The backstory: a while ago, last September, some friends mentioned that they were training for the Brighton Marathon and would I like to run the Grunty Fen half marathon in two weeks time? At that point I’d been running for about half a year (starting from “rowing and running, but I should add that I’d been fairly fit before then) so I said yes. Since then I’ve pulled my half marathon score down from 1:51 to 1:41, and done some training runs out to 32k, which is 3/4 of the real distance. But now it was time to do the Real Thing.
Being a numbers sort of person I constructed a chart to predict my performance.
The pale blue, with the extended dotted line, goes through my existing runs (the 26k and 32k points are real, too, but not as competitive as the 21k-and-below so I felt entitled to neglect them). The dotted line is excel’s power-law fit, which I selected because it, err, happened to go smoothly through all the data points. And it extrapolates to 3:37. Ahem. My initial target time was sub-4, but enboldened by this I decided that 3:45 was realistic, and so set that.
However, this careful plan did not survive contact with reality. Because in the end I came in 4:20:.32 :-(. Which is a rather disappointing time. The proximate why is fairly obvious from the GPS track – after about 2h my performance tails off dismally.
I feel obliged to offer my excuses, even though you don’t care, because they might be instructive to others.
The prickly heat, Carruthers
Well, it was a hot day. That doesn’t make for good times. There isn’t much I could do about that, though.
The normal training plan is to do stuff, then taper off in the 3-ish weeks before the race, ideally doing very little in the last few days, so as to arrive in tip-top condition. Instead, I did the Vets Head last Sunday, far and away the best 30 min erg I’ve ever done on Wednesday, and too much 10k on Thursday. And then I walked 5 miles to the start on Sunday morning (more on that anon). Next time I’m taking the taper far more seriously.
For a half marathon, I’ve got into the habit of an energy gel at 10 k, then another at 15 and 20. For the marathon, I wanted the equivalent of a gel every 5 k. They were offering energy drinks, and some solid-ish gel-blocks, at various points around the course, so I decided I could use those, and only took a few of my own gels. This didn’t work at all well, for a couple of reasons. Firstly, the solid-ish blocks were indigestible in the context of a marathon. Second, it wasn’t possible to drink enough of the energy drinks. One bottle was supposed to be ~a gel. But I could at most drink half a bottle, and often less than that, since it was hard to interleave drinking water and energy drinks. And I didn’t have the brain to run and plan drinks at the same time. So next time I’ll forget the official nutrition and rely on my own.
Far from the madding crowd
I failed to get into a start bin that I wanted, and so spent the first bit of the race wanting to run faster than the people around me. This wasn’t a great surprise; it often happens. In my experience even being in a good bin doesn’t help much as there are always people with totally unrealistic expectations of their time who push themselves up to far (ahem). What was a surprise, this time, was just how far the too-crowded-to-get-past, let alone run-easily, phase lasted. Certainly past 5 k, probably up to 10 k. The exact distance doesn’t matter, what did matter was that it was impossible to get a decent start. And worse, I tried to push it too hard, dodging between people and then being forced to brake and generally wasting energy. So my top tip (apart from entering a smaller race) would be to relax off the start line until gaps just naturally appear.
Pix and general ambience
Folks streaming up towards the start in the park.
General view of the finish “line”. The finish gate is visible in the distance. After that the finish “production line” kicks in, with the water, bananas, foil space blanket, the pick-up-your-medal, then the goody bag, then the tea shirt. Then the collapse-in-a-heap-on-the-side. And once you’re ready, pick up your pre-race-stowed-kit from the baggage lorries, and fight your way through the crowds out in the the real world again. This pic was taken, obviously enough, after I’d fought my way out so gives a very poor impression of how crowded it was earlier.
I mentioned above that I’d ended up walking 5 miles to the start, which I distinctly don’t recommend (it felt fine at the time, I was bright and fresh in a gorgeous early morning, but I was burning up reserves I should not have). This was because I had, ahem, well ended up not having a hotel room, due to Brighton being unexpectedly full that weekend. Who could have guessed? So I bivvied on the undercliff track, and a very pleasant night I had of it too (it really was pleasant, that isn’t our conventional English understatement. I’d do it again, but get a taxi to the start next time).
Here I am, and here it the view east towards the sunrise:
And don’t forget the porridge.