From the surprising heat of Edinburgh in 2010, to the torrential rain of Preston 2012 and the near perfect conditions of Manchester 2015 my journey from a 4:13 marathoner to a 2:58 marathoner has been long, hard, educational, depressing, joyful and worth while. I found out what a mesocycle was, that a long run isn’t a long run until you’ve passed the 14 mile mark and experienced doing doubles for the first time. I met the author Andy Holgate, olyimpians Richard Whitehead, and Helen Clitheroe, tri-athlete Tanja Slater and local hero Ben Ashworth.
It’s been quite a journey and i feel privileged to have met and in some cases run with some amazing people, as well as making lots of running friends both the in real world and online where a vast net work of running communicate through all manor of sites including Garmin Connect, Smashrun, Runners World, Twitter and of course, wordpress. I usual go by the handle SJPC14, which is also some sort of Japaneses component it would seem………Google a fountain of knowledge
The quickest way to asses my progress is to simply put my training mileage against my times, and in this case i have counted up all the miles i ran in the 20 weeks prior to each marathon. I chose 20 weeks, because whilst my first training plan last just 16 weeks and most my the plans i have followed have been for 18 weeks. There have been several occasions when i started training two weeks early to factor in any possible injuries that may and often do, crop up. This is a training tactic i recommend to all runners as it means you can take up to 14 days out injured without panicking about the affect on your race day…….unless you get injured within the two weeks just prior to your big day that is……..
One of the first things you can take away from the above table is just how unprepared i was for my first two marathons, no wonder they both finished with me staggering over the finish line. In the case of the Edinburgh marathon i was following a Runners World smart coach plan, whilst for London i followed the beginners plan from the Runners World guide to running. Both plans proved adequate enough to get me around and at the time i was also supplementing my training with gym sessions and swimming. As I had a thought that you needed to be doing, that kind of thing on top of your running. Which actually is correct, but not at the determent of your running, which is what i ended up doing hence i struggled big time.
Additionally in these first two marathons, i reached the half way point very close to my half marathon PB time, in fact in Edinburgh i was just minute off it, so i trained poorly and i raced poorly and when you add in some baking hot race day weather, you guessed it, i had a torrid time. There were times during both these marathons when i wasn’t sure i would finish the race and in both cases, i wondered afterwards if i should give up on the marathon. I certainly never thought id one day run a sub 3 marathon!
Next came the Preston Guild marathon, a once every twenty years event, in my adopted home town. This time i put the miles in, following a training plan from the Advanced marathon book for the first time ever. I also kept up with my gym and swim sessions and was able to train on parts of the race route beforehand, so i was far better prepared. On race day, the weather couldn’t of been any more different from my first two marathons torrential rain and cold winds, it was tough going and i even had to break off for a bathroom break. Which i put down to the coffee energy gels they were giving out and me and me not being a tea or coffee drinker. After this, i now always take my own gels to races so that i am not taking anything that i am used to. I also raced smart this time, covering the first half in a comfortable pace before gradually increasing my pace over the second half and finishing with a fast sprint to the line in 3:48, which considering i was aiming for sub 4, was really pleasing.
Then there was Dublin and another increase in miles, which sadly resulted in the dropping of my swim sessions. Something i am only now looking to correct, as low impact training, that touches muscles that running doesn’t play a key role in keeping you injury free. On the plus i added speed work to my training in the form of interval training. Ensuring that i learned from another of my past mistakes. As i had found that by simply thrashing out mile after mile, you end up loosing your speed over the shorter distances. So long slow runs, great for marathons, rubbish for 5ks. So in came 100, 600 and mile repeats.
Another great lesson i had taken on board, was race day travel, booking a hotel right by the start line, giving me all the time i needed in the morning, a stress free morning is just want you need before the big day. However i did learn one hard lesson in preparation, as all the nearby Italian restaurants were completely booked up. Luckily Advanced Marathoning had taught me that actually most elite runners, eat rice before the big race, as its easier to digest and they can take more on board. So off to the Chinese it was. The book proved to telling the truth as one race day not only didn’t i feel any ill affects but i came home in 3:31 another huge PB.
