Well today is the 7th of May and that means that 6 months from now I’ll be plugging my way around the Ironman Florida bike course and hoping that just this once I can finally manage to run a Marathon after cycling 112 miles. This Sunday was an inadvertent practice session and also a big kick in the pants as once again I got taught a harsh lesson. The question is though, will I ever take these lessons in and become a better athlete for it, or will I do my normal trick of shrugging it off and forgetting all about it the next time round. So on to the weekends activities we go.
April had finished poorly, very poorly. Training hadn’t gone well and work had thrown some big hours at me. Towards the end of the month my Tri-Club mate Jimmy had brought up the subject of the Neolithic Marathon. Not being able to resist a challenge and the chance to redress the balance after last year’s pathetic performance there my cheque was soon in the post. Jimmy was going for Marathon number 4 in 6 weeks following on from Rome, Taunton and London only 7 days earlier. Amazingly the 3 previous Marathons all had finish times within a couple of minutes of each other, this one wouldn’t though as it was off road and hillier than the road versions. I on the other hand was totally unprepared and untrained, nothing new there then. Although I say ‘undertrained’ I’ve still knocked out some decent runs this year and days like the Bampton-Tiverton race (then back to Bampton) mean that I have got a few miles in, add that to my years (and years, and years) of general training and it wasn’t exactly like I was taking a step into the unknown.
I met Jimmy at 6am and we drove the 2hrs to Stonehenge where we loitered a while before catching the bus to the start at Avebury. Once at Avebury we just had to kill an hour and collect our timing chips before we were ready to roll. Soon the small field of marathon nutcases were lined up and ready for the off.............. and we were away.
I soon settled at my planned Heart Rate of 140-150bpm and found myself cruising along in 10th place, the aim of the day being to settle in at this pace for at least 24miles and then if by some chance I found myself feeling good then I could put the hammer down over the last couple if it meant gaining significant places or maybe dipping under 3hrs. The first mile is nice and flat but the next 3 are a constant climb, I was well aware of this and paid special attention to my Garmin so as not to get too excited early on. I paid the price for that last year and didn’t want a repeat. As the race developed it soon became clear that there were no superstars here, there was a group of 3 who took the lead early on but they were going nowhere fast once the pace settled. I had my Garmin set to show just Heart Rate, the time run and my average pace for the run. Nutrition wise I just took an SIS gel before the start and carried a couple of SIS caffeine gels to have at 9 and 18miles.
The plan went brilliantly for the first 9miles as I consistently averaged 150bpm. Then several things conspired against me. Firstly I took my caffeinated SIS gel which seemed to act as rocket fuel. I’m normally really sceptical about people who claim that a gel has made all the difference to their performance, sure they will fuel you to help you go further/faster but I’ve never before taken a gel and felt a noticeable difference in the way I’m performing ‘at that time’. Was it was the gel that suddenly made me feel so much stronger or was it the placebo effect from my noticing that I was now in 5th place and the 4 people ahead of me were all getting closer with every step? Who knows, but I decided that as I was feeling so easy I could afford to let my HR rise by 5bpm. Not a big factor because I’d come into the race playing the safety card and in theory I ‘should’ be able to run it at close to 160bpm if required. 10miles done at a jog in 1:09:20, things were looking good.
Miles 11 & 12 took in the days steepest climb so the pace dropped a bit as I shortened my stride and cruised up it easily enough to catch the lad in 4th place. I know he’s a useful runner and was surprised to catch him so easily, a quick chat discovered that not only had he done London the previous week but is about to do the 10 Marathons in 10 days challenge so there was no rushing him along. I eased past and focused on the group of 3 ahead, I could afford a couple of slightly elevated miles because once I’d caught them I could ease off the pace, settle in and it would be ‘Game On’ at 24miles. By 15miles we were running along comfortably in a group with me sat at the back concentrating on dropping my HR back down from 160 to the 150’s and then all of a sudden I lost all my senses and turned into a complete idiot!!!
I hadn’t been able to make my mind up whether I’d caught the 3 lads with me because they’d gone out to fast or because nobody had wanted to do the work and pull the others along. My plan for as long as I'd looked like catching them had been to hang in until 24miles and hold my HR as low as possible AND THEN IT HAPPENED!!! We ran past a drink station and everybody pulled over to the right so that they could grab a drink, everybody except me. In a moment of complete madness I decided to see what everybody had got in the tank and I turned the screw. I didn't see what happened behind but I heard several swear words, lots of sprinting feet and even more heavy breathing as I cruised along and knocked out a 6min mile, the fastest of the day by a long way. We came to a hill, I eased off and looked over my shoulder to inspect the damage. One of the lads was still on my shoulder but breathing real heavy, the other two weren't too far away but far enough to make me think it was in the bag so I eased off and allowed the group to reform.
I decided that now was the time to take my other gel, I knew the effort was going to take it out of me so the caffeine boost would be welcome. I took the gel and ------- nothing!
From there it all went a bit pear shaped, even as I was doing it I knew that putting a hard mile in was a stupid move, I just hadn't realised how bad. It wasn't long before the lead group started moving away from me and I could do nothing about it. I tried to kid myself that either they were just running scared and would soon ease off again or that my gel would soon kick in and I'd be motoring along again before I knew it. Neither of those was likely to happen though, the Garmin doesn't lie and my pace was dropping while my HR was still miles too high. I've been there too many times before to not know what that meant.
Mile 18 was the last time I saw a sub 7 and the drop off was rapid, there was only actually one mile below 7:40 after that point. A cramp stop during mile 22 saw my first 8+ mile that hadn't involved a big climb and from there on in I was just trying to get it all over with. A couple of 7:50's took me to 24miles, at the time they seemed disasterous but looking back they were an achievement because if I could have only held that pace to the finish I'd have been 4mins quicker and still finished 4th instead of 6th. The last mile was a pure 'death march', whether it was because I'd just lost the plot mentally or whether my body had really given up I'm not sure, but at the point where everybody normally pushes through to the finish I just bimbled along before managing to jog the final field. That last mile took 11mins and then you cross the line and you've finished 6th, everybody is happy for you, everybody cheers you to the finish line and you do your best to look happy when in fact you're (once again) like a bear with a sore head. At least I've only my own stupidity to blame, it's so much easier to deal with when it's not down to anybody else.
So that's the tale, 30mins quicker than last year and a far better first 15miles. I still need to control myself and work off the plan rather than instinct, that would be easier to do if I knew the plan worked though I suppose. Ah well ;-)
Since the race I've trained pretty well and as of today I've averaged 1h40m a day so far this month. The first bit of this blog was deliberately written on Thursday 7th May but I didn't realise it would take me until early morning on Sunday 10th May to finish it. Now, just to prove that I've learnt my lesson after last week I'm off to race the Exe Valley Sprint Triathlon which is run in Tiverton around 35miles away. How am I getting there????? I'm cycling there of course :-)