Confessions of a 50-year old marathon virgin

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Dave Burton at his debut marathon – photo by Lis Yu

We’re going to try something a little different here, so please forgive me if it doesn’t quite work out as intended!

A little background to ease us all in. My good friend of probably 10 years now, Dave Burton, decided to take on the challenge of his debut marathon, having it coincide with his 50th year, and also the inaugural Birmingham International Marathon.

I had hoped to introduce snippets of his training accounts to dovetail them in with my own progress over the summer, but for whatever reason, that didn’t happen. Instead, we have an interview to shed some light on his experience as an older runner looking to debut in the 26.2 mile distance.

First things, first! How do you feel now that you’ve had a day or so for the dust to settle after the race?

Without giving away too much, too soon, let me say this: the walk to New Street Station from the finish was the hardest mile of the day!

So, why did you decide to run a marathon? Why now and not earlier?

I reached 50 this year and had to accept that competing against younger guys and chasing PBs was no longer realistic. The marathon represented a new challenge. Being 50 also made achieving the London Marathon Good For Age standard a more realistic goal.

Additionally, Birmingham had not hosted a marathon since 1985, so it felt great to be part of the first marathon the city had seen for quite a while. There’s something special about running your home events. You recognise more of the other runners participating, often including friends and colleagues.

Rightly or wrongly, there is so much attention on the marathon distance, and I felt it was about time I had a go at it myself.

Tell us a bit about your running background

I took up running in my early 20s as a way to combat the stress of actuarial exams. Youth, rather than talent, took me sub-38 for the 10k before a bad football injury stopped me from running.

Roll on 20 years. You and I were in the same pub quiz team, discussing your aim of a sub-2 hour finish for the then approaching Great Birmingham Run half marathon. That reignited my interest. We ran it together in 1:45 and a friendly rivalry over the years that followed pushed us both to sub-1:30 half marathons, sub-19 5ks, and so on. My Cardiff 10k ‘Millennium Best’ in 2014 ranks as my most satisfying race – it was the first sub-40 for over 20 years. You PB’d, too, and it was probably the last time I’ll ever beat you!

Time to talk about training! Did you follow a plan? How did you set your goal time?

I started out with reading Pfitzinger & Douglas’ Advanced Marathoning from cover to cover, documenting the key learnings to better understand why certain sessions are covered, and so on.

You kindly produced a 22 week plan for me. In essence and spirit, it was a lite version of the one you adopted and modified for your own Yorkshire Marathon. This was a godsend as it enabled me to just focus on the running. It took the thought out of which sessions to do each time.

For my age and gender group, a 3:20 or faster finish time is required for the London Marathon Good For Age standard. This felt reasonably conservative as my half marathon times suggested I should have been capable of 3:10 to 3:15.

And how was the training? What did you feel gave you the biggest training boost? Any particular challenges?

In truth, the training stretched me. Some of the sessions, particularly mid-week 10 to 14 mile ones, had me swearing with incredulity at the brutality! Marathon pace was also tough, initially.

Having you oversee my training introduced some discipline. I was genuinely afraid of being told off for straying from the schedule! I even found myself apologising to you for having a crack at the occasional Strava segment!

I enjoyed training over the summer. I guess you feel the cold more with age and the long, light evenings give you more flexibility around when and where to run. I began to particularly enjoy the relaxed Thursday evening 10 milers. That used to be my long Sunday run, and now it felt like a light jog in the park admiring the view.

Unfortunately, minor injuries compromised the schedule and we made the right decision to drop the target to a sub-3:30 finish instead. Plantar fasciitis struck around late July and made an increasing number of runs quite painful. I found I had to run more on soft surfaces, such as grass, which limited where I could run. 17 to 22 mile runs around Rowheath Playing Fields was very tough, mentally! I had to alternate between clockwise and anti-clockwise laps to provide some variety. Having a high boredom threshold helps!

You convinced me to eventually see a physiotherapist about my plantar fasciitis. I don’t even see GPs unless things are falling off! Most importantly, you nagged and encouraged exactly where it was needed.

Leading up to the big day, how did race preparation go?

You and I planned the build-up to, and the day itself, in meticulous detail. Nothing was left to chance! It was so important to not throw away all the hard work in the final week due to poor strategy and planning.

Carbo-loading was new to me and I put on about 2kg in the days beforehand, largely due to an additional increase in water retention.

We planned my pace of 7:45 to 7:50 per mile, anticipating a slight slow-down in the second half due to fatigue.

Most importantly, we planned my nutrition strategy. Due to a lack of energy drink stations on the course, and only Gu brand gels being handed out, we devised a plan where you were to hand over pairs of my preferred Isogels at miles 9, 18 and 24.

Tell us about your race day experience

With my wave starting at 08:30, it meant getting a taxi at 07:00 and having breakfast at 05:45!

I was lucky to arrive just before the queues for the loos started to really build up. I was paranoid about having possibly overdone the carbo-loading and didn’t want to share my debut marathon with the gingerbread man (Marathon Talk joke for those unfamiliar). The baggage drop entailed choosing a seat for your bag on your favourite number bus – I went for lucky number 7. I was all set but did wonder if I’d applied enough Vaseline when I bumped into Darryll Thomas, greasing himself down as if preparing for a Turkish wrestling bout.

After a sluggish start trying to find some rhythm on the rolling downs of the A34, I settled into a comfortable 7:50 pace.

I focussed on trying to be as fresh as possible for mile 20 and the distance simply flew by. It felt like I was running a completely different race from everybody else! I started more conservatively, and so was overtaking people at miles 4 and 5 who had overdone it on the undulations early on.

By halfway, the race was settling down and I started to run with four other guys, including a Fenland-Lincolnshire runner, who I’d chatted with much earlier. It felt like we were just about to start running as a group, but that got trashed as we merged with the blue wave. I lost all sense of who was in the same race and had to weave in and out of runners for much of the next 9 miles. I managed to follow the Fenland runner as he scythed his way through the crowds, but his increased pace proved too much and I dropped back.

Nonetheless, I felt great at 18 miles, which made it feel more like an 8 mile race. The inclines in miles 21 and 23 were tough and my quads started to cry for attention after the final incline. However, I managed to maintain pace reasonably well, and my final two mile splits were only slightly slower than average. I managed to catch and take the Fenland runner in the final mile!

I finished in 3:26:02, so well within my sub-3:30 target!

You know, that’s faster than either of my first two marathons!

I’m lucky you made so many mistakes for me to learn from!

Ha! You genuinely looked like you enjoyed it!

It was a great day! There was a good vibe from it being the first marathon in Birmingham since 1985. Starting on the track at Alexander Stadium also gave it a real sense of occasion.

Positively, the route got the boring sections with no spectators out of the way early on, paving the way for good local support in the residential areas. The support from you guys and other friends on the course was awesome. A big plus of doing your home marathon.

You touched upon a few negatives earlier. Were there any others?

I spoke of the merging of the waves not working.

There were no isotonic drinks on the course and the supplied Gu energy gels were scarce. The gel station appeared 3 miles earlier than planned and there simply weren’t enough volunteers handing them out, which was very poor organisation given how critical they were. Somebody queried this on the official race Facebook page, but the organisers have not responded.

