Based on the typical 1/3 reduction in mileage for the final week I should have been aiming for around 16-17 miles this week.
Monday – Rest day – Zero miles. Doing good.
Tuesday – 6:40 session so 4 miles at (by luck) exactly 6:40min/mile average. Fastest yet and definitely seeing a benefit from the weekly lung buster. Try not to dwell on the fact other clubmates run this pace for a whole marathon and the elites are over 2 minute a mile quicker FOR THE WHOLE EVENT!
Then a pop over the road for a 10x1min interval session with 1 minute recovery. Purpose is to run flat out for all intervals to get ready for the marathon. High intensity but low duration. Total 5.4 miles at 8:
Wednesday – 5am Bow Brickhill session. Contrary to previous weeks where double speed work didn’t seem to affect the legs too much, this week they felt trashed on the hills. Coupled with a decision to hold back a little as tapering and I managed 9 miles at 8:07 average pace nearly 30 seconds slower pace than the previous week.
Total so far this week – 18.4 miles so probably done too much by this stage already.
Thursday – Gentle 45 minute run with club. 5.8miles at 8:16 pace. Sometimes with all the concentration on pace and distance goals it’s nice to have a relaxed run and ignore both of these.
Friday – Rest day
Saturday – Rest day – Not sure I’ve had three rest days in one week all year. It’s unsettling but awesome. I probably should have done something useful like mow the lawn.
Sunday – Rocket 5k in 19:43. A great race put on by the MK Marathon team. Sadly despite pushing hard on speed training I managed to be 2secs slower than last year. I think I gave it everything up to 3.5k then sort of ran out of motivation. If you run this and one of the main events on the Monday you get an extra medal in recognition bringing your total to 3 for two days. I’m a medal junkie so it had to be done. Let’s see what the big day brings for marathon.
Weekly total mileage – 27.4 miles, nice and rested!
Monthly total mileage – Due to knocking out the 50miler at the start of the month, managed second highest month at 233 (best is 250). Now brings the 200mile+ per month streak to 16 months. May will be off to a good start with 26.2 done on day 1 and June should be even easier with a 100 mile race at the South Downs Way event (SDW100). I then have one marathon a month in July and August with my 100th marathon in September. After September…. nothing booked! Feels odd as typically have 12 months of events booked in advance.
Tomorrow – Marathon day. Best of luck to everyone running!!
There’s been some shocking revelations in the past few weeks. People are reading the random words I spew forth and following them. They’re even coming back to me to offer thanks for helpful advice. With this in mind, after going through ‘final week dread’ many times here’s something to get you through the maranoia and see you arriving refreshed and ready to go on Monday when you take a short jog around my favourite marathon.
MK marathon have put out the final race instructions. Read them!
Miles – Most studies and advice agrees on dropping mileage the week before to 1/3 of the usual mileage. Normally run 30 miles? Then run 10 over a few short runs. Normally run 100 miles? Then you have too much free time go away.
Final week before the marathon – daily check list
All week – try and drink sensibly and eat well. If you hydrate moderately throughout the week you avoid the 9pm “ah no I’ve got a marathon tomorrow, best drink my bodyweight in fluid and spend all night peeing” issue on Sunday night. As you won’t be getting up for early morning runs you’ll likely get more sleep than usual as well. Enjoy it!
Tuesday – Check your kit items and make sure they’re washed and ready to use. If you have a spare bed and confidence that kids or pets won’t wander off with bits (I have issues with both) then lay it all out. Pin on number (which includes your chip). If you don’t have your number yet then check the race instructions. If you entered after 31st March, then you need to collect your Marathon or Half Marathon bib from the Information Desk on Race Day. If you entered before that day but have yet to receive it then it’s probably lost in post so need to collect a replacement on race day.
If running the Rocket 5k on Sunday then collect your number from Up & Running, Elder Gate, Milton Keynes, MK9 1EN until Saturday 29th April or from the race info desk at Wetherspoons on race day.
Wednesday – Often recommended to do a short run at pace. Either a few single miles at marathon pace with a good 6-7 minute gap or sometimes short 1 minute intervals. If you feel fresh and the pace easy then stop and go home. Don’t decide to do a ‘cheeky’ half marathon to see if you can hold the pace.
Cut your toenails. Not too short but you don’t want claws poking out your socks. Do it now so if you do cut too much they have a few days to grow back.
Thursday – Plan your race. You should have at least an idea what pace or goal time you’re going for. If nothing else you should know the course cut off time and make sure you stay ahead (6:30 for the MK Marathon). Websites (Pace band generator) allow you to generate a pace band to wear around wrist personalised to goal time. Print off, cover in tape and use it to check progress on the day.
It’s also useful to give a copy to friends or family that are coming to support and work out where is best to support and what time to expect you. Make sure you include race number and what you’ll be wearing as one sweaty mess in lycra looks a lot like another. Similarly, it can help if they have something to catch your eye like a balloon or sign as spectators can tend to blur together when you’re triumphantly gliding past them/can’t see through sweat and snot encrusted eyes. Emphasise to spectators that you may be faster or slower than expected time on race day as adrenaline propels you forward earlier and you fade in later stages.
Friday – Double check your gels/food. Do you have enough for the full distance? Pack you drop bag and ensure you have everything for the big day (there’s a handy checklist on the race instructions). Do you have the family sized tub of Vaseline to lube up like a cross-channel swimmer? If you feel the nervous energy is too much then go for a swim or bike ride to relax, keep active and avoid impact injury.
Saturday – Reflect on your training. It will steady your nerves to think of those runs where you went further or faster than you ever believed possible. You’ve done the work so the race is in the bag.
