Manchester Marathon – Sunday 6th April
After last year’s painful marathon without any training I decided if I was to do one in 2014 then I would prepare properly with an 18 week training program. In previous years even with solid training programs I’d never done very well come marathon day but I knew that the increased level of fitness for the early summer was always a good side benefit.
My record of marathon running hasn’t been very successful over the years and the only one I seem to remember enjoying and feeling comfortable in was 2010 albeit for only 19 miles!
My record looks like this:
2006 – Flora London marathon, 3.49. Ran all of it.
2007 – Nottingham marathon. Pulled out at 17 miles with sore legs.
2010 – Virgin London marathon, 3.35. Cramp at 19 miles.
2011 – Virgin London marathon, 3.30. Struggled from 8 miles, hit wall at 18 miles.
2012 – Sunderland marathon, pulled out at 20 miles with sore legs.
2013 – Virgin London marathon, 3.54, struggled through lack of training.
So back in November after the Leeds abbey Dash 10K I decided to sign up for the Manchester marathon to give myself something to focus on over the winter months. I also signed up for the Brass Monkey Half and Snakelane 10 as intermediate target races. I picked Manchester as there was talk of other local athletes doing it, the flat(ish) course and the fact it wouldn’t have the same pressure of the London marathon which I think was maybe affecting me.
The 18 week training program was based on a something I’d used before –
Monday – easy 6 mile run or rest if required
Tuesday – club session (3 mile morning runs later in the program)
Wednesday – steady to MP run or rest if required
Thursday – club session (3 mile morning runs later in the program)
Friday – steady run or rest if required
Saturday – 6 miles including parkrun with the intensity to match the next day’s run/race
Sunday – long run
There were some fundamental changes I made though:
· Reduce the midweek Wednesday run from 14 miles to no more than 9 miles. I found going over 10 miles midweek constantly would eventually catch up with me and I’d start to feel fatigued. This time round I had some tired weeks as you would training for a marathon but never felt like I wanted to throw the towel in and quit as I had done in previous years.
· I would build my mileage up as you would usually do but I also included a 30% reduced mileage week every third week.
· I would try a different taper. Instead of a standard 2 or 3 week taper I would be trying a 4 week taper. (this also dictated me doing an 18 week program instead of a standard 16 week program) I would do a two week taper for the Thirsk 10 with the thought process of this being my number 1 target race then 1 week of rest and light running followed by a build-up week to get me in good shape and lively for the marathon.
· Do one long run of full race distance – 26 miles.
· Try to rest when required and not when a program dictated.
I was able to start out on a 45 mile week seeing as though I had already done a good training block for the Leeds Abbey Dash 10K and then a rest period after. The weekly mileage was increase by 5 miles eventually reaching 70 miles a week.
My first race of 2014 was the Brass Monkey Half at the end of January when I ran well and got a pb of 1.22.30. This race didn’t fall on a reduced mileage week so I could have possible ran faster with a better taper. I had started doing my 20 mile long runs before the Brass Monkey and when I was pencilling them into my program there was no reason why I couldn’t do a 20+ mile runs every Sunday morning even on a reduced week. This to some people would be a lot of long runs but the long run is the most important run in a marathon program so for me the more the merrier. The only problem with a long run on a Sunday is they have to be taken seriously so will pretty much dictate what you do every Saturday night if not the full weekend. In the end I did eight long runs – 19, 21,22,20,20,26,22,20. The final long run of 20 miles was the Locke Park 20 mile race which conveniently fell 4 weeks before the marathon so that started my taper period.
Something I also tried for the first time was a long run session suggested to me many years ago by Nathaniel Williams which was to warm up for 2 miles then do 5 miles at marathon pace, 1 mile steady (usually MP + 1 minute) 4 miles at MP, 1 mile steady and so on 3,2 down to 1 mile at MP with a 1 mile cool down. This nicely totalled 22 miles and I did it twice, once with Wayne Bouttell. We both found the change of pace in the run even though it made it hard (especially the first time when it was very windy) broke the run up nicely and was also very good training.