Also, flat course, my arse! The first few miles went up and down the flyovers and underpasses. The inclines in Bournville and Selly Park were tough, too.

At mile 5 in Digbeth, I may have slightly twisted my ankle on a pothole. I was incredibly lucky this wasn’t a showstopper!

At mile 24, one of the safety pins holding my bib in place failed. I feared for my bib detaching completely and not registering a time!

Any post-race thoughts you can share with us? Anything you would do differently? How is recovery going and what’s next?

I felt I nailed it. I ran fairly conservatively, with it being a venture into the unknown of a first marathon, and I managed to maintain a pretty even pace all the way round that made for an enjoyable experience.

I’d like to try a flatter course to see what I can achieve. I believe I have a sub-3:20 within me, but I’m not sure whether I can remain injury-free.

Next time, I’d also look to train more with other runners. I enjoy running solo and getting lost in my thoughts, but that became very tough, mentally, later in the schedule when my body was creaking.

I don’t have any immediate running plans. After the regimented routine of 22 weeks, I’m looking forward to just running for the fun of it. It would be great to try another marathon next year, and I’m tempted by trail runs now that I’m not scared of the longer distances.

Being able to walk normally took about 2 to 3 days. The biggest challenge was being confronted by 5 flights of stairs on the Tuesday morning due to the office lifts being out of action. I’ve also felt my immune system waving a white flag in recent days.

And finally, any words of wisdom for would-be marathoners?

Yep, lots, but three things in particular. Firstly, treat the distance with respect, so read up as much as you can before starting training. Secondly, learn to run slowly! Building endurance requires lots of mileage and it’s counter-productive to push yourself hard trying to look good on Strava. Instead, aim to run the long runs 10 to 20% slower than marathon pace, and if it doesn’t feel too slow at first, then you’re probably doing it wrong. Finally, force yourself to have an easy week at least every 4th week to give your body time to recover.

Congratulations, Dave, and welcome to the marathon club!

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This week’s running – 1st to 7th of May 2017

Running 26.2 miles marathon

5 months. 22 weeks. Time to get serious again…

And so the road to the Yorkshire Marathon II begins!

5k recovery with Lis

The title is slightly disingenuous because it suggests that we both ran together at recovery pace… For Lis, it was more like a fartlek run with walk breaks.

The two of us have tried running together multiple times in the past, but it’s never really worked out because of the pace disparity. I’ve agreed to run with Lis on Mondays as recovery, allowing her to dictate the pace; this should give me a bit of additional easy mileage, which will see me running from Saturday through to Thursday with only one day of complete rest.

Our goal is to build Lis up to being able to run the 10k distance at September’s Wolverhampton Marathon (Dave and I will be tackling the half marathon). This particular run reasserted that she doesn’t need to jump back into the Couch to 5k programme from the very beginning, but rather week 4 or 5.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

4 x 1600m at LT pace

After almost a year with my Garmin Fenix 3, I was thrilled to finally see it auto detect lactate threshold pace from a recent run-come-race. Sitting at 6:24 per mile, I decided to try out 4 isolated miles during the run home from the office.

Effort-wise, hovering just marginally faster than LT pace felt about right and I finished feeling like I could have squeezed out one more rep:

  1. 6:23
  2. 6:19
  3. 6:19
  4. 6:15

One alteration for next time would be the length of recoveries; 3:20 per rep was far too generous and left my legs cooling down too much, turning to jelly for the first few steps of each subsequent rep.

Definitely heading in the right direction again!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

5 mile run-commute

Run-commuting in the warmer summer months is definitely easier than in the cooler winter equivalent; overall, there’s less to worry about and carry, which makes my life a lot simpler when I’m preparing kit to take into the office. One downside of run-commuting in the summer is chafing from bag straps, especially when I’m trying to balance staying cool by wearing a vest and ensuring there’s enough coverage and protection of potential hotspots – Body Glide is a skin saver!

I saw a very, very near miss between a somewhat inebriated chap leaving a bus, and then step out in front of said bus without checking for overtaking traffic. Thankfully, both parties stopped in their tracks just in time!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

9 miles from work

What a pleasant evening after work for a run! The sun was out and the smell of summer assaulted my senses, reminding me that summer must be just around the corner.

As intended, I slotted in a mile at marathon pace somewhere in the middle. In an ideal world, I would finish off runs with a mile at marathon pace, though living in Kings Heath means I’m inevitably ending my runs with a climb of some description.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Cannon Hill parkrun

Records fell again, courtesy of the John Enright memorial run, with attendance hitting 1,025 and further cementing Cannon Hill’s status as second largest event behind only Bushy parkrun (Southampton has also broken 1,000). The memorial was, sadly, extended to the departed Darren Hale who passed away almost a year ago.

The start was certainly crowded with so many bodies present, and I found myself having to run wide several times to either avoid being blocked in or just to get some breathing room.

Unintentionally, I found myself tailing Carson Tweedie for much of the run, utilising his pacing. Not having run much faster for months, the steady pace felt much faster than anticipated and I was prepared for a swifter finish, only to be disappointed with 19:24. Encouragingly, my heart rate data continues to drop and indicates some work at 5k pace or faster will set things moving in the right direction again.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

14 miles – to Brueton Park and back

It was months ago that I last ventured all the way to Solihull’s Brueton Park, so much so that I had to wade through my Garmin Connect and Strava logs to confirm as such.

A single mile at marathon pace (Strava interpreted it slightly differently to Garmin) did just the trick to wake my legs up, with everything feeling far more comfortable in the second half, even considering the far trickier return for home.

Apart from that, it bodes well that there were few surprises when I’m trying to take on marathon training once more.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

The road to the Yorkshire Marathon II

To those new to this section of the blog – welcome! And to those returning to hear me share more of the wins and misses of marathon training – welcome back!

First things first; here’s this year’s modified P&D advanced marathoning plan that I’ll be using to get me race-ready for the Yorkshire Marathon.

So, a couple of answers to questions that will help explain things.

Why Yorkshire again?

The race and organisation (2016 review here) was first class, with little to nothing I would change. Accurate distance, ample crowd support with pockets for breaks, and a course that’s free of congestion makes it a winner in my eyes. Sure, the profile could be a touch flatter, though none of the climbs were particularly troublesome for me and I’d trade in a few climbs against miles of road blocks and anxiety any day of the week.

Oh, and it starts and ends in York, so it has Lis’ buy-in. We both adore the city and there are few surprises to catch us off-guard.

Basically, I want everything that happened on race day in 2016 to be replicated, but with upgraded fitness.

What’s changed with this year’s plan?

In principle, very little has changed between this year’s iteration of the plan and last year’s. The biggest difference is the inclusion of several more half marathons to serve as marathon pace outings. Whilst I didn’t struggle per se with marathon pace in 2016, running at such a pace for extended periods did tax me at times; this year’s goal is to cover the paces whilst leaving me recovered enough to continue training. An odd mile or two of marathon pace during most other runs will ensure ample practice.

