Last Saturday was the official VLM meet the experts event at the fabulous Westminster City Hall, just a stone’s throw from the finish line in Pall Mall. The event covered a wide spectrum of running aspects for any one attempting to finish in one piece. 15 minute sessions on nutrition, injuries, training and pacing among others filled the day. Following a morning run in rubbish weather and some impromptu client activities meant that I didn’t get to see everything delivered to an audience of intrigued marathoners, but I came away with not just a goody bag and a can of London Pride ironically NOT performance enhancing (there was quite a commercial slant on New Balance kit, which was to be expected) but also a couple of thoughts that could change my marathon result….
The longest run
Anyone who has done at least one marathon knows that many things can go wrong on the day….serial marathon runners attempt to control these variables as much as possible, and getting to the start-line is an achievement in itself, everything else is a bonus as the hard work has already been done, then it’s just a simple matter of execution. A general belief for intermediate to advanced recreational runners is that the longest run shouldn’t be more than 22 miles and should fall 3-4 weeks prior to the event. In fact, not running the total distance before is considered standard approach, but why? Everyone who finishes on the day tend to believe they most likely could complete another marathon, faster…quite soon after. As the event provides the best training. The thought is that running 26.2miles is too psychologically demanding for many. So perhaps it is worth contemplating building up to marathon distance and going against the grain, as ultimately the distance is what affects performance in the end. Many runners focus too much on high volume speed work or hills, which can be fine mid-winter, to work on limiters….but repetition of distance seems to be key in the elite field who frequently train over-distance (30miles), and they all had to start from somewhere, right?
You can lose 10’s of minutes in the last 5km if you haven’t paced well or haven’t done long enough runs. Those runs really trigger muscle adaptations when the body is under metabolic stress, deprived of glycogen and the lactate system is working over-time because the muscle fibers are swamped in acid. This really is hard to replicate any other way, especially when you NEED to get home. Out and back runs are good for that, as there is no temptation to short-cut as with many looped routes, which often depend on how you ‘feel’ or how much time you have. Forcing your way home is what you will ultimately have to do on the day for success, which may be a fine balance of effort and pb’ing to reach the finish line on two feet. I know these are difficult to factor in to a winter training programme, and I have cursed the weather numerous times because of freezing hands, or soggy socks.
Psychological markers and pacing
The other take home message was about pacing…mentally calculating time per mile or 5 km marker can take precious energy ….invest in a good running watch. My Garmin Forerunner 230 is great, you will literally knock minutes off your projected time or you could stick with one of the pace setting groups that is 15 minutes slower than your target and then run off this group towards the end (30km).
However, planning your pacing strategy shouldn’t be left until the day. It really isn’t as simple as an average minute/ kilometre or mile, and what determines that number from training? Is it a subjective goal of would be nice to have? Unfortunately, those goals tend to be overly ambitious and force an effort beyond personal ability, wanting to bank early distance is often a poor decision. A common proven strategy is the negative split approach, heeded at all cost. Too many under-trained eager marathoners will start too fast on cold muscles and lungs, a negative split lets you warm-up in your aerobic zone.
A target goal should only come from training and a realistic pace projection, or a well conducted lactate threshold treadmill assessment. From that you can easily design an effective practical strategy with the course in mind. Being aware of the psychological motivators are also important, time points, sticking with a pace-setter may be necessary, but also having the route mapped out in your head, with significant landmarks or turn points so that the strategy is dynamic and keeps your mind off the discomfort. Fine-tuning and revising times are often necessary, there are no guarantees on the day, weather conditions may become adverse.
Having marathon support from friends or family is also a great way to get motivation, time check, a psychological distance marker and your hydration and nutrition all from one place or person. That may be exceptional pressure on the individual or group, and yourself to look out for them. But a well planned point around 20miles could pay massively at a time you most need it. Also if you get someone to sign-up for the athlete tracker, you will have the added bonus of knowing a projected finishing time based on your performance so far. Something many GPS running watches won’t do.
So plenty of little tips to make sure you get the result you deserve, and some of it really is just free ‘speed’. Being economical on race day is what gets you home in good time!
As I promised a brief update, more recently my own training has progressed quite well over the last 2 months as the track sessions have continued to pay off with a set of 7 X 400metres around 75sec average suggesting a good ability to increase my capacity to withstand greater stress, basically improving VO2max incrementally.
Along with many, my motivation lagged a little after Christmas from too much intensity, but hopefully resolved this with an easier few days off, and doing some sort of good resistance work. It definitely doesn’t help coming more from a cycling background. They really are different muscles, but some moderate intensity cycling has helped with recovery and blood flow as a nice psychological break
With just 76 days left, my focus are the long runs and economy, but also keep the interval intensity between 400-1600m which is working on my upper VO2 still combined with strength sessions which complement each other. I have factored in a few longer runs, a couple of 17km at marathon pace, and two steady 21kms, plus an easy pace 30km which as expected accumulated some stress after a faster 13km workout. I took an easy 10 days, and started back cycling as a way to do active recovery but also introduce some cross-training which also helps with the psychology of active recovery and a change of scenery.
Where I need to get a good assessment for pace will be the 10-13 km times but not crucially as I have several 12-16 milers and then 3-4 20 milers plus a 22 or even 24 miler to get do on mixed rolling and flat. My goal target time is still 2h52’, which I set as an approx. 10% reduction of pb (3h07’) which is ambitious but feasible given that I have designed my programme to hit that target through reverse induction, although I could still fail spectacularly. I will have a better understanding with 6 weeks to go, but potentially too late to do much about the shortfall.
Time shall tell….(yikes)