Let’s start with the headlines: a first London Championship start, a 2:38:12 finish, a PB of nearly two minutes, and a negative split (1:19:21 / 1:18:51). I am genuinely over the moon with this, but as ever with the marathon, this is just the start of the story, and I learned so much more along the way. I like writing these blogs after big races in case others find them in any way helpful, and because my brain just does not retain this sort of detail, so I find them useful to look back on too.
- Training block issues
I’ve written about my training block woes on social media so I won’t dwell on it too much here, but in short, the start of the block was delayed due to finally getting Covid, the middle was disrupted due to minor (non-running related) surgery, and four weeks out I was leaving A&E on crutches with an agonising, freak ankle injury. I also missed almost all my planned summer races, due to the aforementioned crutches and Covid, but also heatwaves and train strikes!
I will never again take running fitness and consistent training for granted. It wasn’t all gloomy though. There was so much high quality training squeezed in around all of this drama that I knew that I was in good shape…just a bit undercooked come race day.
- Race week prep
As race week approached, the crutches went back to A&E, and I knew I was racing. I tried to focus on what I could control, and went to town on my race week prep, including a few new elements and a few which were tried and tested:
- Optimal carb load (more on this later)
- Six days of nitrate (i.e. beetroot shots)
- Monday night sports massage
- ‘Yoga’ (which is basically my set stretching routine), foam rolling and muscle rubs on Tues, Thurs, Sat
- Stretching while still warm after each run during taper week (something I normally neglect)
- Caffeine taper (with the aim of optimising caffeine impact on race day, but which seemed to have the lovely side effect of deeper sleep too)
- I was in work full time during the taper, but I took every lift and escalator available, to save my legs (this very much goes against my natural instinct)
- Home marathons have their benefits
Being a Londoner, it’s easy to take for granted that we have an amazing marathon major on our doorstep. It is a quick enough course, but there are certainly quicker out there. However, I honestly think that being at home really helps in the precision of the race week prep (see above), and in getting to the Expo nice and early, and all this must be worth a minute or two.
- Carb load perfection
I hit and even exceeded the magic 10g carbs / kg on both Friday and Saturday (which I struggled to do at last year’s marathon – it’s not easy). I also went bigger than before on fibre reduction and kept things particularly beige (with a little help from some specialist sports drink mixes – another new addition). Come Saturday evening / Sunday morning I was concerned I’d overdone it as my bowels were a little, er….slow, but I needn’t have worried; the strategy worked perfectly.
- Biggest ever mid race carb intake
I pushed it to about 90g carbs / hr (about 230g during the 2h38 race), which was a significant increase on last year. I had been able to trial this a bit in training, but not as much as I’d intended to, due to some longer runs missed when on crutches. Anyway, I got away with it, and this is the way forward.
- Elevated heart rate
I really think I needed every drop of that sugar, too. My heart rate was higher than it should really have been for most of the race – more like tempo HR than marathon HR – so I would likely have been burning through carbs at a high rate. I decided to go with it rather than panic, and maintained pace and HR. This definitely could have backfired, but again, I just about got away with it.
- Maranoia is an ever-present
It’s a stupid word (OK OK, ‘portmanteau’, but I feel self-conscious using that word too), but maranoia gets me every single year and probably always will. Maybe I’m just on higher alert, but everyone I sat next to during my taper seemed to be coughing and spluttering, and I got a bit obsessive about a higher-than-normal resting HR, convincing myself I was fighting off or brewing something. It might have been nothing, but even sitting on the tube on race morning, my heart rate was high and I felt weirdly jittery. For this reason I decided to swerve my usual pre-race caffeine and save it for the second half of the race, and I think this was a solid decision.
- GPS in Canary Wharf is a total joke
I already knew this, and had run London three times before, but it seemed to be worse than ever and lasting for longer than ever this year. Totally useless. Trying to ignore it and ‘run to feel’ two thirds of the way through a marathon is really challenging.
- The weather forecast was also a joke
Obviously I started looking 15 days out, which was silly, but even in the three days pre-race, the forecast went from dry with scary headwind, to a full day of heavy rain, until race morning when it had changed to a full day of beautiful sun. Again, totally useless and not good for condition-specific prep, but there’s no doubt I will be looking at it like hawk from 15 days out again next year.
- Like stepping out at Wembley
I don’t know if it was part of my whole jittery race day vibe (see above), but I had this weirdly serious focus throughout the race, which unfortunately meant I didn’t engage with the crowd much, aside from a few times when I came to and realised / remembered quite how ridiculous the London atmosphere is. The best example was Tower Bridge. Earlier that morning on the packed train to Blackheath, a guy was telling some American marathon tourists that ‘crossing Tower Bridge is the closest you’ll get to being a footballer stepping out at Wembley’. I absolutely loved this description and it will stay with me. It was true yesterday as well…hairs on end. Just euphoric.
- Legs trashed more than normal
They really are trashed. Like first-ever-marathon-trashed. As I write this, I genuinely have my quads slathered in Deep Heat and my feet in a lavender foot bath (don’t judge me). It wasn’t like this last year – what happened? Is it age? Did I push it further than normal? I literally can’t do stairs today.
Speculation is easy, but I suspect with a full training block, I’d have been not far off 2:36 yesterday. I think sub 2:35 is a realistic target for the next marathon, but this is going to have to wait until winter 2023. I have a fairly major life event on the horizon meaning some time out from structured training for a bit, but will hopefully be back hungrier than ever next year!