Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Race Report: Ironman 70.3 Mallorca

Hola, bienvenido a Mallorca!

It's Ironman MC Paul Kaye's fault we're here. We were talking at the awards ceremony after IM 70.3 Zell am See/Kaprun last year and discussing the races we'd be doing this year - "Hey why don't you start off in Mallorca, lovely weather and a nice early-season sharpener!" (or something like that). Before we knew it, we'd signed up. And then in no time at all it was here.

We spent the weekend before the race crewing for Louise in the Centurion Running Thames Path 100, a 100 mile running race up the Thames Path from Richmond to Oxford (just seeing it written down looks insane). Louise and that experience deserves more than a footnote here, so I'll post about that later.


No Dexter, you can't come to Spain, you have to go to "kitty hotel"

Mrs and I packed hastily and tiredly on Sunday night, and set off Monday morning to London City Airport. Thankfully it was a bank holiday and very quiet on the underground - bike boxes are large, and great fun on escalators. Coming back it'll be Monday rush hour - can't wait!


My favourite timesheet entries


This is not a rush-hour train


We're off!

Plans to spend the week training hard up to and through the race (not tapering specifically for it, or being too concerned about not feeling fresh) evaporated in the heat, wine, an relaxing atmosphere of Port d'Alcudia, host town for the Ironman 70.3 Mallorca. We went out for a lap of the bike course, had a few swims (particularly sea swims in our wetsuits), and I went for one run - a sweaty 10km out and back to see what the run course terrain was like (very flat). Not the heavy training week I had in mind, but a nice relaxing time that I certainly don't regret. This is by no means an a-race, I won't beat myself up about less than perfect preparation at this stage.


A meal on our terrace (yes, I know it looks like breakfast, no we weren't having wine for breakfast)

When we arrived on Monday afternoon there was no sign of there being a race the following weekend. Sure, there were a lot bikes around, but Mallorca is big for cyclists so I expect that's as normal. During the week the excitement built as the Ironman show came to town. Big Ironman trucks, miles of barriers, and more miles of blue carpet that ran the length of the longest transition I've ever seen. With more than 3,500 athletes taking part, this is Ironman 70.3 racing at scale.


Lots of people out to check out the bike course a few days before the race


Bike-friendly petrol station and café


Very high with a glorious sequence of switchbacks to get back down

Unfortunately, Mrs took a pretty bad tumble in transition the day before the race and hurt her knee pretty badly - it immediately swelled up and went purple - for a while we though she'd broken it. She was destined not to start the race, so it was up to me to get team Driskell on the score sheet.


All registered!


Expo on the beach - it's a totally different atmosphere in this kind of climate


A little retail therapy!


"Hello, yes, your two truckloads of Ironman have arrived"


Building the longest transition I've ever seen


Let no trade mark remain uninfringed!

The day before I racked up my bike. It wasn't a "clean" transition, so we were permitted to leave he;mets and race numbers on the bikes. This is unusual in my experience, maybe because all the other races I've done have been in windy places where it's a near-miracle if your bike hasn't blown away over night, never mind anything left resting on it!


See you tomorrow! (check out the beautiful BMC TM01 on the left *swoon*)


This is what a 3,500+ bike transition looks like

We were staying at a hotel very near the start so race day morning was pretty low stress - particularly with only one of us racing. We walked down to the beach and I popped into the sea to acclimatise. I've suffered from panics in the swim before so I'd been practising running down the beck into the sea during the week. The panics always clear in a few minutes, but it takes time and is very unpleasant. The worst I've experienced was at IM Wales in 2012 which was admittedly my fault (why I thought "run in from the front" was a good idea I'll never know), but was a highly unpleasant experience none the less. I also freaked out in the London Triathlon last year, and IM 70.3 Zell am See. I'm convinced it's nothing but a lack of experience and confidence, so we spent a fair amount of time earlier in the week practising starts.


Off for a practice swim


Mrs on the beach


Contents of my white bag, for before and after the race


My BFFs on race day


The swim: 0:33:28


During my warmup I watched the pro waves start, and then the big wave with all the female age groupers - more than 600 of them, a seemingly never ending stream of pink swim caps. Feeling relaxed, I went to the assembly area to await my start. M35-39 is the biggest group in this race so we had our own start wave. I had decided to start at the back on the left to give myself as much room as I could to relax at the start. I never get panicked once I'm going, it's just something that has happened after 15-30 seconds of swimming. Once it's cleared which takes what feels like an age but is probably only one or two minutes and I relax, I find my rhythm again.


