Running 2 marathons in 2 weeks (1/2)
This month’s IR35 blog features an in-depth analysis… not really. It really is all about running marathons.
And the second of the two marathons is London and I am running for a charity – Able Child Africa. They support children with disabilities in Africa, with direct provision of care and equipment, as well as doing policy and advocacy work around disability rights. I would be really grateful for any donations to the cause, the link to my fundraising page can be found here:
Keen readers of this blog might remember my last marathon post, which was a race report of the 2016 Yorkshire marathon, back in October 2016. At the end of it I publicly made some training promises, which if followed should allow me to improve from a 2:53 marathon at York to something in the region of 2:47-2:48 by Spring 2017.
I know you will be desperately wondering – did Steve stick to those training promises and what kind of form is he in?
They were as follows:
1. Not get injured. Vital. If I do, all bets are off. Success on this front (touch wood). Sometimes injury can’t be helped of course, it strikes when it strikes, but you can manage the risk by spacing apart hard training sessions in your week, and easing off if you feel those twinges and niggles. So far this winter I have stayed injury free, and barring any accidents in the next 6 days I will make it to the start line in London in good shape.
2. Do core training 3 times a week. I’m going to claim half a point here. Ideally I would have been doing 2-3 core training sessions a week, the problem I have is that core training sessions are boring, and running (for me at least) is fun. So if I have spare time to exercise, I usually just go running. That said since February I have been consistently doing daily sessions of spiderman press ups (google it if you’re not sure) which someone told me was one of the best, single exercises you can do to work a range of core muscle groups. Given my aversion to non running exercise, that was a convenient truth for me, so I have been doing them daily, building up from 20 / day since early February, to 60 a day currently. Will it make a difference to my running performance? Difficult to say, but hey, I haven’t got injured?
3. Lose minimum 4 KGs to get down to 72Kgs. This will be difficult through Christmas, but I need to keep an eye on my diet and avoid alcohol and temptation. Partial success. Im currently tipping the scales at 73.5Kg, but some sensible eating over the next few days and I should be 73Kgs by the end of the week.
4. Increase mileage volume to hopefully 55 miles per week in the 12-week period before my chosen marathon. Success. Volume is probably the biggest single determinant of performance improvement in the marathon, although the type of training you’re doing to cover those miles starts to become important aswell. In the 12 weeks up to Sunday 16th April, Ive run an average of 55.6 miles a week, including a 5 week period where I averaged 64 miles a week.
5. Run at least 3 runs of 22 miles + to help build my resilience in the last 6 miles. Technically a fail. Ive run 4 * 20 mile runs in the build up, 1 * 21 miles and a marathon, as per below. But it certainly should have given me a better conditioning base that the 3 * 20 mile runs that I managed before the York marathon in October.
So the target has always been the London marathon on 23rd April 2017. I entered London back in November, and I made the process more difficult for myself than it should have been. Every year about 3000 of the c. 35000 London marathon places are allocated to runners on a “good for age” basis, which is a system whereby applicants who have run a certain time for their gender and age can apply and pretty much guarantee entry. I have been running the good for age qualifying time consistently for a few years now (sub 3:05) but always seem to miss the narrow summer window in which good for age applicants have to apply. So for 2017, I had to look at securing a charity please and luckily I secured one through Able Child Africa.
But in early March I spotted an advert online for the Ibiza Marathon on 8th April, 15 days before London. I checked flight prices and at £30 return from Leeds Bradford the Melber family were easily persuaded to have a long weekend in Ibiza. I contemplated the impact of running a marathon 15 days before my target marathon, would there be enough time to recover? Would running the Ibiza marathon compromise my target time for London, and would I even know if it did? I could underperform in London for any number of reasons, and not be able to isolate what proportion of that underperformance could be attributed to Ibiza. But life is too short, and I’m in the form of my life – why not run two marathons in two weeks?
The start time was scheduled for 3pm on the Saturday afternoon, very unusual for a marathon, but clearly a ploy to have 500 marathon runners, and 1000 12K runners, plus their spectators located in downtown Santa Eulalia looking for something to eat and drink. In advance I was most worried about the temperature. The forecast was for 20C, not hot but certainly far warmer than any other marathon conditions I’d experienced. Pre race planning became critical, I covered up with two layers of sun tan lotion and used generous amounts of Vaseline to stave off any chafing. I also borrowed a white cap. Whilst not a fan of running in hats, I knew keeping the sun bouncing off my head for 3 hours was probably a sensible move. I also plotted my splits against the course route. The profile of the course looked like a suspension bridge, with reasonable climbs up to mile 5 and then mile 14, I calculated the split of each of my 42Km and memorised what my total time should be at the top of the two climbs and at other key points along the way. If it all came together I would finish in 2:56:19. Given I believe Im in 2:48-2:50 shape this should feel relatively comfortable, but I budgeted the extra time because of the hills and heat, which I thought would easily cost me the extra 6-8 minutes. Finally I was very well hydrated, drinking a lot in the 2 hours prior to the race, whilst also managing the resulting loo visits right up until the 3 pm start time.
