Rainbow in the dark was a song frequently on my ipod in the run-up to London training in the dark totally on my own throughout the dark of the winter and the above pretty much encapsulates how I was feeling from mile 17/18 of London to the finish.
The first half was fine- at halfway I was honestly wondering if I could negative split a 2:27:high - I kept on that pace despite falling slightly off the group till mile 18 then in one fell swoop I went from running consistent 5:40s down to 6 minute miles. How I managed to keep it going until the end is beyond me. Normally I'm not too amazed by my racing performances as I know what gets me there- the training - I've been dead in races before but with maybe 2 miles to run? This time I was dead and hung out to dry at 18 with 8 miles to go and it took all I could do to get to 20 and then somehow grit out 6 minute miles to the end - I'm fairly proud of that.
So- how did I go from looking at 2:28:xx at half way to running 2:31:16 which I fully appreciate by most peoples standards is an excellent run and very strong debut at 22. But this will almost by definition be fairly negative in tone as I'm not the sort to sit on laurels but always want to look to improve.
Well a few things to look at... firstly what caused the slow down. The simple answer is my legs just weren't strong enough - almost similar to how they are in XC races but in this case it was just the distance that tired the muscles out. The quads on the inside of my leg/next to my knee got very tired and sore. I just couldn't lift my legs very high without pain. As I got towards the end I was actually able to lift my effort level somewhat and push through the pain with an end in sight and knowledge that if I damaged the legs somewhat now I could still finish (which at mile 18/19 I really wasn't sure would happen).
In terms of the usual factors - aerobically I was barely working - there's the potential for a lot faster marathon based upon my aerobic system. In terms of energy I never felt faint - I don't think this was a huge issue for me - the lucozade seemed to help a lot though I wonder if trying to get so much down from each bottle might have slightly harmed me by upsetting my stomach which really wasn't happy from around mile 15. In terms of hydration apart from lucozade I didn't drink much until the crash when I started getting regular sips of water on at every water station. I don't think this was an issue really though as tbh I was like a leaky bucket the rest of the afternoon when it's meant to take several hours...
So- something fairly simple then and not something I was really expecting to struggle with or had thought about - leg strength. I think this bodes well for the future as whilst there are limits on aerobic ability, clearing lactate, energy levels and just general suitability for the marathon, leg strength should be one of those things I can quite easily work on. And as a 22 year old debut marathon runner who until last September thought 90 minutes was a long run and ran 60 miles a week leg strength is something that'll hopefully easily come through age, more miles in the leg and I'm sure next time with at least 12-18 months of regular 80+ mile weeks and 2 hours + long runs it'll be a very different picture.
Now to why it was going so well until my legs failed. Well I think (and perhaps unsurprisingly) that with my mix of relatively low mileage, various paced reps and whilst long, fairly slow long runs and 12-16 miles @ MP runs I wasn't perhaps training quite optimally for a marathon (at least given my body type) but more for the half marathon. There's not a huge difference but as someone pointed out on eightlane- the half is much closer related to the 10k (where I also had a very strong performance). I think given my racing aims (I finish this campaign overjoyed at my intermediate 10k and HM times) it made a lot more sense for me to do this.
So - what would I change for next time, what would I add, what would I keep and what would I remove?
Pace of my long runs - I was honestly just dawdling for lots of my long runs and think I need to run faster than 7:30 pace for most of them to develop adequate fuel burning and this was actually pointed out by David early on but stupidly (or weakly?) I hoped just getting the distance in would do it ignoring pace. Part of this was coming into the schedule having literally just gotten used to a 2 hour run let alone running it at 6:30-40 pace. Adding some variation will be necessary as well.
