Back on the marathon trail

I’m on the marathon training trail. Again.

Just over four years ago I ran my first marathon, in Birmingham. Since then I’ve branched out into doing trail running, experimented with wild running and obstacle races, did some lockdown run-challenges and fundraising with my club (Green Heart Runners), and twice had the Edinburgh marathon postponed due to lockdown. But this year, it’s the big one again. For me, this is the Edinburgh 2020 marathon, taking place in 2022.

Training has begun. I have been keeping up with the running just about, over the past six months, but now the proper training has started. For me it gets serious when I download the training app as it reminds you when your runs and cross-training sessions should be, and how far you should be going. I downloaded the app just before Christmas and have been fastidiously keeping to the schedule.

The marathon is in May. It’s easy to think that it’s just too far, and that I won’t be able to do it. And if the marathon was tomorrow, then that would be true. But that’s obviously the whole point of training. I have friends who say they could never do a 5k, 10k or half marathon, but the same logic applies.

Having already run one marathon is a huge help. I know the preparation, the pitfalls (though I’m sure I’ll discover more), the pain, and the elation at the end of the race. I know the irritation and frustration of poor training runs, the difficulty of finding new and interesting, yet safe, running routes, the challenge of ensuring you are well-fuelled before and during training runs, the worry about injuries and that feeling of tired satisfaction on a Sunday afternoon on the sofa when I’ve returned from the long weekly run.

My preparation for my first and only marathon to date was pretty good. I planned well and built up gradually with running and strength training combined. The biggest mistakes I made, which I didn’t fully appreciate at the time related to fuel, distance and pace. I didn’t really experiment enough with how to fuel myself prior to a big run, which I didn’t realise until the day itself. Also, my longest training run ahead of the marathon was twenty-one miles. Come race day, at precisely mile twenty-one, suddenly I felt extreme pain and cramp in three leg muscles all at the same time. I still need to do more research into the exact reason for this, but I am well-informed that this would have been as a result of inadequate intake of the right foods and drink before and during the race. I also feel that I should’ve done a full marathon distance ahead of time and not left it until race day to inflict the surprise of the full twenty-six miles on my legs. That excruciating moment during the Birmingham marathon meant I had to stop for a couple of minutes. At that moment, stretching was difficult as that just set another muscle spasm off, but somehow I trudged on to complete the last five miles of the race, in considerable discomfort. As it happens, the much slower final five miles weren’t the clinching reason I didn’t complete the run in under four hours, which had been my rather lofty ambition. I completed in four hours and eighteen minutes, and without the last slower five miles I would still probably have only completed in four hours and nine or ten minutes.

The other mistake I think I may have made throughout my training runs and on the day itself, is not pacing myself at the beginning. I have a habit of starting off fast, and tapering off. It has always felt reassuring to me to bank the faster pace early on to make allowances for the slower pace in the second half of the race. However, I think this may be counterproductive, so will aim now to keep a more consistent pace and hold myself back at the beginning in order to preserve energy for the latter miles.

As you can tell, I’m an amateur runner. I prepare through trial and error generally and aim to learn from my mistakes. This time though I will also do a bit more research and keep records of my training runs to see if I can adapt my pace and pre and post-run activities to improve my time, fitness and general enjoyment. I am again going to set myself the aim of running in under four hours. I am four years older than I was since my first failed attempt at this, so this may be pure folly, but, as they say, shoot for the moon and if you miss, you’ll still land amongst the stars!

Once again, I’m delighted to say, my partner in running crime is Matt Illingworth. We rarely run together, it is a solitary sport in that regard, but we encourage each other, keep ourselves accountable and share ideas and our training stories. We have already booked our hotel in Edinburgh for the big occasion and one thing we will do together on the evening of the marathon is toast our success, whatever happens on the run course!

Matt and I at the end of the Birmingham marathon in 2017

Wish us luck! You can follow my training travails on Twitter and Instagram over the next few months.

3 thoughts on “Back on the marathon trail

  1. Good luck! Marathon running is both a physical and mental challenge, and I love the mental challenge of working out what went wrong/how to get better.
    In general, you don’t need to do the full distance in training – and it will be different on race day anyway. It may be a coincidence you suffered at mule 21, or because mentally you knew it was ‘into the unknown’ and that was the issue. Now you have done the full distance once it will be easier this time, and if you eat better and pace more consistently that will make a huge difference. Enjoy the training process!

    1. Hi Mark. Really kind of you to comment, and that’s really good advice. Potentially I did trick myself in to issues at mile 21 but you’re right, I have done 26 miles now so know it can be done!

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