If there’s any light chores you’ve been neglecting in training then doing them might take your mind off. Do: fold and put away 6 months of washing. Don’t: lay a new patio and drop a slab on your foot.
Sunday – As tempting as it might be to lay in bed all day most runners report better results from some light exercise the day before to avoid feeling stale. A couple of mile at a relaxed pace will limber you up and keep focus.
If you’re doing the MK Rocket then make a decision between a fun 5k race or an all-out lung buster for a PB. Make this decision before you start, not when that bloke who always beats you at the parkrun goes past and the competitive mist descends as you’re definitely having him today….
Do a final check of your gear. Make sure breakfast is planned. SET YOUR ALARM CLOCK. Don’t stress about how much sleep you’re getting. You’re well rested and one night of disturbed sleep is not going to ruin your chances.
Monday – Get up, put on kit, go run and enjoy the day. This is what the hard work and the missed pints were all for.
Tuesday – Wake up and wonder why your legs have been filled with concrete. Crawl to the toilet and stagger into work wearing your medal and finishers top. Try and bring all conversation back to your marathon. “That’s a fascinating talk on the challenges of vertical integration of the supply chain Sandra. I’ve overcome some challenges myself recently. Have I mentioned I ran a marathon yesterday?”.
For everyone like me sat on their sofa watching the coverage this year, or stalking friends on the London Marathon app (which for the first year ever seemed to be pretty useful), you may well feel like joining them next year. With sportsmanship as displayed by Matthew Rees of Swansea Harriers (who stopped running just a few yards from the end of the race to help David Wyeth of Chorlton Runners finish his race) how could you not want to join the greatest race on Earth?
Ballot Entry No need to set a stupid early alarm to rush to your PC and register as per the days of old. VMLM are keeping with the previous qualification standards system used for 2016 and 2017 that is limited by time, not by applicants.
The public ballot entry system for the 2018 Virgin Money London Marathon opens on Monday 1 May and closes at 17:00 on Friday 5 May 2017. The ballot will be open for five days to “give everyone who wants to enter the event a fair chance to do so”.
The downside of this is it will likely see another 250,000 applicants for between 17,000-20,000 ballot spots (VMLM have never officially published the total that I could find). Get your application in and you’ve got a 7-8% chance of getting the famous urine on your doormat in October or November this year.
Good For Age UPDATE
As of 26th April, VMLM Have announced the qualification standards for next year and despite rumours it would tighten the standard they are the same.
Entries open in June 2017 for the 2018 race and any valid time since 1st January 2016 counts so if you’ve not scored the time you need already, best get out there!
Good For Age 2018
2017 – A record year
News reports have announced that with 39,487 finishers the 2017 race is the biggest yet. A great success story for the organisers but must have been squeaky bum moments at the head offices when a record 40,382 bibs were collected from the expo last week as they only produce 40,000 medals and goody bags (according to the press pack) – they are very good at predicting the drop out rate.
No figures yet on starters but 2.2% of those that collected bibs never crossed the finish line so either never started or dropped out on route. Once again 24% of accepted runners never made it to the expo to collect their bibs for one reason or another. Annoying to hear for those unlucky in the ballot.
Have seemingly shrugged off the 50 miler and managed some decent distance and pace last week, goal for this week was to push the pace and loosen up for the MK marathon. That will allow the final week for some tapering ready to get an awesome time/go off too hard and blow up on 1st May.
Easter Monday – 3.85 miles at 8:23 pace and 3.75 miles at 8:18 pace – Day off work so did a run to parents and back to collect dog. Was faster on way back with doggie as company. Initial plan was to do the out section as a progressive run (every mile faster than the last) but too much Easter chocolate meant it was more of a waddle than a speedwork run.
Tuesday – 6:40 session with Redway Runner – 4 miles at 6:41 average. Quickest yet and managed to hold 6:37 exactly for the final three miles. Normally I tail off on these but seem to have built some endurance for faster paced efforts and basically learnt to put up with the pain/discomfort. Felt pants on the way to the run and had an awful taste in mouth no amount of rinsing or spitting could remove so had low expectations of performance, especially given I left home at stupid o’clock to drive to Devon and back with work. Funny how sometimes you pull out your best runs when feeling a bit off.
Also Tuesday – 10x1min with 1min recovery with Lakeside Runners, 5.4miles at 8:10 pace – Popped over road for second speed session. This one is tailored for the runners doing the London Marathon as a last bit of speed work to get legs turning over. Sadly not me (I’m too slow for my age or too young for my slowness). Legs still had pace in them despite previous effort. Was worried that the distance training for the 50 mile event may have killed any speed off but seems to have helped instead.
Wednesday – 9 mile run up Bow Brickhill at 7:44 average – One of my faster attempts this year despite double speed work night before. Definitely felt the pace get harder on last few miles after such a short rest between runs.
Thursday – 10 miles at 7:45 average – Was late for club session but managed to catch them on route. Many dropped out early as tapering for London (jealous much?!) so I joined the hardcore rounding up to 10 for their final 4-5 miles at a speedy but conversational pace. This left me the 5 miles on my own at the end so another attempt at a progressive section. Managed to start at 7:31 and finish 7:11 pace and all but one mile was quicker. Definitely recommend this session. Hard work but focuses the mind and prevents the run turning into an amble.
Friday – 3.2 miles with Bella, 8:39 average – a gentle loop with dog after work. She spent most of it paddling and chasing stuff.
Saturday – Final longish run before MK Marathon. Met up with some mates at 8am for a steady out and back (5.8miles at 8:11 average) to hit MK parkrun at 9am for some final speed work at the end (6:42 average and sneaked under 21 minutes). Probably this should have been at marathon pace but got a bit carried away .
