Confessions of a 50-year old marathon virgin

IMG_4576

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!

Yorkshire Marathon 2017 review

2017_yorkshire_marathon_medal_bib

Marathons never get easier. Goals just get loftier!

For the 2016 race, please click the following:

First things first, I promise this year’s write-up of my Yorkshire Marathon experience won’t be nearly as long as last year’s edition! Congratulations to all who ran and I hope this race account inspires those of you yet to run your autumn marathon.

The build-up

3:03:05 from the 2016 Yorkshire Marathon was incredibly satisfying to achieve, especially as my two previous attempts at the 26.2 distance left me feeling cheated. The London Marathon is the marathon for many, but not for me, so Yorkshire Marathon 2017 it was. Of course, being so close to a sub-3 hour marathon meant the next attempt had a very firm finish time in sight. I’ve repeatedly said of late that running more marathons doesn’t mean they get easier – the goals just get loftier!

So, what would it take to run under 3 hours? That’s 26.2 miles at 6:50 to 6:52 pace, give or take a little bit of error either side. I decided last year’s modified P&D Advanced Marathoning 22 week plan would serve me well again, with a few more modifications here and there; a very modest uplift in mileage and more opportunities to run at marathon pace, for example.

Training went incredibly well up until mid-August when Lis and I went away to Crete on holiday. I’d racked up some strong training runs and even broke 60 miles in one week for the first time. Returning from our break, I soon picked up a nasal infection that robbed me of two or so critical weeks in the plan. Once healthy again, it soon became apparent that I’d gone off the boil for too long (three weeks including the holiday and illness); my training paces slowed slightly and I lost some resilience, forcing me to begin dropping easy runs in favour of rest days.

All was not lost, however. I hit my long run goal of breaking 100 miles spread across five runs (103 miles in total) and marathon paced training runs at the Wolverhampton and Robin Hood Half Marathon indicated I was in good aerobic shape, but that I absolutely had to stick to the script of just sitting steady at 6:50 to 6:52 per mile in the main event because my body was unlikely to react well to anything faster.

Maranoia – it’s real!

Leading up to race day, I did what I could to stay healthy and illness-free. Judicious and frequent hand washing, backed up with liberal use of antibacterial gel, became the norm. So, imagine my horror when symptoms began manifesting less than 24 hours before the race!

Once more, Lis and I checked into York for a two-night stay in a bid to ensure I at least had a chance to acclimatise to the unfamiliar bed and surroundings. And yes, leaving nothing to chance, I did take my own pillow from home again.

Unfortunately, I slept dreadfully on Friday night and woke feeling groggy and dazed on Saturday morning. By mid-afternoon, I began to feel weak and flat and was ready to head back to the hotel for a nap. Post-nap, I felt no better and struggled to get food down over dinner with a constant feeling of wanting to throw up. I suffered from cold flashes, where everybody in the restaurant appeared to be fanning themselves to cool down, whereas I was struggling to stay warm!

In a complete reversal of roles, Dave Burton, who I’ve been coaching to run his own marathon, became my mentor. He suggested it was all in my head and was merely the fight versus flight mechanism kicking in. I was in unknown territory, recalling only ever feeling as such the day before Lis and I got married. Races don’t make me break out in a cold sweat, or so I thought! Reading through the Wikipedia article on the subject matter, I had almost all of the textbook symptoms; this did nothing to reassure me of the horror that unfolded and, ashamedly, for somebody that’s normally incredibly positive and upbeat about running and racing, I began re-evaluating my options and jacking the race in suddenly became a very real and inviting prospect. If the symptoms were not psychosomatic and I really was coming down with something (bad luck happens to everyone – just look at Therasa May), attempting to run 26.2 miles whilst ill would be a very bad idea and I could do without another DNF to my name.

Another early night it was in a bid to shake off whatever it was I was going through…

Pre-race

Unhelpfully and unsurprisingly, I had yet another poor night’s sleep due to what played on my mind. Adding to the anxiety was the comparison to the 36 hours before the 2016 Yorkshire Marathon, where everything went according to plan.

But! Many of the symptoms appeared to subside and only the queasy feeling in my stomach remained a concern. I managed to force some breakfast down whilst still contemplating my options. I agreed with Lis that we would rendezvous back at the hotel, whatever happened…

Suited and booted, I made my way over to the race village at the university. I began running through different mantras in my head, but the only ones that seemed appropriate to quell the feeling of nausea were “Keep cool” and “Stay calm”.

Firmly on university grounds, I spotted a runner wearing a sombrero hat, looking lost. I approached him to see if he was looking for the baggage tents, and indeed he was. I immediately began making small talk with David, querying whether he planned to wear the comically large hat for the entire race. He assured me the hat would be discarded shortly after starting the race and that it was more of a prop, where he and another friend would be guide runners for their blind comrade (the Three Amigos, get it?) Chatting with David did me a world of good, calming my nerves. Reaching the baggage tents, we wished each other luck before going our separate ways.

andy_yu_yorkshire_marathon_2017

Yep. I’m that guy from the race guide…

I was on the lookout for one Dave Johnson, whom I only ever tend to see in Yorkshire despite both of us living within a mile of each other. But, no joy on this occasion – he was nowhere to be seen. I did spot a Bournville Harrier and we both joked we were an incredibly long way from home, with neither of us feeling particularly well. Whilst getting my stuff prepared for storage, one chap asked if I was the guy featured in the race guide. Sheepishly, I acknowledged it was me and quickly interjected that I wasn’t feeling in race-form that morning. Incredibly, he too was also from the West Midlands, namely Walsall. Unsure of his ability, Ross did say he was capable of sub-3 pace at up to 11 miles in training and would attempt to keep me in sight for as long as possible. I wished him well and said I would keep an eye out for him on the course.

Bag checked in, one final toilet visit beckoned and I was pleased to see the organisers had once again provided urinals. It’s the little things that make or break races and the Yorkshire Marathon organisers are absolute pros at this – many other larger races could learn a thing or two from them!

In the start pen, I felt like I had a bull’s eye on my back and couldn’t shake the feeling that everybody was staring at me. I felt like a fraud from the interview I gave for the race pack guide. A few people did come over to say “hello” and to thank me for my write-up of the 2016 race, citing it as a useful reference. One such guy, Ian, stuck with me and we continued to chat. He, too, wore the Nike Vaporfly 4% in the same colour as me and also sported a Garmin 935. Behind me, I could see the sub-3 hour pacer a good 20 rows or so back and I wondered just how soon it would be before I was swallowed up by them and left for dust?

I continued to straddle the line between a daze and reality, paying no attention to the countdown. It was only when the hooter fired that I realised it was go-time!

The race

Miles 1 to 3

I was incredibly conscious I had not warmed up, opting to conserve as much energy as possible, and so had to use the first mile to ease myself in. Thankfully, the generous descent from the university to the main road helped to keep the effort relaxed and comfortable whilst cold starting.

“Keep cool,” I repeated to myself as people charged off. Before I knew it, mile 1 came and went in 6:57. Faster than the year prior by a few seconds, so perhaps all was not lost…

Approaching mile 2, the thunderous footsteps of the sub-3 hour pace group roared past. The group was huge, though they somehow managed to navigate around me without so much as a bump or nudge. I latched on to the coat tails of the pack, joined also by Ian, who I spoke with in the start pen. Mile 2 was clearly boosted by the sub-3 group to come in with 6:49! “Keep cool,” I continued to whisper to myself!

Passing York Minster, I completely missed it due to trying to concentrate on those around me during this narrow section. Noticeably, compared to a year ago, there were definitely more runners about, and not just because of my closer proximity to the sub-3 hour goal time. Once the road widened up, I was able to more freely run my own race line and positioned myself to catch Lis shortly after the 3 mile marker. Mile 3 continued to be swift for 6:48.

Miles 4 to 9

andy_yu_yorkshire_marathon_2017_01

Mile 3 of the Yorkshire Marathon – photo by Lis Yu

Spotting Lis, I soaked up her support until I was due to see her once again at mile 24.

Ian and I came back together and we both remarked how the sub-3 hour pacer was without a doubt going too fast, even factoring the slightly more undulating second half. We agreed that anybody that was on the cusp of running a sub-3 hour marathon would be pushed too hard at such a pace. Mile 4 returned to target pace of 6:51.

Bizarrely, I found miles 5 and 6 slipping from the pace for some unknown reason. Wind was low and both Ian and I commented how spectacular the morning was for racing. Even a high-five from the famous high-fiving vicar was not enough to lift the pace, resulting in 6:55 and 6:57 for miles 5 and 6 respectively.

