The Simple (Simon) Guide to Racing a Marathon – Part three: Fuel

Eat

As with hydration, I think that during the race, the best you can hope for is to top up your fuel stores as best you can. The body can absorb 90grms of carbohydrate per hour which equates to about 360 kcal.

In general running is considered to require about 500 kcal per hour. However this is a rough estimate. For a man of my weight running at my target pace of 6 min/mile the rate of calorie burn rises to almost 1000 kcal per hour.

Depletion is inevitable. The ‘wall’ isn’t.

Even if I consume 90g carbohydrate per hour, that will deliver around about 360 kcal which is less than I need to run at my target pace. However provided that in the days leading up to the race, I manage to eat well and top up the carbohydrate stores in my body – the endogenous fuel – there will be about 2,000 kcal that I have in my body to which I add the gels as I go.

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The ‘wall’ is something I have encountered a few times – once in the London marathon – and it is pretty real. When it happened to me in the London, the change from feeling good and barreling along at 2hr 40min pace to shuffling through an aid station guzzling energy drink and gels, took just two miles – 15 minutes. Thankfully the recovery was equally swift and I was able to finish that year in 2hrs 43min. But I had missed my target by 8 minutes and those minutes were spent trying to refuel.

So my aim when I am racing a marathon is to buffer the endogenous carbohydrate stores that I have through the consumption of gels, in my case those from TORQ Fitness.

My plan in London this year is to take six gels during the race – one every 30 minutes – to keep the depletion of muscle glycogen stores to a minimum and to give the ‘wall’ a miss altogether. I would say that for most runners who are trying to race the best they can, a similar strategy will be beneficial.

The Simple (Simon) Guide to Racing a Marathon – Part two: Hydration

Drink

I don’t think it is possible to race a marathon (I use the word ‘race’ as against ‘run’ or ‘complete’ because ‘race’ to me means pushing as close to your limits as you can) without getting dehydrated.

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As with so many things relating to a marathon, the key here is making sure you get it right in the days leading up to your race, so drink plenty in the few days before the race – and if you have to go to a race expo and walk around for hours looking at the latest gadget or pair of shoes, take a BIG bottle of water with you: a few sample cups of energy drink is not sufficient. Then on the morning of the race sip something like water or a diluted energy drink and make sure that you empty your bladder as close to the start of the race as possible.

During the race

Quite simply the act of getting water in your mouth when you are running as fast as you can, is not easy and at best you are likely to only get a mouthful or so. And even if you can get water into your mouth, your stomach can only absorb a certain amount and you really don’t want water sloshing around inside you as you run. So ‘little and often’ is my best advice here.

It has been reported that the great Haile Gebrselassie was 9% dehydrated when he set the then world record of 2:03:59. And his last mile was astonishingly fast. So dehydration can be managed. Just take a mouthful as often as you think is necessary, don’t drink too much and make sure you are very well hydrated before you start. Now that’s not complicated, is it?

 

The Simple (Simon) Guide to Racing a Marathon – Part one: Timing

It was my birthday a while ago and my aunt sent me one of those gently amusing cards that cause very little offence or mirth. Here it is…

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But it got me thinking about how all too often, achieving a goal can become a daunting exercise over over-whelming complexity. I know it was for my first few races.

But now I take a much simpler approach to the marathon and I thought I would share my plan with you in four blog posts over the next week:

  1. Timing (this post)
  2. Hydration
  3. Nutrition
  4. Psychology

Time to think about time

I really strongly suggest that you do not use a GPS to manage your pace on race day. They are notoriously inaccurate and especially when surrounded by 37,000 other GPS watches.

If you are running a marathon that has its course measured by the Association of UK Course Measurers, then the mile markers are accurate. Very accurate.

If your GPS beeps to tell you that you have run a mile before or after the mile marker… then your GPS is wrong. Thinking otherwise is a mistake that too many runners make.

If you accept that your GPS device might be a bit out, then think about this: if your GPS is short by 15 seconds per mile, that is six and a half minutes for a marathon. If you are aiming for a sub-4 hour marathon, your GPS only needs to be 43 meters out per mile – which is only 2.7% – and you will finish in 4 hours 6 minutes.

So what do I suggest?

