When I Ran the 2014 London Marathon

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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…

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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.

14 comments

  1. I know exactly how you feel. I so wanted a sub 4 at the Thames Meander, I had been training running Yasso’s for a couple of months, done a huge amount of distance on HR monitors including a couple of marathons, but on the day I changed my drinking arrangements because I didn’t want to wear my camelpak. Mile 18 I cramped and that was it, I walked for a while to stretch out, ran and cramped. The last 8 miles was painful. So I have booked Manchester and gone back to the drawing board with the training. This time I will do better.

    Oh and good luck for the Robin Hood.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks. One of the big lessons I learned from this was not to change things on race day, particularly nutrition. When the build-up to a race takes so long, not performing how we’d hoped can be hugely disappointing… but provides great motivation for next time.

      Good luck for Manchester – you’ve got lots of training done, so it should go well.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m planning to run 08:20 to 08:25 minute miles. Originally I was aiming for 08:10 m/m but when I tried this in training I detonated at longer distances. When I dropped to 08:20/08:25 I was better, so it seems that’s my pace.

      I haven’t always been able to hold it in training, though I’ve been a little better at it recently, so it’s still enough of a challenge!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. great post! You see Training plans for couch to marathon in 16 weeks and I think they only set people up to fail. I have learnt so much about the long-term training and goals recently. I also love to hear that actually, running a marathon is really, really hard! It has become so popular, I feel it has lost its power as a major life challenge. Good luck for Robin Hood on Sunday, hope its cool

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much, and I agree – it is hard work, and I think for most people it can’t be done quickly. Your timeframe for getting up from 10K to a HM in spring is spot-on, for example. I took pretty much the same to step up from 6 miles to HM but, my goodness, the euphoria of completing it was worth it. I’m looking forward to reading about your progress.

      Like

  3. There’s nothing like a rough experience to really light a fire under you. I trained my ass off for my second marathon only to wake up on race day with the mercury rising higher than anticipated. I ended up finishing two minutes slower, despite a banger of a year. I let myself sulk for a bit but then moved on, only to completely kill my third marathon in perfect conditions.

    Over the years, I’ve learned that there’s only so much you can control. But, as appears to be for you, if everything comes together perfectly, then you owe it to yourself to see how fast or far you can go. Once you learn where that is, you continue learning, tweak the program a bit, and continue improving.

    For me, anyway, there’s no single “big race” that measures you and determines your value. Your true value is how dedicated you are to giving everything you have. If that means hitting a hard wall at mile 15, or if it means finishing strong, you give everything you set out to give. And that’s how we mere mortals achieve greatness.

    Best of luck at Robin Hood!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for the kind words. You have a very good point about the single big race as a defining race, when there are so many variables outside our control that could affect it. I couldn’t have trained any harder for this one, and that’s what counts. Have thoroughly enjoyed it too, which also counts – will see whether it pays off.

      Like

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