With my second marathon coming up at the end of the week – I’m running the Robin Hood Marathon in Nottingham on Sunday 27th September – I thought I would post what happened when I ran the 2014 London Marathon, what I learned, and why I’m so fiercely determined that Sunday won’t be the same…
I ran the 2014 Virgin Money London Marathon (VLM2014).
Except I didn’t. I ran fifteen miles of it. Jogged three more. And then hit the wall well and truly, and pretty much walked the rest.
The whole event was one of the most truly incredible I have ever experienced. The build-up was fantastic – the anticipation, the Expo, a weekend away in London (a place I always enjoy visiting) – and race day itself was an astonishing, once-in-a-lifetime experience. I loved it. But I was horribly disappointed with the way I ran it.
Training hadn’t started well. I’d planned to start in October 2013 after the Great Birmingham Run (a half-marathon) and gradually work my way up to longer and longer runs until I was just plain comfortable running twenty-plus miles. But two weeks prior to the GBR I tore my right gluteus medius and I couldn’t run for seven weeks, plus a further four weeks of one light thirty-minute run per week on a treadmill. I lost gaping amounts of fitness and didn’t actually do my first VLM training run until a couple of days before Christmas. And then had a week off over Christmas itself.
So I’d only done thirteen weeks of training, three of which were the taper. I’d set myself a long-held and much-cherished goal of sub-four hours, which at the time seemed realistic given that I’d run sub-09:05 minute miles comfortably during training, but it all went wrong.
It was a classic case of hitting the wall, and also an example of how doing things differently on the big day, however small, and however much I kept most things the same, can derail efforts completely:
- Having trained from January thru April, and in the early mornings too – in other words, in cold weather or cool conditions – I wasn’t conditioned for the sunshine and heat that hit on race day.
- Also because I run early in the day, I didn’t have a tried-and-tested plan for what to eat before the race started at ten… and with the heat and the unfamiliar stomach contents I was in gastric distress from about six miles.
- I set off too fast – well, actually, I didn’t, I was exactly on pace, but in order to achieve that pace I went out too hard, because this race was massively overcrowded. Dodging around runners here, there and everywhere; darting forward, being blocked in, darting round, being held up, never-ending stop-start bursts of pace, being blocked in, trying to find some room to run, being held up; figuring everything would be fine after the Cutty Sark at six miles (as I’d read online) whereas in fact it only got worse… I was exhausted after fifteen miles, and still the chronic overcrowding continued.
- Above all, I just wasn’t used to running 26.2 miles because I hadn’t done so in training. I’d only run up to 21 miles, once. Plus a couple of 18-milers.
I hit the wall badly, drained of all energy, and shuffled across the finish in 04:23:38, which was desperately unrepresentative (I felt) of what I was capable of. I was elated to have completed a marathon, and elated at the incredible experience of it. But I also felt that I’d let myself down because I was sure I was capable of much, much more.
Back at the hotel afterwards my poor, long-suffering wife had the unenviable job of trying to console me, telling me that I’d done well, especially considering I’d only had thirteen weeks training and was coming off a serious injury. “After all,” she said, “Mo Farah took two years to prepare for this.”
That jumped out at me. He had. He’d set it as a goal after the 2012 Olympics, trained specifically for it, run half-distance in 2013 to try it out, then spent another year training and come back in 2014 to run it in full.
Not that I’m comparing myself to Mo Farah, but it gave me an idea of the sort of preparation that running a marathon can take, rather than the piddling thirteen weeks and sub-par distances I’d given it. And now I was fired up with the motivation to prove myself better than my 04:23:38. By that evening I was already planning a two-year goal, with the idea of coming back to London in two years to smash my time.
So that’s what I’ve done. I’m partway through a two-year surge of training. I’ve come off-plan, reworked my training instinctively (I’ll post about this), and thrown myself headlong into it. I’ve read and researched. I’ve pushed myself hard. I’ve built in speedwork and considerable distance work. I’ve embraced glycogen depletion training/fasted runs. Not that I drank much anyway, but I’ve given up all alcohol for good. I’ve been even more strict with my diet. I’ve lost weight. I’ve trained so hard to do better. I am extremely driven to achieve this.
And, oh my, I’ve loved it. I feel fantastic. I’ve genuinely never felt better in my life. I am loving living for running, and relishing the challenge to come.
On Sunday I get to put it to the test. It’s redemption for VLM2014 – or, at least, a benchmark along the way to it.