Training, racing and time on the feet: why slower marathons are as challenging as faster ones.

In the last two weeks, I have run two marathons. That makes it three marathons since 21 April, i.e. five weeks ago. And I have learned from all of them. But the lessons have been very different, certainly between the first marathon and the last two.

The first marathon this spring was the London marathon and you can read my race report here. The second was the Copenhagen marathon which I ran with Charlie Dark from the RunDemCrew. Then yesterday I ran a trail race with my wife in Devon, part of the Endurance Life Coastal Trail Series.

Endurance Life Coastal Trail Series Race report

Trail running at its best!
Trail running at its best!

The Coastal Trail Series races have featured a few times in our racing calendars since a friend, Alex from my running club, introduced Julie and I to them with a half marathon race on Chesil Beach a couple of years ago.

These races are the antithesis of the big city marathon: friendly people, stunning wild scenery, off-road trails and – as far as I have experienced them – very, very un-flat!

Yesterday’s race was no exception.

With all the wonderful activity that had been keeping us super-busy at freestak recently, Julie and I were not as organised as we should have been and we ended up deciding that we would drive to the race on the morning of it. That meant getting up at 3am to drive for four hours towards Plymouth. Seeing the moon ahead of us, as big as a plate in the sky while the most amazing sunrise lit up the hills and bathed Stone Henge, shrouded in morning mist, with golden light as we drove past, was worth the effort of getting up alone and set the tone for the day.

We arrived at the venue – a large field on the Flete Estate – and parked up. Immediately the Endurance Life team were friendly, welcoming and full of life. I was full of coffee!

After a typically easy-going race briefing, at 8:50am we were off: a big gaggle of chatting, laughing, encouraging runners making their way down a country lane to the beach and on to the coastal path for a two-loop race of around 28 miles.

The scenery and the weather were stunning all day (I have a few patches of sun burn to prove it) and the banter with the other runners – particular shout out here to Rory Coleman and his amazing up-hill technique – meant that we were just moving fast along the paths without a care in the world, taking photos and chatting all the way.Screen Shot 2013-05-27 at 09.06.27

The finish was great – the field was full of people who had run the half marathon and 10km options as well as the 33 marathon finishers in front of us – and we were soon munching on a delicious locally produced burger and enjoying an equally delicious, albeit much less locally produced lager.

Job done: race completed at a decent pace, no stroppy incidents, perfect weather, no injuries and massive, massive grins on our faces.

Lessons learned from two marathons

I have taken two important things from these two recent races.

Self-ee with wife-e
Self-ee with wife-e

The first is about sharing. Both the Copenhagen marathon and the CTS race – whilst very different from one another – involved running with someone else. My London marathon experience was all about the ego. There is not much to share and indeed the training as well as the racing, was pretty selfish. But Copenhagen and yesterday’s races were about taking on a challenge with people I love and care about and enjoying being part of an amazing experience with them.

I think there is a place for single-minded, oblivious focus and striving to achieve something yourself for yourself. But balancing that with the opportunity to share laughter, pain, struggle and victory with someone else is, in my opinion, an unbeatable experience. Long live the team!

The other thing I have learned is that being able to run a 2:37 marathon does not really prepare you for running a 3:48 marathon or a 5 hour, 28 mile trail race. I think that I went into both thinking that physically I ‘had got this’ and whilst I feel fine, I have relearned the respect that you need to show to long, slow races and ultra-distance races.

I have not been training for three+ hours runs. My longest training runs in the lead up to the London marathon were two and a half hours. Yesterday I ran for more than double that. Sure, from a cardio-vascular point of view, I had no problem handling the pace. But my 60kg frame was putting pressure on hips, knees, ankles and feet for much, much longer than I have been used to and let me tell you – I can feel that today!

So, thank you to the ever-beautiful Julie for yesterday’s amazing run. And thank you to Charlie Dark for last weekend’s similarly epic run. I have learned a lot from both of you and from both events, mainly that you train for what you intend to race and if that is for a three, seven or 24 hours race, you had better be prepared… you cannot blag a marathon, no way!

Leave a Reply