I've said before that I could probably run a marathon any weekend without needing additional training. That's based on running an average of nearly 160 miles per month last year, and having run longer than a 1/2 marathon over 15 times. The longest runs were just over 20 miles. But until last Sunday I'd never run a marathon...
Strava organise "Challenges" and this year they had a mini-series: a 1/2 marathon in February, 20 miles in March, and a full marathon in April. I signed up for the first 2 immediately but not the marathon. Then Dan ran the distance on the first weekend in 4:20, and Pete ran it 5 days later in 3:57, so I had to have a go too.
I considered doing a "training" one like Dan and Pete, but it was pointed out that an organised event has regular water stops and a medal at the end. Also, when people find out I run, they often ask "Have you run a marathon?" So far my response has been "No, not yet" and try to justify why not. I figured an answer of "Yes, I've done the distance in training" isn't nearly as good as "Yes, I ran the X marathon in x:xx:xx"
Choice of event
So I looked at what marathon's have places left in May. The best fit was the Shakespeare marathon in Stratford-upon-Avon. It's not local but my in-laws live in Warwick which is only 15 minutes away and they let us stay over. It's not totally flat but it's advertised as being good for beginners as there's only really two significant hills (well, the same hill twice).
When I told my sister Anna, who has run over 200 marathons, she entered it too. She's run it 4 times before but was excited to enter it with me.
I signed up 3 weeks before the event. A little short notice but I was already better trained than many who enter a marathon. On the Monday 20 days before the event I ran 30k (18.6 miles) as my last long run. Mostly this was training, but also it was to help see how fast I should try to run the marathon. The route was about half off-road with some stiles and gates to negotiate and included 400m of ascent which is more than the marathon has. My average pace was 5:15/km (8:27/mile) and I was properly exhausted at the end.
Aside from standard "easy" runs the other significant training runs I did over the next 2 weeks were:
Wednesday: 8 * 330m steep hill reps
Sunday: 10 flat miles in under 75 minutes. I was disconcerted how hard this was. I expected it feel hard but OK
Wednesday: 12.2k inc long climb at 4:37/km (7:25/mile) Felt much easier than Sunday, phew!
Friday: 14*500m intervals
Sunday: a 71km bike ride with Andy Perry (I also have the Isle of Wight bike ride on 5th May to be ready for)
I'd been fretting about what time I should be targeting. Based on my best training 1/2-marathon of 1:36:11, tools like McMillan Pace Calculator suggest a marathon time of 3:22:25 (4:48/km or 7:44/mile) That sounds very aggressive to me and I did not want to blow up and have a horrible last 10k. Dan's marathon showed me how it can go wrong - he has run a 1/2-marathon a couple of minutes faster than I have but took 4:20 for his marathon.
Sub-4 hours should be relatively straight forward. 3:4*:** would be faster than my friends, 3:3*:** would be great, sub-3:30 would be astounding. I was flitting between 3:45 and 3:30, but mostly thinking of a schedule to get under 3:40:00
My sister sent me a link that was useful. There's a new tool at the Fetch Everyone website that gives a prediction based on analysis of their database of times for runners who've done 5 halves and marathons to see what happens in the "real world". It predicts 3:36:58 for me... way slower than the 3:22 from McMillan. So I decided to go for sub-3:40, a bit slower on the day and I should still be in the 3:4*:** range which would be good, any faster and I'd shave off a small number of minutes but definitely not sub-3:30.
An article in the Runners World magazine said that non-elite runners will get their best time by doing the first half 2-3% faster than the second half. This sounded good to me - I didn't want to have to speed up in the second half, especially over the last 6 miles. 3:40 is 5:13/km pace, so I figured I'd aim for 5:10/km pace for the first half, allowing 5:16 for the second. I set the Virtual Partner option on my watch to 5:10/km It will tell me how many seconds and metres ahead or behind I am. If I made it round the whole marathon at 5:10/km average then it would take 3:38 Every 3 seconds per km gained or lost would be 2 minutes on the overall time.