Doing the Snakelane 10 was always going to be a target race as its nice to look forward to something different than another long run and this race also went well with me finishing in a time of 62.02 just 4 seconds outside my pb on a very windy day.
The Locke Park 20 was a very tough race as I found the course very testing (see a previous race report) but was pleased to get my second pb of the year finishing in 2.14.22 and I also picking up a £25 sports voucher for my efforts.
The rest day after this race was much needed as it came at the end of two 70 mile back to back weeks.
Now was the worst bit of the training program for marathon runners, the taper which I quite enjoyed as this time I felt I’d earned it and was content with the amount of long runs I had put in. As I’ve said I was tapering for the Thirsk 10 and was hopeful of a good run and that’s what I had. I ran strongly throughout and finished in 60.28 smashing 90 seconds off my pb. I knew a sub 60 was never on the cards but going through 5 miles in 30 minutes dead gave me a taste of what was required. This was a massive confidence booster for me ahead of the marathon and I rewarded myself with a nice rest week. I had pencilled in doing the Hartlepool Marina 5 miler the next Sunday but I was glad I didn’t as I thought it may have been one race too many.
In the final week I started running again going to both the Tuesday and Thursday night club sessions but running no faster than marathon pace on the reps. As usual before a race I rested Friday and did a very easy parkrun on the Saturday as I always like to wake my legs up the day before a race. This method is similar to my full taper whereas I slow everything down before picking it back up before a race.
So on the whole the training went very well with only a slight knee injury picked up while cycling when I should have rested. It didn’t stop me running but I was lucky it got better before it got worse.
On marathon day I felt I was as ready as I could have been. I’d had my 3 Weetabix and slice of toast and got to the race in good time. My first target for the marathon was to try and break the elusive 3 hour mark and that is all I was thinking about while training those 18 long weeks. This I knew was a big ask for me as I had never been remotely close before and doing a decent marathon run had always eluded me. I had confided in friends a few weeks before that I would have taken 3.05 there and then like a football team taking a draw before kick-off.
For the marathon I had set out a pacing plan and made up my own pace band. It had me doing the first mile in 7.15, then miles 2 to 9 at 7 minute mile pace, mile 10 at 6.55, mile 11 at 6.50, and then mile 12 to the end at 6.45 pace which would give me a finish time of 2.59.36. I’d never tried this strategy before apart from the tough test run at Locke Park 20 but I thought it was as good as if not better than trying to do it with an even split of 6.51. The thing with doing the first mile in 6.51 is the plan goes straight out the window if you are slowed down due to crowd congestion and then you are then playing catch up. This happened to me at London in 2010 with a 7.25 mile and from there all your splits are messed up. At least if you factor it in beforehand then it can’t go wrong, you just have to be prepared and willing to lift the pace later on in the race.
I got on the start line just behind the 3hr15min pacer (not ideal) and the gun went off fired by the legendary Ron Hill. I quickly tried to settle down into a 7.15 pace but this is difficult to get spot on as you are running at the crowds pace if you are in the middle of the road and I think everyone get a little bit carried away at the start of races, even marathons. It was a little fast but that was fine, as long as I wasn’t going sub 7 minute mile pace. I was always a firm believer in banking a few seconds here and there if you could but not anymore, it doesn’t work in the long run.
After passing the first mile marker in 7.08 I noticed a bloke running backwards looking for his mate who was in the process of catching up. Between the two there was some interesting dialogue.
Bloke 1 "where've you been?"
Bloke 2 "I got caught up in the crowds"
Bloke 1 "I was with the sub 3 hour pacer and he's only up the road, shall we catch him up, he'll be doing 6'50 pace"
(At this point after my steady start I couldn’t see the sub 3 hour pacer)
Bloke 2 "that's 10 seconds faster than our plan"
Bloke 1 "It'll be OK but we'll have to put a spurt in to catch him"
Bloke 2 "alright then"
And off they ran up the road with a big effort and the plan to run 10 seconds a mile faster. Good luck and see you soon I thought.