Sunday – Sat on sofa and watched everyone run London Marathon on TV. Then ran the dog up to parents, 4.15 miles at 8:07 average.
Worked out I turn 41 in March 2020 so could apply for VLM 2020 based on a sub 3:15 marathon from January 2018 onwards (unless they change the entry times). Once I get my 100th marathon and 100 miler out the way this year I might concentrate on training properly for less marathons to try to get my time. I may even eat properly, trim down, taper and not go off like a loon for the first 5 miles and regret it. I may also learn a new language and master origami. Many of these are unlikely.
Weekly Total – 52.2 miles. Now to taper for MK Marathon in a week!!
With 95 marathons so far I’ve made every mistake possible (and some that probably aren’t) so distilled below is my ‘wisdom’ so you don’t have to make the mistakes.
Stick to the plan
You’ve tested your breakfast , your snacks.
You’ve tested your pre-race poop strategy.
You’ve tested what you’re going to run in.
You’ve tested what fuel and hydration you’ll take on during your run.
You’ve tested sunglasses, hat or headband.
(If you have long hair like me (cough cough)) You’ve tested what combination of plaits/bunches/dreadlocks/Mohawk works best for you.
You’ve planned what to leave in your drop bag for after the race (warm hoodie, wet wipes, dry clothes).
You’ve planned what to wear whilst waiting in your start pen (bin bags are a good look).
You’ve decided what pace you’re going to run and tested it in training.
Go in your kit
Wear extra layers on top but ideally the first items you put on that morning are your complete running kit. From trainers to hat you should have everything you need to run – especially your bib and timing chip!
Travelling several hours from home to realise you’re still wearing the beat up flip flops you use to put the bins out is not ideal. If you end up running late you don’t want to be getting changed on the train and showing the world your unmentionables as you try to squeeze out of your skinny jeans and slide on your running gear.
This is not a parkrun. You can’t wander up 2 minutes before, lob your hoodie in a bush for later and set off.
Allow time for several things to go wrong. Hopefully they won’t and you can sit down under a tree, relax and soak up the atmosphere. If they do go wrong you’ve got time to spare.
You need to allow to get to the venue through busy traffic and park/walk from bus/lock up bike. Everything will take longer than you expect.
Join a toilet queue. Then double check you have everything you need and queue to drop off bag. Then toilet queue again. Then warm up muscles. Then join the crowd to the start pens. Then realise you need a wee again, join the queue again and rejoin pen. Then set off.
Things can go wrong
Trains run late, cars breakdown. Parking and traffic management can take time. If you’ve trained months for this spending countless hours pounding away you don’t want to blow it because you spent an extra 30mins in bed getting beauty sleep. No amount of beauty sleep will improve the finishing photos.
Avoid goal creep
You’ve planned and practised a pace. Your taper has worked and you feel great so likely this will feel easy. Don’t be tempted to increase the pace. If you get to mile 20 and feel good then push, NOT at mile 3. Every minute too fast on the first half will cost you two on the second. Get tricked into aiming for a 4h45 rather than your planned 5h and you’ll likely blow up and miss the 5h.
Stick to the plan – but also adapt!
If something goes wrong on the race don’t panic.
You reach down for your final gel to realise it’s fallen out. All hope is not lost – swig an energy drink and power on.
Your Garmin goes flat. You have no idea what pace you’re doing – rely on mile markers and ask other runners, run on feel. If it feels too fast slow down.
The gel makes you gag and you threaten to vomit it up – stop taking them. Stomach cramps and hair matted with sick will slow you more than a marginal loss in fuel.
You didn’t see a loved one at mile 12. Now you’re miserable – they’re probably stuck in crowds or maybe they saw you but you missed them. Keep going.
It’s way hotter than your practice runs – tip water over your head, bin some clothes, roll up sleeves, run in shade when able.
Most importantly – Enjoy!
This is your first marathon. <1% of the population have run a marathon so you’re joining an exclusive club. Whether you glide across the line in a world record time or drag yourself like a drunken student just before the cut off everyone has covered the same distance and has earned the medal.
Once again sticking to my “Do as I say not as I do” approach my final long run before MK wasn’t 20 miles with sections at marathon pace like most would have done, but 50 miles on the South Downs Way 50. Due to the hilly nature of the course this had sections ranging from “My god this downhill is fast I’m pretty sure I’m about to trip and eat dirt” to “I’ve been climbing this hill for what seems like hours and don’t appear to have moved forward discernibly”. Despite a warm day I stuck broadly to plan (using peaked cap to fend off the sun and not quite enough sun cream it seems) and came in under the target 9hrs. This clocked off marathon (or longer) 95 and left me three weeks to do final prep for the MK Marathon. Endurance should be well and truly covered with that run and 8 other marathons so far in 2017.
Plan was to recover for week 1, with some harder efforts towards the back end to gauge where I am. Week 2 will be focussed on some speedwork to remind my legs what marathon pace will feel like on the day. Finally week 3 will be my usual haphazard approach between tapering and getting irritable and ratty, and doing too much and regretting it come race day.
Monday – Recovery run with Bella – 3 miles at 9:30 pace
With the race on Saturday it meant I had Sunday as a rest day with some walking and chasing kids on bikes as active recovery. So come Monday I could do a little lap to turn legs over. I felt fairly good but mindful of my one rule to make recovery runs short and slow I stopped at 3 miles and never pushed the pace. Bella kept stopping or having to do run backs for me. For a dog she has a very expressive way of showing her disappointment at slow running speed.
Tuesday – 3x10min with 3 min recovery – 6.85 miles at 7:30 average
Wasn’t sure how well speed work would go so close to the 50 but rest and recovery seemed to have worked and the relatively low turnout at the club helped as we all stuck together to push along in a little group. Ran on effort not pace and expected to get a slow few miles was surprised to record some decent overall pace.