A stopwatch. I use a GPS watch, but I turn off the GPS function and just use the watch as a stopwatch. Each time I pass a mile marker, I hit the lap button. If the time for the last mile is more than my target pace, I am behind schedule and if it is less than my target pace, I am ahead of schedule. I can then adjust as necessary. Simple.

The next post will be up in a couple of days. In the mean time, what do you use to make sure you are on pace? Or do you not bother with that? Let me know what your tactics are and how you have honed them in the past.

Running around Hyde Park with Liz, yelling.

You laughin' at me?
You laughin’ at me?

In my very humble opinion, I think that Liz Yelling has all the attributes of a top coach – she has ‘been-there-done-that-and-got-the-t-shirt’, she has a really friendly way with us normal runners and none of the unnecessary airs and graces that could come with being an elite athlete, she has bags of enthusiasm, she can still really run and… she has a great voice for barking out instructions. All this I know, because I met her tonight for a little training session along with some tips and advice in advance of the London marathon, in five week’s time.

Hyde Park, but no where to hide

We – that is Liz and the two other runners who were invited for the session – met at Marble Arch in central London, just as the sun was starting to set on a rather grey day. There were some quick introductions and then we were off, jogging through Hyde Park towards a spot on the side of the Serpentine that Liz is clearly all too familiar with.

After a short warm-up, Liz took the three of us through some drills, which she explained are better for activating the muscles before a session then static stretching. Since meeting my coach, I have started doing these sorts of drills, but it was nice to see a couple of different ones that Liz uses and she helpfully pointed out that the ones she showed us could be done standing still or moving forward, depending on whether there is space to move around.

The session and some clear instructions

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Me and Liz Yelling

After the warm-up and the drill, came the session. This was a mixed pace session, involving running on a set loop on the paths in the park. We set off at marathon pace for a set period and then, after a short standing recovery, turned and ran back the way we had come at threshold pace, aiming to get back to the start point faster than we had run the out-leg. Then we repeated the exercise with the out-leg at threshold and the return-leg at faster than that. The final set was – for me at least – a return to the first set.

Almost as we started the session a big group from British Military Fitness took up residence on the patch of grass that we were running around. There were at least 20 trainees and three military instructors and as they grunted and puffed and growled their way through the session the army instructors barked out instructions and orders and motivation. They were noisy in fact.

But Liz took this completely in her stride and covered the ground between where we started and finished to call out the end of each rep and the recovery times. I was worried that I might not hear Liz and I would need to time myself. I needn’t have worried – as clear as a bell, over the racket of the soldiers and their mini-squaddies, Liz’s voice rang out. A great attribute for a coach, to be heard like that!

I thought the session is a great way to get in some faster running with a clear focus on what needs to be done – measuring your effort on the way out and then upping it for the way back. It also means that a group of mixed abilities can train together starting and finishing in the same spot.

We finished off with some strides (I can confirm that retirement from international marathon running has done nothing to dent Yelling’s speed!) and a short cool-down as the darkness descended in the park, ending a really good – albeit short – session.

Tips from a seasoned pro.

While we were running, Liz shared some of her tips for the final few weeks of the marathon and I thought I’d pass them on:

  1. Liz said that on race-day she has a very light breakfast: three slices of white toast with butter and jam, maybe a slice of cake (cake featured quite prominently in the conversation throughout our time with Liz!) and a cup of tea or coffee. She said that anything heavy and fibrous like porridge can be hard to digest and went on to suggest that race-day breakfast should be practiced before the big day
  2. Gels form an important part of Liz’s race nutrition and she said that in a marathon she would take six of them. In her case the gels would be taped to bottles that were laid out for the elite athletes, whereas the rest of us have to carry them. But they are obviously useful and worth getting right in training
  3. We talked about pacing and Liz said that knowing your pace is crucial. I was pleased to hear that Liz used the same tactic I do in races – a stopwatch and target split times written on the wrist. She admitted using a GPS in a race once and said that due the inaccuracy that is standard with all GPSs, it was one of the biggest mistakes she ever made
  4. Liz has never needed to use the loo in a race. She told us that it is crucial that runners plan their race-morning preparation to make sure they are completely comfortable when they set off and remain so throughout a race like the marathon
  5. During the taper, Liz would maintain the frequency of her runs, i.e. if she ran every day, she would continue to do that all the way up to the race, but reduce the duration and intensity of the runs to the point where the run the day before the race would be a 30 minute jog. She didn’t like not running because it left her feeling stiff and tight

The future?