If i had learned anything from the first four marathons it was that preparation was key to success and this time i was heading to Wales for what is billed as the UK toughest marathon, The Wales marathon in Tenby, as part of the long course weekend. This race includes something like 12 hill climbs, so i knew, i would have to learn to love the hills. Not only did i ensure that every run included at least one hill, but i also often took myself off to neighboring areas such as Longridge and Rivington to find and run far harder and tougher hills than i would face in Wales. This was a brilliant tactic as it not just physically prepared me for anything Tenby could throw my way, but it also physiologically prepared me. As when i was taking on the worse this marathon had, i knew in my head that i had faced worse in training. I also ensured that i endured a good few hill repeat sessions, which again are great for strength both physically and mentally.
On race day, the weather was sunny, but with a cool breeze, perfect for running. I tackled the course with a plan, of easing up the hills and flying back down them to make up for lost time, then taking the flats at a good pace. Hard work over the course of 26.2 miles, but the result was another sprint finish, coming home in 20th place in 3:12 and for first time ever i felt that a marathon had gone how i wanted it to go. I taken back control of the distance and afterwards i knew, if i could i do Tenby i could do 26.2, i had mentally conquered the distance. A key moment, for any runner wanting to succeed at this distance, losing the fear of running non-stop for 26.2 miles.
So then came Manchester, which in itself it perfect for running a PB, not only is it the flatted marathon in the UK, but also it features numerous long straight sections, it was right for take on and aiming for sub 3 and i was ready to go for it.
But to go sub 3, i knew that i would again needed to increase my mileage, which resulted in me dropping my gym sessions to make time. Something i regretted over the last few miles as my quads became so sore, i had to numb them with water to keep going. I had also made the mistake of limiting my hill work, so effectively i turned up on race day weaker than i should of been. But i had increased the amount of speed work i had been doing, and added core sessions to my training. The latter of which i added, as i had began to notice that over the longer races, my stomach would start to hurt and i would be forced to slow down. By bringing in core work, i no longer had this problem and i could hold a higher pace for much longer. The result, a sprint finish and a fantastic 2:58, but it could of been quicker if my quads hadn’t failed me, resulting in a positive marathon split, when i was aiming for a negative (a faster second half) and this was the first time since London, this had happened. So the big lesson here is strength work and hills must play a part in your training even if the race is held on a flat course.
Summing up, the key eliminates to achieving my sub 3 marathon were high mileage (you should probably aim for at least 50 miles a week), speed work, hill work, strength work, know the course you are to run and practice it. If you cannot practice it, perhaps its a marathon aboard, then try and re-create running routes locally that replicate the course profile. Pasta is not king for runners, rice is actually better and gives you a far more options the night before, as your competitors pack out the local Italians. Start your training plan two weeks early, that way if you get injured its no big deal, you’ve 14 days to heal up, which for a lot of running injuries is all you need.
Other lessons learned include :
- Your mid-week long runs are just as, maybe even more important than the long slow run, do not neglect these.
- Keep track of your the miles you have covered in your trainers, so that way you can change them before they become warn out and that you can change them in time to run the marathon in a fairly new, but warn in, pair.
- Doing doubles (Running both A.M and P.M) is a great way to fit in extra runs and increase your mileage
- Know exactly when the water and energy stops are coming, write it on your arm if you need to. As this helps you physiologically, as you will know exactly when your next drink is coming and you can be prepared for it. Similarly make a lot of where the portaloos are along the route…….
- Pick a hotel near to the start (walking distances is ideal) and find out what they serve for breakfast beforehand so you can get in a an order for your pre-race favorite. Oh find out about parking.
- Research local restaurants and book a table for the night before the race
- Plan your race in stages and no matter how good you feel do not push on till you’ve least passed the half way point
- Speak to and learn from as many runners as you can, even if they are slower than you they might still have one or two tricks up their sleeves that could make all the difference on the day.
- Oh and mesocycles are stages of training. Usually there are five, with the fifth stage being a five week recovery period after your marathon.
- Always use your taper, as a taper. Do not try and throw in extra miles, you are ready, take it easy and make sure you line up on race day refreshed.
Learn from my mistakes and you too will achieve a great marathon time.