So, what’s a marathon like to run? What goes through your mind and how does your body react throughout a marathon? I thought this week I’d give a run down of what goes through MY mind during a marathon and how the Brighton marathon affected me this year. I thought it’d be an ideal opportunity for those running London this weekend – especially if you're doing it for the first time.
Hopefully it’ll give an insight into what taking part in a major event is like. There are certainly highs and lows, memories to be had and things to note for the future.
I’ve run 14 marathons so far this year, did 8 last year and one the year before that. Each and every one is a learning curve. I’ve still not mastered my technique, I still make huge mistakes and I expect it’ll take a long time to get it all right. But part of the fun for me is to discover what doesn’t work just as much as what does. If we didn’t make mistakes, I think it’d be harder to improve in the future. So long as one of those mistakes doesn’t harm me or those of others around me, then I think it can ultimately be beneficial.
Here’s an insight into what Brighton 2011 was like for me:
We’ll start Four days before the race:
There’s no doubt that Brighton was my big target for the first half of the year. I set my stall out and said I wanted to PB here. On the Wednesday before the race I went and did a slow and steady 6 miler. Running 8.30 miles, I was constantly reining myself in, forcing myself to slow down. Perfect start. On top of that, and this might sound a little sad to non-runners, I started to really visualise the race. I had thoughts about what might happen, what might influence what happens and how I can do my best. If you are running London this weekend (or have another marathon coming up at some point soon), I really do encourage you to sit down and run through your mind how you think you will feel at various points. When you reach a point that has a negative impact, focus on what good bits can impact on it – support from crowds, energy gels, PMA, emotions, music – anything. Then build a bridge and get over it(!), before hitting the next potential barrier and smashing it down again. If you have already got through troubled times in your mind, you will be rehearsed if and when they happen on the day.
I would also recommend here that you run through it in fast forward. I doubt you will get chance to sit down for a full 4 hours at a time!
The day before the Brighton marathon:
Was a busy one. First I went shopping for suits for the wedding. We decided that we didn’t want something too formal. Nice and simple was the key. We ended up with tails. What do you think?:
Note it’s the one with the human in it. Not the white one. The wife might get annoyed that I’ve published it on here. But she loves me, so that’s OK.
We had some friends come to visit with their gorgeous little lad. I had a great time haring round with him, chucking him about and throwing stones (admittedly mostly with his dad as he lost interest. We did not). Friends arrived later, as they were staying over before coming to watch/take part in the race. I also initially packed all of my gear for the next day and checked the Garmin was charged. Doing this lets me know that if something happens on the morning of the event, I can be almost sure everything is there and I can grab and run if I have to. I’d really recommend making sure you have everything the night before. It can help to keep you relaxed and make sure you have a good night’s sleep beforehand.
Sunday morning, before the race:
Up, breakfast (Weetabix and a banana, since you ask) and tea. Breakfast was hard. I don’t like force feeding myself, which this essentially was. I ended up putting it in an ice cream tub and eating it on the train. Then it was pre-race poo number 1. A good, solid start to the day. This is the staple poo of the day, though. Pre-race poo number two is always different.
Then to the train station to meet a friend to travel to Brighton. Jezz is great – he’s unbelievably laid back and exudes calmness. Brighton station and pre-race poo number 2 comes along. It seemed to for many, many people. Big old queue for the gents, every man with a single twenty pence piece in his hand ready for the turnstile. Well, all but that one bloke (there's always one)with no cash and a flustered look on his face whilst rummaging around in his pockets. I think he got there in the end. There were a great number of ‘turtles head’ looks on people’s faces.
This leads to point number two – pack some bog roll in your pre-race bag. Toilets are always a bone of contention at races. You certainly don’t want to get there and find no bog roll and end up having to use one of your running socks as an emergency wiping material. That would almost certainly lead to blisters. On your feet, unless your sock is particular abrasive. Anyway, I digress…
The event start is always something to behold. This is really where you need to start soaking in the atmosphere and get an idea of the magnitude of what you are doing. A marathon is an incredible thing to take part in. Most of us are shorts and vest types. Which is why looking around the park is amazing – you see what others are running in. Here’s a selection that I found via Flikr:
Please note that none of these pictures are mine and were found on Flickr.
So I soaked up the atmosphere, had an interview with the news (the buggers never showed my clip though. I’m obviously too charismatic) and then relaxed and put my bag on the lorry.
