Tapering is a very confusing term that runners dread. It is where they get ratty, restless and hell to live with. They think they are getting slower, fatter and unfit. So why do runners do it? Because every book tells you that you must. Every article and every runner swears that it works.
The reason in tapering is to allow your body to recover and be in tip top shape for your event. I have seen runners who have tried to fit in last minute miles appear at the start of an ultra already broken before running a single mile. So certainly for a race over a marathon I think you require some sort of taper. Less miles but still doing speed work until the last possible moment seems to work for me. But what would happen if you trained for an ultra and then decided to race a shorter distance like a marathon on no taper at all. In fact what would happen if you did a 10k race 3 days before you ran the marathon.
What would happen if you had no pressure to perform and you just ran how you felt? In short, you ran the way people have ran for years before the invention of Garmins.
Most people would say that you are mental. That you would certainly be injured and broken before getting to half way in the race. With foresight I know it worked but a week ago I didn't know if I would be writing this from a plane on my way to Zurich or a hospital bed. Okay that's an exaggeration but you get the idea.
I got my place for Edinburgh two weeks before the race. I had an idea that I might be doing it but it wasn't for sure. With not long to go until the Celtic Plate I would not be able to taper or change anything in my training plan. Also I was already entered into two of the Polaroid series races: Helensburgh and Clydebank.
I raced Helensburgh full out, trying to overtake Chris Upson who beat me by nearly 10 seconds to the finish. With a time of 35:59 I was determined to beat it a week later at Clydebank. The marathon would be a training run and I would not think about it at all until the day before. Before that though I had a normal training week :
Friday : 6 miles easy with Oregons Session (circuits)
Saturday : 20 miles AM, Hill reps PM
Sunday : 16 miles (fast finish)
Monday : 8 miles easy
Tuesday :Speed session : 1,2,3,4,5,4,3,2,1 (I missed out the 5 and 4 to prepare for the 10k)
Wednesday : 5 miles easy
Thursday : Clydebank 10k (36:29) really warm and suffered with a bad stitch in the middle after drinking too much electrolye pre race.
Friday : Rest day
Saturday : 5 miles with Strides (struggled to run consistently at 7 min mile)
So as you can see the 10k didn't go to plan. It was warm but I don't normally get affected too much by the heat but what did happen was I had a really bad stitch which slowed me down for a bit. I do think that this race prepared me for the heat in the marathon but it also taught me a lesson not to drink too much electrolyte for the marathon. So my plan was to have 200ml of electrolyte at the start, 10, 15, 21 miles with a gel each time. Debbie and Silke would be on the course so this worked really well. My race pace would be 7 min miles for the first half and then I would pick it up and finish the second half with 6:50s
After my run on Saturday I was worried about even doing 7 min miles. Although I felt my recovery from the 10k had gone really well I still felt that 36 miles at the weekend was still in my legs. But also in the back of my mind I knew my body well enough to know that it is very smart and knows what is ahead and so is probably preparing for it too.
People kept asking about my plans and I stubbornly told them about my pace plan. I was determined to do it and had promised Mark I would. I totally rely on Mark who has always helped me with training so I always listen to his advice. Mark had been apprehensive about me doing the marathon as the last time I ran a fast race while training for an ultra I destroyed my calfs and that started me towards an Achilles injury that kept me out most of last year. This time though I would be running on different shoes and heal inserts plus the pace will be slow I told him. My Achilles had actually been niggling all week but it was just a niggle and nothing to worry about too much. I hoped.
One positive though was on Saturday a bird shat on my tshirt. Debbie told me it was lucky. Cool.
"oh shit" I thought. "I am going to get run over if I do 7 min mile at the start". This is the reason I hate big city marathons. Too many people and the pace is sometimes forced upon you by the crowds. "okay, I'll do a quicker first mile to get away from them and then settle to 7s"
Debbie, Cairn and Sadie wished me luck and then later than we should have been the race started.
I ran with Thomas who was wanting a 2:40 something time. We were chatting away to each other and I did a 5:50 first mile. Fuck. But it was easy. I was still chatting as if I was on a Sunday training run. Okay slow down I would say to myself. 6 min second mile. Still chatting. Yesterday's 7 min miles were harder. Okay it's all down hill for the first 5 miles so I will do them how I feel and then throttle back.
Still chatting with Thomas other people that we passed were huffing and puffing already. Okay it didn't probably help that Thomas and I were chatting away and I was having to apologise for getting in people's way. Everything just felt right.
6:15 3rd mile and a little uphill. It's just Thomas and me. "right Thomas I am going to throttle back now". I said. I meant it too. I had had my fun. I let him go. 30 seconds later I was back behind him. This pace was just TOO easy and I couldn't understand why. 5 miles and we were picking people off that had over cooked the start "right Thomas, I am going to slow down now and take it easy. Have a good race. Good luck". Again I totally meant it.
