Virgin London Marathon 2017: Race Day

4 years on from my first marathon, I lined up again at the Virgin London Marathon. The difference from 4 years ago is that I had the experience of having taken part in 4 marathons, I had followed a training plan and was running as an Ealing Eagle.

I still think back to my run in 2013 with a touch of disappointment, not because of my time, but because I didn’t really enjoy the experience. I told myself yesterday that I would enjoy the run and take in the atmosphere regardless of the outcome.

This year I was starting in Blue Pen 2, just behind the elite runners and alongside fellow Eagles all looking to run around the 3 hour / 3 hour 15 minute mark. The atmosphere at the beginning of London is incredible and a taster for what feels like a continuous wall of noise throughout the 26.2 miles.

With the goal of finishing just under 3 hours 5 minutes, the plan was to run at 7.00 minute miles (mm), which would give me a time of 3 hours 3 minutes and 30 seconds if I maintained this pace throughout. The first couple of miles were very congested, as expected, but I told myself not to worry about the pace as the 3rd and 4th miles are downhill and any time lost at the start is likely to be made up during this period. Whilst I was calm, others however were panicking like crazy, darting in and out of other runners, shooting up on the kerbs and eyeing up the smallest of gaps to try and run through. I knew I’d see these guys later on in the run!

As I’d hoped, following the 2nd mile, the race calmed down and I got into my rhythm, settling into my pace and soaking up the atmosphere – the noise levels were incredible! I was going well, spot on pace for the first 10 miles – was 3.05 a possibility?

The first obvious checkpoint for the marathon is half way, although it’s often said that a marathon is not made up of two 13.1 mile runs but a 20 mile warm up and a 10k race – that said I was keen to measure by progress at half way and as I made my way over the iconic Tower Bridge around 12.5 miles I was feeling good.

Half way: 1.31.51 Bang on target!

I was filled with positivity; adrenaline was flowing through my body and began to feel more and more lifted by the crowds. Then all of a sudden things started to change – the niggles from my training started to flare up, first the left knee, then the right quad. The elation that I was feeling only minutes earlier began to fade as doubt started to creep in.

I wasn’t however about to give up easily. These were only niggles and this was the London Marathon. I could still do this! My pace over the next few miles remained on target, however from 16 miles onwards it was becoming more and more of a challenge and this came about at the time the crowds were at their thinnest. I still wasn’t giving in and as I approached mile 19 I was just about holding on and the crowds were back to full voice.

Mile 20: The challenge was on!

This is when it began to hurt, but it’s always hard from 20 miles and I’d been here plenty of times before. My pace however began to slow, only by about 15 seconds a mile – although this was too much and once you slow in a marathon it usually only goes in one direction. I decided to break the run up into two parts – first I focussed on getting to mile 23 and the masses of Eagles that would be cheering me on. This really worked and provided the focus that I needed and although I was unable to bring my pace back to 7.00mm, I also didn’t get any slower.

2 years ago, I spectated at mile 23 to cheer on my fellow Eagles and the atmosphere was incredible. Every year the convocation line around 50m of the route and make a noise unrivalled anywhere on the course. Tradition is for the Eagles runners to mount the kerb just before the cheer squad and high-five as many people as possible. And although to-date no Eagle has succumbed to tripping on the kerb, I decided before the race that I would play it safe and stay in the middle of the road and acknowledge the Eagles from afar. That was however before my legs decided they weren’t so up for running a marathon after all. Mile 23 was therefore my last hope, if I could just transfer the energy from all of supporters to my body I might have a chance of achieving my goal. Mile 23 was amazing, I have no idea who I high-fived, but it didn’t matter, it gave me the boost that I needed. I checked my pace about 200m after and I was running sub 7.00mm. Unfortunately the revival didn’t last long and although I maintained my pace from the previous few miles, my legs were now in bits. The possibility of sub-3.05 was gone and I still had 2 miles to go.

Before the marathon I would have been really disappointed at not achieving 3.05, however the reality of actually running the marathon and remembering how tough these things are meant that during the run itself I was able to put my achievements and potential achievements into perspective. My pace over the final 2 miles were my slowest, but they were no way disastrous, with a 7.34 and 7.44mm. And as I came up The Mall, I was enjoying myself. The time at this point didn’t matter, I was taking it all in – I was about to cross the line in 3 hours 6 minutes and 36 seconds. My training over the past 18 weeks had paid off – close to a 10 minute PB and almost 90 minutes quicker than my time in 2013.

Finish: 3 hours 6 minutes 36 seconds PB

Yes, I just missed out on Sub-3.05 and a London Good For Age, but I ran a very impressive time, a Boston Qualifying Time and most importantly a time that I am proud of.

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VLM2017 – A 10K PB (39.34) and none the wiser as to what to target on race day

With just 2 weeks to go until the big day, I am still none the wiser as to whether I will go for sub-3 or stick to the original plan of sub-3.05 and a ‘Good For Age’ (GFA) time. For those without a calculator to hand, the difference is 11 seconds per mile – on the face of it, it doesn’t sound a lot, but over 26.2 miles running 11 seconds per mile faster is significant and likely to have me feeling considerably different at mile 20 (the point where the proverbial ‘Wall’ tends to strike).

The reason for my continued indecision is the conflicting predictions from my runs to this point. From a racing perspective, my half marathon in 1.26 predicts a 3.01 marathon finish (close enough!), whereas my recent 5K (19.07) and 10K (39.34) races predict times around the 3.05 mark. In truth, these calculators are dangerous and the best predictors are based on previous marathon training/racing experience and pacing during long runs, in particular those ran at marathon pace (MP). This is where I start to believe that running sub-3 is possible. I’ve come away from every long run achieving my target pace and the recent Fleet HM that I used as a MP race, running 5 miles before (including 1 @ MP) and then the 13.1 @ MP felt comfortable. As this was on tired legs, I finished believing that I could keep this going for the full 26.2 miles.

So here lies the dilemma. As this is likely to be my last marathon for a while, do I aim for a GFA time and achieve a recognition that I never thought was possible, or do I push myself to the absolute limit in search of the iconic sub-3 and can say that I have a 2 hour something marathon but risk blowing up big and finishing outside 3.05, something that I feel my training deserves. The other important thing to note is that 3.05 is not a given as this is marathon running after all. There are also external factors that are uncontrollable, most notably highlighted today at the many marathons across Europe where the mini heat wave made it nearly impossible (perhaps, just impossible) for people to achieve their main goal.

Ultimately, I want to enjoy the run and whatever I target will partly be based on how this will make me feel during and after the race. I have 2 weeks of relatively low mileage (32 next week and 22 in the week prior the race) and my body is definitely in need of the taper (taper being the period leading up to the marathon where you reduce your mileage to ensure that you are as fresh as possible on race day). This week was technically a taper week, but with a 10K race and 16 miles on tired legs in today’s heat it hasn’t felt too different to any of the previous weeks.

I’m going to try and relax over the next couple of weeks, but that’s unlikely – let the Maranoia begin!!

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