I forgot I was sent this footage from Frankfurt. I’ve distilled it down to a minute covering 40k and the last few 100m. I’m sure Christof will love seeing those cobbles again. I recall the one short stretch but I’m assured it was really bad… also here lies proof I crossed the line under 2:45:22 gun time – which would make it 2:45:00, it’s all academic now though. However after this I make sure to run through the line – who knows which timing mat counts!
It turns out pacing a marathon can be quite good fun. It was by no means easy, but the more relaxed pace meant I could enjoy the route more than usual and cheer along with the spectators. Over the last few years Angelo has been gradually taking his marathon time down, from 3:38 across several marathons to 3:09… getting closer to a London good for age qualifying time. He had done all the hard work I had asked of him, but all the numbers were so close to the wire that a little pacing assistance may be all that was required to seal the deal. Fortunately for Angelo he had an I.O.U pacing card from when I ditched him in Liverpool… and he called it in as I gave up on any idea of racing in Seville. Despite my disappointment and not being in shape to race I was looking forward to the challenge of pacing and paying forward the aid others have given me in the past.
My opening gambit was a 4:36 km – which aiming for an average of 4:23 may seem like a bold move. However, the congestion and need to approach the long distance with caution meant this was a perfect warm-up for us to get into a rhythm. I was glad to see Angelo remain calm and just follow my lead. Gradually we crept into 3:05 flat pacing having accrued a deficit of 27 seconds, crossing halfway in 1:32:57. No panic here – on schedule more or less. We now required a second half of 1:32:02 to make our deadline. We arrived at 40km just 10 seconds adrift from our target having chipped gradually away at the deficit with 3 consecutive 5k splits of 21:53. All we needed now was 2195m in under 9:28… that’s 4:18 km pace. This is where the calm collected start pays off, the gradual chipping away at the pace, sticking to the race-line, the micro-management of effort – all to keep some resource left for when it mattered. With some sounds of making considerable effort (egged on by some verbal abuse from myself) Angelo cleared the last 2kms with splits of 4:15 and 4:11, capped off with a dash to the line to finish in 3:04:41. We certainly ran by the numbers but it was finished off with a hell of a lot of heart! Looking forward to seeing the times continue to tumble
So after my first serious 2:45 attempt was out by 1 second I had to have another go! And… bingo! 2:44:14 with a +16 second split (not quite as good at Matt’s 0s dead even split!). We had a nice and cool start at 8:30am. Matt, Axel and I settled into a steady pace aiming to hit halfway in 82 minutes. After the first small loop around the city centre we headed along the coast to the east. This section was (very) mildly uphill with Matt and I leading a decent sized group with no-one else looking to help out with the pacing. After turning around and heading back into the city centre we pulled away from the group and set out as a trio. We paced the first half incredibly well to cross in 1:21:59. The course then continued on along the coast out to the west. Suddenly the field thinned dramatically as we kept pace along an incredibly long straight reminiscent of the busway. At this point Axel dropped away (as was his plan), leaving Matt and I to continue on pace, gobbling up the runners ahead that had went out a little too heroically in the first half. The third quarter of the course was somewhat bleak, in contrast to the first half, with very few spectators and an almost surreal tour into an entirely deserted stadium for a lap of a track. For the final 10k we came back into the busy city centre, I was glad to see more spectators as, on queue, things began to get pretty tough. Matt surged a few times with me only able to respond once. Off he went and the elastic stretched out, but thankfully not breaking, as I was tugged along 50m behind. I was elated to see the big Christmas tree as I knew this marked 1000m to go. The finishing straight was incredibly long, around 500m. I was stupidly trying to do the arithmetic about the 2:45 goal time, when I should have told myself just to RLF! I heard my parents shout on from the side and I pushed on to collect my PB and London Championship qualifying time
It wouldn’t have been as enjoyable (interesting choice of word I know) without Matt and Axel to run with on the course and Andrew, Duncan and Murray to celebrate with afterwards, thanks guys!
Ok, this is probably a lot to take in with one picture! I’ve had a look at the last 12 months worth of marathons and training data and tried to capture it on a plot showing how training has improved my performance. Firstly I’ve focussed on the relationship between heart rate and speed. This is a well established linear relationship and as such you can easily plot out the line for yourself with just a few runs at different steady speeds. Now the goal of training can be achieved with a number of approaches, but the end result will be the same – your heart rate will get lower at a given speed, in-fact at all speeds! This means it can be used as an excellent indicator of fitness. The gradient of this line has an interesting unit, beats per kilometre, and as your body adapts to more training load the gradient will start to go down (and vice-versa I’m afraid!). So whatever your approach to training, you want your beats per kilometre to go down. Still with me? Good!
