What went wrong?

VLM 2012 was my first marathon. I have a fairly fit base from mountain biking (2 rides a week) and running (1 or 2 4-8mile runs a week). I did Hal Higdon's novice 2 programme of 18 weeks and was all set for a 3:15 on the day.

For example on my 14 mile training run many weeks ago, I did 7:14min/mi which was a bit fast for a training run, so decided to set my full distance target to3:15 (7:25min/mi)

All my training suggested I can run all day at 7:40 at 160bpm and 7:25 at 167 bpm.

So on the day I'm running along at 7:25 and after 6 miles, I glance at my heart rate and it's 180. I tried slowing down to 7:40 for a few miles, but it barely made any difference and after 12 miles I knew I was in trouble (yes it took me that long to realise! what a tool.... I just couldn't accept what was happening, because in training I had never encountered anything like this - I even assumed my HRM was wrong :rolleyes: )

So at 12, I really started to drop the pace off massively. My goals were: 3:15 and a fallback of "Finish", so I knew the first one was blown.

But then at 15miles both my thighs seized within minutes of each other, like a switch. I have never encountered this in all my years of running (I've been running for 28 years - but admittedly have never run this distance in one go before). The pain was searing with every step. At one point I almost passed out from it. I could barely bend my legs at the knee at all.

Like a fool, I carried on with the assistance of the medical massage girls along the way and hobbled to the line in 4:11, so whilst I got my fallback goal I'm now crippled! I can hardly walk and stairs are nigh on impossible. I'm devastated about failing the 3:15, but now my mission is to avoid all this the next time.

So, what happened? Why was my bpm so high? Why did my legs seize up? Are the two symptoms intrinsically linked? i.e. did my legs seize because my bpm was so high? And remember, in training earlier in the year I happily did 14 miles a fair bit quicker than I did the first 12 miles on the day.

I have tried to figure out what was different on the day, so here's my input:

Hot - all my training has been in much cooler weather.

Morning run - due to various factors only a couple of my long runs (including a 20 mile at 10am though which I did at 7:40 no problem) have been at a similar time of day to the VLM. Most of my running is in the afternoon or evening.

It's a race - I have only raced 10k before and not since last year - maybe there's an excitement factor? Although to be honest, I was feeling pretty relaxed about the whole thing.

Any advice much appreciated - having missed my goal, I now need to do another marathon and I want to go in prepared next time, with risks like this mitigated.


  • Maybe not enough long runs. My legs always start to get tired by about 16 miles but lots of long runs and quite a few 20+ ones make you able to keep a good pace going on tired legs. Because sooner or later your legs are going to get very tired.
  • Heart rate goes up with exercise. Google cardiac drift. I dont use hrms for running now.

    Your base fitness isn't anywhere like you'd need for 3.15 I think.

    You need more miles in the legs and how did you arrive t a 3.15 goal ? If you had a half time then you may be able to predict a full time. Assuming you're properly trained.
    A ten k to full prediction won't be very accurate.

    Heat will be a factor too. A lot of people seemed to suffer.

    How many long runs did you do ?
  • i too have a v similar background to you 1st marathon a fit base from mountain biking . But i found that biking was not keeping me as fit as i wanted and started running again about 3 yrs ago mainly trail running . Got an unexpected place in VLM followed a 12 wk plan with a goal of a sub 4 . I have monitored my nutrition also have had no alcohol since january . I used sis gels yesterday and hydrated with just the water provided on route .

    result 3 . 58 .41 no stops

    maybe you set your goals and expectations too high as this was your 1st marathon
    also maybe not enough long runs in training schedule . i,m sure you can achieve your
    goal give it another go next year A T B
  • Many thanks for the replies (cheering me up a bit!) and Mark, yeah - now I have to do it again. I'm sure I'll forget how my legs feel right now. image Well done smashing your goal! Very jealous.

