Mark Almond’s Marathon Lessons

The warm weather email three days before the race told us to pay particular attention to our fluid intake, think about our clothing on the day – recommending not wearing running tights – and suggested the most recent weather forecasts predicted temperatures of around 16-17° come race day.

As London basked in temperatures up to 25°, the Brighton Marathoners tackled 21°, whilst those in Paris apparently faced 24°; it was time to curse the forecasters. Such hikes in temperature are not the friend of the long distance runner, though I wasn’t too worried as surely a marathon by the sea would guarantee pleasant sea breezes to take the ‘edge off’ as we went round.

Clearly someone had forgotten to tell the wind makers, as the stretch along the cliff tops usually pleasantly balmy from 11 miles to 14 miles was accompanied not by pleasant, cooling, air flows but by two gents, one with an unplugged electric keyboard and another with maracas, at a roundabout seeking to provide their own ‘cool’ inspiration by bashing out a few supportive tunes for runners as they trotted past. Whilst musical accompaniment is sometimes welcome, these plucky musicians were perhaps not what everyone wanted, thus drawing comments that ‘Soft Cell had let themselves go a bit’.

Digging in, I pushed on, and continued with the comfortable pace I’d managed to that point. It was near this point that I committed a cardinal sin by missing my massed family supporters who shouting, implored me to catch their eye and make contact as I ran past. To ensure my failure was absolute I high fived a complete stranger yards in front of the massed familial ranks, yet completely failed to see them.

Tainted love (oh)…..

I was completely unaware of this, and was becoming a little worried as I approached 13 miles that I hadn’t seen them, but passed another message on at 14 miles that I was ok and that I had missed them – though I was completely unaware of the snub until long after I had finished the race.

April 9th 2017 was my best, and worst, marathon experience. As a best it was my fastest ever, at last breaking the 3½ hour mark, finishing in the top 100 of my age category, and including some of my fastest ever marathon race sections.

And yet between 17 and 19 miles, I have never felt more like stopping than I did this time around.

Sometimes I feel I’ve got to, Run away,

I think the heat took more out of me than I anticipated, and I had to battle myself to keep going and get through it.

Again there’s lesson’s in this, indeed the whole marathon experience. In that ‘experience’, I include the full programme of training which began with half marathon training in late summer 2016, early marathon training from late October, and the key post-Christmas and late winter section slowly building up the mileage.

The key thing was that there was still learning to be had from my eighth iteration of the marathon journey. Despite all the hours put in previously, the mind games, the physical efforts, the miles completed, I still learnt more about the experience and particularly myself from it all. This boils down to the fact that Brighton 2017 surprised me, I didn’t expect it to be that hard. I knew I would have to dig in, push through, but I thought my previous experience would give me more of an edge, give me less to worry about, less to overcome.

Poppycock. Forget that, each marathon experience is different, requires different achievements, will need different obstacles and challenges to be overcome. Therefore it’s about keeping a much more open mind about what you may need to overcome, thus I hadn’t even thought hard about the potential impacts of such temperatures, or the fact that the race might be a ‘warm one’, and therefore hadn’t developed a strategy to properly cope with it. Thus I lost my way, almost, between 17 and 19 miles.

Get away from the pain you drive into the heart of me.

I did enough early in the race to get my PB, but looking at it now it could have all gone very wrong because I didn’t fully account for the unexpected conditions in the way I ran my race. Yes I was successful, but this was in spite of how I ran my race, not the way I actually ran it.

Next time, it’s a little more careful thought about ‘known’ conditions on the day and appropriate, but small, tweaks to the race plan as a result, in this case going off a little slower for the first 5-8km and easing into the race more than I actually did.

This ‘easing in’ is also a lesson for the overall marathon ‘experience’. At the outset I was a little too impatient for early results. I wanted to see more positive signs in my running prior to Christmas when this period was much more about laying some good foundations for success later on. I really noticed that sticking to my plan for runs accompanied by core strength training my times picked up significantly after late January. Having the patience for this to happen is something that hasn’t been there previously for me and knowing when to rest and relax during the training cycle is as important as the training itself.

The key is ‘trust the plan’ and stay patient for its results which are focussed on having your fastest and fittest race, not the fastest and fittest training. Plans can easily be changed, recalibrated, but it is all too easy to feel you need to put yourself under extra pressure because you don’t think everything is going to plan, but ask yourself what parameters you are placing on that.

Are you pressurising yourself because you don’t think you are where you should be and that, in your opinion, needs rectifying? You haven’t had the results you’re expecting, or the race remains seemingly as distant as ever? Being aware of these is important because these are exactly the positions you will find yourself in in the race as well. For me at 17 to 19 miles I was well aware that I wasn’t progressing as I felt I should be. I was wondering whether I should continue because of these feelings, these beliefs.

What I had to do was come back round to my bigger plan, my target for the race and focus on where I was in relation to that target not my exact position at 17-19 miles. Not whether I was slowing up dramatically and asking myself every stride whether I really wanted to carry on. Rather, it was just a phase in completing this bloody thing that I needed to get through – that tough mid-February Sunday run when 15km easy seems like the hardest thing in the world and the prospect of running nearly three times that distance seems like a totally ludicrous proposition, especially at marathon pace.

The final lesson was that I still want to do this. My overall health and wellbeing is so enhanced by this physical activity that I can’t let it go. However the next round goes, I want more of that feeling, or perhaps it’s more of an addiction. Whatever it is, its one I’ll take on again, just to be surprised, just to hear what music the duo play, and to make sure I high five my family members, rather than random strangers. And at least there wasn’t any jelly this year!

Now I’m gonna pack my things and go

About Simon Tanner

Nine time marathon runner, having run Brighton x6, London x2, and Manchester x1, finally got a London ballot place after 7 consecutive attempts. I try to write about things I'm going through / have gone through in training to help others attain their running goals, whatever the distance.
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