Wednesday – 9 miles Bow Brickhill 7:44 average
Legs achy but no worse than expected and chipped along as well as able. Faded a little towards the end but still kept a decent pace overall. Surprise Strava segment PRs including the big hill. I guess after the fun of the South Downs that Church Road seems like nothing.
Thursday – 12.6 miles at 7:42 average
Ran to and from club session to get some steady miles in. 5x3min intervals with 2min recovery.
Good Friday – 6.4 miles at 8:51 average
Run with Bella to Caldecotte to cheer on runners in the Enigma Easter marathon. Dog insisted on stopping in pub on way back for a pint.
Saturday – Lots!
13 mile long-ish run at 8:28, then MK parkrun as marathon pace effort at the end. Went a bit quick and averaged 7:14 (I wish that was my marathon pace). Then a 2 mile cooldown with doggie at 9:44 pace. Total mileage 18.11 for the day.
If you’re lucky enough to be running London Marathon this year (I’m too slow for my age so will be watching from the sofa) it’s time to start planning how to get your race number. Most marathons post these to you, taking advantage of the relatively new service called the Royal Mail which has only been around since 1516. London Marathon don’t trust this new fangled delivery system so instead would prefer all 40,000 runners trek down to the Expo where they can collect them in person.
Your first Expo will feel like something special. You’ve made it to the big events. Anyone can run parkrun or pop along to a local race, but only proper runners in proper events get to attend a massive exhibition of running to collect their race number. You’ve probably booked time off work to attend and made special travel arrangements or plan to attend on the Saturday with seemingly every lycra clad person in a 200 mile radius for some quality queue action.
When to go
The 2018 Virgin Money London Marathon Expo opening hours are as follows:
Wednesday 18 April 11:00-20:00
Thursday 19 April 10:00-20:00
Friday 20 April 10:00-20:00
Saturday 21 April 09:00-17:00
It’s held at the ExCel in London which depending on where you’re coming from is either really easy or surprisingly hard to reach. More info here from organisers.
What to bring
If collecting your number don’t forget your VMLM registration form that should have received by email in April, along with photo ID. You can collect someone else’s number but need a copy of their ID, their registration form from VMLM and a signed letter authorising and naming you to collect. Why someone might pass up the opportunity to attend in person may become clear.
If it’s your first expo
Once you’ve collected your number you’re going to visit every stall since you never know which one might be selling that secret ingredient for race day. The 18 weeks of solid training are as nothing compared to this Aladdin’s cave of performance enhancing running paraphernalia. A new belt for your gels? An innovative sports supplement endorsed by someone you vaguely know was good at running and you might have seen on the telly? They’re all there and all you have to do is whip out the credit card.
If you’re lucky there will be motivational talks and last minute advice from running celebrities. There won’t be enough seating so you’ll lean nonchalantly against a pillar listening to advice on pacing and recommendations for what to wear. At some point you’ll panic that you don’t have a peaked cap. You’ve never needed one before but the fella on stage said it would be sunny tomorrow and he’d be wearing one. He’s a pro so of course he’s right and you’re an idiot to even contemplate running without one. Off you shoot to the nearest hat stall to part with some more cash. Phew, crisis averted!
This carries on for many more hours. The bag of freebies when you registered is now groaning with not-so-free stuff.
You pose for selfies with backdrops of tower bridge, fill in cute cards on why you’re running and pin them to washing lines on a motivation wall. You try on so many different trainers that are guaranteed to be faster than your current ones. In fact some of these shoes are so ‘unique’ you can only purchase them here, as they’re not available in shops you’d be mad to miss out.
After a long day you return back to your home or hotel room, laden down with purchases and several pairs of new trainers (after all you might as well do this properly). It’s probably around this point you realise you haven’t eaten much today except that manky hot dog from the exhibition stand that cost the price of a meal for two. You feel a bit dry as well as you only had two cups of stale coffee and a free taster of rancid smoothie that promised to take 20 minutes off your marathon time.
Well done. You’ve successfully spent 8 hours on your feet, barely sat except for a train ride, and finished the day tired, hungry and dehydrated. Ideal marathon preparation. In addition, you are now contemplating running the most important event of your running career in new gear from new manufacturers you’ve barely tried on. What could possibly go wrong?
On a more serious note your first expo is great but you really need to limit the damage (both financially and physically) of the trip. Enjoy it but don’t let it ruin what you’ve trained for months for. Your marathon experience and performance is based on miles in the legs and your condition and attitude on race day. No amount of go-faster socks or gels will improve on that.
Pre-race Exhibitions – All others
You’ll find someone else who is going and ask them to collect your number. They will venture out to a run down expo hall (that typically smell a bit damp) in the arse end of town to collect your number. You spend the day at work or home hydrating and sitting as much as possible knowing your tried and tested race gear is already laid out on the spare bed ready to pin your number on.
If you can’t find a sacrificial lamb you attend yourself in SAS style, navigating the crowds like a ninja and are out quicker than a cash strapped investor on Dragons Den.
With just three weeks to go until MK Marathon it’s now getting close. If you’re running London it’s even closer. Time to keep calm and plan.
Most marathon training programmes are between 12-18 weeks and depending on which you’re following, tapering may already have started and likely got your final long run out the way. Final long runs are often 3hrs at 3 weeks out, 2-2:30 at 2 weeks out and 1-1:30 one week out. Ultimately you’re trying to enter the race with fresh legs and bursting with energy.
Long run doubts?