Looking behind me, a decent sized pack of perhaps 7 or so of us had formed. I took on the role of tour guide, explaining how the course would pan out, where drink stations would appear, and so on. Ian and I remained chatty, helping the miles to fly by. He turned out to be an ultra runner with some impressive multi-day 100 mile events to his name. I commented that 26.2 miles would be a breeze for him, but he was absolutely right to correct me that any distance at race pace would feel difficult. As we conversed more, it quickly became apparent that he had a very similar outlook and mindset to myself when it came to running – it was almost like my personality had been transplanted into another body and I joked we were like brothers in arms! Another member of the group revealed that his only other marathon was dressed as a banana… I don’t want to come across as overly sentimental, but the group I found myself in was exactly what I needed that morning. The positive energy of the pack was practically tangible!

Miles 7, 8 and 9 came in at 6:53, 6:53 and 6:59 respectively. I regularly reassured the group that we were doing just fine, pace-wise, and that we had to remain calm and patient up to halfway.

Miles 10 to 13.1

Entering the heavily tree-lined section of the course, I reasoned that the pace was likely to rise and fall due to fluctuating levels of GPS signal. Also not helping with pace stability was the undulating terrain underfoot; I advised everyone that there was a high-speed downhill section on the approach and to just let the pace flow at that point, rather than applying the brakes.

By now, we had completely lost sight of the sub-3 hour pace group, with the field ahead and behind growing incredibly sparse. The group remained encouraging and positive, firmly in the knowledge that it was likely to be a lonely race if anybody fell from the pack.

andy_yu_yorkshire_marathon_2017_05

Me and the less aggressive sub-3 group

Miles 10, 11 and 12 came in at 6:52, 6:58 and 6:50 to still be on the cusp of sub-3 hour pace.

As we neared the halfway point, I reiterated the importance of staying calm and patient. We only needed to skim under 90 minutes to leave ourselves in the best possible shape for the second half. Passing the halfway clock, we registered 6:49 for the mile and 89:56 for a perfectly executed opening half. Nonchalantly, Ross revealed that he’d never gone under 90 minutes for a half marathon before!

Miles 14 to 17

Approaching the first of two switchbacks on the course, the crowd support swelled and was most welcome after a couple of quiet miles. I mentioned to Ian that this was now officially the longest run I had undertaken at such a pace to date; he shared my sentiments and we acknowledged the effort beginning to ratchet upwards.

Unfortunately, the pack we’d spent much of the first half of the race with imploded due to the change of pace from the switchback and the mild headwind we ran into. Only Ian and I remained and he suggested we take turns at blocking the wind for each other. This guy really was reading my mind the entire way!

Some of the fastest runners of the day appeared on the other side. As with last year, there were no African runners, so the winning time would be slower (2:24:13) than at many larger races.

Ian and I found ourselves connecting with another runner going at roughly the same pace. The wind increasingly picked up at this point, so the three of us opted to form a chain gang to take the edge off the gusts that blew. Mark revealed that he was running purely to heart rate, as instructed by his coach. I commended him on the sterling work, recognising that the effort skyrockets somewhere beyond 18 miles. Mark spotted the Autobot tattoo on my leg, to which I apologised for not being able to transform into a car. “If you could transform, it would only need to be a 2-seater. You’d be the car. One seat for me and one seat for [Ian]!” He shared that he was looking forward to seeing his wife and son somewhere out on the course; I concurred that I was greatly looking forward to some much needed support from Lis at mile 24.

The first of two gel stations appeared and I lucked out when they offered me a caffeinated Isogel – exactly what I was carrying on my person!

Physically and mentally, I was fully aware of needing to graft all the way to the end. For a stark contrast to only several hours earlier that morning, I felt alive for the first time all weekend and was committed to staying on target for as long as my body and mind would allow. I was reminded to stay cautious; on the other side of the road was one of the lead women, convulsing on the floor in the arms of a medic as they comforted her…

Miles 14, 15, 16 and 17 came in at 6:48, 6:53, 6:50 and 6:50 for a modest uptick in pace.

Miles 18 to 20

Approaching the second and final switchback of the route, Ian and I clocked the sub-3 hour group on the other side of the course; they were a good 1.5 to 2 minutes ahead of us and, incredibly, still appeared to be as large in numbers as before.

Rounding the turning point, I noticed Ian beginning to slip from the pace by a couple of steps. I slowed on the shallow descents to allow him to regroup with me, but it was never long again before he slipped backwards by a few strides. I pointed at the floor below my feet and urged him on to get back to me. At the same time, I had my other eye on Mark who was powering on in front. Ian urged me on as he drifted backwards…

Somehow, Mark found a boost from seemingly nowhere as he ploughed on ahead. I fixated on keeping the 5m or so between us static, at least until the left turn at mile 20. On the other side of the course approaching the second switchback were various members of my pack from the first half; I cheered them all on in deep appreciation of the company they gave me earlier that morning.

With Mark’s aid, we reeled in an increasing number of runners that had splintered off from the main sub-3 hour group ahead. The effort to hold pace became really quite noticeable and I began questioning how long I could possibly hang on for. Rubbing salt in was the direction of the wind, which had reverted back into a headwind, forcing me to increase my own pace to keep up with Mark and use him for drafting assistance.

Miles 18, 19 and 20 came in at 6:44, 6:48 and 6:58 to still average out as being on target.

Miles 21 to 22

Turning the corner beyond mile 20, Mark somehow slipped from the pace and began going backwards from me. Up ahead, it was very quiet with few other runners to latch on to and work with. A lone Harrogate runner was my closest target, so I worked up to him and sat steady. I began counting to 100; so tired was I from a lack of sleep that I even messed that up and skipped out whole sections of numbers!

andy_yu_yorkshire_marathon_2017_06

Teeth gritted. Time to dig in!

I’d reached the second and final energy gel station of the course and, quite conveniently, they’d marked out which flavours they were providing on either side of the road. I opted for a banana gel with the knowledge that the flavour change would help perk me up after slurping down nothing but orange and berry flavoured gels all morning. With the sun also making a guest appearance, I grabbed two bottles of water – one for drinking and the other to throw over myself; the shock of the cold water did wonders to wake me up and took my mind off my ever tightening body and limbs.

In the distance on the left, I could see a flag flying in the air. Getting closer, I realised it was the sub-3 hour pacer’s flag and he was walking! I couldn’t quite believe what I was seeing. As I neared, I asked if he was OK; he looked defeated and simply replied with, “Yeah. I’m fine.” He looked quite different to the published photo of the 3-hour pacer from several weeks ago and I immediately wondered whether it was the same guy at all, or whether the organisers had to find a backup pacer for whatever reason?

Runners from the 10 mile race began to come into view. Looking for any brief bit of distraction, I began encouraging them, many of which were walking by this point.

Miles 21 and 22 came in at 6:51 and 6:55, respectively, so still on target, but only just.

Miles 23 to 25

Reaching mile 23, I could see my pace was drifting in the wrong direction and for the first time during the race, my Garmin displayed a pace starting with a 7… The average pace ticked over from 6:52 to 6:53 and I knew it was now make or break; did I have the courage, strength and desire to invite the pain and fatigue in and get back on to 6:52 pace? I tried treating the section as a fartlek run with mini injections of pace for a few seconds to try and reverse the damage. The problem, at such a late stage in the race, was that everybody around me had slowed and that messed with my brain’s perception of speed. What felt like a casual jog earlier when everybody else was running at the same pace as me now felt more like a sprint!

andy_yu_yorkshire_marathon_2017_02

Mile 24? More like mile 24.9! Photo by Lis Yu

As I neared mile 24, I began to look forward to the sight of Lis out supporting. I needed a friendly and familiar face after having lost all of the comrades I’d started the race with at numerous points earlier. The mile 24 marker came and went, but no sign of Lis. Puzzled, I wondered what had happened. We’d spoken about a nearby pub beforehand, which would have made for a good base of operation with toilet facilities and what not. Perhaps she was in the toilet and I’d missed her? A big part of me died when I realised that may have happened, especially after waiting for so long to see her again. Well, readers – fear not! It turned out to be some confusion; Lis was unsure if she was actually at the right pub or not, so relocated further up back on to the route (24.9 miles…) to be certain!

andy_yu_yorkshire_marathon_2017_03

In my own personal hell of my own making – photo by Lis Yu

Any semblance of a poker face to mask the torture I was going through was long gone. My IT bands and hips were tight, restricting the stride range I had access to. My shoulders and neck were also knotted, and my arms were doing the tyrannosaurus-rex claw thing once more… Not a strong look at all! Running in a straight line became increasingly difficult and I drifted from left to right on occasion; so long as I continued to move forward at the same time, my form mattered not!

On the approach to mile 25, the crowd support began to swell once again. More and more runners also began drifting back into contact with me, giving me interim targets to work towards and jump from one to the other. As I’d remarked on earlier, there were definitely more runners out in the field, especially so close to the 3 hour time, whereas a year ago, I was largely running alone and in between groups going for a London Marathon Good For Age time of 3:05 or sub-3 hours. Unexpectedly, the Harrogate runner found second wind and pulled up alongside me to then move ahead! This was exactly what I needed and I followed him in pursuit.