I asked Liz about her future plans and whilst she said that for now she is enjoying not putting herself through the rigours of hard training, which she has done from the age of 9 years old, she does love the mountains and thinks that one day she might have a crack at the North Face Ultra Trail de Mont Blanc, just for the experience. But it is clear that the plans are far from firm yet: it is just something Liz thinks she’d like to do one day.

One thing that is clear though, is that Liz is still driven and competitive. She admitted that she cares about where she comes when she enters a Park Run (first woman usually and overall winner in at least one race recently) and she is also focused on the athletes she is training. And one thing is for sure, Liz will make sure anyone she works with hear her and know exactly what is expected of them!

 

 

 

A note about the kit – I ran the session tonight in a pair of adiZero Boston. There will be a more in-depth review, but they have immediately become one of my favourite shoes. Light, firm and roomy in the toe-box, I think I’ll be using these for hilly races and lots of faster tempo-style training runs. The tights and t-shirt were old ones I had at home. The jacket is from the new London Marathon 2013 range, but I actually ended up with a women’s jacket, so the less said about that the better! Nice jacket though.

The truth about being the best runner I can be

As some readers of this blog will be aware, I recently managed to make the leap from my passion for all things running, into the way that I make my living: my wife and I have set up a social media and marketing business for running and endurance sports brands. The business is called freestak and you can check it out at www.freestak.com.

I love my work. I have a legitimate reason to spend time reading, thinking and talking about two of my favourite things – social media and endurance sports. At freestak we have a wonderful group of clients all of whom have exciting products that we really believe in. My job involves creating and delivering campaigns which I really love doing… but (you knew there would be a ‘but’) it is not easy. We are very, very busy and the amount of sleep I get seems to be inversely proportionate to the amount that I care about what we are doing. And I really, really care! So sleep is a rare commodity.

At the same time, I have been striving to get myself in the right shape to run a PB in the upcoming London marathon. But I am discovering that the two things – the growth of freestak and the desire to run a faster marathon – aren’t entirely compatible. Training has been patchy – a couple of really good 80+ miles weeks, then a crash and a 40 mile week, applying ice to various injuries and being a moody bastard.

Me being the best I can be.
Me being the best I can be.

So I have been wondering what on earth I am doing, questioning what I am trying to prove and what my priorities are? Listening to too many people and starting to feel really negative about my running. Then in the space of three days I read two things which have really resonated with me and I’d like to share them with you (and perhaps give myself a well-deserved kick in the backside!)

The first thing that I have been reading is James Cracknell and Beverley Turner’s new book, Touching Distance. In case you have not heard about this book, it recounts the period of their lives when James and his wife, Beverley, were dealing with a near-fatal accident that James suffered whilst cycling across the USA as part of a challenge he was taking on. He suffered a very severe head injury which led to changes in his personality that both James and Bev recount in the book. You can read about the accident here.

The start of the book is mainly the story of James’ life as an Olympian and elite athlete and it really tells a warts-and-all account of the ups and downs of trying to be the best in the world. At one point, having won Olympic gold, James writes that:

I believe there’s a gulf mentally between ‘not carrying on’ and ‘giving up’, even if, practically, it amounts to the same thing

This was at the point at which James was married, starting a family, getting older and wondering whether he had the drive to train for another four years to try to get to the Beijing Olympic Games.

In my own little way, I can really relate to that. I am not suggesting for a moment that I am on the same level as someone like Cracknell, but if I commit to lowering my marathon PB, that will involve running eight, nine or even ten times per week. That means spending somewhere in the region of 9 hours a week running, which is only the half of it, because I believe that for every minute actually running, it takes at least one more minute to get ready, wash kit, eat, stretch, travel to training sessions, lay on the sofa eating malt-loaf, etc. That means that it could easily take 20+ hours a week to train for a marathon. That is a big commitment at the best of times, let alone when I am trying to build freestak and do the best possible job for our clients.

