Yesterday I ran a sub 4 hour marathon for the first time. I say this not to show off, but because I surprised myself by doing it. Sure, I’ve been chasing this for a couple of years, but I really didn’t expect to do it this time at Manchester – not least because I’d had a cold last week! But somehow, yesterday was The Day It Finally All Went Right.
Regular readers will know that each time I’ve tried to do this before, something went wrong.
1. Manchester 2013 – going well, then got calf cramp at mile 23.
2. York 2013 – got a stitch at mile 18 that just wouldn’t go away.
3. Manchester 2014 – DNS, due to getting a tummy bug the day before.
4. Milton Keynes 2014 – just seemed to run out of steam on a very warm day.
5. Berlin 2014 – severe attack of runner’s trots, resulting in three loo stops!
6. York 2014 – only two weeks after Berlin, this was never meant to be a sub 4 attempt.
So it’s not for want of trying!
In the middle of last week I was wondering whether I should run at all. I came down with the cold on Tuesday and felt rubbish on Wednesday and Thursday. However, I took all the echinacea and vitamin C I felt I could handle and managed to get the worst of it over quite quickly. By Friday I was still pretty snotty, but feeling OK. Echinacea is wonderful stuff! On Saturday I ran for a slow couple of miles and decided to go for it – invoking the above/below the neck rule – but thinking I probably wouldn’t perform at my best.
Conditions on Sunday were perfect for marathon running – cold and dry with barely any wind. I decided to set off with the 3:58 pacer and see how things went. I reckoned if I started to feel bad I could just slow down and treat it as an ultra training run with some goodies at the end! Off we set, and after a few miles I was surprised at how well I was feeling. The course at Manchester is fantastic, nice and flat, and the crowd support is amazing almost all the way round, which really helps. There’s a bit of an incline up to Altrincham at halfway, but as that’s an out and back section you get the benefit of it going downhill on the other side. I always like to take advantage of a bit of downhill, so sped up a bit there and overtook the pacer. I reasoned that if I started to tire later on I’d have a few bonus seconds in reserve. But that was the last I saw of the pacer! I ploughed steadily on through the second half and have never enjoyed a marathon more. I actually found myself smiling to myself at times! But I still couldn’t allow myself to think sub 4 was achievable until I’d passed the point where I got cramp two years ago. Then I really started to enjoy myself, even when a strong head wind seemed to appear from nowhere for the last mile. I eventually finished in 3:55:39 and was stunned – that’s 11 minutes off my previous PB. All through my training I thought I’d be more than happy with 3:59:59, so this was a real bonus!
After I’d crossed the finish line a man touched me on the shoulder and said “Thanks for pacing me home over the last mile or so. I was following you because you looked really strong”. Me? Strong? I suddenly realised I had felt strong, much stronger than in any other marathon I’d ever done. Why was that? What had made the difference this time? I believe it was these things.
- Training – for the first time I’d followed a training plan for a specific time, the Asics Sub 4 plan, not just a plan that was aimed at general Beginners/Intermediates.
- Core work. I’ve sometimes neglected this in the past, but over the last few months have been making a real effort to go to my flow yoga classes. I think having a strong core helps you to maintain better form when you get tired towards the end of a marathon, which in turn means you can keep running more efficiently.
- Nutrition. I always eat quite healthily (despite my love of cake!) but I’m not sure I always ate enough before or during a marathon in the past. Having attended the Runners World Asics 26.2 bootcamp in December, I was interested to see that their nutritionist prescribed more carb loading than I was used to, so I ate more than I normally do before a marathon the day before Manchester and on the morning of the event. For the first time I also calculated how much carbohydrate I’d need per hour during the race. On a basis of 1g of carb per 1kg of body weight per hour, I decided that eating one Clif Shotblok bar per hour would just about do the job. As there are six cubes in a bar I ate a couple every 20 minutes, starting from just over an hour into the marathon – sooner than I would have done before. At no point did I ever feel I was going to hit the wall, and I think that’s due to better fuelling.
That’s all I can put it down to I think – although the perfect weather was certainly a bonus. Or maybe the running gods were just smiling on me yesterday. Either way I’m very happy, and am now officially Good For Age!
Manchester is a great event and a perfect course for a PB. There’s also fantastic crowd support along the route and a pretty good haul of swag at the end – they even do an extra small t-shirt that actually fits!
Highlights of the day:
- The Altrincham Children’s Choir, who were singing I Predict a Riot as I ran past them.
- A great guy holding up a sign saying ‘Touch Here For The Power’ and high-fiving people.
- Another sign saying ‘You’re Fit & U Know It’.
- Fantastic Erdinger alcohol-free isotonic beer at the end!
- The sun coming out while we were taking photos afterwards.
- Going on to my little nephew’s first birthday party and eating practically my own weight in cake!
In short, a pretty perfect day and one I’ve been looking forward to for quite a while. I think it goes to show you should never give up on your dreams and goals, but try to keep finding new ways of working towards them. Good luck with your running aims this year, whatever they are – I’d love to know.
Thank you Manchester, you were great!