Brighton was going to be a warm one, so I put on some sun cream. Please don’t forget this if you’re running in heat. You can seriously burn. Also try to get the sports stuff so it won’t be sweated off/run into your eyes.
Queued with Rich, one of my best men for the wedding. Here we are:
And here’s the crowd of people behind us:
Now, at the start of a marathon, DON’T BE FOOLED. There will be a bang of a gun followed by a loud cheer and off you go. But then you stop again. And then you start. And then you stop. This happens for a while. It’s the same effect as queuing on a motorway and you think something major has happened. Only to drive on later with nothing of significance to cause such disruption. Then you start cursing because you haven’t even seen any carnage. Chill out and don't get into a stride. You WILL hit a surge.
Then that's it, THE RACE HSA STARTED. You’re off. There are hundreds, thousands of people ahead of you. You are faster than then. You must take over them. They’re in your way. GET OUT OF THE WAY, I HAVE A RACE TO WIN!!! That’s the general thought. So you start to duck and dive and essentially waste a shit load of energy getting nowhere quick. Slow down and enjoy the first couple of miles. For the love of God slow down! They will be slow. They should be slow. And they should set a pattern for the rest of your run. Rich and I did this. Our first mile was an 8.30 I think, which was the slowest of all but the last two miles, I believe. If a smurf takes over you, don’t chase him down and kick his head in, you’ll have plenty of time for that later.
Set the standard, go easy and enjoy it. You have hours and hours ahead of yourself. Look out for people in the crowd, perhaps have a chat to someone and just plod on. In my opinion (which is worth the price of air), if you’re too tired to talk this early on, you won’t get very far. Brighton had crowds-ahoy for these miles and they went by so quick. So quick that we ended up doing 7.30 or so miles. But we felt good, so we carried on. We got slightly worried when we over took the guy with the 3.20 pacing sign.
Uneventful is the wrong term for these miles, but they just went by. We felt great and we had a laugh. We talked, laughed and saw lots of people we knew in the crowds. Second sighting of the wife and friends, some slight hills and then a first proper check of what my heart’s doing. My HR was up in the 180’s already. A general (simple) rule of thumb for your maximum heart rate is 220 minus your age. That makes mine 193. This is a flawed equation because at one point on the day my HR reached 195 and in the past couple of years I have gone a fair amount over 200.
Anyway, my HR was too high and way above what I had been training at. But as we felt good, we hammered on. Still able to talk and still able to have fun. We got a proper sight of the elite athletes run by, too. Incredible! They seemed to glide and looked ridiculously smooth. I was very jealous.
It was at mile 10 that my colleague Chris told me about a guy who cut across the road and essentially wiped out about 3 miles of the run. SHAME ON YOU!
Big milestone. It’s uphill from here. Well downhill. Well neither, because they both sound negative. You now have less distance to go than that which you have already traveled - that's what I mean. We passed through in 1.38. Way too quick but still very comfy. Crowds were ace here. If you’re doing London, I think this is around Tower Bridge, which is a sight to behold. If you have your name on your shirt, people will be calling you from all over the place. You’re a celebrity! Rich didn’t have his name so people were just shouting mine. He waved anyway.
We saw the mrs at mile 14 as she had an energy gel for me. They were barriered off on the other side of the road so in a super human fashion I hurdled the barrier to get it. This got a huge cheer from a big crowd and I imagined that if I had saved a child from a burning building, the crowds and cheers would be similar. I was a hero for jumping that barrier.
People are still cheering my name. I’m still enjoying it and we’re still trying to gee-up the crowd. Whippin’ them up into a frenzy. Although now my arms are getting tired and my feet don’t go so far off the floor. I’m still grinning a lot, but there’s trepidation as I know dark times are coming. Luckily I had rehearsed this in previous runs AND in my head in the past few days. I still feel remarkably fresh and I know that I armed myself with a whole range of great memories, stories and inspirational people to think about as it got harder. But for now, I plodded on. We were still traveling at 4.45km pace. This is roughly the time I took a lovely picture of Rich as we were running. He's loving it, as you can see:
The dreaded power station part of the course. The least support when it is most needed. It’s well out of the way, it’s well boring and it’s a massive test of your willpower. As well as being the area where people often ‘hit the wall’ in a proverbial fashion in any marathon, the lovely people of the Brighton Marathon made a huge sign that said ‘welcome to hell’ and erected an actual wall that you could actually hit when you ran through it. Brilliant.
