“Apologies for the delay. I have struggled to find the time to write this for one reason or another, but seeing as I am now base building for April’s London Marathon and it is 8 / 9 weeks since Chicago, I thought I best get this finished – better late than never right?!
Please forgive me for any glaring spelling and / or grammar errors, as I have been slightly lazy and not fully proof read the content.
I will try (being the operative word) to keep this section brief and summarise it in numbers. There were two ‘starts’ to the training plan – 1) 6 weeks of base training 2) 15 weeks of marathon specific training. I considered the 6 week base period necessary, as I had done limited running in the month that followed April’s Manchester Marathon. I wanted to arrive at the start of the marathon specific training in reasonable aerobic shape after: putting on 4kgs, losing most of the Manchester fitness, etc.
The Garmin numbers for the 6 weeks of base training were:
Total miles – 271.42.
Number of activities – 33.
Average weekly mileage – 45.
The Garmin numbers for the 15 weeks of marathon specific training (excluding race day itself) were:
Total miles – 1,071.06.
Number of activities – 117.
Average weekly mileage – 71.
% of steady – recovery paced (aerobic) miles – 72%.
Longest run – 27.7 miles.
Longest time on feet run – 3 hours 30 minutes.
The combined data for the 6 weeks of base training and 15 weeks marathon specific training was:
Total miles – 1,342.48.
Number of activities – 150.
Average weekly mileage – 64.
During the second half of the marathon specific training, I like to target 3 key races to gauge my progress and ensure I am on target or near to the where I need to be come marathon day, which on this occasion was to be in sub-2:45 (London Championship qualifying time) shape. The key races were a parkrun, 10k and Half Marathon – the targets and results of which were:
Parkrun – target – 17:10(ish). Actual – 17:05 – a 23 second PB.
Half Marathon – target – 1:18:30(ish). Actual – 1:16:44 – a 3 minute and 5 second PB.
10K – target – 35:40(ish). Actual – 35:23 – a 56 second PB.
All the key races were on or ahead of target, so I knew the training was going well. However, I have done a few marathons now and know that the marathon distance is a completely different animal to the distances mentioned above. Whilst the above times are a useful guide, they certainly do not guarantee x time come race day, because with a marathon, there is plenty of time for something to go wrong, both physically and mentally.
This was the usual final taper week where there was another big reduction in mileage, but it still included a couple of speed sessions, albeit reduced in volume.
Mentally, I was very calm and relaxed throughout the week. The only ‘issues’ I had were: how often I should run, what mileage I should run, whether I should stick to my time goal or aim higher. I will deal with the latter point a little later in the report. For Manchester, I ran 16.5 miles in race week, which was spread over four days. Although I set a big(ish) PB (12 minutes), I questioned if I had tapered too much. My final decision was somewhat influenced by a brief Facebook exchange with a sub-2:22 marathoner. I decided to do the same as I did for Manchester, but included another run, so the total mileage in race week was circa 21 miles, spread over 5 days.
Before I knew it, it was Thursday, which only meant one thing…carb load commenced. Basically, the carb load means I don’t stop eating or drinking ‘treats’ for three days – I thoroughly enjoy this part of marathon training.
Friday morning arrived and it was a 3:45am rise, because Kev (Martin) and I were meeting at 4:30am for the 5am National Express to Heathrow. As we were boarding the coach, the driver told us our ticket meant that we had to change at Gatwick and get a connecting coach from there. In isolation, this issue appears minor and insignificant, but it was a taster of things to come throughout the day. The ‘other issues’ were mainly down to the sports tour company we used, or the guide from the tour company would be more accurate.
Firstly, if an 8.5 hour flight, two days prior to the marathon wasn’t enough, we had to ‘unnecessarily’ wait around at the airport for a couple of hours – most of which was spent on our feet.
Secondly, when we were being transferred from the airport to our hotel, the driver was doing her tourist bit (she was a very nice lady), when she made the following comment – bear in mind everyone on the coach was from the sports tour company and doing the marathon – “I don’t know if any of you are aware, but it is the Chicago Marathon this weekend – I think it is 10 miles or it might be 20 miles” 😊.
Thirdly, when we arrived at the hotel, the sports tour guide said, we will all meet back at reception in 15 minutes and go to the Expo together. Kev and I went to our room and were back at reception within the allocated time. We waited, and waited, and waited, until we eventually decided that he and some others gone without us.
