London Marathon 2014 – post-race report
Yesterday, I ran the London Marathon 2014.
If you have been following this blog and following my training, you will know that this was a test for me, using a low-volume training program.
This was my 14th marathon [or longer] and it was my first competitive marathon for 2.5 years, as I took a year off running and had knee surgery back in 2012.
Firstly, a very quick ‘race report’
I was awake at 4:30 in the morning, excited, and I couldn’t get back to sleep! A couple more hours sleep would have been nice, but it was OK on the day! We had glorious sunshine in London, wonderful blue skies, which really makes a difference. I know a lot of runners prefer it cool, but personally, I love being out running in the warm sunshine. I ran the marathon for an official time of 3:51:47, which was just 6 or 7 minutes off my target time, as I had hoped for circa 3:45, but that’s not much, so I’m pretty happy with that! And I got a nice medal too!
My training was good, more on that below. My reasonably substantial, no-carbs breakfast of sausages and eggs (shame they had no green veg) filled me up and I was barely hungry until evening time, 6pm or 7pm. According to Strava (the running app which knows how tall I am and my weight – see image), I used almost 4500 calories running around London, but because my body is a fat burning machine, not a sugar burning machine, I was not hungry once and felt no need for fuel at any point. Unlike most of the other 35,000 runners, I was not guzzling sports drinks or taking gels, all I had was water, in the warm sunshine.
If I’m honest, I think the people that plan the route should go and run the Paris Marathon, so they can learn how to show off the best of a city. Aside from Cutty Sark and Tower Bridge which is just before halfway, frankly the first 19 miles up to Canary Wharf were very un-exciting. I could list a hundred London sights we didn’t see. I fail to understand why the events does not start and finish in Hyde Park.
Anyway, I had a great day today. The support on the streets was A-M-A-Z-I-N-G there must have been about a million people out on the route cheering, singing, dancing, clapping, handing out drinks, fruits, sweets, and masses of encouragement. There were bands playing, DJs spinning tunes and loads of marshals to hand. The marshals and police and St John’s Ambulance were all great, not that I needed any of them, but aside from the ‘official support’, it’s the ordinary folks that I love, they pull their hi-fi out into the garden, stick the speakers on the wall, and crank up the high-energy music. They dance and clap and cheer you on. They cut up segments of refreshing oranges and hand them out, and the kids put their hands out for a high 5. It’s that grass roots support that is just fantastic. I’ve run 14 marathons…I’ve run Barcelona, Copenhagen and Paris… and I have to say that London is the very best for that sort of on-the-streets support. Paris comes pretty close, but London was amazing. There was not an inch of the route unsupported. Well done London! Thank you!
According to the official data, see image, my run was super-consistent. The timing chip showed that I ran at a pace between 5:21 and 5:44 minutes per kilometre (which is a range of 8:37 to 9:14 minute miles = average of 8:50 for the whole race). I ran the first half in 1:54:02 (I had planned to run it in 1:55) and I ran the second half in 1:57:54, only 3.5 minutes slower than the first half. I had hoped for a negative split, I was aiming for a 1:50 second half, but on the day, my legs just didn’t feel up to it, I was sweating hard, the streets were busy and I decided the best plan was just to keep my pace and keep going. I didn’t stop for so much as one step of the whole 26.2. The numerous water stations were very well manned and I never even had to slow to take on water – thank you to the excellent marshals and helpers.
I wore my Garmin GPS to track my pace. I don’t like running ‘gadgets’, but watching pace is important, in a big event it is far too easy to get wrapped up in the excitement of the crowd, run too fast in the first half, and suffer the misery of exhausted legs in the second half. However, I found my GPS quite unreliable where the London course twisted and turned amid tall buildings. Around 19 to 20 miles we were running around Canary Wharf, where the tall buildings played havoc with my GPS. From street to street one minute it said I was running a pace sub-7-minute miles, then over 20-minute miles!
Looking at the Strava data and the official Chip time, my pace was absolutely consistent – so I guess the lesson is that we can’t always trust our gadgets in the heat of the action.
Nutrition = no carbs and no gels or drinks
If you have been following this blog you will know that I don’t eat processed grain, I don’t eat starchy carbs and I believe that my body works more efficiently for endurance sport running on stored body fat rather than using sugar from runners gels or sports drinks. The night before the race I ate in a Taiwanese restaurant, where I had chicken, broccoli and just a little rice – I didn’t need the rice but the meal was small and I was hungry! On race morning I had a Full English – sausages, eggs, tomato and mushrooms. The only thing I ate during the race was a few segments of fresh orange – kind members of the public were handing them out, and I took a few for the benefit of electrolyte replacement, not for the sugars. I had the equivalent of about two thirds of a whole orange, and one third of a small banana, all during the second half of the race.
Fuelling wise I was absolutely fine. I wasn’t hungry, never lacked energy, never felt the need to take on any fuel. I saw people – thousands of other runners – sucking down gels as early as 4 or 5 miles in, and with less than 2 miles to go. It is my belief that fuelling your body this way makes hard work of the whole thing, because of the constant need for sugar in the blood, and the highs and lows that come with taking that sugar in while running. My way, my body steadily access stored fat throughout the race, there are no highs and lows.
I’m 43 years old, and I ran 26.2 miles at a very consistent 8:50 min/mile pace and while my legs were tired at the end, and I did feel the need to replace my electrolytes, I never even came close to ‘the bonk’ or ‘the wall’ or ‘blowing up’. I had plenty of energy and indeed I slowly walked around Green Park and then back to my hotel for 2 hours after crossing the finish line. I wasn’t hungry and I had plenty of energy. Once back in my room, I ate lots of fruit and a protein bar (for convenience, if I had been at home I would have had real food) and slowly drank a couple of litres of water – by the time my fluids and electrolytes were restored, I felt fine, never tired or hungry at all.
