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Ignoring the fear

June 3, 2012

Having run the Edinburgh Marathon in similar conditions to the 2011 London Marathon (it was hot, I went off fast, I hit the wall in the latter stages of the race), I thought it would be useful to compare the splits from the two events.

First, a short recount of how each went (based on my entirely subjective memories):

  • The 2011 Virgin London Marathon was warm, but the heat didn’t really kick in until around mile 18. I had piled the pressure on myself to go sub-3, and despite fighting off a cold for the previous week, I set off at an ambitious pace. I realised I wasn’t 100 per cent after the first couple of miles and kept easing on the brakes. For no good reason, I decided to take on the Lucozade drinks and largely ignore my carb gels. I crossed the line in 3:06. (A more detailed race report is here.)
  • The 2012 Edinburgh Marathon was around the same temperature as London the previous year, although there was less shade on the course so the heat started to tell earlier. I had no pressure on me to achieve a good time because I’d run 2:55 at London six weeks before, but despite this I felt good and wanted to see what I could do. I kept to my nutrition strategy – taking on a gel every 7 miles – but had to take on an extra gel around 23 miles as I was running low on energy. I crossed the line in 2:56, knackered but pleased. (A more detailed race report is here.)

My memories of the races are very different, and the splits below tell some clear stories.

Virgin London Marathon 2011

My splits from the Virgin London Marathon 2011

My splits from the Virgin London Marathon 2011

There are a couple of things to note about London and any GPS-based devices: there are a lot of tall buildings and several tunnels. Consequently these splits aren’t fully accurate (for example, at mile 24 I didn’t suddenly knock out a 5:35).

Looking back, there are a couple of things I hadn’t noticed at the time:

  • Between miles 1 and 4 I was increasing in speed. There are some downhill sections on the course here, but given that my target pace at the time was 6:40, I shouldn’t have knocked out a 6:22 on mile 2 and then sped up for the next two miles. Clearly caught up in the excitement of the moment: rookie mistake.
  • The gradual sapping of speed up until mile 12 felt strategic at the time, but is part of what defines my memory of this race. I was easing off the gas, but I think that hit me psychologically more than I thought it would. It was in this stage of the race that the germ of the idea that I couldn’t do this started to grow.
  • At mile 15 I’d seen that the last three miles had been at slower than 3-hour pace, so I tried to inject some speed. For whatever reason, it didn’t happen and here the grind started. I didn’t have the strength in my legs or my mind to pick up the necessary speed and push on through.
  • From mile 18 onwards the 7:20+ minute splits consistently ate into my finishing time. I’d gone out too fast, got myself into the wrong mindset, and this was where I really started to pay. To hit 3 hours dead on you need to run 6:52 miles, so for every mile hovering in the mid-7s that’s a good 30 seconds (often more) on to my finish time – an easy 4 minutes if we’re being generous.

If I were to be contemplative about this race, I’d say that the fear of failure brought about the failure. Instead of visualising success, I was visualising failure from an early stage.

Edinburgh Marathon 2012

My splits from the 2012 Edinburgh Marathon

My splits from the 2012 Edinburgh Marathon

The course of the Edinburgh Marathon largely avoids tall buildings, and despite flirting with Arthur’s Seat, the satellite signal is much stronger so the splits are much more accurate.

  • I missed mile 1 being clocked off because the crowd of runners was thick, and I assumed I was running slowly so picked up the pace for mile 2.
  • At mile 2 I saw a decent time and did a rough calculation for the pace of mile 1. The pace felt good, but I knew it would be trouble to keep it at that speed, so let off a little bit. The first part of the course includes quite a few downhill stretches, so mile 4 is more an indication of terrain rather than being over-keen.
  • At mile 12 my pace had started to drift slower by a few seconds. I knew I would pass the half-way point faster than I had for my marathon PB, but I was still feeling positive about the rest of the race. When the halfway point flashed past it occurred to me that if I could manage an even split I’d be looking at 2:52.
  • Up until mile 22 it had all been going well, relatively consistent splits (albeit with a few seconds lost here and there), but then the tiredness hit. I was starting to feel the heat and my quads were starting to burn.
  • For miles 23 to 26 I was conscious that moving was becoming harder and harder work. Looking back at this, and remembering how it felt, it surprises me that there weren’t some slower miles. Despite the pain and fatigue, I stayed positive and pushed myself to keep going.

And…?

I guess there are two ways to look at this:

  1. I’m now stronger and able to hold it together more consistently, or
  2. I’m more experienced and have developed better mental strategies for coping with the marathon.

Personally, I think it’s a combination of both.

My training this year has gone well. The long runs have been as much a slog as ever, but juggling paced long runs and timed long runs has kept them interesting. Building threshold runs into my weekly training has done good things for my speed, and running with a rucksack has helped me to improve my running style.

Despite the fact that I had another pre-marathon build-up race that didn’t go to plan (in 2011 I got lost on the half-marathon course and instead of getting a PB I ran an extra five miles; in 2012 I got to the Silverstone Half-marathon start line a good few minutes after the gun had gone off), I kept a positive perspective. I was in sub-3 health in 2011, but my mind wasn’t in the right place. Believing you can do something – and continuing to believe it and care about it despite tiredness and pain – is half the battle.

So, with 2:55 under my belt, it’s time to focus on speed over the summer. I’m going to PB in both 5km and 10km (no two ways about it), and then in the autumn I’m going to think about what I want to do at the 2013 Virgin London Marathon.

This year’s a good year, but next year is going to be great.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. June 6, 2012 9:13 pm

    2:49:59 😉

    • June 6, 2012 10:10 pm

      Now there’s something to shoot for!

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