My 2nd marathon: race report

I remembered that I had written a fairly extensive race report after my 2nd ever marathon. I’m thinking about doing a third, and decided to share my report here.
The Brighton Marathon in April 2013 was my 2nd one. In 2012, without the proper preparation, I had completed my 1st one. I managed 5h10 then and wanted to finish sub 4h30 this time around.
The race was really tough. Physically and mentally. Most of my training had been at temperatures of 5 degrees C or lower. On the morning of the race, it was overcast and cool ~ around 9-10 degrees. During the run it heated up to ~15-17 degrees and less cloud cover with a slight breeze. Perfect racing conditions, you’d think. Well…read on :-).
I started the run with my training buddy, another Robin, and he’s got one of those cool RB Garmin WatchGarmin Forerunner 910XT watches. He works in miles and min/mile so I had to keep trying to convert. He set it at a 9.46 min/mile pace which would have given us a finishing time between 4h15 and 4h30 depending on how closely we were able to stick to that pace. We were both aiming to break 4h30. It was a reasonable pace which we’ve maintained easily for 20 km training runs. I just had my Timex stopwatch and planned to run to how I was feeling. At the start, the pace was going ok for me. Around the 15-16km, however, I felt like I was losing energy and starting to struggle a bit. This bothered me because I have gotten to the point where 21km is a standard long run on the weekend. I’d even recently managed a 21.1km training run in 1h58 and my focus was always going to be on getting through the second half of the marathon. I took stock and realised that I was getting that sweat sediment on my forehead…something that rarely happens if I’ve not run for longer than 2hrs (at 5 degrees or lower temperatures though). At this point I had already had about 250ml of Gatorade and one energy gel so felt I shouldn’t already be getting dehydrated or losing energy. Anyway, I carried on for another km or so at this pace. When I reached around 19km, it wasn’t feeling too much better and I felt like my legs were starting to get sore. That’s when I really took notice.
ASIDE: I’d just recently read an article about lactic acid build up during marathons. The take-away from the article, for me, was that you’ll only get the lactic acid build up if you’re accessing your muscles’ carbohydrate stores. If you exercise/race at a pace below that level, you’ll continue using energy from your blood. As you get better, you’ll be able to go faster for longer without accessing the muscle stores. But, if you can keep at or below the muscle-accessing level and you keep replacing the used carbs in your blood with whatever nutrition is available, you’ll be able to keep going without lactic acid build up and the associated pain and cramping. I know most runners are aware of this but the way the article described it somehow just stuck with me during the race.
So, after taking proper notice of what my body was telling me, I decided that what I was hearing was that I was going too fast and I was accessing my muscles’ carbs. Not good. But why was this happening so early?? I was taking on gels and water, my pace was right. Why was I dehydrating and getting sore legs already?? The weather!! That’s why!! That’s what I concluded anyway. I was racing at 3x or more the temperatures I had been training at. On one of my last runs, there was snow falling during the run! My body just wasn’t used to the ‘high’ temperatures. So, how to respond??
I eased off on the pace. I took another energy gel and at the next water station emptied a cup of water over my head and drank another 300-400ml. My thoughts were that if I slowed down for a bit and let my nutrition catch up again, I should be ok. I felt that I had gotten ahead of my nutrient intake because I was using what worked during training but with the conditions being so different, I needed to adjust. I passed the halfway mark in 2h10. Not too shabby despite the concerns. On track for sub 4h30. At around 24km I started feeling better and I picked up the pace. I made up some of the lost time. I kept up that pace for about 2 more km.
In 2012, I hit a massive wall around 29-30km. I was determined to run through the wall this time. Because my strategy of slowing down and taking on more nutrition was working, I continued ensuring that I took water and Gatorade at each stop. Also, I kept emptying water over my head to keep cooler. I also modulated my pace so that I didn’t reach the lactic acid threshold. I wanted to reach 32km before 3h30 because then I felt that a sub 4h30 was still on the cards. I made that mark at around 3h20. Game on!
My next challenge was going to be from 32-37km. This section of the race is through an area where there is little crowd support and it’s where I gave in the year before and started doing serious walking because I started feeling serious pain at this point. At 32km, I had a Gatorade and an energy gel and steeled myself mentally for what was to come. I just kept saying that if I could get through that section, I’d be fine. The last 5km is all along the beachfront and with the finish being next to Brighton Pier it means you can see the finish line all the way. What a bloody struggle this section of the race proved to be. I wanted to stop so many times. I distracted myself by watching the passing runners as the route loops back on itself here. I tried not thinking about my legs so much. I was feeling ok but there was definitely lactic acid build up creeping in and just general tiredness. Also, the supporters who did stand along this section were shouting all the time and giving encouragement. Eventually, I made it to the beachfront but the finish line looked sooooo far away. Again, I was seriously tempted to walk.
Are you still with me or have I bored you to death by now? This is a marathon read after all :-).
The last leg. I had a little around 35-40 minutes left if I wanted to finish sub 4h30. It was going to be close but there was no way I could slow down appreciably. I was really tired, my legs were complaining and I would rather have stopped. I decided that I needed to up the pace a little to put some time in the bank in case I couldn’t help but walk. I managed to do that for about 1km. Good. Only 4 left. I slowed down a bit here and let the crowd support (which was fantastic on this stretch) carry me for the next kay. 3 left. Man, I wasn’t sure I going to make this. My mind started bargaining with me – even if you walk now you’ll beat your time from last year; you’ve done well to get this far; just walk; there’s always next year. I looked out at the sea, up at Brighton Pier, around at the crowds and kept running. I was looking out for the 40km marker but it didn’t come or I missed it. I think this may have helped because I thought I was falling behind and that I needed to speed up to break 4h30. I increased my pace, telling myself that if I hit 40km I could see what time I had left and potentially slow down considerably for the last section. I knew I must’ve missed it but paranoia was setting in and I didn’t want to risk slowing down yet. The next marker I saw was the 800 metre one. I probably spotted it from about 200m away so I knew I had only 1km to go. I was on 4h22. I knew I could do it if I didn’t cramp or trip or something like that. I was so excited I actually managed to up the pace again. I finished the last 200m very strong. Crossed the finish line in 4h28m19!!!
I was totally elated. What a fantastic feeling. I was also really chuffed because I hadn’t walked once.
What an experience. My dream is to be fit and strong enough to complete a sub-4hr marathon one day. Thanks for reading.