Low volume training plan
I only had 11 weeks notice that I was going to run the London Marathon this year. I personally think that a lot of runners and triathletes over-train, I see marathon runners putting in 40 or 50 miles per week for months on end. I think it’s very wearing on joints and bones, it may work for some people, but personally I wanted to try a low-volume training approach.
I ran only 20 runs in total training for this marathon. Yes, you read that right. I only ran 20 times in total, then ran a sub-4 hour marathon, aged 43. For the first 10 of those 11 weeks, I ran once each week mid-week, training for speed. I ran each weekend for distance, to build stamina. The 11th week was entirely rest.
Now I must remind you that I was already ‘fit’ before I started. I had run 13 marathons or ultra-marathons before yesterday, and I set a PB of 3:14:17 back in Copenhagen in 2011. Although I didn’t run at all in 2012, I was running once or twice per week during 2013, and I cycle and do high-intensity circuit type training – I say all this just to be sure you understand I did not train for a marathon in just 20 runs from a position as a total beginner! I was already fit, and already running a couple of times per week.
My 20 training runs broke out like this:
- 11 speed sessions:
- 8 paced runs. Those runs were all between 5.3 and 8.4 miles, and all run at a pace ranging from 7:40 min/miles to 8:05 min/miles
- 3 sprint sessions. 2 session of 12 * 200 M and 1 session of 15 * 200 M
- 9 stamina sessions:
- distance ranged from 8.4 miles to 22.7 miles, all at pace ranging from 7:50 min/miles to 9:00 min/mile for the longest one (the 22.7 – all the other long runs stayed below 8:30 pace)
During the rest of the 11 weeks, Saturday was my rest day every week, and I cross trained on other days – circuits, cycling, weights, but mostly avoiding heavy leg sessions.
My taper week was easy, lots of push-ups and chins, but nothing using my legs. I spent the day before the race sat down pretty much all day!
What else can I say? I trained less than any marathon training plan would recommend. Of my 10 training weeks, only the weeks of my two longest Sunday runs (and 18.6 and a 22.7) even exceeded 25 miles per week running. Most weeks I ran less than 20 miles per week. The only ‘metric’ I actively managed was pace, I knew my plan for race day was to run 26 miles at slightly below 9 min/miles, so I used my Garmin for all my training and actively worked to run as many of my training miles as possible at around 8:00 min/miles – so that race day would feel easy by comparison.
So I ran only 20 times, and ate no carbs except fruit and vegetables, and I took no nutrition or gels or sports drinks on the day. And it all worked well – in fact, of the 14 marathons I’ve run, I don’t know that I have ever run at such a steady pace except for my PB in Copenhagen.
I had 5 other friends running in the London Marathon yesterday. They are all between 9 and 21 years younger than me, 4 out of those 5 train regularly, they all eat carbs and they all took gels and drinks with them. I’m the only one in my 40s and I finished ahead of them all. I absolutely don’t say that to put any of them down or to ‘big myself up’, not at all, they all did really well, one was a super first timer who I am super proud of, and two set PB’s…I say it just to share with you my experience of low-carb running and low-volume training.
A long way off my PB
One question that came up from a good friend of mine, was the question that if MotherNaturesDiet and my low-carb living is so good, how come I was 36 minutes off my PB! If I am supposed to be so fit NOW, couldn’t I have run it faster?
Three years ago in Copenhagen, in May 2011, I finished in 3:14:17 – that’s a pace of 7 minutes 25 seconds per mile. Damn that was fast! Knowing how hard 8:50 for 26 miles felt yesterday, I can’t believe I did that back then! My friend wondered if MND made a difference, was I lacking the power to put on that speed?
In time, over the next year, I will be writing more about nutrition for different types of sports, but for today we are only talking about endurance sports. For power sports, we need to apply different principles – there are strength sports, power sports, or building muscle, and all are different. I’ll be writing more about all of these and the differences over the next 12 months.
As for my running speed yesterday…the difference in me, personally, since 2011, is that I had 12 months off running completely, I had knee surgery, and now I am 1 stone 2 pounds heavier (because while I was off running, I trained with weights and grew my back muscles mostly doing chins, I added about 3 inches to my chest measurement since 2011) and because in 2011, that Copenhagen PB came at the end of a 14 month period of running a marathon or further every 7 weeks…I was super fit and running constantly.
By comparison, the marathon I just ran yesterday, was run on just 20 training runs, over 11 weeks, purposefully to prove I could run a sub-4 without logging 40 to 50 miles per week of training on tarmac, something I did not want to do on my post-operative knee. I had half the cartilage taken out of my knee, because it was all squashed, fractured and broken up and as a dear friend of mine pointed out, as yet, humans have not developed the ability to re-grow cartilage anywhere in the body! Once it’s gone, it’s gone!
There are different types of ‘fitness’. When I ran that PB back in 2011, I was light and fast and all I was training for was running and cycling, but here in 2014 I am a bit heavier and not anything like as trained for running as I was back then. In 2011 I was just all about running (and cycling) but I actually think that the high-intensity workouts I do now, with all the burpees and push-ups and chins, would have kicked my arse back then! For those kind of high-intensity, muscular circuits, I reckon I’m fitter now.
The day after
I feel amazingly good today! I slept well for 8 hours – though I had to get up twice in those 8 hours, so I guess I managed to rehydrate well before I went to bed!! Today I hardly ache at all, just some stiffness in my quads and I have 2 blisters (I don’t know why, I hardly ever get blisters!) I’m not particularly tired, I’m not that hungry, and I’m just full of energy and loving the sunshine!!
This afternoon I went for a lovely long walk in the sunshine, with my shirt off, it was perfect physio for my legs.