Swim course was a nice easy single loop

The gun sounded and we were off. I walked down into the water to try and keep my heart rate from spiking with excitement and effort of running through the shallows in a wetsuit (maybe a contributing factor to panics?) and jumped in. Massive props to Mrs for teaching me how to running-jump into the water, it make a big difference to enter cleanly and without slowing down much. It was busy, but I had some room to myself to settle in. No rising panic, good news. I gradually turned on the power as I got more comfortable and started overtaking people. This is the most frustrating thing, once I get going I'm reasonably fast, but to avoid freaking out (or to take the time to recover if I have) I always start at the very back and have to battle through people. I need to make it a priority to get as much open water experience as I can in training this year.


Hitting the "lap" button at swim exit

I had a good swim out without much contact, got a little bit bashed round the turn buoys but that's normal in a big group. The return leg was a bit rougher as I got caught in a bit of a pack and couldn't get through. My group swimming sills are poor, something to work on. Still, it could have been worse, I saw one poor chap disappear at right angles to everyone else, off to the other side of the bay being frantically chased by a marshall in a kayak. There's always someone cocking it up worse than you, and I'm pretty sure I've been that guy in the past!

I was making an effort to sight every 3rd breath and I'm fairly sure it paid off, I swam in a straighter line than normal. I have an annoying tendency to drift to the right if I don't sight frequently. I ended up setting a new personal best for a 70.3 swim, so I'm certainly happy with that.


Transition 1 (Swim to Bike): 0:07:21

T1 was good, normally I find my heart rate goes through the roof after swim exit and I can barely walk never mind run, but this time I jogged at a respectable pace all the way up the beach, grabbing my blue bag, and into the change tent. Often I lose many tens of places here, but not today. Hopefully I can do the same at IM 70.3 UK in five weeks.


The blue bike bag for T1 (helmet, glasses and race number were all mounted on my bike)

I took the time to put socks on, not really for the bike but more to protect from blisters on the run. Stuffed a couple of gels in my pocket, and ran off to fetch my bike - it was a good three-quarters of the way down transition, and took an age to get there. As I was on my road bike I couldn't clip my shoes to the bike in advance so I had the added annoyance of running in my road-bike shoes.


Transition, measured by my Garmin, at a little over 400m from end to end!


The bike: 03:19:09


Seeing as it was supposed to be a training week I'd decided to bring my road bike rather than my triathlon time-trial bike (tri-bike). I should have realised that as soon as I was in a race I would want to race with any thoughts of "it's just a training ride" going straight out the window. Therefore, I regretted my bike choice almost immediately.

In the first few kilometres I overtook a host of people from the wave before, all on their swanky tri-bikes and my on my creaky old Fuji road bike. Within the first 20km I realised that riding so long on the dropped handlebars with little variation in power and cadence was going to wreck my hip flexors. You don't get the same amount of leg extension on a road bike as you do a tri-bike, and the leg and bum muscles are engaged differently. Not changing position much wasn't helping.

The one-lap course is in toughly four sections. A 20km flat start, a 10km sequence of climbs, 15km back down again, and then the second 45km half on the level with just the odd pimple to shave off a little momentum.


Looking happy on the bike

With over 3,500 bikes hitting the circuit over the course of an hour and a half there was bound to be some congestion. It was virtually impossible to get the right distance away from everyone. The draft-busting motorbikes tried their best, but it's kind of pointless - you're almost permanently in a position of overtaking or being overtaken, and the differences in speed are often so small that packs naturally form, particularly on uphills. I don't know what the solution is - enter smaller races or try not to be hacked off by the ones doing it deliberately (and, as always, there were many of those).

The big climb came - I knew what I was in for having ridden the course on Tuesday. It felt harder today, I was slow and many many people overtook me. It didn't help that in first gear my derailleur was clicking against my spokes. Minus ten points for bike prep. Looking back I don't remember buckling down and trying hard to get up the hill quickly, I just rode up the hill. Maybe that's why I lost so much ground, I wasn't trying hard enough?


Pretty tired here, this was in the final kilometre

At the top I had one of the two gels I had planned, and set off on the descent. It turns out Team Freespeed's Sam Baxter and his friend Tom Babbington were at at the top cheering people on - I didn't see them, but they saw me. "You didn't look very happy!" was their comment. "I didn't feel very happy!" was my response.

The downhill was a lot of fun, I recharged my legs and made up quite a lot of places through understanding how to go round switchbacks. Some really very poor bike handling was on display from some of my fellow athletes. One poor guy crashed on the first corner of the descent - imagine putting all the effort in to get to the top, and then not getting to enjoy the downhill. Bummer.

