Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Barcelona Marathon 2012

Barcelona Marathon 2012

Overall, I have to put Sunday's result down to a ‘bad day at the office.’ When you’ve prepared so much in advance and ‘blown up’ in a race, that slightly obsessive, manic-look-in-the-eye internal force that has driven you on for 4 months wants to understand what happened. I’ve had enough time since to recover, rationalize and move on.

It was my 5th race in 5 years. Last year, for the first time, my finish time went down from the previous effort (from 3:27 to 3:30). It forced me to re-evaluate training and increase my focus, in an effort to ensure a more comfortable race. In last years London marathon the heat got to me, slowing me down and I found I didn’t have anything to give where the previous year I was able to push on in the last 6 miles to clock a PB.

I made a conscious decision to train harder over the summer, to improve my half marathon time, to learn better how to deal with the heat and begin to lay the foundations for an improved time this year. I worked diligently, found my times dropped with track work, and in September I clocked a personal best in the Bristol half marathon. So far, so good.

At the turn of the year, I worked with my friend Enrique on a training plan for Barcelona, to ensure his first race was a success. We both took it seriously. The volume of miles went up. I adhered to the schedule better and with a new club, found my interval speed came down. On our long runs, we felt great, matching each other toe to toe, and as I wrote in my blog, I smashed through a glass ceiling to ‘the next level.’ This felt like real progress. The stats don’t lie…

Fast-forward to Sunday’s race. Our strategy, based on previous experience was to hook on to the 3:15 pacers, concentrate and keep with them. As was, it turned out to be a very different story.

We started off with the 3:15 guys, but there was a lot of traffic to negotiate. The first 10 km was challenging. The course was a lot tougher with some inclines on a different route than previously ran. The 3:15 pacers were actually nearer to 3 hour pace at times. That said, the stats for the first ten km weren’t that bad. 46 minutes for 10k. We crossed half way in 1:38, but the weather began to take its toll. Despite legs and head being strong, the sun began to exhaust me. What would normally feel comfortable felt a struggle. At my worst I could feel and see the pace drop off.

I hadn’t had this problem in training. The damn Manchester weather made sure of that. As 15 miles approached I was in a bad way. I wanted to stop and for the first time ever in a marathon, I walked. It was definitely fatigue, not the wall. This I know because in 2009 I hit the wall in spectacular fashion. I know now how to avoid it. The diet this year was spot on and the energy levels felt ok most of the time. When you properly hit the wall, you go through an experience where your entire world feels like being on the inside of a detuned television. It’s truly horrific, disorientating and I’d know if I were going through that experience.

For another 2 miles I managed to get running again. But each time I’d start, about 30 seconds later I’d slow again. The heat was sapping and with 10 miles out, my efforts felt futile. It was unusual to feel so lethargic so early. Knowing how far I had to go filled me with dread, as the finish line seemed a lifetime away. But I got motoring, moved the legs and though I thought I'd be getting round in 4 or 5 hours (the brain does funny things in races, trust me), I ended up getting enough pace to clock in 3:30. It was tough but by no means the worst end of race I had.

Since Sunday and Monday the support and love received from friends, family and twitter followers has eased any disappointment that we didn't get what we aimed for. Enrique's amazing debut to get under 3:27 brought instant cheer to me. He did so well, and our experiment to try and get identical times almost happened! I’m sure the increased mileage and extra gym work got me round in the time I did, as my legs felt fine and I had the stamina to continue in a respectable time.

With a higher fitness than ever before I just hadn’t legislated for it not going to plan. They say you should respect the distance. After that experience I say amen to those words. But if I proffer the performance to get round and not step out as the one I am most proud of. I’m better recovered and back to normal sooner than ever before. I return to fight another day. 

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