It’s not uncommon to feel awful on the final few long runs. Marathon pace will feel hard as you’ve been banking serious mileage. You may even be hit by doubts on whether you can even run the distance. 20 miles felt hard, how are you going to do another 6 miles on top? Don’t stress as the programmes are proven and countless other runners have had those doubts. As the training intensity backs off the body recovers and you should be able to approach the main event like a coiled spring and the crowds and other runners will drag you the final few miles.
Should my knee make that odd noise?
Now is also the time to be mindful of any niggles or injuries and bear that in mind for any further runs. It’s better to approach the race fit and a little undertrained than well trained but broken and injured. Don’t try and cram in extra sessions to make up for any missed runs. There’s little improvement you can make in the last 2-3 weeks but a whole lot of damage you could do if you behave like a fool.
Feeling Hot, Hot, Hot?
It’s worth trying to get a run in at similar time of day as your marathon. Brighton Marathon had issues last weekend with runners suffering in the heat (not helped by some apparently poor decisions on water stations). Having doubtless trained for months on frosty early mornings the marathoners struggled when attempting the same pace in midday sun. Bag some leave from the family on a weekend and try an hour or so run in the sun. Better to realise now you need a peaked cap to keep the sun off your rapidly balding head than at mile 17 on verge of sunstroke.
Drinking for beginners
Hydration is worth considering, check race instructions. Many events now use cups rather than bottles to save waste. Some people get on great with these. Personally I get barely a dribble down my neck along with a lot of air which leads to choking and if lucky a lovely spontaneous regurgitation of the water and the last gel. It’s a good look when adoring family members realise that you haven’t yet learnt how to drink without being sick. They’ve stood out in the cold for 2hrs to see you vomit down the back of the runner in front and have to pretend they don’t even know you.
Experiment with cups (just running around the garden if necessary). Pinching the cup can help or slowing down to a walk. If neither works then try a hand bottle or even a rucksack with a bladder (Camelback or similar) and take your own water. A cheap option is Powerade sports drink comes in a sports bottle with a wide opening so can be filled up from cups as you go. Then at the end of the race you can bin it ready for your Mo Farah sprint to glory.
My toes poke out my shoes, do I need new ones?
Time now to check your trainers. If you’ve used one pair for the whole training programme they may be past their best. If looking beyond help you have time to buy a replacement (same style, same make, same size, nothing new) and wear them in before race day.
Get your kit off (and laid on the bed)
By now you’ve hopefully checked and tested the kit you intend to run in on race day so will know if it rubs and where, also what to eat and when.
Lay out your kit on the bed. Include everything you intend to wear, carry or use. Do you suddenly realise that the fistful of gels you intend to use have nowhere to go or your phone doesn’t fit your shorts pocket? Address these issues now.
I can(‘t) hear music?
Check final race instructions. More and more races ban headphones for safety reasons. They take it seriously and will either disqualify you and remove from the results or possibly even remove you from the course. Some will allow use of bone conductor units (they don’t go in the ear so don’t block traffic and marshals) so if you absolutely must have your music for legs to function you still have time to buy some.
People struggle to understand how seasons work
Check the long range weather and adjust for what you’re wearing and plan for discarding clothes. I’ve lost track of how many spring events I’ve stood next to a guy decked head to toe in compression wear, knowing they’ll be regretting it in a few miles and need to do a quick striptease in a portaloo or run into a post whilst tangled removing their top. If you’re not going to be cold standing in just your running gear you’re likely wearing too much and will suffer later in the race.
Even the most streamlined marathon will likely leave you waiting 1/2hr between getting rid of drop bag and starting the race. You need layers you can lose at the start and not carry around the course. Tripping up due to your expensive jumper tied around your waist is not a good look. Have an old t-shirt/jumper or bin liner ready to dispose of at the start. Most marathons collect the discarded clothes for charity.
How are you getting there?
Plan your travel. Roads will likely be busy (Manchester marathon in 2016 managed a brilliant own goal of closing the roads that lead to the event parking so runners were unable to access the car parks they’d paid for) and trains may be running reduced service. Where do you plan to park and how long a walk to the start? Working back from entering the start pen how long do you need to drop bags, queue for toilets? Allow extra time for crowds or issues. For a big event arriving 2hrs before the start is not excessive, allow more if you need to pick up race pack on the day. If you’ve not planned the journey before you might surprise yourself how early you’ll need to get up and once factoring in dropping pets/kids off find you’d be better booking a nearby hotel or that the earliest train doesn’t get you there in time.
Think about what you want in your drop bag or for your other half to hold onto. Few marathons will have showers or changing rooms due to the logistic of getting 10,000 runners washed but a fresh set of clothes is a lifesaver if your running gear is blood/sweat/vomit/snot/rain soaked (whoever said running was glamorous?).
Last minute items for use before dropping off bag –
Sun cream (it’s fine I never burn in the UK when spending 12 hours a day in an office, why would I burn spending 7 hours outdoor, barely dressed and in direct sun?!)
Bin bag/disposable clothes
Vaseline and plasters for final application
Last minute food or drink
Sandwich bag for iPod/phone if the weather looks hot or rainy (it’s an expensive event if your new iPhone get soaked)
For use after the race –
Wet wipes for a freshen up
Underwear and clothes (don’t forget socks and a welcoming hoodie)
Fresh shoes or flip flops
Carrier bag for your stinky gear
Any post race food or drink
Emergency foil blanket (most events give these out but they may not, or you might find on the bus home you feel in need of one)
Directions or location of agreed meet up point with family and friends (you’re tired and can’t remember if meeting in the Three Kings or Kings Head pub)
Power pack for phone (you’ve flattened phone playing power ballads for 5hrs now you can’t ring your Hubbie or post that vital selfie to Facebook)
Cash or card
It may sound excessive planning all this ahead but pre-race nerves will be hitting soon, the more prepared you are the better.