Miles 23, 24 and 25 came in at 7:07, 7:01 and 7:09. The sub-3 game was up and I knew I couldn’t bust out a 6:20 mile at the end of a marathon. My goal immediately switched to finishing as close to 3:00 as possible. At least I could then say I’m a 3 hour marathoner…

The final mile and a bit

I’ve frequently said before that unless you’ve absolutely rinsed yourself out on the course, the final mile kind of looks after itself.

In the distance, I could see the petrol station that signalled the left turn back towards the university. And that hill. I knew it was going to sting this year, much more so than 2016, due to the more aggressive overall race pace on this occasion. Over 50 feet of elevation spread across 400m at the end of a marathon… To my left was a bloke who just suddenly stopped running and began to walk. Out of nowhere, his two teenaged sons came to his rescue and began spurring him on. “Don’t stop now, Dad! You’re so close! Come on, we’ll run with you up the hill!” Brings a tear to the eye, doesn’t it?

andy_yu_yorkshire_marathon_2017_07

Once at the brow of the hill, I knew I had a descent all the way to the finish, so I picked up my stride. I could hear the compere announcing names of finishers coming through, but there was no mention of time or the sought after 3 hour cut-off point on the clock. I knew I was outside of target, anyway, and simply sprinted for the line in a bid to finish as strongly as possible. I received a mention over the PA system, prompting me to raise my arms in victory, firm in the knowledge that I still had a generous PB to my name.

Post-race

Here’s the Strava data for this race.

I immediately dropped down to lie on my side, inspired by another chap lying on his back. A marshal rushed over to check I was OK, to which I told him I just needed a breather. Once recovered, I checked my Garmin out and I had finished in 3:00:34. Not the sub-3 hour goal I originally set out for, but it was still a 2 minute and 31 second PB over last year. And yes, I can now legitimately call myself a 3 hour marathoner!

I waited in the funnel to cheer in the various faces that I’d come into contact with over the duration of the race. First back in was Mark, who had dragged me on through the 18 to 20 mile section. Next up was Ross, followed shortly by Eric, both from the pack I belonged to for much of the first half. Finally, there was Ian, my brother from another mother for the day (for his account of the race, check out his blog here). Whilst we’d all PBd (and half marathon PBs for some!) by decent margins, I did have to break it to them that I’d missed sub-3 by just 35 seconds…

andy_yu_yorkshire_marathon_2017_04

Ross, me and Ian – marathon PBs for all!

A stroll back to the baggage tent with an alcohol-free beer to celebrate the achievement is not a bad way to end a race at all!

Thoughts and conclusions

So, the sub-3 hour marathon remains elusive. But really, I’m not disappointed at all because I did everything within my power to finish in the time that I did. Sure, if training had gone more to plan, or if I hadn’t lost two to three weeks from illness or my holiday, I may have made it, and maybe I wouldn’t have. Equally, if I had a perfect night’s rest before the race with no feelings of nausea or anxiety, I may have been fresher to squeeze out another 1%. With all that had happened in the 24 hours prior, I’m absolutely delighted with my finish time!

Stats-wise, things look interesting (2017 versus 2016):

  • Total campaign mileage: 894.94 miles vs 843.52 miles
  • Average weekly mileage: 42.12 miles vs 42.14 miles
  • Positive split difference: 38 seconds vs 35 seconds

Total campaign mileage-wise, the ambition was to modestly increase overall volume. I also hoped to increase my average weekly volume; my largest weeks had grown even more compared to a year ago, but conversely, my lightest weeks also became lighter, where I found I was in need of rest instead of recovery. This resulted in the incredibly similar average weekly mileage results above. Finally, I originally assumed I had a larger positive split in 2016, but that’s not so. I’m coming around to thinking that I’m unlikely to run a negative split and that another sub-3 hour attempt will require banking perhaps 30 to 45 seconds in the first half, anticipating such a slowdown in the second half due to fatigue.

Will there be another roll of the dice for the sub-3 hour goal? Not for 2018. My mind is frazzled from the past few weeks of marathon training and I need to recalibrate and get back to baseline. I want to regain some of my speed and revisit shorter distances like 5k, 10k and half marathons, running them in anger once again. Taking the rather crude marathon prediction calculation of doubling your half marathon best, and adding 10 minutes, only gives me an 11 second margin of error; getting my half marathon PB below 84 or even 83 minutes will be time well spent for any future outing at the 26.2 mile distance.

Very few successful marathon outings happen because of one sole runner alone. There’s often an invisible team behind the performance, all playing their part to get the most out of an individual. You all know who you are, even if you don’t think you’ve helped all that much, to which I’m incredibly grateful.

With that, we’re at the end of another marathon campaign. Many of you will be embarking on autumn marathons of your own very soon, which I wish you the best of luck with.

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.

2016 – Year in review

2016

Plenty of ups and downs during 2016!

Let’s use Clint Eastwood’s 1966 movie, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly to filter through this year’s ponder over 2016.

The Good

2016’s targets and PBs

I purposely softened a few of 2016’s targets after some of 2015’s became too ambitious to chase. The good news is I achieved all of my goals, with some by quite a margin!

  • 5k: sub-18:35: SUCCESS!
  • 10k: sub-39:00: SUCCESS!
  • Half marathon: sub-85: SUCCESS!
  • Marathon: sub-3:15: SUCCESS!

And the below are the associated PBs:

Now let’s have a look at 2017’s targets:

  • 5k: sub-18:00
  • 10k: sub-38:00
  • Half marathon: sub-83:30
  • Marathon: sub-3:00

These days for me, any 5k PB is welcomed with open arms. Finding those 15 seconds to get from 18:14 to sub-18 will not be easy, though breaking it down to just needing to shave 3 seconds per km makes it much easier to stomach.

The 10k goal is around where I should have been at multiple points in 2016, but just didn’t come good. It taunts me and is more a case of luck rather than ability.

My half marathon goal remains in line with 2014’s through to 2016’s estimations of 90 to 120 seconds improvement per year; hopefully more likely the latter due to only one half marathon PB in 2016.

The big-Kahuna that is the sub-3 hour marathon goal doesn’t need much introduction or explanation now. By late spring, I should have a very firm idea of the sort of shape I’ll be in and what work will be necessary to get me there for the autumn.

Mileage uplift

2015 saw 1,612 miles covered.

2016 welcomed an increase to 1,737 miles. I basically ran an additional month’s worth of mileage in the same amount of time, no doubt helped by the marathon focus. The total would have likely broken 1,800 miles had I have not also moved house during April.

Memorable races

This one’s easy and couldn’t be anything other than the Yorkshire Marathon. There are no guarantees in running; you simply do the work required and hope for the best on the day, whilst not doing anything too foolhardy in the race. I placed my heart and soul into the preparation and was met with an incredibly rewarding outcome. If I suddenly had to give up running or chasing the marathon, I think I could be satisfied with that performance despite my next goal of going under 3 hours.

Notable mentions also go out to this year’s Brass Monkey Half Marathon and Walsall Arboretum Parkrun.

The Brass Monkey Half Marathon defied my own expectations of what I could have produced that day, and like all good breakout performances, still remains out of reach almost a year later. Perhaps the 2017 edition of the race will finally jump start my half marathon development once more?

Similarly, the 5k PB at Walsall Arboretum Parkrun came from nowhere. The morning was wet and miserable, the field was sparse, and I was fatigued from being elbow-deep in marathon training. I’ve not come close to that performance for months!

 

The Bad

Races I’d rather forget

Eugh. The Kenilworth Half Marathon really should have been cut and dry, but was marred by illness. But I at least finished the race! I didn’t dwell too much on the outcome, mainly because the race was just a stepping stone towards a greater goal.

The Cardiff World Championships Half Marathon was also a let-down due to the weather gods unleashing a monstrous storm at around 9 miles during my race. Up until that point, I was in contention for a minor half marathon PB, which would have at least made the race’s £60 entry fee more palatable!

 

The Ugly

The race I’d rather hadn’t taken place

This last spot can only go to the Telford 10k. A stinking cold and the resultant DNF that followed made for incredibly bitter pills to swallow, thusly continuing the trend of why my 10k PB is so far out of line with the rest of my performances.

Illness

I’ve said enough on this topic recently, but felt I had to include it for posterity. What I would give for a boosted immune system right now!

 

Make 2017 a good one

Whether you’re just starting out as a runner, or chasing after elusive goals, I hope 2017 comes good for you!

This week’s running – 17th to 23rd of October 2016

faster_road_racing

My new bible for the next 12 weeks

Big news of the northern variety this week…

A return to Yorkshire x 2

It comes as little surprise that I’ll be returning to the frozen north again in January to tackle that race favourite of mine, the Brass Monkey Half Marathon. Once again, I’ll also have my good friend, Dave Burton, in tow. I’m sure he won’t mind me sharing that he’ll be running his final race in the 45 to 49 age category!

So, what’s the other visit to Yorkshire?

Well, it turns out I’ll be returning to the 26.2 mile distance sooner than anticipated, participating once more in the 2017 Yorkshire Marathon!

