There’s good, and there’s Good. I absolutely will not take anything away from anyone who runs a marathon (and that includes run-walk-run), but to be blunt there are times that are exceptional, times that are good, average and below average. Marathons are now very popular yet still you’re in less than 1% of the population if you’ve completed one. So, by that token, even an average effort is rather impressive.
It’s against this framework that most efforts are judged. Because friends and family are likely to be non-runners without the context and knowledge of age-gradings and suchlike, they base their judgements on what they might have heard other recreational runners achieve. Good news if all your friends have known is a 50 yr old retired fireman running a 5hr 30 effort for charity. Not so good news if you’re friends are also friends with top-end club runners and chaps like David Cartwright of Poole Runners (02:54:36 at age 63). Fortunately there are things like age gradings to help you understand whether these achievements stand relative to your age. There are also handicap systems like the runbritain rankings. So, whilst friends, family and colleagues happily applaud my 3:29:58 and I’m personally delighted with dropping my PB by nearly 30 minutes this year, I’m pretty aware that the (male) qualifying time for Boston is 3hrs 10 (18-34) or 3hrs 15 (35-39) and that London‘s ‘Good for Age‘ entry is reserved for 3.10 runners (under 40). What made me settle on this was seeing Nell McAndrew cross the line at London (just in front of Mr. Cartwright) in under 3hrs. A time that placed her in the top 40 women in the UK. She started with a 3hr 22 eight years ago at the age of 31.
> To see how my time compares to everyone else in the race, the ugly but v. interesting RunPix has the data
Whilst my two marathons were a year apart, I can’t honestly say I trained solidly in that year to get my time down. After 2011 I sat out most of the summer, a few short runs here and there and gradually built up to running distances around 12-13km. When I took on the Run Kingston (16mile) race in October I was under-trained and had a miserable final 6 miles to scrape in well over 2hrs. I then did a bit more to keep a base going and eventually started a 16 week plan following Jeff Gaudette’s Runkeeper 3hr 30 schedule for London 2012. With a few sessions missed thanks to injury, a ski holiday and the odd work-life-unbalance it wasn’t a perfect build up but as close to perfect as I’m likely to get. I might not have had ideal nutrition or done much in the way of stretching and strength (quite contrast to last year when I religiously did both) but some of my splits in my training intervals were really surprising me. I was able to run pretty fast, comfortably. When I went out and did Asics Fleet pre-London Half Marathon in March I ran conservatively and intelligently and ducked comfortably under 1hr 40.
I have told too many people that I’m going to run a marathon every year until I’m 40 (and who’s to say I won’t carry on beyond) so I feel like I really should keep that up. Having said that, I suggested ‘never again’ to the reception party in Horse Guards’ Parade last sunday but a bit of time and perspective helps! Since watching Berlin from a hotel room in September last year and knowing how my friends have talked about it as a race (and a city) I think I’d really like to do that. It’s too late to enter for 2012 and, in any case I’ve got something else planned for this September anyway. So, 2013 it is which means 17-18 months of training to get that 3.10.
There’s precedent here though. My good friend Darren is a little older than me, very similar build, been running a little longer and has a (much) busier life – but he has had some great success in recent years (using Jeff’s plan) to drop his marathon from the 3.30s-3.13.43 (Royal Shakespeare) to a PB of 3.07.05 in windy conditions in Rotterdam this year and is aiming to go sub 3 at some point soon.
To do this I want to draw a straight line between today’s PB and September 2013. I have some milestones to reach along the way and I need to methodically tick these off to achieve that goal. Milestones like gaining strength in the legs and my core, in improving my cadence (footfalls per minute) and general form (transitioning to a more mid-foot strike). With those ticked off I can continue to work on my aerobic capacity and my psychological strategies to ensure I can dig in for longer at faster paces.
With that in mind I have two races coming up. Sadly they’re not really compatible but I want to PB in both of them. The first is the LGN Inter-Advertising 5km race in Regent’s Park. This is a flat and easy course and it’s important to me to put in a good showing there in front of colleagues and peers. I can definitely shave a slice of my previous best of 22-ish minutes. The second however is the Great North Run. A race I’ve been bag-holder for twice and always been jealous of, it’s got a fantastic atmosphere, a reasonably straightforward (though not super-fast) course. It is only three days after the LGN 5km though so it probably means that it will have to take precedence and mean that my 5k PB could happen sooner in the year, at a parkrun for example.
I need to work out what the Great North should be run in. I think it should be a 90 minute race, based largely on the fact that the McMillan pace calculator suggests a 3hr 10 marathoner should be capable of a 1hr 30.07 half (and a 19.29 5k). So, that’s the short term target. With the long summer evenings, warm weekends in the parks and towpaths and maybe a bit of trail running in the Surrey hills, it should be a good time to put the miles in. Added to the big goals of strength and speed, I want to run with others a bit more
Dare Run helps with this particularly as some of the lads have good 5k speed. I’m keen to hook up with some old rowing chums (James & Owen) too, both of whom have much better PBs than me.
And that’s it, for a little while. I’ll just quietly get on with it. If you want to follow my progress (!) then the usual Runkeeper, Endomondo and Garmin links are out there, as well as Twitter of course.
Just as I was wrapping this post up, Laurian (Dare and fellow VLM sub 4hr runner) posted a link to an article in a paper I detest, which did draw attention to the fact that amongst certain middle-class aspirational circles that posting PBs and talking about your endurance feats is the new rat-race. It is actually alarmingly accurate and brings this post of mine wonderfully back down to earth. So thank-you, horrible paper, for making me realise that this might actually be pretty gauche to many of you. For that, I apologise!