I love it when a plan (almost) comes together – London Marathon 2016

2 weeks later, here are my thoughts on race #1 of my #Project41024, the London Marathon. 

Outcome:

My race didn’t quite go to plan. After pacing the first half perfectly for a sub 4 hour finish but just couldn’t maintain target pace in the second half. Nevertheless, I’m happy as I not only got a new marathon PB by 15 minutes but a new road marathon PB, beating my time at the London Marathon in 2012 by 57 minutes.

   
 

Pre-race:

Having recently tried instant porridge pots for the first time this proved the perfect pre-race breakfast around 3 hours before the start, topped up by a couple of breakfast biscuits an hour before we set off. After struggling to decide in the week before the race whether or not to wear my Inov8 Race Elite pack I was glad I’d chosen to do so. I had trained in it and it meant that all the gels I needed were easily accessible as well as my iPod. My last minute decision not to bring the Inov8 bottles and just take the small bottles provided along the course was a good one, meaning less weight to carry. As the sun kept going in and out and the temperature was fairly cool before the start I also kept changing my mind about clothes, putting on my long sleeved base layer and t-shirt before making the decision to leave the base layer in my kit bag for the finish. A wise move as the temperature rose during the race. Having the company of Simon Welch (@786_SAW) in the hour or so before the race start was great, chatting about our previous races, future race plans and our ambitions for the day. It was also a pleasure to catch up with Chris Mercer (@cmmercer) just before we entered the start line pens as I’d nut seen him since a North Downs WY 50 recce run at least a couple of years ago.

Race nutrition and hydration:

As I had been using GU energy gels in training, I had 9 gels with me (3 each of vanilla, salted caramel, and lemon and lime) and these worked a treat in keeping my energy levels up. My plan was to take a gel after 45 minutes then every 30 minutes or so, depending up in how I felt. As I succumbed to fatigue in the later stages I had one gel only 15 minutes after the previous one, thankful that I won the game of Russian Roulette with my stomach on that occasion and had no GI issues as a result. I drank to thirst and had no salt tablets, something which may have contributed to my cramp in the last few miles.

Running form:

After the half way mark, I was feeling really tired and much as I tried to sustain my target pace of 9:00-9:05 miles I just couldn’t summon the energy to do so with the consistency I managed in the first half. I realised that my running form had begun to deteriorate, with a fair bit of plodding going on. Dior to the race I had decided to review my form at regular intervals,  focusing in turn upon my head (looking statist ahead?), shoulders (relaxed?), posture (running tall?), hips (leading with the hips?) and cadence (quick foot turnover?) and this proved very useful. Whenever I refocused and ran with correct form I find my pace quickened yet I seemed to be using less effort to run that pace than I was when pushing on but running with poor form. Why didn’t I keep running in this way if it felt so much easier? If I had done, maybe I’d have hit my sub-4 hour target. Oh well, next time.

Ouch:

Despite my issues with sustaining good running form, I think I was on target for 4h5m up to mile 22.  Pushing in and hoping for that time I suddenly pulled up after my right hamstring went. I’ve seen this happen to other in races and football matches and immediately grew concerned then that making the North Downs Way 50 start line was now in jeopardy. I was going to finish this race even if I had to (very reluctantly) walk it in. Visions of a slow trudge to the finish in over 5 hours passed through my mind. Thankfully, after some careful stretching and a bit of walking (limping) I managed to break into a slow run but had to stop and walk a few more times as the hamstring tightened and threatened to seize up again and then my calves went into spasm. I did, however, manage to run the final 800 metres to the fish line, albeit with it the planned sprint across the finish line as I didn’t want to risk further damage. 

The finish:

So it was a 4h19m finish for me rather than the sub 4 hour target.  Amazing crowds. So many runners there was a lot of dodging and near misses. What a privilege to be part of this event. Oh, and I got multiple hugs from Kimberley Mangelshot (@Kim_eKuiLibriuM) after the finish line after a chance meeting. After I explained how my race had turned after the hamstring issue, Kim wisely recommended I see the race medic team to get it looked at and escorted me to the medic tent. I can’t thank her enough for this as the physiotherapists and podiatrists on hand, all volunteers, were brilliant and went to work on my incredibly tight right hamstring and both calves. After leaving the medic tent and adding a couple of clothes layers I made my way back to my car in Surbiton via the London Underground (and many steps) and mainline railway, consuming pretty much all of the goodie bag snacks and some sandwiches bought at the station on route. 

  
[Photo courtesy of Kimberley Mangelshot, stupid facial expression all mine]

The aftermath:

My first run after the marathon, an easy 30 minutes 2 days later, went fine and although my legs felt heavy I was recovering well. Or at least I thought I was. Fast forward to the following Bank Holiday Monday, 12 days before NDW50, and an 11 mile trail run with fellow #MIBUltraTeam members Simon Welch and Phil Hall (@BigPhil137). We were enjoying the trails and honouring the fantastic feat of endurance and determination shown by #MIBUltraTeam founder Mark Thornberry  (@thorners125), who had shown absolute grit and sheer bloody mindedness of the highest order to finish the  Thames Path 100 the previous day (read his account here) and keep alive his Centurion Running 100 mile Grand Slam dream. 

 

During our run my hamstring felt fine but the shin pain/discomfort I had been feeling in early March – I stopped running for a week  and reduced my running frequency and mileage afterwards in an attempt to resolve it – made another appearance. It only lasted a while so I wasn’t concerned. However, in the next couple of days though I began to worry about my shin and whether or not I should run NDW50 or choose to DNS:

  
Suffice it to say that my fellow runners responded brilliantly (you know who you are, thank you) with advice and suggestions ranging from rest to DNS and don’t risk it to see a specialist. Oh, and sage advice about the need to ensure that you DBAF. At that stage I was fairly certain that I would DNS as I couldn’t see my shin getting any better in 10 days, or at lead not sufficiently to enable me to run 50 miles without either breaking down and having to either DNF or grit my teeth and limp home (as I did in 2014, something I’m not in a hurry to repeat) or doing damage which would affect my training for the Autumn 100 in October.  My triathlete and Ironman racing brother Greg (@draytonblue) had only recently suggested I go for another sports massage post-London and so I decided to see if I could fix an appointment ASAP to see if I could save my NDW50. Worth a shot, eh? 

 [Instruments  of torture?]

In advance of my appointment tomorrow (5 days before race day) I have been using my trusty foam roller (aka foamrollaaarrrggghhh) and the massage stick and lacrosse ball I recently acquired to work on my legs and release some of the tightness in my muscles.  An initial chat with the sports massage therapist suggested to her that the problem may be tight calf muscles rather than the shin itself, so I have been getting into the calf muscles in particular serval times a dayregularly. My goodness, my right calf is really tight and the lacrosse ball really works at digging into those hot spot. My shin feels  much  better already. There’s hope.  I have not run for a week but am feeling positive.

  
Let’s see what tomorrow and the sports massage brings. Onwards.