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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VLM 2017 – a few niggles!

My first hard session post Farnborough half marathon was another tough lactate threshold (LT) session on the track, only this time I needed to do 5 @ LT (6.30mm). The challenges of fitting in marathon training around work and personal commitments, coupled with my self-inflicted deviation from the plan, meant that this session was coming just two days after Farnborough and therefore on pretty tired legs. In truth, whilst marathon training, my legs always tend to be tired but I needed an excuse from having marginally slower splits than during those on my previous LT. I was actually quite happy with the run overall but the toll of the back to back hard sessions started to impact the rest of that week’s run. The legs were feeling very tired and I was starting to feel some niggles around my right knee. Then on a long run in Sunday with a few fellow Eagles to and from Richmond Park, I began to feel some aching in my left leg. It was dull throbbing feeling and therefore I wasn’t too worried about it, however it flared up post run and has been painful on and off for most of the past week. I feel like I’m just about managing it but if it doesn’t get any better I may need to take a few days off to make sure it fully recovers.

Despite the pain, the runs this week added a nice variety to plods around Ealing as I was in Paris for work taking in the sites of the Eiffel Tower, Arc De Triomphe, Champs-Élysées and River Seine. I just had to watch out for the crazy French drivers who collectively conspired to try and knock me down – we got our revenge in the Rugby though!


So today was Watford Half Marathon – another training run, similar to Farnborough. Having done more than the 10 at planned marathon pace (PMP) that was on the plan for Farnborough I decided that I was just do 10 at Watford instead of the 12 scheduled for my run today. This decision was partly enforced my research into the elevation profile of the course – it didn’t look good. After 3 miles warm up, I lined up with the rest of the senior men on the right hand side of the starting pen. I’m going to be very negative about this race (not the organisers fault) so I should start with some positives. It was very well organised with quick race number collection, changing areas and a slick baggage process. The starting funnels were also very well thought out with half the runners in one funnel and the others in an adjacent funnel 50m away, with the funnels only converging until half a mile in. They also place time markers at various points in the funnels and the pacers arrive early which means that most of the runners position themselves in the correct place for their pace.

And there the positivity ends. The course is described as undulating/hilly – depending on which site is reviewing the race – but it can only be described as hilly hilly hilly! With the exception of the Box Hill fell run that I did back in 2015, I haven’t done anything that comes even close to these elevations. I don’t do hills! In fact, I avoid them at all costs – training runs and races. Give me flat and fast any day of the week. thumbnail_FullSizeRender

So safe to say I didn’t enjoy it. Every single mile had at least one hill to contend with, now although that meant that each mile also included a downhill section, my legs were generally spent from the uphill efforts that I couldn’t give the downhill sections the push they deserved. Marathon pace was tough to achieve and I couldn’t get any rhythm with the lack of flat sections. Having said that, my pace wasn’t actually too bad. The 10 miles @ PMP averaged 7.03mm which is bang on target for 3.05 for London and the Strava GAP analysis (takes effort required for the hills and converts this to a relative pace on a flat run) for the 10 miles came in at 6.59mm, with the whole half marathon at 7.02mm – a definite silver lining!

A few stats to finish this entry:

  • 7 weeks training
  • 313 miles
  • 5 countries
  • 2 half marathon races (training runs)
  • 20 miles, longest run
  • 4 LT runs
  • 6 minutes 26 seconds, quickest mile
  • 4 niggles
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VLM 2017 – ‘do as I say, not as I do’

2 more weeks have past and the marathon training is really starting to ramp up.

Week 4 included 3 runs of 10 miles or more, including a 19 mile long run for a total of 50 for the week. Originally I had planned a 47 mile week with an 18 mile long run, but having upped my mileage the previous week, it seemed a logical decision to add the odd mile here and there.

The current week didn’t start as planned. A 4 day work trip to Lucerne and temperatures of around minus 8 degrees meant I had to attempt my LT session on the treadmill at 6.30am. The lack of sleep and heat of the gym resulted in a failed session with only 3 of the 5 LT miles completed. My dislike for the treadmill led me to brave the freezing conditions for my recovery and general aerobic runs, which I did but a little quicker than I should have – I blamed this on the need to keep warm!

Saturday’s recovery run including Gunnersbury parkrun was too quick again – no excuse this time.

So having spent the previous few weeks advising and sometimes lecturing others on the need to run the majority of training miles at an easy pace and to be disciplined by sticking to the plan, I needed to have a word with myself. It’s definitely a case of ‘do as I say, not as I do’.

