Returning from just over 2 months of injury I decided to start back in style with the Maratón Estrella de Puebla. I only had two months to prepare but, what the hell, there are only really two marathons I can reach easily from my home base in Oaxaca so I’d be darned if I missed this one after such a lengthy hiatus. My comeback to training had been gradual with a lot of what’s known as active rest. This involves non impact exercise to get the blood pumping and accelerate the healing process. For me, this meant a lot of work on the climbing machine and out on the bike. And it seems to have worked. Once I did start back running, the longer distances weren’t so much of a problem as long as I tried not to put any sort of unusual force on my bad leg. By the start of the race my left leg still felt stiff but good to run on.
The cost of the race was 15 pesos. That’s about a US Dollar, a Euro or less than a UK Pound, and it’s refreshing to see such an accessible price for a marathon when you consider the 100s of pounds you’ll pay for a race in a big European or American city. Unfortunately, the nominal price was reflected in a poor level of organisation. The first problem was the on-line registration. This kept going down before the race and clearly couldn’t cope with the volume of traffic. Despite registering two weeks before the event I couldn’t collect my race number when I arrived at the pick-up. I had to queue for about 45 minutes to collect a chip and have my details put back into the system. In the end I shouldn’t have bothered since my result wasn’t recorded anyway. From the comments on the event facebook page this seemed to be quite common. Other problems came from advertising two separate start times and poor marking of the different 5k, 10k, half and full marathon routes. People also complained about roads being blocked well into the afternoon, probably due to the start time confusion, and rubbish being left after the race. This is a real shame since Puebla is such a beautiful city and a well organised and well promoted Marathon could attract a good number of runners from abroad and do a lot to promote this part of Mexico.
The race started at seven. I planned to take it easy due to my injury so sat in the middle of the pack for the start. As we set of I could definitely feel the tightness in my leg but it was nothing compared to the start of the pain that caused me to drop out of the race at 7k in Verona. Runners are used to running with pain and with my experience I reckon I’m pretty good at recognising good and bad pain. Good pain is the natural tiredness in your gut or legs, bad pain is anything that signals the onset of a proper injury. It’s difficult to describe but if I had to I would say that the bad pain is more sharp, more metallic. The pain in my left leg was still on the good side but I knew I would need to take care and ride my luck to finish the race. Due to the confusion with the start time we passed a good number of runners making their way to the start. I regulated my pace at around four minutes thirty five minutes per k as the pack thinned out around the 2k mark. This felt like a good pace to keep my leg from getting worse.
The first part of the race was mostly on highway. Then, at 5k when we turned toward Cholula we had a fantastic view of the volcano. The atmosphere was clear so that the mountain appeared to hover like a painting just in front of us. It looked spectacular. During previous years the marathon took a route through Cholula but this year we turned on the motorway. This somehow gave me the impression that we’d covered more ground. On the way back along the highway I’d already stopped for a pee and paused to tie my laces twice. I was concentrating on finishing rather than improving my time and the shift of focus from my normal objective of a fast time felt liberating.
I continued to hold my pace as we continued back into Puebla. The next challenging part of the race was the climb up to the Monumento Zaragosa. This was across kilometre 13 to 22. I forgot my pace during this part of the race and slowed right down to preserve energy. At the top of the hill we passed the Monument and the Fountain of Guadalupe to have a great view down over the city then back onto the volcano. After this we had another 10k downhill. A steep drop first then a more gradual decline toward the city centre. The first part was great fun, and fast, but not quite fast enough to get back the time lost climbing the hill.
The penultimate quarter of the race through the city centre. This went well for me. My pace had dropped from the first half but I was slowly picking up places as other runners around me started to feel the heat of the late morning and run out of calories. I’d actually forgotten to eat up until this point but wasn’t feeling too much fatigue. Nonetheless, I thought I should probably take some pre-emptive action so took a bite out of a jelly thing and washed it down with water. I normally put water over my head during a race and had been pouring water over my bad calf during the race with the idea that this might help my injury. This helped me feel the muscle and monitor the injury. In my mind, the more I can feel the muscle and concentrate on a strain, the less chance it has of becoming worse.
I started to slow down properly at around 34k or 35k. From here on to 38k my pace dropped rapidly to a km split time of 6:15. I picked this back up to under 5:30 for the finish. The end of a marathon is always sheer mental torture. Every fibre of your body is pleading with you to stop and only solid determination can drive you on. You just have to keep telling yourself that everyone else is in the same place and it’s going to end soon. When I finally made it to the end I felt like I’d been punched in the gut. I iced my legs and checked my time. Three hours twenty seven minutes. Not bad. A way off my PB but better than my last times in Mexico DF and Puebla the year before, and I’m sure this year’s course was worse.
On reflection I think the fact that I slowed down at the start to protect my leg probably helped my overall pacing for the race. Another thing I did differently from last year was to take less gel during the race. Two years ago I didn’t take anything at all and finished inside 3hours 20. So, I guess it’s better for me to load up on calories the night before and just take a little during the race. As they say – you live and learn.