Over the course of the first half of the race I ran at a comfortable pace trying not to go any faster than 7 minute mile pace. This was partly achievable from what seemed like a constant head wind and some steady inclines. At approximately 12 when I was supposed to be up to 6.45 pace I’d noticed I had slipped behind my time but I didn’t panic and increased my pace to claw back the time. Going from over 7 minute mile paces to sub 6.45 was very enjoyable as I was starting to catch and pass quite a lot of people. It was whether I could keep it up until the end. At approximately 19 mile I caught sight of the sub 3 hour pacer for the first time and wondered what I would do when I caught him – would I just sit in the group or should I keep the pace going and go past him. Unfortunately I never got to make that decision! At approximately 22.5 miles I started getting twinges of cramp in my calf muscles. I had purposely worn compression shorts so I didn’t get cramp in my thigh muscles but id neglected my calf muscles and it was those that would put paid to my sub 3 hour marathon. First of all it was just the odd twinge so I had a quarter of an electrolyte tablet hoping it would instantly work – it didn’t. At this point I was within 25 metres of the sub 3 hour pacer and I could also see my nymac club mate Wayne Bouttell but I would get no closer to the pacer. I very slowly dropped off the pace over the course of 2 miles and eventually he went out of sight. In the last 2 miles the cramp was coming on more but I was able to maintain a sub 8 minute mile pace and I knew at this time I wasn’t going to break sub 3 hours but if I could keep going and hold on then I knew I’d be in for a good time still. In the last mile the amount of runners had really thinned out but there were plenty of spectators to give you support. As you had your name on your race number then they would call out your name. I turned the last left hand bend to see the finish line less than 100 metres away which was a massive relief and I was pleased to see the clock just ticking over 3 hours 2 minutes. My chip time was 3.01.45 smashing my pb by over 28 minutes.
I didn’t quite make the ‘A’ goal of a sub 3 hour time but I’m happy that I gave it a go with a solid plan and it nearly happened. I enjoyed the early steady pace, I enjoyed the lifting of the pace to 6.45 and passing loads of people and I was really pleased that I gave it a good go to get under 3 hours and knowing I was only going to miss out by a few minutes. I don’t think I would have enjoyed it as much if I missed out by a matter of seconds or if I actually got past the sub 3 hour pacer and then to get re-passed by him. It’s good to finally get a good marathon time down on Power of 10 to be proud of it and also get that monkey off my back. As for a sub 3 hour time, well I’ve got unfinished business there still. With a time of 3.01 marathon time I also qualify for a good for age place for London next year but to be honest I think I’ll stick with Manchester.
Anyway for all you fellow statos out there I’ve done a spreadsheet to see how my pacing went. You can see at mile 22 I was on the heels of the sub 3 hour pacer and a projection finish time of approx. 2.59. I’m not 100% sure of the splits especially the last 2 miles as I took all the data from my garmin and it came up short with 26.0 miles as it did at the Locke Park 20.
(I’ve adjusted these figures to suit my chip time rather than gun time)
The course is a good one – fairly flat with only a few up and over bridges and some long drags but nothing steep. As far as i can remember there was plenty of support throughout the course, especially at the start and end. I don’t know how many feed stations there were as I didn’t rely on them. I do remember seeing people handing out High-5 gels which wasn’t in the script, a station handing out the Clif shotblocs still in the packets which would have been a chew on to remove and many people from the general public handing out jelly babies. There were plenty of water stations but I'm still shocked to see people selfishly cut across your path to get to the first bottle on the feed station as if they can't go another step without a drop of water.
Hope you have enjoyed my report and if I have to give only one bit of advice it would be to try and run a negative split. I successfully did it and there’s not a better feeling than passing people rather than getting passed by people. Good luck.