I read up on tapering. Apparently I should have started 2 weeks before but I took heed for the final week and was strict with myself. I did:
Monday: 9k at 5:00/km Tuesday: 8k offroad at 5:50/km Wednesday: 6.3k at 5:08/km Thursday: rest Friday: 6.4k at 5:02/km Saturday rest (well, walking round Oxford with immediate family and my sister)
We woke up at 7:15. Had muesli and coffee for breakfast and Anna, Emma and I drove to Stratford. No problems getting there but entering town we hit the back of the queues for the car parks. There were loads of people doing the event! About 3700 entrants (2800-odd finishers). But we were soon parked and Anna checked in her bag. She was not after a particular time and was expecting something around the 4:30 mark so she'd ring us when she was done.
The temperature was about 6C. OK in still air but when the wind blew it was cold. I decided on shorts, technical T-shirt and long sleeve top. Among the crowd at the start it was noticeably warmer - shelter from the wind and body heat. We were quite a way back from the start but with chip timing it doesn't matter much. Starting further back means you can enjoy overtaking more people, but you also have to skip around them which loses a few seconds.
I had 5 energy gels and about 15 wine gums for fuel. I had the gels every 7k and I reset my watch's lap so I could see my splits for the 7k splits as I went.
The start of the race is a lap around the centre of Stratford, passing the famous tourist houses etc. The road was wide enough that the crowd wasn't a problem but I was passing people and was a little held up. I wasn't stressing at all, I was enjoying my first mass event.
Then we left town and headed out on a residential then country lane. The first water stop was at 4k. They had plenty of people handing out small bottles of water. I took one, drank just over half and threw it to the side of the road. They had people with bin bags collecting the discarded bottles.
I'd been glancing at my average pace and knew I was going a little bit fast. The first 5k passed in 25 minutes - 5:00/km I wasn't feeling tired or breathing hard at all but I made a conscious effort to ease up. The next 5k averaged 5:11/km and included a short hill, gaining 15m elevation in one go. Nothing compared to what we run from work but I deliberately kept the effort steady and averaged 5:41/km for 500m long climb
The next 5k included the big hill. There was a 10m ascent over 500m pre-hill, then a flat km, then over the next 1.5k we climbed 35m. The first part was steadily up, with the top part being much steeper. Annoyingly the descent is both too steep to enjoy and too steep to make back all the time lost climbing. During this section I took off my long sleeve and tied it round my waist.
Then we turned left and headed back towards town. The first lap heads back sooner than the second because of the mile or so doing a lap of Stratford at the start. This 3rd 5k was also 5:11/km so holding steady...
After 16k we joined the Greenway, which is an offroad path along a disused railway. Nice and flat and straight. There was also a tailwind on the way back towards Stratford. The sun came out during this bit and mostly stayed out for the rest of the run. The forecast was cloudy and I hadn't put on any suncream so I got a little bit sun-burned. At 19km the half-marathoners carried on and the marathoners headed left to skirt the edge of town. I was surprised and impressed at the number of people on the road with signs cheering us on. Nearly 73% of the entrants were doing the half-marathon so there were noticeably fewer after this point. Still plenty though. The 4th 5k was run at 5:08/km
The first half was run at an average of 5:08/km - about 1:48:10
The second half
By half way I was starting to know that I'd been running for nearly 2 hours. Not tired yet though and doing OK. The fifth 5k was 5:10/km
The second time up the big hill I saw again a guy I'd chatted to while climbing it the first time. He was quicker than me up the hill both times. I passed him on the way down and didn't see him again. The 6th 5k arrived at the top of the hill so this split was "only" 5:21/km but was net uphill 41m.
I think I ran down it too quickly this time. Partly because my Virtual Partner told me I was 5 seconds behind the 5:10/km pace and partly because I think I was keen to re-catch those I was with before the hill. Given that 5:10/km was my first half goal pace so that I could run the second half slower, I really didn't need to do this. By the bottom my legs were heavy. I pressed on and was starting to catch and pass people.