I reported to the sub 3hour pen at the front, with about 20 other runners and after some Rocky and Chariots of Fire, we were off. I resisted the urge to shoot off, checking within 200m the average pace data field on my watch, I had to keep it dialled into 4:20 / km for the first 8km which was a long drag uphill. With a field of only 450, runners quickly spaced out, although I steadily passed about 10 people in the first 5 miles, probably for the most part over exuberant first timers. The temperature was warm but not oppressive, I gently veered from one side of the road to the other to seek shade whilst trying to maintain the best possible racing line. By mile 8 I had come down the other side of the first hill and caught up with the 3 hr pacer, who had one other runner for company. I decided to join them for a few miles, my pacing strategy actually said I should be running a few seconds per km faster, but I was still wary about the heat and the second hill, which was larger than the first. It was a wise decision, there was a gusting headwind, and a group of three gave partial shelter, and within a couple of miles with the other two I felt more relaxed and comfortable. Not long after catching them a gust of wind blew my hat off my head and behind me. I made a split second decision to stop and retrieve it, which cost me a few seconds. We hadn’t been going long enough for me to have felt the benefit of wearing a hat but I didn’t want to leave anything to chance. Far better to have it and discard it later in the race out of choice, than start to suffer with the heat in the last 3rd and rue the decision to have left it behind. I lost 10-15 yards on my two new companions, but made it back up over the following kilometre. We reached Ibiza town, but disappointingly the course was routed through the industrial outskirts rather than the beautiful old town, although it was nice to see some more support. A quick circuit of these areas and we were back on the main Ibiza town to Santa Eulalia road, this time with a bit of a breeze behind us.
Suddenly the three hour pacer disappeared and I looked around to see him hands on hips, partially stooped over by the roadside. I checked my watch – 58 minutes on the clock. That was a poor effort, any pacers job is to turn a consistent pace and effectively tow other runners around the course to their target times, but if he had an underlying injury and wasn’t feeling in shape to run three hours, he shouldn’t have started. Nacho (yes that was his actual name), my Spanish companion saw the drop out and immediately said in good English that this was his first marathon, he was targeting 3 hours and would I like to run with him. I happily agreed, I was enjoying the pace and thought there wasn’t really much difference between a 2:59 and a 2:56, If I could run with Nacho I’d have company, we could share pacing and I’d have that selfless pleasure of being able to help someone else break the magical 3 hour barrier.
We locked into a 4:12 / km pace and cruised up a long straight main road to the half way point, which we reached in 1:28:50. This was about 40 seconds off my intended split for the 2:56:19 pace, but no matter, it was still comfortably within sub 3 pace. I offered Nacho occasional words of encouragement, and took the lead on setting the pace, encouraging him to shelter behind me and lock onto my heels. Just after half way we started a long 3.5km mile climb with a couple of peaks along the way, I eased off the pace knowing that seconds lost here should be easily made up on the following 15-21 mile section which drifted slowly downhill back into Santa Eulalia. Nacho started dropping off, the first couple of times I turned, immediately slowed to allow him to catch up the 2-3 meters, only for him to drift back again within a couple of minutes. We crested the final hill and eagerly grabbed some water off a volunteer on roller blades, I expected to be hurting at this point and needing to recover, but Nacho’s struggle had held me back, which was ultimately to prove to be a blessing in disguise. I felt fresh and inwardly elated, the worst of it was done in terms of gradient, the rest should be straightforward by comparison. I offered him more encouragement and said we’d up the pace to 4:08 / 4:09 / KM for the next 10Km into Santa Eulalia, he gave me a big thumbs up and picked up the pace. But within half a mile he was 10 meters behind, again I slowed to let him catch up but the km split popped up as 4:15, too slow for this downhill, and outside sub 3 pace, we were starting to lose time, on a section where we should have been clawing it back. It was decision time, I’d given him enough chances and I knew that if he couldn’t maintain sub 3 pace at mile 16, on a downhill, he would probably struggle to make it. I shouted good luck and set off down the road. I hit the next gear, again choosing whichever side of the road had the best shade, on straighter sections I could see 3-4 runners ahead of me, but even the closest one was a good 400m away. I felt relaxed, comfortable, and confidence started to creep in. I had a strong word with myself – “rein it in”. there is a common saying amongst marathon runners, that the distance is a two halves, the first 20, and the final 6. I remember running the 2015 Yorkshire marathon and felt strong and determined at 22 miles and within 500 meters I blew up, and have to have a sit down at the side of the road. Things can deteriorate very fast in a marathon if you haven’t got your pacing right.
