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Wednesday, 1 May 2013

London 2013 - Project Sub 3 Hour (Mk IV)

Last year's 3.00.02 at Manchester had been chipping away at me ever since I came across the line in Trafford Park and so when I found out that i was eligible for a 'good for age' place at London 2013, there was only one thing for it!

After an injury free stint since Christmas, I actually arrived on the start line with more miles under the belt than any of the previous three other marathon campaigns that I'd done, albeit with a side issue of a newly born baby to look after and so sleep deprivation had been a small factor! They had always seen weeks of 15's and 20 miles thrown in among the more enthusiastic weeks which topped out at 35 miles. I once read on a running forum that a sub 3 hour marathon time was impossible on a training plan of less than 35 miles per week. I nearly overturned that claim last year, failing by 3 seconds but I was determined to try again, and so edged the mileage up to between 30 & 40 miles per week, with the odd 50 added in for painful measure this time.

Three 20 mile runs and an uber-long 18 miler off road would surely see me right this time? With three weeks to go, my enthusiasm for same old, same old began to wain and after a slow Monday 20, 2 weeks and 6 days out, i began to slowly wind down for one reason or another (excuses were increasingly easier to find).
Panic set in, surely I would be too rested? Some said yes, other more seasoned opinions said no! Should I do an 8 mile tempo on the Sunday before the race? Of course I didn't, but the thought was there..

So leading up to race day, i was ultra fresh and bouncy, yes, bouncy. The joints, cartilages and muscles which had all been hammered down and compressed like processed ham since Christmas began to open back up and almost sprout, just like shrubs in the Spring. This was also down to a course of Glucosamine tablets, IT band stretching, yoga, a couple of sports massages and just the odd recovery drink tipple after a long run.

I'd also nominated the Welsh Air Ambulance Service as a charity to raise money for and at the time of writing, I have around £1700 to hand over to them!

Race day started with me trying to find Blackfriars Station to no avail, and a subsequent 2 mile walk from row Z to the very front of the start pens through Greenwich Park among the zillions of fun runners. I'd gotten off at Greenwich thinking it wouldn't be that far to go. This resulted in my 'buffer' safety hour being put to annoying energy wasting use, also trying to find my kit drop-off lorry (unsuccessfully) and eventually arriving at the good-for-age / secretly awkward to find / pain in the a*se' tent with only 25 minutes to go. If only I could afford a PA or even a Butler!

A quick change and clamber to the correct kit lorry and I was ready, joining the others around twenty rows back at the start of the race in the red zone. A 30 second silence was given to honour the bombing victims of the previous week's Boston marathon and everyone of the 35,000 odd competitors followed this to a tee.

As the gun went off it was game on. The brand new yellow race socks were on, the spongy, relatively new Aber AC blue trainers were on, 4 gels in the pocket and a fully functioning Garmin unit strapped to the wrist.

This was in addition to two main pasta courses from the previous evening at the Ramada Hotel (sounds extravagant, but was actually cheaper than the thieves at Travelodge'), plus as much porridge as was comfortable that morning. I'd even re-read some great advice from the previous months Runners World magazine and also scanned over some critical marathon race guidelines from some old training books and did some manual split time rehearsals, rather like I was an actor studying lines! Nothing was left to chance, apart from those dodgy arrival directions.

The first 10 miles were quite frankly boring. I was in a menacing mood and should probably apologise to thousands of very pleasant supporters on the race route who smiled, cheered and held hands out for high fives that were not returned. I was here to do a job, and ran like an i-robot.

Those miles were knocked out at a few seconds below my average target pace of 6.52. Without the actual data from a sports lab, my experience led me to believe that my 'lactate threshold', the point at which your muscles start creating lactic acid, was at around 6.40-6.45 pace and so i was on a very thin line. If I strayed over this 'red line', my body would be unable to uphold this pace for 3 hours. Even if I only ran a few early miles at this pace, there would be no return, only pain and disappointment.

Basically I was playing with fire in going for a sub 3 time. Whilst knowing it was possible, it was really going to be touch and go, with a high risk of blowing up and hitting the wall, it was only barely possible but I love a good challenge, and my Manchester time had given me hope.

The half way point would be the first real indicator and despite being closely followed by a leprechaun, i went through in 1.29.11. Maybe a bit slow as I only had 49 seconds in the bag to waste the second half? As it happened, another benchmark would be my 2011 failure point, the 15 mile marker at Westferry Tunnel. This is where my hamstrings failed me last time and so as I sailed through still feeling like it was a Sunday stroll, I started to at least think that maybe I'd get to 20 with enough in the tank.

It was at this point that my loose tracking of the 2.59 pacer started to become a factor. Up until now, I decided to run my own race, with it just so happening that he passed me at about 5 miles, and then I passed him back at around 17. His pace seemed slow, and at the same point, my trusty Garmin finally died on me! The old steed had seen better days and simply couldn't cope with the Canary Wharf sky scrapers, plus the thousands of other devices probably all out to attract the same satellite like mating birds on an Attenborough documentary.

This was awkward as had i been able to check my pace against the slowing pacer, I would have known that he was suffering. My instinct told me that anyway. Finally benefiting from a few previous marathons at this pace I guess, I knew that I had to speed up and get to 20 miles in around 2.16, leaving a final 10k of just under 44 minutes. Easy? Not easy but certainly doable. You just have to love the marathon for all the races within races!

I got to 20 in 2.16, i think it was a tad under, and two scousers behind me immediately announced 2 hours 57 minutes for them and everyone else around them. That may have been a tad optimistic, but it was good to hear those positive vibes. I'd not felt this good at 20 before, but a new 2.59 pace man had taken over the reigns of his predecessor and seemed to be rapidly gaining speed up ahead to make up for what I could only assume to be a less than satisfactory job by our previous friend.

This set a few alarm bells ringing as I thought that current pace seemed good enough. I decided to let him go, but keep him within a minute, just in case.

There were now casualties all around, wobbler's and stretchers who had ground to a halt yet I still felt good in the Embankment tunnel. When I say good, I mean awful, but still able to run at 6.52 pace. It was certainly uncomfortable and a few early signs of cramp set in. I was determined to get to 24 miles on target and then surely, anyone can run 2.2 miles, can't they?

A bit too similar to a Jim'll Fix It badge for my liking!
The 24 mile flag finally appeared and it was here that those last three mile doubts of 'who cares if I'm over 3 hours' went away. I started to claw Mr 2.59 back and as Westminster approached, the crowd roars just pulled you along. Turning right to head from Big Ben towards the Mall and we hit 25. 26 popped up in no time. Just 0.2 miles to go and the clock saying 2.57..i could maybe even walk it in 3 minutes!

A quick right hander at Buckingham Palace and the line appeared with 2.59 on the clock. With chip adjustment, that turned into a 2.58.55 which suited just fine. Any elation at the end? Not as much as I thought! No silly victory salute, no tears and barely a raised smile, just a content feeling and later, a cheeky grin that a two year goal had finally been achieved.

Everything went to plan, I even managed to 'consume' my gels, on time and without most of them ending up on my hands or the inside of my shorts :-/ I kept cool by splashing copious bottles of water over my head at the feed zones and I'm also thinking about taking up shares in Vaseline.

I have no thoughts or plans to try and improve on this time. That would take a lot more training and too much time. 50 miles a week? No thanks!

Next stop, a few weeks of nothing inparticular and later the Lake Vyrnwy half marathon and maybe some Duathlons after that. Ah damn, just remembered, I've entered Snowdon ;-)