Fourthly, upon collecting my number from the Expo, Kev noticed that the name on my race packet was female (I know some of will think or say, but that could still be you). After an initial panic, I spoke to some volunteers, who checked everything and was reassured that everything was okay and that the number was in my name.
Finally, by the time we had been to the Expo, eaten (felt like the only thing that went well on that day), got back to the hotel ready to sleep, we had been awake for the best part of 24 hours – not ideal preparation with the marathon being less than 36 hours away.
Saturday morning meant my last pre-marathon run. The session was, 1k warm up, 4 x 2 minutes at 5:15(ish) pace – about a minute quicker than planned marathon pace – off two minute recoveries, 1k warm down. I like to do a short speed session a day before a marathon (and most times I race for that matter, which currently isn’t that often). I know this is not for everyone, but it generally appears to work well for me. However, on this occasion, it didn’t go to plan – I felt sluggish from the 1k warm up. Rightly or wrongly, I put this down to the following factors: fatigued legs from the flight, lack of sleep from the previous day and the warmth and humidity in Chicago. Kev was also out doing a mixture of some easy paced running and strides. There were many large groups of marathon runners, also running up and down Michigan Avenue – I could feel the excitement and buzz.
The rest of the day was pretty chilled and not a lot happened, although there was a funny moment in the evening. Whilst chilling, the plan for race day would occasionally pop into my thoughts – the internal conversation would go something like this…one part of me would say, you have trained for a sub-2:45, so stick to this. The other part of me would say, training has gone well, you are in good shape, so why not push on for a sub-2:40. I was having a battle with my sensible side and as someone ‘rudely’ pointed out on a running forum, probably my ego. Thankfully, my sensible side is prominent where running is concerned, so sub-2:45 remained the target. On to the funny evening moment. Kev and I went out for dinner and a married American couple and their two daughters were seated next to us. After a short while, the wife leant over and in a ‘cockney’ accent said, “Xcuse me luvs, where ya from?” It might be one of those ‘you had to be there moments’, but it was very funny at the time.
After 7(ish) hours sleep, it was around 4:30am local time and time to rise. This might seem early, but as the race started at 7:30am, it gave me 3 hours to get myself together. This is plenty of time for me to wake up and go through my usual pre-race marathon routine that wouldn’t be complete without numerous visits to the ‘bathroom’. Before we left the hotel room to walk to the start line at Grant Park (about a mile from our hotel), we decided on the umpteenth weather check. To be fair to the forecasters, the forecast had not changed throughout the week – it was going to be warm and humid with wind of circa 15mph – 25mph coming out of the south west. This forecast proved to be spot on for the race.
At Chicago, they have an Event Alert System (EAS), which communicates the status of race conditions. EAS levels range from Low (Green) to Extreme (Black). This is based primarily on weather. In race week and on race day itself, the EAS level was moderate (yellow). This means that “event conditions” were “less than ideal” and the “recommended actions” were “slow down / be prepared for worsening conditions”.
We entered Grant Park and after one final toilet break, Kev and I made our way into Corral A to do our warm ups, etc. We lost each other for a bit, but when we started gathering for the start, I spotted Kev. I went over to him, wished him well and took my place ready for the off.
With only a couple of minutes to go until the start, I experienced a first…a couple of guys leisurely squatted down in front of me in the start pen, pulled their shorts to the side and started urinating. Their ran (no pun intended) into people’s running shoes, so once finished, they both stood up as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened and calmly said to those with urine running shoes, “Don’t worry guys, it’s only water”, and that was pretty much the end of that.
0 – 5km
I take my first gel and within a couple of minutes we’re off. I preset my Garmin to alert me every 31 minutes for a gel. There is nothing scientific about this time period. I like to be slightly ‘non-conformist’, which is why I opted for 31 minutes instead of 30 minutes. Yes, I am a rebel without a cause. Anyway, I digress, back to the race. To allow for Garmin error, a possibly slight fade over the last 5km – 10km and a relatively even paced run, I planned to set off at around 6:10 pace. What I learned from my first marathon (Brighton 2014) is: 1) That patience is key, and 2) To resist the urge to go too quickly in the first 20 – 22 miles.
Within 400(ish) metres, we went through a tunnel which must have been about circa 600m long and I lost signal. When I came out from the tunnel and regained signal, my average pace was showing at just over 7 minute per mile pace. Intuitively, I knew I was running quicker than that, but for some reason, I sped up to get my average time down to the target pace. I wasted unnecessary energy doing this.
