Sunday, 29 April 2012

High-5's at the Virgin London Marathon

My lead up to the 2012 Virgin London Marathon had been perfect up to three weeks ago, having felt as though I’d put the right sessions in, got my long run up to 22 miles and felt good racing over 10k and half marathon distances. However picking up a virus and some niggles in my legs during those final three weeks made me feel a little apprehensive about achieving my target time or even running the race.

I decided to go for it anyway and was fairly confident that, once started, I’d complete the 26.2 miles. Lining up so close behind world record holder Patrick Makau and reigning London Marathon Champ Emmanuel Mutai was a little dangerous, as it can be so easy to go off with the pack and go through the first couple of miles far quicker than your race pace. OK, I was not going to keep up with the super elites, but there are often club runners who you can easily be dragged along with and I really didn't want to go off too fast.

I stopped myself from joining a group that looked to be targeting 2:18ish and early on tried to settle into my target 5:20 miling pace as best as possible. At 4 miles, the course turned straight in to the wind, just as Dean Lacy came through and formed a small group along with Ian Leitch and myself. Dean seemed to be happy to take the brunt of the wind and looked very comfortable, while I was finding it a little difficult and even debated dropping off the back of the group.  However I stuck with it, thinking that running in isolation would in fact be far harder.

The crowds through east London were amazing. At about 6 miles, there was an amazing drumming group under one of the bridges where the sound reverberated around and gave me an extra kick at least temporarily, and from the Cutty Sark to Canada Water the road was lined with people practically the whole way, all cheering and supporting. And at this point, I still felt relatively fresh, so could really appreciate everybody’s enthusiasm.

From 4 to 7 miles, we were clocking 5:25 miles, but the pace was upped for mile 8 with a 5:14. At this point I had the choice of going with the group, or running more comfortably and dropping back to a 5:25 pace. I think that through my experience of knowing how painful the final miles of a marathon can be having going out too quick, I chose the latter.

I was now in the rhythm of chipping away each mile and was happy running without feeling pressured to run in a group. I began to run my own race, follow my own watch, and I was now not going to let myself be pulled along at a speed I did not feel comfortable with.
From miles 12 to 19, I began to move through the field, despite my pace gradually dropping from 5:25 to 5:35 miling. I wasn’t overly concerned about this as I continued to feel relatively strong and the main thing was to get to 20 miles feeling good. This year, I made a couple of adjusts to my fuelling strategy during the race: I limited my fluid intake and choose not to take on gels. While gels may replace electrolytes and provide a temporary boost in sugar levels, personally I feel the benefits are relatively small and I find they do not settle in my stomach well. Besides, I’d never taken anything like this during my long training runs in the build up, so why try something new in the main race when your body is not used to?
At 20 miles the course passes from the buzz and mass cheering at Canary Wharf to the relatively quiet Poplar High Street. Running in isolation, hitting the wind and general fatigue, this marks the start of what I found was the toughest part of the race. Richie Gardiner and Erwin McRae of Belgrave were about 30 metres ahead of me and I told myself, at best, to catch them and, at worst, not to let them get any further away from me over the closing stages. I had to settle for the latter as I felt myself gradually becoming more and more depleted of energy running along the Embankment, but I made sure that the gap never got more than 30 metres.
At 25.5 miles the course goes past Big Ben and turns on to Birdcage Walk. Just at this point, I saw my family cheering and gave my sister a massive high-5! Not the most serious thing to do during a marathon, but it at least temporarily distracted me from the pain and gave me a bit of a boost for the home straight.
With the signposts saying 800m to go…600m…400m…200m, it was a case of hanging on as best as possible. I know a sub 2:23 was never going to be on the cards, but with a push I’d hit sub-2:24, and so I pulled out the stops and crossed the line in 2:23:52
I was massively pleased with the time and felt as though I’d run sensibly and this was probably the best result I could have asked for. I know there is still a better time in me, but I feel that with each marathon I run, I understand more about the preparation, pacing, nutrition and just the shear punishment your body has to cope with. The month of May will be time for some proper rest before getting back on it and hopefully hitting a half marathon later in the year.
Mile Time Cumulative time
1 5:15.68 5:15.68
25:18.88 10:34.56
35:09.49 15:44.05
45:27.45 21:11.50
55:23.47 26:34.97
65:25.69 32:00.66
75:25.07 37:25.73
85:14.39 42:40.12
95:25.44 48:05.56
105:18.08 53:23.64
115:20.18 58:43.82
125:29.34 1:04:13.16
135:31.94 1:09:45.10
145:18.04 1:15:03.14
155:13.70 1:20:16.84
165:32.80 1:25:49.64
175:29.75 1:31:19.39
185:31.58 1:36:50.97
195:35.84 1:42:26.81
205:36.03 1:48:02.84
215:44.75 1:53:47.59
225:41.13 1:59:28.72
235:43.14 2:05:11.86
245:36.77 2:10:48.63
255:58.62 2:16:47.25
265:52.35 2:22:39.60
26.241:12.89 2:23.52.49

