Thursday, 25 April 2013

London Marathon Race Report

Its been 3 years since I last ran the London Marathon in 2010. Back then I was aiming for sub 3:30 and missed my goal by just 6 seconds! Fast forward to last Sunday and my time goal was to 'shave' 30 minutes off this time and go sub 3hrs. My training for WSER has been going really well and the opportunity arose with only 2 weeks to the start line to run London. It was great timing and allowed me to lay down a marker to measure my improvement over the past 4 months following on from last month's 1:20 half marathon.

I was confident that I would have a good shot at 3 hrs but there are absolutely no guarantees with so many variables on the day re weather, and simply how you are feeling on the day. For me doing sub 3 comes down to one thing and one thing only - how bad do you want it!!!? Ok you obviously need the training base as well but there is no doubt in my mind that if mind AND body don't work together then sub 3 isn't achievable. So this is how I approached it with an unwavering determination to crack sub 3 whatever it takes.

Race day and I was up at 4:20am although didn't sleep from 3:30am onwards. I was just too damn excited :-) I fuelled with a pre marathon breakfast of a bacon, tomato, spinach and cheese omelette with avocado. A firm favourite of mine and something I have tested and run on before. Getting to Blackheath can be a bit of a pain but not this time... the Leighton Fun Runners had very kindly laid on a coach for all local runners which picked us all up from the high street. Perfect and we were soon on our way. I used this time to further fuel polishing off a Mars milk and my homemade quinoa,banana and chia seed porridge. Yum yum!! With a late 10am race start I would have eaten my main breakfast a full 5 hrs before so topping up the energy levels was a wise move.

On arrival at Blackheath our coach driver very nicely informed us that we were driving over 1000s of bodies - the apparent burial ground of Londoners who died in the black plague. Thanks for that :-O  I still had 2 hours to kill at the start which gladly went quite fast. I was in Pen 1 on the red start which comes with its own pre race holding area complete with separate changing tent, toilets and FREE tea and coffee! :-) Now there is motivation to run a 'fast good for age' time if ever one was needed.

I sat basking in the early morning sunshine with fellow local runners from Herts, Beds and Bucks clubs who all congregated together. Conversation naturally fell on race strategy and pacing. And it appeared that everyone was aimed for sub 3 too. And the accepted wisdom was to aim for a 6:45 minute per mile pace which would bring you in at 2:58. This was my plan too. With the usual frantic last minute dash to be baggage lorry and then the long queue for the portaloos I was soon on the start line with 10 minutes to go. Alongside club mate Andy Inchley who was also going for the same time and has a 2:58 PB and 1:19 PB in the half we are quite evenly matched. 4 minutes to go and we held a very emotionally charged 30 second silence for those that fell and suffered in the Boston tragedy. Everyone running was given a black ribbon to wear on the day and I didn't see a single person who wasn't wearing one. This was a massive show of solidarity by the running community.

And with that we were soon set off on our way. I love the London route with both its contrast as you run through the outskirts of inner London south of the river and then cross Tower Bridge to be greeted with the mayhem of Canary Wharf later in the race whilst passing many major landmarks on the way. The support that lined the course this year was simply incredible. I've run London three times before but have never seen or experienced a crowd so charged with energy. I think London came out in force to show respect to Boston and demonstrate our resolve and determination not to be beaten by sheer acts of madness and mindless evil. Humanity won on Sunday.

Back to the start and Andy and I quickly fell into our target pace of 6:45 minute miling. Starting in Pen 1 meant that there was no bottlenecks, no people to dodge around to stay on pace. It was quite the opposite in fact with one needing to stay calm and composed and not get carried away whilst a few others perhaps by plan or through sheer excitement set off at what looked like 10k pace! The miles quickly ticked by with Andy and I working together nicely to pace one another and grab water from the drinks stations and share the bottle to reduce waste and leave water for those behind who would need it more than us. The Garmin was telling me that I was on pace at 6:45 with each mile. I was ticking along very nicely and there isn't a lot more to say about that really. I continued to soak up both the sun that was shining very brightly and also the amazing crowd. They were absolutely deathening in places! I knew I was working hard as sub 3 wasn't ever going to feel easy so even the miles in the first half 'felt' fast.

I went over Tower bridge at 12.5 miles which always raises the pulse, and soon reached the half marathon mark. My time 1:29.21 but on the road side clock it was nearer 1:30. Blimey I thought despite working hard and efficiently up to his point I didn't have much of a cushion and would need to run the second half at near enough the identical pace! Ouch this is really gonna hurt. However I was still full of optimism to achieve my goal and wasn't wavering mentally.

I think it was about 15 miles just after seeing my mum and dad at my company lucozade drinks station that I started to feel the pace. And what compounded this feeling is that I started comparing the 'actual' race time on my watch from when I crossed the start line to my 3hr pace band (not the Garmin). I got a bit of a shock as the cushion of time that I thought I was building up from banging out the 6:45 pace was actually nearer 6:50 pace. This doesnt sound a huge difference but when the margins are so small it really matters. At that point I think I worked out that I had about a 40 second cushion which is nothing and could be lost in one mile let alone eleven! This rather spurred me on however. I simply knew that I couldn't afford to stop concentrating and let the pace drop even by a few seconds a mile. Andy had steadily started to pull away from me in the second half. I wasn't slowing down so he was obviously speeding up ever so slightly. I was comfortable with this and didn't try to chase but instead continued to bang out those 6:50 miles.

