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Dorney Lake marathon
This is essentially the culmination of two training blocks
interspersed by some significant time out from March-July last year with a
I’d got myself in pretty good shape for London 2020 when
injury and then COVID struck. With no real running March-June, as soon as I
could I got myself training on the turbo I did. I started running tentatively
early July, built up through August and was back to what would be considered
normal training in September. I was pretty surprised how fast fitness not only
returned, but then surpassed previous levels. I was doing nothing differently
at all, except weight loss.
In November I entered Dorney Mara and at that time races
were happening and it seemed fairly probable it would go ahead. In December I
took a late opportunity to run the MK half as I wanted to get a gauge of
fitness. That went very well, on a difficult course, with a 90s pb. That was to
be possibly the last racing weekend before lockdown.
I continued to marathon train over winter, getting lighter and
faster. At times it wasn’t easy knowing and being told by all commentators that
the prospect of Dorney going ahead was virtually zero. However I was enjoying
the process and my view was that providing I didn’t get injured, the worst that
happens was the race was cancelled and I was fitter. Highlights over that
period involve twice beating my 10m pb just on my routine Friday tempo run and
a 10k TT in 36.11 smashing my 10k and 5m pb’s and smashing through sub 18 for
In early March the Government tossed out a glimmer of hope
with their announcement that organised sports could commence on 29th
March. It still took UKA another 3 weeks to get things straight and I finally
had confirmation the race was on just 9 days out.
I got through taper week with only having to deal with the
onset of 4 minor ailments/niggles which was quite reasonable. I had also been
permitted by the organisers to change to the 11am start (3-4 hour runners) from
the 9am start (sub 3) due to my 100m journey. This did cause me some concern as
I was putting myself in a position whereby a solo TT was increasingly likely.
But then I do all my training solo and on balance this was preferable to a 5am
start to get there for 9am. They also allowed my wife to be a marshal for a few
hours to enable her to drive me there and back and get around the ‘no spectator’
rules, so I can’t fault how accommodating the organiser was.
The other point of issue was then settling on what mara pace
was, in the absence of proper tune up races. It is sometimes all too easy to
misread a 10 m training run as being sustainable over a marathon and having had
two bad marathons I have a high degree of respect for the event. Ultimately my
goal was to run under 2.55, beyond that was a bonus and I would look to use
this as a platform later in the year in London. I carried out some research via
Strava and was quite aware that my garmin would log this course as 26.40m
Therefore my pace planning was around this distance. It meant I needed an
average pace of 6.37mm, which frankly didn’t seem too much of an ask. I decided
that I would start off 6.40’s and slowly eat into it so as to pass half way at
6.37 pace. I would then hold steady a bit longer then at 16m, it’s just a
normal weekly 10m tempo so we go from there and wind it up. That was plan A at
Arriving on race day conditions were reasonable. It was
overcast and around 7c. Whilst I wouldn’t call it windy, it was breezy. You can’t
really expect to run around a location like this and there not be some wind.
The set up was good with the 9am and 10am starts underway which meant that
there was only the 11am start folk hanging around and using toilets etc so no
pre-race dramas. I got myself ready and was troubled by some mild stomach ache,
which I put down to nerves and that did disappear as soon as we got going.
I got myself to my pen about 10.55 and a couple of other
lads came along, but it was difficult to know if they were deferred from the
9am start or were sub 3 hopefuls. I decided I didn’t need to know as I had my
plan in place. Just on 11am they took us to the start line. This was kind of a
bit random in that we were stood facing the start and told ‘there you go, start
when you want’. It was a case of making your own decision as to when the pain
and suffering ought to begin. Much like when I am preparing to start an
interval session, it was a matter of the sooner I start the sooner it’s done,
so I just got myself going.
The course comprises of 4 full loops in a horseshoe manner,
each being about 6.5m. Each full loop is also broken into 4 so that you run
down one side, loop around the bottom, run back up the same side, run right
around the top passed the start/finish area and back down and up the opposite
side. I prepared myself well for this as for the last 8 weeks or so I have done
all my tempos on a 1.2m loop, running multiple loops on a 10 miler.
We set off towards the far side of the lake going over the
bridge with the Olympic rings. What I didn’t know at the time until I had done
a full loop was this was the harder of the two sides and of that particular
side, the running downwards was to be the hardest part. The reason being was
that on this side the wind had a chance to whip up a bit more force coming
straight off the lake and the down portion was also raised a few feet above
lake level making it the perfect height to feel the cross wind. Coming back up
was closer to lake level so didn’t feel quite as exposed to the wind. On the
opposing side the run down was at lake level and was quite well covered as it
was quite a bit below the open area with a reasonably sized banking up to the
return path. In addition on this side there was tree cover immediately before
the lake and no lake to allow the wind to sweep off. So in essence what I ended
up with was what I soon learnt to call the ‘hard side’ and the ‘easy side’.
