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Post Mortem


from “Diary of a rubbish marathoner” If you spend months preparing for a marathon, an analysis is inevitable, isn’t it? I have now had two days to think about the race, what went well and what didn’t, and what I can do differently next time. Yes, I’m already looking forward to the next one. I have absolutely no regrets about going for a sub 3 hours time. I’m sure I could have shaved a minute or two off my final time with even pacing, but what would have been the point of that? Nobody is going to aim for a 3:03 marathon, at least nobody I can think of. It’s too close to 3 hours, and you inevitably start aiming for that.

Before the race I was quite confident that I could pull it off, and during the race I kept believing for a long time. The timer at the halfway mark, when I realised I was 20 seconds behind target rather than 20 seconds ahead as I had thought up to then, was the first time that doubts crept into my mind, and even then I still thought I had a good chance. It wasn’t until mile 19 that I had to admit to myself that the target was slipping away, and at that point my legs went boom and 5 minutes later I knew I was out of the hunt.

I did mention the stomach cramps in my race report, and I think they were a major factor. I initially blamed the untested brand of carbohydrate gel at mile 15 for almost throwing up, but in actual fact my stomach had been revolting for several miles already, and I don’t think the gel was directly responsible for the reaction. I also couldn’t stomach any of the sports drink. Each time it was on offer I would take a bottle, just sip a minimum amount, and then threw the bottle away, feeling guilty about wasting the content. I just could not swallow the sweet stuff, and I think I just ran out of glycogen at mile 20, the classic cause and the classic distance for hitting the wall.

I really had not expected for that to happen! Two years ago, in the Dublin marathon, I held up well until mile 22, last year in Loch Ness I was fine until mile 24, and in Cork I was fine until the end. After that sequence I don’t think it was unreasonable to think that I would be able to last the distance on Monday as well. I now know better.

What caused the stomach cramps? Well, I had been stupid, and I can only blame myself. In the days before the race I had been reading about the positive effects of caffeine for long distance running, and decided to give that a try. Of course I had not tested that in training, but let’s get real. For a long run I have to get up at around 4:50am. If I wanted to ingest caffeine an hour before that I would have to get up at 3:50, and that’s just not going to happen. I don’t think my stomach took well to the 335ml of Red Bull, delivering about 100mg of caffeine if I read the label right, an hour before the race started, and eventually it rebelled. The stomach cramps didn’t stop at the finishing line, they went on for the rest of the day and the following night, and it wasn’t until Tuesday evening that it felt somewhat ok again.

My legs, on the other hand, are recovering well. I can walk down the staircase without wincing, which is good because I seem to be going up and down like a yo-yo all day. On the other hand, I have absolutely no intentions of running at the moment, and I won’t be heading out of the door until the urge to hit the road again comes back in earnest, however long that takes. The fact that it’s absolutely freezing and miserable outside doesn’t help I guess, but even the perfect weather conditions couldn’t entice me at the moment.

So, what’s next? The plans haven’t changed, my next marathon will be Boston in April. I don’t know if I can break 3 hours there, the course is difficult, and the number of runners on the road might be a problem. First and foremost I am determined to enjoy that occasion, it’s not every day that you cross the Atlantic to run a race.

I will also change my training again. I feel almost ungrateful to diss the Brain Training approach, after all it DID deliver a 4 minutes PR. But I really think that it is not for me, the amount of speed work kept grinding me down, and the fact that I never hit the projected training paces didn’t help. It did open my eyes to the fact that I had not done enough speed work up to now, and now it is question of finding the right balance. So, for my next training cycle I’ll hop back onto the mileage bandwagon, but hope to incorporate more fast running than last year. I have yet to plan it in detail. This will have to wait until we get back home to Kerry on the weekend. For the rest of the week we’re in Dublin for a holiday. Maybe I’ll be able to face the road again once we’re back home.