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Running 2 marathons in 2 weeks (2/2)

On Saturday 23rd April the Melber family headed down to London, I’d like to think this was for a family weekend, but the reality is that it was principally for the marathon, with some family activities added to the itinerary to assuage my guilt. We hit Hamleys on the Saturday afternoon, then gorged on pizza for the carbs, before taking in a show at the theatre in the evening.

I was in bed for 11, and woke up after a fair night’s sleep at 7. Readers of part 1 of the blog will remember my main concern was what effect the Ibiza marathon 15 days earlier, was going to have on my performance in London, but over the 2 week period in between I was pleased with my recovery and could feel no residual fatigue in my legs, Whether anything lingered under the surface, ready to rise up after 18/20 or 22 miles of stress remained to be seen, but I made the starting line in good shape. I was going off the red start, which is where the masses congregate, but you’re in pens dependant on your estimated finishing time, and for me expecting sub 3hrs, that meant zone 1, and probably lining up only 50 yards behind the actual starting line. We started just after 10am, and as per usual I had picked the pace I expected to stick – 3:59 or 4:00 minutes per km. This would bring me home in 2:48, and although one or two training sessions had indicated I could go slightly faster, I was unsure of the effect of Ibiza, and the 2:48 target pace felt right.

The first few km felt tougher than they should. One of my favourite marathon sayings is “if in the first half of a marathon you don’t feel like you’re going too slow, you’re going too fast”. This came firmly to mind in those first few km, which felt punchy. I tried to put it to the back of my mind and concentrated on relaxing, I had to trust in my training and fitness, I could sustain this pace for at least 20 miles and probably more. After a few miles runners from all three starts come together, and if you have gone off the red start like me, this means going down a gradual hill which banks left and converges into the blue and green start runners who are approaching from the right. Its like coming off a slip road onto a big human motorway, but it’s an exciting stretch as everyone comes together and you get a real sense of the size of the event. But it is also where the race gets congested. This year a record breaking 40,000 runners were taking part, and even towards the front you’re effectively moving in one big pack, if you want to up your pace you need to need to spot gaps and dart through.

By 6 miles my early concern about maintaining the pace had disappeared and I was feeling comfortable, my watch beeped to show my 10K split as 39:51, 3:59 pace and bang on target. However I was a good 100m short of the timing mat, which appear every 5K in the London marathon. As you run over, your chip time is recorded and the website is automatically updated so friends and family can track your progress. By the time I ran over the mat, my watch read 40:18, 4:02 pace and a full 27 seconds slower than my GPS watch. I didn’t think too much of it at the time, a GPS watch can often come up with different splits to official race markers and usually they even out over the course of a race. Sometimes the race organisers have to put a race marker a few meters short or long depending on where they can stick in a sign and put aloft a banner. I ploughed on and before long we were moving through Bermondsey and Rotherhithe, heading west on the south side of the river. You get a sense of where London Bridge is before it comes into view as there are generally helicopters hovering overhead and the levels of support start to grow. This is always an exciting part, the noise, combined with the iconic setting gives you goose pimples and its easy to pick up your pace without noticing. As I came over the bridge and drifted down the other side I also knew my family would be coming up soon. We discussed a spectator plan the night before and Mary decided to get to mile 13, just east of Tower Hill, because it’s the stretch of the course where the runners double back and pass on opposite sides of the road. Runners going east between 12 and 14 miles, pass the runners who are going west through miles 21 and 22. I knew they would be on my left so I veered over to the central barriers looking across the other side of the road to see if I could spot them. They spotted me first and I could see a little pocket of supporters cheering and waving a little more enthusiastically than those around them. My daughter my was on Mary’s shoulders and I gave them a big wave back and blew lots of kisses. It gave me a fantastic lift and I felt better than I had done all race, 13-15 miles at London seems to be a lovely drift downhill, and that downhill plus the support made progress feel effortless.