Rich and I were still together up to mile 21. He started to slow and I plodded on. It’s an unwritten rule that you just carry on if someone struggles. I had no issue with this and I don’t think he did. I was surprised that he stuck with me to this point. It was his first proper marathon and had struggled when he did Eastbourne with me. But he was epic. I'm still in wonder at what he did. He's a bloody natural.
CRAMP. Fucking shit bricks. My left calf has cramped. Stop, stretch and carry on. No problem. I still feel fine in my head and my heart/lungs. It’s just my leg. But it’s fine. It’s fine. It's a minor blip.
CRAMP AGAIN. Arse! Left calf. Stop and stretch. Shit, whilst I am stretching, my groin is cramping. Bugger. OK, your body is telling you to slow down. This is what I will do. Negative thoughts come and I’m a little upset because cramp is something that I cannot fight against. It is the only thing that can stop me running. I haven’t had to use any of my mental triggers to keep me going. I am mentally immortal right now but my muscles are screaming and doing their own thing. Slow down to a plod. I hope Rich is OK. I had prepared myself with lots of emotional thoughts – what would my dad make of today? What would he shout at me when I found it hard? What would he say to me when I finished? What was it like the last time I completed a big run? They were all there to get me through the dark times. I’ll keep them locked away for next time. That work won’t be wasted.
Mile 23.25, mile 23.5, mile 23.75 and so on and so on
Lots of stops. I feel really drained and I’m getting a little bit upset. The guy with the 2.20 marker has gone by me and I’m having to stop and stretch a lot. Rich also runs by. I catch him and tell him I’m cramping. I need to justify why I’m stopping – I need to let him know it’s not because I’m mentally weak. Being the beautiful guy he is, he apologises that he is going to keep going because if he stops he won’t be able to carry on. And off he plods.
I know a little about sports nutrition, feeding, salt, sweat and hydration. I hadn't taken on any salts throughout the run. I think my year so far has taken it's toll.
I am now resigned to slowing to a gentle plod and regular stretching stops. As disheartening as this is, I have managed to rationalise with myself that what I am doing is pretty amazing. I am running a lot of marathons this year, am ahead of schedule on a very hot day and can’t have done anything more. I’m pleased just to be running and this is a huge weight off my shoulders. My only concern is that I can’t nail the last km like I usually do. I love to tame the last km to show myself how strong I can be, but any pace about 10km/h brings the cramp on again. I have to be slow and steady.
Frankly, I’m just loving it. What an incredible event. I’m going to come in for a PB. I finished in 3.26.24 and I know I can go faster and harder. My run morphed into what looked like Charlie Chaplin trying to carry a piano on his own.
Celebrations with Rich at the end (3.24.something) and big smiles. What an incredible run.
So that’s what my marathon felt like. It’s such an amazing experience and I genuinely loved every minute. My biggest tip is to take it all in and to dispel ALL negative thoughts. If you’re not on target, so what. You weren’t going to win the race and you can only do your best. And there is always another time. Go with your heart AND with your head. Use them both and so long as you work hard you’ll get your rewards.
And also, once you’ve finished and pulled yourself together, go and meet the people you love and watch some other people finish. You will see all sorts of people crossing the line and will be inspired to run again. They deserve cheers and would love someone who has finished to give them a final bit of encouragement.
Then, have some time off. I don’t have that luxury, but if you can, chill out max.
The result of all the running is my ace varicose veins – look:
That’s it from me. Before I end this, though, I want to give a shout out to Vektor, who are a specialist printing company who have sponsored my running vests. They’re really helpful and did the vest below for me. Top blokes – go there for all your printing needs.
Little Abi anecdote to finish –
We were in the office earlier discussing the joys of Twitter. Abi announced that she doesn’t really use it, but follows the likes of BBC World, Harvard Business and The Financial Times. She stated “I’m not sure why I follow them. I don’t understand what they mean, usually. Like GDP. What’s that? Gross Dirt Product or something, I think”.
What do you reckon, shall we get her to publish her thoughts to Twitter and get people following her?
Hero of the week – Richard ‘big guns’ ‘Mitch Ray’ May. Proper hard worker. He loved the run. And so he should have done.
And don’t forget to donate – http://is.gd/sJ7mO5 (I want to even the two up a bit)