I realise that this might sound as though I’m wimping out. And that is part of the problem. For me now, training has started to become something that I don’t really enjoy. I am not sure I really want a PB enough to put myself through what I know it will take to achieve it. That is not to say that I have made a decision one way or another, but I am not sure I have the drive to do all the training.

This is where the other thing that I read comes in. One of my training partners, Steve Tranter (@tranter_ on Twitter) sent me a link to an article in Running Times magazine written by an American runner and journalist called David Aim, who had the opportunity to spend a few days with a group of elite level athletes, during which time he discovers that, to some extent, the different between elite runners and recreational runners is their attitude.

One of the passages that really struck me in the article, was about how, in the desire to record ever better times, we can lose sight of why we run in the first place:

who of us hasn’t considered how our peers will react to our performance in a given race, whether good or bad? And in those moments, whom are we ultimately running for? The sport is difficult enough as it is; doing it for anyone but ourselves makes it unsustainable (David Aim)

I started running to improve my self-esteem, to lose weight, to take control of my life and undo the physical damage that I had been doing to myself since my late-teens with cigarettes, alcohol and general bad-living. I soon discovered that I wanted to see how good I could be. But what I seem to have lost sight of, is that I live in a set of circumstances and what I need to remember is that I am trying to be the best runner I can be in those circumstances.

There is no point comparing myself to anyone else: I have no idea what their circumstances or motivations are. And moreover there is no point in comparing ‘me now’ to ‘me then’ – my circumstances have changed and I should be striving to be the best runner I can be in today’s circumstances.

Now I come to think of it, every time I have had the opportunity to meet and talk to elite athletes they have been the same as those described in the Running Times article – kind, encouraging, helpful, modest. None of them has belittled me or the results I have achieved. I recently met Haile Gebrselassie and he said that my marathon PB was great, for goodness sake! The same cannot be said for many of the non-elite athletes that I train with and associate with.

So I am going to try to develop a mind-set closer to that described by David Aim in his Running Times piece – I am going to try to develop an elite attitude and see where that takes my running. Here are my new rules, courtesy of David and his elite friends:

4 Keys to An Elite Attitude

1 – Don’t treat training runs or race times as indications of your self-worth

2 – Value every runner’s efforts, success and potential

3 – Don’t beat yourself up in training or in evaluating your workouts and racing

4 – Recognize that your running ability is a result of many factors, not just how serious you are or how hard you push

 

The value of a target

Like many people, I suppose, I started running to lose weight and keep fit. Somewhere in my cortex was the nagging feeling that I really shouldn’t live such a sedentary life: out of bed, sit down for breakfast, walk to the car or the tube and sit down on my commute to the office… where I sit down for the day and then sit down on my commute home before sitting down for dinner and then on the sofa for a couple of hours before going back to bed. I just instinctively knew that was all wrong.

The difference with training

Have a target

But training for something is different to running to keep fit or running because you feel that you ought to. Training, for me, is about constantly pushing the boundaries of what you are, and what you believe you are, capable of. You don’t need to run six, seven, eight or even nine or ten times a week to keep a promise to your ancestors. You probably should, but you don’t need to.

Once you are into running every day and then twice a day a few days a week, with only the occasional rest day and then adding cross-training or strength and conditioning work on top of that, then you must be training for something: something challenging and motivating and slightly beyond what you have done before. A target.

And this is why I believe that targets are so important

Once you have set yourself a target, then you know what you have to achieve and by when. From that point, it is a matter of working out what you need to do between then and now to achieve your target. There are suggestions for how you should plan the time you have between when you set your target and the date of the target:

  1. don’t increase the amount and intensity of the training you are doing too fast – you’ll just get tired and/or injured
  2. make sure you incorporate rest into your schedule – that includes whole days off and weeks when you drop the mileage and intensity
  3. plan for sore muscles and fatigue by making sure you get a massage from time to time and making sure you can sleep enough
  4. have some flexibility in your schedule to take into account illness or commitments that you weren’t expecting
  5. try to make sure that you have the means to eat well as you ramp up the training

I also think that it is important that the target should be a logical step on from something you have done before. If you’ve run a 10km then target a half-marathon. If you’ve run a half-marathon then target a marathon. If you’ve run any distance, set a target to run it faster. The reason I say this, is that I think it’s important for the target to be challenging, but not feel impossible. I once worked for a chap who used to talk about the portion of our sales target that was “unidentified reach” – which basically meant the sales that we had no idea where we there were going to come from. If the portion of the sales target that was unidentified reach go too big, the stress levels would really rise. So make your target something that you are at least partly confident you can achieve.

