the time was 6:01:22. My legs felt pretty tired but I was otherwise OK. That time is 40 minutes faster than last year, mainly due to the fact that I had 6 fewer refreshment stops.

We hadn’t seen Dave Wilson at all on the way round, but found out later that we had passed him in Kingston as he dropped in to a shop to buy himself some lunch. But my wife saw him in Richmond Park shortly after Peter and I set off on our second leg, so he was walking very fast. We met up with him in the evening round at Peter’s house for a meal and drinks.

My thanks to Peter and Richard for their support and encouragment and good company, and to my ever loyal and patient wife who timed us and provided drinks and refreshments. She also drove us home, as I couldn’t trust my legs not to suddenly start cramping!