Like last year, I have stripped out formal sessions at half marathon pace in the belief that they would leave me too fatigued, but also that parkruns when not run at easy or PB pace will cover that area without getting too hung up on it.

The recovery runs with Lis will get at least an extra 3 miles in each week.

Anything else?

Dave and I will potentially be covering some runs together, seeing as he’s running at the inaugural Birmingham Marathon a week later (which isn’t actually the inaugural race – there was a Birmingham Marathon in the early 80s).

I’m also looking at marginal gains that may have an added impact when compounded with training improvements. Simple things like more sleep, better hydration, eating well ahead of big sessions or training runs. You get the idea. None of these things have a training cost and I’m serious about getting all the advantages I can.

What’s this year’s goal?

Sub-3. 2:59:59.

With my PB of 3:03:05, it would be rude to not go after sub-3, which equates to fewer than 10 seconds per mile when breaking it down. Several of my peers at around my ability are shaving off some 3 to 4 minutes a year in marathons, which gives me confidence in seeking the time.

Here’s also hoping for a sub-3 pacer, where 2016 was the only year without since the race’s inception.

So, there you have it. It’s all been laid out there and I just need to survive the training. My biggest worry is my left Achilles tendon; it’s been pain-free for months, though I can’t shake the feeling that it’s perceivably less supple compared to before.

Yorkshire Marathon 2016 review

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Dodgy medal aside, what a race this was!

For the 2017 race, please click the following:

5.5 months of training led to this mammoth of a race… Like the marathon, this report is an endurance event in itself, so grab yourself a drink, a snack and join me on the odyssey! As ever, skip to “The race” to cut straight to the chase.

An itch that needed scratching

Long-time readers of this blog will know I’ve not had much prior success with the 26.2 mile distance. A lack of marathon pace training (volume was there), warmer than anticipated race conditions and severe congestion marred my previous two outings. Despite my disappointment with the marathon, I grow wide-eyed and nostalgic each season as I see friends and peers putting in the training miles and pushing out noteworthy performances. I’m overcome with pangs to tackle the modern day Mount Everest again to prove myself worthy. To quote a fictional hero of mine, “There’s still some stuff in the basement.”

When Lis and I got married, she gifted me with an expenses paid marathon pass for a race of my choice. Failing to bag a place in the Berlin Marathon ballot, my attention moved to the Yorkshire Marathon. I wanted an autumn race for better chances of a cool race day, and also an event with smaller participant numbers. Yorkshire on paper looked to perfectly address two out of three previous failings, leaving just the training to focus on…

As bizarre as it may sound, this was the first race where I formally followed a training plan. I’d always been pretty fluid about training, whilst still typically applying the principles of a weekly long run, a weekly VO2max/speed work run, and a tempo-esque run, with easy recovery runs to plug the gaps. Pfitzinger and Douglas’ Advanced Marathoning became my bible for 5.5 months, and the 18 week – up to 55 miles plan provided the basis of my marathon campaign.

The training began easily enough. Looking through my training logs, I recall the early sessions and marathon paced work offering a profound boost to my fitness to also produce welcome 5k and 10k PBs. Then the summer rolled into town and the suffering began…

Training in the uncomfortably warm and humid conditions became the norm; several runs left me feeling beaten up and incredibly nauseous from the exertion, fluid loss and possible mild-heat stroke. Trudging through the summer did, however, pay dividends. I’ve since become better at regulating heat and recently, the last couple of runs in 15 degree temperatures have felt cool and easy, whereas the same temperature in Aprils past were a severe shock to the system after winter training. Whilst I bemoaned training through the summer, I would most definitely opt for an autumn marathon again in future for this reason alone.

I made little modification to the plan bar what was necessary due to illness or recovery. Crucially, every scheduled long run was completed. All in all, I was satisfied with how training went and the rest was left to the marathon gods up above.

My racing weight this time was also significantly different to before. Leading up to London Marathon 2014, I was some 9st 7lb/60kg (BMI 21.4, based on my height of 5ft 6). 4 days prior to Sunday’s race, I was 8st 8lb/54kg (BMI 19.4). In other words, I wasn’t carrying the equivalent of 3x 2 litre bottles of Coca-cola with me on this 26.2 mile trip!

Maranoia and taper tantrums

As part of my day job, I have to do an awful lot of event planning, requiring I mitigate any potential for error. I’m a firm believer of failure to plan leading to planning for failure!

I know I don’t sleep well in unfamiliar environments, so I booked Lis and myself into the hotel to span Friday and Saturday night for additional time to get used to the surroundings.

One thing I couldn’t prepare for were the bouts of maranoia; I glared at anybody that sneezed or coughed as I commuted to and from the office!

One very real part of tapering was doing just enough to keep the body ticking over, erring on the side of caution if otherwise uncertain. Whilst I feel I got this largely right, after my final marathon paced session only days prior, I was a little too vigorous whilst stretching the adductor in my left leg; whilst it was certainly tight before, it then became tight and sore! Thankfully, the soreness began subsiding come marathon-eve and had returned to normal by race morning. Phew – dodged a bullet there!

In marathons past, I also didn’t get the carbo-loading phase right, whereas I reckon I nailed it to the letter on this occasion. Before, I basically treated it as several days at an all you can eat buffet. This time, I stripped out as much protein from my diet as reasonably possible in the 3 days prior, whilst upping the carbohydrate content. Carbs were mostly of the simple variety, consisting of regular pasta, white rice and white bread. Oh, and litres of Lucozade and endless packets of rice cakes and biscuits! Despite the sheer volume of food I consumed, I was constantly hungry due to how easy it was to digest the carbs. Previously, this phase of marathon preparation was a bit of a giggle and a novelty; this time, I became increasingly aware of how unhealthy such an approach was and became thankful it only lasted 3 days.

Pre-race

Strategically, Lis and I were based out of the closest hotel to the race HQ, facilitating a trouble-free start and finish. We also paid the extra fee for late checkout, allowing me to shower and freshen up afterwards, rather than spend 3 hours stuffed in a car feeling sweaty and grimy.

Crucially, my plan of an additional night’s stay in York worked and I got the undisturbed sleep I so craved and desired. Pro tip: I even took my own familiar pillow with me to help things along!

Breakfast consisted of a few bagels with Nutella spread, some coffee and yet another litre of Lucozade. Oh, and a few more Oreos to fill any excess space going spare in my stomach! I now really need to go on a clean eating kick…

We planned to have Lis spectate at around 3 and 25 miles on the route. I knew I probably needed some support out there in the critical final few miles, though what I couldn’t predict was precisely when…

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Cool, dry and cloud cover. Yes, please!

Suited and booted, I made my way over to the race village at York University. Whilst I wasn’t exactly nervous (I was due a PB regardless, unless something catastrophic happened), I was rather emotional and almost welled up at the thought of what had been and what was yet to come. When you’ve devoted so much of your energy, physically and mentally, to what is essentially just a hobby project, it gets to you!

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I probably see Dave more often in York than in Birmingham!

