Wednesday, 21 October 2015

Chelmsford Marathon race review

On Sunday I ran my seventh marathon at the second Chelmsford marathon. I will get straight to the point, I ran an awesome race, smashed the course and knocked 6 minutes clean off my PB to finish in a time of 4.03.52.

Chelmsford as a marathon appealed to me as it is only around 15miles away from where I live and usually an easy enough train journey. However this weekend there were train engineering works so the journey became a bit more stressful involving a much earlier start and rail replacement buses.

I was pretty apprehensive in the week before the marathon and much of this was down to the uncertainty of the journey to the start line, as if weeks of tough training weren't hard enough! 

Despite being my seventh marathon this was only my third 'race' at marathon distance as the others have been hilly trail marathon which although great fun are no good for fast times or PBs. So discounting my first marathon where I didn't really know what I was getting myself into despite training as thoroughly as I knew how to at the time this was then only in affect my second marathon attempt.

I felt pretty confident of running a good time and challenging my PB as my training has much improved in recent months since my involvement in Asics 26.2 at the end of last year, there's plenty of my blog articles that talk about this I won't harp on about it again! 

So I felt good heading into the race although a little dubious about my long training runs as I felt that I cut them abut short and that I would have really benefited had they been a mile or two longer. Every little helps!

My general strategy was to aim for around 4 hour pace and see how the race worked out. Although my pacing strategy was to just run comfortably and see where that got me, as Long as I didn't push the pace early on I knew I would be OK. I also knew I was comfortable at running at 5.25min/km (approx 3.40hour pace) for a considerable amount of at least the first half. If I could get some good distance in at 5.25 and then finish off at around 5.40 pace then sub4 would certainly be possible. 

The first mile or two were pretty congested and quite twisty turney but I managed to get into a rhythm and I felt good. After around 3miles I was running behind two guys and overheard their discussion on pacing, they were aiming for around a 4 hour finish and like experienced long distance runners who were going to pace themselves sensibly  so I aimed to keep pace with them. I managed to keep them in my sights sitting comfortably around 20m behind them for the whole course until around mile 21 when I managed to surge past them. 

I passed the first 5K at target pace as well as the 10K point, the miles were being ticked off in the required 9minute mile pace and I felt good. 

As for the course the first section was largely uninspiring apart from the amusement of running through the town of Springfield, unfortunately I didn't spot any Simpsons! 

A massive plus point of the event is the frequency of water stations which were located every few miles and are much more frequent than an average marathon. 
I still opted to carry my hydration pack though so I could easily have water, gels, an energy drink and an emergency pack of jelly babies close at hand.

After the first 7 or 8 miles of a marathon is where the fun starts, 10K has been and gone and you know you are into the main body of the race. My plan was to just focus on each mile and keep reevaluating my race goal every few miles.

It was at around this point that I knew I was going to have a good race as the miles seemed to fly by, I didn't have to longingly look ahead for mile markers or agonisingly gaze at my watch hoping the minutes would magically skip by. 

Miles 16, 17 and 18 soon came and I knew I was still on for a finish at around 4 hours and more surprisingly I was still feeling good. I kept running and waiting for the tiredness to hit me, waiting for my pace to slow right down as my legs turned to stone, but it never came....

Sure I slowed down, yes I felt stiff, and I had nagging pains pop up in my hip, groin and foot but nothing enough to slow me down. 

Somewhere between miles 18-20 marshals had placed some homemade motivational banners along the course. One in particular appealed to me and stuck in my mind:

With this thought at the forefront of my mind I also had the motivation of 'don't be shit!' Ringing in my ears, these two phrases stuck with me in the closing miles and definitely earned me a few extra minutes.

Over the last third of the race I ran and chatted for a bit with two or three different runners. At mile 21 I started chatting with a marathon debutant who was maintaining a decent pace although he was bravely fighting to keep going and complete the marathon in his target time of close to 4 hours. I assured him anything near to 4 hours was a fantastic first marathon time. We seemed well paced with each other and both seemed to be spurring the other on to keep going which felt great. 

Towards mile 23 something clicked, running at this steady was hard for sure and a finish of around my existing PB of 4.09 would be pleasing I actually felt good, I could definitely go faster, maybe sub4 was still on the cards. 

So I wished my latest running buddy all the best and sped off, it felt great to be aiming for a target and giving everything I had to hit it. For a mile maybe a mile and a half I kept up what I imagine was 8 minute mile pace before  I finally ran out of steam and I just had to hold on until the end.

Looking back now I feel that my realisation at that point earned me my PB , although I slowed down badly in the last mile I don't think it would have been any slower than it would have been had I just kept plodding along and I had two faster miles to show for it as well.

I am so pleased with my PB, there's something about a PB that just keeps you buzzing, the achievement, the satisfaction, the pride, so many positive emotions. 

But so much more than this I am astounded at the improvement in my performance. In past marathons the final miles have been a struggle, a walk/run affair to slowly limp over the finish line having to muster every bit of mental strength to keep myself moving forward.

So what changed this time? Here are the factors that I think positively contributed to my improved performance and PB time:
  • A better mental attitude of believing anything is possible, Chris and Tony here's your shout out boys, thanks for the support! 
  • A clearer understanding of what a marathons all about, knowing how hard it is, how long it is and what it takes to finish.
  • A more restful taper- The week before the marathon I ran about 12K the week before that around 20K, I definitely felt more rested and energised.
  • Interval sessions - Since Asics 26.2 and the subsequent track sessions my running has definitely improved. Intervals give your legs that power and knowledge that they can easily change a gear and up the pace when required, a necessary requirement for keeping to pace in a marathon. 
  • Midweek longer runs - I identified in the build up to my last marathon in August that I had ticked a lot of boxes with my training, long runs, speed work, tempo runs, recovery runs but I felt I needed a longer run midweek. So in this training cycle on top of the weekend long runs and shorter speed work sessions I have ventured out on longer runs of around 15K at and faster than target marathon pace.
  • Sustained high mileage - In the last two or three months I have trained for and completed the Vanguard Way Marathon, 4 laps at Spitfire Scramble (40K), Bacchus Half Marathon and a 10K race. I have racked up 430K in the last two months and another 320K in the two months prior to that, the sustained high mileage over several months has definitely made me stronger and increased my stamina.
Still buzzing with my PB several days after I have now increased my love for the marathon and feel with a few improvements I am capable of knocking 10-15 minutes off my PB in early 2016!

Thanks as always for reading and for everyone who has supported me in any way big or small, thank you and happy running!