20 seconds later I overtook Thomas. I was by myself and loving the freedom of running a big city marathon with only the crowds cheering me on and no other runner. It was amazing. They would cheer for just me. Not the person beside me. Just me. Then the clapping would die down. 5 or 10 seconds later I would hear it again as the runner behind me received the same cheers. And the crowds were amazing. All the way. The whole course had people cheering. I heard someone shout "That is one of the people that does 6 min miling" I looked down and I was sitting at 6:15s so not quite but it was so easy. I did a health check. I felt fantastic but did technology agree with me? My HR was at 160. Yes it did. I know I can sustain that HR for hours.
Every now and then I would hear my name being shouted. People I knew were all about cheering me on. Neal and Caroline, Ian, Jude, Alan, John and more. Thank you.
At 10 miles I was needing my electrolyte and gel. I was worried. Debbie wouldn't be expecting me for another 10 minutes and she did look startled when I saw her but handed me my bottle and gel which I was desperate for. The gel pushed me on and I overtook more runners. The slower half marathon runners were now joining the crowds and cheering me on too. I was on a high and cheering them back. Clapping the bands and thanking the crowds. It was so relaxed and I was enjoying every minute.
I heard a runner behind me. It could only be Thomas. We ran together right up to 15 miles where we met Silke. I had more electrolyte and gels but my legs were a bit tired now and Thomas started to pull away. Only to slow down again to spray me with water. Thank you. It was only 2 or 3 miles now until the route turned back on itself. There was a rough section for about a mile and then we rejoined the same road and I saw the thousands of runners running the opposite way. They joined in cheering as I ran and I tried as much as I could to cheer back. I was looking out for Jim my brother-in-law who was doing his first marathon and looked totally fresh when I passed him.
Loads of cheers from crowds and runners. I high fived Mandy as she went the opposite way. My hand was still stinging 5 minutes later. The miles ticked away. Compared with an ultra they just flew by. I was a bit sad but also happy when I got to 20 miles that it was nearly over. By 21 though I was desperate for my gel and Electrolyte. I would say that it was here that I had a slight wobbly. My paced slowed to 6:30s and for the first time I struggled a bit. Luckily it was right where Silke was and so I got water, electrolyte and gel and within a mile I was going again. In fact I was speeding up. Again I was passing people. The last person who had overtaken me was Thomas at mile 13 and before that maybe only one or two after the first 3 miles. You could see the wheels falling off people and as they slowed I was getting faster. At 24 miles my average pace was at 6:15. I couldn't believe it. I hadn't set my watch to show total time as I assumed I wouldn't need it but by now I knew I was on for a PB. I tried to remember what pace my PB was but couldn't. I wouldn't break 2:45 which has always been a goal of mine but at least I would PB.
The last mile felt long. It always does. I was under 6 min miling. It still felt easier than it should have but don't get me wrong I was getting tired. I turned the corner to start the last 300 odd yards to see the timer saying 2:44:10,11,12. The person that had shouted 2:42 must have meant from the official start. We had started late and I now had loads of time.
I couldn't beleive it. I wasn't only going to get a PB but also a London championship time too. Adrenaline shot through my body and I took off. The last couple of miles had been fast but this was even faster. I had the finishing straight to myself. The crowd were cheering, the sun shining. I could hear the commentator Bryan Burnett announce my name. Something about how happy I would be with my time on a training run.
I have had some amazing finishes to races. The West Highland Way, the Glasgow to Edinburgh Double marathon. All ultra races when you have battled the elements to get to the end. This was just a marathon but the finish was up there with them all. It was amazing and I was dancing on air towards the finish. This must be what it feels like to win a race. The atmosphere was electric.
Then it was over. I had finished. 22nd in a time of 2:44:37. I may one day beat that time but nothing will ever take away the feelings I had when I finished and was ushered into the elite finishers area. I had come here for a training run. I can honestly 100% say that I thought I would struggle to do that. But out of no-where I ran one of my best ever races. It felt easy. Relaxed. And at the finish even although I had just ran the fastest marathon I ever had I felt I could go on. Compared to my last 3 marathons where I felt done in by 18 miles this was an amazing feeling.
I met Thomas who had had an amazing race too. Finishing over a minute and a half in front of me and also an amazing PB. The both of us were as high as kites as we basked in the heat. Debbie wasn't long in coming to the finish and congratulated us. Ian and Sandra (in the VIP area, which I later tried to get in but was told you had to finish in the top 3. Wish I had known that at the start. ;-)...) congratulated us as well.
I want to thank Debbie and Silke for supporting me in the race, Adrian for getting me the place and everyone that I both knew and didn't that cheered me on every single part of the course. Mark the coach - thank you for all your help. Sorry I didn't listen to you this time but I will for the 100k. I promise.
Oh yeah and Thomas. It's 2-1 to you so far this year. You totally deserved your time and position. Great run and can't wait to training with you for the 100k. :-)