I managed to keep my cool and avoided looking like an emotional wreck as I meandered through the convoluted university grounds to the baggage drop. Whilst I knew Dave Johnson from Kings Heath Running Club would be present and we’d arranged to meet-up in our start pen, I did unexpectedly bump into him just beside the baggage tent. Dave’s technically an ever-present at the race (he volunteered during its debut) and dolled out a few tips, especially concerning the lengthy out and back portion that stretched from miles 17 to 20. I also necked a tried and tested beetroot juice shot, though it would later come back to haunt me…

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Zone 1 start pen at the Yorkshire Marathon 2016 – photo by David Harrison

We made our way to the start pens, rubbing shoulders with a few celebrities. Identified were Steve Edwards with his 1,000 marathon target (I think Yorkshire was no. 750 or so), Mr Burton from Educating Yorkshire fame, and comedians Paul Tonkinson and Rob Deering from The Running Commentary Podcast (I’m still waiting for the Marathon Talk and Running Commentary mash-up where both shows interview each other).

Hannah Cockroft was the race’s official starter. Disappointingly, the race started late and the organisers kept stalling. At least it only took us some 7 seconds from where we were stood to reach the start line! Hold on to your hats, folks – here we go!

The race

To facilitate easier reading, given the sheer heft of this report, I’ve labelled the sections up by mile blocks.

Miles 1 to 3

The first mile, with its generous descent, was expectedly swift to have runners zooming off in all directions. Dave also went with the tidal flow and shot off ahead of me, despite him only aiming for a finish of 3:19 or faster. As for me, I kept calm and assessed how I was feeling along with how the morning’s conditions were stacking up. Whilst it was welcomingly cool and crisp with some cloud cover, there was also a noticeable breeze in the air (weather services estimated it to be 8mph or so); not ideal for a lofty goal such as a sub-3 hour finish, which would have had me at my absolute limits under perfect conditions. Thoughts rapidly moved to my B-goal of a sub-3:05 finish, though I opted to reserve final judgement until I’d passed through 2 miles…

I’d soon caught up with Dave to exchange a few more words of luck, before going our separate ways once again.

Mile 1 came in at 7:06; a touch slower than I’d have liked if completely bought into chasing a sub-3 finish.

I began my approach to York city centre and despite such an early stage of the race, I was able to run freely and unhindered thanks to the relatively small field of just some 7,000 participants and a small smattering of 10 mile/corporate relay runners. What was also surprising was how so few people were covering the optimal race line, so I wasn’t complaining!

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Almost missed York Minster in my daze

Appreciably, the course got the cobbled streets out of the way early on whilst runners still had fresh legs. I was so engrossed in the task at hand that I’d almost missed the sight of the glorious looking York Minster, backdropped by a brilliantly blue autumnal sky.

Mile 2 beeped in for 7:06 once more. I felt comfortable and relaxed, seeing sense to sack off the sub-3 attempt for another time and moved my sights to go under 3:05 by as much of a margin as possible, whilst remaining in firm control.

The course began taking runners away from the city as we worked our way through suburbia. The field began to thin out a little and pockets of runners formed around me. It was notable that the fastest marathon pace group on offer was for a sub-3:30 finish. In years past, sub-3 and sub-3:15 were made available; I guess they couldn’t find the necessary reliable volunteers in time.

The first water station was upon us, with small bottles on offer from both sides of the route for minimal disruption to all concerned.

Mile 3 steadily crept faster in pace for 7:01.

Miles 4 to 8

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3 miles down; just another 23 to go… Photo by Lis Yu

I advised Lis to get as far away from the water station and 3 mile marker as possible to avoid being drenched by randomly discarded bottles of water. I made sure I lapped up the support I got when I saw her because it would be another 22 miles before I saw her again!

Mile 4 remained steady for 6:59, leaving me feeling nicely warmed up and ready to eat up Yorkshire’s roads.

One of the few female runners from the first start pen drifted into contact and planted herself in front of me. I took advantage of a few minutes in her slipstream and couldn’t help but notice her very stable 7 minute mile pace. I piped up and asked if she was targeting a time, to which she responded, wanting whatever 7 minute mile pace would give her. We introduced ourselves and agreed to work together for a couple of miles, if only for company and to pass the time and monotony of the early miles. Sarah turned out to be quite the seasoned club marathon runner, having qualified for Boston twice, though she was coming off the hangover of a recent cold to force her to scale back goals for the day. We chatted about the Airbnb she stayed at, along with her disdain for her club chairman (does that sound familiar, anyone?)

For further distraction, I purposely positioned myself for a high-five from the famous high-fiving vicar at around mile 6. People did tell me to enjoy the race, after all!

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Me, the strong-silent bloke, and Sarah

A strong and silent type runner joined us as we reeled off the miles and indeed they did fly by; before I knew it, we’d covered some 4 miles in 6:59, 6:59, 7:00 and 7:01!

Miles 9 to 13

Unfortunately, the approach to mile 9 was the end of mine and Sarah’s alliance. The sharp climb and undulations that followed proved to be too much for her and despite me slowing a touch to allow her to regroup with me, she continued to drift backwards to leave me to venture forth on my own.

Mile 9 came in a little slower for 7:05 as a consequence of the terrain.

The field grew very thin at this stage, no doubt due to many further ahead having formed groups to stalk a sub-3 finish, leaving a chasm behind them. In the corner of my eye, I noticed a club runner that I recalled from the start pen. He would occasionally drift ahead of me, and then drift behind, rinsing and repeating. I figured running behind or side-to-side with him was better than slogging it out alone, so I got a dialogue going with Jeff. Yep, I’d become a slut-runner, promiscuously pairing up with whoever was convenient at the time!

Mile 10, with its sharp climb but even sharper descent, ramped the pace up slightly to a 6:57 split. Both Jeff and I shrugged it off, despite it being our fastest mile yet.

We applied the brakes slightly for mile 11 to restore some order and control for 7:02.

A sharp descent returned for mile 12 to produce a 6:53 split. We both grew wary and commented on it being a touch too fast; it’s funny how your perception of speed changes, depending on what you’ve covered immediately beforehand.

With our legs having adjusted to the faster cadence from the downhill stretch, out popped yet another fast split of 6:54 as we headed towards mile 13 and the halfway timing mat and clock. I remarked that several years ago, 1:31 had been an eyeballs out half marathon PB, yet there I was running it incredibly casually as part of a marathon!

Mile 14 to 17

Mile 14 featured the first of two out and back sections and allowed me to spot Dave and Sarah on the other side, giving them both some encouragement. It was also another swift downhill mile for Jeff and me, resulting in 6:55. I was beyond halfway and quite happy to let the pace creep faster as I began to engage my racing mindset; I’d followed Marathon Talk’s advice and kept the first half feeling as easy as possible whilst not dragging my heels. Looking at the average pace on my Garmin, I reasoned that a negative split finish was potentially on the cards if I could run a second half comprising of splits in the region of 6:50 to 7:00 pace. As I made my way towards mile 15, Jeff suddenly disappeared behind me and I never saw him again for the rest of the race.

Another soft marathon lesson I learned from my 2014 outing was to not carry too many gels where possible. The course was well stocked with isotonic drinks, though they were virtually sugar-free, thus requiring supplementation with energy gels. High5 was the official partner and having tried various combinations of their potions over the years, I know their products agree with me and I was willing to rely on their handouts along the route. Thankfully, I also like banana-flavoured stuff because that’s what was provided! I’m puzzled why they didn’t just supply a fairly accessible orange flavoured gel, but not my loss at least.