So bearing this in mind I’ve plotted the fit of four weeks worth of running before the taper of each of the 6 marathons I’ve run in the last year. The fit gives me a line that should then in-turn give me speed estimates for different heart-rates. Now after running several, evenly-paced, marathons I know I can sustain a speed corresponding to an initial heart rate of around 168-170 bpm (this number will be specific to each individual but I’m finding it’s in the range 20 – 28 beats less than your maximum). The progression of the lines from each marathon shows that the increased training load in each bout (averages over 4 weeks shown in the legend) does indeed improve my beats/km and with it all my race times. Putting in half marathon and 5k results would clutter this plot even more so I’ve stuck with marathons, plotting points corresponding to the average speeds I managed to finish each marathon with the half-split noted for reference. As you can see they don’t quite match the interception with the heart-rate/speed lines at 169-170bpm but they come fairly close and the trend follows the lines nicely. The end result is that with even a small dataset of runs including heart rate you can get a pretty accurate idea of your speed and fitness and track its improvement (and decline too which I know all to well from last Christmas, I’ll save that particular plot for another time!).
So I almost made it, finished the Frankfurt marathon in 2:45:01 to be one second outside London Championship time. The first half was 1:22:27 and the second 1:22:34. That looks pretty even but it hides a slight pacing mistake which can be seen in the 10k splits: 39:35, 38:37, 38:40 and 39:34. So a slow-ish first 10k, all good according to plan, then too quick in the second 10k which set the pace for the third and finally in the fourth I started to fade. Swapping the 2nd and 4th 10ks would have made for the same time and most likely left me fresher to push down under 2:45:00. We’re only talking seconds though, the fade near the end shows I was pretty near my limit. I’m going to take a few days before I decide what I do next, it’s been quite an intense 12 months of marathon racing!
The obligatory medal and tourist attraction photo. In the end the clock read 2:49:12 after going through halfway in 1:23:46. The lofty goal of sub 2:45 wasn’t on this time. I settled into 4 mins a km but with such a small field I was pretty much running alone for the last 15k, staying motivated wasn’t easy and my pace dipped to finish with a 2 minute positive split. Very happy putting another marker down and with the experience overall. The scattering of supporters were fantastic, no zombies here. The course was mostly flat and we got lucky with the wind calming overnight. Parts of the course near the end on the coast were very exposed and even the light headwind felt hard. This was also the most scenic part of the course but I did struggle to appreciate it!
Time for some beer. And then on to Frankfurt!
So in just 9 weeks I’ve gone from 3:02 to 2:59 to 2:53 in the marathon, from 1:24 to 1:21 in the half marathon, from 39:28 to 36:04 in the 10k and from 19:07 to 18:47 to 17:32 in the 5k. I think my legs have deserved a few days rest, maybe even a week!
As for the Liverpool marathon itself, I’ll give that a pass in the future! Despite the shiny new PB the course was very wriggly with too few marshals around –Axel and I had to call out to spectators to ask directions near some corners! My left hamstring also gave out on me with about 1500m to go – probably too much racing recently with too little taper. Anyway, it was quite an experience running to that sort of time and will help a lot for the coming marathons. Looking forward to recovering so I can push on for Reykjavik in August – anyone interested in coming along?!
Another half marathon, another substantial chunk off my PB. I wasn’t expecting much off, let alone 3 minutes! This morning it fell from the recently lofty heights of 1:24:01 to 1:21:02 on the undulating course that is the Bosworth Half. Not only a fairly hefty PB slash but coming at the end of a 100 mile week… I wouldn’t have thought it possible even a few weeks ago.
The first 10 – 12k felt suitably atrocious as it should after the week I’ve had. Luckily I had Christof Schwiening leading the charge, with his stubborn relentless pace and encouragement. At times I was lagging behind him, unsure my legs would hold despite the effort feeling ok. Eventually, around 13k my legs started to relax, without the pace relaxing with them. Things were looking up. As were we as two considerable sized lumps in the rolling course approached. We eased into the first hill keeping the effort measured and consistent. At the first plateau I started to push on, leaving Christof behind (I’m sorry – I’m sure I’ll be on the wrong end of that move soon enough) as I gradually accelerated over the top and onto the next hill. The final 3k were straight and downhill, which resulted in the fastest section of the race, and the main reason for the one minute negative split I ended with. Christof finished within the same minute on the clock and took the best part of 30 mins off his PB (which was as nearly as old as I am…). Will I ever see PB slashes this dramatic again? Most likely not – so I’ll try to enjoy it in the meantime!