“Wait! I thought you said you’d return to marathon running in 2018?” I can hear some of you querying.

Lis felt my best chances of going under 3 hours for the marathon would be a year later in 2017, and not 1.5 to 2 years later in 2018. I’ll have one cycle to get back to regular development, and then it’s all guns blazing for another autumn marathon. Summer training, boo and yay in equal measure…

The timing works incredibly well because Dave will be embarking on his very first marathon just a week after my next 26.2 mile outing. Looking to add some extra value and a different angle to this blog, Dave and I have discussed the possibility of him writing a short guest entry each week, sharing his thoughts on the highs and lows of marathon training as an older runner of a decent standard. Watch this space for developments!

“Today I don’t feel like doing anything. I just wanna lay in my bed…”

I’d even packed my running gear with a view to covering another 5 easy miles from Birmingham city centre on Tuesday, but I really couldn’t be bothered. I wasn’t tired and even felt quite fresh, but the mood to run really wasn’t there. There was no guilt or pressure to run and the evening was even topped off with a great, big, dirty kebab for dinner. I did eventually cover the 5 mile easy run several days later – click here for the data.

The break was necessary and I enjoyed the spontaneity while it lasted, but knew a new half marathon training plan was just on the horizon with an urge to revert to type…

Pfitzinger & Latter – Faster Road Racing: 12 week half marathon training plan

The P&D – Advanced Marathoning 18 week – up to 55 miles plan served me well, so I figured I’d go elbow deep into the P&L – Faster Road Racing equivalent to get me ship-shape for the Brass Monkey Half Marathon in January. By sheer coincidence and dumb luck, it just so happened that the race is exactly 12 weeks away to the day, so the plan will kick-in over the coming week.

The plan can be found here for folks to have a gander at.

I approached the 12 week plan with the same ethos as my marathon plan, trying to make as few changes as possible to allow for maximal training gains. The biggest adjustments saw me shifting training paces slightly, which will allow me to both complete the core sessions and also recover; both important for mental motivation as well as training development. A soft 10k and a PB effort 10k have also been included to keep interest up, along with some movement of long runs to factor in the additional Christmas and New Year Parkruns I so enjoy.

Whilst I’m not expecting a breakout performance of the same manner as the Yorkshire Marathon, I still have hopes that following the P&L plan will reverse some of the slight performance decline I’ve begun encountering over the half marathon during the last 2 years.

Cannon Hill Parkrun

I was a touch bleary-eyed due to a 5:50am rise to get me and Dave into the Brass Monkey Half Marathon, but felt fine otherwise thanks to a near-2 week recovery window.

From the line, I went with the flow of faster runners and surprised myself by how much motion range my legs had in them. During that opening km, I even saw 3:27 pace flash up a few times; a suicidal pace I hadn’t seen in almost 2 years since that incredibly painful Christmas Day Cardiff Parkrun… Things eventually settled down for a 3:34 split.

Thankfully, I found a nice little group to latch on to and stuck with them for the entire remainder of the run, producing splits of 3:48, 3:46, 3:49 and 3:37 to leave my lungs searing.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Me: “Why am I the only one that looks like I’m enjoying myself?” Carl: “Youth.” Photo by Kerry Allen

Initially, I was somewhat indifferent to the 18:34 result, though some post-analysis revealed it to be my third fastest run at Cannon Hill, and my joint-fourth fastest Parkrun to date. Not bad less than 2 weeks after an eyeballs out marathon with virtually no 5k focus!

10 miles – to Solihull and back

I do rather like 10 mile runs in training; long enough to get some tangible benefits, but short enough that it can be squeezed in when pressed for time and won’t leave you destroyed when covered at an easy to moderate pace.

Much like the fast Parkrun the day prior, I wanted to use this run as a sighter for any post-marathon issues that called for my attention before re-immersing myself back into normality. And much like the Parkrun, there was nothing to worry about, bar some minor stiffness from said Parkrun! I’m still cautious that just because nothing bubbled to the surface doesn’t mean I’m entirely out of the woods just yet, and will tread cautiously during the opening week of the half marathon plan.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Yorkshire Marathon 2016 review

yorkshire_marathon_2016_00

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…

yorkshire_marathon_2016_01

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!

yorkshire_marathon_2016_02

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…

yorkshire_marathon_start_01

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!

yorkshire_marathon_2016_07

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

yorkshire_marathon_2016_03

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!

yorkshire_marathon_2016_08

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!

yorkshire_marathon_2016_05

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 – 2nd to 8th of May 2016

14 miles - to Brueton Park and back

One lap of the Brueton Parkrun route thrown in for good measure

Mid-week racing, Parkrun record breaking and marathon planning this week.

DK10K 2016 review

Given I had the DK10K on Wednesday evening, I opted to do no training for a sharp several day taper.

Click here for the full review.

The road to the Yorkshire Marathon

Without a big-ticket race to focus on of late, I’ve simply been treading water when it came to training. With an eye on the looming Yorkshire Marathon, that all ended on Friday evening when I sat down with my copy of Pfitzinger & Douglas’ Advanced Marathoning and pulled together a training plan! For the record, I was previously a lot more free form with my prior two marathon outings, with neither performance being representative of my then abilities.

I spoke with Darryll Thomas, who’d just recently finished a marathon schedule that propelled him to a 3:08 at the London marathon, for his view. My query was whether to follow a schedule rigidly, or to adjust it to suit one’s needs. Darryll’s opinion was to follow a schedule to the letter with little to no deviation.

The basis for my plan is the 18 week “Up to 55 miles per week” schedule. I recall listening to a Marathon Talk interview with Pete Pfitzinger, who was positively urging people to make time for the 18 week schedule, citing it truly rebuilds one’s physiology to become marathon focused, as opposed to the 12 week schedule, which is decent but with fewer transformative powers.

Despite sharing Darryll’s view that a schedule should be followed as precisely as possible, looking at the P&D plan and my own needs over the summer has meant I’ve had to fettle with some of the components. The 18 week plan has very little wriggle room for recovery, illness, or life getting in the way. I have a handful of races I’ve slotted in, which I’d like to have a proper bash at, which means slight tapers. So, I’ve stretched the plan out to 23 weeks, accounting for the above but also to ensure I hit the schedule, err, running with a week or two to reacquaint myself with training regularity and normality. One other controversial change I’ve made is swapping out all prescribed half marathon pace miles with marathon pace miles instead. My theoretical marathon pace is around 6:47 per mile, whereas my half marathon pace is 6:25 per mile; I know already that I would not be able to stomach 10 miles with 6 of those at half marathon pace and still be in reasonable shape for the rest of the week. As minor compensation, I’ll frequently be covering Parkrun at sub-20 5k pace, which is very similar to my half marathon pace.

For those that are curious, the plan can be downloaded from here in Excel format. Green weeks are easier; blue weeks are set aside for racing; yellow weeks are tougher; red weeks either feature the longest runs, or toughest sessions.

Wish me luck, folks!

Cannon Hill Parkrun

Stop press! Cannon Hill’s attendance record was well and truly broken with 1,016 runners on Saturday, making it the second largest event after Bushy.

I changed things up by jogging to the park from home to get my warm-up in. It was pretty warm (finally) and left me uncertain of how to approach the run; Wednesday’s DK10K hadn’t broken me and I felt reasonably recovered thanks to the low mileage week. I concluded sub-20 would be enough.

It was the second John Enright memorial run, drawing out large crowds from both Kings Heath Running Club and Bournville Harriers, along with many other local clubs well represented and a healthy number of first timers. Nigel and Dave also returned after several week absences.

I took advantage of the denser field, pushing me along to an eventual 19:04 finish with little stress or dramatics; had my legs have not been subjected to a mid-week race, I’m confident I could have dipped under 19 minutes whilst still feeling in control.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

14 miles – to Brueton Park and back

In a bid to return to normality, but also to best prepare myself for the marathon schedule, I embarked on a 14 mile jaunt that took me to Brueton Park in Solihull and back.

To say it was warm is an understatement. The thermometer reported circa 20 degrees for officially my warmest run so far this year, though I’m sure this record will be short-lived and will be surpassed in due course.

I hate running into headwind, but it was most welcome this morning as a means of regulating my temperature and allowed me to not take on my Isogel. I felt pretty good for the duration of the run, despite the somewhat undulating route and a massive climb in the second half. This was just what I needed to boost low confidence levels and bodes well for the long runs I’ll have to complete over the summer!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

2014 – A year in review

2015

2015 – how will you run yours?

Happy New Year everyone!

Horribly clichéd these things are, I know, but they do serve a purpose to focus the mind for the next year. So, I’m looking to cover the highlights, the lowlights and the things that don’t quite fit anywhere else.

Mileage matters

2014 mileage

That’s a lot of shoes worn through…

2013 saw 1,138 miles logged. 2014 saw a tasty increase to 1,307 miles. I would like to see 2015 in the 1,500s, so long as injury does not strike.