    Certainly there weren't many long runs. See here: http://www.halhigdon.com/training/51138/Marathon-Novice-2-Training-Program Only 1x 20 mile run a few weeks ago. (I chose this one to avoid injury along the way). Looking at the RW advanced (under 3:30) schedule, it's totally different from what I was doing.

    To arrive at the 3.15 goal, I pretty much guessed based of a 39minute offroad 10k time and some 9 to 12 mile runs I had done off road very comfortably at 7:35 pace. This guesstimate seemed to have worked because in training (end of march) I did a 20mile run at an absolutely consisent pace the whole way around of 7:39, and an average heart rate of 160bpm and it felt easy apart from mile 18-19 but I recovered and kept the pace up no problem after that.

    Basically what happened on race day bore no resemblence to what happened in training at all image 

    Maybe it's as simple as the heat leading to increased sweating and salts loss. I did get sunburnt on the back of my neck and shoulders. I looked up cardiac dift which was interesting - I didn't think it was that hot at the time, but compared to most my training it was a fair bit hotter.

  • You set your goal to high.
    2010 i was feeling super fit. Was running half marathons at m/p (3h) without breaking sweat . I went to London knowing sub 3h was there , sadly I got carried away and finished 3:07
    I returned this year aiming for 3:15 but knowing I'd struggled on every run in training my mind was set on sub3:30... I surprised myself with a pb 3;03:59. That's just by being chilled and not expecting high things. I also feeling much better after the run.
    Just relax and run
  • Charles - a few people have mentioned the long slow miles here which are crucial to get that endurance base before a marathon. If you had been doing your long runs at near marathon pace, then yesterday could have been burn-out, since long runs at this pace will likely injure you, or take so much out of your legs that you didn't have much on the day.

    Second potential solution would be a virus or illness you maybe didn't know about? A virus can raise heart rate and make a normal run seem like a nightmare.

    Either way, I reckon you should sign up for another just to be sure!!!!


  • ChimneyChimney ✭✭✭

    Talking from my own experience yesterday.......

    Was my 9th mara and the least miles done in training due to injuries & illness so I knew I was going to hurt in the latter stages due to not having done generally and almost no long runs.

    Lo & Behold, I did. But I was expecting it so I guess I didn't mind so much.

    Added to that I have always struggled in longer races in the early spring as the heat affects me terribly.

    Possibly you put too much pressure on yourself and when your body started telling you it was hurting early on you ignored it for a while and kept going. Perhaps if you'd slowed earlier you may have had less pain and possibly even been quicker in the latter stages than you were?

    As for BPM, mines generally around 70% in training on average. Yesterday it was 89% so apparently I was pushing myself too hard too so I don't even listen to my own advice...... image

    If reality matched intention I'd know I was dreaming
  • As others have said - 3.15 is quite tough and much much much harder than a 39 minute 10k no matter what the predictor tables say. If you set off even a few per cent too fast for your real endurance fitness it catches up with you. It takes few marathons to start getting it right I think. I'm not a fan of HR during racing (or training) since it has too many other factors influencing it. Good luck for the next one !
  • G-DawgG-Dawg ✭✭✭

    My last marathon was 2009 in London. After 2 very poor marathons in the 90s and a 3.47 in 2006, I worked out that I needed to do at least 6 x 20 milers as well as lots of speedwork in the middle.

    My long slow runs (LSRs) went like this ffom December/January 2009:

    10 12 15 18 20 16 20 13 20 16 20 16 20 18 22 15 12.......26.2

    I do 2 or 3 runs midweek (recovery, intervals and/or tempo)

    It was a very hot race which cost me around 10 mns. I should have been in 3.15 territory but ended up getting a 3.25. Extremely pleased with that.

    My HM time in that year was 1.30 and I did do a 12 mile tempo run at 6.52 pace which would have beaten that HM time if it was a race.

    So, the combo of speedwork and committed LSRs seems to work well for certain types of runners.

