• jbaguley2

Race Report: A race to sub 3 hours; Florence Marathon 2017

Updated: Nov 17, 2018

A couple of months ago, the ASCICS Frontrunner UK team asked if anyone was keen to run Florence marathon. I’m always one to say yes and so agreed right out the gate. Having run Dublin marathon exactly once month previously, this would be a perfect opportunity to run a new marathon, in a great city… and hopefully run a fast time.

Dublin went well in October. I had a great day running with fellow Frontrunner Jack, but had been plagued with a cold the week previously and wasn’t on top form. I managed to run 3:14 which became my new marathon PB as my 3rd ever road marathon. A couple of dedicated marathon prep weeks with training runs to 30km and some race pace sessions, I felt as ready as I’ve ever been for Florence, or indeed any race for a while. A busy work schedule and a couple of pesky colds have really prevented the consistency that I needed to perform optimally in other races.

There were four UK athletes running the race in total; our community manager and all-round running machine Holly Rush, and fellow Frontrunners Matt and Lis. We arrived in Florence and met up at the marathon expo the day before the race. The weather I would say was unseasonably mild, and normal duties of number collection, registration etc. were carried out. We also managed to meet up with the ASICS Frontrunner Italy contingent, who were a super friendly and outrageously cool bunch of guys and girls. We were kindly invited along to their photo shoot in the peripheries of Florence; think urban chic meets savvy Gucci runner and you’ll be right on the money. Before we knew it however, the day was drawing to a close and race nerves setting in.

The very cool ASICS Italy team, including Olympic legend Stefano Baldini.

I woke up after very little sleep for the second night in a row. My accommodation choice for the weekend was well located for a stag-do (next to a nightclub!), but obviously not so great for a marathon! We ambled our way down to the start line to meet up with the crew, before being separated into out relevant starting pens. Due to my previous times I was put in the blue 3:00 – 3:30 pen, whilst the other (much quicker!) members of the team were put in the faster pens. Matt had very kindly offered to run with me during this marathon, despite being capable of a much faster time. I genuinely love running with other people, I believe it’s some of the best time you can spend with someone; it’s great fun and an opportunity to share the experience to the maximum.    

My goal for the race was 3 hours, or sub 3 if it was possible. I told a few people, not loads, but enough to create some accountability to ensure I couldn’t just take it easy and claim a PB whatever. This is around the 4:15 min/km pace, but given my lack of faster paced marathons, I had no idea as to whether this was achievable or not. The downside of setting off in the blue pen was of course the majority of people were looking at a slower time, plus the congested nature of a course with 10,000+ athletes in, meant for a frustratingly slow start. We went through the first km in 5:16, the 2nd in 4:19 and the 3rd in 4:21. What this meant was basically there was a fair bit of work to do to bring the average back on track!

Matt was on hand to ensure we really didn’t get carried away. The easy thing to do would be to drop 2 or 3 very fast kms’ to bring things back in line and then sit on 4:15 for the rest of the day. There would be no telling of the impact this may have on the body in the latter stages of the race however, so we took the cautious approach of aiming to bring it back slowly. Km by km we chipped away and did exactly that, but from around 5km onwards the rain set in and at stages was torrential. From around 10km this was accompanied by pretty strong winds which made for cold bodies regardless of pace! Matt and I happily chatted away and realised that at the half way point, we had reined in the majority of the lost time and felt comfortable through at 1:31, and almost on track. Still a long way to go however.

The weather worsened from here on in and it actually got very cold. I struggled to open gels and had a few digestive issues starting to come on. Again Matt was on hand to advise as we came into what he called the 'business end' of the race, and took a lot of the wind as we ticked along at around the 4:10 pace. These were relatively quiet miles. A guy on the plane on the way over had advised me to try and just switch off and let the rhythm take over (no Rhianna meme’s please), so I tried this to distract away from a few other issues that generally start to appear in the body between 25 and 35km of a marathon.

Before we knew it however we were approaching the centre of Florence again, having passed through 30km in 2:07 and 35km in 2:28. In the back of my mind I knew we had done it, but I’ve had this feeling before and then missed my goal by a matter of seconds because I start to relax too much. Matt really kept the pressure on all the way to the line- again something I learned I need to do more of just to make extra sure. To be fair we’d run an extra 500m over the course, but I couldn’t believe it when we negative split the race and crossed the line in in 2:58. It was a genuine mixture of emotions, something I’ve not experienced on a run for a while. Having such a goal puts so much stress on the body, that naturally when it’s all over the body has to have some kind of a release. I honestly can’t thank Matt enough for his company, advice and pacing. It really made the difference and I will always remember this race.

A massive congrats to Holly who came in 7th woman and 1st vet in 2:51 (machine!) and to Lis who paced her way to a great 88 minute half marathon returning from planta fasciitis. Well done both! We also managed to catch up with some of the Italian team at the finish line, who all did exceptionally well so a huge congrats to them! We managed a cheeky beer and some top class Italian scran on Sunday night to celebrate, not just the runners but the supporters as well. Martin, Rachel and Lis’ mother who were all there for us through the day, and did a great job of supporting, which was brutal in such weather conditions- thank you!

All in all its been a cracking weekend; great team, great food and all with the back-drop of an incredible city. It’s back to reality now, albeit with a great medal under the belt and stiff legs. I think on this occasion though, I really don’t care.   

Ps, if you want to check out my runs and races, you can follow me on Strava.

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