­2014 London Marathon Race Report by Catherine Wilding

It promised to be one of the most exciting races ever.  The London Marathon was to bear witness to the double Olympic Champion – Mo Farah – making his debut over the 26.2 mile distance.  Ever since Mo turned up on the start line of the London Marathon in 2013 to “practice” going off with the leaders, before dropping out at the half way point, we have waited with eager anticipation to see what could happen in the second half.

Mo Farah after his baptism of fire. Photo © Telegraph
Mo Farah after his baptism of fire. Photo © Telegraph

After a year-long wait, here was the nations sporting hero and Olympic Champion “stepping up to the road”, carrying the hope of a winning debut on the Mall to add to his Olympic glory. For once, the Marathon made headline news.

It ended in disappointment, not just for Mo but for the rest of us – the media, the commentators and anyone who thought that Mo may be able to shake off the dominance of the Kenyan’s and Ethiopians.  2.08.21 was the finish time for Mo,  8th place and 4 minutes behind the winner, Wilson Kipsang.  Mo may just have settled for a new British record if not an outright win, but he even missed that by almost a minute.

So what happened?

The stakes were set high. There were some formidable names on the start line – Kipsang  (the current World Record Holder), Mutai, Kebede and Olympic champion Kiprotich.  All eclipsed however by the legendary Gabreselassie who was here to run as a pacemaker.  That’s right, the former world record holder was here to pace the leaders beyond the half way point with the aim of setting a new world record.

It seemed a risky strategy to assume that anyone making their debut over the distance would not only be able to win but also walk away with a new world record.  So, Farah and his coach, Alberto Salazar made the decision for Mo to run in a group, a few seconds back from the leaders. Mo was to hold back, 30 seconds off the pace with a half-way target time of 62.15. Presumably the rest of the plan – which was not discussed – was that Mo would catch the leaders in the second half and pick up the pace to run a blisteringly fast last 10K.  That was the plan.

It was much debated and the media couldn’t understand why Mo – a runner who runs every race with the self-belief to win it  – was not in the mix from the beginning with the leaders.  But any experienced coach and marathon runner knows that a few seconds too fast in the first half can cost dearly in the remaining miles.

The early miles

It was a day that runners refer to as “ideal marathon running conditions” – clear blue skies, a chill in the air and a temperature on the start line of 9 degrees. As the gun fired at 10am, the first group went off with the pacemakers and Mo followed just a few steps behind. So far, so good, but by the 5K mark the gap had opened up and Mo was already 27 seconds behind the leaders. Beyond the 10K mark it was starting to look like Mo was working a little harder than perhaps he should have been – still off the pace and more importantly off the plan.  Realising this he picked up the pace for the next 5K and ran a faster 5K split at this stage than the lead group.  In his efforts to make up ground and catch the lead pack, this burst of speed so early in the race could have been his downfall.  The pacemakers for the second group had a plan to stick to and that was to go through half way at 62.15.  As they kept to the pace, Mo had fallen further back from the pacemakers and was working hard to try to bring them back. At the half-way point with a time of 63.08, it was clear that his race was not going to plan.

By mile 17 it was even more evident that Mo was starting to tire and his pace slowed.  He was starting to look less like a marathon runner as he didn’t quite have the ease in his stride that the leaders had.  His dream of a home win was now – like the lead group – surely out of sight.

Meanwhile, at the front of the race, a pack of eight runners entirely dominated by Kenyans and Ethiopians had opened up a significant gap.  The pace was quick – too quick maybe – for Gabreselassie who had been scheduled to pace until the 16 mile mark, but had dropped out just after half way.

Killer finish

Just after the 30K mark, Kipsang who was looking comfortable and almost as if he was biding his time, suddenly surged away from the pack.  Only Stanley Biwott responded and went with him. The two then ran together along the Embankment until with just over 2km to go, Kipsang surged again and never looked back.  He opened up a gap of 26 seconds in the last 2km, sprinting down the Mall to set a new course record of 2.04.29 – 11 seconds faster than Emmanuel Mutai’s record set in 2011.  It was Mo Farah the crowds had hoped to see but next came Biwott in 2.04.55 to make it a double Kenyan victory with Kebede the Ethiopian finishing third in 2.06.30.

