Pearce @ Valencia Marathon – Race Report

We’re pleased to bring you McCarkissian Mark Pearce’s race report from Valencia in what was arguably the performance of the year. His race, along with Ludo’s exceptional marathon in Frankfurt show just what can be achieved when you actually do some training – apparently you don’t even need social media to achieve this!

 

“Good evening Mr. Pearce, I’ve been expecting you,” purred Dr. Suter, almost menacingly, as if greeting a nemesis in one of the many excellent films that form part of the very stable James Bond stable.

Taking exception to his throwaway use of this classic line, and in order to put him back on the back foot from which his use of English had temporarily catapulted him forward, I replied, “ich ha doch n’Termin, gal? Gaaht’s ihni güet?”

Instantly realising that he had been bettered in this linguistic battle, he sat me down and began – in German – to explain the seriousness of my condition.[1]

“You have a slight fracture of the knee cap, and you seem to have damaged your cartilage and possibly also your meniscus.”

“Sorry, could you repeat that?” I replied, slightly unsure of what he’d just said.

“Do you want me to say it in English?”

“No, we’re fine speaking in German.”

“You’ve damaged your cartilage and maybe also your meniscus.”

“OK.”

“What’s the English for knee cap again?”

“Knee cap.”

“Oh yes, and knee cap?”

“Yes, knee cap as well.”[2]

“That is interesting; I’ll remember that for when I’m next speaking English.”

“And my knee cap?”

“Ah, yes, the knee cap,” he smiled (this time actually saying the English word ‘knee cap’). “It will take several months to heal I’m afraid, so no running.”

“Fucks sake,” I complained, this time actually in English.

In an eerily similar (and possibly ironic[3]) twist, this blog basically begins in the same way as the last one, in that I had succumbed to a twatty injury that involved a trip to a doctor.

Following my triumphant half-marathon in May, my thoughts had immediately turned to the Eiger Ultra Trail race I’d entered. Sadly these thoughts had obviously occupied the bit of my brain usually responsible for balancing and saw me fall flat on my face in slow motion and bust my knee like a right bell-end[4].

 

This really, really hurt.

This really, really hurt.

A month or so later, having observed the by-now standard, tiny fraction of the rest period the doctor had prescribed me, I set about doing some easy jogs, mainly to prove that he didn’t know what he was talking about and that his medical degree wasn’t worth the paper it was badly printed on.[5] As if inspired by the performance of the GB Soccer Team in Russia, especially in overcoming Colombia in a penalty shoot-out[6], I decided that I could start thinking about training for an autumn ‘thon.

But I was in unchartered territory – I needed to select a mara’ that was later in the year than ever before given my layoff. Even Frankfurt – at the rump end of October – was only seven weeks away by now. Glancing at the calendar, I realised that the stars had aligned and that a trip to the legendary race that is the Fukuoka Marathon on the first weekend of December was the destiny that awaited me. I told my wife the good news[7] and shortly thereafter, found myself meekly entering (and booking cheap flights and a cheap hotel for) the Valencia Marathon, “grateful to be even allowed to go there on [my] own”.

Having realised I liked planning my own training, rather than use J-Mellz as my coach, I decided on randomly using a plan from the back of former Olympic marathoner Richard Nerurkar’s[8] book, the backbone of which was the mid-week, mid-length classic. And some other running stuff, I forget now. Turns out Nerurkar knows a thing or two about running, as I quickly found myself really tired the entire time, but also running quite fast.

Following an early Sunday-morning trip to the Swiss city of Lucerne in the cold and rain to run the half-marathon of the same name, I found myself making my TV debut in a race, given the entire race was shown live on TV Luzern[9]. After a bold move at the 20k point to move into third (for me the pinnacle of the podium spots – in the event of a poorly-made-podium collapse, I know where I’d rather be standing, and it isn’t where you’re primed to fall from a great height onto the cold, hard concrete below), the commentator described my tactics as “ganz clever[10]”. I’d run 71:40 on a fairly undulating course, got a medal and a bottle of Moët (that didn’t last long – I had three-quarters of it on the short train journey home, with the rest spilt in the footwell of our Fiat 500 in which my wife drove me back from the station), and more importantly, valuable screen time to promote “Brand Pearce”[11]. The world was looking up.