Anyway, back to the race…. I set off at the front of my
start and then after about 200m a tall lad in a green vest came by me and went
off ahead of me. I thought to myself, I wonder if we’ll meet again in the
latter stages!! The nature of the course being up and down, you got to have a
permanent check on where folk were compared to you as the race developed.
The first few miles were pretty crap. I was struggling to
run at 6.40s anywhere near as easy as in training. Of course as this stage I
didn’t know I was running the hardest part of the course. There were quite a
few people still on the course as well at this time as all the 9am sub 3
starters were still there. I persevered but after a few miles the demons were
kicking it, ‘it’s OK you haven’t had a bad mara for a while’, ‘they can’t all
be winners’ etc. I genuinely feared the worst. Then I thought back to London
2019 when the first 8 or so miles felt like a trudge and that sort of lifted me
a bit. The first few miles crept by in 6.44, 6.37 and 6.38. By this point I was
running back up the hard side and I realised this part wasn’t as hard. I also
noted that my average pace was already at 6.40mm and was right on target.
I noted that green vest had opened up a reasonable gap
between us at an early stage and at about 4m a guy in a black vest came through
and passed me. Again, I wondered what would become!!!
As I came up and into the otherside of the loop things
became easier again and I started to get my bounce with a 6.37, 6.34, 6.34 and
a 6.39 essentially completing the first full loop. I also got a gel down at 5
miles. By this point the demons had passed and still not feeling as good as I
had hoped (I think there is possibly a misconception with marathons that you
ought to feel completely untouched by the pace in the first half or you are in
trouble), the pace was feeling pretty easy now and if anything I was working to
keep a lid on it.
I would also add that mentally it didn’t feel like I was
running a marathon as I was not counting to 26. After loop 1 it was very much a
matter of counting down from 3. It was a bit disconcerting early on seeing mile
markers for mile 25 when you are only 3 in but you get over that.
Onto lap 2 and the miles kept ticking over, albeit I
remained cautious however a systems check at certain points versus loop 1 and
if anything I was feeling better than the same stage in loop 1 so my thoughts
turned to ‘if I feel like this at this point in loop 3 then it’s on’. By this
point green vest and black best were out of sight to the extent I didn’t really
register them, albeit that by about 10m I noted they were both working together
so black had caught green.
At 7m I tried to take a revvies caffeine strip, however the
work involved in opening it offset the benefit so I knocked those on the head
after the first one. The next few miles just ticked by, there’s not much I can
say about running up and down in
straight lines then around the top of a lake. They came in 6.39, 6.34, 6.37 and
6.35. By this point average pace was at the desired 6.37mm. I took my second
gel at 11m and was well into the second loop and starting to believe this was going
to end in something big. I recall
checking my watch at 13.15m and it had just ticked over to 1.27.00 so taking
half way at 13.20 I probably made that in 1.27.20 with average pace smack on
6.37, with a 6.29 (slight panic I’d gone too fast) and a 6.37 to end the first
half. A quick systems check and it was very much time to let the reigns go a
little and see what came. I started a thought process along the lines of ‘that
doesn’t give me much scope if I slow down latterly, I really need more in the
bank’, then the newer marathon running version of me steps in and says ‘don’t
be so ridiculous, we aren’t slowing down, we are going faster now’. I basically
put all my money on my ability to negative split.
As I make my way through lap 3 running down towards the
bottom of the hardest part suddenly green/black vest appear to be coming back
to me. At the turnabout point at the bottom the loop, (about 15m) I can see
they are much closer to me and this is like a red rag to a bull, it almost
drives me with energy, the thought that my race plan is going to work better
than theirs. I take another gel at 15m and I can feel the boost from this.
The next few miles, a noticeable creeping of pace is evident
from my halfway decision with a 6.32, 6.30, 6.31 and a 6.30.
On to mile 18 and I catch green/black vest. By this point
black vest has already started dropping off green, he looks tired. I sit behind
green vest for a bit as he’s about 6,3 however it’s slowing me down so I pull
alongside him. He doesn’t want me to pass him and go off into the distance but
he can’t do much about it. I think that brief period of ‘racing’ really engaged
me and I feel like I am in a race now as I want to show the two of them how to
run a marathon and I want to put as much between us as possible. At this point
I am feeling the best I have all day and I know it’s just 8m at mara pace,
something I do every Friday lunchtime.