2014 also saw my largest single week of mileage, clocking in at 40 miles. I would like to hit 50 miles (should hit 45 miles this week through chance), but I doubt that will happen without either training for a marathon (not gonna happen…) or committing to double-days.

PBs, PBs, PBs

2013 was a bumper year consisting of 17x PBs. I was certain 2014 would be more miserly, such is the law of diminishing returns from training. In all, only 8x PBs materialised and gone are the days of simply turning up and having a bash.

Follow the links for the in-depth race reports:

The most rewarding of the above? The Cardiff 10k PB, followed closely by the Cardiff Parkrun PB of 18:56; both for very different reasons.

The Cardiff 10k was an unexpected result due mainly to the last minute course change. Due to the NATO conference, a major detour took runners to the north of the city on a route that was both a mix of aggressive hills and undulation. Neither Dave nor I fancied our chances of a sub-40 finish but we had a crack at it anyway. Vince Nazareth of Les Croupiers RC joined us and through a collective combination of efforts, all three of us defied the odds for three sub-40 finishes.

The Cardiff Parkrun PB was almost the exact opposite where I felt primed and ready for the challenge of going under 19 minutes for a 5k. I recently read an article about a mental state called “flow”, which sums up the entire run perfectly. Flow can also be referred to as “being in the zone” where you’re simply that focused on a challenging task. I knew I had done the right training and all I had to do was deliver it that morning, and that I did.

The one that escaped (and the one that didn’t!)

There was only one missing goal from 2014 and that was a sub-3:30 marathon. A lack of marathon pace work, threshold work and speed were revealed that April day in London. I’m not bitter or sore about it, though, and I know that one day I’ll get there and wonder what all the fuss was about. The race was memorable for another reason – Lis and I got engaged 400m from the finish line! I’m not a schmaltzy person but it was, and still ranks as the happiest day of my life.

2015 targets

I’ve got the targets below in my sights for next year:

  • 5k – Sub-18:30
  • 10k – Sub-39:00
  • Half marathon – Sub-87:00

All should be achievable with the right training focus. The 10k and half marathon goals are soft if you look at what McMillan predicts based on an 18:29 5k:

  • 10k – 38:23
  • Half marathon – 85:35

I’ll be honest; those two finish times above scare the shit out of me. A 38:23 10k is 2x back-to-back 19:12 Parkruns – I can barely hit 1x 19:12 Parkrun at the moment without intense concentration! The half marathon comes in at 6:30 per mile, which was my 5k pace only two years ago…

Anywho, we shall see. The 5k goal will almost certainly be the first to fall due to greater opportunities to attack it. A 5k spin-off goal is to revisit all of the Parkruns on my list to get them under 20 minutes. 2015 will also be the year I get myself down to Bushy Parkrun! It almost happened in the summer of 2014 but due to cost, I wrote the idea off for another time.

Whatever you do in 2015, I hope your training goes well and you achieve all the goals you have set for yourself!

London Marathon 2014 – Yu’s review

For the 2013 race, please click the following:

2014 London Marathon bib

Woohoo! I made it into pen number 3!

Wowoweewow. What a marathon! Mostly ups, not many downs and I now have a shiny new marathon PB and a shiny new fiancée as well. So, grab yourself a coffee, a snack and read on to find out what happened in my 2014 London Marathon. As ever, if you’re just interested in my race experience, then just head straight to “The race” but I highly recommend you read it all.

More photos will be added as they come through from various sources so keep checking back to see any new image updates.

A marathon history lesson

I ran last year’s London Marathon and whilst I didn’t fare too badly, I missed my mark by over 20 minutes. I was prepared but not well enough, and the typical British weather proved problematic with 6 inches of snow only 3 weeks before a sweltering heat wave that hit the nation. Add being stuffed into pen 8 out of 9 to my list of problems and it would have taken a miracle last year to break 3:30 over 26.2 miles.

Running the final 6 miles with Suz West, the last thing going through my mind was the thought of running another marathon. Everything hurt, from my neck and shoulders, to my legs and feet. My stomach was in knots and doing cartwheels at the same time for an incredibly unpleasant experience. But like any serious running enthusiast, unfinished business only makes you stronger with a desire to put things right, so I entered the ballot again. Getting one ballot place takes some good going but two in a row? I didn’t think so either but you’ve “got to be in it to win it” as they say and low and behold, I bagged another place . I did promise to myself that if I got in, I would plan to propose to my long-suffering girlfriend/running widow, Lis, whilst out on the course. Talk about making a monumental effort even tougher than normal!

Training for this year’s London Marathon went very well. Plenty of 20+ mile long runs, some work at marathon pace, a few tune-up races and some faster sessions all had me feeling reasonably confident to go sub-3:30 and even possibly sub-3:25. The taper had also gone to plan and I was full of energy; nervous energy but energy all the same.

The London Marathon expo

I had booked the Friday off from work to get prepared and also attend the London Marathon expo to collect my race number. I also wanted an in-depth wander around what is running geek nirvana. There are exhibitors of all sorts present, including the likes of Adidas, Garmin, Lucozade and so on.

New Balance mascot

New Balance had shoe mascots welcoming people

On my way to ExCeL, I was stood on the platform of Canning Town DLR station and almost everybody had a copy of the London Marathon Final Instructions magazine in their hands. Arriving at the expo, I got a real sense of the size and scale of the event to unfold on Sunday; Friday is one of the quieter days but it was still very busy inside.

London Marathon expo registration

Registration was smooth and quick

Collecting my race number was very smooth with just one person ahead of me in my queue. I had already contacted the race organisers earlier in the week to confirm with them regarding what printed race result evidence they would need from me to get myself promoted to a faster start pen; turns out there was no need in the end because I had been plonked slap bang in pen 3, designated for runners aiming to finish between 3:15 and 3:29.

My new aggressive foam roller

Say hello to my new best friend/worst enemy

Once I had been processed, I was free to wander around the expo for a few hours. I had already decided that I wouldn’t go nuts and buy tonnes of merchandise unlike last year. The one thing I did want was a more aggressive foam roller to complement the one Iain and Elsa gave me for my birthday several years ago. I think it’s safe to say that what I ended up with definitely fits the bill! I declined a bag for it and I certainly received some odd looks whilst I travelled through central London to get back home…

I managed to meet a few famous faces at the expo as well…

Chris Thompson at the London Marathon

Chris Thompson at the London Marathon Expo

I was passing by the main stage when I noticed Chris Thompson was being interviewed. Chris won the Silverstone Half Marathon that Dave and I recently raced at and would be making his marathon debut in London on Sunday. After his interview, I made a beeline towards him for a photo and a quick chat; he was very friendly and interested in my race plans for the big day. I wished him well and went on my way.

Scott Overall at the London Marathon

Scott Overall at the London Marathon Expo

Wandering around the Adidas stand, I noticed Scott Overall was stood alone and nobody took any notice of him. I made my way over to say “hello” and grabbed a photo with Scott, also chatting about our respective race plans. He told me he was due over on the main stage for an interview so he ran over there and I followed in pursuit.

Martin Yelling at the London Marathon

Martin Yelling at the London Marathon Expo

Whilst sat down and listening to Scott’s interview, I noticed Martin Yelling – Marathon Talk co-host – also watching the interview. Regular readers of this blog will know of my love for the Marathon Talk podcast (it’s not just for people that run marathons, all forms of running are covered) so meeting Martin was a serious OMG moment for me. I shook his hand and he said, “I love your t-shirt by the way”, clearly noticing the 26.2 Marathon Talk t-shirt I was wearing. We had a chat about his Manchester Marathon, how his recovery was going, and also the recent Boy On The Run skit along with Tony Audenshaw’s latest song, “The Things You Hear Before a Marathon”. It was great discussing Marathon Talk with Martin, if a little odd where it felt like I was speaking with a fellow listener rather than with the co-host of the show. He did mention that Tom Williams was somewhere at the expo but wasn’t due back on the stage for another 1 or 2 hours. It would have been nice to also meet Tom to complete the set, so to speak!

Conscious that I’d already been at the expo for close to 3 hours, I decided it was time to call it a day and head back into central London to grab some grub with Iain.

The day before

Lis and I travelled to London via first class train; believe it or not, the first class tickets were actually a good £7 cheaper than travelling standard class for some bizarre reason.

We were staying at the Ibis in Blackfriars/Southwark which scored top marks from me. Clean, quiet and modern and reasonably priced for Central London. I spent much of the afternoon watching Scooby Doo and The Goonies on TV, doing my best to stay off my feet and just unwind.

Whilst in Covent Garden waiting for Lis’ parents, I randomly bumped into Matt (what are the chances, eh?), Cheryl’s boyfriend who was on his way to meet the girls over on Oxford Street. I needed to get the engagement ring to Lis’ dad, Philip, to look after for me until it was needed the next day. Unfortunately, they couldn’t make it to Covent Garden so I had to some how get the ring to him at dinner without arousing suspicion from anyone. I need not have worried at all but it was comical that there was a square shaped bulge in Philip’s trousers for most of the evening…

I never sleep well the night before a major race and this was no exception. I was tossing and turning and I couldn’t stop thinking about the next day, probably sleeping less than I did last year!