We turned on to the Greenway after 32k - the finishing stretch, no more hills and a tailwind - and I was wishing it was already over. 10k to go. The 7th 5k was done at an average of 5:06/km (net downhill 33m).
The first 3k along the Greenway were OK. Tired but averaging 5:09/km Then just past 36k I got cramp in my calves which slowed and worried me but didn't do any real harm. The 37th kilometre was run in 5:22 so I didn't really lose much time.
But at 38k I had a sharp agonizing cramp in my left hamstring. I slowed to a walk and willed it to go away. I had just passed a guy who was walking and now he came jogging past me. With 4k to the finish I dreaded having to walk the rest of the way. I tried a slow jog and it was tolerable and then the cramp eased up and I could run again. The 500m that includes this incident took 3 minutes so I lost about 25 seconds or so. From now on I was running with half a mind on trying to ensure I didn't re-trigger the debilitating cramp.
The next 2k were run at 5:21/km and I just wanted it to be over. Hanging on to 5:10/km was no longer a concern. I'd have been happy with more or less any time so long as I didn't have to walk it. My last wine gum was eaten with a couple of miles to go. The 8th 5k split averaged 5:21/km
The next kilometre took 5:10 and included a switch back and descent to go back under the road and alongside the Avon.
The final 750m or so was on grass and had a snaking approach to a finishing straight. I passed a couple of people before the straight and on it there was a guy 10m ahead of me but I didn't feel any desire to out-sprint him. But then I saw the race clock saying 3:39:50 and I forgot about chip timing and thought I had to make it to the end before 3:40:00 so I sprinted after all, passing him just before the end. I'm pretty sure I beat the clock but the chip timing says 3:40:01 The family were there to see my finish which was nice. I just now asked them to summarize how I looked and Jenny said "dying" and Emma said "bag of shit". Feels about right.
My chip time was 3:38:11, which is an overall average of 5:10.25/km
They had piles of bananas and water at the end. To ensure I recorded the full distance I over-ran the finish and didn't stop my watch until it was tens of metres past 42.195k I went back after a minute to collect my finishers medal.
The second half took about 1:50:00 which is 5:14/km The second half was about 2% slower than the first, so I ended up doing what Runners World recommended. This includes the short walking and jogging spell near the end though.
I carried on walking about while cooling down and then we went for a salty McDonalds. Anna phoned an hour later. She was full of beans, skipping like Bambi, having had a pleasant morning and run it in 4:32. I was hurting all over and walking stiffly. When I first got in the car to drive back to the in-laws I had a nasty cramp attack in my stomach muscles and had to get out and stretch before trying again. Driving was OK though.
The days after
On Monday I drove to work, still finding it painful getting in and out of the car. I took the lift at work. I did go for an Ow ow ow recovery jog for 2 miles. The last 400m were OK-ish, the rest just hurt.
Tuesday hurt about as much as Monday. I didn't run on Tuesday. Took the lift again.
Wednesday I felt a bit better. I cycled slowly to work and went for a jog with Ed and Andy. We ended up doing 5 miles. I found it hard (but easier than Ed). Thursday we did a slow 10k in the woods and Friday we did an "easy pace" 12k offroad and over stiles. The pace didn't feel easy but was do-able. Sunday I ran 10 miles and felt pretty much back to normal.
Maybe. I'd kind of like to do one without trying to maximise my pace, maybe aiming for 3:55 And if I'm fitter/faster in the future, maybe go sub-3:30.
I'm very happy with it all. I think I picked a sensible race strategy, the correct target time, didn't make any serious mistakes. I started ever so slightly too quickly and definitely ran down the final hill too quickly, but that's all. I passed maybe 25 people over the final 10k where I averaged 5:15/km even with the cramp/walking bit. No-one passed me :-)