London Marathon 2023: 2h34 PB

Normally I write my post-marathon blogs the day after the race, but free time is not my friend these days (new baby in the house…), so I’ve had a little more time to reflect on the events of a week or so ago. I have always had nice feedback on these race blogs and routinely refer back to them when my own race day comes around again, so I’ll continue my little tradition of penning a few thoughts. The headlines are:

– 2:34:30 finishing time
– Nearly a 4 minute PB
– Shorter training block
– Big negative split (1:18:04 / 1:16:26)

As per my most recent blog about running as a new dad, training took a necessary back seat for a few months, and my running between October and February consisted solely of jog commutes as often as possible (thereby incorporating more double days than ever before, which my body tolerated well, fortunately). The intention at that stage was to not take London too seriously, running hard but making the most of the lack of any time pressure to really enjoy the atmosphere.

From March, I started sprinkling on some added marathon specific sessions with the help of Team Birdman, just to see where I could get to with an 8 week block Vs the usual 3-4 months. A real turning point in my attitude came almost instantly, after doing ‘The Grizzly’ 20 mile trail race on the cliffs of Devon. In all honesty, the only reason I booked this absolute brute of a race was because I thought I wouldn’t have a serious training block to recover for, but despite the hills absolutely mashing up my quads for a week, the race went so surprisingly well (13th place out of 1500) that I realised I still had some good speed in me, and suddenly started taking training seriously again.

The next few weeks went really well; no sessions missed, no real niggles or illness, and paces hit every time. Before I knew it, it was time to taper, and I was starting to think about beating my PB of 2:38:12 from last year.

Race week:
Most of race week was spent trying and failing to minimise time holding and bopping the little guy, but I also tried to squeeze in as much of what had worked well in October 2022. I kept things even more orderly this time by adding each ‘task’ to a day-by-day to do list app for the final week, including:

– Haircut (Sunday)
– Race kit and race day nutrition prep (Monday)
– Deep tissue sports massage (Tuesday)
– Foam rolling (Mon, Wed, Fri)
– Yoga / stretch (Mon, Thur, Sat)
– Marathon Expo (Thursday)

And some nutrition-specific bits this year:

– Optimal 10g/kg/day carb load again this year starting on Thursday evening. I’m getting used to this now and had had a good opportunity to test a few new strategies at the Grizzly a few weeks prior.
– I have started experimenting with slight carb depletion in the early stages of marathon week. This is a risky strategy as plenty of room for error, but I think it’s a keeper and one that I will start using more with experienced clients.
– Caffeine weaning from about 10 days out.
– Nitrates from Thursday onwards.
– Slightly higher emphasis than normal on race day breakfast, as dad life means 5am starts are the norm which allows far more time before the starting gun!

Race day:
Contrary to the hot and sunny forecasts a fortnight out (I’ll never learn), conditions were incredible on the day – for the runners at least. Yes it was cold, wet and unpleasant in the waiting pen, but once we got running it was lovely and refreshing; a few puddles to avoid but all the cool rain meant very little sweating was going on, and therefore much less need for aggressive hydration. And I needn’t have worried about the wet conditions putting off the spectators. Everyone says it every year, because it simply needs to be said, but the atmosphere was as loud and consistent as I can ever remember. It is London at its best, and it makes me genuinely proud to call it my (adopted) home.

The other thing that I noticed on race morning was that I was much more relaxed than I had been in October. Excited, yes, but not jittery. I tried to carry this on and to relax and SMILE as much as possible during the race (challenging my inner Kipchoge was the idea). After all, 2023 has been kind to me after some tough years, and it’s a privilege to be fit enough to run marathons. I think this positivity really helped me stay loose and relaxed on the course.

Strategy-wise (the downhill third mile notwithstanding), I intended to do flat 6 minute miles for the first half as this would be just inside PB pace, and more or less achieved this (1:18:04 at halfway, equivalent to 5:58 / mile). And in terms of intra-run nutrition, I was aiming for very close to 100g carbs /hour this year (an increase on last year’s 90). I would have achieved this but dropped one of my 40g gels somewhere and had to swap in a smaller Lucozade gel that was handed to me on the course (must say, I’m not a fan – far too thick for my liking). No GI issues whatsoever though, and I now know that 100g / hour is totally manageable for me in these conditions, and will be my marathon aim going forward.

In the second half of the race, the plan was to reassess pace, heart rate and discomfort at 16 miles and every couple of miles thereafter. I was feeling great so kept inching up the pace and monitoring. You can never fully relax in a marathon though, with people suddenly cramping up around me a constant reminder of this.

It was the first time where I can say I really dialled into the distinction between cardiovascular and muscular discomfort / fatigue during a race rather than just general discomfort. The heart and lungs felt so smooth throughout, but the glutes certainly felt a bit of fatigue, and I remember thinking I must find some more time for S&C in the next block (quite where from, I’m not entirely sure).

Anyway, I counted down the miles and became increasingly confident I could sustain if not increase the pace and discomfort. With a few miles to go I knew 2:35 was likely, which was way beyond my expectations, and with a mile or two to go that became a possible 2:34. Arms aloft for a ‘sprint’ finish on the Mall. A few seconds to compose myself before looking at the stopped watch. 2:34:30. Blown away. Not quite sure how I’ve just done that.

What next?
Although only doing an 8 week block was far from ideal, I actually think in some ways it helped me really focus on executing every single session and prevented the build-up of fatigue and pressure that can come with a 3 or 4 month block. That said, I am booked in for Valencia in December, which was intended as, and still is, my target PB marathon race for the year, and I can’t wait to give it a long and dedicated build up to see how close to 2:30 I can get…if life doesn’t get in the way, that is.

And in the meantime, a chilled month before some speedwork focus. Time to get my 5K PB as close to 16 flat as possible.

Oh, and in the future, I have decided I will be doing London every year until I no longer qualify automatically. I don’t want to ever take it for granted that we have this phenomenal event on our doorstep.

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