Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Beach Head Marathon revisited

With the first marathon of my three marathons in three months just about two weeks away I thought I would have a cathartic look back at my last marathon. It was not the greatest experience for me so I thought it would be a good idea to think back to see what I could learn from the experience looking forward to my upcoming events.

My last, and only my second marathon was the Beachy Head Marathon In Eastbourne in October 2013. The course is notoriously hilly with the last few miles taking runners over the seven sisters hills.

The elevation of the course looks something like the graph above and has a total elevation climb for the course is somewhere over 4000ft! As well as the seven climbs of the seven sisters in the final few miles there are several other climbs on uneven terrain and a couple of step sections which are a real killer. It’s not just the uphills to look out for though as the downhills become just as tough when your legs start aching and the footing is treacherous.

The general recommendation from experienced runners who have ran the course before and have compared it with other 'normal' marathons is that the course will easily add 45 minutes to an hour onto your marathon PB.

So that gives you some idea of how gruelling a run it is.

In my training over the last few months I have already been trying to correct the mistakes I made in training for Beachy Head and have been conscious to try and improve my training to try and subsequently improve my performance.

So what have I learnt from the experience:


Running too fast in training - I know I spent too many training runs focusing on trying to run faster times. Running against the clock trying to beat my previous PB over a certain route or trying to run a specific pace and I also dedicated a fair amount of time on trying to run further than 13Km in an hour.

While all this was good training to an extent and while speed work and threshold training is important in any training plan I think I forgot the basics of any marathon training plan, the slow long run.

Not enough slow long runs - so with the above in mind I had therefore not completed enough slow long runs. I felt that this meant I wasn’t as used to just running, my training was all about trying to run fast and trying to run at a certain speed so when it came to the later stages of the marathon where I just needed to keep plodding along at a slow and steady pace I wasn’t used to it and didn’t have the aerobic capacity to maintain it.

Underestimating the hills and terrain - I knew there would be hills, I knew they would be steep, I knew they would be hard and I knew they would make me suffer. I definitely misjudged how hard the course was going to be and no amount of running up and down the hills around where I live would have prepared me for what lay in store.

not enough training at high intensity - although I trained a lot at pace as describe above as per usual for me I failed to do enough proper sprint training, the proper lung busting, heart stopping interval type training where you push to the max. I always aim to include more of this kind of training into my routine but somehow I always look back and know I haven’t included enough. 


Despite the negatives and the overall negative affect from the race I still take some positives from it:

Good carb loading - In the weeks building up to the marathon I worked on a good pre-race carb loading routine. My pre-race routine was of getting up early at around 5.00am to eat cereal, a banana and a flapjack with fruit juice then to get back to sleep for around 1.5 hours to then get up and have a pre-race breakfast 1.5 hours before the start of the race. Then taking on an extra banana and energy drinks in the 30 minute build up to the start.

I felt my carb loading strategy worked well on both the marathon and the training runs building up to it. Any problems I encountered during the marathon were not due to 'hitting the wall' or being inadequately fuelled so I am pleased I know how to fuel myself adequately for future events.

Effective training - Although I have highlighted some areas to improve I know I did a lot right in training. My recovery time after my longer runs and the marathon its self was very short so I am confident I put enough mileage and effort in and that I was strong enough to comfortable complete the course and the distance.

The event remains my biggest disappointment though and I feel unfulfilled every time I think of my finish time of 5 hours 2 minutes. I remember feeling so low in the days afterwards, the usual post marathon slump coupled with me remembering the pain and anguish I went through in the last few miles. I can vividly remember experiencing pains in my sides as well as a feeling of dehydration and emptiness in the later stages of the race despite taking in plenty of fluids. I am pretty sure I was close to passing out as I thought my body and in particular my kidneys were going to give up on me.

Post marathon slump

Two days after the marathon I had a day off and had pre planned and booked a sports massage. My lowest running memory and possibly one of my lowest ebbs generally was waiting in the cubicle as the physio walked in. He greeted me in a cheery fashion and asked the usual pleasantries of how I was. I knew he meant it as a general courtesy and also about how my marathon had gone but I felt close to breaking down in tears as I felt so drained and had been left so low by the whole experience. I felt like crying and telling him a complete stranger how disappointed I felt with my short comings at the race. I knew he wouldn’t understand but I really felt like I needed an outlet for all my frustrations. Thankfully I didn't breakdown into an emotional wreck and managed to hold it together so that my muscles could reap the rewards of a soothing sports massage.

Over the coming days and weeks as I reflected more on the marathon I tried to remember not only the disappointment but the achievement I had accomplished in completing a gruelling marathon.

I hope to banish my negative experiences from this marathon with three great performances in my three upcoming marathons.

Thanks for reading,

If you have done the Beachy Head Marathon let me know how you found it...

If you are going to be running it this year good luck! All I can recommend is running lots of hills and trying to incorporate some steps into your run as well.

If you are thinking of doing it I would definitely recommend it as a difficult mental and physical challenge and the scenery along the route is amazing!