VLM Good For Age changes – I’m officially sh1t

London Marathon have just made some pretty significant changes to the Good For Age (GFA) procedure. They were announced today (16th April 2018).  Just a week before the running of the 2018 London Marathon.

Last time they made changes it was announced after the VLM had taken place for that year – potentially runners were labouring at a false target to qualify for the subsequent year. This time the changes are out before.  Good if you’re able to think “OK cool, need to run a bit faster, I can do that”.  Bad if you suddenly need to knock 10 minutes off your target time.  Sunday is forecast to be one of the hottest days of 2018 so far, so don’t smash yourself on an impossible goal and not even finish.  We’ve all just seen from Callum Hawkins at the Commonwealth Games how the marathon takes no prisoners.

Main changes for GFA –

  • The times have been changed, some are a fair bit tighter (try not to be a youngish bloke).
  • The age groups have been changed to align with the other majors (a 40 year old male was in same group as 18 year olds, now with 44 year olds).
  • Entry is not guaranteed by getting a GFA time. Much like Boston, they will in future fill with the faster runners first, up to a set limit of 3000 places for each gender. You could run the time required and still not get in.
  • Because entry is not guaranteed and you won’t find out if you’ve made it until after the main ballot has closed for entries, VLM advise you to enter that as well. There will now be even more people in the ballot. Great. It’s unclear at this stage whether successful GFA applicants will have their ballot entry removed to increase the odds for others, you would presume so.
  • The biggest change is what age the times are based on. Previously it was your age on VLM race day that counted, now it’s your age when you ran the time. I can baffle you with all this below on my own example. It sounds minor but has some big ramifications for some. Like me. Did I mention I’m screwed?
  • Deferrals – with an exception for deferrals from 2018 to 2019, in future GFA runners will need to have a suitable marathon time within the relevant qualification window. In layman’s terms if you defer you may find you need to run another fast time to retain your spot for next year. Possibly harsh, but presumably avoids the field being held up by a large group of knackered runners using qualification times from before they went lame.

What’s remained –

  • The qualification periods are the same, 1st January 2017 to 10th August 2018 for next year (unfortunately that means of the 19 month window for VLM 2019 we’ve already lost 15).
  • The application for GFA is still a relatively short window (10 days) in August.

Times –

For a comparison of the times, please see below. The age groups may look a little odd as I’ve split them out to show the new and old London GFA, as well as the Boston 2018 times for comparison.  Boston hasn’t announced times for 2019 and interestingly their website no longer shows the old 2018 times either so they may well be due a change as well.

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As it stands pretty much across the board Boston is now looking easier than London to qualify for. Only the more senior runners (65+ women and 70+ men) would find Boston harder to qualify.  The worst affected age groups are 41-44 men and 76-79 men and women.

As a comparison, at the 2018 Commonwealth Games Marathon the fastest British male finished in 2:19:36. To qualify for London Marathon a normal club runner would need to run <3:00, 40 minutes slower.  The fastest British female finished 2:36:59. The VLM GFA is <3:45. 1h08m slower.  Or to take it another way the fastest female was only 17 minutes behind the fastest male, yet the VLM GFA are 45 minutes apart.

Gender Difference –

Although there looks to be some slackening of the women’s times it’s more due to the restricting of the age groups than any real change.

There is always a lot of whining how ‘soft’ the women’s targets are by certain people hiding on their twitter account. It’s a typical stat that women are 10% slower than men in endurance running, and broadly proven by the world records.  The gap tends to narrow on ultras as women close down on the men.  I know only a handful of GFA males yet countless GFA females, including a couple of awesome championship start females. Either all my male running mates are slow and fat like me, or Milton Keynes is a hot bed of quality female runners.

The previous VLM GFA times placed women 18-20% behind their male counterparts, with one group 65-69 at 25%.  With the new times the difference has grown due to tightening of male times, and now female targets are in the main 23-25% with the older age groups  a little closer and as low as 20%.

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I’ve added a column using the ‘assumed’ 10% difference out of interest just to see what it would produce.  They seem steep but on unscientific “how fast can my mates run” would probably produce a fair gender balance of male/female GFA. But again maybe I run with too many fast ladies and fat old knacker blokes.

Field Split –

London are often a little vague on the split of the field. With these changes they’ve made public the GFA allocation of 3000 for male and 3000 for female. Of the 50,000 places offered (they know 10,000 will drop every year to give the desired 40,000 runners) the makeup is approx. –

Field Split
Total (nominal) 50000
Main Ballot 17000
Charity Places 15000
Celebs 100
Good For Age 6000
Championship 1000
Elite 100
Deferred from previous Unknown
Overseas Ballot Unknown
Club Places 1000
Balance 9800 – who knows!

Yep when you’re in the ballot in October you’re probably one of 350k+ battling for 17k spaces.

“What do all these changes mean for me?” I hear you ask

Possibly a lot, possibly very little. Here’s one of the worst case examples:

Old GFA system (using someone remarkably similar to me, we’ll call him Bob):

Bob, a male born March 1979 will be 41 for London 2020 in April and fancies running down the Mall.

