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07 October 2019

He has missed his long-time running goal of cracking an elusive sub 2:30 marathon by 2 seconds … yip … blink, and two seconds are gone. That’s how close South African Nick Bester came to cross the finish line in a sub 2:30 time at the London Marathon in April this year. For the past six months those two seconds have been haunting Nick, Private Banker at Investec in the UK. So, when this talented runner lined up at the recent Berlin Marathon, he was determined to ‘find those two seconds’ and finally make a dream he has worked so hard for, come true.
Did he succeed? Oh yes, and in style. He managed a negative split in the second half of the course, and instead of finding two seconds, he managed to find 11 seconds … to cross the finish line in an official time and PB of 2:29.50. To say Nick was elated and overcome with emotion is an understatement, especially as he only realised he was definitely going to make his dream come true with about 200 meters to the finish line.
“With about 400 meters to go you run under an arch. I could see the finishing mat from there and that was the point that I ran my absolute heart out. The crowd were going mental as they could see the clock and see me chasing 2.30. With 200 meters to go, it became clear in my mind, today is the day! It is my moment, this is what I’ve been training for since London. This is what made me do those extra few reps at my track sessions, this is where that one cookie I didn’t have is going to count. I sprinted as fast as I possibly could. The clock seemed to be ticking slower than it did at London. I crossed the finish line in 2.30.01, but I knew I took about 10 seconds to cross the start mat. I did however have a bit of fear that I had missed out again, but then I got my phone from my bag and saw the official results. I had done it! I ran a 1 minute 11 second negative split to finish in a time of 2.29.50. After working toward breaking 2.30 for the past 3 years and after what happened to me at the London Marathon, I was overcome with emotion and couldn’t contain my excitement. The only feeling I can compare that comes close to how emotional it actually was, is the feeling you get when you finish the Comrades Marathon.”
Pre-race jitters
What many don’t know is that lining up at the Berlin Marathon on 29 September was not all plain sailing for Nick. For the 2 weeks prior to the race he had only run once, as a ‘niggle’ in his left leg turned into quite a potentially serious injury, to the point that even starting the race was doubtful. “I went for an MRI scan on the Monday (just 6 days before the marathon). The results reflected a ‘stress reaction’, the stage just before a ‘stress fracture’. I then had one massive decision to make; take time off immediately and let my leg recover or take a risk by running the marathon and potentially worsening the injury. I decided that if I could run without compensating too badly or being in too much pain, then I would run and live with the consequences. Any other race I would have skipped, but because all my training was in the build-up for Berlin and I have no other races lined up for the rest of the year, I decided it was worth taking a gamble and running.”
Lining up
It was for this reason that Nick felt different at the start to how he felt at other big races in the past. “I was more worried than excited, more concerned than focused. It was only when they played Chariots of Fire that the ‘marathon buzz’ actually kicked in.” Weather conditions were perfect for the faster runners, as it only started pouring with rain after Nick finished.
Nick usually lines up as close to the elites in the front of the A batch, but this time he lined up at the back of the A seeding. “This meant that as the gun went off automatically, I started running a lot more cautiously and was slowed down by the runners in front of me. In fact, the slowest splits of mine were in the first 5km of the race. I went through the 5km mark in 18.10, which is equivalent to a 2.33 marathon pace. It was the first time I realised that my leg injury may just hold up on the day. I then had to readjust my pace and turn it into a progressive sub 2.30 marathon attempt. I carried on gradually increasing my speed whilst trying to remain as comfortable as possible. I went through halfway in 75.41 feeling really good still. Having done many marathons I know just how hard negative splits can be, but the way I felt and the desire I had to break 2.30 was enough for me to knock out that bit of doubt in my mind. I carried on picking up the pace and was relatively comfortable until about the last 10km’s which always seem to be where things get tough. At the 40km mark I was on track for a 2.30.02. At this point I was fatigued and the fear of just missing out and a repeat of the London Marathon ran through my head.”