Tactics

So what do I do when I have set myself a target. Well it is a combination of the following:

  • get advice from people who have already achieved what you are hoping to achieve – think Felix Baumgartner calling upon Colonel Joe Kittinger for his super-sky dive.
  • surround yourself with positive people who believe in you as much, if not more, than you do.
  • research: read books and watch videos, especially when your fortitude starts to waver.
  • have a store of inspiration – videos, books or music – that really gets you pumped up. This is one of my favourites.
  • break it all down. You don’t need to go and run your marathon PB tomorrow – take each day, each week, each month one at a time and bank each one for when the day comes.
  • be consistent. It is important that you do go for that run today or stretch or do that core session or not get plastered on a Friday night. All of these things will add up to deliver you to you target in great shape.
  • be patient. There are no shortcuts. It will be hard at times and there will be set-backs, but just keep steadfastly plodding along and you’ll get there.
  • visualise the moment when it all pays off. I can’t tell you how many times, in my mind, I ran up the Mall towards the finish line in the 2012 London marathon before I did it on the day. It felt good every time I imagined it. It felt indescribably good when I actually did it!

This, of course, is not gospel. It is only my take on it. But I do believe there are some universal truths in here, the main one being that you cannot blag a marathon – not a good one anyway. So set yourself a target, create a plan, put the right things in place and – as my friend Charlie Dark says – DO DA TING!

 

Some things that a runners should never do (and how to avoid doing them)

This is a post inspired by my own stupidity. I run quite a lot and it is all too easy for me to forget to do things that help to keep me up-and-running: things that I know I should do, but don’t. So today, when I got back from my run, I decided to start listing the things that us runners should never experience and what to do to avoid these pitfalls. What do you think? Do you have other pitfalls that us runners should avoid?

1) Chafing

Skin rubbing against skin or fabric plus moisture equals sore, red chafing and even, in some cases, bleeding. Whether the location is inner thighs or arm-pits, chafing can be very distracting during a race or a training run and potentially very painful afterwards. In extreme cases, it can be too painful to keep running or to get out for a run the next day. Probably the worst time to for an area of chafing to develop is mid-race where there is little or nothing that can be done about it. In a race, distractions are bad and so the burning and stinging from some skin rubbing raw, can sometimes mean missing a target time or even not being able to finish.

The answer: there are a few options here. My top tip and favourite product for this is BodyGlide. Available from many, many running outlets and online retailers, this product, which is applied in the same way as a solid deodorant, has meant that I have never had issues with chafing when I have used it, including during a 78km mountain race where I was running for 10 hours continuously. BodyGlide is not the cheapest product in the world and some people swear by good, old Vaseline as an alternative. I tend to find that Vaseline can ‘melt’ after a while and that then leaves the skin exposed and vulnerable to chafing, but it’s probably better than nothing.

Another option is making sure skin doesn’t come into contact with skin. Tights and cycling-style shorts (minus the chamois) are an option to keep inner-thigh chafing at bay. Arm-pits are more difficult, although a long-sleeved top will usually do the trick.

Finally if the chafing is due to fabric rubbing against skin, the best way to minimise the risk is by not wearing baggy clothes which can ruck-up and rub and making sure what you do wear is a wicking material that doesn’t absorb and hold on to moisture.

2) Black toenails

A badge of honour or a sign that the runner is too stupid or mean to replace shoes that are too tight? There is only really one reason that runners get blackened toenails and that is because their toes are touching the end of their shoes. During a marathon the average runner takes 35,000 to 40,000 steps in a marathon and if your toes nudge the end of your shoes everytime, the cumulative effect is to lift the nails a little thousands of time. Et voila! Black toenails.

