It was after the VoY half last year that I started to think about having another crack at the marathon distance. I’d always planned to do another one (Yorkshire 2016 was my first) but wanted to be in a position with my running where I was confident that, this time, I could make my pace over the shorter distances translate to the longer distance. I’d managed to go sub-45 at 10km and lowered my half marathon PB from 1.49 to 1.40 so decided to give it a go. I picked Manchester as I knew a lot of people in the club would be signed up and because I’d heard a lot about it being a good event and PB course.
The first things I needed was a plan and training group. The training group formed itself really with Becky, Naomi, Nicola, Paul, amongst others, all signed up. Naomi made a Facebook group where we could discuss Sunday morning long runs, as well as midweek interval sessions, which would become invaluable during the winter months. Lois recommended a plan to me that she had used for Munich. The weekly sessions were based on time, rather than distance, with the Sunday long run being based on mileage. I tweaked it to allow me to fit in the Tuesday club runs, Saturday morning parkruns and, most importantly, the PECO races, which I used as tempo runs. I tend to find that if I make a plan work around me, rather than follow every session religiously, that I’m more likely to stick to it.
So, training started just before Christmas last year (16 weeks out), and my first tester of early form was Temple Newsam 10, where I decided to aim for marathon pace. I figured, if I can do 10miles of offroad running at this pace, that would be a good confidence boost, especially only 4 weeks in. I ran just over 83 minutes (avg pace 8.16) so this was a good start. Two weeks later, we did a group run along the canal to Saltaire, where I did 16miles at 8.33/mile, which was much faster than I would have predicted. I banked 20 miles in week 7, whilst most of the rest of the club were racing at Dewsbury. I wanted to do one early whilst I was feeling good and to give myself the opportunity to get in 2 or 3. I also wanted to do at least one of the long runs on my own in preparation for marathon day.
In a 16-week training plan, things are never going to go 100% to plan. As you might expect with training through the winter, I picked up a cold at the start of Week 9. This meant I had to miss a couple of midweek sessions and change my plan for Liversedge half. I’d been debating whether to run it all week but was feeling a bit better by the weekend and didn’t want to miss out on all my mileage so decided to just take it steady in terms of my effort. It was very strange not to race the downhills (for those who haven’t run Liversedge, there’s very few parts of the course that aren’t up or down) but I was focused on finishing rather than making myself more ill so completed it in 1:55. I was actually quite impressed with this, perhaps I’ll be back next year to give it a proper go if healthy.
The following week we had another great group run to the pub, this time to Ilkley. I dropped the distance slightly as I was still cautious following my cold but still banked 17 miles and more importantly, I was back on 8.30/mile pace. Then, the Beast from the East came calling! A 14-mile run the next weekend was the toughest of my long runs, despite being one of my shorter runs!
Training in the snow
The following week was Spen 20. With only 4 weeks to go, I didn’t want to race it (this was not my A race), but I still wanted to test myself. I decided to stick to the 8.30/pace and practice keeping on an even effort, which would be key on marathon day. It was also a good opportunity to practice my nutrition plan of a gel every 40-45 minutes. My pacing worked almost to perfection as I finished in 2:50:01 (8:33/mile).
It may surprise you to learn that my mileage wasn’t actually that high throughout this period. If you’ve read Tom’s and Phil’s blogs, you’ll see they’ve averaged 60-70 miles per week! Personally, I don’t have time or the desire to do that many miles a week, especially when trying to add in a couple of Yoga sessions to aid recovery. My highest mileage week was 42 miles when I did Spen 20 and my average was just under 30. I focused on getting in the distance (I did 2 20milers, 2 17s and a 16 as my 5 longest runs) whilst also building in some speed workouts such as Yasso 800ms. In the last few weeks of training and taper, I also focused on knowing what my marathon pace (8.15/mile) felt like. Whether that meant doing laps of WHM at this pace or a 7miler with 5min efforts at this pace, it was important that I knew what this felt like and judge whether I felt this was a realistic goal.
The final key bit of any marathon plan is the taper. I took a 3-week period before the race to really dial back my mileage and focus on rest. Some people struggle with this but, for a couple of reasons, I found it quite easy to do this. First of all, I had a slight pain in my knee towards the end of Spen 20 and the following week’s 15miler, so I was cautious of over-doing it and wanted to monitor it before the race. Whether it was the taper or the fact that Manchester (in comparison to Spen 20 and Leeds) was flat, my knee didn’t bother me during the marathon. The other reason my taper worked was the fact I had other stuff booked in my diary! It’s quite simple; if you’re busy doing other stuff, you can’t run! I had my Granny’s 80th one weekend, then went to Amsterdam over Easter weekend. In the case of Amsterdam, it would have been easy for me to go on a run; our hostel was by a park; but I left my trainers and running kit in Leeds.
