The stage was set and the destination determined for the winter marathon exploits of three Bournemouth AC men as they made the trip to sunny Spain for the Valencia Marathon.
The race yielded hopes of a quick time since it is one of the fastest courses in the world, along with Berlin and Chicago. At the time of year that the race takes place, the temperature is usually ideal for running and the route is fully flat, giving runners a great chance of unleashing their full potential.
Bournemouth AC members had gone over there and produced fast times in the past. in 2016, Pete Thompson ran it in 2 hours 36 minutes and in 2018 Craig Palmer did it in 2 hours 29 minutes.
The main autumn/winter goal for Rob Spencer was to secure a Championship place for the 2024 London Marathon. The qualifying times for that were certainly within his capability.
He had actually been through a very long spell over the summer where he wasn’t doing much running at all though so he had a difficult road ahead to battle back to fitness. He grafted hard though to get back in shape and by October time, he was ready to make an attempt at the Championship qualifying time at the Run Bournemouth Half Marathon.
To achieve that though, he’d have to finish in under 1 hours 12 minutes and 30 seconds, which is not an easy task. Rob had done it before though, at the Bournemouth Marathon Festival of 2018 when he ran 1:11:06.
Unfortunately for him though, when the day of the race came round it was an unseasonably hot day and that ended up putting pay to his hopes of hitting his target time. He still did well to complete the course in 1:13:31 but it wasn’t enough to earn him his Championship spot. That meant it would have to be the Valencia Marathon where he did it.
To get a Championship place via a marathon, he only had to run under 2 hours 40 minutes and he would ordinarily be expecting to run much faster than that. So it was highly likely that he could still get it. But this represented his last chance so the pressure was on.
As for Barry Dolman, his preparations for the Valencia Marathon hadn’t gone too smoothly. He’d been suffering from hamstring tendinopathy for quite some time and done no speed sessions for two months because of it. On top of that, he also caught a cold in the week leading up to the race which wasn’t what he needed.
He did run the Cardiff Half Marathon in 1 hour 23 minutes in October and had managed quite a few parkruns so he did at least have that in the bank but he wasn’t overly optimistic going into the Valencia Marathon.
Tom Ralph had completed the Gosport Half Marathon two weeks out from Valencia in very tough, windy conditions. He’d had a varied autumn though, completing the New Forest Triathlon where he achieved his highest ever race placing. Plus he did the Swim Serpentine Two Mile and the Maverick Jurassic Coast Ultra which was 56km.
All of that had meant he’d had little time to dedicate to specific marathon training. He had still achieved a good base level of fitness from all the cross training though so that was one plus point. Because of his lack of focused marathon training though, he was expecting his time to be something in the region of 3 hours 15 minutes. He had actually done the Valencia Marathon before, back in 2018, and had got round in 3:05:38, so he at least knew what he had in store.
Going at around 5:30 pace or just under for the majority of his splits, Rob Spencer went through 5k in 17:24 and then proceeded to get to the 10k point in 34:30. After that, he was clocking all his 5k splits at between 17:10 and 17:15. He got to the half way stage in 1:12:44.
His next couple of 5ks were just over 17:10 so he was keeping it very consistent. At the 21 mile point he had to stop for wee though and that cost him about 50 seconds. He was quickly back on track though, completing his final 5k split in 17:19 before closing out the last couple of kilometres.
With a very impressive finishing time of 2:26:24, Rob had crossed the line in 337th place. That was out of almost 26,000 finishers. It was a tremendous result for Rob and was only 28 seconds off his PB of 2:25:56 which he did at London in 2021. If he hadn’t had to make that stoppage, he would have surely clocked a new marathon best.
He’d got what he ultimately wanted though which was a Championship qualifying time for London so it was a very pleasing outcome for Rob. His average pace came out as 5:32 and his moving time on Strava was clocked at 2:25:45. It was a truly magnificent performance from Rob.
