Sunday 29 October 2017
by Tom Cassidy
Arriving in Frankfurt I was nervous, very nervous.
For the past 12 weeks I had been grinding out 40-50 mile training weeks and not thinking about raceday. But as I arrived and collected my race number and timing chip from the expo at Frankfurt Messe Halle on the Friday, the nervousness hit me.
Thoughts of being stretchered off the course at Boston in April came flooding back and a fear of how that felt hit me.
It's crazy. You spend months and months training most days for an event that will last just a few hours. And when it arrives, you want to be able to smile and enjoy it, because you've earned it, but you haven't even started and the battle hasn't even begun yet.
I am blessed though. It's an honour to be able to run at events like this. At races where you see the best in people, the true spirit of running and community. So I was nervous but I also appreciated where I was, that I felt how I did because of my last marathon experience and that I also cared how I did, the nerves made it mean something.
I went out for my standard easy run the day before the race and felt pretty good. I always do the same thing, a couple of easy miles followed by a few sprints just to get the legs turning over quicker. My hamstrings were tight and my right achilles felt a tiny bit sore but I blocked this out and told myself it was just me overthinking it.
That afternoon I went to the pasta party which took place in the Frankfurt Festhalle where the race finishes. If you haven't seen it before, it's an iconic finish inside the large hall with red carpet and loads of cheering spectators. Seeing the finish line made me determined to finish and experience it!
Raceday came and I was relieved it was here. The nervousness started to evaporate and I felt pretty relaxed on race morning. We were staying just 5 minutes from the Start which really did help keep things simple in terms of logistics.
I went down to the hotel reception with my mum and had a coffee and my standard pre-marathon breakfast of three bananas. The weather was pretty changeable. Early morning it was raining and stormy but as the race approached, sunshine started breaking through the clouds and I traded my wooly hat for sunglasses. It was still quite windy though and about 12 degrees.
I went for a ten minute jog just to remind myself how to run before heading back to the room for last minute preparation and picking up my gels.
Arriving in the start pen, I felt calm and collected and ready to run! Before I knew it we were off, on our way across 42 kilometres of Frankfurt. Starting off, the race is very congested and although there is enough space to run, it's at quite a slow pace on fairly narrow streets. I accepted the slower pace and kept looking down at my Garmin. 6:45, 6:40, 6:35. I was pretty sure I wasn't running that fast.
My aim before the race was to finish in around 3 hours or just under. I had a pace band printed out courtesy of Asics at the expo that aimed for a finish time of 2:59:10, 6:50 per mile pace. This was more because I knew there were two 2:59 pacemakers and I thought it could be an easier race if I could run behind them. Sadly I never saw them throughout the race.
So when my watch started ticking off miles in 6:40 and below, I automatically started to slow. I got to 5K in 21:42 and realised the pace on my Garmin wasn't accurate and the distance wasn't either. I had read a review before about the tall buildings around the city interfering with the GPS but had forgotten until this moment. This made it difficult as I knew the pace wasn't accurate and neither was the distance. I'd have to run on feel and check in again at 10K.
At this point I felt a tap on the shoulder and it was a South African guy named Jeremy Foss that I had raced against on the second day of the Green Belt Relay in May, That day we had raced a very hilly 12.8 miles and I had outsprinted him. He was wearing a backpack though to be fair and that day we chatted as we run along, I was just relieved to be running with someone who seemed to know the route. It's such a small world sometimes and you have to laugh when moments like this happen. So we had a quick chat and then I headed off, as I was aiming for 3 hours and he was aiming for 3:05. I did tell him to tap me on the shoulder if he passed me though in the final stages!
I headed on and passed through 10K in 43:03. A quicker 5K split but I was slower than I wanted to be. I felt quite relaxed though. In the marathon you have to be patient and bide your time, even if you're feeling good. So I decided to try and bridge the time gap between 10K and halfway (21K). At about 12K I latched onto a group of German women who seemed to be getting paced and had drinks on the elite athletes tables. I had guessed they were on about 3 hour pace so decided to tuck in behind them. There was quite a big group around them so it helped. I got used to the pattern of passing them when they slowed to get their drinks safely and then they would come flying past when I had slowed to get some water.
I was surprised to pass halfway in 1:29:34. I felt good and was happy that I was was back on track for a 2:59 finish. I didn't think it would be easy but was confident I could run another sub 1:30 half with how I was feeling. Getting to 30K I still felt good but was starting to feel tired. The majority of the group I was running with disappeared off into the distance and I knew my pace was starting to slow.
These are the hard moments in the marathon. The moments where you're slowing but you need to try and stay in the moment, calm down the internal panic and keep putting one foot in front of the other.
So I kept ticking off the kilometres. 32, 33, 34. At 35K it was just a Wedding Day 7K race to go, at 37K it was just a parkrun to go. Those last 5K felt like 50K. My legs felt really heavy and I knew it was just about putting one foot in front of the other. A few kilometres ago I was thinking about trying to lift myself for a fast last few miles and now I knew it was just about getting to the finish, grinding it out and surviving.
So I tried to keep my form as upright as possible and swing my arms back as much as possible. Inspiration came from watching Eliud Kipchoge try to break 2 hours for the specially organised marathon by Nike on the Monza race track in Italy. And the commentators talking about him using his arms to pull him forward and his legs following. Now Kipchoge could have been walking faster than me at this stage but it helped just to keep focused and keep moving forward. There was thankfully never a moment I thought about stopping and walking towards the finish.
With a couple of kilometres to go I looked at my watch and back up again and my vision felt slightly blurred and I found it hard to focus my vision. I had a similar feeling in Boston but much worse. I stayed calm and kept moving forward, trying to grit my teeth and knew I only had less than ten minutes of running to go.
I passed my mum and dad with about a kilometre to go and I knew they were there but I was in a world of pain, so I heard them and couldn't wait to see them after the race but I put my head down and kept working (sorry mum and dad!).
As I passed the Start line (in the opposite direction from where I had started) I could see the Festhalle in sight and couldn't wait to finish. I would love to say I savoured the special finish but at that stage, much like how I felt finishing London in 2016, I was just happy to get across the line. I finished in a time of 3:02:29. I felt lightheaded and slightly out of it but this was fairly temporary and pretty normal after a race like that. I went over to a barrier to steady myself before exiting the hall and getting handed the finish medal.
At the finish I saw Jeremy from the Green Belt Relay. He had finished in 3:03, a great run, two minutes inside his expected time.
I was happy. You always want to run a personal best and finish strongly and keep seeing improvements. But this race was positive for me. It was a London Marathon qualifying time. I was happy with how I had grinded out the run in a difficult last few kilometres. It also felt like it had gone some way to banishing the demons of Boston.
It was by no means perfect but I would assess it as a step firmly in the right direction. There are certainly loads of things to work on and let's face it, it would boring if there wasn't.
The marathon is brutal but beautiful. It can be so cruel but the sense of achievement also feels great. It's definitely a relationship I accept at times will be rocky but at other times it will be brilliant.
That's it for 2017 for me. No more races which feels nice to be able to say. I can slowly start to build up towards next year with no pressures. It's been a bit of a mixed year with the disappointment of Boston but certainly ending the year on a positive and solid note. I've been running with SHAEF Shifters for almost a year which has been undoubtedly positive. The camaraderie and the overwhelming sense of support has been brilliant. In 2018 I will definitely be running the London Marathon and also hope to be at the Bank of America Chicago Marathon too.
Thanks for everyone’s support and positivity, it always means a lot. Here’s to a restful end of season and successful 2018 for SHAEF and individually. As always, happy running! Cheers!