Brighton – pre-race ramblings

Right, here we go again. Another year has gone by and I feel it’s time for another one of these pre race rambles to be written.

As per the last 3 years, i am heading back to the picturesque streets of Brighton to once more tackle all 26.2 (and a bit) miles of the Brighton Marathon course. Admittedly i would rather have headed elsewhere this year (I had eyes on Manchester or Milton Keynes) as I wanted a faster and flatter alternative, but due to a family holiday booked way in advance of any races (I’m actually writing this on the flight back to kill some time), this was the best of the remaining bunch I could opt for. The main selling point for myself being familiarity, which takes a lot of the stress out of race day for me.  Last year I was in a little bit of a flutter at this stage regarding the target i had set myself, which was 3hrs 5 minutes. The aim being a GFA place at London the following year. As it transpired I failed to meet this target (coming over the line in 3:08:12) but as it happened this was a little bit of a blessing as shortly after Brighton, the organisers of VMLM announced they had changed the GFA time for my age group to sub 3hrs. I would have been absolutely devastated had I have thought I’d qualified for London only to find out days later i hadn’t made the grade. Oh well, challenge accepted Mr Branson!!!

So there we have it, this years target is 2:59:59. The holy grail for many a club runner, the qualifying standard for London, and ultimately the target I had set myself 3 years ago now, which feels much like my lifes mission having put so much time and effort into the goal thus far. The fact it feels genuinely within reach now is both exciting and daunting on the same level.

For those that may read this who do not know me. 2018 was a bad year for me in term of race results. I tried a different approach to training (less volume and more “quality” runs) which ended up being a bad decision on my part (it’s all part of the learning curve though right?) and also gained a fair amount of weight (perhaps due to the reduced training volume) which combined with the change in training resulted in one poor result after another. The one high point being a sub 30 minute 5 miler I’d been chasing for a while. The low point being my first ever DNF at The Great East Run in September. This DNF was not due to injury, medical reasons or anything legitimate, but the fact I’d just had enough. Running had become laborious and unenjoyable by this point, and when faced with Freston Hill just a few hundred meters in front of me, I let the little voices in my head tell me enough was enough. I found the whole situation a little embarrassing to be honest, the few minutes of relief I felt after stopping were soon replaced with regret, especially having to explain to friends, colleagues etc what had happened after the race. I decided this would be the first, the last and only time I’d find myself in this situation and actually became a major turning point for me. In both training and lifestyle.

I began reading a book called “Racing Weight” by Matt Fitzgerald. This book gives you the theory behind body composition and various sports (running being the main focal point) and the right way to achieve your racing weight without sacrificing training quality. I knew this was the key to getting back on track, and thats where my journey began.

Fast forward to 1st Jan 2019, a new year, and the 1st day of my training regime for Brighton. I find myself some 17lbs lighter than i was the day of Great East Run. I wanted to see how this new lighter body could go, so headed down to Felixstowe Seafront for the NYD edition of Felixstowe parkrun. I’d gone sub 18 over the 5k distance only once before, at Martlesham 5k in October 2017 but felt really good so just aimed to get somewhere near that to prove to myself the weight loss was going to get me back to my best. It actually turned out to be my fastest 5k to date by some margin, 17 mins 30 seconds. This was the perfect start to whats ended up being the best training block for the marathon distance I’ve managed. I lost a few more pounds before the next test of fitness, Great Bentley Half Marathon. Those who have run this course will know it’s fast and flat with definite PB potential, but due to the open nature of the course, this is only when mother nature decides she wants you to run fast. Well thankfully for me she was in a good mood on the day and the conditions were genuinely perfect! I had a pb at the time of 1:24:09 set at Snetterton Race Track Half in November 2017, but knew I should be able to better that with the work I had been doing. I had heard talk that fellow FRR runner Dave Solomon was chasing a PB set many years previous, and if he got even remotely near to that time I would be well within my target, so I found him somewhere along the road in the first mile and stuck with him for the duration. I’d never paced myself like this before. I’m a horrific positive splitter most of the time, but Dave is much more intelligent with his race strategy, and we just stayed at a sensible pace (which was new to me) right through til the end. I don’t think either of us expected to break 80 minutes that day, but we both did! If you’d have told me that morning that I was going to run a Half Marathon in 1:19:45, I’d have called you a mad man. The most surprising thing was how natural it felt, just by pacing sensibly for a change. This race has changed my tactics for every race I run over the 10k distance from here on (I’m telling you this as it is going to be important information come race day in Brighton)

Its not just race times that have been positive during this plan though. Through reading I’ve learned so much more about training, not just for the marathon, but other distances. With this new knowledge on board I’ve been able to train smarter than before, it seems so much easier when you know the “why” you are doing something instead of just being told to do it. Its sometimes as simple as slowing down a little on intervals. The old me would blast every interval as fast as possible until failure. But sometimes this is detrimental to the workout. Yes, sometimes slowing down (spending more time in a specific HR Zone for example) is a lot more productive. No longer do i hit everything at mach 10, and its certainly helping.

