In 2015 I ran the Chester Metric Marathon. After completing the race someone mentioned that if I trained properly I could be a good runner.
Running a marathon had crossed my mind at numerous points over the previous years, and as such I decided that I would train and try and complete one.
My goals and ambitions changed over time. I wanted to simply complete a marathon.. then I wanted to complete a marathon quickly.. then I wanted to qualify for Boston.
After a questionably good training cycle I ran the Manchester marathon in April 2016. I did not hit sub-3. I wanted to try again. This time training properly. This is the result.
I am of the view that running is the perfect self-sport. You will never be the best. Someone will always be faster than you. That knowledge means you can always (and only) aspire to be the best runner that you can be.
My life up until this point has involved so many situations whereby someone has said "Tom, you can't do X". I have then proceeded to do X to prove them wrong. It was all an ego thing - I felt I had to prove people wrong. I did not.
I run because it is my platform to challenge myself. No-one else. This is the result - it is the achievement of which I am most proud.
The Berlin Marathon 2016 was held on the 25th September 2016 in Berlin Germany.
It was my second marathon, and I finished it in 2:52:04 - a new personal record. Official result and splits can be seen here.
More information about the race can be found here.
- A |< 3:00:00 | Yes |
- B |< 3:05:00 | Yes |
- C |< 3:08:23 | Yes |
I followed Pfitzinger's 18/70 plan. I allowed approximately 19 weeks to allow for small adjustments were my schedule to require it.
Apart from one missed day (following a night out in Nottingham to celebrate my brothers engagement) I did not miss any training days. I managed to get my runs in in a number of different places across the country. This included an epic run in Cornwall from the place where we were staying to Newquay (14 miles) and on a separate occasion to, and along the infamous Camel Trail (20 miles). On both occasions my dad picked me up - I think he wanted to get away from the rest of the family. Thanks dad !
On a few occasions I moved days around to fit them into my schedule.
The training plan includes some Rest/Cross training days. Initially I tended to simply rest. Around half way I started to do the 'Strength Training' outlined in the plan. For two of these sessions I had the enjoyment of creating my own gym out of bricks and watering cans (because I was away from home).
The plan also mentions a 'Flexibility Program' which should be regularly completed. I did not do this at all. I should have done, but fitting in the prescribed running was taking up a lot of my time and I simply never put in the effort to do these exercises.
On race day I had a number of niggles - bruise like pain on the tops of my feet, and a somewhat sore left hip. I am now working to resolve these issues. I feel that if I had properly stretched etc during the training plan I'd be in a better physical state now (not that I am falling apart or anything).
The only stretching that I did was a 'forward lunge' esque stretch after each run. This was more ritualistic than anything.
My training intensities were generally in excess of that prescribed by the plan for my goal pace (sub-3 hours). Whilst so much is said about not running the different training runs too fast, even after consciously slowing down I was still always running too fast (technically). Further to this I tended to do additional mileage. If a run stated 6 miles with 8 x 100m strides, I'd always do 6 miles AND 8 x 100m (rather than include the strides in the mileage).
On two occasions things did not go to plan. One tempo run (6 miles with 4 miles at 15k pace if I recall correctly) I simply couldn't hit the pace (residual fatigue..?) - I simply ran as fast as I could. The second was a 15 miler where I just had no energy. I am super disciplined and can push through most psychological barriers but on this occasion I was just totally shot. I ended up doing 10 miles, having to walk parts of the final 2 miles. These were weird 'anomaly' runs in an otherwise perfect training regime. I wonder how it would have affected me had the runs that followed these 'failures' not been good.
Tune up races
I only ran two of the three prescribed 'tune-up races' because there was not a third appropriate race (in an appropriate location at an appropriate time), and because of the aforementioned additional intensity within the plan. The two races that I ran were the York 10k and the Wetherby 10k. I chose 10ks as the training was mentally super tough and racing anything longer didn't seem like something I wanted to do. I had also never run a 10k.
The training was by far and away the toughest thing that I have ever had to do. I tried many different things and eventually settled on mornings being the best time to run. My premise was that by running in the morning first thing you get it out of the way - there is nothing you have to plan, and nothing you have to fit in. Don't give yourself time to make excuses. Just run. It also gave me that euphoric feeling daily of knowing that I had achieved something significant with my day before my housemates had even woken up. The rest of the day could be a complete failure, and it would still be a success.
For anything less than 5 miles I would run prior to breakfast. Anything more and I would eat breakfast, do some work for an hour, and then run. I got up at 6:30 am or 5:30 am respectively. During the final weeks of the taper I ran later (~ 9 am - 10 am) because I wasn't sleeping well. That was probably somewhat useful as it matched up with the race timings.