My legs were feeling pretty tired as I passed 60km and had my second gel. The last third of the course is flat, some on wide main roads. Riding the course on Tuesday I didn't enjoy this bit as we were into a headwind, but today there was a nice tailwind so we all spun along at high speed in a high gear. As the faster athletes from the waves behind flew past me I again lamented not bringing my tri-bike. My legs were not happy, I knew I could and should be going faster, but being cramped up on the drops for over two hours now was taking its toll.


One-lap bike course...


...with one big hill in it!

Team Freespeed's Matt Malloy passed me at 63km. His wave went off 50 minutes behind mine! I expected to see him, but not quite so quickly. He's a totally monster on the bike, but I shouldn't have been this easy to catch. Turning off the main road we had a few kilometres into the wind now, and my hip flexors were screaming. I tried different grips, sat forward or backward on my seat, but nothing helped - they were just fried from trying to ride my road bike like a time trial bike. I slowed considerably and lost a lot of time (and places) in this section.

Thankfully the last 15km was back with the slight tailwind and I cruised back into transition knowing it could have gone a lot worse. The opportunity to recharge my legs a bit was welcome, but I wasn't sad to get off the bike.


Off the bike and into transition

I had previously decided to ride my road bike at Ironman 70.3 UK too, this experience has made me reconsider. I'm going to ride the course in a couple of weekend's time - I may take both bikes and see what the difference is. Last time I rode that course I had a bit of a crap time - but that was due to some mechanical troubles, lack of experience, and picking stupid carbon rims that made stopping a nightmare experience!


Transition 2 (Bike to Run): 0:05:34

Pleased to finally get off the bike I jogged back all the way to the change tent. I cursed leaving my shoes on rather than leaving them on the bike - running in socks would have been much faster! T2 is always uneventful, helmet off, gloves off, running shoes and cap on, turn your number belt round, don't lose your sunglasses.


The red run bag for T2

Being a bit concerned about the heat and possible chafing I decided to try some Sailfish lube I got at the expo. It goes on like roller-ball deodorant - I liberally applied it under my arms, and where the seams on my top were. Not much worse than running in the sun with armpit chafing-pain!


The run: 02:22:30


In short, my run was terrible. I'd rather have done another lap of the bike course (and that's saying something).

By the time I got on the course it was well over 30C and climbing by the minute. In retrospect I think my problem was that I never actually started running - I set off at a shuffle and didn't try hard enough to get my legs and rhythm into a proper run. My kilometre splits quickly dropped to 6:30 and then 7:00 as I made my way round the three-lap half-marathon course.

Apart from at aid stations where I topped up with water and wet sponges I resisted the urge to walk. I felt I needed a boost so took to drinking a small cup of cola at each aid station. Sometimes this was straight from the fridge, a most welcome surprise when it happened.


Let's be honest, this isn't really running...

I got some more encouragement from Sam out on the course (I noticed him this time), and managed to see Mrs once too. I lost hundreds of places; everyone was running faster than me. I think it was a combination of heat and poor mental strength. My learning from this going to IM 70.3 UK in five weeks' time is that I have to be mentally stronger and force myself to actually running, otherwise I'll never get there. It's easy to say now "I could have run if only I'd tried", but I really do feel that's the case.

I finished in a new PW (personal worst) for a 70.3 run, but it was by far the hottest half marathon I've ever completed. My shoulders burned a bit despite factor 30 sun cream. I should have made better provision to cover myself up - I'm fairly sure that didn't help either.


At last!

It was a relief to end the shuffle-fest and cross the line - I tried to look happy for the camera, but I'm not sure it worked. Mrs met me at the end, she still had her athlete wristband on so was able to meet me in the recovery area. I was finding the noise and crowd a bit disorienting, so we made our way out and got an ice cream. Ice cream fixes everything!


Yum!


Overall: 06:28:02

It wasn't a race I was aiming for, it was a bit of fun in the sun. I had a confidence-boosting swim, learned a bit on the bike, and didn't enjoy the run. Although I'm disappointed with my overall time, a personal worst at the distance, I have to look objectively at the day. A bit of race experience when it's been a long time since I've raced, and a week in the sun relaxing with the Mrs.


On the beach afterwards, with a hoodie from Mrs to protect my burny bits!


"What's that? Time for a glass of vino, you say?!"


Party time!

In the evening we had dinner with some of the Black Line London crew. I've loosely known a couple of them via Twitter, but it was great to put some faces to names and meet some new people - they're a good bunch, say hi if you get the chance. Following that I drank heavily at their after-party, the Black Line London race day cocktail helped take the edge off!