In the event of my Swiss citizenship application failing, this screenshot is my get-out-of-jail-free card – if the Lucerne Half-Marathon thinks I’m Swiss, then I have every right to expect the Federal Government to think the same.

In the event of my Swiss citizenship application failing, this screenshot is my get-out-of-jail-free card – if the Lucerne Half-Marathon thinks I’m Swiss, then I have every right to expect the Federal Government to think the same.

A few more weeks of training and I reached “taper time” in good shape and high spirits, so began cutting back on my training accordingly. Before I knew it, I was boarding the plane for Valencia. But what of Valencia?

Well, it goes without saying that Valencia (/vəˈlɛnsiə/; Spanish: [baˈlenθja]), officially València (Valencian: [vaˈlensia]), on the east coast of Spain, is the capital of the autonomous community of Valencia and the third-largest city in Spain after Madrid and Barcelona, with around 800,000 inhabitants in the administrative centre, but did you know that its urban area extends beyond the administrative city limits with a population of around 1.5–1.6 million people?

I might be wrong, but I think Valencia is Spain’s third largest metropolitan area, with a population ranging from 1.7 to 2.5 million depending on how the metropolitan area is defined. It would take an idiot not to know that the Port of Valencia is the 5th busiest container port in Europe and the busiest container port on the Mediterranean Sea, so I won’t bore you by even mentioning that the city is ranked as Gamma+ in the Globalization and World Cities Research Network.

Valencia is integrated into an industrial area on the Costa del Azahar (Orange Blossom Coast).

Carb-loading was a low-tech and low-taste affair, but luckily the hotel tap at least delivered some pretty hot water. With hindsight, the kettle would have been a better option for “cooking” my pasta.

Carb-loading was a low-tech and low-taste affair, but luckily the hotel tap at least delivered some pretty hot water. With hindsight, the kettle would have been a better option for “cooking” my pasta.

Race day dawned, and having successfully negotiated the breakfast buffet at my hotel, I jogged my way to the start, a couple of kilometres away. The marathon gods were clearly shining on me as I managed to find the only portaloo en route that was not already covered in fifty shades of Hispanic shit. The weather was a balmy 12 degrees or so at the start, so I made sure to down loads of water. This plan backfired as I then needed to return to the portaloo almost immediately, only to find out it was not in the pristine state I, for one, had left it in.

A mere eleven minutes later, I was lined up in my “pen”. After glancing around for a fair while, I managed to exchange a wave with fellow MCKEPer Hywel, who had found a bit of space and was performing some pretty ambitious stretches for a man well into his 40s, and whose hamstrings one would assume are exceptionally tight from all that cycling and watersports he does.

As the gun went off, I tried to get going at exactly 3:33 per km. When the first 500m of the race were run at 3:35/km pace, I panicked. Contemplating a DNF as this was clearly going to be a waste of time, an apparition sporting a McCarkiss vest appeared before me and began to speak. I briefly thought it was my future self, come back to give me words of encouragement at what was a very dark moment in my life. Upon hearing the accent, however, I quickly realised it was Hywel. We engaged in a brief conversation and I felt like the dark clouds of several hundred metres before had lifted.

Adrenaline once again pumping, 1km was reached in a pedestrian 3:34. I decided to pick up the pace and hit 5km with 17:40 on the clock. A bit ahead of target. I came across a guy called Ewan[12], who I then proceeded to run with for a while. I quickly realised Ewan was a bit of a hot head, as we rushed through the second 5km in 17:38. I should have known better, but the pleasant banter we were exchanging was too good to sacrifice[13], so I stuck with him, letting him manage the crazy pacing for the next 5k, which we covered in 17:34.

As you can see from this picture that I’m clearly not going to pay any money for, I was looking pretty good by the end.

As you can see from this picture that I’m clearly not going to pay any money for, I was looking pretty good by the end.

At this point, I decided that this sort of inconsistent and downright irresponsible pacing was not on, so I took over pace-making duties and split a more sedate 17:35 for kms 15-20, and another 17:35 for 20-25. It was then that the repercussions of that crazy 17:34 split began to rear their head(s) – a hellish 17 minutes and 38 seconds later, I passed through 30k, and it would be another 17 minutes and 37 seconds before hitting 35k.

