Race review – Chester Metric Marathon
Today I raced a distance I’ve never raced before. I completed what was named a ‘metric marathon’. As usual, I like to write about my experiences so that you can find out if this race might be for you in a future year.
At some dim and distant point a year ago, I entered the Chester Marathon. It’s a race I’ve done twice before and it’s a great course. Lots of good memories, aided by a fantastic promotional video in 2016!
Up until about 10 days ago, the plan was still to run the full 26.2 miles. The problem? I’ve done pretty much no training to speak of. I picked up an injury when I was training for Liverpool Marathon in the spring, and it just refused to settle down. I’d done a solitary 20 mile run during which I felt like my upper and lower body parts were acting completely independently of each other. And 10 days ago, I managed to stretch my training run into a very unconvincing 14 miler.
I’ve been aware of the ‘Metric’ event at Chester for the last couple of years. And to be honest, pooh-poohed it as a bit of a money-spinner at a weird distance.
You see the ‘ Chester Metric Marathon’ is 26.2km, or 16.2 miles in old money. Think of it as running a half-marathon, but tag on a parkrun before finishing. It’s just a bit more than a half-marathon. To me, the ‘obvious’ step-up distance is 20 miles, being broadly half way from a HM to a full marathon. So to me it has never made sense as a distance, nor is it a distance I’ve seen raced anywhere else.
However, faced with the reality that I was not fit enough to even consider running a full marathon, the mere existence of the metric event meant I could race today. Otherwise I’d have stayed at home.
Chester marathon(s) organisation
Both the full and the metric marathon races start from Chester Racecourse. The event village is based here also and usually car parking is entirely in the Racecourse complex. I would generally use the term ‘well oiled machine’ to describe everything about the event. A great set up.
As I explained, I was scheduled to do the full marathon. The organisation is fabulous in that they allow transfers between runners and between the two events almost all the way up to race day. I requested the switch about a week before the race and it was done without any issue or fuss. The only ‘cost’ was they wouldn’t refund the difference between the full and metric marathon entry fee, but I honestly hadn’t expected them to do so.
Except at 9pm last night, the organisers announced that due to the squiffy weather recently, parking on the racecourse itself would not be possible. As such, I spent much of the evening trying to work out a car park plan. Not that there are a lack of places to park. The problem with Chester is it gets very congested, very quickly. When I ran the HM in 2013 (it occurs in May as a separate event) I remember nearly missing the start of the race (along with about 1000 other people) as the traffic was at a standstill on the ringroad.
The net result was a 5am get-up, for a 10.15am race with a 60 minute drive in my EV which wouldn’t have quite enough range to get me there and back.
As it happened, no delays, straight in with easy parking. Typical, but I’d rather be proven wrong this way! This meant I had loads of time to exchange my race number for the metric event and got to catch up with a lot of running friends who, coincidentally had also turned up ridiculously early!
The full marathon starts off at 9am with the metric event at 10.15am. The metric event is to all intents and purposes an out-and-back route along the last 8ish miles of the marathon route. The theory being that the leaders of the two races will meet at roughly the same time and all runners come to finish together.
The theory works well, although my previous experience was two races colliding head on along the same piece of road towards each other with elbows and handbags flying everywhere!
As I described above, I am not race-fit. And definitely not marathon fit. So today was going to be a challenge for me, despite the fact I’ve completed several full marathon events in the past.
I was with a large group from Stockport Harriers &AC, most of whom were doing the full Chester Marathon, but 5 of us had opted to run the shorter Chester Metric Marathon. As such, post 9am, we were left at our gazebo, with a lot of space. I did wonder if there were only the 5 of us doing the race at one point, but it turns out 1100 were supposed to be doing it, and about 900 turned up on the day.
Off we go
Our start line was very informal as we were few in number compared to the full marathon! We were able to set off from near the front and quickly spaced out.
The downside was I took the first couple of miles at HM pace. My race-fit HM pace. It was easy to do, running through the city centre with lots of spectators urging the runners on. But as I left the main main I pared back. I ran alongside another Stockport Harrier and we settled at a 7:10min/mile pace. Very ambitious for my lack of training, but reasonably comfortable, at least for the first 8 miles!
The one thing that became very apparent was my heart rate, which was significantly higher than I’d normally anticipate for an aerobic long distance run. Rather than the 150BPM, it was sitting at 170BPM and refused to drop. In hindsight, that’s my lack of fitness showing. I last saw this happen in the months before being ill in 2015, where my physical condition was in a less-than ideal place.
I’m aware of the uphill sections on the marathon that fall towards the end of the race. However, running out that way first, I quickly realised how much the route undulated. Again, fitness issues played their part, but crikey was it lumpy!
Down the hills and we were off into the countryside. We chatted about the pace and whether we’d see a full or a metric marathon runner heading the opposite direction first. 5k and 10k signs were passed, the 10k being very early (before 6 miles!) and then the cones split the road in two. We had an out and back route and this would reduce the risk of the head-on collisions when the two races, coming the other way, combined.
It was a full-marathon runner we saw first, and who turned out to be the race winner. I’m sure he was pushing really hard to be in that position, but to look at him, it looked like an effortless jog! Several more passed us before our route took a different path for a while. When the cones returned, well it went on and on. When would the turn-around point appear? 8 miles came and went, yet the cones stretched off down the road and over the horizon.
About turn and joining the main race route
Finally it happened and we turned. At this point there was a decent gap in the full marathon field so the turning was uneventful. I was however beginning to feel the effort now.