Before I knew it, it was race-week. I kept the legs ticking over with #runandtalk on the Tuesday, before 4 miles on the Thursday with the middle 2 at marathon pace. Despite having trained as part of a group, I was keen to run my own race and not get caught up in any games, especially at the start. I’ve always found it helpful to go into a race, particularly longer ones, with a few goals in mind and this was no different. My “A*” goal was 3hrs 30mins, I didn’t really plan to go for this but I might keep it in mind if I was having a great day. My true goal was 3:40-3:45, before back-up goals of 4hrs and 4hrs15mins. Therefore, my plan was to go out at around 8:15/mile for the first 5km as I warmed up and as the road would be busy, before perhaps pushing the pace and seeing how long I could hold it.
I started out in pen D with Paul and Theo but let them go ahead within the first mile, determined to set my own pace. I covered the first 10km in 50:55 which was slightly ahead of plan but I was feeling comfortable so I was happy. Just after halfway (reached in 1:46:32), I spotted Paul and Theo ahead. Looking at our splits afterwards, they can’t have been much more than 30 seconds ahead the whole way, but for whatever reason I hadn’t seen them. Again, determined to stick to my own plan, I didn’t race to catch them up but caught them at about mile 14. Soon after we caught Nicola, before Paul pulled ahead again at mile 17 (I slowed whilst having a gel). Miles 17-19 were slightly slower (only by about 10 seconds) but I found a second wind at Mile 19. Perhaps it was the gel I took on having an effect, perhaps it was “only” having 7 miles (roughly an hour at current pace) or whatever reason, I was pleased to have got the pace back and not feel like I was going to fade towards the end. I reached 20miles in 2:42:26 and focused on staying strong for the final 10km. I caught back up with Paul at mile 22 and then we both caught Naomi at mile 23. It was great to run together for about half a mile towards the end and I thought for a bit that we might finish together (a few supporters noticed we were all clubmates and encouraged us to support each other in the last few miles). I managed to pull away from them both and actually ran my fastest mile split (7.49) at mile 26! A few people have asked me how and my honest answer is I don’t know! The finish at Manchester is actually quite long, about half a mile, so when you first turn in, it doesn’t seem to get any closer. Personally I think it was a combination of the long finish, the cheers from my parents and the HPH support at the finish, as well as knowing that I’d got the race right helped me find that strength at the end. I was delighted to finish in 3:33:02, which gave me a 42-minute PB from Yorkshire (ridiculous, right?!), a 2-second negative split over the course of the race and, looking at the results, I made up 650 places in the second half. Without wanting to boast, I’m not sure I’ve ever ran a better race, and to have done it in a marathon was brilliant.
Running with Paul and Theo at Mile 16
As I went through the finish area, I spotted Becky so walked over to her and I knew Paul and Naomi wouldn’t be long. Theo also joined us and it was really nice to catch up with them all immediately after the race. We’d trained together since Christmas, encouraging each other out on cold, snowy mornings, and, although we didn’t all have a perfect race, we managed to finish with PBs across the board and within 6 minutes of each other! Becky, Naomi and myself took advantage of the ice bath (that was a cold 45 seconds!), before I went to find my parents and the tram back to central Manchester.
So, how did I go from being a 4:15 marathoner to almost 3:30? Here are my key takeaways:
- Don’t start from zero. Be comfortable with your running before signing up, perhaps in 10mile/half-marathon shape before starting a training plan.
- Focus on consistency. Sometimes I’ll go into a run/race not really thinking about a finish time but rather on a target pace (such as in Spen 20). If you get the pace right, the time will take care of itself.
- Train with a group of similar/slightly faster pace to you but also run on your own. Both my 20milers were actually on their own, and this was key for me on marathon day.
- Be prepared to change the plan if things go awry, such as weather, illness or injury. I also found it helpful to have banked that 20miler early as I actually dropped one immediately after my cold but still managed to get in 2 runs of this distance during training
- Run your own race on the day. A marathon is a long way, especially if you get it wrong in the first 10miles.
- FINALLY, enjoy. Training for and running a marathon is hard work and there are going to be days when you wonder what or why you’re doing it, especially when training in the winter, but the feeling on the day (particularly at the finish line before the pain sets in), makes it worthwhile.
Finisher’s tshirt and bling