Thursday, September 30, 2010

Berlin marathon race report

9am Sunday 26 September 2010

Weather conditions: 10 degrees Celsius, rain

Goal time: 2:39:42 (3:47 min/km)

Here is a link to my garmin report

When the starting gun went off, 41,000 runners leapt into action on Strasse des 17 Juni in Berlin. I was glad to get started, because it was cold and raining, and also because I was keen to get a sense for what my target pace would feel like. I was in Block A starting area, which was for 2:20-2:40 runners. I was surrounded by skinny fit-looking freaks. Though somehow there were at least 500 runners in front of me at the start, many of them running slower than 2:40 pace right from the gun. I stuck to my pace for the first kilometre, weaving my way up through the slower runners until I was moving the same pace as everyone around me. This wasn’t too difficult, because the road is six lanes wide.

Garmin tells me (with the familiar ‘bleep’) that I’ve hit the 1km mark in 3:45, pretty much bang on target. It felt like I was jogging frustratingly slow – this is precisely how it SHOULD feel because your body is charged with adrenaline, and you are running at a pace that you can sustain for almost 3 hours.

As I churned out the miles, my stopwatch kept informing me that I was running just on target pace, and things felt very comfortable.

The course was flat and is known for being fast. But the rain got heavier as the race went on. Rain doesn’t bother me generally, but wet ground conditions/puddles and the extra weight of wet shoes and clothing is not helpful when you’re running for a fast time. Runners were trying to avoid deep puddles and run on higher parts of the road where there was less surface water (see photo of Kenyans battling the puddles below). For this reason, there was more lateral movement on the road than normal. Surface water means that you could feel the lack of traction under your feet, and at times you would be showered with water when the person next to you landed in a deep puddle. Overall though, the course still felt fast, and you could work away at a steady pace because it is flat.

Under strict instructions from coach, I obediently ran the first half marathon in 80:07. My heart rate was much lower at the half marathon mark than it had been in previous marathons, and I literally felt like I was out for a jog. But marathon’s are strange beasts, and it’s common knowledge that the race doesn’t start until the 30km mark. I cautiously stuck to my pace. I worked with a group of lads from Denmark and France, as well as a Scottish guy until the 30km mark. They had passed me at half way, but I went with them because they looked strong and seemed to be moving at a good pace for me.

At about the 30km mark, the group broke up and I found myself with the leading guy from Denmark (he was wearing a red Denmark singlet). At this point, I felt that these lads were starting to drop the pace, which surprised me because they had been a strong unit. So I pushed on, and started targeting runners ahead of me.

It would have been nice to run with someone else at this point, but nobody came with me and nobody whom I passed stuck on my tail. This is the downside of running a negative split – most people don’t run even or negative splits, so you’re likely to end up running on your own in the last few kilometres. The good thing is that you get a positive boost out of passing loads of people.

I felt right on top of things at 35km, but suddenly I started to feel my hamstrings tighten up, to the point where I thought they might cramp up entirely. Images of Craig Barrett entered my head – this could be a disaster! So I eased off a bit, and by 36km the tightness seemed to have eased off slightly and I decided to start pushing. When I passed the 37.2km mark (estimated based on 37km mark plus 200m), I realised that I had to run the last 5k in 18:50 to break the 2:40 goal (essentially I just had to continue at the same pace). I was exactly on target, but unless I could increase the pace it would be down to the second - that was an uncomfortable thought. So I pushed a bit harder, whilst still paranoid about the tight hamstring which had the potential to foil my race.

At the 39km mark - I was so close now that I knew I could put the hammer down safely. At this stage I had passed a couple of hundred people (estimate) since the 30km mark, and there were no longer many runners around. Those who were around, were moving quite slowly and I was pulling them back. I was now moving at close to 3:30 min/km pace. Adrenaline was pumping again as I knew how close I was. The course wound through the streets of Berlin Mitte, with large impressive buildings bordering the streets on either side.

Then the course turned onto Unter Den Linden at the 41km mark, and the Brandenburg Gate appeared 600m ahead of me. I went for it like a bull from a gate. I knew I was close to hitting target time (probably under), but I hadn’t been checking my splits, so I wasn’t sure. One thing I did know was that no ‘WALL’ could stop me now. I was still increasing the pace, and felt strong. All that mattered was getting to the finish line as quickly as I could.

I was momentarily wowed by the Brandenburg gates. It was all quite overwhelming. Then I caught a glimpse through the gates of a large elevated sign 400m beyond the gates that read ‘Ziel’ (German for ‘finish’). All of a sudden, I forgot about the impressive gates and my focus turned entirely to the finish. I didn’t even notice the gates as I went under them, because I was busy running and trying to read the clock above the Ziel sign to see how much time I had left to hit my target.

My hysterical happiness and satisfaction was manifested at the finish line in a wry smile. Nothing needed to be said (for a few moments). Months of aching legs, long painful runs, desperately chasing club mates around Bushy Park, hobbling around the office, had paid off with the ultimate dividend. Target achieved - 2:39:27.

Reid, Jason (NZL)
Platz / Overall: 142
Platz / Overall: 37 (in Altersklasse)
Nettozeit / chiptotal: 02:39:27

Bruttozeit / clocktotal: 02:39:45
Halb 1 / First half: 01:20:07
Halb 2 / Second half: 01:19:21
Zeit pro km / Time per km: 03:46
Geschwindigkeit / Speed: 15.88 km/h

5 km: 00:18:59
10 km: 00:37:44
15 km: 00:56:47
20 km: 01:15:57
25 km: 01:34:56
30 km: 01:53:57
35 km: 02:12:53
40 km: 02:31:31

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Berlin Marathon: Race Plan

The training is in the bank, and I've reached race weight. Now to run the race. Here is what I hope happens (see target times on map)

It's fairly simple, my plan is to run around this marathon course as fast as I can, hopefully in under 2h40min (3:47 min/km or 6:05 mile pace). Current personal best is 2h44min (3:53 min/km), achieved in Rotterdam in April 2010.