Thursday, 12 April 2012


In my lead up to the London Marathon, I have averaged 70 miles per week, have double run less than 5 times and have not had a day off exercise between 1st January an 6th April. My weekly mileage may seem a little low for your average runner aiming to get a low 2:20’s marathon time, and not having had a day off could be seen as not giving my body sufficient recovery; however there is an element of my training that provides the rational for this: 40% of my time spent training is swimming.

This seems unconventional for a runner, but as someone who finds running first thing in the morning tricky, believes in active recovery and is susceptible to injury when the mileage is ramped up, I feel that swimming provides an equivalent cardio workout without my legs having to suffer on the road or country.

Having learnt to swim when I less than 5, I took a long break from it before taking it up again when I moved to London 6 years ago. Picking up the technique when I was much younger has been extremely beneficial and is something that you never seem to loose, however it has taken several years for my lungs and upper body to adjust gradually and allow me cover about 4km each morning. I always think of the morning swim as equivalent to a steady 5 mile run, but without the pounding on the pavement.

One question I was asked recently was how I avoid bulking out too much on my upper body, given that swimming is so reliant on arm strength. One reason I believe is my approach to the swim session. I never do sets or allow my body to become fatigued with lactic acid; instead I swim non-stop and at a continuous pace for an hour. This way I can burn a significant amount of energy and hence prevent any significant muscle development. It does provide my upper body with strength and conditioning, but without having to lift weights, something that could indeed build excessive muscle mass.

I appreciate this approach to swimming may not get me any faster in the pool, but swimming is not my main interest, and I feel its important that any swim session must not detract from the quality of any other run I may be doing that day. It is simply to allow me to achieve more cardio workouts, adheres to my approach of active recovery through maintaining a good flow of blood to the legs and can allow me to continue to train and maintain a reasonable level of fitness even when I may be carrying a leg injury.

I imagine that post London I’ll hit the pool pretty frequently until my legs fully recover, after which I’ll revert back to my typical training schedule.

I appreciate that swimming may not be for everyone, but if you find your legs are hurting, or you feel you need a little more strength in your upper body, then why not give it a go.

Sunday, 1 April 2012

Eastleigh 10k

Along with the Southern and National XC, the Eastleigh 10k was a major target for spring 2012 and a significant fixture in my pre-London build up. It is also a fixture in the Hampshire Road Race League (a series of road races held throughout the county), and completing the race would see me having participated in 7 (out of 12) fixtures and therefore be eligible for an individual placing.

While in Lanzarote, I did an 8*1km session, averaging about 3 minutes per repetition, and that, along with my marathon specific training, provided me with the confidence to realistically challenge a 10k time close to 30 minutes. With very little wind and not too warm, conditions were perfect on the day and certainly good for setting a personal best.

The gun went and I led a large group up to about 2k, after which 3 of us (Tommy Davies, Matthew Dunigan and myself) broke away and put some distance between the main pack and us. There is a small hill in the third kilometre which resulted in a ‘slow’ 3:15 split however, despite clocking 2:56 for the 4th kilometre and the equivalent downhill section, that time was never recovered. I upped the pace very slightly at 6k and started to edge away from the second placed athlete.

The local support was great and that, coupled with the boost from being out in the front, helped me maintain the 3 min/kilometre pace up to 8k. Essentially it was me against the watch for the final 4k, and I knew that I’d have to put in some 2:55 kilometres in order to go sub-30.

It wasn’t going to happen this time, partly due to loosing focus over the last couple of kilometres, and also for not putting the time in early on to compensate for the hill. However, I still managed a 19 second pb and I’m sure a sub-30 10k is not too far away….perhaps at the Bupa 10,000m in May.

There is a video of the race here