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Documenting the 100 Days into San Sebastian

Words and photos by Alex Holley

It was day 68. I think. Or maybe 70. This was a 100 day marathon plan, you see. Specifically, a 100 day plan for the Donostia-San Sebastián Marathon. Thing is, it wasn’t the day's number I was thinking about at the time. I was wandering home during my absolute favourite session of this marathon cycle.

*90 minutes (easy).*

My Wednesdays, basically. I was in my favourite place, and I looked to the left of me. And, well, that image above was looking back at me.

'A sprawling North London parkland, composed of oaks, willows and chestnuts, yews and sycamores, the beech and the birch; that encompasses the city’s highest point and spreads far beyond it; that is so well planted it feels unplanned; that is not the country but is no more a garden than Yellowstone; that has a shade of green for every possible felicitation of light; that paints itself in russets and ambers in autumn, canary-yellow in the splashy spring' — Zadie Smith

Here is the running equivalent of doing something nice for yourself on any given day.

Excuse the corniness, but the Heath is pretty much heaven. The thing I've learned about marathon cycles is the need to keep things interesting. My last few, aside from being decisively injured by this stage, I’d spent avoiding the places I love.

Not the way you might ghost a Tinder match, either. I was ghosting the Heath. I was ghosting hills (unless, you know, it was a hill session). Hell, I was even ghosting races with some DNS’s. I made running as flat as possible. Not a good thing, I learned.

This time I thought things needed to be different. If I had the time - and I would make the time - I would see my favourite place at least three times a week. Healthy relationship, I think. Even in the depths of hundred mile weeks, I’d try.

And succeed.

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So this specific time, with a bunch of my favourite people, we jogged along our favourites routes across the heath. We took photos and chatted about how this was the last Sunday long run we could go through the Heath and laughed. San Sebastian soon come.

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And the race?

I remember most of it.

The sudden start, no countdown. Just go.

Dodging and weaving the first mile.

The 2:45 pacer was in front of me, running 2:38 pace.

Pulling away from that group as they slowed down.

And then. You know. Nothing. Around an hour listening to Kendrick Lamar's DAMN. Grinning as Element came on, getting sad listening to Duckworth again.

But this was the point. I've always wanted the first hour as a non event in a marathon.

Maybe those silly mileage weeks paid off huh? 

Then the music switched to techno (Jacques Greene, if you're curious) and I settled in for the next handful of miles. Mile 16 was where this race was going to start for me, mostly since that's where my knee died in Manchester. I was about to learn if I ever did really shake off that injury.

Mile 20 was where things started falling apart in Barcelona.

Finally, Mile 23 was the last mental hurdle. If I got here still around the pace I was aiming at, I could screw up the last 5k and still dip under 2:45.

Of course it was here when my calves left me know exactly how they felt about the past few hours, but not enough to stop. Or slow down. It's pretty sweet, watching yourself do something for the first time.

I sped up.

For 2:41.

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The week later, I returned to the Heath. 

It was alright.


Alex Holley is based in London. Follow him on instagram and strava.

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