Based on my recent form in racing and in training, I think that this is best achieved by running the first half marathon in 80 minutes, and then trying to do the same in the second half. Most important thing is to avoid going out too fast, and running out of gas too early.

Obviously my ability to do this depends on a number of factors, such as:
  • Weather conditions: heat and wind both lead to slower marathon times
  • how I feel on the day (we all have our bad days)

  • whether I have paced it right

  • Where I have correctly estimated by physical condition (am I actually able of achieving the target time?)

  • ensuring that I hydrate properly during the race
My coach (Adam Jones at Rathfarnham W.S.A.F) pointed out that there is no point wasting energy on worrying about things that you can't control. Good point. So that means focusing on preparation, hydration, and pace.

I will do everything I can to nail the target time, but it may not happen if one or several of these factors play against me. If I'm not feeling strong, then I'll drop off the pace and try to run as best as I can - no dramas.

Here's hoping that everything comes together!:-)

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Berlin Marathon Taper

The last two weeks of the marathon training program is often refered to as 'the taper'. This involves reducing, or tapering off, exercise in the days leading up to an important competition - in my case, the Berlin marathon. The taper period immediately follows a peak in intensity over the training program.

There are several factors that should be taken into account over this period:

Physical Preparation

Introduce rest days into the schedule, avoid prolongued high effort work-outs (particularly if feeling fatigued), short fast sessions on the track are good to keep you sharp (e.g. 10x400 off 60 seconds), easy jogging is good. 4k time trial (at race pace) 9 days before the race is good for testing your speed , and sharpening up - it's short enough that your body can recover quickly. In between runs, ideally you should be resting up (stationary), rather than playing golf in the rain or going hiking up Mount Brandon :-)

Weight reduction is an effective way of improving your marathon result. Each kilogram of extra weight carried around can cost up to 2 minutes on a marathon time, so it is helpful to shed any extra kilograms (not that marathon runners have much extra weight to spare). Since this weight reduction has to occur during a period of rigorous training, it needs to be executed carefully over several weeks.

It's about being healthy and choosing the right foods, rather than going hungry. For example, my approach is to cut out alcohol, fizzy drinks, processed foods that are high in fat, desserts and sweets etc in the month leading up to the marathon. I try to eat mostly unprocessed fish, chicken, a variety of fruit and vegetables, wholemeal carbs (w/m pasta, brown rice, Weetabix, brown bread). I just drink water most of the time. For snacks, stick to healthy fillers like wholegrain crispbread and fruit.
Don't get me wrong, diet restrictions are not fun, especially not sitting in a pub drinking pints of water while your mates enjoy pints of Guinness. But it seems like a waste to train so hard for months, and then to handicap yourself by carrying extra weight around on race day, when it can be shed by simply cutting out treats for a short while. Treat yourself with tasty fruit selections. Can't wait to eat a chocolate bar next week. Mmmm.


I have reduced my weight over four weeks from 67kg (normal peak training weight) to 65kg race weight. After the race my weight will naturally return to about 67/68kg as I indulge in the much anticipated post race blow-out!

As you reduce mileage during a taper (last week or two before the marathon), you will not be burning as many calories. So at this stage you should naturally reduce the size and frequency of meals as well, otherwise you're probably eating more than you need to.

Carbohydrate loading begins three days before the marathon. Choose foods for lunch and dinner that are high in carbohydrates (e.g. pasta, potatoes, rice, etc.). Don't neglect fruits, vegetables, and some protein sources though. Avoid fats.

Drink lots of water, particularly in the last few days before the race when you are trying to fully hydrate yourself (you should be already hydrated when you wake on race day). Water helps the body to absorb and retain carbs.

Stick to foods that are tried and proven.

Get lots of sleep, and lots of time off your feet, in the last week leading up to the marathon. Sleep helps your body to operate better when it is working. It also helps you to recover from the training. Most top runners sleep for 9-11 hours per day.

Rest (and nutrition for that matter) is also very important for avoiding illness such as colds and the flu, which are easy to pick up during the peak training stage, or the taper.
Mental preparation

Try to remember that the work is done now, all you have to do is show up and give it a crack. Trust in your training. If you have down the yards in training, then it'll stand to you during the race. The last 10k of the marathon is supposed to hurt, so there is no need to fear the pain. The pain is only temporary - later you'll be enjoying the pints/steins plus chocolate, pizza etc and will have forgotten about it (until you try and walk to the bathroom). While the pain drifts from memory, the sense of achievement lasts.

Here is a more comprehensive guide to tapering for marathons:

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

How to raise a superstar

Click Here for a link to an interesting article written by Jonah Lehrer, the author of an excellent book I've been reading called 'How we decide'. The article discusses evidence suggesting that most elite sports people in the U.S come from small towns, and investigates potential reasons behind this.

Evidence suggests that the most important skills for success – the traits that allow us to persist in the face of challenges and perform under pressure – are more likely to emerge when we pursue a variety of athletic activities at a young age. This tends to happen more in smaller communities.
We won't be good at all of these sports, but that's probably a good thing. The struggle will make us stronger

The lesson here seems to be that the reason behind someone like Tiger Woods' success as a golfer is less to do with the fact that he's been practicing his golf swing since he was 2 years old (as per the theory that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to master a specific activity). It's more likely to be because he has been developing discipline and focus since he was 2 years old (he could have been doing any sport, and still turned to golf at a later age and had the same success in it).