The answer: quite simply, buy shoes that fit. That is not entirely as simple as it sounds, but it is the answer. My advice, at least to start off with, is to visit your local running shop when you have been running. I have done this a number of times and because a runners feet can easily swell by a full size on a long run on a hot day, it is worth thinking about. That way, the shoes you try on will not fit when your feet are at their normal size and then suddenly end up too tight at mile 20 of your key race.

Other things to think about include making sure your toenails are cut short to avoid the nail over-hanging the end of the toe and catching the inside of the shoe. And when you try on a pair of running shoes, wear the sock that you will run in; cushioned socks or double-layer anti-blister socks are almost always thicker than every day socks so you should be wearing the thicker socks when you try on your shoes.

3) Dehydration

Dehydration is really bad for performance. If you don’t drink enough you will NOT run as well as you are capable of. Believe me. I know. In the London Marathon 2010, I was hoping for sub-2:40. It was warm and I didn’t take on more fluids than usual. By mile 13 I was dry. By mile 18 I was in big trouble – head spinning, unable to breathe properly and incapable of keeping my 6 min/mile pace. I ended up walking through a water station. And guess what? After two full bottle of water and a bottle of Lucozade from an aid station, I was back up to speed within seven or eight minutes and finished in 2:43. Obviously I was pissed off that I had missed my target, but I learned a very, very valuable lesson about dehydration.

Fast forward to 2012 and I was racing the same race and again it was going to be warm. But this time I made sure I was well hydrated before the race and drank sips at every water station. End result? A PB with 2:38.

This is really easy to get right. Make sure your pee is light yellow or straw coloured at all times. Then when you have a key session or a race, get some fluids in before the race and sip something throughout, especially if like me, you tend to run hot and sweat quite a lot.

4) Post-run stiffness

This is an interesting subject, because I believe that hard training will result in some stiffness – if you are training for a marathon and running 70 or 80 miles a week like I have and expect that you will not feel stiff, you are deluded. However there is a difference between a little stiffness that eases up a few strides into your early morning run and the type of stiffness that puts you off going out to run at all! That needs to be avoided.

The answers include making sure you are hydrated. Stretching after every run (and that does mean every run). Using a roller or some massage from time to time when you feel stiffness coming on. Getting enough rest. Drinking green tea (OK that might be a bit spurious, but it is a proven antioxidant which reduces free-radical damage). Making sure your recovery runs are just that – recovery. Stretching… after every run. That’s about it. Apart from stretching after every run!

5) Boredom

I sometimes hear people complaining that one of the problems they have with running is boredom. Well, I struggle to understand that, although I do sometimes find running on my own to be a little less than inspiring. So I try to run as often as possible with other people. Sunday runs, when speed is not all that important, is a good chance to get a group together and go at an easy, conversational pace. That is a brilliant way to stay motivated to go out running. I also am lucky to have some training partners nearby which means I can do some of my recovery runs with other people. It is most definitely worth making the effort to go and meet others to run with.

I also think that within reason music or podcasts can have their uses. I worry about people who feel they cannot run without music, but from time to time, I use my iPod shuffle to give me a little boost. And if you have to do long slow runs on your own, a podcast can be a great way to pass the time and learn something along the way!

Just don’t ever race with music. The motivation is NOT going to come from the latest chart hits or whatever else you are listening to. Get into the spirit of the race, feed off the crowds and your fellow competitors and concentrate on what you are doing!

So that is a list of five things that I think all runners should be able to deal with. There will obviously be other answers to these common problems, so please feel free to add your suggestions and if you can think of any other complaints or issues and ways they can be dealt with, please post them in the comments below.

The London marathon 2012

As I stood on the start line of the London marathon this year, I couldn’t help feeling a pang of fear. Obviously there was the usual butterflies associated with the desire to do my best, the knowledge that pain was inevitable, the worry that maybe I should have done more or eaten less or worn different kit. But there was an added dimension this year. Twelve months ago, on a hot day, I had run the London in a disappointing 2:43. Disappointing because I had trained hard and thought I was in shape to improve on my 2:40 personal best. The heat and my inability to adjust to cope with that, along with a fairly quick first half, put paid to that. In the subsequent de-brief with my coach Nick Anderson from RunningWithUs we had agreed – me rather reluctantly – that I would not run an autumn marathon in 2011 and instead wait a year for my chance to redeem myself.