This race forms the second half of the SDW100 I’ll be attempting in June so was a combination of training, getting marathon number 95 ticked off, and learning the route so when tackling it tired, in the dark and with 50 miles in the legs it would be less likely to go wrong.
The race HQ was at Worthing college which the SatNav got us most of the way to it before abandoning us in a tiny lane.
The first few miles are congested which helps to hold pace back. I had a broad plan of 4 hours and 5 hours for each half to match intended 100 mile pace. A few miles in and I’m keeping pace with Jen and trotting along. The hills all seem quite gentle so far and most of the course is runnable. Glad of sticking to road shoes as the course is chalky soil baked rock hard by the sun and less giving than tarmac.
The first two or three miles have gone in a blur but I’m already noticing sweat beading and dropping from my cap. It is hot, so I keep drinking to get ahead of the fluid loss. Some sections we’re almost running too fast due to the easy nature of the trail. To the right is clear skies as far as can be seen, to the left the thick fog seen on the drive down is clinging to the low-lying ground but the course is well above. At times the course seems so remote from civilisation you can barely see a building.
Later a marshal lets Jen know she’s 6th lady and could make some places. The red mist descends but she tries to at least look like she’s ignoring it. It’s a losing battle. Coming into the first aid station at Botolphs we’ve covered 11 miles and gaining on the 5th lady. Climbing the steep hill out the aid station I’m choking on an ill-chosen sausage roll as she power hikes into the distance with finish position in mind. I’m just hoping I don’t die from inability to eat a party sized pork product and thinking what a rubbish way to DNF the race it would be.
Running can be a mind opening experience and upon reaching a road crossing at Saddlescombe I learn a string of new expletives as a cyclist hammering down the hill deems the car merging from the car park not to have given him enough room and lets rip with a 100 decibel tirade, questioning the parentage of the driver and strongly advising him to check his prescription at the opticians.
The Saddlescombe aid station comes soon after at 17 miles. My mental gymnastics reminds me this is over a third of the way. The helpful marshalls fill my water bottles and I wrestle with the stupid collapsing cup (mandatory gear to avoid wasteful cups) to get cola into my mouth. Next race I’m getting a bigger cup. Fearful of another near death savoury food incident I’m drawn towards the fruit and I stride back out the aid station loaded down with watermelon, pineapple, oranges and grapes like an extra from a Lilt commercial.
After some more fields we cross the main A23 road and a petrol station hovers fleetingly within reach. Ever noticed how BP always have the aircon turned nice and low? That would feel so good about now. Putting it to the back of my mind I see a large group of hikers up ahead, so widely spread they’re blocking the entire road through the village, swinging their walking poles without a care in the world. It’s going to be hard to pass on the road but getting stuck behind these through any tight sections of the path would be an issue, best get some speed up and politely weave through before the path narrows.
I’m feeling quite smug as just after passing them the path narrows to a barely shoulder width footway between thick bushes besides the road. Once again my experience has come into play and I won’t get stuck behind…. horses. Where the hell did they come from? Massive lumps and their horsey bums barely scrape between the undergrowth. Over a hundred miles of the South Downs Way and I come across two horses on the narrowest section. I don’t have many feelings either way with horses, it’s just unfortunate one of the biggest creatures in the UK has the mental capacity of a slow-witted mouse and is prone to bolting if something really scary like a carrier bag stuck in a tree makes a sudden movement.
Other runners catch up behind me, all unsure what the acceptable approach is. The road is close (so close I debate leaping through the thick bushes and chancing the traffic) which means the riders and horses can’t hear us. Should we shout and risk two horseshoe imprints to the chest? I’ve played Buckaroo as a kid so I have experience in this and I don’t fancy retrieving the gas lamp and frying pan from between the traffic. Fortunately the riders pull over to let some oncoming cyclists pass. The cyclists see our sweaty visages and also elect to pull to the side so a slow procession of stinking runners can mutter a quiet “thankyou” to the horses as we squeeze by, whilst praying they don’t shatter our shins 30 miles from the end of the race.
The one advantage of the hold up is I’m now back in a group so at the next road crossing we can find a volunteer to step out into the busy traffic and take one for the team so the rest can cross. The opportunity doesn’t seem too promising but we eventually make it across and climb up past Pyecombe Gold Club, joined by some more cyclists for company.
A further climb and we approach Ditchling Beacon Nature Reserve. The car park is packed with people out enjoying the sun or supporting the runners and we’re greeted by claps and cheers as we pass by. The downside is I entirely miss the ice cream van parked up until past it and I spend the next few miles berating myself for packing my emergency cash in the bottom of my race vest and for not looking ahead. The ice cream van was probably serving the best cone with a flake for miles around and I’ve got a squashed energy bar instead.
Fortunately Centurion have done well to signpost the next few miles as the South Downs Way makes a series of seemingly random turns as it zig-zags across the hills. Pace is still broadly on track and coming up to half way in 4:04hrs. Slightly behind the planned 4/5 split but not a lot. The sun is relentless and I’ve all but drained my bottles. This is the longest gap between aid stations at 10 miles and I’m certainly feeling it. One bit of ultra advice that sticks out is to remember everything is temporary. If you feel good, go for it as you’ll feel rubbish later. If you feel like death then ignore it as it will pass.
Coming up to a wooded section I’m caught by another runner who warns me the next section is “F*cking stupid bit. Really stupid. Don’t know what they were thinking”. Not sure if he meant the event organisers or the original users of the South Downs Way but the steep climb in the woods is enough to slow progress to a painful walk, before bursting out the trees and a long downhill prior to hitting the Housedean aid station at 26.6 miles having drained every final drop of fluid on the final approach.
