A quick blog on my experience in the London Marathon. In advance of the race I was hoping for something special. I’d mentioned a sub 2hr45 time leading in although deep down I felt like I could go quicker. I’ve always been a high-risk racer with an all or nothing attitude. Sometimes it pays off (sub9 Ironman) and sometimes it doesn’t (2 x double ironman DNFs). But I prefer it this way and it’s how I start every race.
I’ve had some physical issues this year, y legs in particular have been sore and stiff not only during medium-long running sessions but also generally when I’m not training. My diet was fine although I’d been maintaining low-fat% for some time from Feb. The two causes were potential long-term effects of the double ironman in Lanzarote and/or choice of shoes. In the winter I’d been quite comfortably increasing my mileage on the road using racing shoes (200g asics hyperspeed) and inov-8 roclites for off-road. No problem. But after recovering from DIM Lanza and using a new pair of hyperspeeds I was experiencing a lot of muscle soreness from the lack of cushioning/pounding. I was increasing my road running and the legs were not happy. Having to shift back and forth between cushioned racers was in hindsight probably not a good idea. The 10mile and 16mile races were quick enough in these shoes but there was a fair amount of upper leg soreness towards the end. I hoped this would spread itself out in the Marathon on a slower pace. In two weeks before the Marathon I found the gastrocnemius muscles in the calf were still not happy, despite the taper. I had a good chat with a gait/biomechanical expert at the London Marathon Expo and we came to the conclusion that the 200g racers had to go. This left me with the Newton Gravity Shoes. I’d run Ironman UK in them so knew they’d last the distance, but what would they be like over 26miles on tarmac at 6mins/mile.
Apart from the leg problems and the shoe dilemma everything else was prepared well including a well run (supplemented) diet. I was sleeping a lot which also suggested core fatigue, but was keen to get started in the race and let the adrenalin do its job of masking any pains.
To give my legs a little ‘assistance’ I wore compression socks (nike elite) and shorts (2XU). My waist belt held 2 x 120ml (300cal) gel flasks, 1 x 120ml concentrated salts (with water), 100mg caffein and 6 x 500mg acetaminophen (painkiller). The plan was to work my way through the two gel flasks over the duration of the race, swallowing a mouthful of gel just before I picked up a water bottle (drinking 100ml) every 5th mile (30mins). I’d then also drink 200-250ml from the lucozade sport bottles every fifth mile. With a little coke from friends later in the race I’d calculated 600ml/hr of liquid and 250-300cals/hr of carbs. Anyway, I found it difficult on the day to drink more than 100ml from any bottle at speed (I’m more used to relaxed ultra runs where I can eat and drink while walking), so resorted to Plan-B which was to sip from bottles on a more regular basis.
I had a ‘Good For Age’ start at the London Marathon. For my age that meant a pre-qualification time of 3hr10 in a previous marathon. I arrived in good time and positioned myself a few rows back from the front of the Red Start. I crossed the timing mat about 10secs after the gun and dodged my way up to speed. I could feel the tension in my legs but my form was good and I felt efficient thanks to the Newton Gravity trainers.
You can see on the charts below how I paced myself over the course of the race. A sub2hr45 marathon requires an average pace of 6:18/M. The London Marathon can be a quick course but there are a few slower miles towards the end. It was also a warm day and I’ve always tired in the second half of my races. So I knew I had to go a fair bit quicker than 6:18/M in the first half, making use of the downhills around miles 2-5 and get close to 2hr40 pacing.
I did the first mile in 6:25, but that included the dodging and (I realised after the event) was from the gun rather than the timing mat. The next mile was a bit bumpy and a disappointing 6:17. I was getting a little anxious about the pace so decided to speed up just a little bit. Miles 3-5 were all around 5:55/M and I started putting some good time in the bank. It felt quick and I was worried how my legs would react later in the race but my breathing for the entire race was very relaxed. I was on a comfortable 5-step breathing cycle during the first half of the race, rather than 4-step. Always a good sign.
I’d found my rhythm from this point and apart from mile 6, where I picked up a stitch and had to relax into my running and drop pace, I was averaging 6:00-6:19/M. I passed through the half marathon point in 1:20:47. I’d planned on 1:20:45 before the race so that was fine, but my quads had already been getting increasingly sore and stiff a few miles back and this was worrying. The pre-race plan was to drop to 6:13/M pace to 16miles, 6:20/M to 20miles and then 6:30/M to the finish. Mile 14 included a little downhill so came out at 6:06, but then the quads started to bite back! At just the 15mile mark of 26.2miles I was really struggling! The quads were seizing up and this reduced the length of my stride and the leg turnover. Miles 15 to 18 were all between 6:30-6:40 and I really had to work hard. I popped a few painkillers (no affect), increased hydration (no affect, apart from a welcome sugar-kick from coke, provided by my friends Lyle and Laura at miles 17 and 22 respectively). It was simply my quads seizing up either from pre-race issues and/or lack of spec training, shoe choice, or a combination of both.
I had to concentrate from mile 19. I put my ultra racing head on, tried to speed up my turnover with a shorter stride and take in some of the atmosphere – and it really is an amazing experience it has to be said! Around miles 19-20 I heard someone mention a ‘pacer’. I heard a mini stampede from behind and knew what that meant. The sub2hr45 pacer (with his little pole aloft) and his merry followers went past. I made a risible attempt of matching their pace for about 100m but gave up. This was quite a demoralising time in the race and mile 21 was the slowest at 7:29. I was now starting to think about trying to stay under 2hr50. I really wanted that second figure to be a ‘4’!! I made some mental calculations and realised I would drop outside this new target if I didn’t increase the pace. I tried through gritted my teeth but couldn’t quite reach that pace, posting 7:10 and 7:18 for the next two miles.
For me, the embankment is the peak of the London Marathon experience. Apart from the sanctuary of the underpass you have a wall of noise either side of the road all the way up to Parliament Square, and then down Birdcage Walk to the finish around Buckingham Palace. Knowing I was within 3miles of the finish, having support from the crowd and starting to make ground over those flagging around me I found I could increase the pace just a little more. I knew that a sub2hr50 time was now looking very unlikely, but I wanted to make sure I didn’t drop into 2hr51, so I made a concerted effort once I was up alongside Westminster bridge and faced with a flat one mile to the finish. It’s a mixture of wobbly knees and spazzy sprinting in the final push and usually a state of collapse just past the finish. There was no cramping in my legs but the quads were screaming as I crossed the line in 2:50:36 (PB by 4mins).
I have to say that despite the issues with my legs I thoroughly enjoyed the race. I had to get my head down and zone-out at times to get through the pain but I managed to absorb plenty of the atmosphere. Very thankful for the support. I’ll be back on the GFA start line in the next 2 years and aiming high as usual.
The last few days after the race have not been too bad althaugh the quads are pretty annoyed! I have the Malvern Hills Ultra in less than 3 weeks, which means I’m going to lose a lot of training time to recovery and taper. That’s unfortunate as I’ve hardly done any swimming or cycling since last year and have two summer Ironmans lined up. I’m going to see how I get on with the Ultras this year and review the situation again post-season. As you’ll see on the Events page I’ve added another Ultra run – Caesars Camp 100miles (Oct). I needed to find an Ultra race that carried 3pts towards qualification for the Ultra Trail Mont Blanc (UTMB). If I complete the Malvern Ultra in 3 Weeks and Caesars Camp in Oct then I have my 5pts to enter the 2012 UTMB (entry opens end of the year). UTMB is to ultra trail running what Hawaii is to Ironman.
LONDON MARATHON SPLITS