So here I was, on another sunny morning, after a year of training, hoping for the elusive personal best performance. Nervous only begins to describe it!

The race unfolds

© Enrique Casarrubios

The air temperature at the start was ideal: around 7˙C. However there was a breeze, blowing from the west and there wasn’t really a cloud in the sky. It was not going to be perfect so I knew I would have to deal with that, but I felt ready.

I edged closer to the front of the Championship start pen than I had the year before. No matter that the qualifying standards for the Championship start are pretty tough (sub-2:45 marathon or sub-75 minute half for the men), there were still people that I would have to pass, so I wanted the clearest run possible. We were walked up behind the elite men and after the elite field introductions, right on time at 9:45am, we were off!

I had been told by Nick that the first three miles were to be the warm-up. In fact, with a downhill start and a bucket-load of adrenaline, I passed each mile marker at target race pace – 6 min/mile. But it felt great – really easy and smooth and I soon feel in step with a group running at the same pace. The only downside to this is that I was shielded from the westerly wind which I would encounter in the last six or seven miles, so I wasn’t prepared for it when I faced it on my own. Still, I was loving racing and the feeling of gliding along.

By half way I was still feeling great. I had talked to Nick about pacing the race right and we had agreed that I would go through half way in 78-79 minutes. As I passed under the half way gantry the clock read 78:30. Perfect.

It’s getting hot in here…

The only issue at this stage was that it was warming up. I had consumed two of my four gels by that point and so I took out the two that were tucked in my arm-warmers and pulled my arm-warmers down to my wrists. But then I just had hot wrists. So the arm-warmers came off and down the front of my shorts. A mere 800m later and my new cod-piece was feeling very uncomfortable. So out they came and I tossed them to the side of the road about half a mile before we turned right into Wapping. I felt free again!

I had also decided that I needed to take on water. I think that one of the problems in 2011 was that I didn’t adjust my water intake sufficiently and so I was horribly dry by the time I was forced to stop and take a drink. This year I deliberately slowed through the water stations and made sure that when I took a bottle of water I drank three or four good mouthfuls. The rest went either over my head or more usually I squirted the back of my legs (ahhhh, bliss!)

Friends and crowds

I have heard it said that one runs the first half of a marathon with the head and the second half with the heart. I agree, that there is a switch where emotion becomes massively important. During the race I heard my name called out a few times. At mile 16 I saw my Mum and Dad. At mile 17 there was an advanced RunDemCrew party with Linda Byrne shouting encouragement. At that stage I still felt pretty good.

Just before the 21st mile, on a very sparsely populated section of the course, I saw Nick and his fianceé – and fellow coach – Phoebe. I was feeling good and just thinking about getting my head around the last 10km. Nick and I locked eyes and he repeated the instructions he’d given me before the race for this point. Relax, work hard and try to catch the vest in front. At that point I knew that I was going to succeed with my targets.

At mile 21 I passed the RunDemCrew‘s main cheering point. That was a massive boost as a huge group roared me on (you can read about what it felt like to see the ‘Crew here). Next stop, the Mornington Chasers.

The Chasers cheering…

My club, the Mornington Chasers, traditionally have a cheering point on the Highway, near mile 22 so they can see the runners just after half way and then again on the way back with 4 miles to go. On my route out to Canary Wharf I had, of course, seen the Chasers across the road and I noticed that the club flag was tied to a huge tree. I banked that bit of info for later.

On the way back I spotted the tree from quite a long way away, but this is a dead straight section of road and I know that Tom Craggs, who had his hawk-eye on times for the Chasers running, also saw me quite a way out. I must admit, and I’ll take this opportunity to apologise, that I didn’t really see anyone except Tom. But there was another rush of noise, much like at the RunDemCrew station, which sent the hairs on my neck into a frenzy!

In 2011 I had passed this point, and many of the same people, in a bad state and quite a way behind schedule. This time I had good form, I felt great, I was on track and I loved seeing the flash of smiles and hands and the noise. Four miles left and I was going to do it.