Build-Up Racing - This is a mixed bag for me. Objectively - I was ecstatic at my 10k and half marathon PBs and running 31:37 probably meant more to me than if I had gone sub 2:30 as 10k is undeniably right now "my" race distance that I understand and can race as close to the line as I can. Strong legs at Teddy Hall Relays and the National 12 stage over 5-6k also went well. In the long-term to achieve my best marathon shape I probably wouldn't want to be in PB 10k shape. Realistically though- until I run much bigger miles the sheer aerobic gains will mean I'm in 10k PB shape in a marathon build up which I should take advantage of - realistically I think that for the next few build-ups I'll be sticking to something like I did this time but when I really want to "pop" that big time in 6-7 years time I probably won't do as many short races but by then I'll have much stronger shorter PBs and wouldn't be able to run them whilst in marathon training as by then I'll have done a season focused on 10k at my peak mileage optimally configured for 10k performance.
Marathon-Paced Runs- These actually went very well- next time around though I perhaps need to ease off the pace just a fraction and try and incorporate them more consistently through the build-up rather than shorter racing goals. Also a second per week short of 5-6 miles either during the long run or mid-week might be a good idea.
Very slow recovery runs- Something I definitely don't regret - they worked well.
More Mileage- nothing drastic but I'm not quite there yet. Any more for this campaign would have been stupid and counter-productive but as I get older and run more miles this will develop naturally. Realistically
20 mile race- Though oddly I'm in less need of one now than I was before London! London was the first time I stepped up to a race to run consistently at a fast hard pace for more than a half marathon. Like I say- I think I was in more of a half marathon (run hard then hang in) than marathon mentality and a 20 miler might have brought me back to earth. Perhaps at the very start of the build-up than in the middle because as Dave very rightly points out- lots seem to run much better at the 20 than they do at London and that'll be because of the recovery aspects - veteran racers like Andy Weir recover very quickly whilst it would have taken a lot out of me. Suffice to say that with 4 half marathons in the last 5 years being my longest races I was perhaps a touch mentally unprepared for 26.2 and did rush very quickly from 10ks to half marathons to marathon without really taking the time at that intermediate distance learning to race. Next year I'm quite tempted to do a hard 20 instead of London - currently Autumn 2011 is plan for next full marathon.
Leg strengthening- This was what let me down and whilst I think faster paced long runs will help a great deal also some general leg strengthening through either more hill running or simple body-weight exercises will be invaluable.
I think on the whole the schedule was very solid and most things went pretty well- I certainly don't think I'd have changed how I went out yesterday despite the fact a more conservative race might have got me closer to 2:30. Most of the things were inevitable given my age and the already fairly rapid step up in mileage and long run. Certainly I think the first 16-17 miles showed I have the potential to run a fast marathon and the last 8 showed mentally I'm strong enough even when in pain. If next time I can strengthen my legs enough to get through to over 20 I think I'll be okay. Certainly there's nothing to suggest I can't run a fast marathon one day and as I said at the start- by most standards fastest U23 and 2:31:16 for a debut is fairly handy - but I'm in this for the long haul. It certainly was a lot harder than I expected and I really didn't think I'd be in trouble at mile 18 but there's a lot of positives to take.
Huge thanks once again to everyone who supported me out there or mentally who couldn't get there- especially my lovely girlfriend Hayley with her "Go Bryn" sign, my parents for coming down and supporting me and not saying a word when I had to move back in with them from July until my job started early this year giving me time to train, Anupam for keeping me company on long runs and generally in good spirits as a constant touch-stone of insanity - I don't think either of us would have run as well as we did without the other, the Sub 3 thread in general who were there at the good times and the bad with advice, knowledge and kind words, Lee for constantly keeping me down to earth and providing a strong training partner when I needed someone to push me on, the Saffron Striders and Herts Phoenix for helping me from 15 to current day and BSRC for helping me out over the winter, Bob and the Beagles team for having faith in me to run on the 12 stage team and support on the day, and of course my coach David Chalfen who has managed to cope with my constant neuroticism and emails and guided me through an interesting transition period keeping me injury free and progressing sustainably.
Right- that's about it - hopefully I haven't forgotten anyone! Time to put my feet up for a while but I'll be back soon- don't you worry!
P.S. For reference... Splits!
Last 2.2k - 18:20 / 5km pace