The qualification time was <3:15 (old system had 41 as break point on age category, age on race day WAS key point).

The traditional entry window meant any marathon run from 1st Jan 2018 to Aug 2019 under <3:15 would have been good enough for Bob to guarantee a spot in the 2020 event irrespective of his age when he ran the time.

Bob decided to ignore impending ultras and concentrate on speed instead. Silly Bob, he’ll regret that at mile 78 of the Thames Path 100.

Bob managed to run 3:13 in March 2018 so was odds on for running 2020. Bob was smug.

Bob would probably apply in the general ballot for London 2019 when it opened in April 2018 and get one more reject email in October 2018 as usual.

Bob would cry a little. Probably rant on twitter.  Bob is a bit entitled.

Bob would watch his mates run the 2019 event and clap and cheer (drink beer).

Bob would smugly remember he was guaranteed a spot for 2020 so would not need to apply in the general ballot for London 2020 when it opened in April 2019.

In June 2019 Bob would apply for his GFA spot for 2020. He would get it.  He would be a bit more smug.

Bob would run 2020 and be smug again. He would run it aged 41, using a 3:13 qualification time from March 2018 when he was still (by a couple of days) only 38.

OR Bob injured himself in the meantime, so deferred (paid entry fee again) and would be guaranteed a spot in London 2021 when he would be 42, based on his March 2018 time from 3 years previously when still (by a couple of days) 38.

Bob would be happy. Other people might be annoyed the fat 42 year old was holding them up and wonder how they got in GFA pen.  Bob probably wouldn’t care.  He’s a bit smug and entitled.

New system (with me, I mean Bob again):

Bob was still born March 1979 and will be 40 for London 2019 and 41 for London 2020 in April.

His qualification time is now based on age when he ran the time, not age on race day.  Targets and age brackets have moved.  He now needs <3:00 or <3:05.

Bob cannot apply with his current PB. Bob is pissed off.  His 3:13 would only now be considered ‘good’ for a bloke 50 or over.  Bob is pissed off a bit more.

Bob still wants to run London 2020.

Bob needs a new PB.

The qualification period for 2020 is still 1st Jan 2018 to Aug 2019, but is now based on age on day you ran the race.

Bob either needs to wait until March 2019 when he turns 40, and ‘just’ run a <3:05 within the 5 month window (ignoring how few fast courses and events taken place in that time).

OR Bob can run a marathon between now and March 2019 at current age of 39, but would need to run a <3:00.

In either instance Bob would NOT be guaranteed a GFA place since only the first 3000 of each gender are taken.

Bob is now advised to still enter the general ballot in April 2019 for the 2020 event anyway. Adding to the 350k+ entries.  He’ll cross his fingers and hope.

Realistically I’ve got to accept that I, sorry Bob, is a pretty average runner and is never going to run London again without smuggling into one of the more elaborate fancy dress costumes of the charity runners and hoping they don’t notice him.

Bob is pissed off and will rant about how unfair it all is, how he never really wanted to run it anyway, even though he’d probably sell his own mum, or at least a distant relative for a spot.

Summary

London has an impossible task keeping ‘fast’ runners and ballot entry runners happy. It will never manage it.  Bob is pissed off.  Bob is going to start saving for Boston.

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Marathon Week – Day by day final prep!

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There’s been some shocking revelations recently.  People are reading the random words I spew forth and following them.  Hopefully they’ll also buy the book when it comes out later this year (hint hint).  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 Sunday when you take a short jog around your marathon.

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 Saturday night.  As you won’t be getting up for early morning runs you’ll likely get more sleep than usual as well.  Enjoy it!

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Monday – 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 often includes your chip) if running a civilised marathon that posts them out. Wait to go collect your number if running London or Brighton that don’t believe in post and make you go to an expo.

Tuesday – 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.

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Wednesday – 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 (6:00 or 6:30 for most, longer for London).  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.

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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 tear 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.

Tracking on the day with an app is possible for many big events like Brighton and London.  Be aware that in London, the sheer volume of people trying to track can either crash the system, or at least swamp bandwidth along the course with so many people updating mobiles.

Thursday – 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 normally 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.

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Friday – 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.

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Saturday – 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 miles at a very relaxed pace will limber you up and keep focus.  Don’t try and get a parkrun PB.

 

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.

Sunday – Get up, put on kit, go run and enjoy the day.  This is what the hard work and the missed pints were all for.

Monday – 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?”.

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Belated March write up summary

With sensible head on March should have been about long slow runs in preparation for the two ultras in May.  Instead flushed with success from my first sub20 parkrun and 1h30m half in February I was tempted to push ahead and try to bag the elusive sub 3h15 marathon and get faster, the exact opposite of what you need in an ultra.

On 4th March I managed to find a gap in the poor weather and make the trip down to Eton Dorney lake for a proper marathon attempt. After an enforced taper due to poor weather it was touch and go whether the event would even be on. Fortunately it went ahead and I pushed through the awkward later miles to snag a 3h13m marathon, my last event before I turned 39. Assuming the London Marathon Good For Age periods and time targets don’t change that should see me lining up for the 2020 marathon.