Mile 15 returned to a more sedate state for 6:59.

Having run in all directions since the start, the wind would have to eventually work in my favour, right? Well it so happened that miles 16 and 17 (and 18) had a wee bit of help from Mother Nature and a descent as I approached the dreaded second, lengthier out and back section. The front runners began to appear on the other side, prompting me to take a look at the elapsed time on my Garmin; without any African runners in the field that morning, I knew the winning time was likely to be slow by elite marathoning standards (Paul Martelletti, 2:19:36).

Miles 16 and 17 produced 6:56 and an imperceptibly fast wind-assisted 6:47!

Miles 18 to 19

Crowds started to swell on both sides of the course as I neared mile 18. Passing Katharine Merry and a camera crew, I was able to grab their attention, so may end up on the highlights programme (Saturday 15th of October, 6:40am, Channel 4).

Soon, the sub-3 group appeared on the other side of the barriers. I’d estimated they had perhaps some 3 to 4 minutes on me, so the turnaround couldn’t have been much more than 1 to 2 minutes away; the anticipation seemed to last forever! As it so happened, the mile 18 marker was also the switchback point. Making the turn, I was greeted with a zippy 6:48 split, along with a face full of headwind…

Running into the wind was like running into a brick wall, though I still felt pretty fresh and sharp as compensation. I kept my eyes peeled for Sarah and Dave coming through on the other side, giving both of them encouragement to take my mind off the headwind situation. I also laid a high-five on Dave along with, “Come on, Dave! Just like Cannon Hill!” Unexpectedly, he responded with, “Keep going! Bournville Harriers are just ahead of you!” This was a most interesting development, indeed, and gave me new focus in the field to chase down.

“Time to run smart, Andy,” I said to myself. Reeling them in would be the ultimate motivational boost, though not if it pushed me over the edge. I began drafting behind runners that had drifted backwards from the sub-3 groups in front.

Mile 19 slowed considerably to 6:59, not helped by an ascent that was thrown in for good measure. No wonder there were increasing numbers of casualties littering the sidelines! I was firmly reminded of the consequences of mis-placed heroics and to save any antics for after mile 20.

Shortly afterwards, I finally caught a glimpse of one of the Bournville Harriers, who must’ve fallen off the back of the sub-3 group. As I ran past, I quipped, “Come on Bournville! Do it for Birmingham!” I later learned that, on paper, he’s faster than me across all distances!

Onwards to mile 20 and the next Bournville Harrier.

I grew tired of the headwind that was wearing me down and willed the mile marker and its left-hand turn with shelter to appear. I put my head down and soldiered on with the task, keeping things steady with a 7:00 split for mile 20.

Miles 21 to 22

Finally! Solace presented itself and I made the turn at the brow of a climb to at last be out of the wind. No more than 100m ahead was the second Bournville Harrier I’d so diligently chased for much of the testing return stretch. I recalled words from Pfitzinger and Douglas’ Advanced Marathoning book, exclaiming mile 20 onwards as a part of the race to relish and to utilise all the months of hard graft. They didn’t need to tell me twice as I put my foot down and consciously increased my cadence and pace.

Before I knew it, I’d made contact with my target and wished him well as I passed him, much like I’d done with the other Bournville Harrier minutes earlier. “Thanks! How you feeling, mate?” came his reply. “I feel like shit!” was my response, where the wind had clearly taken some out of me. “You’re looking pretty good, still! You have our sympathies!” – gotta love mid-race banter!

I ploughed on and began zeroing in on the next batch of runners ahead of me. Mile 21 was a touch too fast from closing in on the Bournville Harrier so rapidly, producing a 6:49 split and the second fastest of the day…

Mile 22 was pretty lonely and there were few others to work with. I began to tighten up and the mid-day sun was at its highest point overhead to slowly cook me. Even the water that was being handed out had become warm!

Whilst I felt like I had lifted my pace, the reality was anything but; I was merely holding steady and it was the runners around me that were slowing considerably to create a cruel illusion of speed. Mile 22 slowed back to 7:00. I grew increasingly conscious that I’d only covered up to 22 miles in training on two separate occasions. What would happen beyond 22 miles?

Miles 23 to 25

Boy, oh boy. How the mighty fell. I began to regret reeling in the Bournville Harriers so enthusiastically, rather than letting them come to me naturally as they flagged. Mile 23 began my descent into that dark place that many a marathon runner goes to when fatigue kicks in during the closing stages of the distance.

yorkshire_marathon_2016_09

Won’t. Somebody. Please. Stop. The pain…

I did a quick assessment of how I was feeling and the feedback wasn’t good. My hips, glutes, quads and IT bands were tight and on the brink of giving up on me. I was warm and bothered; brushing my forehead produced a whole bunch of salt residue from my dried out husk of a body. I took water and fluids on at every station, but I wasn’t prepared for a sudden up-surge in temperature in the final miles.

I tried other tricks in my catalogue of distraction techniques. Counting to 100 did some good, as did singing songs from the Les Miserables soundtrack. I tried bargaining with the central governor in my head, telling him this was just 7/10 in terms of effort; my central governor turned out be an absolute twat, and decided 9/10 was more accurate. Even the old chestnut of “Just a Parkrun to go!” didn’t work. “Who gives a bloody shit about Parkrun?!” was my central governor’s curt response as I battled my inner-demons.

I continued to reel runners in, and thankfully the course flattened out and even began descending subtly for some much needed active recovery and energy preservation. I tucked into my final gel and thanked my lucky stars that I’d saved a caffeinated one for last and when I needed it most – there was no coming back from this if it didn’t work!

Mile 23 continued the pace slow-down for a 7:08 split…

As I cleared mile 23, I took a peek at my Garmin and what I saw wasn’t good. The pace started at 7:08 and continued dropping. 7:10. 7:13. 7:15… I quickly switched to the time of day face in a desperate bid to give my fragile mind some respite from what felt like an impossible task.

The field grew even thinner and the next guy ahead was maybe some 20 seconds away if I could maintain the pace whilst he slowed. Spectators offered plentiful support and could see the suffering I was going through from my pained facial expressions, even whilst I wore sunglasses. I must’ve looked borderline insane, mouthing out 1 to 100 and singing to myself!

Thoughts shifted to slowing down and accepting that I would still be in-store for a sizable PB…

I steadied my breathing as best as I could and zoned out all of the noise that was bombarding my withered body and mind. “You didn’t put yourself through months of hell to give up now!” Doing some quick mental arithmetic, I only had to grit my teeth for an additional 16 or so minutes once this mile was out of the way. There was also a water station at mile 24 for something welcoming to look forward to.

Mile 24 limped in with 7:17 for my slowest split of the race; the worst was over with at least!

At the water station, I dual-wielded two bottles ala Brownlee brothers style and liberally sprayed myself down from head to toe in a desperate attempt to shed as much heat as possible, preparing for my final assault on what the Yorkshire course had in store.