I have run Paris before in 2008 and remember the course as being great but the race overcrowded with a distinct lack of support along the route. Well this time round I can’t fault it in any way. The starting areas
were phased generously (possibly too generously for those further back setting off at 10am) and the support beyond half way was very good! In general the conditions were good with the temperature being 8 degrees at 8am rising to about 15 at noon and very sunny (the C&C vest is firmly imprinted into my pale Scottish skin). Now to the blow-by-blow part of the report…
Setting off over the start line down the Champs-Élysées is quite an experience. The boulevard is so wide it easily absorbs the several thousand in the starting area. With the glorious stretch of open road leading to Place de la Concorde it’s hard to keep the pace in check. The route barely kinks around the Place and you won’t see a serious corner until the 10k mark; plenty of time to get into a rhythm and spread out a bit. At 11k you cruise past Château de Vincennes and curl around Bois de Vincenne (the largest public park in the city) before striding out towards the Seine. I crossed the half marathon mark in 1:30:15 – a little faster than I intended but my heart rate was lower than expected and the pace felt right. I was now committed to a negative split, something I’ve never achieved before. A few km down the road and you join the river, just before Notre-Dame. It’s not long until you are back skirting the edge of Place de la Concorde and curving with the river towards the Eiffel Tower at almost 30k. The river section has a few long tunnels that added some welcome and unwelcome undulations (those planning to run this make sure you have manual splits on your watch as the tunnel will play havoc with your GPS pace). Up until 30k I had been running by the numbers, keeping my heart rate in the low –mid 170s and keeping the pace close to 4:16 min/km. I was feeling a bit sore but not tired, wondering when I could start to feel that the sub-3 was as good as done. Doing mental arithmetic in the last 10k of a marathon is never easy but having juggled the numbers several times I realised I had around a 30 second margin – inside the 3 hours if I kept my pace but a bit close for comfort! Still I kept my pace in check, I didn’t dare speed up until I felt I was in striking distance. 33k, 34k… nope… 35k, 36k, and then 37k came… only 5 to go! Just a Parkrun right… literally a Parkrun, as after peeling away from the Seine the route turns into Bois De Boulogne, the second largest park in Paris. With just that 5k to go it was time to throw the kitchen sink at it. Pushing the pace down to near 4 min/kms I inflated that 30 second margin to a whole minute, and jumped up 600 places in the process! With the 41km sign in view I checked the clock… almost 5 minutes to cover 1.2km. At this point I was feeling pretty battered and seeing the time I eased off a fraction and cruised out of the park, I’d done it. The finish line on Avenue Foch awaited me a few 100ms ahead, a pure formality. 2:59:00 dead with a -1:30 minute split.
The rest of the organisation, funnelling out to get medals and t-shirts was very well done, using the whole of the avenue leading up to the Arc de Triomphe.
I know Paris is not best timed for all those London fans out there but I would definitely recommend giving it a shot one year.
Between October 2005 and April 2009 I ran 3119 miles. This is an average of about 17 miles each week, with a maximum of 54.6 and a minimum of zero. I know this because I am not just a geek but a thorough geek. Every time I ran I would record the distance and time it took. This would only take a few seconds after each run and it soon became habitual. Sometimes it would even give that little extra incentive to go out, to get above a certain mileage for the week.
I’ve resurrected this data as I’ve been thinking about all the racing I used to do. Yesterday I ran the Inverness half marathon for the third time. The weather was pretty grim but I don’t think that’s the reason for my 1 hour 37 minute performance. I can’t be too unhappy at that number; I didn’t feel like I could have run too much faster, maybe a minute, two at the most. However I do think back to that first half marathon, just over five minutes faster, and wonder how I did it on so little training. This possibly hints at how big the mental aspect of running long distances is; the excitement of that being my first half marathon giving me that bit more enthusiasm to dig deeper.
Looking at the mileage I ran over the course of four years it’s interesting to see how writing my thesis and starting a job affected my running habits. Not only does the data end in April 2009, but the mileage does too. I wouldn’t run for months at a time. I did get enough miles in my legs to run the Glasgow half marathon in 2009, but only just. The mileage died again after that. I then entered the UK half Ironman, giving me a surge of effort for three or four months until the event itself in June 2010. Since then again, the mileage dropped to near nothing. Revving up this latest race I’ve joined a local club and been trying to attend the twice weekly training sessions. It’s been going well, which is why I thought I’d post a better time yesterday than I did. I just need to keep at it. Better than quality training sessions, better than really long runs, is just plain old regular runs and I’ve not being doing enough of them.