Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The next station is... Greenwich

With less than three weeks to go until London marathon, it seems like as good of a time as any to take stock of where I’m at and assess the task at hand.

Last September I ran the Berlin marathon in a time of 2h39 minutes and 23 seconds. Since then I have spent approximately three months drinking pints and eating chocolate (admittedly I was also training to some degree through November and December). Then I organised my London marathon entry, and I knew that my only chance to get back in the game was to spend a month training in isolation in Kenya.

So after scoffing several pounds of turkey over Christmas in anticipation of a period of culinary austerity, I flew to Iten for some altitude training. These were Spartan times, which gave me little to do except to focus on improving my running and involuntarily (but happily) lose a few kilograms. I then returned to Dublin to work, and more importantly, to continue my training. I also rekindled my relationship with chocolate and beer, but this time I restricted access.

Upon returning to Ireland I ran two good races, including the National Intermediate cross-country and the Ballycotton 10 (54:13). I also ran two disappointing races at the National Senior teams Cross country and the Fr Murphy AC St Paddy's Day 5 mile in Co. Meath (admittedly it was more of a tempo run, but either way I got whipped and ran badly). But I’ve been training through all of these races (not interrupting training to rest up), all of the while focused on Sunday 17 April: the day of the London Marathon.

Here is the course:

As you can see, the marathon starts in Greenwich Park in South East London. The course veers East before turning back on itself and heading West along the Thames towards the city centre. The course crosses the London bridge at the half marathon mark, then meanders eastward around the financial centre before folding back on itself along the Northern side of the Thames. In the last few miles runners pass many of the famous landmarks of London, before passing Big Ben and Westminster Abbey and finishing in the Buckingham Palace Gardens.

Setting a target time

After completing the Berlin Marathon in September, I set myself a goal of running 2h32 minutes in London. This goal was the driving force behind my motivation through the cold dark months of winter (ok fair enough, it wasn’t that wintery in Kenya). But in the final lead-up to the race it is important to set a ‘target time’ which will underpin my race plan and pace throughout the race.

When the starting gun fires at the beginning of a marathon, the field takes off and everyone feels super. Well prepared runners have fresh legs for a change, and should feel well rested after a decent taper period (rest). The adrenal glands are firing rounds of borrowed energy into the bloodstream, courtesy of your anxiety combined with the buzz of the crowd. For this reason, many people are over-confident and take off like a rocket from the gun. But as these folk learn when they hit the half way mark: adrenaline doesn’t last for 26.2 miles (42.2km). There is no hiding from your actual physiological capacity and preparedness for the task.

The fastest way to run a marathon is to pace it more-or-less evenly throughout the entire race. Common theory holds that if you run the first ten kilometres one minute too fast, then you’ll probably run the last ten kilometres two minutes slower than you otherwise would have done. So it pays to be acutely aware of your physical condition, and to get the pace right. The best way to assess your physical capacity is to analyse your race results and training performances. I have yet to complete my test sessions. But based on my performances and training so far, my goal time of 2h32 minutes remains a realistic target, if not a little ambitious.

Last year I targeted sub-2h45min in Rotterdam marathon and ran 2h44min (in April), then targeted sub-2h40min in Berlin Marathon and ran 2h39min (in September). Both times I felt that I had run well and had paced it conservatively, but perhaps could have run quicker if my target time had been quicker. So this time I’m happy enough to take a risk and set a more demanding target time. Time will tell whether that is a good decision.

Next is to break-down the race based on the target time.

Finish time: 2 hours 32 minutes

3:36 minutes/km (or 5km splits of 18:00)

5:48 minutes/mile (5 mile splits of 29:00)

When I’m standing on the starting line in Greenwich, I’ll be thinking almost entirely about getting my pace right and listening to my body. My Garmin watch will bleep at me every kilometre during the race and display my kilometre split. And there will be mile markers along the way with large clocks fitted. Initially, this prescribed pace should feel very comfortable (in fact easy). If I have set my target time and pace correctly, then all will feel comfortable for a good while, before getting steadily harder over the last ten kilometres. By the time I hit the 40km mark if all goes well I’ll be giving it everything just to hold on. If I have over-estimated my fitness however, then I'll suffer a long and painful struggle to the finish line.

Hitting this target is anything but a foregone conclusion. As I said in my blog post before Berlin Marathon, there are many obstacles that could present themselves (wind, stomach cramps, toilet stops, heat). These need to be accounted for on the day. Failure to be flexible in light of extraneous factors can be catastrophic to performance. For example, if it’s hot, I’ll probably have to recalibrate the goal time to a slower time and pace the race accordingly from the start. Otherwise there is a high risk of blowing up.

Despite the focus here on pace, in reality you have to run based on how you feel. If it feels hard when it shouldn’t feel hard (i.e. early on), then I’ll slow down.

More to come on the pain that it took to get here…

1 comment:

Ciarán Aylward said...

Nice post - best of luck!