As always, the post-race glow has now hit me hard and I'm already wanting to come back next year - but this is precisely what I said I wouldn't do, sign up for races a year in advance and lock myself into a schedule! Maybe one little 70.3 would be OK? I know that with better prep and mental toughness I can go so much faster, easily an hour quicker on this course. I feel that IM 70.3 Galway in 2012 is the only 70.3 where I've really put the effort in on the day and finished knowing I couldn't have gone any faster - I even took ten minutes off my previous half-marathon PB. This is going to be my mission for IM 70.3 UK in June - to really try hard and give it everything.

Before that though is the Blenheim Triathlon in a month. I'm looking forward to a sprint, it's been a long time since I've "left it all out there" in a sprint distance race. I'd better go dust off the tri-bike for that one.


This is a very hard way to get new jewellery and clothing

Monday, 21 April 2014

Planning training for the 2014 season

The first objective of the year is completed, yay! I'm still super-happy about my 03:59:19 at the Rotterdam marathon. There's a lot of year left though, and a lot I've signed up for (have you seen the 2014 race calendar panel over there on the right hand side?).

Need to take a rational look. What's practical. I've withdrawn from the Eton 10km swim - I still intend to do one, but i need more than 5 weeks training to prepare (particularly seeing as there's Mallorca 70.3 in the middle!). I also decided not to do today's Thames Turbo Triathlon - there's no need to race a hard sprint when I'm still only a week after the marathon. Instead I went for a ride with Mrs on our "3 Hills" route - first time for a year. Loved it.


Our "3 Hills" ride (Staple Lane, Crocknorth, and Box Hill)

I enjoyed having a training plan for the last few months, even if it was just out of a book. I like not needing to think about what needs to be done. However, I don't feel ready to get a new coach. Maybe next year, maybe never, but not right now. So, what's the plan?

The plan is: write your own plan. Here's the plan.


Swimming:

Brett Sutton wrote a piece on swimming for the Buccaneer Race Team. In essence, the message was: "Want to get better at swimming? Well then swim more."

So, let's just swim some more then. I bought a book called For Swimmers 365 Main Sets a while ago by Ironman swim-master Andrew Starykowicz. It's basically just what it says on the tin. I'm going to start from set one and try to do 2-3 per week. That's easy - I just schedule them in, and do them.


Cycling:

My main races this year are both quite hilly - Ironman 70.3 UK in Wimbleball with its (in)famous "52 hills in 56 miles" or whatever it is (I think the bark is worse than the bite to be frank), and then Ironman Wales in Tenby - where I'm determined to ride better than last time. So I need to ride up hills, and ride them regularly. I'll be racing Wimbleball on my road bike and Tenby on my tri-bike, so I need good miles on both.

I should be able to get mid-week miles just by commuting whenever I can, and then a longer ride at the weekend to/from a parkrun or round in the Surrey hills. I'd like to revisit the Ride London 100 route ahead of this year's event (I was lucky enough to get a ballot spot), the Hell of the Ashdown route, and there's scope to make our 3 Hills route into a lot more than three hills.

When the weather is bad, or the time is unhelpful, I could do well to remember that I have a turbo-trainer, I don't need to be outside to ride. This is important, it takes away the barriers to missing sessions. Additionally on a turbo trainer you can focus on cadence, power, and never getting any respite! No traffic lights in the kitchen...


Running:

Running is trickier. The marathon training had me running 4-6 times per week, and my highest weekly mileage ever. I can't sustain that on top of everything else. Running breaks you down. The long run is important - one of the Pfitzinger & Douglas training principles is the value of the mid-week long run. I should therefore work in a run home from work during the week to compliment the weekend long run - or maybe a couple of runs home per week and free myself from the need to run long at the weekend all together.

The main thing is that each session is quality. It needs a purpose. When I'm approaching the shorter races I should be running fast, and when I move towards Wales I should drop the pace a little and work on endurance. I also need to learn to love the hills! Throughout I'd like to get back to running hard and fast parkruns. It's OK running them as recovery runs, but I miss just running as fast as I can, and that's a quality session in itself. I think 3 runs per week should be about right - and, importantly, a sustainable volume.


Gym:

I've really enjoyed hitting the gym regularly - I feel stronger and more resilient. This makes me better able to accommodate training without getting injured again. The guided strength and conditioning sessions seem to be working so far. Twice weekly visits to Ben and Josh at Athletic Edge will remain. Monday and Thursday mornings seem to work. Swimming in the evening after a gym visit in the morning seems to work well for me - active recovery and hopefully eases the DOMS a bit (and man those guys are the kings of DOMS).


Periodisation and specificity:

This is where it gets harder. It's impossible to peak for every race, particularly if you've signed up for a lot. You need to build and peak for your main race. Training is also normally divided into micro and macro cycles, e.g. 4x 4-week blocks making a 16-week block, with each 4th week reduced in load to allow a little more time for recovery and accommodation (absorbing the training so you actually get faster as a result).