By Canary Wharf at 18-20 miles it was evident that people around me were slowing down, which mentally always spurs you on when you start passing runners ahead. Unfortunate for them but great physiologically for me. It was also around this point that I finally caught the Runners World 3hr pace maker. Right I thought all I need to do now is hang on to this guy and I'm sorted. Easier said than done however as he pushed the pace which felt way faster than 3hr but it was indeed on pace and it took absolutely everything I had just to keep up.

I continued to use water to rehydrate but avoided the lucozade. At 21 miles was the second gel station and I decided that if a gel meant the difference between running 2:59.59 or 3:00 then I wasn't going to risk it and not take one. My 'good fats' fuelled Paleo diet had got me this far and running on water alone may well get me a sub 3 but I wasn't going to be too proud my risk it. My legs were screaming at me to slow but I was having none of it and the energy gel definitely gave me a mental boost to keep pushing. Placebo or real it worked and actually tasted great too (new Lucozade Elite brand).

To my surprise I then caught up with Andy who was struggling to hold onto the 3hr pace. I tried to motivate him to run with me but at this point my cushion was down to less than 30 seconds with the hardest 4 miles still to go. There was no way I could hang around so I pushed on.The 3hr pace maker was now 50 or so metres up the road but I remained steadfast in my determination that sub 3 was mine for the taking and knew I had a slight cushion between me and the pace maker as they crossed the start line 30-45 seconds before me. The final miles were extremely enjoyable actually as I knew all I had to do was keep putting one foot in front of the other (abet quite quickly!) I was passing many more runners now than at any other time in the race. They undoubtedly set off too fast in the search of a sub 3 to 'bank' the miles, but in marathon running I just don't think that pacing strategy works and always comes back to bite you on the backside.

Victoria Embankment was lined with supporters 3 deep on both sides of the  road. It was a great feeling as I approached Big Ben and turned the ninety degree right turn pass Westminster and towards Buckingham Palace. Soon I saw the 800yrds to go sign!! Yes we still do imperial over here and the marathon will always be 26 miles & 865yds and not 42.195km ! ;-)

400yrds to go and onto the Mall. The finish line was almost in sight. I could hear the finish line announcer saying that the 3hr pace maker was approaching the finish line as the gantry timing clock ticked towards and over the 3hr mark. Of course the all important time was on my watch from when I actually started 'my race'. My cushion was down to less than 30 seconds as I sprinted down the Mall and over the finish line as I punched the air in celebration (as every runner who didn't make the finish line in Boston would have done). My watch said 2:59.40 :-) I had done it!!! Yes!!!  I later learned in the pub that my chip time was 2:59.35. Time to celebrate with my first pint in over four months me thinks.

It was a great race for me. I set out to achieve a very specific goal and executed it with precision and determination and had to dig deeper than I have ever done before. Whilst ultras require a similar unwavering determination and focus this race pushed me further in that there was simply was no margin of error. My pacing had to be spot on and was the most consistent I've ever run a race of any distance in my life. My 5km splits from the chip timing were as follows. Just 10 seconds separated my slowest and quickest kilometer.

Whilst not a negative split race my second half was only 53 seconds slower than the first. Quite how I managed this and ran straight through the wall crushing it underfoot can be put down to one thing: consistent training and mileage. There is no trick to this running malarky I've learnt. Since 1st Jan I've averaged 45 miles per week which has been split between quality speed sessions; from intense 1 mile efforts to hard 10 milers, longer runs (15-30 milers) and a lot else in between. I've thoroughly enjoyed the journey to this point and I am extremely excited about the path that lays ahead. Between now and Western States which is in just 2 months time I have two major training races to go: the first is this weekend! The Fellsman in the Yorkshire Dales promises to test my powers of recovery to my limit with 61 miles of fells, moors and peat bogs to negotiate on route. With over 11,000ft of climbing and a similar amount of descent the timing couldn't be better to recreate the trashed legs feeling I will have at Western States 100. Then it's two weeks of training before I peak for the North Downs Way 50 which I plan to give a good go and break 8hrs. We shall see on that one.

And on the diet front the Paleo/Primal approach continues to motivate me to eat better. I can really say that this has made a massive difference to how I feel, my fitness and health and recovery time. And if others are interested then go read to find out more about going primal!


  1. Bloody brilliant effort Stu, your pacing was awesome, it is so hard to keep the pace in the latter stages, so your mental focus was obviously 100% (something I can work on). Enjoy the sub3, you worked hard for it, hope the traning and racing before WS100 goes 100% for you. Hopefully see you on the trails at some stage, but there is no hope in hell I can keep up with you, you have gone to another level.

  2. What a great achievement and a text book pacing account. Very well done Stu that's very very good.

  3. Thanks guys very kind words.

    Great to meet you Simon on the Fellsman even if it was not under the best circumstances. Hope you're ok and recover well! I've posted my Fellsman report.... it was a slog!!!