Thankfully, due to the heat and humidity, there were water stations pretty much at every mile or so for the duration of the marathon, so I regularly drank water and / or poured it over myself to cool me down, even at this early stage
The the noise from the crowds during this section was something to remember. I go through the 5km marker in 18:48 / 6:03 average pace.
5 – 25km
My perfectionist and sensible sides were slightly annoyed for going too quickly through the first 5km. Although the first 5km were quicker than planned, I still felt relaxed and comfortable, but I told myself to slow down in the second 5km, which was achieved. 5km split 19:08 / 6:10 average pace – through 10km in 37:56.
From memory (which is shocking in general, but even worse when racing), the majority of first 10km was shielded from the sun and the wind and / or gusts by the many skyscrapers. This changed from around the 10k mark. I can’t recall the specifics, but the majority of the remainder of the race was exposed to the increasing temperature and the wind and / or gusts lasted for a few minutes on each occasion and were generally into a headwind, or that’s how it felt.
The next 15km were uneventful and ticked along rather nicely and swiftly – the 5km splits were: 19:22 / 6:14 average pace – through 15km in 57:18. 19:26 / 6:16 average pace – through 20km in 1:16:44. 19:19 / 6:13 average pace – through 25km in 1:36:03. In amongst the last of those 5kms was the halfway mark, which I went through in 1:21:02, so through halfway bang on the planned 6:10 pace. I had a little grin, nodded my head in acknowledgement and reinforced that it was game on for the London Championship qualifying target.
25 – 30km
From nowhere, as is generally the case, the predictable and inevitable race demon was on my shoulder. The voice was loud and strong. It was stronger than anything I had experienced in previous races. Within a matter of seconds, I had gone from running strongly and confidently and feeling mentally in control, to having a brief (a couple of seconds) slow down in preparation to walk (and feeling mentally out of control), to tuning into my stubborn, determined and self-competitive sides and pushing on. It was certainly a turbulent rollercoaster ride mentally through this phase of the race.
I was genuinely worried and knew I had to do something imminently. I looked around, saw there were big(ish) but quiet(ish) crowds and done something I had never done before…I played to the crowd, which surprisingly, but thankfully helped massively. I was lifting my hands up in the air and putting my hands to ears, encouraging the crowd to make more noise to which they obliged. Admittedly, it might be a ‘cockish’ thing to do, but at times, desperate measures call for desperate actions, and it felt like a very desperate moment. I carried this on for about km and it worked wonders. Whilst it killed the demon, it almost killed me aerobically – I was knackered.
Once the panic was over, I calmed myself down, gave myself another good talking to and from this moment on, dedicated certain parts of the race to friends and family that are no longer here. Despite struggling mentally, physically, I still felt strong, which was supported by the 5km split of 19:20 / 6:14 average pace – through 30km in 1:55:23.
30 – finish
Using the experiences and knowledge from the Amsterdam and Manchester marathons, I knew if I had paced it correctly, my patience would pay off. True to previous experiences, this is what happened. I picked off quite a lot of runners, whilst only being picked off by a handful at most. This, coupled with knowing I was still on target for the sub-2:45 gave me a welcomed mental boost. 5km split of 19:32 / 6:18 average pace – through 35km in 2:14:55.
Inevitably, my legs started to feel a little tired and the calves were tightening. I checked my form and told myself to run as relaxed as I could under the circumstances – sometimes, it is easier said than done. I done some calculations in my head and knew that I needed to run the last 7+km in 30 minutes, which in isolation would have been a stroll. However, it is a different story when the body has already done 35km.
I was hoping the calculation would give me some positive vibes, but it didn’t – in fact it had the adverse effect. The thoughts that immediately followed the calculation were, you still have about half-hour to run, which is a long long time. I had another chat with myself and the message was loud and clear…keep it in the moment and don’t worry about how long is left. It was at some point during this section that the Marathon went through Chinatown. 5km split of 19:44 / 6:21 average pace – through 40km in 2:34:39.
The expected fade was happening, but it was quite insignificant. It wasn’t anything to worry about, or not up until this stage anyway. I have learnt not to take anything for granted in the marathon. There was still plenty of time for something to go wrong, even over the closing 2+kms.
The race was getting tougher and tougher both physically and mentally, but the kms were ticking by. I saw the 400m left to go sign, looked down at my Garmin and it said late 2:41’s. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a sprint left in …