Specificity is ensuring your training is relevant. My training for Rotterdam was all on the road and didn't contain many hills - that's because the race was a fast flat road race. Wimbleball and Tenby are both hilly on the run, so I need to learn to love the hills in training. Likewise for cycling. I'm not worrying too much about swim specificity, other than I'll need to get open water and wetsuit swimming in as often as I can - this has been a failing in the past, and I think partially responsible for my frustrating swim-start freak-outs (see both Ironman Wales in 2012 and Ironman 70.3 Zell am See/Kaprun in 2013).

Up to Wimbleball I'll work on faster mid-distance training, and then build up the duration afterwards ready for the big fella in Tenby.


Putting it together:

What are my A-races? For A-races I want to be peaking and tapered (fresh, from a de-loaded week). I should be champing at the bit, raring to go! I've done both these races before and I certainly have much more to give.


What are my B-races? For B-races I want to treat race day absolutely as if it were an A-race, however I won't worry so much about a full taper before hand. It's more about real race experience and sorting my technique, and less about pulling about a top (for me) performance.


What are my training races? Training races are just to get experience, try out my race day strategies, and have fun. I won't taper for them and won't pay too much attention to the results. These are the "everything else" category. The only one of these that needs care is the long course weekend. This is an Ironman on the Ironman Wales course (near enough) but split across three days. This will be hard effort, and the marathon will take time to recover from even if I run it at Ironman pace (i.e. very easy).


And then there are the wild-cards... These races are on the "would like to" list. Not confirmed or entered. I'd really like to run an ultra with my Mrs at some point! These don't really feature in my thinking right now.

  • RRR, 18th October
  • Thames Turbo marathon, Richmond Park, November

...and there's so many other things!


The plan:

As it happens, the timing works out perfectly - it's almost as if I'd planned it (I hadn't).

I'm going to go for two macro cycles - one for Ironman 70.3 UK, and one for Ironman Wales. There are two four-week blocks from now until Wimbleball, then after a recovery week there are three four-week blocks leading up to Ironman Wales. The B-races come at the end of build periods, and have de-load weeks afterwards. This is ideal.




Build up to Ironman 70.3 UK, started today!


Build up to Ironman Wales, starts with a recovery week after Ironman 70.3 UK

I like the idea of doing a race simulation two to four weeks out. A popular technique is to complete the number of miles, but in kilometres. Simulate the race entirely, including fast transitions and fuelling, but don't suffer the fatigue of going full distance.

For the 70.3 that's 1200m swim, 56km bike, and 13km run - those distances are short enough to go pretty hard and really enjoy it. May 31st looks like a good time for that - the weekend before we'll be at Wimbleball Lake checking out the bike course - unfortunately you can't normally swim in it, otherwise that would have been ideal.

For the full distance it's 2.4km swim, 112km ride, and 26km run - a bit more of an undertaking, but training should mean the distances are achievable with some good effort. It's an ideal kit and nutrition test. The more you treat it like the real thing, the more it will help. I could get a really big weekend in right at the start of my final block - I'll be relatively fresh after a de-load week. Pencilled in for 17th August.

There's more work to do to plan each block. I'll do that at each at the start of each, based on the experience, progress, and real-life (damn you, real-life!). Given block one starts tomorrow I guess I'd better plan that now...


Block one, 2014 weeks 17 to 20:

Block one, week one: Need to take it easy, this is about getting the right sessions done and building good habits. Set the plan and stick to it. I need to remember I'm only one week post-marathon - I'm feeling fine now, but I will probably find hard efforts, well, hard. I'd like to get started on the 365 main sets too. Real life is difficult this week, very busy at work and my 5th wedding anniversary on Thursday.


Week one - Monday done!

Block one, week two: I'm on a training course all week this week so as long as I can stick to mornings and evenings I should be OK, however bike commuting is off the cards (remember you have a turbo trainer and a lot of The Wire to watch...). I enjoy a little training during these times, it helps clear my head and be able to focus in the classroom. The end of the week will be hard, Mrs and I are crewing for Louise at the Thames Path 100 (boy, can that girl run!).


Week two

Block one, week three: In Mallorca from Monday. Looking forward to riding the 70.3 course a few times ahead of the race. This week will be about cycling and swimming, I'm not so concerned about running. The race is on the Saturday, so Sunday will be a lovely day off in the sun.


Week three - rocking it in Mallorca, can't wait to see/ride the bike course

Block one, week four: A de-load week at the end of my first block. The aim here is to keep the number of sessions up, but the intensity down - not stopping completely but taking the opportunity to recover well.