Gels and water
I never took water on runs, nor did I take fuel (gels etc). Only on two days was that an issue (when it was ridiculously hot).
In the final two weeks I took a gel on 3 or 4 runs just to check that they would not make me vomit everywhere.
Oh, the pain !
At the start of the plan, the tempo runs were the worst thing. They suck. In the latter parts it was the intervals. Getting up early to intentionally put yourself through horrendous amounts of pain requires so much discipline.
I worked out over the plan that pacing is my biggest issue - I can never tell what pace I am going. Sometimes I'd feel fast but actually be running 8:45 miles, other times the opposite. I don't think I ever did intervals actually at 5k pace. It was always closer to 5:15 miles getting slower with each repetition (no consistency - need to fix).
Whilst not a typical race report heading, my nutrition (I suspect) was as important as my physical training.
To keep it simple, I followed a strict Calories In, Calories Out (CICO) nutrition plane utilising MyFitnessPal to log my intake.
I started out with 1,650 daily calories, gradually upping it to to 1,850 calories. I initially did not eat back all my running calories but along the line decided that it was definitely a good idea. I ate back the calories burned as calculated by my TomTom Runner 2 watch. I found this to be be accurate.. and consistency is key.
Based on a TDEE of 2,100 calories I was constantly running a slight deficit. This allowed me a bit of extra leeway to go over a little as/when I pleased.
I ate 40% protein, 30% carbs, 30% fat but made no effort to actually keep to these percentages. The total calories was the important thing for me. I generally don't eat many carbs anyway but it the two weeks prior to the race started eating bread/bagels as my implementation of carb loading.
My key foods were:
- Rice and corn cakes
- Cooked meats - ham mainly
- Cream cheese - usually the lighter (fat) version
- OATS - I would be nowhere without oats.
- Cottage cheese
- Vegetables - carrots and courgettes
Interestingly the Pfitz training plan I believe alludes to eating vast amounts of carbs. I ate nowhere near even half of the suggested amounts. Even when 'carb loading' I barely touched 2/3 of the suggested amount. I believe that he suggests that someone around my weight (~65kg) should eat 600g carbs daily. I was eating on average 200g.
CICO need not be life restricting. I went on holiday with my family to Cornwall and was able to fit finding the best ice cream into my nutrition plan as well as eating out semi regularly.
I found that when I ran long distances my additional hunger would be less than the amount of calories burned on the run.
Gah. I am an anxiety disgrace. When my life lacks something to be anxious about I will find something. About two weeks before the race it was at the forefront of my thoughts and caused annoying insomnia. Being self employed I had the benefit of being able to sleep in a little to counter balance my inability to sleep.
Then there was the weather. Berlin was going to be hot. It changed slightly over the 10 days prior to the race, but temperatures from 14 Celsius - 22 Celsius were on the cards. Temperature had never concerned me in training, but now all of a sudden it did.
Gels. Berlin had one gel stop.. at 27.5km. Why.. I do not know. Whenever I have raced more than 10k I take gels. I wouldn't have finished Manchester without gels so I knew that I'd have to carry them myself. A lot of time was spent researching appropriate ways of carrying gels. I settled on a Flipbelt - it worked, but was not without issue (see below).
Crowds. I had never run a 'major' race. Manchester had 15,000 people and I remember aid stations being a real hassle. People stopping abruptly, tripping you etc. I also remember being speed limited at points by the volume of people. Could I even run 3 hour pace with 40,000 other runners.
Distance. In Manchester I had run 26.5 miles. The number of people means that you are always weaving in and out of people. You can't follow the exact racing line, and as such you inevitably run more than a marathon. Given that I thought that sub-3 was at the limits of my potential, extra distance (and thus extra time) worried me.. a lot.
Pressure. The long and the short is that I cannot handle pressure. On the train from the airport I spoke to an American lady who said the prophetic quote "When the going gets tough.. lower your expectations". Plausibly the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard. She stated that she had booked two more races prior to the end of the year such that if she didn't hit her goals (because of the heat) she could try again in cooler weather. This scared the shit out of me. I do not believe sitting here now (and did not believe then) that were I to miss my goals I could redo Pfitz 18/70 without a significant break (for mental recovery). I hadn't worked this hard to fail, and it felt like things were conspiring against me.
I had discussed a lot of these things with my good friend Oli (read his book - seriously, it is good). After discussing ways of resolving the issues there was discussion about if they even needed to be resolved. The anxiety was always there, but I was generally able to rationalise the fact that I am inherently an anxious person, that I had done the training, and that I was therefore going to crush it. After all.. I did 3:08 in Manchester with significant injury/illness problems, much worse nutrition, and much less training..