The British men didn’t make much of an impact on the Kenyans and Ethiopians, with Mo in 8th place and Chris Thompson not too far behind in 11th place at 2.11.19.  It was also another disappointing race for Scott Overall who having gone out at 2.10 pace and passed the half way mark in 1.05.05 finished in a disappointing 2.19.55.

Enthralling women’s race

Kiplagat victorious for the first time. Photo © Run247
Kiplagat victorious for the first time. Photo © Run247

It’s fair to say that the women’s race was overshadowed by the excitement of the men’s but in a separate story, the plot line here was remarkably similar.  Tirunesh Dibaba – double Olympic champion in the 5K and 10K was also making her debut over the marathon distance.  The race, however, for Dibaba was more closely fought than for Farah.  The Kenyan’s, Florence and Edna Kiplagat (not related) lead the race with Dibaba in the group going through half way in 1.09.17.  All three looked in contention until the 18 mile point when a debacle at the drinks station left Dibaba behind.  Dibaba reached for her bottle, dropping it and then stopping to pick it up.  The Kiplagat’s had seen the mistake and with a quick glance and exchange to each other they took advantage to surge ahead opening up a gap of 5 seconds. This seems to be where Dibaba lost her chance of a debut win.  From there she couldn’t close the gap.  It was Edna and Florence that were still leading side by side with 800m to go.  As they turned into the Mall, it was Edna that had the final kick. Having twice finished second in London perhaps she was more determined as she sprinted to the finish line in a time of 2.20.11 leaving Florence 3 seconds behind in 2.20.14. Another double win for the Kenyan’s.  The gap for Dibaba had now opened up to 11 seconds as she finished 3rd in 2.20.35.

Of the two track-stars, it is Dibaba that showed the most promise, keeping the leaders in her sights and securing a podium finish. A runner who is used to coming from behind and with a big kick in the closing stages of a race, who knows how the story could have unfolded for Dibaba had she not dropped her bottle.  We’re sure she’ll be back.

In the elite race, the lead British woman was Amy Whitehead in a time of 2.34.20 with the 44 year old Emma Stepto a couple of minutes behind in 2.36.04.

A little further back from the lead men was Simon Freeman. He breezed along looking a little too comfortable and with a smile and a wave he cruised to the finish line to break the 3 hour mark in style with a 2.58.55. He said “I was running comfortably and within myself and the difference in terms of pain and suffering is incredible.  It was an amazing experience.” You can read about his race here.

The marathon distance can never be underestimated. “I know what the marathon is about now and hopefully I will come back stronger” Mo added with the greatest respect for the greatest race.

 

Running Naturally In Berlin by Catherine Wilding

Be Careful What You Wish For

There is a well known saying be careful what you wish for because it might just come true.  I have said many times that I would like to visit Berlin for a weekend.  It’s a city known for its incredible history and culture, but for a runner it is best known for its world record Marathon course and the opportunity to set a PB.  After a chequered couple of years of running, my PB moment hasn’t arisen and my trip to Berlin has slipped further down my travel agenda.

So, when I received an invitation from Asics to visit Berlin it was as if the genie had just popped out of the lamp and my wish had been granted. It wasn’t to run the Marathon but to discover Asics interpretation of natural running and get a sneak preview of their new Gel-Lyte 33 shoe to be launched later this year [ please check back in a couple of weeks for a review] It also happily coincided with the Asics Grand 10K.

Natural Running

The big topic for discussion in running circles in the last couple of years has been barefoot running and natural running.  Natural running – as distinct from barefoot running – enables the body to move in the most efficient way enabling the runner to move in a motion that most accurately mimics how one would naturally run barefoot, whilst protecting the feet by way of running shoes.  It’s entirely reasonable of running brands to assume that most of us do need to wear shoes when we run.  The majority of people live in an urban environment and therefore barefoot running simply isn’t practical. What we need therefore is a shoe that allows natural movement whilst providing adequate protection from the hazards of urban living.

If you look carefully you can spot Catherine in this shot!

The clever people at Asics have recognised that the trend for natural running is gathering apace and have therefore tried to open it up to all levels of runners by developing a range of shoes that help the runner transition from running in heavily cushioned stability shoes to a minimalist shoe.