This is how you find 2 seconds… 
Heading towards the finish line Nick was still not 100% sure he had it in the bag. Images of missing it by 2 seconds in London were clear in his mind. “At one stage I thought how on earth have I managed to get myself into the same position that I was in London? Then I remembered the sleepless nights it gave me, and that was enough motivation to do what it took in order to make things right. At that point in the race I was so fatigued that my mind played tricks and alarm bells we’re going off telling me to slow down. I ignored them, gave it my all and it was enough to crack 2.30.”
As Nick crossed the finish line his emotions got the better of him. “The realisation of something I had worked so hard towards and finally achieved, kicked in. I let out this joyful scream, gave the ladies who handed my bag back to me the sweatiest hug (not that they had a choice), told them Berlin is my new favourite city, and that this day was as good as my wedding day. I then went straight away to get a beer, and took 20 minutes to myself to just let it sink in. Breaking 2.30 for me personally is the best feeling I’ve ever felt running wise, the second best feeling ever is knowing that my mate now has to pay out this bet and buy me beers for the rest of the year!”
Nick and his wife, Taryn, who also had a great race, met up with friends for an evening of pizza, schnitzels and ice cold beers. “The food and beer in Germany never seem to amaze me, not once have I had a bad meal and their beer is simply the best in the world.”
The morning after the race the celebrations continued with Nick and Taryn catching a train to Oktoberfest. “We then spent 2 days at Oktoberfest, my happy place. Medal Monday is quite a thing in Europe and it’s very common to wear your medal the day after the race. At Oktoberfest we clearly weren’t the only runners that were there to celebrate. We bumped into loads of runners with their medals and post-race finishers shirts on. Marathons are tough and can be brutal, it’s always nice to have something to look forward to afterwards.” 
The road ahead
Nick is keen to give his body and mind a well-deserved physical and mental break and won’t be participating in any other big races for the rest of the year. Running will be kept to a minimum in order for his leg to heal and cross training will feature in his training regime. “2019 had been an amazing year. I hope to take this momentum into 2020 and am targeting some half marathons early on in the year. My main half marathon will be the world champs in Poland at the end of March. I’m aiming to break the 70-minute barrier there. It’s not going to be easy, but it is something I know I am capable of if I manage to get the training right and stay injury free until then. Then it is on to the London Marathon. I’ve always said this is the one marathon I’d love to do year in and year out. Now that I’ve gotten the 2.30 monkey off my back, I’ll be in a better position to roll the dice, risk things a bit more and if they pay off then hopefully pull off a PB. I’ll be sure to be giving it my all and try cross the line as the first Saffa for the 4th year in a row.”
Lessons learnt
Nick has learnt some important lessons from Berlin. “I’ve realised that you should never underestimate how important marginal gains are in running. Every tiny bit counts in the end and it could be the difference between achieving what you have set out to do or it just missing it. 

Over the past few weeks before the race I’ve thought about skipping a session here and there, eating more ‘cheat food’ than I should and skipping my foam rolling, stretching or core sessions. At times like this when I struggled for motivation, the only thing that went through my mind was that if I just get through this session it could mean the difference between just over or just under 2.30. At our Tuesday Track session, I kept on doing a few extra reps at the end to add volume. It wasn’t easy, but I knew it would be worth it if I managed to find those 2 seconds. Well, I did manage to find those 2 seconds, I actually found 11, and that made every little bit of sacrifice worth it. 
“What I’m saying to other runners out there struggling to find motivation and feeling like skipping sessions, just think about how amazing the feeling is of achieving something you’ve wanted so badly and have worked so hard towards. Hopefully this gives you enough drive to do what it takes to get this done and it’ll be worth in the end. Trust me!”
Nick is keen on also taking on more of a coaching role and helping other runners of all abilities achieve their goals. “Having done 24 consecutive sub 3 marathons and running races of all distances, from 800 meters through to the Comrades Marathon, I feel like I have a lot to offer and assist other runners in what I have learnt along my journey and what’s worked for me. At the moment I’ve written quite a few training programs for my running mates, and work colleagues. I’ve tracked their progress, assisted them along their journey, and shared training and race day tips. Almost all of them have managed to do PB’s or achieved what they wanted to. This has started to grow and with the increased demand I’ve now decided to make this official and start online coaching. I’m happy to take on runners of all abilities and distances. My website is still in progress and will be going live at the end of the month, it’s called ‘Just a lil Bester’. The main thing I’m looking for within the runners I’ll take on, is the fact they are serious in achieving their goals.
“I like to play hard and train harder. Life’s about balance. Don’t sacrifice your social life, rather be smarter in the way you go about training in order to improve and achieve your goals.”
If you are serious about improving and willing to work hard in order to do so, then email Nick  or message him on Instagram at justalilBester. Include a bit of info on your background and what you are aiming to achieve in the future. Limited spaces are available.

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