When it all came down to it.. I didn't sleep fantastically in the days before the race, I had a number of niggles that concerned me, and I had a minor diet failure two days out when I ate way too many oats. Like most tough things though, It comes down to psychology. On race day I felt good because I had slept better than I had expected (better than shit), had eaten well (enough) etc.
I consciously noted that whatever the outcome I would retrospectively document how I felt prior to the race such that I could learn from it. Hence this beast of an essay.
My race strategy was simple. I would get there early, find the 3 hour pacer, discern their plan, and (assuming it was good) follow them for 26.2 miles. In my mind the ideal plan would be to run the first half slightly faster to bank a little time for the second half. As I new it was going to be getting hot I also wanted to get as much done whilst it was still 'cool'. I figured that my goal was crossing the line in 2:59:59.
I knew from training that I could definitely run 14 miles at marathon pace (without the taper) so figured I was in better shape than Manchester. I would hopefully get to 20 miles before feeling like I had at 13.1 miles in Manchester and then I would slog it out. The final 6 miles would be a mental game.
That was the plan.. but then when I arrived, even though there were four 3 hour pacers, they were all in the block in front of me. With a PB of 3:08 I was in the 3:00 - 3:15 block and they didn't think to put a 3 hour pacer in there.. (WTF). This turned out to be a blessing in disguise.
Sage words of advice from my brother came in for the adjusted plan - catch up with the 3 hour pacers.. but over the first 5 miles (thanks Charles). Then stay with them. He said this as we parted ways 10 minutes before the race start. Had he not said this I am sure that I would have sprinted off, caught them, and stuck with them. I would have never known the extent of my potential. This had the added benefit that I would then have a bit of time in the bank as a result of my chip start time being after theirs.
** Note - the below is a best guess-timation. I was mentally focussed. I do not remember exact mileages etc **
Miles 1 to 6
Following my brothers advice I did not try and catch the 3 hour pacers.
I basically decided that I would pace myself. I was aiming for 6:45 minute miles. My thought process was that given that I would inevitably be running more than 26.2 miles (see above) I would want a bit of leeway.
The first few miles involved a lot of dodging around people. At a few points there were bottlenecks but these were short lived. I noted that I was going a little fast and as such was not too worried about brief slow-downs (as long as they actually were brief).
At one point there was a roundabout where you could go around both ways. For some reason people were only going one way. It was weird.
I didn't intentionally try and catch the 3 hour pacers, but by mile 6 I did.
I stopped at every water station and had a few sips of water and poured the rest on my head. I tried (and succeeded) in stopping at every water station (so I wont mention it again). I tried to only drink water but on one occasion ended up with a cup of cold tea. I literally got the last cup on the whole stand and it wasn't water :P I needed the hydration so it was good, but I didn't pour it on my head.
At around 6 miles I took my first gel. As is typical I couldn't get it out of my Flipbelt. I spent what felt like ages fiddling to get one out. I thought this was the beginning of the end - carrying gels that I couldn't get at. The belt had flipped (oh the irony). One I worked this out my issue was resolved. I tried to eat gels once every 5 miles. I carried 6 gels. 2 had caffeine in them with I had at 15 miles (ish) and 23 miles (ish) respectively. I took the gels closer together as the race progressed. At one point I had a gel without water. That was a bad idea.
Miles 6 to 13.1
When I first saw the 3 hour pacers I figured that I'd get to the one furthest forward and stick with them. It just didn't happen. When I got there I felt good, my pace was staying consistent and I wasn't excessively tired.. so I just kept on going.
It was weirdly good that everything was in km. Counting down to 13.1 miles is mentally soul destroying. I found that counting bigger numbers upwards without a true appreciation of how they related to miles kept my mind occupied.
I got to 13.1 miles and crucially I felt good. Whereas at Manchester I had felt awful (and had doubted if I could get to the end), this time I felt OK (in the context of things). I felt like I could keep up this pace certainly for longer. If I could keep it up until 20 miles I could afford to slow down and slog out the final 6 miles.
Miles 13.1 to 20
I just kept on going at the same pace. I drank water and took gels (as mentioned above). My pace wasn't slowing (as I had expected). In fact it was getting quicker.
I had the first inkling that I 'had this'. It begun to cross my mind that qualifying for another race was possible (I knew that one major had a 2:55 qualifying time - I couldn't remember which (it is Tokyo)).
I had to keep myself in check. I didn't want to get too confident. I kept remembering the sentiment that its a 20 mile run followed by a 10k race. It might be going great at this point, but things could definitely change.
I was overtaking people, I wasn't dying, and relative to the people around me I perceived myself as looking the strongest. This psychologically gave me an awesome boost.