Asics have worked with Dr Matthias Marqaurdt to develop a range of shoes to enable the runner to best experience a natural running technique.  Dr Matthias is – by his own admission – Germany’s leading expert in all matters relating to natural running.  He has dedicated his entire working life to researching ways of making the runner more efficient and able to run injury free.  He has developed his theories by studying movement analysis and performance diagnostics of both athletes and regular runners. And by studying how man runs barefoot.

Doctor’s Orders

On a sunny Saturday in Berlin we are privileged to have the man himself explain what natural running is.  He begins by telling us a series of facts including that between 30-50% of runners will be injured every year.  As a Doctor and serious runner himself, his goal is injury prevention and he believes that by perfecting our running technique we can minimise injury.  So his aim is that we achieve the most effective running gait – and that is one that closely approximates the natural human motion sequence.

He helpfully explains the difference between a heel strike; a mid-foot strike and a forefoot strike.  If we all ran barefoot as we did for the first 180,000 years of mankind then we would all be forefoot strikers.  However with the advent of shoes and latterly cushioned running shoes, the majority of us have become heel strikers.  Mid-foot strikers are the least likely to become injured and ideally we can learn to become efficient mid-foot strikers and (re)-learn how to run efficiently.   This involves activating and strengthening the right muscles; paying attention to technique and of course wearing the right shoes.

Dr Matthias (as he likes to be known) does however add that natural running isn’t for everyone and requires a fairly high level of conditioning of the body. The average over-weight runner who may have experienced Achilles issues is probably not ready for natural running and is better sticking with their cushioned stability shoes.  He also stresses that natural running should not be practised on all training runs and natural running shoes should be an addition to regular training shoes.

So – in summary – a serious runner who is well conditioned should have a second pair of training shoes to help achieve a natural running technique on shorter training runs.  And this is the shoe that Asics has developed with the Gel-Lyte 33.

Dr Matthias is certainly a fine specimen of German engineering and if we all had bodies as highly conditioned as his we would all be perfect mid-foot strikers running with the prescribed natural running technique, in perfect unison, and all running injuries would be eradicated. However, a conditioned body like his takes weeks, months and years of dedication and the average obese German – which he keeps referring to –  will probably never achieve it.

Testing The Techniques

However some of us keener runners can aspire to a natural running technique and we are therefore kitted out in some rather fabulous new kit and a pair of the new Gel-Lyte 33 shoes to test our aptitude for natural running.

Our master class in natural running involves some fairly simple calf muscle activation exercises; bench step ups to activate the gluteus maximus muscles and some side plank leg raises to activate the gluteus medius.  We are then encouraged to try some exaggerated poor running techniques to emphasise what the correct technique looks and feels like. We finish with some arm exercises and a group exercise to get a feel for running cadence.

It certainly made me pay attention to technique and get a feel for how one can improve efficiency and speed through small adjustments in form.  The natural running shoes definitely felt different to my usual heavy stability shoes.  The obvious but only word I can think of to describe the experience:  natural.

Berlin Asics Grand 10

After a late Saturday night I woke up on a Sunny Sunday morning in Berlin ready to run the 10K.

This was the icing on the cake or the cherry on top of a weekend dedicated to running.  Conditions were perfect and for anyone in PB shape it was a dream come true.  With little time to prepare for my 10K and well off PB shape I was only here to have fun.  But it was a great opportunity to try out the techniques I had learned the day before.

The race was started with Germanic precision by Jan Frodeno –the 2008 Gold medal winning triathlete.  Sadly, he was also well off PB shape having fractured his fibula head after a spectacular fall in a race.  Still wearing his natural running shoes, he hobbled on crutches.

The Berlin Asics Grand 10 should definitely be on the racing calendar for anyone aiming for a PB. The loop course consists of wide, flat roads with only a couple of very minor inclines and a short cobbled stretch to hinder the pace.  The only drawback is the lack of timing along the course.  I was running without a watch and the only split I got was at 5K.  However I somehow managed a metronomic pace. I ran a perfectly even split, keeping what felt like a steady pace.