I am also cautious though as I know one hiccup could derail
the whole thing so I am still telling myself, let’s just get to 20 then go.
Miles 18 and 19 are the start of a consistent period of sub 6.30s with a 6.28
and a 6.23. A final gel at 20 and I’m ready for the last 6.
The course was much clearer now as many of the 9am and 10am
starters are done and also the wind seems to have dropped off. At 20 I continue
to urge myself to show control to 22 then we go for it. Miles 20 and 21 come in
at 6.25 and 6.28 and I am having the run of my life and I know it, yet it doesn’t
seem any harder than the slower miles in the first half. This stride and pace
Finally mile 22….oh OK let’s just rinse this now then! Straight
in with a 6.16 followed by 6.24 and 6.24. By this point I am on the final down
straight of the final half of the final loop and I know I’ll soon turn around
for the run home. At 24.4 I look at the watch knowing there’s 2m left and some
basic calculations tell me 2.52 is safe and 2.51 is a maybe. I am feeling
euphoric at this point. Green/black vests are minutes behind me, probably
wondering wtf is going on and I am just floating along. As I pass 25m (6.20),
runners coming down the otherside are shouting me on and one tells me I look
remarkably fresh. I didn’t want it to end and quite frankly if at 26m someone
had told me there had been a cock up and I needed to go again down the
otherside, I could have!
I am debating now, when to really let go. Just keep it
steady I tell myself, get to the 26m marker which comes in 6.20 and then I know
I’m done and can start wrapping things up. I begin my sprint finish, knowing
that there’s still the best part of 400m to go so it was important to not overcook
it as I wanted to cross the line gloriously!! The line finally came and the
final 0.42 was run in 6.02mm pace. I stopped my watch and I know this sounds
odd but I was hugely disappointed to see 2.52.02 and I was convinced it would
be 2.51.xx. It wasn’t until I got back to the car and checked the official
results did I see 2.51.59, so another bout of joy came my way.
Normally after a mara I need to fall on the floor and can’t
move again. I felt pretty good here and was happy just stood and walking normally,
chatting to a few folk. 5 or so minutes later green vest came in in 2.56.xx for
his first sub 3 on his 5th mara. We had a good chat, mainly him
trying to understand what the hell I’d taken to finish like that. Given we
started together and we were together at mile 18, pretty pleasing to then come
in 5 minutes quicker. Another couple of minutes and black vest came in. He had also ran 2.56
in his first mara, but he started two minutes behind us. It’s almost a shame as
black and green vest ran almost identical times, just 10s between them, so they
could have ran the whole race together.
Essentially I ran a 1.27/1.24 split with the last 8m at
6.26mm and the last 10k in around 39.40. I think there’s a reasonable argument
that I was able to pace it that way because I showed it too much respect in the
first 15 and could potentially have been braver and gone for 2.49. Ultimately
though the A goal was sub 2.55 to bank a Berlin GFA and also a pb and London
2022 GFA. Job done and now I can perhaps take a bit more of a risk in an Autumn
Below is the photo my wife took as I approached the finish
Andrew, 'enjoying' is a strong term. I'm getting a bit bored and missing the intensity and time out. I'm going away Thursday-sunday so that'll at least reduce the desire.
Will start building things up from next week then.
Hope the physio has some ideas for you.
Alehouse, good to see you progressing the running a bit. Finger crossed for Thursday.
When's then half, Muss? I wouldn't tend to taper more than about 5 days for anything below a mara, but then I've been doing this a long time so trial and error has taught me what works for me.
Yes, certainly look to avoid the pub this week, Muss. I tend to try and avoid alcohol for the 7 days before a key race, as it then allows me to get a few good nights sleep in with it out of the system and allows HRV to peak (alcohol has a huge impact on this and it can take 5 days to return to normal following drinking).
Talking of which, I probably drank and ate a bit too much this last few days. Weather was lovely so a day on the beach Friday in Bournemouth (not sunbathing, it wasn't that warm) and a day in the New Forest walking Saturday was enjoyable.
I did an easy 5m before we left and then 7m last night when back. It was nice therefore to avoid trying to shoehorn running in for the few days we were there yet only having a couple of days off.
Not a great deal planned again this week, just building slowly and progressively. I have my covid jab Thursday morning so a few very light days planned around that just to be safe.
Alehouse/AD- Any updates?