Starting with a 21:30 for his first 5k, Barry Dolman went on to reach the 10k stage at 42:33. His next three 5ks were all just over 21 minutes and he made it to the half way point in 1:29:13. Going through his next 5k in 21:10, he then began to crank the pace up with a 20:38 for his next 5k, taking him to the 30k point.
He then put in the 21:02 for his next 5k before recording a 20:52 for his last 5k. It was looking like a negative split was on the cards for Barry and that takes some doing in a marathon.
Arriving at the finish in 2:57:28, Barry had come in in 4,334th place and 214th in the M50 category. Given the woes he’d been having in the build up, that was an outstanding run from Barry and he was well pleased with that. His average pace for the run came out 6:41.
It didn’t quite rival his Boston Marathon time of 2:54:26 but it was still a very good effort from Barry and about the best he could have realistically hoped for under the circumstances.
Setting off a roughly 7:10 pace for the first couple of miles, Tom then bumped it up to around 7:05. He went through the first 5k in 22:24 and then made it to 10k in 44:25. Most of his 5k splits were coming out at roughly 22 minutes and he was going pretty well, reaching the half way point in 1:33:09.
From the seventh mile onwards he’d been registering each mile split at around 7 minutes or just over and he managed to keep that pace going up until the 19th mile. His pace dropped slightly then but he was still going quicker than 7:20.
For the remainder of the race he was around 7:10 to 7:15 sort of pace, so he was managing to stay strong all the way. Going over the line in 3:07:22, Tom had finished in 6,588th place and was 1,272nd in the M35 category. It was an excellent run from Tom and definitely exceeded his expectations.
Some members of the Bournemouth AC training group may remember Lucy Feng who came along to the training sessions for quite some time whilst she was living in Bournemouth. She wasn’t one of the faster members of the group at the time but she had a good work ethic and was determined to improve.
Since then she’s been travelling around, living in Shanghai for a while before moving back to England and living in London. Her running has come on leaps and bounds since then and she’d been receiving coaching and working hard at it. In April she ran a 3 hours 43 minutes at the Manchester Marathon and for the Valencia Marathon she was originally targeting a sub 3:40.
A couple of months before the race she sustained an injury which wasn’t related to running and then fell ill after that, resulting in missing around four to five weeks training. She didn’t give up it though and decided to adjust her expectations and hope for the best.
It went pretty well and she was really strong over the last 8k overtaking a lot of other runners who were struggling by that point. Making it to the line in 3:42:11, Lucy came 14,925th overall and was 722nd in the Senior Female category. That was a great result for Lucy give the trials and tribulations she’d had in the build up.
The Valencia Marathon attracts some of the fastest endurance athletes in the world, including many of the top African runners. Sisay Lemma of Ethiopia clocked the fourth fastest marathon time of all time, winning the race in 2:01:48. Alexander Mutiso of Kenya was 2nd in 2:03:11 and Dawit Wolde of Ethiopia was 3rd in 2:03:48.
41 year old Ethiopian legend Kenenisa Bekele ran the fastest ever marathon time for a vet, crossing the line in 2:04:19. Ethiopian atheltes took the top three places in the women’s race with Worknesh Degefa winning it in 2:15:51. Almaz Ayana was 2nd in 2:16:22 and Hiwot Gebrekidan took 3rd in 2:17:59.
The quickest of the British athletes was Southampton man Mahamed Mahamed who got round in 2:08:40, putting him eight seconds ahead of Phil Sesemann. Mahamed Mahamed was 34th overall and Phil Sesemann was 36th. Rob Spencer was 45th fastest Brit.
Clara Evans of Pontypridd Roadents was the fastest British female and she was 18th woman overall, with Lily Partridge coming in eight seconds later to finish 19th female overall.
It was great to see the three Bournemouth AC men all producing excellent displays at the Valencia Marathon and representing the club so well on the big stage. They’d all had to overcome adversity to some degree as well to make it happen and sometimes it can be like that in marathons. Not every block of training is going to go exactly as planned. You have to prepared to adjust expectations accordingly so you have a realistic and attainable goal. That was what each of them did well and why they were able to execute the performances they did.