We carried on. Lots of ‘Go Stockport’ support and another runner asked if we were going for 1h50m. Although we were on that pace, I knew I wasn’t going to be able to sustain it. In fact I got to mile 12 when things started to go awry.
My heart rate monitor (HRM) was reporting a 190BPM figure as I went up a uneventful incline. My max HR is supposed to be about 178, so this was cause for concern. I decided that I would drop to a walk to get it back into a more sensible zone, but I was disappointed that I’d not managed the HM distance before having to do this. Needs must.
I reduced my running pace over the next mile before knuckling down and trying to get a rhythm back. As the 15k mark passed, I imagined a parkrun distance to the 20km marker and just counted off the miles. And on the whole this worked. It’s something familiar and, compared to my general running, is a ‘short distance’ in my head at least.
The infamous ‘mile 24 hill’ was approaching (14 miles for the metric distance) after a long stretch of housing with plenty of support although when I got there it appeared to be two distinct hills. They’re not huge, but by being at the end of a race, they punch above their weight! I got up the first hill without an issue but half-way up the second one, we were back at 192BPM. So I decided walking was safer until I reached the top, which wasn’t much further. Keeling over was not in today’s plan!
A river and racecourse finale
The half mile or so to the penultimate mile marker (40km marathon / 24km metric) appeared and the route turns left and heads down to the river. Safe to say I had nothing in my legs for this. Even downhill, getting any speed today was a pipe-dream. However with lots of supporters I kept running all the same, despite feeling dreadful.
The final mile of the route goes along the river and finally under the road bridge to bring you out into the racecourse again. It was the longest never-ending mile ever. Everything was hurting! And then a shout from a marshal of 500m to go and we emerged onto the racecourse itself.
The racecourse was very soft underfoot and made for heavy going. I just focused on getting this ordeal over and done with. I saw the gantry up ahead, clicking over at 2 hours. I’d hoped to get within 2 hours for 16 miles, however I was well aware that 16 miles had clicked over on my watch some time hence. The course felt longer than 16.2 miles, and my GPS trace stopped at 16.4 miles.
It turns out that it was my fastest 16 mile run ever, which is miraculous really in the condition I was in. My final chip time was 2:00:13 and I was 59th overall (out of 900).
All things considered, it was a good result. But it confirmed my decision that I hadn’t a hope in hell of getting around 26.2 miles. I’d barely got around 26.2km intact.
I went through the finish and collected medal, t-shirt and goody bag (see below) and headed back to Stockport Harrier HQ. Several were back already and we watched out for the rest of our team to return home. In general the feeling was it was a tough race today, but we had some great results and a string of PBs to boot (mine included, having never raced this distance before!).
Normally when I do this section, it’s about a carefully planned race which has been executed to a level depending on the day. Today, it was a last minute change to a different event due to my lack of fitness.
It’s an odd distance. I guess it gives people the satisfaction of running more than a half, but really, it doesn’t make that much sense to me. It’s too close to the HM distance, but not far enough beyond it to be a genuine stepping-stone to running a full marathon. 20 miles to me would be the sweet-spot for that.
That said in the circumstances it did provide me with a race I could do today. 20 miles would have been out of the question. 30km would have been beyond me today. So my only other choices would have been to not start, or to have sold my place. With that in mind, I’m glad it existed today.
Price of entry & Goody-bag
I’d entered the full marathon at their early-bird price last year, so I think it probably wasn’t dissimilar to the actual ‘metric marathon’ price. Both of which were far more reasonable than Liverpool (I think I paid about £30 for this, compared to £60 at Liverpool). And it’s a well organised event, even with the last-minute parking matters.
- Today was a bumper goody bag
- Long sleeved T-Shirt
- lapel pin badge
- Mars bar
- Some ‘fluffy candy’ (whatever that is)
- Some Lucazade sweets
- a ‘nine’ bar
- usual papery stuff
- energy tablets
- nylon shoulder string bag
Conclusion about the Chester Metric Marathon
I can whole-heartedly recommend the organisers and the Chester Marathon event itself, which I’ve run twice in the past (and the May-based HM once).
I personally wouldn’t go and do another ‘metric’ marathon. To me, metric distances would be round numbers e.g. 25km, 30km. 26.2km just sticks out as more a gimmick than a sensible race distance. However with 1100 places filled, there’s a lot of people out there who may hold a different view!
Personally I’d replace it with a 20 mile route. It’s a race distance available elsewhere and it would be a genuine step building towards running a full-marathon.
That said, as a fall-back today, the mere existence of the distance meant I could go out and race.
And the car?
As it happens, I probably could have done the whole journey on one charge. But it would have been very close and definitely in squeaky trousers territory.
The Sat Nav in the Leaf, was typically random. And when asked to find a charging option en route, threw it’s digital hands in the air and said it couldn’t. Fortunate that I’d checked THAT out before my journey and I knew exactly where I was going. I’d even programmed the location as an address in the Sat Nav.
So my first in-the-wild charge on ‘the Electric Highway’. And it just worked. As I knew it would.
A final sad message
I just visited the Chester Marathon Facebook page and learned that a runner in the metric event sadly passed away following a cardiac incident. It’s so devastating to hear news like that. In terms of sports, we are generally at a low-risk of serious injury. However, when pushing one’s limits, we do expose our bodies to their limits. I’d just like to add my condolences to the family and friends of the runner in question.