My most enjoyable marathon to date!

I was one of the thousands of entrants in yesterday’s London marathon and what a great day I had.  I was under no pressure, as I wasn’t aiming for a time and was completing the distance as part of my Ironman training.

I was going to try and pace a friend, Dan, round in under 4 hours but as things turned out the first 13 miles went according to plan and then it went a bit pear-shaped.  Dan had a slightly jippy stomach the night before the race and his training had suffered through other commitments.  The consequences of this it that the next miles got slower and slower and Dan suffered a bit.  I ended up being a Domestique for him and whilst he ran straight down the middle of the road, I zig-zagged to the water and feed stations and in the last 4 or so miles was taking sweets, which the crowds were handing out and ferrying them to Dan.  I enjoyed this and also had ample time to take in the scenery, the crowds and the atmosphere.  With 400 yards to go Dan got cramp in his left calf but after a quick massage from me we proceeded to and crossed the finish line in 4 hours 16 minutes.  Dan was pleased with the time considering his training and jippy stomach and although it was a bit slower than our target I was happy to get the miles under my belt and continued with my training today, Monday with a 2,250 metre pool session and a 45 minute steady paced run.

My steady pace around the marathon course also gave me the opportunity to take in what some of the slower runners were doing, and not doing, and this enables me to pass on some tips, advice and general knowledge about completing a marathon to you.

 

Prepare for Sun

The day turned out to be the warmest so far this year and many people didn’t prepare for it.  People were getting sunburnt as they didn’t put on suntan lotion, others were getting heat stroke as they weren’t wearing head protection and many were falling by the wayside through generally overheating and lack of hydration.  There were others that were hydrating but not taking in enough electrolytes from sports drinks and were also suffering badly and there were many people cramping up due to inadequate hydration and electrolyte intake.  Regardless of how fit you are but particularly for those new to marathon running you need to try and think your race through and prepare for the many varied conditions a race can throw at you.  If you generally suffer from heat stroke and always wear a hat in the summer, why would you not do the same in a long race?  In my view you can’t over prepare for a race and your goal is to finish as quickly and as stress free as possible.

Some mistakes to avoid

I saw other classic mistakes being made.  Whilst I felt very sorry for one poor guy it was an incident which was avoidable.  Drink and feed stations are busy hectic areas of the course.  A little common sense and etiquette can make life easier for every one.  People enter a feed station area and instead of filtering towards the edge of the course sometimes do a 90 degree turn.  This causes other to bump in to them as they are effectively stopping from going forward and you can get hurt.  So try and filter to the sides where the water and feed stations replenish you.  Once you pick up your vessel of sustenance don’t try to open it straight away if it has a top on.  As I have said, feed stations are busy places and everyone tries to open the vessel with the consequence that they aren’t concentrating on where they are running.  So, run out of the station until the body of runners are settled back in to their pace and then concentrate on getting your water/carb drink onboard.  This allows you to focus on other runners within the feed station areas to avoid contact and run steadily and feed when back to a steady pace.  It also allows you to avoid what the poor runner I mentioned earlier did.  He was concentrating on opening his water and not looking at where he was running.  Unfortunately, he found beneath his foot a discarded bottle with the result that he turned his ankle badly and his race was over.  So there are two things you can do to help this type of incident, discard your bottles to the edge of the course and concentrate on running within the feed stations and only take your focus off the road ahead until you are clear of the busy feed station areas.

One other snippet of interest.  At the sports drink stations the sticky, sugary liquid coats the floor and as it starts to dry it becomes very tacky and for a few steps it can feel like you are running with Velcro on your shoes.  It’s nothing to worry about but better warned than surprised.

 

Ensure adequate carbs intake

On Sunday people were hydrating reasonably well.  At least there were a lot of bottles of water being taken from the stations but many people were taking a few small mouthfuls and then throwing the remainder away.  This isn’t too bad as the water stations at
London are very frequent.  The sports drink stations however, are roughly 5 miles apart and people were again also taking the sports drink and only taking a couple of mouthfuls before throwing the remainder.  This is a big mistake as over the distance of a marathon you will need a carbohydrate top up and sports drinks also have salt and electrolytes which help to top up lost supplies and fend off cramps and a reduction in your body’s sodium content.  That is one of the reasons I think so many people were struggling.  The sports drink packs are 330ml and easily carried between stations.  One pack every 45 to 60 minutes would have been an adequate intake to introduce a carb lift and maintain the body’s electrolyte levels.

 

Careful if you sprint to the finish

My final point is that there is a mental lift over the last two or so miles of a marathon for a lot of people as the end is almost in sight and the crowds are really going for the support and noise to coax the runner on.  However, beware if you increase your pace and stride length it is highly likely that cramp will strike.  If you do want to increase your speed try building it more gradually and if at any time you feel a cramp twinge then back off straight away.  Getting cramp isn’t the end of your marathon though as you can self massage and stretch the affected muscles but whilst you are doing this the clock is still ticking and your goal time could be slipping away.

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5 responses to “My most enjoyable marathon to date!

  1. Well done Nick and what a lucky chap Dan is to have had you there to guide him round and look after him – of course congratulations to him too for a very respectable time.

    As you know Squash is my game and I recently wrote an article for which I had to do some research….My thoughts were all around the will to win and how important is it to the individual, but more importantly what can the individual learn from every time they step onto court (or in your case train,run, cycle or swim)

    The Latin root for the verb “to compete” is “competere” which means “to seek together” or “to strive together.” So, to me, this makes my competitor my ally, not my enemy, after all we have something in common, we both like squash! And remember that without him/her one hasn’t got a match! It seems to me that you truly competed last Sunday, not at anyone else’s expense – quite the opposite! I salute you – I wish there was more evident sportsmanship in so much of what we see on TV nowadays. Truly assertive participation (not aggressive as so many people believe is necessary) makes sport (for me) a far more meaningful pastime.
    By the way, I think that everyone who started the Marathon (or trained towards it) are “winners”….