My AirBnb host (Guido) had also come out to support and was going mental when I passed. I wondered who on earth was supporting me, and when I realised I was pretty chuffed.
I was aware of pumping, up beat, motivating music as I ran. It is surprising how much music helps keep you going.
Miles 20 to 26.2
At one point during this section they were handing out Taxofit energy gels. I ended up in a queue (of sorts) to get one at which point I realised I didn't want one. It was weird. It cost me a few seconds (but it didn't matter) - I just wasn't thinking.
The final 6.2 miles were certainly tougher physically and mentally, but I continued to get faster. The fact I was nearing the end kept me going, and again the fact that I was still overtaking people was super motivating.
I ran past the red bull stand (how ridiculous - who wants red bull during a marathon !), and continued pushing on. I mentally kept myself going with the "Only a 10k to go now" and "Only a 5k to go now" lines.
Water stations were perfectly placed. They were always there just as I really needed them. Across the course there had been a few fire trucks spraying water. With 1km to go there was one. I was the only person to cross to the other side of the road to run through it. I needed it.
With 1km to go I went for it. At this point I was pretty shattered but I knew that the end was near. As I rounded the corner and could see the Brandeburg gate I went up another notch. I pushed it mega hard to get to the Brandenburg gate (which isn't actually the finish).. then as I saw the finish line I sprinted. The clock was past 2:53:00 (which I was aware would qualify me for any/all races) but because I had started in block D I knew I must have about a minute so I went for it.
I have a weirdly strong finish when racing shorter distances. It seemed that I was suitably trained to take it to the marathon distance. There was somewhat bemused faces as I continued to overtake people up until the line.
My watch suggested that I had broken 2:53:00 but it wasn't until my brother had finished (who had a phone) that I was able to check my chip time. I had done it. 2:52:04. Not only had I done it but I managed the infamous negative split AND I beat my half marathon PR in the second half of the marathon.
The hour or so until we were reunited was incredibly stressful which is somewhat strange given that regardless I had smashed my original goal..
I drank a lot of water. I drank some Taxofit. I drank some sugary tea (holy crap that stuff was good). I got a goody bag and ate all of the food in it. I had an alcohol free Erdinger.
I got a photo whilst eating some pretzels, and sat down and contemplated things.
Once my brother had finished we headed back to where I was staying. I showered and ate more. Then we went to the Hard Rock Cafe.
One downside to racing a marathon is that is destroys your body. I love food but during the aforementioned meal there were a few trips to the bathroom intertwined within the consumption of some awesome nachos, one of the most magnificent burgers ever, and an ice cream sundae.
Beers were drunk that evening, but the rest of the day was plagued with stomach issues. I think it was the gels. They had done their job (and I would do exactly the same if i were doing it again) but now I was paying for it.
Weirdly the night after the marathon was my worst nights sleep :P I just couldn't sleep. Weird.
Over the following three days my stomach issues disappeared and I ate like a pig. Curry 36, Burgermeister, and Mustafas Gemüsekebap alongside some not-as-good-as-Cornish ice cream (Hokey Pokey and Anna Durkes).
This morning (28th September) I did my first post marathon run - a 7 miler at whatever pace I could manage. Apart from a painful left hip (it feels like its constantly bruised) and a slightly painful right calf, the marathon has not devastated my body. Time to investigate some physio.
After Manchester I said I would never run a marathon again (even though I already had a Berlin place). This time I know I will.. after all.. it was the aim - Boston. Unfortunately I just missed the deadline for 2017 entry (typical) so I will be targeting Boston 2018.
In the short term I absolutely need a mental and physical break. Running has done so much for my mental health that I'm certainly going to keep it up.. my initial thoughts are settling into a consistent 50 miles a weeks all done at a leisurely 'I enjoy running' pace. At least for a while. Does anyone have any insights as to whether this is a good approach?
The unplanned part is the fact that I have qualified for both New York and Tokyo. I had applied for Tokyo 2017 in the lottery, but i did not get in. It is a race that I wanted to do so I will do that in 2018 as build up to Boston. I will almost certainly do New York 2017.. just because I can. Finally, I have already applied for London 2017 (in the lottery) so if I get in I will do that. Weirdly after trying (and failing) to get in for numerous years it would not be the end of the world if I didn't.
I explicitly intend not to do Chicago because running the 6 majors is my brothers thing - he re-motivated me to start running again, and I have no interest in running all 6 until he has.
I am not sure what else to write. I have already written quite a bit.
If there is anything you would like to know then feel free to comment and I will add it.
Overall an absolute success.
After dedicating so much of my life (over the past 5 months) to training for Berlin I am certainly experiencing post-marathon blues. Onwards and upwards.