Also in Brownlee tradition, each step became increasingly unsteady and I noticed I was beginning to weave left and right a little. To give my slow-twitch muscles a break, I actually began small fartlek style surges to open up my stride and cover more ground.

With knowledge that Lis would be at mile 25 for some much-needed support, I began mouthing, “Get to Lis. Get to Lis. Get to Lis.”

The official bibs had our names displayed on them and spectators began focusing their cheers on me with so few runners around. It’s incredibly powerful hearing your name with encouragement when you’re at rock bottom!

yorkshire_marathon_2016_04

My form was a real mess by mile 25… Photo by Lis Yu

Sure enough, Lis was at mile 25. I could make her out clearly from several hundred metres away and began waving frantically to dull the pain. Her words of support were like music to my ears. “Give me a kiss!” I begged; easier said than done at speed, and the result was more like a head-butt…

I was back on track for mile 25 and moved in the right direction for 7:06.

The final mile and a bit

Looking at the elapsed time on my Garmin, I was confident I would finish in under 3:05 and my attention moved to recovering as much damage as possible from several less than optimal miles.

In the distance was Paul Tonkinson, who had completely fallen off the sub-3 wagon by some 3 or 4 minutes. I further opened my stride to reach him as quickly as possible, firmly believing it would only do my average pace good. “Keep going, Paul. We’re nearly there!” were my words as I passed him.

An older couple spectating to my right could see I was hurting. “Less than a mile to go, Andy! Keep it up!” “Thank you! Pray for me!” came my response to their kind words, eliciting much laughter.

I was fully aware that the steep descent we all enjoyed at the beginning of the course would come back to bite everybody, but nothing prepared me for how much of a mountain it felt like during the final mile. Two runners were already on the hill and became my sole focus to help me get the climb out of the way in a swift fashion. I began to surge and the crowd went wild around me, spurring me on to go even faster!

Dave warned me beforehand that the start gantry was just that and was not to be confused with the finish line. I’d joked that I’d already made that mistake only a fortnight prior at the Robin Hood Half Marathon and wasn’t about to make the same error twice!

Passing under the start gantry, I knew I had to cover just a little over 400m that were entirely downhill all the way to the finish line. I began a cautious kick, conscious that my quads and hips were long shot and sprinting downhill could potentially be disastrous. Encouragingly, they were on side and held up; it was time to throw caution to the wind and empty the tank!

yorkshire_marathon_2016_06

Set for a big PB!

My eyes darted around the horizon for the finish gantry that came into view with some 200m remaining. I began spurring the crowd on with my arms and they lapped it all up; I even got a mention from the official compere over the PA system!

yorkshire_marathon_2016_10

There’s always a little something left for a sprint!

50m. 20m. 10m. 5m. Mission complete!

Post-race

Here’s the Strava data for the Yorkshire Marathon. There’s no heart rate data, opting not to wear the monitor for comfort reasons.

With the uphill climb back to the university and a sprint for the finish, I’d gone anaerobic for the very end of the race and needed to drop to my knees to catch my breath. Two volunteers came running over to check on me, whilst people in the crowd behind tried to help me back up. I gave everybody two thumbs up and said I just needed a minute or so to recompose myself.

Back on two feet, I gingerly made my way through the finish funnel. I took a glimpse at my Garmin and was thrilled to discover I had a 3:03:05 on my hands – a near-31 minute improvement on my previous best from the London Marathon in 2014. This is also a solid London Marathon Good For Age qualifying performance (at least until they inevitably move it to sub-3 for 2018, just you wait and see).

Two students were handing out cans of Redbull and after initially walking away, I backtracked to grab one and thanked them for the freebie. The sugar and caffeine went down a treat!

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Sean and me with Good For Age qualifying performances achieved

A runner emerged from the funnel and came over to shake my hand, commenting that I resembled a steam train as I passed him at some point in the closing miles. Sean and I shared our war stories of how our respective races went as we took a lengthy walk back to the baggage tent. In his pursuit for a sub-3 finish, he’d gone through halfway in 1:27 compared to my 1:31, whereas I finished almost 2 minutes ahead of him. Ouch…

With the hotel wanting Lis and I checked out by 2pm, I had to get a move on. Easier said than done, post-marathon… I couldn’t walk particularly fast and I had quite a trek across the university campus to get back to the hotel, whilst weighed down by the additions of a generously stocked goodie bag and medal.

Reunited with Lis, she was even more pleased than I was with my result, having seen first-hand what I’d put myself through since May. With the road closures still likely to last for hours, we sacked off returning to York city centre and made our way to an out of town retail park for some much needed cheeky-Nandos action!

Oh, and remember that beetroot juice shot I took before the start? Well, it was considerate enough to give me the desired oxygen-boost benefit during the race, only to then conspire with all the gels I’d consumed for a serious case of gut rot. I’ll spare you the grisly details…

Thoughts and conclusions

To say I’m elated is an understatement. I finally have a marathon PB to my name that I’m proud of, and is a fair representation of my ability! I also discovered I was so, so close from the oft-heard of, yet elusive to obtain, negative split finish; if only I’d held back just a smidge more in the first half…

I’ve no regrets about ducking out of the chase for a sub-3 finish, and given how difficult I found miles 23 and 24, it wouldn’t have even been on my radar. Rough back of fag packet calculations would suggest I’d have needed to be some 700m further up the road to accomplish the sub-3 hour feat. The problem with the marathon is the potential for seemingly minor problems to become greatly magnified over the 26.2 miles. As with the case of Sean above, running 3 minutes too fast in the first half translated into a second half that was more than 8 minutes slower. Positively, I wasn’t overtaken at all in the final 7 miles by my recollection.

The Yorkshire Marathon ticked an awful lot of boxes for me. It was a much more intimate affair and allowed me to be in near-complete control of my pace, race line and so on. Sure, the field grew a touch too thin at times, especially in the closing miles, though I preferred this compromise versus having to constantly be on edge in London for fear of being tripped up or knocked over by a stray foot, elbow or bottle. Only having pockets of spectators every now and again also meant their presence was fondly looked upon; I found myself wanting to withdraw and switch off from the constant crowds in London, which only caused additional mental fatigue. The Yorkshire Marathon is full of character and charm – its reputation as the second most favourable marathon in the UK after London isn’t just hype.

Training-wise, Pfitzinger and Douglas’ Advanced Marathoning served me very well. In an ideal world, I’d have liked one more 20+ mile run, which hopefully would have resulted in additional strength during the closing stages of the race. I stand by that replacing any prescribed half marathon pace work for additional marathon pace focus was the right move, allowing for swifter recovery with what only felt like nominal training benefit loss.

In all, I covered 843 miles during the campaign, including the race itself.

Average weekly volume, not including taper weeks, came to just 42 miles; I was surprised by this and had assumed I sat closer to 45 miles a week or more. This will be a major focus the next time I embark on a marathon campaign, where simply adding another 3 mile recovery run should do the trick for additional benefit that’ll outweigh the minimal increase in risk.

Peak weekly mileage topped out at 54 miles to be almost exactly what the P&D 18 week, up to 55 miles plan prescribed. This too will become a major focus for the next occasion, where I would like to be closer to 60 miles.

