Brighton – A very honest pre race assessment

So here we are. 1 week away from my 3rd stab at the marathon distance, and once again i am returning to Brighton, a course i have learnt to love. I am writing this today as i have been inspired by results of both club members and friends alike running Manchester, Paris and Bungay Marathons, and to be honest, its got me in a little bit of a panic.

You see this year, is the first year i am attempting a time i’m not entirely confident is within my reach, and to be honest, i’m not entirely sure why. Those who know me, know i have always had confidence in my ability. I wear my heart on my sleeve when it comes to running, and always make my targets common knowledge. I do this so i can’t “back out” on the day. Go big or go home i always say. I have been preaching about a sub 3:05 this spring long before this race was even booked. So why the doubt now?

Last year was to be frank, an absolutely ridiculous year for me in terms of running results. Every race was a pb, not just distance, but race. I found myself getting faster and faster as the year went on, and i don’t know how. At the end of 2016 I had PBs of 19:14 (5k) 40:37 (10k) 1:36:26 (1/2 Marathon) and 3:30:55 (marathon). Based on these results i had set myself targets of Sub 19 (5k), Sub 40 (10k), Sub 90 (1/2) and Sub 3:15 (marathon) for 2017.

Ultimately i went on to go 17:57, 37:29, 1:23:19 and 3:18:11 respectively. The 5k, 10k and Half Marathon times all WAY under expectation. My Run Britain Handicap went from 9.3 all the way down to 3.9, all in a single year. I felt unstoppable. I lost 10lbs during the year, which i am convinced was the secret to success, and still had more to come off.

You might have noticed in that list of results, the one that had NOT gone in my favour, and was above target, was in fact the Marathon time. This didn’t bother me in the slightest until recently. The fact it was a near 13 minute PB, was very early in the year, and was during a heatwave meant there were no alarms in my head whatsoever. Plus i was on for a 3:12 for most of the race, but detonated at the end. I had put this down to the heat on the day (it really was something) as opposed to my ability. I had toyed with the idea of an Autumn Marathon to right this result, but being a “one marathon a year” guy, i decided this was stupid. I’d just smash out a GFA time this spring instead (like it wasn’t even a thing), I meant why not. All the Race time predictors seem to have me in at Sub 3 for the marathon distance (which again, those who know me know this is my ultimate goal),some as low as 2:52. Surely a sub 3:05 (and “Good for age” honours) would just be a formality?

Fast forward to January 2018, and time for this years training plan to begin. With my first marathon, I followed the Asics Sub 3:30 plan. With my second attempt i used the same plan, but took 30 seconds a mile off everything. But this year i decided to try something different. Rather than run 5-6 times a week as before, I made the decision to run 3 (sometimes 4) times a week, following the “Just enough training for a 3hr marathon” plan. This is a simple formula of Yasso 800s once a week (I had decided I would substitute these for club sessions where possible so training didn’t get stale), a TMP (target marathon pace) run once a week, and then a LSR (Long Slow Run) with TMP miles bolted on at the end once a week. The idea being I wanted quality over quantity (last year I was just bombing out the miles for the sake of it), this should A) reduce risk of injury, and B) allow me to focus on Cross training (mainly swimming) with some core and strength work to boot. Basically I wanted to become a more complete runner, and the runs I did complete were meant to focus on specific areas, as opposed to those “grey” runs that don’t really amount to anything.

I must admit this was a scary prospect (if it ain’t broke don’t fix it, right?), but I had faith that I wouldn’t lose the fitness I had found late 2017, and all I had to do was focus my time on adding the distance, and the rest should come together. Add this to the weight loss I had promised myself (on top of what I had already lost), and I was bound to be in the shape of my life ready for Brighton.

This started really well. The Yasso 8s were a breeze, the TMP runs likewise (I need an average of 7:03 to go under 3:05, but have been doing all my TMP runs at Sub 3 pace (6:51) or less), and of course, why shouldn’t they have been. Marathon pace SHOULD feel easy for the majority shouldn’t it?, and even the long runs were no sweat to begin with. But all this soon changed. I can’t pin point exactly when, but things have been getting mighty difficult.