Whilst chugging back tiny thimbles of Pepsi the volunteers top up my bottles again. Feeling so thirsty I’m happy to have whatever flavour they offer. Later I regret this on finding Natural Tailwind quite literally tastes like sweaty arse. It could well be the copious sweat has got into the mouthpieces but the fruity refreshing goodness of the other flavours has been replaced with ‘builders arse crack on a summers day’.
Starting the long climb up to Castle Hill I attempt various methods of increasing forward momentum. I can’t run the slopes but walking is too slow. Instead I perfect a sort of shuffle, reminiscent of an old man rushing for a bus but not sure of his footing enough to break into a jog. It works and I gain and pass some runners as we approach a field of cows. A field we now need to enter. And they’re all up against the gate looking at us. I love cows when there’s a sturdy fence between. It’s entirely coincidental that I slow to allow some runners to catch me as I reach the gate and an unplanned by-product that if one of the blood crazed homicidal cows choses to attack I now have a lower chance of being the victim. My brain serves up a helpful fact that cows are officially the deadliest animal in the UK and kill twice as many people as dogs. They are more deadly that sharks and given we’re several hundred meters above sea level it’s even more relevant.
Fortunately they’re docile and mostly just look at us, possibly pleased to have found someone that smells worse than they do. We ponder briefly if it would be possible to ride one and whether that is explicitly against the race rules or just frowned upon. Consensus is anyone brave enough to try it and get the beast to follow the way markings is welcome to it.
After some more weaving the footpath joins up with a hard concrete road that passes between oil seed rape fields, filling the air with a funky aroma that makes you glad not to suffer from hayfever. The road is level or downhill and a great opportunity to pick some distance off at a decent pace, making the most of the cushioning of road shoes as oppose to trail. It continues down to South Farm before a sharp turn to run alongside an impressive collection of manure, all the better to clear your airways before a short climb to Southease rail station and the leg burning footbridge crossing of the train line. After 33 miles of hills two simple staircases seem like torture, especially the descent.
Southease aid station means only 16 miles to go. Fuelled by more (better tasting) Tailwind drink and with a handful of fruit I start to do the sums as we cross the A26 and begin a steady climb. If I keep below 12 minute miles I’ll be just over 9hrs but still under my previous 50 mile time. That sounds do-able. The climb caries on. And on. One false summit after another comes and the ‘I’ll run once we reach the top’ never comes. The willingness to run is dampened by a belly full of Pepsi that feels wobbly and bursting with gas and takes a good few minutes of uncomfortableness to pass after each aid station.
Still climbing I fall in with another runner and we chat. He’s run the race before and agrees we’re on for just over 9hr pace. He then regales me with stories of hitting the same hill 74 miles into the SDW100 race, in the fog, at night, blindly following markers and the lights of other runners, being startled by sudden appearance of cows. It’s equally alarming and exciting. He’s completed the 100 in under 23 hours which is some reassurance I might manage the same in June.
Eventually the incline runs out of false summits and we can get some decent place along the gentle incline. Up ahead is a massive TV mast at Firle Beacon, towering over the countryside. Logically this must be the top of the highest hill so we should be due a bit of downhill the other side. If not the 9hr target is dwindling further still. We meet another crowd of supporters at the car park and are cheered through (no ice cream van at this one). Some are sat out catching the sun and enjoying a cold tipple from their cool boxes. I’m sure one of them must have beer. I really need a beer about now.
Later we pass Bo Beep car park but see neither the namesake or any sheep. The going is good with soft grass either side of the path to provide some cushioning and allow pace to quicken, clocking some decent miles off at just over 8 minutes with some other runners at similar pace. The 9hr target is now somewhere between 11:30 and 12:00 min/mile pace. I could maybe still do this.
At 41 miles the path changes from gently downhill to potholed steep drive and my knackered quads start to complain. Other runners fair better and skip down the road as I shudder down on heavy legs. We’ve reached Alfriston and the next aid point is in the Church. Once again the tables are groaning with food like a spoilt kids birthday party but I stick to fruit and tailwind. 9 miles left. That’s the same as a Wednesday morning run if you ignore the 41 mile warmup.
This is the penultimate stop, with another at 45 mile at Jevington and then the home stretch. If I can avoid stopping at Jevington I could save a precious few minutes. The weather has cooled so two full bottles should see me through 9 miles easily.
Leaving the aid station I’m reminded that the first of the trickier navigation sections is coming up. I’ve watched the video on the event website and have brief notes in my bag but don’t need them as it’s clearly marked and we cross Cuckmere river before another ascent on a long rutted access track between the trees. Time is ticking and I can’t afford to walk this so it’s time for old man shuffle up the track. It’s not pretty and still too slow but somewhere closer to the target pace. In a brainwave I realise I’m still carrying weight I don’t need and ditch any food into the bushes for the wildlife to enjoy the great tasting energy release of chia nibs and sunflower seed bars whilst stashing the wrappers for later disposal. I must have dropped a whole 100g but mentally it seems good and reinforces this is the homeward stretch.
The path climbs again towards Windover hill and the Long Man Of Wilmington, a 16th century chalk figure cut into the side of the hill. He’s 72 metres tall and holds two walking poles, or ‘cheat sticks’ as they’re known in trail running. Right now I could do with a borrow of his sticks or his 35 metre legs to aid the reappearance of my old man shuffle up the path. Legs are begging me to walk but the climb disappears into the distance and I can’t afford the luxury. There simply aren’t enough miles left to make up for any slowing down unless I fancy dropping in a pace I can’t managed on a good day.
Jevington mercifully comes into view and the course skirts the churchyard. A brief mind melt means I miss the signs and fail to understand the clear instructions of the marshal and nearly head the wrong way. More precious seconds lost. I really want this sub9!