So, with all this talk of training adjustments, does that mean I’ll be targeting another marathon in the not too distant future? I’ve said to friends and family that achieving a sub-3 hour finish would be the Holy Grail reached and would mean I can stop chasing the 26.2 mile distance, but, I need a break from out and out distance and volume. I want to return to shorter distances with a slightly more fluid approach to racing. I bought into the marathon completely and sacrificed short-term goals and enjoyment for the bigger picture and payoff. Having a training plan to follow has been much appreciated and I’ll look to adopt one for my next half marathon (Faster Road Racing by Pfitzinger & Latter, for some continuity), hoping that the 13.1 distance will also see gains as my marathon did.

Recovery looks like it’ll be simple as I complete this blog entry almost 48 hours after the race. I picked up two incredibly minor blisters out there, which I didn’t even realise I had until I took my shoes off (the Nike Zoom Streak 6 – just wow). Minor stiffness and soreness is present and accounted for, whilst mobility is good and improves with each marathon outing. I have a few light jogs planned for later this week and may introduce something like an easy 10 miles at the end of next week; we’ll see how I’m feeling, because I have nothing on the agenda between now and the Telford 10k in mid-December. The hard work’s been done and it’s now time to look after myself.

A big thank you goes out to the people that have supported me during this marathon block. You all served different roles, be that of training partners, coaches, or simply agony aunts and uncles when I just needed an ear to hear me out.

That’s it, folks! Nothing more to see here and back to normality we go.

This week’s running – 31st of March to 6th of April

This sums me up perfectly

Yep, that’s me exactly!

This week was all about running somewhere new and being in the thick of the taper.

Jantastic – mission complete 

Three months later and the Jantastic challenge is finally over. Well done to everybody that participated and a real hero’s cheer for Dave who achieved 100%. Only a few hundred runners managed to achieve 100% out of the tens of thousands that participated. Shame he was late to the party when it came to joining Team Cannon Hill Parkrun – 100%’s worth of points and none of them were of recognised because he wasn’t there from the beginning!

January was a shaky month for me where I’d caught the mother of all colds and foolishly played one of my jokers too soon (it grants you immunity for half a week’s runs), giving me grace for one missed run but completely wrecking the following week where I didn’t run a single step.

February was a perfect month, with 100% of my prescribed runs and distance logged to perfection.

March wasn’t bad with just 10 seconds between me and my predicted max effort target of 19:30 over 5k. I did let myself down with mileage that was a little too ambitious at the end of the month (I forgot it was taper time), losing out on 5 miles.

In total, I scored 91.5%. I should have been nearer 95% if I’d have played my joker properly but looking on the bright side, it definitely made my running more consistent over the three months. My training normally goes like clockwork anyway, but knowing that there’s a score to be had and several people following your progress, it keeps you on the straight and narrow.

Will I do it again next year? You betcha!

Brighton runaround

Before Monday, I had never visited Brighton before despite all the positive things I had heard about the place. Due to a meeting near the south coast, I opted to stay overnight in Brighton and get a taster of what it had to offer.

After driving non-stop for 3 hours, there was nothing better than lacing up for a run to stretch my legs. The sun was out and positively begging me to set foot on Brighton’s seafront for a run. Conscious that I’d covered 10 tough miles at marathon pace the day befor, all I wanted was a 5k-recovery run at a very easy pace. I took my Garmin with me but paid no attention to it at all and instead relied on pacing by feel.

I chose to head left of the pier towards Brighton Marina. It was so nice to be able to run in a straight line on well-maintained paths without having to stop for traffic or other obstacles. Early on into my run, I saw a guy in the distance wearing a red t-shirt not dissimilar to the ones you see at Parkrun. As I got closer, I realised it was indeed a Parkrun 50 t-shirt, but rather an old-school one from Nike and not Adidas. Nike was the original sportswear sponsor before Adidas took up the mantle, and from various reports, the Adidas t-shirts are actually superior. Anyway, I was wearing my Marathon Talk t-shirt (black t-shirt in the sun – big mistake) and he noticed the 26.2 emblazoned on my chest and we both gave each other a knowing nod in regards to our chosen running kit for the day. Yes, I am sad like that.

I felt fantastic on the run and incredibly free without the pressure of pace or distance etc. Here’s the Garmin data.

The following morning, I decided to head out again but this time, covering the western side of the seafront from the pier. There was a distinct chill in the air at 7:15am and this was despite the sun coming out to play. There were already plenty of runners and dog walkers out on the seafront doing their thing; it all kind of reminded me of New York and Central Park where if you’ve got a location and scenery that’s so pleasant, why wouldn’t you? I’d not run that early in the morning for almost six months and it caught me off-guard. I was still half asleep, slightly dehydrated and hungry but the novelty of running on pancake flat ground on the south coast kept my spirits high. The pacing of the run was similar to the previous afternoon where I warmed-up gently for the first mile, ran steadily for the second and brought it all home for the third. I even estimated the distance perfectly to finish right outside my hotel.

All in all, it was a fantastic experience to run in Brighton. I’m going to miss the well-kept paths to run on, especially when I return to Hagley Road… Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

Thursday hill work

This wasn’t really a session, more a part of the tapering process to try and stay sharp. I was talking to a French colleague of mine recently who has run the Paris and New York Marathons in the past and when I asked how he typically tapered, he told me he didn’t run a single step in the two weeks before either race. “THIS IS MADNESS!”, I thought, followed by Gerard Butler bellowing, “THIS. IS. SPARTA!!!”, whilst kicking me into a bottomless pit. Ahem… Anyway, I’ll talk more about tapering later on in this entry.

Conscious that I didn’t run any fast efforts in Brighton, I wanted to get some hill reps under my feet. I normally do six reps but I cut things right down to just three; enough to get my legs turning over and my lungs working hard, but not enough to leave me fatigued. I did wonder about the smog but in the end, I zipped up my man-suit and just got on with it.

After a decent one mile warm-up, I charged up and down the hill at faster than 5k pace for what felt like some good speed. I did find the pacing a little awkward on such short reps of only 0.18 miles (the length of the hill); only one or two seconds too fast or slow and it ended up showing wildly different times for pace per mile. Perhaps switching to kilometres will help with accuracy.

Here’s the Garmin data for this session.

Cannon Hill Parkrun

Ed and I were speaking earlier in the week about how to tackle the final Parkrun before our respective London Marathons. I was originally thinking to run it as a tempo run of around 6:45 per mile but Ed had raced a 10k last year the week before his sub-3 hour Manchester Marathon which left him feeling sharp and confident for the following week. With that alone, my mind had been made up to try and run a swift 5k, so something between 19:4X and 19:5X.

The warm-up had me feeling rubbish as usual and my triple espresso didn’t help things either.

The first mile was more or less on target pace but as always, the second mile/4th km rot had made its mark and I my pace dropped. I decided to knock things back a touch, knowing that I couldn’t make up 25 seconds; the aim of having a run with a faster leg turnover had been achieved so I need not batter myself senseless during this taper period.

Dave had run a strong 19:24 and Nigel ran a PB of 19:35 despite visiting a beer festival the evening before – well done gents!

