Oh dear! What a disaster! Rather now than November though I suppose.
What went wrong? I really can’t be sure.
There are many possible reasons for Sunday’s performance, but nothing stands out alone as a big enough excuse. Maybe it was a combination of many things, a solid week of enforced inactivity (which I’d hoped would leave me buzzing), a lack of sleep in the previous nights, possibly some dehydration, my hectic race schedule, there’s no way to be sure. One thing I couldn’t blame it on was my niggling hamstring injury as that was possibly the only thing to go well on race day.
After finishing last weekend with my niggle (I refuse to call it an injury) I had a solid weeks rest where my only training was a Friday night swim. Saturday night was a bit of a late one as we went out partying to celebrate one of Shells work colleagues birthday. I’m a bit of a dull boy at parties these days though and spent the evening chatting to other bores and staying sober while Shell danced the night away with her friends, no hangover excuses then.
My alarm went off at 5am after less than 4hrs sleep and after some breakfast I was on the road at 6am for the 2hr drive to Stonehenge. Once there I met up with a couple of lads from my Marlow Striders running club and we discussed race tactics and predicted performances. Both of the Marlow lads had raced London Marathon the day after I got lost at my last off-road Marathon 3 weeks ago so none of us were expecting to set the world alight.
We caught the 8:30am bus from Stonehenge (the race finish) to Avebury (the race start), then registered and picked up our timing chips before finding a café for a cuppa. As race time approached we dropped our bags off and headed for the start line.
The Neolithic Marathon isn’t a big event, only a few hundred people. It’s spawned from a walk between the two sets of stone circles at Avebury and Stonehenge called the Sarsen Trail. This attracts many many more hikers/ramblers/walkers than the Marathon as it crosses Salisbury Plain via some Ministry of Defence land that’s closed to the public for the rest of the year. The walkers (and their dogs) start throughout the day from 7am and would be a constant source of company throughout the event, quite often making for a bit of extra off-roading as you found a way around them.
My plan for the day was to run by my Heart Rate and aim to keep at around 150bpm, I’d allow up to 160bpm, but once there I’d back off, I knew that 160+ would probably be pushing it a bit to hard. I’d also totally ignore my Garmin for the first 3miles because I always take some time to settle down into a rhythm. I’d got 6 SIS gels and would take one before the start then at 45m, 1h15m, 1h45m, 2h15m and my special SIS Smart caffeine gel at 2h45m. I’d finish comfortably inside 3h15m so that would cover me. I’d also got a 500ml drink bottle with the last of my Hornet Juice in it; I’m still not convinced by people’s claims of the wonder drink, sorry HJ.
At 10:30am the race started and I settled into a nice gentle pace a few rows back from the front. After the initial few twists and turns I found myself just behind a small group of 4 runners at the head of the race (including one I knew I was faster than), I soon joined them to make 5. We seemed to be cruising along as we pulled away from the rest of the field. I heard my Garmin beep at 1 mile, 2 miles and 3 miles. 167bpm!!!! WTF!!! That couldn’t be right I was hardly breaking a sweat.
I’ve lost count of the amount of people I’ve spoken to in the past who’ve been racing Marathons aiming for a certain pace and a certain HR, when they’ve been faced with the option of slowing down or lifting their HR limit I’ve always told them that their HR rules and if it’s high there’s a reason for it, a sensible person would slow down. Since when have I been sensible though, “do as I say not as I do” is the phrase that springs to mind. I thought that after 15+ years of running I knew my body better. My HR was 167 when it felt as though it should have been nearer 145; this was silly so I ignored it.
I completed the first 10k in 41mins still comfortably running as part of the lead group. It was a bit lumpy and there were some good climbs in it, but also some nice stretches of road so there was nothing surprising about the time, then I looked at my HR again. 172!!!! It struggles to get that high on a 5k so I ignored it again and carried on, then at 7 miles it all went very wrong. There was no warning, no gradual tiring, just a sudden feeling that my legs had turned to mush. No problem though, I eased off the pace straight away and let the other 4 runners go, I was still cruising along at a decent pace I’d just drop my HR and go back to plan A. Or so I thought!
I eased my pace and then eased it some more. My legs had no response and nor did my HR, it seemed that no matter how much I slowed up my HR refused to drop below my 160bpm limit. I had a horrible feeling that it might be a long day but there was still time to recover things. I stopped and walked for 30secs just to drop my HR and then set off again at a fast jog, then I came to a good climb and had no option but to walk it. Things went from bad to worse from there and soon I was getting cramp in my quads, a familiar scenario when I race Long Distance Triathlons, not on a straight run though. Then came the run/cramp/walk strategy as I slowly dropped further and further back through the field. Each mile took longer than the last and my (close to) 3hr target soon became 3h15m, 3h30m, 3h45m, surely surely not 4hrs.
The last 2 miles I simply walked and even walking I had to stop and stretch my quads after they cramped up. Both of my Marlow club mates ran past me, I cheered them both on and they both thought I’d already finished and headed back along the course to find them. How little they new.
Finally with a mile to go I crested the last hill and saw Stonehenge in the distance, I was ‘almost’ emotional with the knowledge that what was probably my worst performance in a running race ever was almost over. I finished in 3h53m37s (not that it matters) ate some food and then had the 2hr drive home to sit and ponder what had happened, what and why it had gone wrong and what I was going to do with the rest of my season. I know I hadn’t prepared, trained or any of the other things that you’re supposed to do before a Marathon but that’s no consolation. I’ve a reputation as someone who can seemingly turn up at almost any race anywhere with next to no preparation and get round in a decent time. I’ve run just under 3hrs with no training, I’ve done an 11hr Ironman when I’d only entered it the day before. This sort of performance just isn’t in my repertoire. Looks as though it is now!!!!
I’m supposed to be racing a Middle Distance Tri in 2 weeks time but I’ve offered my place to some of my clubmates. If somebody wants it and the organisers are happy to let us change names I’ll be spending the weekend ‘trying’ to train rather than risking another race disaster.
I don’t take this sport seriously, which annoys a lot of people because (normally) I’m quite quick; Florida is a big aim though. I want to finally nail a really good performance at an Ironman and at the moment I’d gladly pay a coach and scrap every other race this season to get it right. Give me a week to get this out of my system though and I’ll be back to my normal self, back to my normal unstructured training and wishing I hadn’t given up my Middle Distance race entry.
We live and learn I suppose. I’m just leaving the learning a bit late in life.
Now for the geeky bit!!!!
I thought it would be a good idea to take a voice recorder around the race with me. It would be good fun to make comments every 10k and say how I was feeling and how the race was going. Little did I know it would go quite so badly.
Anyway....... For my sins I don't read many blogs, but my life on the road means that I listen to LOADS of podcasts. Thinking it'd be quite interesting I emailed Tyler Darby (otherwise known as Jetpack) asking him if he'd be interested in some race day audio, "Hell yeah" came back the reply. Luckily Tyler proclaims to only have 3 listeners so my dull monosylabic drone will be spared the masses (unless he's lying of course). Isn't it funny how these start as good ideas until you have a shocker of a race and hear your own voice back, I was very tempted to 'accidentally' erase the whole lot. I'm a man of my word though and I'd promised a warts and all report so that's what he got.
If any of you are really sad losers and you want to hear me droning on then click here or go on iTunes and search out the Jetpack Show. For those of you with more sense then you can still click on the link and listen to the show, just turn it off after 53mins and you'll be safe.
Ciao for now