After the church is a marshalled road crossing. It seems unnecessary given the tranquil nature of the village but after waiting for multiple cars for a gap to hobble across it’s clearly the place to be on a sunny Saturday afternoon. More precious time lost. Once across the aid station in a cruel twist is elevated from the road accessed by painful looking steps up and down. With some shouts to confirm I don’t need to stop I plod off, avoiding the steps and the further delay.
There’s around 4 miles to go. Distance is becoming critical. Most runners say the course tends to come up a little short of 50 miles but I can’t recall how much. 49 miles I might just have it. Closer to 50 and my failing mental capacity makes it look doubtful. My brain redeems itself and comes up with a master plan. I need to lighten weight further. I’m carrying over 1kg of water but weather is cooling and I only need to make it a little further than a parkrun to reach the end and bountiful rehydration. So I empty both bottles over the next half mile. Not by tipping them out as that would be sensible. No, I choose to drink them. I’ve successfully lightened my race vest by 1kg and added 1kg to my swollen belly. Net weight change of zero. Genius.
There’s another undulating section ahead. Surely as we finish at Eastbourne, on the coast, we must be due some more downhill soon? As we reach Willingdon Golf Course more marshals are out to direct over a tricky peak of the hill and down an unassuming gulley path beside the course. This is another of the trickier navigation sections so I try to mentally replay the video in my head. Thundering down the steep gulley pace builds again but is eratic due to tree routes, narrow sections and thick and evil bushes encroaching on the path. It would be easy to come a cropper on tired legs and have to choose between a mouthful of chalk or a face of brambles.
There’s a little over two miles to go and I’ve got 28 minutes left. I’m not sure if due to failing mental capacity or quick legs but I’m now up on where I need to be. If I can just avoid any mistakes I’ve got this. The path breaks out onto a suburban street, and the easily missed right turn into an alley is just where I expected it to be. Checking over my shoulder there is no one behind. The various runners have spread over the last few miles and I’m on my own. Breaking out the alleyway onto Willingdon Road I nearly crash into the barrier designed to stop idiots running into the road. Idiots like me. This is another tricky section. I have the description in my bag. I could stop and check it but I’m pretty sure I’ve got this. An arrow on the floor points left so off I go. Pace is steady, there is very little that could stop me getting sub9, just stay on course. I’m tired but force myself to look out for the next marker, there is no way I’m getting lost now. Only an idiot would foul up in the last couple of miles.
Then a passing car honks. A lot. An awful lot. The driver leans out the window and wildly gesticulates and shouts that I’ve missed the turning. Brain slowly registers the noise he was making as words and I turn to see two runners way behind pop out the alley, avoid crashing into the barrier, cross the road and head off up a turning I’ve missed. They seemed in no doubt on the route and are making for home. Two places lost and I’m now the wrong side of the road, added extra distance and obviously have the navigational ability of a wasp stuck in a window. Without the passing car I may well have ended up in Dover.
Swearing at myself the sensible option is to gain on the runners and stay with them. After a burst of speed I manage it and grimly hold on as long as possible. Sadly that may well be all I have left and they soon lose me but remain close enough in the distance to follow. Rounding the hospital and skirting the car park and the athletics track is ahead. There’s literally 400m lap to go. With a big gap behind I feel like taking it easy but with a final spurt realise a sub 8:50 is possible and cross the line.
It’s been gruelling and hot but by running when able (if not willing), grinding away on the steep sections and shuffling up the easier climbs I’ve managed to knock 45 minutes off my previous 50 mile time. Also managed 61st out of 393 runners which I’m more proud of when the following day Facebook pops up a 6 year old photo of fat me huffing and puffing around one of my first parkruns, likely unable to complete the 5k without a walk break.
After finding Jen (who finished way up at 4th lady at 8hrs despite a marathon PB the week before) I shuffle to the showers to contemplate how to remove trainers and calf guards when I can’t bend sufficiently to reach past my knees.
Week 14 of 17
Getting near race day for MK Marathon so time to get the long runs in. I went a little over on the long run this week. Most programmes have 20, maybe 22 miles. I fancied a 50 as also have a 100 mile race in June (first time at the distance) and wanted some reassurance I’d make it.
Monday – Rest Day – Didn’t manged to get a run in, so rare two rest days in a row.
Tuesday – 6:40 session. 6:42 pace for 4 miles – Eighth attempt at this Redway Runners club session, and again got quicker. Really felt the benefit of two days rest and although this seemed hard work but far easier than previous week. Demonstration that you only get quicker by running with quicker runners.
Also Tuesday – 10x1min with 1min recovery, 6.1 miles at 7:48 pace – Second attempt at doing the club run double. Hopped across the road and joined Lakeside Runners for their session. Felt strong and even allowing for slow recovery sections maintained a good overall pace.
Wednesday – 9mile Tempo at 7:44 average – Last week the double speedwork finishing 8hrs before a tempo the following morning resulted in a death march. This time felt far better and significantly faster. Really feel like the training is coming good.
Thursday – 6 miles with Bella around the lake, overall 8:35 pace – Tapering for the weekend race so a little run with the dog to give her some exercise.
Friday – Rest Day
Saturday – South Downs Way 50 – separate post to come on the fun of running 50 hilly miles across some of the best scenery in England. Goal is to aim for around 9-9:30hrs.
If anyone wants to track me on the SDW50 on 8th April, this link will be live.
Sunday – Rest Day – A bit of walking to the pub for lunch and riding the daughters bike back when she refused to cycle. Riding a bike with your knees around your ears is an odd way to recover. Then followed by a mile of ‘speedwork’ running with the boy on his bike.