Race day

Andy Yu ready to race at the London Marathon

Ready to race at the London Marathon

Since I was already wide awake before 6am, I decided to simply start getting ready and put the extra time available to good use. The lack of sleep had hit me and I didn’t feel nearly as fresh as I did on Saturday. The weather was also dramatically sunnier and warmer than on Saturday too – why, oh why couldn’t I have raced on Saturday instead?!

I’d been having Starbucks’ cinnamon swirls for breakfast as of late and they worked an absolute treat. They taste great and are energy dense in a fairly small package making them perfect for race day. Starbucks are absolutely everywhere in London so there was never a concern about sourcing them.

Watered, fed and showered, I got dressed into my race day garb and made my way over to Southwark Tube station for the walk through to Waterloo East. Runners get free Tube travel along with free train travel to the start areas in Greenwich, which is muchos appreciated.

As a contrast to last year, my train to Blackheath was pretty empty. 12 months prior, I had to stand the whole way but I had half of an entire carriage to myself on this occasion. I fired up a few tunes on my iPhone to get me primed for the task ahead.

Blue start at the London Marathon

The blue start, but no Japanese news crew this year

After a short walk, I arrived at the Blue Start area and entered in through the one-way gate. Only runners are allowed beyond the entrance and it was surprising to see so many runners with their friends and families, either unaware of the policy or happy to travel all the way out to Greenwich to then travel back into central London to spectate out on the course.

At only 8am, the sun was already out in full force. When not in the shade, the warmth of the sun was definitely noticeable on the skin and I knew people’s race results would be affected. I initially plonked myself down next to one of the marquees but I was starting to heat up too quickly so I made my way back into the shade where I was then too cold!

Andy and Richard the Parkrunner

Andy and Richard the Parkrunner at the London Marathon

I started speaking to a Parkrunner from Bromley to pass the time. He told me his local event had actually been flooded for the last few months with all the rain that’d been battering the nation of late. He was hoping for 4:30 or better which would have landed him pretty much bang in the middle of all the finishers for the day.

After several toilet visits, I checked my red kit bag in and jogged in circles for maybe 5 minutes or so before making my way into my start pen. It was mostly blokes in the third pen with maybe a 50/50 split between Brits and visiting runners from abroad, at least based on those stood immediately around me. Iain and I were discussing the day before about where would be the best place for me to position myself; we settled on the front of my pen, agreeing that it would be wise to let others go around me if they were desperate to go faster.

After observing several people pissing against the wire fence overlooking families with kids in the park, I decided to join in and empty my bladder one last time; I didn’t want to have to stop mid-run like last year and figured I’d look after number one (pun intended). Before too long, we were ushered forward before coming to a stop. The announcers introduced the elites and after a few cheers, the countdown began and on the sound of the air horn, the 2014 London Marathon began.

The race

Despite being in pen 3, we were all running with very little breathing space around us. I repeatedly told myself that I would stay calm and just go with the pace for the first mile or two and then assess the damage and go from there. I was actually able to run on the blue line quite often which was a complete contrast to last year where it wasn’t until mile 18 or so before I had a clear run.

The sun was right on us for what would become a slow cook over the course of the day. I was carrying a bottle of Lucozade and sipping it periodically to stay hydrated and fuelled, looking to recreate the Bramley 20 race back in February that went beautifully for me. I quickly realised that I had over done it by carrying 8 gels on my gel belt; they were all jostling about with the additional weight quite noticeable. I decided to go with it for a little while longer with plans to sink a gel every 3 miles or so.

The first mile marker appeared very quickly with my watch beeping after passing through the gantry. I was in high spirits thinking all I had to do was maintain a clean line for the rest of the race. I estimated there would be some excess distance covered and hoped for 26.4 and no more, unlike last year where I covered 26.7 miles in total.

The early miles flew by and before too long, the blue start and the red start began to merge. Whilst it was by no means as jarring as it was last year, there was still a noticeable build-up in the crowds around me on the narrow London streets. I was also surrounded by multiple 3:30 pacers and their followers from all three different starts; what’s annoying is there’s no obvious way to identify which start area the pacers are actually from so you could happily be running alongside one group only to then find out that they’ve started behind or in front of you, taking you around at a pace that’s possibly too slow or too fast.

After sinking a gel, I decided to discard two from from my belt and move another to my hand. I instantly felt much lighter and ready to rock and roll. My third mile split was firmly on race pace target for what was unfolding to become a well-executed race plan.

The eagle-eyed amongst you may have already spotted a new addition to my race day kit in the form of my name  across my chest. I had too much pride last year to go down this road but after witnessing the boost that the crowds can give you when they’re cheering your name, I figured I’d be stupid not to take advantage of something so simple. The first time I heard somebody shout, “go Andy!” was incredibly intoxicating and quite addictive. I quickly began to see how many people would cheer out my name on the course and sometimes purposely ran along the side to try and draw some attention.

There was still a bit of jostling amongst us runners but nowhere near as bad as my last 26.2 mile outing. I continued to run on the blue line where possible but the distance rot was starting to make itself known with my Garmin growing increasingly out of sync with the mile markers.

Whilst London is known as a reasonably flat course, there are quite a few undulations in places and this caught me off guard a little. The roads on the course were also piss-poor with potholes and plenty of uneven surfaces to catch your feet on. I did actually witness one guy fall over on one of the narrower streets and whether that was due to the road, a stray bottle or being clipped by a fellow runner, the importance of keeping your wits about you at all times until the course opens up can’t be stressed enough.

Arriving at the Cutty Sark, I was able to run quite a clean line around the ship. This was the first densely populated crowd along the course; there are very few quiet patches during the London Marathon and despite the organisers’ suggestions to not spectate at the Cutty Sark, nobody seems to pay any attention and heads there anyway to cheer on loved ones.

The crowds around me thinned a little more at mile 8 which provided some much needed relief. A marathon is stressful enough and without ample breathing room, it’s difficult to settle into a rhythm and relax into race pace. I noticed somebody having a BBQ along the roadside but they neglected to offer any sausages or burgers for runners passing by.

Whilst not proactively running with a pacing group, I did notice that one of the 3:30 pacers was consistently running on the right-hand side of the course. I thought to myself, “here’s a pacer that knows what they’re doing!” by keeping all of his runners to one side of the road and freeing up the other side for those looking to pass and so on. The next 3:30 pacer up ahead wasn’t as thoughtful, choosing to run right in the middle of the course with his followers spilling out all over the already congested road.

I very quickly found myself turning right towards Tower Bridge without realising I was almost halfway. I began to perk up and positioned myself on the right-hand side of the course to try and catch Iain and Elsa. The crowds surrounding Tower Bridge were insane and the noise produced was deafening. The energy was high and I was careful not to get carried away with an excessively fast mile split. Exiting Tower Bridge, I was on the look out for the corner before turning right again and just where I’d planted my eyes were Iain and Elsa! I yelled out to them and they cheered back at me, providing an instant lift to power me on to the halfway point.

I reached 13.1 miles in 1:45 or so; all I had to do was continue running at my target pace and I would dip under 3:30 with about a minute to spare. I started to worry because I obviously had to propose to Lis out on the course as well, which could take a minute on its own… I decided I would keep going and re-assess the situation after 20 miles. At this point, there was no doubt that I wouldn’t hit my target; I was feeling strong, swift and ready to cover the distance. My breathing wasn’t laboured at all and whilst I was warm, I was regularly pouring water over myself to help keep my temperature under control.

Mo Farah at Tower Bridge

Mo Farah at Tower Bridge – photo by Elsa Tam

At around mile 14, I saw the elites coming through on the other side of the road. The cheers started to get louder and I quickly realised that Mo Farah must have been coming through. The crowd started going wild and there was the man himself, zooming past but clearly not in first place or even in contention for a podium position. The poor guy has had so much pressure put on him by the media and various sports pundits; if he doesn’t run a marathon, then he’s criticised for not having a go and when he does, he’s criticised for not coming first or breaking a British record. It’s his first marathon and very few people get the distance right first time. Hell, it’s generally agreed that elite marathon runners only peak after 7 or 8 stabs at the marathon so how’s a first timer expected to beat the strongest male marathon elite field ever assembled?

Somewhere around mile 15

Notice Forest Gump in the bottom left corner

Moving into the Isle of Dogs area of the course, somebody dressed as Forrest Gump was running alongside me for a while. I’m always amazed at the guys in costume that are able to pull off quick times because what must they be capable of in regular running gear? The Isle of Dogs is one of the extremely narrow parts of the course and spectating crowds were spilling out on to the road again like last year. There isn’t enough room for us runners as it is and the last thing we want happening is some stray spectator getting knocked down. There needs to be better marshalling in the tight spots on the course because spectators clearly aren’t going to control themselves.