Week four, de-loading ready for the next block

And then...

There's loads of other stuff to consider - kit, nutrition, race plan, etc. I could plan for hours. Let's see how this first block goes.

Friday, 18 April 2014

Race report: ABN Amro Rotterdam Marathon

Before the race:

Alarm went off at 7am disturbing me from some very bizarre dream where I needed someone to sign a permission form for me to use a rowing machine in a bike shop (no, I don't know either). We hopped (sort of) out of bed and went down for breakfast.

The breakfast area filled up with lithe sporty looking people while we were in. I filled up on bacon and eggs, some cucumber and tomato, and a few bits of cheese. We got slightly odd looks for not stuffing our faces with carbs. Sorry athletes, that's just how I roll. A coffee to kick-start my brain, and I'm fuelled.


Breakfast, LCHF style (if anything, a bit low on fat)

This will be an interesting experiment - I completed Ironman 70.3 Zell am See/Kaprun on water with 2 gels in the run and that was around 6 hours, but I've never run this far on LCHF (low carb, high fat). I've decided to take 3 gels with me "just in case". I'm prepared to eat them at 2 hours, 2:30, and 3 hours in - but only if I feel I need them. One has caffeine in case I really need a boost. I'm also prepared to throw them all in the bin in the first 5km if they jiggle around too annoyingly in my bum pocket. I'm not planning on drinking any sports drinks from the aid stations, just water as and when I feel I need it.

It all depends how far up my effort level I am. The harder I work, the more carb I'll burn - even though I'm well fat-adapted I will still burn some carb, just less than my fellow runners. I can go further (much further) without fuel, but there's a limit. If I go really hard, then I'm expecting to need something. I don't know, it's uncharted territory - we'll see what happens. When I get back to London I should get a gas analysis test - that'll tell me precisely my fat/carb fuel mix at different intensities - then I'll know for sure how much I should need to eat, and roughly when.

Mrs had this done quite a while ago and the results were really interesting - I didn't see the point at the time as I wasn't very well adapted for fat as a primary fuel.

The marathon organisers have just tweeted that there are pacers! I don't know why this surprises me - it's a big marathon, of course there will be pacers. My target pace of 5:30 per km would get me in 3:52:04 if I ran it absolutely evenly. There's a 3:45 pacer who will be running at 5:20 per km if he holds even pace. He'll be starting behind me (I'm in the 3-3:30 start pen, I was originally gunning for a 3:30 finish but thought better of it as my training progressed!).


Pacers and their start pens

So I should set off at 5:30 per km (as per plan, even if it feels slow, it's correct - and if I'm faster, SLOW DOWN!), after a few km the 3:45 guy should catch me up, do I go with him? He'll have a big "bus" of runners with him, 3:45 will be a popular goal I'm sure. He'll only be 10s per km faster than me, 10 seconds in 5:30 is 3%. Sounds like nothing, but would be a big difference over that time and distance.

What's the worst thing to do? Change your plan on race day. You don't think straight, you don't correctly evaluate risk, you're excited and full of hormones and adrenaline. Don't change your plan on race day. 3:45 is my dream outcome but not at the cost of exploding and coming in over 4 hours. So the plan is this:

Set off at 5:30 per km. Hold 5:30 per km. Let the 3:45 guy pass me (he should only drift by slowly - 3% faster in fact. I hold him in sight for a long time, it should take many minutes for him to pull away. When I hit 35km I see how I feel. If I think I have more, and can hold it to the end, I'll give it a nudge. If at 40km I think I have a little bit more, I'll give it a little bit more. I won't get distracted by the 3:45 guy, but if he happens to stay in sight and it looks like I can catch him in the final 10km (not having been dragged round by him - I made that error with the 1:40 guy at the Royal Parks Half two years ago) then I'll wind it up. I know I have a strong finish, I know I can dig deep and find more than I think I have. The challenge here is not physical, it's mental - stay on plan.

Stay on plan.


During the race:

I took to my start pen about 25 minutes before the off. Everyone seemed relaxed, a few people were warming up (well, I think that's what they were doing). I sat for a while, taking it all in. Finally here. A marathon that I've trained for and really hope to complete. I was feeling confident on a finish, but very unsure of what time I could pull off.

With ten minutes to go I stretched out a bit, did some activation exercises to get my glutes firing properly (thanks to Mike from The Tri-Life for those), and did a bit of bouncing and squats/lunging. Not as good a warm up as a jog with some strides would have been, but there was no room for that and I figured I was going to be doing enough running as it is...