Today’s run was more of the same, although it has also given me a lot of confidence just 5 weeks into the plan. This morning was the inaugural Farnborough Half Marathon. As previously mentioned the plan was to do a few warm up miles, start the race slowly and finish with 10 miles @PMP (7.00mm). My preparation was going well – a large meal the night before, early breakfast, plenty of hydration and I arrived at the race in good time. And then it happened, I reached into my bag to put my Garmin on and I couldn’t find it. ‘Panic’ (this is overdramatic – frustration and a little annoyance was more the reality) struck – how could I run this properly without a watch! I soon calmed down and set out a plan. Starting slowly and picking up to 7mm was going to be difficult as I would be out of synch with other runners and would have no idea what pace I was running. I decided that I would push myself to 6.52mm for the first 10 miles, as I knew there was a 1 hour 30 pacer, and then finish with 3 slower miles. The pacer was very good and I didn’t miss the watch too much. I felt comfortable throughout and in part this was probably down to not having the constant distraction of checking my watch. The course itself was relatively flat, although there were a few slight inclines and a couple of uphill miles leading up to the 9 mile point. So when the 10 mile point came up, I was towards the highest point of the course. I initially stuck to the plan and eased off, but as we were running downhill I was able to keep with the pacer without too much difficulty. And so yet again I went against my own rhetoric by keeping with the pacer to the end. In truth it was very comfortable and finishing in 1.29.15 (my 3rd quickest half marathon) I now have a dilemma as to whether to step up my training and try and achieve sub-3 or stick with the original goal of 3.05 and GFA.

I don’t need to make a decision yet, but will see how the training goes over the next few weeks and see whether I need to adjust my goals – but most importantly, I need to stick to the plan!

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Virgin London Marathon (VLM) 2017

A new year, the Olympic challenge has ended but the sporting challenges continue in the form of the 2017 Virgin London Marathon (VLM). London will be my 5th marathon and the 1st marathon that I can focus 100% on without the distraction of other sports. London was also the venue of my 1st marathon in 2013, but I’m hoping to have a much more successful run and enjoyable experience this time around.

The marathon is on 23rd April and I’m already 3 weeks into my training plan. I’ve chosen the 18 week, 33-55 mile P&D plan again (the same as for New York), with a few tweaks where I’ve upped the mileage and long run distances and other minor changes to accommodate holidays.

And so far so good. I’ve hit the paces on my faster runs and felt comfortable on my 3 long runs (14, 15 and 17 miles), with the 15 mile run also including 8 miles and my target marathon pace.

Having ran 3 hours 16 minutes and 13 seconds for my last marathon (New York, Nov 2015), the obvious target would we to try and dip under 3.15 or 3.10. However, having not run a marathon for over a year (longest since my first marathon) and will be almost 18 months by the time London comes around, I’ve progressed significantly during this time and feel that I need to set myself a more ambitious goal. Having struggled with motivation in the build up to San Sebastian last year, resulting in dropping down from the full marathon to the half, I also feel the need to have a stretch target to get me out on the cold, wet and windy days. So, sub-3.05 is the target – not only is this going to be a challenge for me, it would also give me a VLM ‘Good for Age’ (this is running a time that VLM consider to be a suitably fast time for your age category that they will allow you to automatically qualify for one of the next 2 VLMs.

The next 15 weeks is likely to bring about many ups and downs, but if I focus on the plan and hopefully stay injury free then I think I have a good chance of achieving my goal.

To keep me on track I’ve included a number of events, which I’m going to use for my faster training runs and warm up races ahead of the marathon:

  • Farnborough half marathon – 16 miles with 10 miles @ PMP
  • Watford half marathon – 18 miles with 12 miles @ PMP
  • Thorpe park half marathon – Race
  • Clapham Riverside 20 – 20 miles @ 7.30mm
  • Fleet half marathon – 18 miles with 13.1 miles @ PMP
  • Northala parkrun – Race
  • Datchet 20 – 22 mile training run
  • Battersea 10k – Race

With any luck I’ll achieve new 5K, 10K and half marathon PBs along the way.

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Clay Pigeon Shooting

Managed to fit in some clay pigeon shooting yesterday evening. Really enjoyed it, although I’ve got some serious bruises today. Shooting was the first Olympic challenge I completed, all the way back in December 2012!

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36th, 37th, 38th & 39th Olympic challenges completed – Equestrian (Dressage, Jumping & Eventing) and Modern Pentathlon

For the past couple months I’ve been learning to horse ride at Hewshott Farm Stables​ in Liphook. It’s been great fun and they’ve helped me achieve 4 of my Olympic challenges (Dressage, Show Jumping, Modern Pentathlon and Eventing). Special thanks to my amazing parents for arranging the lessons, taking photos and video. I’ve now completed 39 out of my 41 Olympic challenges. Just 2 more to go (Artistic and Rhythmic Gymnastics), which will be completed on 25th June. I’ve been raising money for charity since the start of the challenge, currently for Get Kids Going, which is a National charity which gives disabled children and young people – up to the age of 26 yrs – the wonderful opportunity of participating in sport. Please follow the charity link to donate, any support is greatly appreciated!

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Modern Pentathlon

After successfully negotiating my horse ‘Buddy’ over a minor fence today at Hewshott Farm Stables, I am now able to say that I’ve completed every discipline of the Modern Pentathlon and in doing soon, I have displayed the ultimate test of fitness, courage and skill. (quote: pentathlongb)

Modern Pentathlon

  • Fencing (completed 23rd Aug, 2013)
  • Swimming (completed 23rd Mar, 2013)
  • Pistol Shooting (completed 2nd Dec, 2012)
  • Cross-Country Run (completed 26th Oct, 2014)
  • Show jumping (completed 14th May, 2016)
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