Head down, back to business – get around docklands, reach 20 miles and then re evaluate. I was still feeling comfortable and focused on ticking off the kms until I reached 32Km (or 20 miles). I should get there in good shape, and then its about seeing what you have got left. The runners were thinning out a little, but generally I was on my own, focusing purely on the average pace field on my gps, and not getting preoccupied running with certain groups around me. Im running my race, they can run theirs. My watch beeped for 30km at 1:59:34, again bang on 3:59 pace, and yet again the 30km mat was not in sight. I reached it in 2:00:09, 35 seconds later. I’d like to say I fully realised the implications of this, but I didn’t at the time. At 32Km I felt good, maintaining the pace was getting a little harder but that was to be expected, and at this point I had no doubts about finishing or blowing. The next target became the 22 mile marker where I knew my family would be and this time I was on the right side of the road to see them. I had clocked their exact position from when I passed them the first time, and as it was coming up I veered over to the barriers on the right to give them a big wave. Again I felt rejuvenated, and 23 miles marks another psychological point, as you come out of the docklands section, pass the Tower of London and then go down a sharp hill onto embankment. 3 miles to go and suddenly there is a sharp deterioration in my condition, my legs are really starting to hurt now, and I am feeling pretty spaced out. I start to zone out for a few seconds, before things come back into focus, this is probably cumulated fatigue or getting near the end of the tank on my glycogen levels. Its around this time that the average pace so far field starts shows 3:58 instead of 3:59. That’s significant, it means I have sped up since half way and I know from having daydreamed pacings so often before that 3:58 average equates to a marathon time of 2:47:30 ish. I pass the 24 mile marker and there is a big clock which reads 2:34 something, in my mental haze I think that means I’m on for a 2:46, I’m running miles at 6:20ish pace and if I get these last two done at the same pace Ive been sustaining, with a bit of a kick, I’ll run a 2:46. I’ve somewhere forgotten about the 385 extra yards, and the fact that the markers have all been coming up short vs my watch. I plough on, we go through the first of two tunnels in these final miles. This a 200 yard stretch which is suddenly quiet and dark, without crowds and cameras, and the temptation to stop is overwhelming – “no one will notice”. But I keep going, and as you reach the other side you emerge again on embankment, with the Thames on your left. I look way over to the left hand side for Big Ben, which marks the 25.5 mile point. I expect to see it about 11 oclock, but its over at about 8 o clock, barely visible through the crowds and other buildings. I know it’s not that far but right now it looks like France from Dover, strange how fatigue warps perception.

Im trudging on and it feels desperately slow, despite my watch telling me that I am maintaining the 4:00 / km pace. Finally I make Big Ben and I bank right towards Buckingham Palace, this is a small downhill which gives some blessed relief. From this turn its pure attrition. In the early stages of a marathon, mile markers tick by without you even noticing, in mile 26 at London there is a 800m to go sign, a 600m to go sign and then a 385 yards to go sign, and I am literally counting the steps to every single one, as they seem to recede into the distance. At 385 yards to go my watch reads 2:47, and I have the dawning realisation there is over a minute of running to go, and clearly I’m not going to finish in 2:47. I’m so tired I can’t really figure out why this is. I pass Buckingham Palace and I have waves of nausea, I’d like to think I would have put in a bit of a kick at the end, as I did at Ibiza, but I’m happy to have the excuse not to, and instead I coast it in – I don’t want to be the guy puking down the mall. I cross the line and just want to lie down, but they move you on (rightly) to make way for other runners who are finishing behind you. Im gasping and a volunteer spots my drinking motion with the hand and brings me some water. I check my watch – 2:49:03. 6 seconds outside my pb. I’ve just run for 10,000 seconds and missed by pb by 6! I hobble down the rest of the mall and shortly after meet my family at the “M” meeting sign. Mary has brought me a Monster rehab and a Mars bar. What a wife.

The rest of the day was mainly eating, drinking, and spending time with my family before we made our way back up to Yorkshire in the evening. But I didn’t take long before I was onto garmin and strava to analyse my performance. There was a lot to be happy about – I nailed the pacing, barely deviating from the target pace and running pretty much optimally, with a second half 11 seconds faster than the first half. But I’d run 42.65Km, in effect 455 meters extra. This was nothing to do with the course, it was entirely about my racing line. Every time you take a corner a little wide, and go round a banking corner a few meters from the inside, or veer left or right to get water or overtake, you’re running extra meters. And over 26 miles for me these added up to an extra 455 meters, which is about 1 min 40 seconds at the pace I was running at. Indeed my strava registered me as crossing the true marathon distance at 2:47:12. So whilst frustrating, this is actually very encouraging. Further analysis showed that when I ran the 2:48:57, I reached 42Km in 2:48:40, and at the London marathon I hit 42km at 2:46:27, a full 2 mins 13 seconds quicker. Running the racing line is crucial in any race, and for some reason I just wasn’t thinking about it when I did London. But it’s a mistake Ill only make once.

My next marathon will be the Yorkshire marathon on October 8th 2017, and I want to run sub 2:45. This is significant as it qualifies you for the championship start line at London and its also an automatic qualifying standard for other marathons aswell. Its one of 4 or 5 lifetime ambitions that I have and I’ve got my best chance even to achieve it given my current shape. If Im really in 2:47 shape, then I only need to find 3 minutes in 5 months. To do that?! More of the same – train more, lose weight, strengthen my core and not get injured!