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

10 miles with 3 at marathon pace

The plan for this run was to head out for a few miles with 3 or so miles at marathon pace. I originally wanted to run towards Bournville via the canals but Iain’s mud bath experience from earlier in the week put me off, so it would be the northern canal loop again.

Despite the sky being grey, it was a balmy 14 degrees outside and there was a definite humidity in the air. The first mile had me sweating like a pig but I managed to settle into approx 8:20 pace without much trouble. After 4 miles, I launched into marathon pace and also strong headwinds. The relative warmth had caught me off-guard and thankfully, I had an Isogel to sink which perked me up for the final mile at marathon pace; the instant sugar hit made my pace spike and I had to rein myself back into running 7:50 per mile. Once 3 miles had been completed, I dropped my pace back to warm-down but found my body wanting to constantly drift back into marathon pace – not a bad sign at all.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

Taper twitches and race week plans

I don’t know about the rest of you with spring marathons that have just been or coming up but I’ve finally reached that stage of the taper that I loathe the most. I’m full of nervous energy at the moment and I can’t stop thinking about next week. Almost everything I’m doing at the moment has a direct or indirect link to next week’s race.

Aaaaand breathe in. Breathe out.

This happened last year before the London Marathon and has typically happened each and every time before a major A-half marathon. It doesn’t seem to happen to me before 5k and 10k races, mainly because I race them so frequently and the losses are easier to bear.

I’ve brought my mileage right down where I only covered 10 miles last week at marathon pace with Dave and covered 10 miles this week, with 3 at marathon pace. Intensity is still present where I’m still doing sessions but with less volume. My energy levels are high and unlike last year, I’m watching what I eat during this taper period to ensure I don’t put on weight. And speaking of weight, I’ve surpassed my race-weight goal of 9st 5lbs and am now rocking in at 9st 4lbs! I guess my body repairing the trauma of marathon training and my reduced calorie intake have worked hand in hand to bring my weight down where I was steadily weighing in at 9st 7lbs before. Theories out there suggest that for every pound of weight that you can shed, you’re then potentially between two and five seconds faster per mile thanks to an improved power to weight ratio. Of course, you can drop too much weight at the cost of muscle loss. In terms of BMI, I’m still half a point out of being in the dead centre of normal for my height and weight category.

I know I feel less than stellar right now but I accept it’s for the best and it’ll all soon be over in less than seven days.

I am planning to get next week’s update out on Friday, followed by an entry all about my 2014 London Marathon out on the Monday after.

Training-wise for race week, I’m going to knock volume and intensity down even further with the following:

  •       Tuesday – 3x hill reps at 5k pace
  •       Thursday – 3 miles easy
  •       Saturday – 1 mile easy

I have also booked Friday off from work to make the trip down to London to visit the expo and collect my race number. The running gods clearly see potential in me, otherwise they wouldn’t have put me back into this year’s race. All I need them to do is also put me into a starting pen that’s between 3 and 5 and I’m good. I want to soak up the atmosphere at the expo and I would like to add a detailed section about it in my race report. I’m also hoping I might spot Martin Yelling and Tom Williams there so will of course be wearing my Marathon Talk t-shirt.

On Saturday, Lis and I will be making our way down to London to check into our hotel (the Ibis at Blackfriars) to be later joined for dinner by our respective parents. I’m hoping I get a decent night’s sleep in the hotel unlike last year. People say the night before doesn’t matter so much as long as you’ve had a good few days’ worth of sleep. I call bullshit on this because I know if I’ve had a bad night’s sleep before a race and it makes a world of difference to me.

Race day itself will consist of an early start of maybe 06:30, breakfast, and then wandering over to Waterloo station for my train to Blackheath. Conveniently, Waterloo is only 10 minutes away by foot. I also plan to try and get a little bit of easy running in to warm-up on race morning; I know most guides say it’s not necessary but I know I personally take a long time to warm-up properly and a cold start doesn’t do me any good at all. The rest is up to my training and the running gods upstairs to look after me.

Goal-wise, I have the following:

  •       C-goal – to simply PB
  •       B-goal – to run sub-3:30
  •       A-goal – to run sub-3:25
  •       A*-goal – to run sub-3:20

The C-goal should be achievable under most circumstances. Last year’s finish time saw me back home with 3:52:31; in other words, if I run at my long run training pace from this year for the whole 26.2 miles, I should PB.

My B-goal is actually last year’s A-goal, which is to run sub-3:30. In hindsight, I would have been lucky to have achieved this last year; not impossible but it would have required everything to be right such as the weather, the starting pen and so on. I ran my long runs far too slow last year and the jump from training pace to race pace was just a little too much to sustain. If I run a steady race at 8 minutes per mile, I can do this.

My A-goal has the potential to happen if I run well and conditions are ideal. There’s 10 seconds difference per mile between this and the B-goal of 3:30 and realistically, I think I’m somewhere between the two, erring more towards this one.

And simply because miracles can happen on race day and I may have totally underestimated my fitness, sub-3:20 has been thrown into the mix. Pacing calculators are saying I can do 3:14 (somewhat generous) based on my recent 1:32 Silverstone half marathon. If we use the more conservative formula of doubling your half marathon and then adding 10%, I end up with a figure of 3:22 so not wild at all. I didn’t run Silverstone flat out and due to the windy conditions, I probably lost out on a minute or so.

You can of course follow my progress on race day by visiting the London Marathon website and typing in my name (Andy Yu) and my race number (8316). Each of my 5k splits (and half marathon I think) will be shown live so you can see whether I’m on, ahead or behind target.

Best of luck to everybody running a spring marathon. We’ve put in all the hard work and now’s the time to reap the rewards.

To close, here’s this week’s entry from Mark Remy’s The Runner’s Rule Book:

Use your head when you stash your keys

If you’re like me, the vast majority of your runs begin and end at home or at the office. Every so often, though, you will drive somewhere to race or meet friends for a run. You will strip down to shorts, shirt and shoes. You will lock your car. And then you will stare at the tangle of keys, fobs, frequent-shopper cards, bottle openers, rabbits’ feet, Mini Mag-lites, and other assorted tchotchkes in your hand and wonder what the heck you should do with them.

You’ll be tempted to place them atop one of your tires. Don’t. That’s the first place a thief will look. (If you’re this person, you also “hide” your wallet in your shoe at the beach. Am I right?)

There are any number of more creative – and less thief-friendly alternatives.

One is to remove just your car key, then stow it In the pocket of your shorts or jacket, or in a special shoelace pouch designed for that purpose.

Another method, which I’ve heard of but never witnessed, involves placing your keys atop the tire of somebody else’s car. Which I guess would work well, unless that driver leaves before you do. Yet, another method is to drive a jalopy in such poor shape that no one in high right mind would ever want to steal it.

Personally, I encounter this situation whenever I meet friends for a run at the nearby Parkway. Usually, I lock up the car and take my keys with me – just for the first few minutes of the run, at which point I tuck them into the crook of a tree branch just off the path. Hasn’t failed me yet.

(Hint for car thieves in eastern Pennsylvania: It’s the tallish tree next to another tallish tree. With leaves.)