I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again, I’m not a huge fan of the London Marathon. Perhaps it has something to do with the sheer volume of people racing the 26.2 mile course. It could be down to the route, which starts to lose its sparkle when you head past Tower Bridge only to be interesting once again when you hit the river. Or maybe it’s the pressure that I put myself under when running London. I know that pretty much everyone I know will be watching out for me and I fear failure. (Even this year, I received texts from mates telling me they’ll be watching out for me although I didn’t run it).
Fundamentally though I think it’s down to the fact that I’ve never had a good London Marathon experience. From almost collapsing while trying to find my boyfriend and folks at the meet and great point after my first ever marathon to having to pull out at mile 20 due to dehydration. Even my third time lucky wasn’t exactly lucky as my nerves had got the better of me. Yes, I’ve only run London three times and I’m keen to try it again next year because I want to defeat what has become my running nemesis and have a race I can write home about.
Geneva, on the other hand, was was love at first race. Despite a fairly sketchy training schedule between Paris and Geneva (Paris was almost exactly a month before), I still managed to pull a 3:30:44 out of the bag. Who knows how? Yep, a training diary would help and it’s definitely something I’m considering starting but I think I fear that writing stuff down like “today’s run felt awful” or “today I consumed a 9bar and three mini eggs for my breakfast” would make me face up to a reality that I’m not quite ready for.
The same goes for monitoring my runs. I’ve made a small step and finally dug my TomTom watch out from where it’s been “hiding” for the past few months. If I’m going to get better and smash my PB, I need to face facts that my current training regime just ain’t workin’ (sigh) and I need to shake it up a bit.
As well as highlighting what I could do to improve in future, the Geneva Marathon confirmed why I enjoy the marathon distance. After Paris, where I was ill, it felt good to run without coughing my guts up and was an exercise in confidence building. Here’s why running in the shadow of Mont-Blanc for 26.2 miles is my kinda race:
- I had the space to find my race pace: when it comes to running, the number one peev that I have is overcrowding. There is nothing worse than having to navigate yourself around a race, while trying to find your pace. I swear it adds on minutes to your time (or that’s what I tell myself). In fact, I think races that are rammed with people can become almost like a steeple chase. Stick with me here. Testing out your agility skills, making you jump across puddles, skip sideways and generally run for it when you spot a gap. In comparison, the Geneva Marathon was like a dream. If you include the relay teams, there were only around 1,800 running at any one time and an open road so you could quite easily find your pace.
- It was freezing but I could take cover: the race pack may not have been the best – I received a number, usual plastic bag to hand my stuff into the bag area, bandana and four safety pins – and there may not have been any instructions on paper about the start, finish or route but Geneva did have a “changing area” in a building where it was warm. After visiting the facilities, I headed straight for this building to find the female “changing area”. I never found it but what I did do was take cover inside next to the stairwell with two other women who had the same bright idea until the final call for bags. It was freezing that day and having somewhere you could shelter (probably not officially) made the start of the race all the more bearable.
- It was a good mix of undulating terrain: I enjoy a mixture of hills and flat, especially when running a marathon. When you’re running up a steep trail, there’s nothing more satisfying than the thought that once you’ve reached the top you can let it all go. Now Geneva was no where near as challenging hill-wise as say the South Downs Marathon or Kielder. Then again there were a few of those long uphill and downhill stretches to test out my quads and hamstrings.
- There was a little bit of support too: Besides the girls from Team Naturally Run, who had all come out to run the Geneva Relay or Semi Marathon respectively, there was a bit of support from the locals on the way. If you get a buzz off the crowds at marathons, then Geneva is not for you. When I say a bit of support, in the first half of the marathon I think I saw a man on his tractor, a few Shetland ponies in a field (or at least I think they were Shetland ponies, hey I’m not an expert on equine studies) and a couple of families cheering on the way. I’m not too fussed about the crowds and can find it all too overwhelming sometimes. Despite my lone ranger attitude towards running, spotting Beki at 30k and my boyfriend at around the 38k mark certainly lifted my spirits. He did complain later that he had been shouting at me for ages but I was too engrossed in my very loud music to listen. There may be an element of truth to this but I appreciated his support.
- Surprisingly running alongside the relay helped: Being joined by a fresh pair of legs every 10k meant I was able to break the race down into a series of 10k races. As funny as it may sound, this made the distance feel more manageable because there a new dynamic every 10k. Your race partners or those who you pace yourself next to changed more frequently. I didn’t know beforehand whether this would hinder or help but psychologically it did the latter.
- It gave me time to savour the moments: I know I’m pointing out the obvious when I say a marathon is a long way but running over this distance means you have time to think and enjoy what you’re doing in the moment. Without the crowds and surrounded by beautiful countryside, I could do just that. Savour the moments, listen to my music and just be.
- And as for the scenery, well…: it was a grey day but that didn’t stop the sun breaking through the clouds to create a halo effect around Mont-Blanc. Honestly, the landscape was the stuff to inspire poetry. I almost always keep my focus forwards but at one point I was running with my head turned to one side so I could imprint the image of Mont-Blanc that day to my memory forever. Mountains, chocolate box-style Swiss villages, fields of yellow, the Geneva Marathon showed off the splendour of the Swiss countryside. And then as I hit the last downward path towards the main city, I caught a glimpse of Lake Geneva occasionally sparkling, thanks to spotted rays of sunlight on the rather overcast day. Wow, just wow – it’s at those times that you’re reminded about the beauty of the natural world. If only I could take pictures while I run.
The weekend would not have been complete though without the girls from Team Naturally Run any my long-suffering non-running boyfriend. Meeting them pre- and post-race made the break all the more special, as did my very own Geneva water bottle, which were given out to all competitors.
I didn’t take it with me on the race but I am sure going to use it to store liquid of a different kind. Let’s just say I think it would make the perfect receptacle for something alcoholic mixed with blackberries. What do you think of city marathons? Do you prefer scenery or crowds? What’s the recipe for your perfect marathon? Let me know here.