13th March I had another marathon booked. This had been my original target for a 3h15m event but various paperwork/permit requirements meant it wouldn’t have counted as a GFA. Therefore I took the decision to go for sh1t or bust attempt to see what I could manage and went out hard. Unsurprisingly I bust and scraped in 3h22m. Still a decent time and one of my faster times from 100+ marathons. With Reading Half only 5 days away I probably should have rested after this but decided to try and ramp the miles up and ran the rest of the week as well.

18th March should have been the Reading Half Marathon. It was to be a PB attempt to slip under the 1h30m01s PB from February. Common to most events that weekend it was cancelled due to heavy snow. Instead I met up with some mates and we bagged a relaxed 20 mile training run.  Surprised that even in the snow and with no gels, breakfast or fuelling I managed a 8m13s average mile pace. It also left me on 80 miles for the week, my first big week of mileage this year, and starting some proper prep for the ultras.

The following week was surprising. After a big mileage week I expect to feel stale. Instead I inherited new legs and simply couldn’t slow. I managed a PB on the Tuesday 6:40 paced session (against nearly 50 previous runs), the following day scored a PB on the 9 mile Bow Brickhill loop (against over 100 previous runs), then got carried away on Thursday and turned an interval club run into a HM tempo session and finished 1h32m, only 2 minutes outside my PB, with no fuelling, no water and a hard day at work before.

8 laps of the hourglass lake at Disney past these. Saw rabbits and frogs only!

After that it was Holiday time and two weeks in Florida with the family visiting Mickey Mouse. I ran when I could (avoiding crocodiles) and covered some big  mileage on foot walking around the parks. Managed to squeeze in a local parkrun at the excellent Clermont Water and despite the heat surprised myself with a 19m42s parkrun PB and only 1 second slower than my all time PB at the MK Rocket 5k which is a net downhill course.  Even the copious food didn’t slow me down and most run in Florida were at a decent low 7min/mile pace and I passed 200 miles for the 27th successive month.   All in March was an amazing month.

Also managed to fit in a local race in Florida at Earth Day 12k.  Odd distance but basically 1 lap of one of the lakes. It was hot despite a 7:15am and felt odd to be throwing water over your face so early to keep cool. I managed to hold on for 6th place and an age category win, just under 51 minutes.

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Whilst UK runners waded through floods I had to endure blazing sun and copious beer

Lake by the villa – same warnings, ideal speedwork incentive

Clermont Waterfront Florida parkrun

Parkrun in Florida!

Whilst overfeeding and joining endless queues for rides I managed to squeeze in a ‘local’ parkrun.

If staying in Orlando the nearest parkrun is Clermont Waterfront, about a 40-60 minute drive from the main resorts. If you post on the Clermont parkrun Facebook page you might be able to tie up with some other tourists to car share.

If looking to go then key points are –

  • Start time – it’s a 7:30am start, earlier than most UK runners are used to.
  • Barcode – the same UK barcode you have works here, they’re standardised worldwide, so don’t forget to pack!
  • Parking – free parking opposite the start
  • Bring some change – they sell fridge magnets for a suggested $2 donation to help fund the event.
  • Visitors Book – the event asks visitors to sign a book with their home location and name in as a nice log of how far and wide people have travelled. You’ll also get a special mention in the briefing.
  • Mosquitos – the route is along a lake so worth spraying some bug spray first. You’ll likely be fine without but worth making sure.
  • Route – it’s a simple out and back along the side of the lake. They refer to it as trail since it’s not on a road but it’s wide concrete so more akin to a road, bring appropriate shoes. It’s very flat route with only a very minor slope up and down a bridge no steeper than a drop kerb in the UK.
  • They have an alternative route for when other events are using part of the course and it’s a proper trail through the trees on dusty unmade paths so maybe don’t wear your brightest, newest, whitest trainers.

Getting there – the website is very handy and outlines as “starting location is at Lake Hiawatha Preserve (LHP). The address is 450 12th Street, Clermont, but some GPS maps take you to West Park, which is about a mile before LHP, so please keep reading. Once on 12th Street from Highway 50, continue north until you cross a small bridge and arrive at a round-a-bout. LHP is at the round-a-bout on the west side. Parking is in the park. Our start is by the pavilion by the lake, and you’ll likely see the setup crew already there.”

I went in March 2018 and the numbers were pretty high for them, around the 130. Compared to my home course in Milton Keynes which is typically in the 500-600 this is a small event but parkrun in US is still growing and this one is attended by a lot of tourists and ex-pats.

Given how expensive US races are (typically $30 minimum) you’d expect a free weekly ‘race’ to spread like wildfire. The volunteers are the usual cheerful and helpful sort that appear at all parkruns.

The standard of runners I’m told varies massively with such a transient group running. When I ran the first 14 runners out of 130 all went sub 20 minutes. Despite running a parkrun PB sand only being a second off my 5k PB I didn’t even make top 10! On quiet weeks a 21 minute would see you win.

Best bit about the early start is you’re done and dusted and back to the parks when they open.