The end is nigh

From Tower Hill the race did become a matter of battling the wind and trying as hard as possible to catch the person in front. I pushed as hard as I could, but the lack of a group to shelter from the wind with meant that I was working hard to keep 6 minute miles. Some of the people I passed looked crushed and I flew past them. Others, who were holding it together, proved impossible to catch. So I simply locked in the pace (thanks to Alex Kitromilides for that phrase), repeated my mantras and concentrated on not allowing the nausea I was feeling to develop into anything that would slow me down.

Past Westminster and along Bird Cage Walk, I just counted and counted. I saw Catherine Wilding on the right and flicked her a wave. But really all I could do was keep pushing. As I came onto the Mall I could see the clock and raced for every second I could get. Nothing registered in that final 300m. I crossed the line in 2:38:30, in 138th place, with a new personal best and bloody sore feet.

And that is really the story of my race. I was a little disappointed to run a positive split and ‘lose’ 90 seconds in the second half (78:30 1st half vs 80 minutes for the second half) but PB are rare as hens’ teeth and so I’m delighted that all the work paid off on the day and I managed to hang on into the wind in the last few miles. What I do know is that it was most definitely worth the training and I’ll be back for more!

Pre-marathon advice from Catherine Wilding

Catherine Wilding is a 2:49 marathon runner who started running in 2003 and ran her first marathon in 2005.  Two years later she was competing in the women’s elite race in London and toed the start line as part of the elite women’s field in New York, so she knows a thing or two about preparing for a marathon. She has very kindly taken the time to give some advice for  those looking forward to the Virgin London Marathon this weekend as well as all marathoners with a race just around the corner. If you have any comments or questions about Catherine’s advice please put them in the comments section and I’ll see if Catherine will answer them.

Marathon Day Tips

Sunday 22nd April is going to be the most exciting day of the year for you.  You can already congratulate yourself on a very big achievement:  Being fit and healthy and ready to toe the start line with a smile on your face.   However, you may now be starting to wonder what exactly awaits you on Sunday.

Your training will have prepared you physically for the 26.2 mile challenge.  For most of you it will have been a story of tiredness, aching muscles and mental anguish.  In the process, you will have built a huge amount of mental strength, having become accustomed to dragging yourself out of the door with little motivation and in all sorts of inclement weather. Whether you realise it or not, this dedication will give you the focus needed to get to the finish line.  The race isn’t done yet but the hard work is now behind you and you will be able to draw on this during the race.  The bit no-one tells you, is that the marathon itself is the easy part.

The marathon is as much an emotional challenge as it is a physical one. It will be a roller-coaster of a journey with nerves, excitement, exhilaration, pain, frustration, determination but finally a huge sense of achievement as you cross the finish line.   You have already begun that journey and the marathon itself is the last step on your journey.

What to do in the last few days

With just a few days to go, you should now be focusing on getting yourself mentally prepared.  You will have been given all sorts of advice on pace, preparation, nutrition and injury prevention but don’t underestimate the power of the mind.  You will run the first 20 miles of the race with your legs and the last 6.25 with your mind.   The body will start to tire as you run out of glycogen but as human beings we have the emotional and mental strength to push ourselves beyond what we think is possible.   Take some time in the next few days to visualise yourself running strongly along the Embankment and finally down the Mall towards the finish line. Remember how you felt on your best training run or during your best race and keep that feeling and that image in your mind. Have a mantra which you can repeat to yourself in those last few miles when your legs will be begging you to stop, but your mind will keep you going. Tell yourself you can do it and visualise yourself crossing the finish line.

Remember that even the most experienced runners get nervous before the start. There will be a lot of nervous energy and excitement on the morning of the race.  Revel in it. This will get your adrenalin going and ready for the race of your life.

Our friend Simon Freeman wrote a brilliant race report recently which resonated with me as a runner:

line up
check numbers… twice
grin nervously at fellow runners
gun
run… hard
get out of comfort zone
stay out of comfort zone
try to not get passed in last 200m
finish
mis-read clock
whoop for joy
realise actual time
still smile from ear-to-ear
start thinking about the next race…

Admittedly, Simon was reporting on a 3K race.  You have the challenge of running 42K on Sunday but I think the above summarises brilliantly what most of you will experience.

Finally, enjoy the excitement and exhilaration of the day – you are about to take part in one of the greatest and most iconic sporting events.