Arriving in Canary Wharf, the tall buildings provided some much needed relief from the sun that continued to cook us all alive. The crowds started to cheer me on a little and once again, I was like a drug addict being given a taste of what I needed but not enough to satisfy. I loved hearing the crowds cheer my name and so I started throwing my arms in the air, working the spectators up. Like a conductor at an orchestra, they all followed my commands and began cheering my name! Chants of “Andy, Andy, Andy!” spurred me on. “You’ve got this, Andy!” and “You’re doing great, Andy!” became my fuel to keep running at race pace. Seriously speaking, if you’re reading this and about to take on your first marathon, do yourself a huge favour and have your name on display – the crowds truly do pick you back up when you’re stumbling and sing for you when you’re winning.

I ran alongside a guy in a chicken costume for about a mile, which also drove me to push on and leave him behind. I’ve already been shamed in the past by having photos taken of me sprinting against a chap in an astronaut costume; I wasn’t about to allow it to happen again, least of all at the London Marathon of all places! I have since found out that the chicken was going for a world record but missed his mark by a few minutes.

I had accidentally missed two Lucozade stops out on the course – one at mile 15 and one at 19. Due to the narrow course, it’s actually quite rare that drink stations are available from both sides of the road and there’s little to no warning when they’re either only on the left or the right. On both occasions, I was on the opposite side of the road and it was impossible to stop and go back. I was down to my last gel and I needed to sink it, banking on being able to pick up a Lucozade at mile 23 when the road is super wide and there are runners dropping like flies to clear a path for me.

Exiting Canary Wharf, it was time to dig deep but it simply wasn’t happening. My legs were feeling fine and my lungs were ready to go the distance, but I clearly started to fade. I had by no means hit the wall because I was still able to run, albeit 20 – 30 seconds slower than race pace; I guess it was fatigue setting in through a culmination of a bad night’s sleep, warm temperatures and missing two Lucozade stations. I began to swing my arms to try and develop a rhythm but race pace wasn’t materialising. People all around me started to walk, with a few stopping entirely and some were even stretchered away due to collapse. Those that were still running were slowing at an even faster pace than I was, so the number of people I overtook in the final 6 miles must have been quite high. I gritted my teeth and did what I could to minimise the damage.

At around mile 21, Matt and Cheryl spotted me and yelled out “beetroot!” on Lis’ advice. I received a boost from this but it only pushed me on for so long before I was back at slower than race pace. I tried short faster bursts, almost like a fartlek run, but I couldn’t muster the energy to drive – 8:20s were the only choice on the menu for me.

Looking surprisingly good

Looking surprisingly good!

The crowds in the last 6 miles were really something and all cheered me on. Knowing that thousands of people are watching, you don’t want to let any of them down even though you know you’ll never see any of them ever again. I was feeding off their positive energy and I’m certain I would have run a lot slower if not for their aid.

The water available on the course was no longer a relief after having been warmed up by the sun all morning and afternoon. The sun was shining right on us and there was no hiding at all from the onslaught, with temperatures rapidly rising to their highest at around 1pm when most runners were hitting the slightly tougher second half of the London Marathon. To make matters worse, the course started to undulate again to sap what little energy runners had left in their tanks.

Not looking so good

Not looking so good…

The final Lucozade station on my whistle-stop tour of London had arrived and quite literally, nothing could have possibly tasted sweeter! I glugged a quarter of the bottle down before throwing it to one side – I couldn’t take anymore on-board because my stomach was pretty unsettled and I didn’t want to risk it all coming back up again. I had to hold my hand over my mouth a few times when I really thought I was going to throw up…

My Garmin was now reporting a 0.3 mile differential from the mile markers. This wouldn’t have been so bad if the final few miles were in a straight line, but when the Garmin beeped and there was no mile marker in sight, I can’t deny I wasn’t a little demoralised. Target-wise, I was behind by about 3 minutes and I knew I couldn’t make that time up with just 3 miles left to go with trashed legs. I simply did what I could to stay steady and not allow any further damage to happen. At least I could get my proposal underway without any time pressures!

I simply had a Parkrun left to complete and shouted this out to the runners alongside me, but nobody seemed to know what the hell I was talking about. I dug a little deeper but this made no noticeable difference to the pace on my Garmin. I was now regularly overtaking runners though this in itself was an illusion because I was merely catching up to people that were already slowing down. Once again, the crowds loved that I was overtaking and I received cheers as loud as in Canary Wharf but with no command from me. For a brief moment in time, you’re that spectator’s athletic hero and they care deeply about whether you get to the end or not. All sorts of people were spurring me on and I started high-fiving folks again to try and distract me from the fatigue. Phil Hewitt, author of Keep On Running, spends a lot of time in his book discussing the joys of having people cheer you on in races and it really is something you have to experience for yourself to appreciate how motivating it really is.

I had reached mile 24 and only 2.2 miles stood between me and the end. If I were any less stubborn, I’d have been tempted to slow the pace down and everything would have instantly felt better. My pride, however, would have been permanently dented with the knowledge that I could have done something but chose not to. I gritted my teeth once more and this time dug as deep as I could into what few resources I had left. I managed to shave 10 or so seconds off this mile which felt like a sprint at such a late stage in the marathon. The mile markers also did their usual trick of moving further and further away from each other in my head, with time slowing down like I was in my own Inception dream sequence.

Less than a mile to go!

Less than a mile to go!

Big Ben was now right in front of me as I crossed Westminster Bridge, welcomed back home by the crowds who were positively electric. Cheers of “You’ve got this, Andy!” and “Own this marathon, Andy!” stood out and really stoked the fire inside me to keep pushing for the final mile or so. I was definitely going to miss my sub-3:30 target by a good few minutes so whilst disappointed, I was also slightly relieved because it meant I could stop and propose without worry. That right turn after Big Ben took forever to arrive but in just a few steps, I was finally on the approach to Birdcage Walk and only minutes away from the big finalé, and the end of the race. The crowds continued to welcome runners home, sensing that everybody’s pain could be dulled with their words of encouragement to get them through the final 1km. The “800m to go” sign was now just ahead of me and I tried visualising the route from Cardiff Parkrun’s 800m sign to make it more tolerable – anything to get me to the end. The 600m sign got closer and closer but still felt like it was an eternity away. I was desperately scanning my eyes through the runners ahead to see if any of them would turn right towards The Mall and sure enough, they all started veering off Birdcage Walk. The time had come to get my game face on!

Andy Yu proposing at the London Marathon

Getting down on one knee was easier than expected!

As I turned right, I began frantically moving my eyes through the crowds to spot everybody waiting for me. I caught a glimpse of something yellow and started waving, hoping that it was Lis and her daffodil mask-hat thing; she started waving back along with everybody else around her so it was definitely the right person! I slowed down to avoid overshooting my mark and walked up to the barrier, confusing a few people. I motioned for Philip to come closer and he handed me the box containing the engagement ring. I then began to open the box, presenting it to Lis whilst doing my best to get down on one knee. Surprisingly, this was not a problem despite having run 26 miles and my thoughts quickly turned to fear that I wouldn’t be able to get back up again! On my 26 miles to reach this point, I did wonder about what I would say but sadly, eloquence was not a skill available to my brain running desperately low on energy. I simply blurted out “Will you marry me?” in what must have sounded like drunken gibberish. Lis definitely nodded her head but I don’t recall her saying “yes” – now came the task of fine motor skills to pick the ring up from the box and then slide it on to her finger, hoping that it fitted, and thankfully it did. I gave Lis a kiss and I think the crowd around us started cheering and everybody ushered me on to leave the box and carry on with my race, so I waved and sprinted off on to The Mall to finish things off.

Crossing the finish line

Crossing the finish line of the 2014 London Marathon

My arms were pumping hard and I was on an enormous temporary high after the proposal to power me through to the end. I must have easily overtaken 20, maybe 30 people on my approach towards the finish line and just like that, my foot stepped through the line and I stopped my Garmin – I had finally completed the 2014 London Marathon and gained a fiancée in the process!

Here’s the Garmin data for my 2014 London Marathon.

Post race

I stopped running and wanted to collapse. Looking at the time on my Garmin, a result of 03:34:02 stared right back at me for what was an 18.5 minute PB. That’s almost a Parkrun between me and last year’s finish time! I was exhausted and was ushered along to keep moving forward. I tried bargaining with a marshall to let me stop and lean against a barrier but she wasn’t having any of it, so I moved forward incredibly slowly. My legs were tight and I needed to stretch my quads out to avoid seizing up later on. I was also desperate for a drink so I tried moving towards the goodie bags as quickly as my body would allow. I saw Lis and Elsa through the fences and they told that they’d be waiting in the meet and greet area rather than at Piccadilly Circus as originally planned; knowing how busy it can get there, I thought they were bonkers to try and re-group with me where everybody else is trying to do the same thing with loved ones.