Then, after a rousing chorus of "You'll never walk alone" (no, I don't understand why either but the Europeans seemed to enjoy it) the canon sounded and we were off! Sort of! As I was in start pen D there was a fair amount of shuffling to be done first. Thankfully when we crossed the timing mat and our clocks were officially ticking there was room to run. I'm not sure the time difference between the gun and me crossing the mat - it'll be clear later why I wish I'd paid more attention.


The route - spoiler: I got to the end

What a completely different experience to yesterday - everyone was running, most people were going in straight lines, and no one was dying horribly (well I would hope not, in the first 5% of the race). I was determined to hold my 5:30 per km, as planned.

As predicted the 3:45 pacer arrived before too long, between 5km and 6km. I was suddenly enveloped in a jostling crowd. I briefly considered staying with him, but decided not to - I had a plan, you don't change it on the day, and you certainly don't change it randomly in the race!

The kilometres were ticking along nicely, all between 5:20 and 5:30 - perfect. No reason for heroics. I let a lot of people overtake (I was in the wrong starting pen, after all) and didn't let it get me down. I focused on keeping good cadence (90-92 steps per minute) and clocking up the kilometres on pace.

I was loving it. Absolutely loving it. Pacing was easy and the kilometres were flying by. I saw my first walking person at 18km, looking a bit broken. I remembered thinking at 7km that I was a sixth of the way, then at 14km a third - only another sixth to get to the half-marathon point. That came up in no time.


Making good time, bang on pace

Half way passed with a few more walking people, the tide was coming in a bit and I was moving up the field. No additional effort required, I was just faster - but still on my pace. The next mental targets were at 28km which is two-thirds distance, and then from 32km it was a single-digit count-down to success!

I ran over the race-logo landmark bridge for the second time, marking the first and larger of the route's loops completed. Following a few more km winding round the city centre we were out for the second loop.

As 30km went by I was full of happy. I had slowed for water at 10km, and 20km, missing out every other station. The weather was lovely, sunny, warm, with a gentle cooling breeze. I was thinking I would run the whole race on water - what an outcome that would be!

How quickly things can change. It got harder to hold pace, and my thoughts got more negative. The kilometres still seemed to be passing well but were taking a lot more effort. I passed my first "dead" person - he was sat in the bushes (where people (and people here equals "men") were ducking in to pee). He was sat with his back leaning on a tree sobbing. A spectator was trying to talk to him, but he didn't seem to want any of it. Or maybe they didn't have a common language, it was hard to tell.

Walkers were more plentiful now and they took a fair bit of avoiding. I thought about the gels in my pocket. If you get random negative thoughts then fuelling may be required. I decided to go on water for a bit longer. By 34km I was finding the going hard. My pace had really dropped and my legs were hurting - primarily my hamstrings and calves and Achilles tendons. I could still put the effort in from my mind, but I didn't seem to get any faster.

Just before 35km I had a gel - it was bloody lovely. At the 35km point I had another one, and a couple of cups of water. I quickly felt better mentally, but still couldn't make my legs work any more. I vowed to have my final gel, the caffeinated one, at 40km.


Fairly even, but you can see where it gets hard

I saw a few more dead people. At 38km or so there was someone receiving what I can' only describe as "emergency medical attention", there were people in uniforms and beeping boxes. Not good.

I told myself that I was trained for this, that I could do it. There was need to walk. I refused to walk. I didn't walk. In any training run I'd have stopped by now, or worked out a "walk 60s, run the rest of the km" tactic. I kept in my head that this wasn't a training run, this was the real thing - I declared to myself (out loud) that I refused to walk unless I literally couldn't run. And that point never came.

40km came though, and I walked through the aid station to take my gel and drink a couple of water cups (that bit of walking was allowed). For the first time in the race I looked at my total elapsed time - it read 3:47 (no seconds displayed when you're over an hour). 3 hours and 47 minutes and 40km done, 2.2km to go and 12 minutes and an undeclared number of seconds to go if I'm to get in under 4 hours.

Oh God I'm going to have to run harder.


This is what "running harder" looks like when you've got 41km in your legs - ouchy!

The clocks on display showed gun time, of course, so I had no idea what I was aiming for by those clocks - and my watch display was set to show me cadence and heart rate only (kilometre splits would pop up for 10 seconds each kilometre). I had no choice but to run hard. Running hard after this long was a mission. I missed the 41km marker - was it even there? Before i knew it there was a huge "1000m" on the ground - just a kilometre to go. Got to run harder.

We were back in the town centre now, at 500m to go there was a sharp right turn and I could see it - the green finish banner in the distance. I had no idea how long I had, I just had to try and run harder. It was, admittedly, a bit pathetic - by no means a sprint finish, but it was at least faster than I'd managed the last 5km.