    Goal setting is crucial as you say in your blog, but equally is the individual’s attitude to “success” and what it means to him or her. Too often, when I ask those that I coach squash, “what is success?” I have winning as the first reply……of course I’m not saying it isn’t important – I just think there needs to be a balanced approach. My Father (a physicist) always said to me that I’d probably learn more from experiments that went wrong than those that went to plan. With this in mind, I feel that I can improve my squash more by being beaten than by winning an easy match. What do you think? Win or lose I always thoroughly enjoy an evenly matched (and hopefully long) game. My Uncle used to race Formula 1 way back in the sixties, before the influence of sponsors changed the sport into an exciting marketing circus, but he always said to me that the one thing you must be really good at to be a racing driver is ……..”losing races”! Either cos you make a mistake or there’s a breakdown, but there can only be one “winner” on the top step of the rostrum – but, he went on, winning is part of a process….a long process.
    For me – Our “wanting” to win is determined by our competitive culture but I believe that one will be a better competitor, will perform better, and will have more fun if winning is seen as a consequence of:
    • hard preparation
    • skill development
    • cultivating a true sense of self belief
    • team spirit
    Just like you demonstrated by helping Dan and naming your entry “my most enjoyable marathon to date”. We know you’ve run it faster but that wasn’t the point of Sunday – Dan was more important and the marathon was just one part of the iron man preparation – well done again!

    So, winning is just a by-product of other factors. Winning one specific match may just be a small part in my long term development goal as last sunday was for you.

    Finally and interestingly, Vince Lombardi, coach to the Green Bay Packers is world famous for having coined the phrase, “winning isn’t everything – it’s the only thing”! After a few years and as a result of his experiences he re-thought his phrase and felt compelled to change it to:

    “Winning isn’t everything – but the will to win is”.

    If winning really is the only thing, then what a miserable day last Sunday was for thousands of participants and their supporters/families – it makes you wonder why they entered and why the event grows year on year!

    I hope people participating in sport, from all walks of life, are presented with the opportunity to contemplate what “winning”, “success”, attitude, “skill versus technique” all mean to them and that they have the patience to relax and enjoy many sports for many years.

    [And finally…….My Marathon on Sunday lasted only 5 minutes, only now a days they’re called snickers! Still I was thinking of you as I ate it and counted the Calories, but struggled to find any info ref Carbs or Electrolyte (perhaps I should have looked in my car’s owner’s manual for further guidance?…..)]

  2. Well done Nick – sounds like you had a great run despite the heat!! Shame I didn’t see you, but you finished some 40 minutes ahead of me – great running!!!!

  3. Fraser

    I thank you for your comment and insight in to your world of sport.

    I agree whole heartedly with your sentiments. I am often asked why I participate in sport and there isn’t a simple answer as my reasons are many and varied. There is the fact that I enjoy a good workout, but I couldn’t do it without a target event. However, the target event is about challenging me and not trying to win. I set myself goals and targets which will help to drive me forward and I will work hard and be very focused when trying to attain these targets but not at the expense of others. The reason for this is the same as you have stated. Although triathlon isn’t a sport with a direct competitor such as squash, in other words without a squash competitor you couldn’t play but I could theoretically do a triathlon alone, I do need others to compete against in order for me to enjoy the event and for a target to aim for but, I do not want to beat them at any cost. I think back to my early events and try to imagine someone new to triathlon and if, in my striving to beat them or get a personal best, I give them a bad experience of the sport then they may walk away. In this case both the sport and the new competitor would be losers.

    As human beings, I believe we all need challenges, competition and targets and all take part in trying to achieve these. However, some of us do it through sport whilst others do it through other avenues such as work. Some people don’t think they are competitive because they don’t participate sport or other classic competitive activities, but if you dig deep enough they will have competition somewhere in their life. Someone famously said ‘it’s not the winning but the taking part that counts’ as a youngster I didn’t understand this but now I can fully appreciate what ‘taking part’ contributes to my life.

    Yours in sport

    Nick

    PS. Try eating your Snickers bar at the same time as a banana, lovely.

  4. Well done old chap, sadly didn’t see the event, the kids were swimming in Derby so we were at the pool.

    In my opinion life without competition is a disaster. Having kids and seeing how they innately compete from an early age (and seeing the lack of effort they put in to “everyones a winner” sanitised school games) I can honestly say that since they took up swimming competitively, they handle success and failure in a much more positive way.

    hi Fraser!

  5. Hi Nick, pass my congratulations to Dan for completing the Marathon, it is tough when things don’t go to plan (speaking with the voice of experience). Well done to you too. I don’t see you in the role of Domestique some how but I’m glad you enjoyed yourself.

    Some excellent tips. Having done my share of marshaling at water stations I know how thoughtless some people can be. taking on carbs and more appropriately electrolytes is so important in those conditions and over that distance. I think this is something that should be biult into our training. so often I see runners at thye harriers doing significant distances with no water at all let alone a prepared drink. Something very simple like one third orange juice two thirds water with a pinch of salt is more than adequate.

    My own training for the Bedford Tri Series took a bit of a hit this week with a two day trip to the factory in Wolfsburg. Budget airlines are great but why do they onlt fly at such ridiculous times of the day. Got another trip next week, out thursday night back friday night but at least I’ll get a run in on friday morning. Not getting the swimming I so desparately need in though.

    First ones on May 6th, will I see you there? I not I’ll post my race report so you know how I got on. In fact you can track my progress over the three races.

    Steve

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