By mile 18 I was closing fast on the runners ahead, 4 of them strung together over maybe 300 meters, I contemplated slowing to run with one or more for a few hundred meters, to regulate my pace, but as I reached and passed each one, their pace felt too slow and I continued past. The last of them stopped at the 30Km drink station to gulp down some water and I dodged past him and went around the roundabout that marked the edge of Santa Eulalia. Nearly 20 miles in and 6 to go, the route was to take us out the northern side of Santa Eulalia, 3 miles up the coast to Es Canar, a quick loop, and then back on the same road into Santa Eulalia to finish on the sea front. Going through the town was exhilarating as there was suddenly people and support, and the ubiquitous pop up DJ booths, operating out of jeeps, bars and off trestle tables. This was Ibiza after all.
As I hit 33Km I started to reach the tail enders of the Ibiza 12K race, which ran the route of the last 12K of the marathon, but it had started at 4:45pm. This was also where I started to have my first pangs of self doubt. Up until this point I had been comfortable, breathing steadily, but the first signs of fatigue were starting to present themselves, tight calves and growing dull pain in each quad. This is where the challenge becomes a mental one, slight inclines become hills, km markers drift into the distance, and small things start to grate, like the end of one shoelace occasionally flicking against my opposite calf. My mind generally splits in two, for anyone who has read the Chimp Paradox, here the Chimp wakes up and starts campaigning for self protection. Its also where the mental bargaining comes in, my watch was showing 4:10 / km average so far for the race, that’s 2:56 pace – “how many seconds per kilometre can I give away over the last 7-8 km and still come in under 3 hours?” I strike a deal, I will run the next split at 4:25 to 4:30, and when that split comes up on my watch I won’t panic, Ill know it was pre agreed, and I would have saved a couple of heart beats per minute, and will have more sensibly spread out my remaining energy over the remaining kilometres. I resolve not to look at my watch, and deliberately ease off just a touch focusing on my rhythm and breathing. The split pops up 4:13. That’s encouraging, I was easing off, I feel just a bit more relaxed and yet I didn’t slow nearly as much as I expected.
I plough on and before long make the right hand turn into Es Canar, there is an immediate downhill and I’m cruising down it, enjoying the extra support that has started to line the road around this town. Im conscious Im running a small loop, and will have to climb up the same elevation to rejoin the same road that has taken me to Es Canar. By now Im hitting more and more 12K runners and its helping, I target them ahead, individually or in pairs and small groups, focusing on reaching them, passing and finding the next target, It’s a good distraction and even though I know they are not in the same race as me, its exhilarating to be passing people and it makes me feel like Im going faster than I probably am. Im still hitting 4:10 splits, and at 38K Ive run out of Es Canar, completed the small loop and rejoined the Es Canar – Santa Eulalia road.
The Chimp pipes down, I think I’ve got this. There is a very slight decline towards Santa Eulalia, and the 12K runners are become more dense, intensifying the rejuvenation I am feeling from passing them. 39Km passes by – 4:08. I step it up, I can’t finish with anything left in the tank and I sense there is a bit there, I hit the edge of Santa Eulalia and we turn left towards the marina, there’s more downhill as we’re heading towards the coast, Im starting to enjoy this. 3:51 for the 40th km. We’re into the marina, boats on the left and crowds above us on the right on a pavement set 6 feet above the marina road. I suddenly see my kids, my son Finn has got a small camelbak rucksack which I had hoped to have the option of grabbing off them at 20 mile but we’d missed each other. He pops down some stairs and onto the course, running alongside me for a few yards offering me the bag, but I don’t need it. He tells me he loves me, I blow him a big kiss and I shout “nearly there”. 41st Km in 3:58, my KM splits on my watch have been coming up about 200m long so I know when I hit 42M I’ll have about 400M to go instead of 195M. Its fine, I’ve got this. The marina finishes on the left and the marina road turns into a seaside promenade, sea now on the left, roaring crowds on the right. Im seriously fatigued, but Im finishing strong, I see the finishing banner in the distance and summon something of a sprint finish weaving in and out of more 12K runners. My breathing ramps up and I count down the steps to the finish, probably 60, 40, 20 and Im there.
Within a few yards Im on the floor sitting down and breathing hard, shaking my legs in a vain effort to dissipate the lactate. I get moved on by an official, they need to make room for other finishers coming through the line. I drag myself up onto my feet and see my brother in law Nik, who had finished the 12K about 10 minutes earlier. We make our way through the finishing zone collecting freebies before being reunited with our families. Mary hands me my phone and my mum has texted me, ever the devoted fan she has been tracking the race on the official website: “2:55 and 7th!” Im amazed, I knew the time of course (official: 2:55:37), but didn’t realise I was that far up the field. I felt elated, 7th out of 450 runners, and in difficult conditions. But whether it will serve as a conditioning and confidence booster, or a fatigue sapping extended training run, will be revealed come 23rd April.