2014 London Marathon medal

The 2014 London Marathon medal

I was given my finisher’s medal and any disappointment I had from the preview images were quickly dispelled – the thing was huge! Early images did not show it against anything for scale so my natural assumption was that it looked very low-key and similar to many other medals I’ve previously earned.

I also received the coveted goodie bag and I started tearing into a cereal bar and a bottle of Lucozade to kick-start the recovery process.

Like at the Silverstone Half Marathon, little ramps were set up for runners to walk on to and volunteers removed our timing chips for us – a nice little touch that I’m sure is really appreciated. I struggle to remove timing chips even after hard half marathons so imagine what it would be like after 26.2 miles!

Crappy photographer missed the medal!

You can’t even see my medal!

The official photographers were taking snaps of runners against the finisher’s backdrop. My photographer last year was very good and took several photos for Suz and me so that we could pick the best one. This year’s photographer was rubbish; he’d somehow managed to take my photo whilst my medal was in mid-spin so it’s perfectly side-on to the lens – I don’t even look like I’m wearing one at all!

Bag collection last year was buttery smooth with no queue at all to retrieve my kit. There was a lot of congestion to get into the baggage area this time but once I was through, the volunteers had spotted me coming and had everything ready for me to collect like clockwork. The New York Marathon tries to dissuade runners from checking kit in and they’ve clearly struggled in recent times, going as far as offering runners posh ponchos in exchange for not checking kit bags in. I don’t get it myself – if London can manage perfectly fine (as do other large city marathons) then why can’t New York?

I made my way slowly to the meet and greet where I was incredibly touched when a young lad (Spanish, maybe Italian) said, “You did great, Andy!”. He didn’t know me and certainly didn’t need to congratulate me either, but I was incredibly touched by his kind words. See, even when the race is over, having your name on your vest is the gift that keeps on giving!

There was no sign of Lis or Elsa so I waited. And I waited. And I waited some more. I had to keep moving for fear that my legs would lock-up otherwise. I tried sitting down on the kerb and ended up making grunt-like noises as I lowered myself down, disturbing a nearby woman and her son; I apologised for the distress and she joked that she was fully expecting her husband to be in a similar state to me. I still couldn’t see the girls so I tried to call them, thinking that the networks would be fine given how many people around me were on phones – no joy. None of my calls connected and thinking about it, everybody I tried calling was on the O2 network either directly or as a virtual network. I tried making a FaceTime call and this had more success, clearly showing signs of connection but it always crapped out ultimately. Don’t rely on phones afterwards and make sure you have a meeting place planned!

I decided to start walking towards Piccadilly Circus as per the original agreement. The walk after a marathon is always a monumental feat and I had somehow ended up on an awkward island next to Trafalgar Square with traffic zooming past, leaving me with no opportunity to cross over safely. I backtracked and used the crossings, but the lights were still changing too quickly for my hobble-come-shuffle for a few hairy moments. Several rickshaw drivers asked me if I wanted to be taken anywhere and had I have had some cash, I would have taken them up on the offer but alas, I continued to Piccadilly Circus on foot.

Finally making it to the agreed meet-up point, I celebrated my double achievement with a now traditional Nandos to further bolster the recovery process. Everybody remarked that I didn’t look too bad considering I had just run a marathon PB – I put it down to better training and running a smarter race compared to last year.

Closing thoughts

I’ve had a few days to digest what’s happened, not only on race day but the entire journey from this time last year.

Last year, it took a few days after the race for me to decide that I wanted to do another marathon. This year, even with how awful I was feeling in the final few miles, the desire to run another marathon was still strong inside me. That sub-3:30 finish still eludes me and I know I have the potential to do it; all I need is the right race on the right day. I am not a natural marathon runner and I feel my ability lies in shorter distances, but once I’ve set my sights on a target, I just simply have to have it.

My training had gone very well this year but in retrospect, I would have added significantly more marathon pace intervals to complement the long runs. I would have also run another 20 mile race at marathon pace, killing two birds with one stone. I was dramatically less sore on Monday afterwards and that’s got to be down to running twice the long run mileage as I did last year.

The London Marathon is 10 shades of crazy and is unlike any race I’ve ever participated in. There’s virtually no part of the course that’s free of people and the amount of noise that’s produced is incredible, almost too much at times. Some atmosphere is good but you need to be able to withdraw at times and just knuckle down with the task at hand. Despite the desire for some quiet time, having my name yelled out by hundreds of people is an experience I will never forget and will probably never experience again – for one day, I felt like an elite athlete.

Will I try and run at London again? Probably not. The congestion at the start is probably the main reason why London loses its appeal for me. The sheer volume of people that they have to get through the start line means it’s not practical to release runners in waves with time between each. I would like to run at Berlin for my next marathon but failing that (ballot entry), I think the Manchester Marathon is now looking decent. The race was a mess at first but the organisers have really pulled their fingers out and corrected a lot of the problems that plagued their inaugural event. There are only a few thousand runners rather than 36,000 which should mean a much smoother and calmer run. Oh, it’s also billed as the UK’s flattest marathon with only 54m of total elevation for the entire 26.2 miles! London is pretty flat but I clocked just under 150m of total elevation on Sunday.

So, what now? I’m going to take it very easy for a week or so to allow my body to recover. I was wrecked last year for a good month or so; I know I won’t be breaking any PBs in 5k or 10k anytime soon so I just need to ease myself back into it. My plans for the rest of the spring and summer is to concentrate on speed; I want some of my raw pace back so that I can start chasing after a sub-19 5k and sub-40 10k again.

Thank you to everybody that’s helped me on this journey – it was a victory for all of us on Sunday.

This week’s running – 7th to 10th of April

It's the final countdown!

Has there ever been a more appropriate theme song?

It’s the final countdown to the 2014 London Marathon so this week is purposely short. Wish me luck and I’ll see you guys on the other side of the London Marathon finish line!

Solo Cannon Hill Parkrun

After spending most of my day up north in Huddersfield (including running up the steepest 50m hill I’ve ever seen!), I made my way over to Cannon Hill Park after returning to Brum for a solo Parkrun. The plan was to run the first mile easy and then speed up to marathon pace for the final 2 miles.

It was a slightly chilly evening and I had foolishly packed a vest rather than a t-shirt. On my second lap of the park, some of Kings Heath Running Club’s members were out en masse and covering a portion of the Parkrun route.

Marathon pace felt pretty good and gave me some confidence that I am ready for this Sunday.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

RunToWin.co.uk is moving up in the world

I was contacted recently by Cision, a company that specialises in social online trends including blogging, and imagine my delight when they asked if they could include this very blog in their Top 10 London Marathon running blogs! I’m joined by some esteemed run-bloggers like Lazy Girl Running – one of the big names out there that’s also been interviewed by Marathon Talk.

A few folks have asked me why I blog about my running. Well, there are a few reasons.

First of all, it’s now become a running diary of sorts where I can log my runs; look back at what I did previously and so on. I find this blog is also a good place to consolidate my thoughts and comments that are too detailed to throw into Garmin Connect.

The second reason is I actually quite like writing. I don’t claim to be a better writer than I am a runner, but I am of the creative persuasion and it’s a way for me to bring a small amount of craft to running. I’ve blogged under several different guises over the years, including a personal life blog and also a photography blog, but RunToWin seems to be the only one that’s garnered any real following (over 12,000 visits in 2 years is pretty good, right?).

The third reason is it’s a way to share my running thoughts with fellow runners, friends and family. Feedback has been positive about this blog and I get messages from people asking me where the updates are if they don’t appear in a timely manner! For the record, expect to see the weekly update from Sunday through to Tuesday. Any race reviews will generally follow on Mondays or Tuesdays.

Two of my previous posts have racked up a huge number of visits for me: how I felt the runBritain handicap ranking system worked and my review of the Nike Flyknit Racer for runners. I noticed a distinct lack of information on how runBritain’s handicap ranking system behaved and so I put together a piece on how I believed it to work. I was by no means trying to be an authority on the matter, but rather offering my take on an algorithm that is otherwise shrouded in mystery.  It was a similar reason behind why I wrote my review of the Flyknit Racer shoes – there simply weren’t any good in-depth reviews out there!

Another solo Cannon Hill Parkrun

Dropping off a company car at my parents’, I popped into Cannon Hill Park to complete another solo Parkrun with a portion at marathon pace.

This was much tougher than on Tuesday for some reason with my legs feeling heavy. This is apparently quite normal for a marathon taper so I’ve just got to believe in my training…

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

I told you this week would be short because we’re already at the next entry from Mark Remy’s The Runner’s Rule Book:

Just run around the block

On days you don’t feel like running at all, tell yourself you’ll just jog around the block. Then go do it. Nine times out of 10, those few minutes of movement will be enough to kick you into gear, and you’ll want to keep going.

And that one time out of 10? Hey, at least you’ve run one block. Which is one block more than most folks will run that day.