There’s a military saying that no plan ever survives contact with the enemy. When it comes to marathon training, it’s injury and life that are that enemy. That, and trying out new kit for the first time on the big day.
Starting with a solid plan
2017 marked my 4th consecutive marathon, and I’d devised a solid plan to build on my continuous improvement from 3 hours 17, to 3 hours 9, to last year’s 2 hours 52 minutes. In the spirit of “You’re never too old for gold” I put together a great training plan, and even hired a great running coach who gave me all sorts of fantastic training and technical tips. I was regularly and consistently running up to 21km at well below 4 minutes per kilometre pace – a target MP to achieve around 2 hours 45 minutes with the benefit of the crowds and the lack of rucksack/hydration on my longer runs.
Handling small injuries
During January I began to develop a small twinge in my left foot, which then led to a tiny bit of sluggishness in my left leg. Typically I battled through this but it was affecting my times, and my osteo diagnosed the fault was with my new trainers – which were great for racing, but not for training. So, time to rest up for a while and practice running in slightly more sluggish shoes, knowing that on the day I’d be able to get my speedy shoes back on for an immediate boost (guess the brand there!)
Trying to balance work, life, and running
A far more significant interruption came during March when in addition to one planned family holiday to Orlando, I also had a further (unplanned) 3 long haul work trips in as many weeks. Great as it was to be running in LA and Hong Kong the disruption to my routine was major, with no opportunity for cycling to and from work, yoga or pilates. From my previous blog How to Train for a Marathon with a Busy Schedule you might know I’m not a fan of running weekends - and being away from the family with work put all the more pressure on maximising family time when I was home. All this made my mileage for Q1 ’17 over 100km short of the same period last year before my PB time, and an extra 1kg of body weight to carry around compared to 2016.
Resilience, bloody mindedness and determination
This year’s London marathon seemed to come around out of nowhere, but years of marathon training have taught me resilience, bloody mindedness and determination. What I did forget at the Expo was the schoolboy error of “treating myself” to some brand new compression socks, which turned out to have a fabric patch in the perfect place to maximise a blister on the ball of my right foot as well as tug at my little toe nail with every step.
Being in the “Fast Good for Age” category it was fantastic being right out in front; whilst it felt like running slower than normal this was because I was with the elite club runners, and for the first half of the race I was on track for my revised ambition of finishing in under 3 hours. I had a great chat with a chap who followed me on Instagram for around 20 minutes (he went on to finish in 2 hours 58 and achieve his own PB). Unfortunately, the developing blister on my right foot became increasingly irritating, putting pressure on my left foot as I instinctively shifted my weight around, which then aggravated my previous injury. The 3 hour pace group overtook me in the Isle of Dogs, which spurred me to up my pace and surge ahead for a couple of miles, before I resigned to dropping behind. The lack of effective training kicked in and I had to use all my mental strength to dig deep and remember an overheard conversation on the train to Blackheath… “I mean, how hard can it be, it’s only running?!” That’s the great democratic benefit of running compared to most other sports, it’s only running – if you put your mind to it, you can always do it.
The last few miles
My goal as I hit the Embankment with the sun now blazing down, and feeling massively overdressed in a long sleeved top under my Iffley Road running vest (it was pretty chilly all day Saturday and when I set off on Sunday), was to at least make this my “second best” run. With my estimated finish now more like 3 hours 10 minutes I put my elbows to work, pushed ahead, ignored the pins and needles and lightness of head and just bloody well went for it passing 328 runners in the last 7.5km to finish in 3 hours 6 minutes.
Whilst I was disappointed with the result I knew that I couldn’t have given any more on the day, it was a bit like running a marathon for the first time – a real satisfaction with having put myself through the pain barrier, push forward and not give up. Imagine how well that would work with a proper training plan for my next race?