I was clearly enjoying myself and having a little bit too much fun.  At the 7K mark I decided it was time to implement the arm movements I had learned under Dr Matthias’ tutelage and see how long I could maintain the action.  I also observed my push off and noted that as I extended my back leg I did seem to increase my speed.  However I quickly reverted to just running which is what I think I do best.  I also took a moment to think about what I think about when I am running in a race which appeared to be nothing more than whether I think I can realistically go any faster.  I observed my thoughts to see how much of racing is in the mind and how what we tell ourselves affects our performance.  Once I saw the 9K mark I decided it was time to stop thinking about my arm movements and observing my thoughts and just start trying to run a bit faster.

I was a long way off the leaders. At the front of the field was Leonard Komon in a very fast time of 27.46.  He holds the current course record of 27.12 set in 2010 and his time is the 10th fastest recorded for the 10K this year.  The womens race was won by the 22 year old German Anna Hahner in a very respectable 33.50 only one week after running 2.30.37 in the Chicago marathon.

 

There’s nothing you can’t do…..

Ed: This piece by Catherine Wilding is the first guest post on this site and I’m really delighted to have her on board. If you’d like to contribute please contact me.

I’ve noted that other runners write about pace, split times, race conditions and how their training has been erratic / hardcore / blighted by work commitments (delete as appropriate.) As my blog is about running, I may come on to that but it was the crunch of golden leaves under my Nike Structure-Triax this morning that compelled me to write.  It has to be one of my favourite sounds.  It reminds me why I love running and particularly so when the low Autumnal sunlight is streaming through the trees in Hyde Park.

As the trees turn, my thoughts are firmly fixed on an important event in my yearly calendar.  It is the New York City Marathon. For the past two years I have lined up as a professional athlete in New York, and on both occasions I’ve failed to achieve my goal.   The streets of New York City are both exciting and intimidating, running in the women’s professional field – which means mostly running alone.

New York City Marathon

This year, I am heading out to New York to run the marathon again, only this time I’ll be in the main field.  Like many people who have trained for a marathon my training has been upset by injury, illness and a stressful new job.  It’s hard to train like a professional athlete when you aren’t one.  Everyone who has trained for a marathon knows that the physical training is both hard and time consuming.  But equally important for any athlete and any runner – no matter how serious or good they consider themselves – is the mental preparation.  If you are reasonably fit and mentally strong, you will run a good race.  If you are incredibly fit and mentally weak, you are unlikely to achieve your goal.

Mental preparedness

And this is what has been worrying me the most.  Whilst my training hasn’t been quite what I’d like this year, it is the lack of mental preparation which has affected me the most.  The race has been on and then off.  Then on again after my achilles tendonitis cleared, then off when I got ill, then on again, and off when it all felt too overwhelming and I didn’t feel fit.

As an athlete, I didn’t want to run another disappointing marathon. As a runner, I couldn’t bear to give up my goal.  I sought advice from runners and non-runners but it was the wisdom of a Mr Simon Freeman [ed: gulp!] that impacted me the most:

“I know you have very high standards and I suspect that whilst you think that you are not in great shape, you are probably in better shape than you think. Still, I know how it is to feel below par and not at your best. However a good strong run in a city you love, at an event that I think could be the greatest marathon in the world, might just be great fun and I know there are many examples of runners being forced to take time off who end up having really great races because the intrinsic fitness is there and whilst the sharpness might be missing, the joy of running makes up for that.”

Why I run

His advice resonated loudly.  It reminded me why I run.  It’s because I enjoy it.  With one week to go, I am now able to mentally prepare myself for a race I’m going to enjoy.  With my goal fixed, I’m able to focus on the mental strength I need.

So, on Sunday November 6th, I will line up on the Verrazano Narrows Bridge as someone who just loves running and when I enter Central Park, just past mile 23, I will notice the sunlight through the trees and listen to the crunch of the leaves under my running shoes.  When I cross the finish line I will know I’ve achieved my goal.  The time on the clock will be an indication of whether the physical preparation outweighs the mental preparation, but that remains to be seen.

Ed: Catherine goes off to New York with all my best wishes and I have no doubt she will have a great race and learn a lot from the experience. She has promised to write a review of the event on her return that I will post here.