With 300m to go I had to avoid a man carrying his tiny child down the finishing chute. I'd like to take a second to ask why, WHY, do people do this? It's crazy, I'm running as hard as I can (let's ignore how fast that actually is for a moment) to get in under 4 hours, I can hardly see any more, I certainly can't run straight, and I definitely couldn't take anything that would pass for "evasive action". I can't guarantee I'm not going to bump into anyone - and if I did and they fell over and the kid got hurt, then what? It's rank stupidity and should be banned.

As it was I crossed under the line in about 4:01:30 or so according to the clock on the banner and stopped my watch. Was it good enough? No idea! I stumbled around a bit and eventually had to lean on the crowd control barrier. I was absolutely buggered. My legs were on fire, I could only just stand. It took me a while to operate my watch - you need to "save" the exercise before you can review it. Did I make 4 hours?


Did I make it? Did I do enough? I had no idea at this point

Yes, yes I bloody well did. According to my watch I'd completed the Rotterdam Marathon in three glorious hours, fifty-nine painful minutes, and nineteen bloke-with-a-child avoiding seconds. 41 seconds to spare, and even if I was a few seconds off at each end with my watch-button pressing I should still be under 4 hours. I pumped the air in celebration a few times - every little bit of "don't walk" and "come on, push harder" was worth it. Every single good choice had contributed to achieving my goal. By just forty-one seconds!


Kilometre pacing benchmarked against the 5:30 target pace


So happy with the first six 5km sections, spot on target pace


Need to work on what happens from 32km to 42km!

Now, give me my medal and point me at the bar.


After the race:

Safe in the knowledge now that I'd hit my goal and didn't have to run anymore, the pain started to come. My hamstrings, quads, calves, and flutes were all tightening up and starting to feel cramps. I could hardly walk for the first few minutes. I staggered through the other finishers, they were coming thick and fast, and past the stalls of bananas and iso-drinks. I found a space to sit on the floor and spent 5 or 10 minutes stretching out. Others around me were doing the same, there was much grunting from representatives of many different nations. It turns out "argh" is a word in every language that means "I've just run hard for four hours and sat down, and now I can't get up again".


It's all about the bling

I got up in the end, took a few more waters from the stalls, and tried to get out. There was a big queue to get out so I had to stand/shuffle for 5 or 10 minutes - it felt like forever. Why was there such a queue to leave the finish area? It was because all the friends and family that came to meet the runners clearly had to stand right at the exit, as close as they could possibly get. The result was that runners had to file past, in single file, for about 20 metres to get through them. Thanks guys, thanks a lot - can we have some room? We're knackered, can hardly stand, and really need a bit of space.


A new Personal Best category for me on Garmin Connect

I walked very slowly back to the hotel room - my legs were completely ruined. Mrs arrived about 20 minutes after me, similarly broken. She had gone off too fast and had a tough second half. She came in with a great time though of around 4:23 - she was aiming for under 4:30. Objectives achieved.


First thing is first - pub for my second lager of the year!

We were both hurting far more than we thought we would. I swear I wasn't this broken after Wales Ironman in 2012, and Mrs has felt better after ultra-marathons! We think there are a couple of reasons for this. Firstly, it's fast, flat, and all on smooth concrete. This means every step is exactly the same - very little variation. Exactly the same movement over and over again, this is bound to break you down. Secondly, marathons are hard! You have to get your pace right from the start - and if you don't there can be a really long way left to run.


Grant was absolutely right!

I've heard so many times that the marathon really starts at 20 miles, or even 22. I now understand why. When it falls apart it happens so quickly, there's no gradual decline here! So what happened? Was my pacing wrong? Was it food? Did I get dehydrated? Was I not strong enough?

My heart rate plot tells a story - it looks like there are step changes upwards at about 40 minutes, and 80 minutes. I then stay roughly at the same level until around 2 hours and 50 minutes - when it started getting hard.


Heart rate plot - pleased my final 2km effort actually registered!

This corresponds to changing temperature - it was certainly getting warmer. It may also be nutrition or hydration - I wouldn't expect those to have any effect for a few hours though, so maybe contributory factors in my drop off? Maybe I should have eaten and drunk more right from the start. On the same day MPHinLondon, who is also on a high-fat and low-carb diet, ran the London Marathon and took a gel every 5 miles starting from mile 5 (and he ran 2:58!) - though he did experiment with carb loading ahead of the race too.

There's clearly lots of experimentation to follow, but this is only my first after all.

In the last 5 days my mind has already gone form "never again, I've done one now, nothing to prove" to "hmm, I wonder which one to do next spring - or maybe in the autumn". Seems just like triathlon, this sport could get addictive!

Now, about that original target of three hours and thirty minutes...