The first event that has brought on this blog was Stowmarket XC. I absolutely LOVED my first XC season last year. Its right up my street, log jumps, mud, ditches, mayhew….. all that stuff amounts to great fun. But something didn’t feel right at this one. Although I was 4 minutes quicker than last year, I was way behind runners I would normally associate myself with on race day. Did *I have a bad day? Were they having a good day? I shrugged it off as we all know XC is a funny old game and its easy to get funnelled in at points. Still, this hurt, as it was the first race since 2016 that I felt a little deflated with the result. Onwards and upwards though, the main prize is Brighton, and my fave Half Marathon on earth (Gt Bentley) was coming up soon, thats where I’ll get back in the flow and get the confidence back!…….. Only it wasn’t. A rather ironic occurrence of picking up a groin strain from swimming (the sport I had chosen to reduce my risk of running injury) foiled my chance of the big PB I was after and although at the 7 mile mark I was on for a 1:22ish finish, I had to let go of the carrot for the first time in my life. Rats! I run/walked the rest of it to come in just under 90 mins (a time I would have been delighted with the year before) but ultimately it was another chunk of confidence gone. Not so unstoppable now huh!

As with the XC result I told myself to just keep calm and carry on. Think of the bigger picture. But even training hasn’t felt quite right for most of the program. By British standards, its been an extremely cold and irritatingly windy winter. I don’t know about anyone else, but this has made a fair few training runs a bit more difficult than they ought to have been? Or is this just in my head? I had envisioned I would feel fresh for every run, owed to the reduced amount of runs during this plan. But its very rarely been the case. The TMP runs have been ok. But the intervals have been a struggle, and the LSRs have been brutal. I remember the 2 years training before actually physically enjoying the nice slow long runs. They weren’t too taxing on the body, sure enough the 20+ milers were a bit nasty, but they are meant to hurt aren’t they? If marathons were easy everyone would do them? I found myself for the most part negating the marathon paced miles at the end of the long runs as the legs just didn’t feel like they had it in them. This in itself has given me the greatest cause for alarm. I know increasing the pace on fatigued legs isn’t easy. But I like to think there should be at least a bit of fight to increase the pace, it’s what teaches you to push through the last 10k of your marathon.

Additionally, I have been working a huge amount of night shifts compared to past years. I find these particularly debilitating. This alone could be a major contributing factor to my lack of “go” during some training runs. Don’t get me wrong, there have been glimmers of hope throughout. Sub 6 miles at the end of tempo runs for example. The resting heart rate has dropped down to an average of 39, and the VO2 max estimated by the garmin is at an all time high of 66 at the moment, and during the TMP runs the heart rate has stayed down in zone 2 for the most part, which all suggests good things could happen on race day. But the legs themselves have just felt heavy. I miss that “fresh” feeling at the start of a run. I always seem to have to ease myself in at the moment, which is unlike me.

I decided to have a crack at a “fast” 5k last weekend. I haven’t done so since Octobers sub 18 effort. I don’t know why. I think in my head I wanted to feel fresh for sundays LSRs. With the best intentions, and not much left in the tank (I could possibly have knocked a bit off) I managed a 19:02. This was a bit of a shocker. I wasn’t expecting to match pb at all, but to be over a minute off hurt! I decided to give myself 30 seconds grace as it wasn’t race conditions, it was a undulating course, and I hadn’t tapered etc, but what about the other 30 seconds?? I got on the scales and I think I had the answer! I was 5lbs up from the 10st 9lbs I weighed on the day of Martlesham 5k. Now this isn’t an exact science, but its approx 2 seconds per pound per mile …. 5lbs = 10 secs per mile x 3 miles = 30 secs! I was so annoyed at myself for this. Something I worked so hard for last year had somehow slipped away again (or at least half of it anyhow)

Now I don’t know if this has contributed to my sluggishness, I don’t really know if this sluggishness exists to be honest. It’s just throughout this entire training block something hasn’t felt quite right. This could be a combination of night shifts, the weather, the slight gain in weight (admittedly I have knocked a bit of this off now), the change in training regime. Or it could just all be in my head. Surely I can’t have gone from PBs in October, November and December and then lost fitness in the early stages of this year with no notable illness and time off? Maybe the GFA was just too big an ask to begin with and a 3:05 was too bold a target? All I know is I haven’t felt this way on the build up to a marathon before, and I don’t like it!

Still, there is a stubborness within, and I am going to hit the start line with the same intent I always do. I’m going to have to make the assumption its just demons in my head talking, and despite what the brain may think, the body is still capable. I’ll be going out with the same strategy as always…. time in the bank! So if anyone ends up following me on the tracker don’t get too excited if you see something special at the half way point, it’ll all even out by the end!

For anyone that has made it this far into my ramblings, I am going to follow this up with a post race report. I’m hoping with a real easy week ahead of me, no night shifts, and a little bit of luck, everything goes to plan and this entire blog will have been pointless. I guess I haven’t got long to wait. Brighton Marathon, i’m coming for you!

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