Shibli smashes that magic time

David Shibli was a keen but averaging runner only six months ago. But having trained for years with Cayman’s elite set and been an accomplished schoolboy cross-country athlete in England, he knew that with an extra bit of effort he could improve significantly. And sure enough, he has done so recently. It all dovetailed nicely over the weekend when Shibli ran his first ever marathon under three hours at the age of 46. He didn’t just edge inside the magic mark either, he completely smashed it at the Carmel Indiana Marathon. Close mate Derek Larner joined him and ran the half marathon.

“Having run 3:24 in Chicago in October, I promised that I would never do another marathon until I was at a level of fitness that the race demands,” says Shibli who won the Irish Jog last month.

“I was planning on Disney and Myrtle Beach marathons in January and February and immediately changed my entry to halfs pushing the full back into April. By this time, I was able to run the half in less than 1 hour 23 minutes, so I felt I was a lot more prepared to tackle the full.

“After four months of training and proper diet, I lined up for the Carmel Marathon. The weather had changed dramatically over the days leading up to the event going from 75 degrees to 45 degrees on the day. I like to run in the cold, but 45 made it tough at the start. Many of the runners huddled in the gear check tent wondering whose idea this was.

“I wasn’t even going to bother with a warm-up. There would be 26.2 miles to get warm. The start was quite quick, but seeing as it was cool, I wanted to run comfortably, but not to push too hard too soon.

“I had a little shock during mile 2 when my left shoelace came undone despite my best efforts to tie a double bow before the race. I decided to stop as it was very early in the race and was shocked to find out that I had lost all feeling in my fingers due to the cold. I knew that if I panicked, I would lose more time and if I ran with a flailing lace I would still lose time, so I managed to calm down enough to concentrate and was able to tie the laces back up. I estimated that this was a loss of about 20 seconds, so I subconsciously pushed a little harder to make up the ground which was a bad idea seeing as it was still so early.”

They separated from the half-marathoners at mile 3 and suddenly, Shibli was all alone with just a few runners way ahead. The first checkpoint was at 10k and the father of three who is also a grandad passed that in 38:35 which was a little fast but he did enjoy the fact that up until a few months ago, he had never run under 40 mins for a 10k race.

The group in front were running really fast and Shibli had to accept that he was not going to close and decided to focus more on the goal of going below three hours. It was a wise decision. He passed the half in 1:23:33, so he had some time in the bank, but the marathon can be a cruel event. What you put into the bank in the first half is often demanded with interest and penalties in the second half.

“I sensed my mile pace slipping closer to 6:40 and I knew that it was game on. I had been carb-loading for two days by eating little and often giving my body a chance to store energy rather than doing a traditional pasta-party blowout the night before.

“Consequently, my energy levels were good, it was just the tiredness in my legs due to the fact that I had not run anything past 13 miles in training. I knew this was going to happen, because at 46 you just don’t recover as quickly from long runs.

“It was a gamble and consequently I entered the last six miles very tired but still mentally strong, focusing on a runner ahead of me who had passed me at 15 miles. I patiently tracked him and this took my mind off the pain.”

At mile 23, he was physically wrecked yet mentally triumphant. Every step was a bone-jarring crunch as calves and thighs screamed in agony to stop. He reasoned this day would soon be over, but the result would stand forever.

Trying to ignore the excruciating pain Shibli visualised being back in the hotel room lying on his warm, comfortable bed. He passed the runner ahead pretending to be still strong. The bluff paid off and he didn’t follow. With only a mile to go he could see Larner in his British Bulldogs cap cheering him on, “Come on Shibbers, you’ve got this one in the bag!”

“That was the lift I needed as I pressed up the hill to the finish.”

Out of the blue, a runner breezed past him and judging by his thinning hair, Shibli estimated that they were roughly the same age. He was right. He lost first place for the male 45-50, dropping into second, but gave credit to someone finishing a marathon with such strength.

“I turned a corner at the top of the final hill and there was the finish line. As I push towards it, I saw the clock counting. One last surge got me in with a time of 2:52:57. I’d done it! Strangely, the euphoria was tempered by the fact that I know I can do better.

“We waited for the prize-giving and Derek had won a prize for first place in the 45-50 age group in the half marathon with a solid time of 1:26:57.”

Not one to rest on his laurels, Shibli has his sights set on another challenge. Since Carmel is now history, I’m going to plan another tilt at a marathon, but it will have to be at least six months away. I have an even deeper respect than ever for this almost mystical event and to achieve better, every avenue of improvement must be explored.”

The Sheffield Half Marathon is Shibli’s next race on 27 May and that’s it after a tough season. Through the summer, he will be training harder than ever and hopes to plan the next marathon with some fellow runners from Cayman.

“There is a great pool of talent here and the group training runs are incredibly enjoyable as we push each other to achieve higher levels of fitness.”