    I gave this training plan to a friend last year, he did 3.15.01 in his 2nd marathon after doing 3.27 on his debut with me in 2009.

    Good luck


  • One twenty miler isn't enough to let you race comfortably for 26 miles.
    It's vet hard to scale up a 10k to a marathon - its 4.2 x the distance so your goal time just won't be very realistic.

    How about racing some half marathons this year. If you can get to around 1.25 then that looks to be about the right fitness.

    You can't really trust long training runs to estimate race times either. They should be done steadily so you're not wiped out for the next session.

    If you race the long runs - you'll think you are faster than you are and it will take you longer to recover.

    I'd use this race as learning for future attempts.

    Good luck !
  • No doubt the age old problem with London and other major Marathons.... You get caught up in the pre- race hype. I saw people walking around over 2 hrs before the start. Add that to the fact that most of us have to get to stations, wait for trains, then have a fair way to walk to the start it is no wonder our bodies have had enough as we get closer to the finish. In other marathons and training it is just a case of we just get out of the front door and do our long runs or at events we park as close as possible get out and run the race. We spend too much time wandering around and using up all our nervous and physical energy BEFORE the race. The elite runners were actually lying on mats in their tent until 10 mins before the gun on Sunday having been transferred by coach from their 5 star hotels...... need I say more... we have to remember next time... there will be a next time won't there.......
  • Hi Charles

    If you're aiming at 3h15 then the sub 3h15 thread is a good place to hang out on, with plenty of great advice from people who've been there and done that.

    I started running marathons in 2008 after 16 years of being a competitive cyclist so thought I had the aerobic base to carry over. I'd done a 90min HM in 2007 and then crashed and burned at London '08 to 3h30 after targeting 3h15 in my first marathon.
    It wasn't until 2010 on my 6th marathon campaign that it all came together with 3h12mins off a negative split

    Reasons why:
    5 x LSR's (total of 98miles) run off at an average of 8m30s, ie about MP+60secs or so. If you run your LSR's too quick you will tire yourself out before race day
    HM was under 90mins (87mins)
    10k was under 40mins (38m43s)
    Consistent mileage in the 16 weeks prior to it averaging 42mpw (high of around 60miles IIRC)
    The final LSR being 22 miles run in about 3h09 so roughly target time for full marathon.

    Also, the experience of what to eat during training, in the lead up to the marathon, on the day etc. How much to drink and also knowing that halfway is 20miles and not a moment before. Marathons aren't easy and you have to mentally prepare to push yourself through a fair amount of pain in that final 10k when your body is willing you to stop.

    Your physical preparation doesn't sound anywhere near enough as has been stated before but it's rare that people hit their target on their first marathon and it may take a few goes before you start doing things properly. Good luck with future attempts!

  • Advice based on what you've written:

    Do more miles at a slower pace than you would think is natural
    Do some shorter races - the last race you did was a 10k last year? You really needed a race in the build up to give you an idea of current fitness rather than a "guesstimate". Get the results at 5k, 10k, HM at least that would indicate 3h15 or less is on (sub20min 5k, sub 40mins 10k, 90mins or less for HM)
     If this means you spend a year working this short distance speed it would be time well spent imo.
    Get some proper aerobic base - cycling is not running so try to get to 35mpw as an average over a number of months rather than starting from a base of virtually nothing.
    Drop the HRM during the race - so many factors affect it: stress, sleep, fatigue, weather (it was bl00dy hot yesterday - I was there spectating) that it can become distracting

  • 4.11 isn't bad for a first marathon! Experience counts, as wells fitness. You gained good experience on Sunday!

    I would say you don't choose your goal - your goal chooses you. And that is after your training is done Excellent advice to race some halves to get an idea of your potential. But remember the calculations indicate your marathon potential assuming you have completed all the relevant training.

    Cycling is not marathon training. Running lots of miles is the only way.

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