Everything that felt wrong on the lead up to last years Marathon seems to have been eradicated this time round. A good example of this is the lack of fatigue after my long runs. Mondays have historically been rest/recovery days for me. The long run on a Sunday completely taking it out of the legs. But this year with the exception of 1 day, I’ve felt relatively fresh, even after the 20+ milers. I don’t know if this is due to the reduction in load on the legs (through weight loss), or the conditioning work I have been doing 3 times a week, but its been a welcome change to the norm. Monday rest days have been replaced with 5 mile easy runs, I was worried about these to begin with, fearing the legs would suffer, but in actuality they seem to reset the legs perfectly ready for Tuesdays speed sessions. I’m definitely going to keep the Monday runs post marathon. Perhaps the most promising change from last years training block is the relative ease of marathon paced miles bolted on to the end of some long runs. There were 3 of these in my plan, 8+8, 9+9 and ultimately 10+10 (easy miles into race pace miles). Last year in particular I found these near enough debilitating, to the point where I wasn’t even bothering as I found them too difficult (perhaps a sign that target pace was a stretch), but this year they have gone near enough flawlessly, particularly the last one (10 easy into 10 race pace) where I ended up near enough negative splitting the final 10 miles and felt totally in control of pace, a very good sign indeed! At the start of the plan I thought running 6 (sometimes 7)  days a week was going to hinder my progress, but in actuality the increase in volume seems to have given me a boost. I have really worked on the distance training this time around, as the 5k times showed the vo2 max is in good shape, and the Half Marathon PB shows my threshold pace is sufficient. My achilles heel in previous marathon attempts seemed to be longevity, so hopefully by focusing on this particular weak aspect will stop the detonation at the 18-20 mile mark I’ve suffered the last 2 years. I certainly feel a more complete runner than I have done in the past anyhow.

All the signs seem to be pointing in the right direction anyhow. I’ve been back to parkrun twice since new years day, going 17:21 (my fastest to date) on one occasion, and comfortably mid 17 the next (in far less than ideal conditions) to ensure the speed hasn’t left the legs. Touch wood (there are still a few days to go) I have been injury free for the first time on the run up to a marathon and even (double touch wood) have avoided even getting sick this time around (not even the common cold has managed to sneak its way into my system this year). I couldn’t really ask for much more in terms of preparation, but I’m not kidding myself. This is no time to be complacent. As we all know the marathon is an unforgiving mistress and the fact that training has gone to plan does in no way shape or form guarantee I’ll reach my goal. I’m a firm believer that only a lucky few people ever really reach their marathon potential due to many variables such as the weather, how they feel on the day, sleep, nerves, you name it. Even a couple of seconds a mile can add up over this distance, so it must be respected no matter how good you feel.

This is where that result at Bentley could well become important. As mentioned earlier, I had never run a race in control like that. It felt like a revelation to be able to up the pace the last 2 miles instead of clinging on for dear life like all races previous. So the question is, can/will I carry this strategy forward to the start line at Brighton? Or will I zip off like a bat out of hell and detonate along the way? Well the good news is that this year, I am not starting alone. I have 2 club mates (Andy Ellis and Gary Taylor) starting alongside me from Withdean Park. Although we aren’t planning officially to run together, we are all at a similar level (if anything I would say I am the weaker of the 3), and I think we may end up together for the first half at least. This would be a massive help in many ways, in terms of keeping each other in check for the early stages, a boost of morale, and of course it’s just nice to have a little company on a race this long, even if it is only temporary. So with that in mind I’m hoping we can mutually benefit from one another’s presence, but the Marathon is a very personal thing and I won’t be offended if either/both of them opt to go at it alone on the day.

Regardless, I’m (genuinely) excited for race day this time around. I honestly don’t know whats going to happen, it could be a case of deja vu. But it’s refreshing to feel this positive on the run up to a marathon. I have new found confidence in my training, I’m leaner and stronger than last year, and I’ve been training smarter. Hopefully this will all combine (along with a little luck) and I’ll see a finishing time starting with a 2, but if not I’ll take all of the positives from the last few months and use them for the next attempt. Either way, there isn’t long to wait to find out now.

I will of course report back after the race, fingers crossed its with good news!

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