Gillian Allen, now based in Germany, made her England Masters debut at the Chester Marathon earlier this month. She’s kindly written a report about her England experience which you can read below. There are photo’s too but heads keep being chopped off when I try to upload them! Hopefully they’ll be added shortly by someone more skilled than myself!! Well done again Gillian and thank you for a great report!
England v Celtic Nations Masters Age Group Marathon
Sunday 7th October 2018
The 2018 MBNA Chester Marathon played host to the second ever England Athletics Age Group Team, as masters runners from a wide variety of clubs across the country grasped the opportunity to represent their country with distinction.The Age Group Team once again took on a Celtic Nations line up in a challenge match, with England team members having qualified thanks to their performances at qualifying races over the past year (taken from the England Athletics website).
In April of this year I ran the Brighton Marathon, which was a selection race for the England Masters team. I was over the moon to qualify and earn my first ever England vest, having been a lifelong runner (I joined Elswick harriers in 1986 when I was nine years old, thanks to Anne Blight).
Unfortunately, I only found out about my selection to represent England days after I heard of the passing of my childhood coach, Mike Avery. I was gutted, really gutted, as I know he would have been so proud of me. He gave me, and others, so much of his time and patience when we were younger and became like a second father figure to me. I’m so pleased that I managed to see Mike in recent years and that he met my husband and kids on a few occasions, as I’d always wanted them to meet him.
Training for a marathon is tough at the best of times, but with the added stress of moving to Germany in the summer, a new job and two young children, this was a particularly challenging period for me. However, I often thought of Mike during these times and knew that I just had to get on with it and be the best that I could be on the day. The landscape for training in our new home city, Leipzig, was better than I’d hoped for, albeit a bit flat, and so Sunday morning long runs were reasonably successful despite the training time lost to moving house and enduring ten days without a kitchen on arrival (it’s a German thing, don’t ask!). The weeks of 30 – 38 degree temperatures were also a struggle and a lot of my normal key sessions were drastically reduced or aborted as I just couldn’t hit the paces I’ve come to expect, or I just felt dreadful.
However, one huge plus of our new location over our old (Belgium’s Waterloo) was a weekly Parkrun. Kuchenholz parkrun is a must for any parkrun tourists reading this (get in touch if you fancy visiting!). I knew that I was starting to close in on some match fitness when I clocked back-to-back times under 18.40 for this 5km weekly jaunt. And so Chester beckoned…
I was unusually excited for this marathon, which is strange as I’m usually a bag of nerves, but I felt pretty strong and my last few weeks of training had gone well and something just clicked into place. I was so determined to enjoy myself for a number of reasons. I had a lot of family coming to watch me and I wanted to be a good role model for my own kids and my nieces, whatever the result. Putting on the England vest on the morning of the race was both thrilling and nerve-racking. I was so grateful to have this opportunity at the grand old age of 42. Age really is just a number – I honestly believe I’m fitter than ever before since I reached my 40s.
The morning of the race was a real shock to the system as there was ice on the car windscreen and we were in a panic as to how to de-ice our rented car! My teeth were actually chattering on the start line as it was so cold. However, I still felt incredibly relaxed despite all the nervous athletes around me and I received the best good luck hugs and kisses from my kids and husband before the start. I was so determined to make them proud of me. As soon as the race began, I felt good, and as a beautiful morning unfolded, I felt comfortable hitting my splits and feeling as strong and comfortable as I ever had. I was really holding myself back and using my practised mantras in the first half telling myself over and over to be patient, which wasn’t easy as runners were streaming past me. I smiled back at the crowds and thanked the volunteers and settled into the race. It was a relief to get to half way as this is when I could start running more freely. They say the real marathon starts at mile 20 and this is so true for me as it’s when you have to start digging deep and, unfortunately, you start seeing people falling to the side, cramping up and dropping out. “Be relentless” was now playing over and over in my mind and I focused on passing as many people as I could. I caught up and over-took many male and female athletes in the last four miles. The last mile was tough but without sounding cheesy, I thought of Mike. Mike used to tell me about my dodgy left elbow and I have an image etched in my memory of him standing watching me during a track session at Lightfoot stadium, when I was approximately 14 years old, yelling “Elbows, Korky, elbows!” It still makes me smile as he is the only one who ever called me “Korky” and I still have a dodgy arm action when I run! I thought of this and it took my mind off the pain and as I rounded the corner of Chester race course I heard my Dad first (who is possibly my number one fan) and then I heard and saw the rest of my family holding up a banner that my Mum had had made as a surprise, which made me smile. I not only felt great but knew a huge PB beckoned. I ran down the home straight smiling the whole way, and my 3 hours, 3 minutes and 27 seconds was only bettered by the fact that I didn’t collapse in a heap at the end, but instead could talk, laugh and enjoy every moment. Oh, and I achieved the holy ‘marathon running’ grail of running a negative split! I finished 16th female overall and sixth in my age group, which I was pretty pleased with as there are some swift ladies out there.
For anyone thinking of doing the Chester Marathon I can thoroughly recommend it. The organisation is superb and the organisers are so friendly and supportive. The goody bag at the end is the best I’ve ever received (although anything beats the junior hacksaw that I once received at the end of a race in Belgium). The course itself it very scenic and takes you into Wales, but be warned that the second half is very undulating!