To run faster, you have to run faster.

Glenn Driver at the Barns Green Half Marathon in Sussex, England

Glenn Driver at the Barns Green Half Marathon in Sussex, England

One of my friends, Glenn Driver, is a super-fast runner (and as the link will show, a brilliant landscape photographer). Last time I asked, his half marathon time PB was around 1h17 and his marathon time PB was around 2h48. He’s been speeding up, though, so these might be out-of-date. He runs at a blistering pace and I always joke that I want to be like him when I grow up. The first time I spoke to him about improving my race times, he had the sage advice: ‘To run faster, you have to run faster.’

I laughed initially but then I realised that he was serious. I stopped and thought about it a bit more and had to admit that he was right. Often, I find myself settling into a rhythm and a steady pace for my runs. Particularly if I have a route I’m running regularly. I am so used to the scenery, the terrain, the changes in gradient that I don’t focus too hard on my pace. I just run to reach the end. When I think about it more I include some intervals or some fartleks but that’s rare. Then, a month later, I look at my average times for the route or my average pace for long vs short runs and I begin to wonder why I’m not any faster. I feel fitter and stronger but I don’t seem to have made any gains in pace. Recently I’ve been lamenting this slowness. The short answer is that I didn’t remember to run faster.

If I want to run faster, I need to run faster. Simple but great advice. It works. Go try it.

Greetings and salutations

010Ever since I was a teenager and went out on my first proper training cycle (i.e. cycling for the purpose of getting fitter and faster, as opposed to just riding around the neighbourhood on a Sunday afternoon for fun), I’ve been intrigued by the way other cyclists and runners respond to being greeted. On that Sunday morning in Cape Town, I was cycling along Newlands Avenue and Rhodes Drive on my way to Constantia and I was surprised by how many fellow cyclists shouted out a greeting or raised a hand as we passed each other. I loved it. It displayed a camaraderie, a shared experience. I remember thinking that I had been given access to a new group and was part of something bigger. It was like a club and all that was required to gain membership was to be outside training.

One recent Sunday afternoon, the weather was perfect for running – sunshine but not too warm. I headed out for a long run and it seemed that everyone in the neighbourhood was out too. There were other runners. There were cyclists and walkers. Just loads of people enjoying the good weather and doing some exercise. This meant that I was greeting quite a lot – a nod of the head, a ‘good morning’, a ‘hi there’ or a wave. What was fascinating was the varied responses. Many people waved or nodded or answered with a verbal greeting of their own. But just as many (maybe more) ignored me, looked the other way, increased their speed or became visibly uncomfortable until I had passed them.

I decided to experiment a little to see if there was a pattern. I varied my greetings:

  • Louder or softer verbal greetingssafari 1
  • Verbal combined with a wave or nod
  • A big smile combined with verbal and a wave or nod
  • A neutral expression combined with verbal and a wave or nod
  • Sunglasses on/off

What did I conclude?

  • Later in the run, fewer people responded. I was struggling to maintain my pace and feeling quite exhausted. Perhaps physically I just didn’t look like someone people wanted to greet – sweaty and slow. Alternatively, the other early birds were generally happier and more pre-disposed to greeting that the late starters.
  • There was a greater likelihood that groups of 2 or more people would respond. Do lone runners feel threatened or unsafe? Do they think that if they respond to a greeting might also be perceived as an invitation to a chat or to become life-long training buddies?
  • Although it surprises them initially, the surprise of being greeted loudly seems to make people respond automatically. So saying ‘good morning’ with a bit more strength and volume makes people jump and wave :-).
  • People have an amazing capacity for focus under the right conditions. Although I think it’s easier to just nod or wave, there are many others who practice their focus as someone else approaches. I’m not sure what suddenly becomes so interesting on the footpath ahead of them or if they’ve spotted a particularly big carp in the stream alongside, but clearly whatever it is takes all their attention. A loud ‘hello’ doesn’t even break their concentration. Truly astounding and remarkable.
  • A smile does help. More people responded to a smile combined with a greeting than a neutral expression.
  • Sunglasses also make a difference. If people can see you’re looking at them, they are more likely to respond. Also, many non-greeters and most of the ‘focus-on-the-footpath’ group were wearing sunglasses.

My main takeaway is that I greet automatically and that it bothers me when there is no response. What I’ve decided to do is to continue greeting but to not be bothered when I don’t receive a response. I enjoyed the experimentation and will likely continue that as well. I haven’t given it a try while out on my bike yet. It will be fun to see if I have similar results. So, if you spot a tired, slow guy running or cycling around Dublin, California just smile and wave. He’s harmless.