Sorry for the delay in getting a report online after Echternach but I've been busy recovering.
Here's how the race panned out:
I started well enough alongside Georges Krier and there was a nice pack developing through the first few kilometres, although on a few twisty narrow sections we did get a bit tangled up and some of the lankier runners weren't particularly considerate.
Through 10km we hit mid-36mins, pretty quick, although much of the opening part was downhill. By this point I was running with a nice pack of four others although the pacing was sporadic. Guys would surge then relax, it was pretty stupid. I kept an even pace and just let them tire themselves out. They would break ahead for a kilometre and then I would naturally work my way back up by keeping a steady pace.
Coming up to nine miles I took to the front as we entered a narrow section back into Echternach and slowed the pace back down to something more sensible - 6 minute miling. At ten miles I passed Stéph who passed me some much needed sports drink with a smile, although I think she was a little concerned at how fast we were going. I offered the other guys some rehydration but they all refused, which I was fine with.
Heading down to the halfway point three of the guys surged again leaving me to run with Jose, the top Luxembourg marathoner, despite being Portuguese. We must have looked like quite the pair: him short and stocky and me tall and thin. Anyway, sure enough we went through the halfway mark in a little over 1:17, about a minute under schedule. I was moving well but knew it would be very tough in the second half of the race.
Jose and I made contact with the other three guys again as we crossed the bridge at the far end of the course and entered Germany. Turning back down the valley we hit a head wind and the road started to get a bit hillier. On the first of the small hills leading out of the town I went to the front and opened up my legs, keen to take some control over the pace. I held the lead for a few kilometres until Jose surged past, taking Georges with him. I didn't see them again as they pulled away into the distance.
At 26km I started to get a stitch and soon found myself bent over in half trying to hold 6:45 miling whilst I dropped to the back of the group. At every aid station I took on as much carbohydrate as possible and then saw Stéph again at 30km for a much needed pick up. I grabbed my own drink soon after but knew the wheels were coming off.
I went through 32km (20 miles) in exactly two hours, as planned, however things were getting tough. Although the stitch had subsided to a gentle ache my legs were getting sore and especially my left hamstring and right adductor. By 35km I was in real trouble and crossing back into Luxembourg was a real effort. I had slowed right down, and despite running with my sports drink in hand I was slowly seizing up.
At 37km I was reduced to walking breaks, thinking agonizingly of the finish line - it seemed so far away and the kilometre markers couldn't pass fast enough. Sure enough at 39km the flying Belgian Frankie Leus came past and I gave him a 'well done', a man who shows real determination and unbelievable ability to punish his body week in, week out.
The aid station at 41km was manned by Stéph's parents who offered some support as I slowed down to walk and drink the last of the carbohydrate on offer. I was well on target to break three hours despite my troubles although by this point I was so stiff and sore I was either hobbling or walking. Climbing up the final rise into Echternach I kept a nice rhythm ticking over as I made to the line and into the arms of an expectant Stéph who had been wondering what happened to me.
Hot tea, reassurance and a nice shiny medal made me feel better but both physically and emotionally I was drained and hurting. At the end of the London Marathon in 2006 I cried tears of pain and anguish at what might have been. At the end of Echernach I almost felt like crying again in thanks that the ordeal was finally over, haha!!
I had no expectations other than knowing that I could get to 20 miles in two hours, which I did, but it's much easier to talk about hitting the wall than when you actually run into it! In training you cannot fathom how painful it will be, or how slow you will be moving, but when you're desperate to see the finish line five kilometres seems like a long way!
So my final finishing time for sixteenth place (first in my age group) was 2:54:06. A new personal best, although London's 3:07:16 wasn't going to be hard to beat, but I'm pleased to have survived and dipped under the three hour barrier for the first time. There is still much more to come, so maybe in a year's time I will return to the roads of Echternach with better preparation and strategy to break 2:40.
Thanks for reading.
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