Luckily, as any runner who has ever completed a marathon will tell you, the easiest kilometres are those between 35 and 42.195km. As I saw the 35km marker, which I passed with 2:03:15 on the clock, I knew that my work was pretty much done for the day. The 40km marker was reached just 17:33 later, at which point I was so relaxed I just coasted the last 2.195km at 16:50 pace.[14]

The clock stopped[15] at 2:28:12, which was a nice PB by over three-and-a-half minutes. I took a second and realised that pre-Valencia-PB Pearce would be exactly 1km from the finish right now/then, and took another second to laugh at how pathetic I am/was.

Following a brisk walk back to the hotel, from which I had cleverly arranged a late checkout, I took to my bed for the afternoon to drink several pints of 7.2% beer and watch Netflix, before my plane left later that evening.

Recovery began almost immediately post-race.

Recovery began almost immediately post-race.

The only sour footnote to the weekend was actually the plane journey back home – granted, I had an emergency exit seat, I had just emerged from two full hours in the business lounge and the air stewardess did gave me several miniature bottles of wine despite the flight being full, but I realised that for the second consecutive marathon, I was not the fastest runner on the plane back to Zurich. I was essentially incandescent with rage when I saw 2:21:08 finisher Eric Rüttimann boarding the flight. This rage was somewhat calmed when I saw him having to squeeze into a middle seat towards the back of the plane and after I had successfully employed some mind relaxation exercises (I took a few deep breaths, and then imagined him getting cramp and being told there was no wine left for him as somebody a full 7 minutes and 4 seconds slower had snaffled way more than his fair share).

All in all, a good weekend.

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[1] For the sake of readability, I’ve translated the conversation that ensued into English, even though it took place in German. Don’t think for one second that it did take place in English and that Dr. Suter had won the battle to speak in a foreign language, because he didn’t. I did.

[2] It’s worth pointing out here that that there are several words for knee cap in German; otherwise you might think the Doctor and I were both a little dim (which we’re not – we’ve both completed tertiary education).

[3] If you have the same (mis)understanding of irony that Alanis Morrissette has.

[4] By which I mean I was a right bell-end, not I busted my knee like one might bust a bell-end. As you can see from the picture, no bell-end on the planet could take a full-on frontal smash like that.

[5] A lesser man might have been acting like this as he was still annoyed that said doctor had kept trying to speak English to him, despite him clearly being up to conducting his business in German. Not me though, I was fairly fucking zen about the whole thing.

[6]  For me, the second-best sporting moment of the year, only bettered by something the UK women’s basketball team did against Australia in Australia or something. Can’t remember what exactly; I didn’t watch it.

[7] For my wife, less good – “Dream on, you’re not going to fucking Japan on your own in December,” she enthused.

[8] Fun fact, which I literally found out just now about Nerurkar, while checking on Wikipedia that I’d spelled his name correctly – “Richard is a talented musician and plays bass and sings backing vocals in an Isley brothers tribute band.” Who knew?

[9] Apparently this is an Internet-only channel, but still. I didn’t realise I was receiving such major media coverage until after the event – I just thought this woman on the back of a motorbike with a video camera literally had nothing better to do with her time than this. It got to the stage where I genuinely started pitying her and wondering if she suffered from mental health issues. Seeing the way she was laughing and smiling after the event did little to allay these concerns.

[10] “Extremely clever.”

[11] At the time, I was considering becoming a “social media influencer”, having watched the first five minutes of a short documentary on the subject on ITVBe. Given my incredibly anti-social nature and general shunning of all social media platforms, however, I decided to focus on other areas/skillsets, one of which is solving Rubik’s cubes as quickly as possible. My PB now stands at 1min 36secs. Not bad for a 39-year-old from South Nottinghamshire, not bad at all.

[12] Not literally, but he was covered in sweat and Vaseline so you could be forgiven for thinking I did.

[13] We both nearly soiled ourselves laughing when a Spanish runner ahead of us slipped over and pulled out injured!!

[14] I don’t really remember much of the last half hour of the race, but I’m pretty sure this was how it went.

[15] On this occasion, the clock didn’t actually stop as the race organisers considered it sporting to allow the remaining 19,161 finishers to complete the course after me – a gesture that with hindsight, I agree with.

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