The ‘Highs’ and ‘Lows’ of the Dam
Where do I start, what a weekend. I asked Leon if I could share my experience a few weeks ago as I thought a few folk would like to hear my approach to marathons and how it went, good or bad with a view of learning something.
Amsterdam was sold to me by Mark who said we were all off to Amsterdam to do the Marathon then go out for a good session afterwards. I agreed to it in principle and put it to the back of my mind as I still had London to get out of way. After a hard slog in London, I initially thought that sub 3 hours would be easily achievable and go towards my goal of 10 sub 3 hour marathons.
As time went by it soon became clear that Mark had only managed to trick both Leon and myself and even dodged the bullet himself. Nonetheless, July soon came around and after a good summer of hard running, a revised target was made of sub 2.50 and it was time to step up.
I decided that I would train to a similar method as London by blocks (4 weeks @ 50, 4 weeks @ 60, 4 weeks @ 70, 1 @ 75 miles) but this time do my marathon pace at 6.10s (far faster than required). I would also try race where I could and try get leaner/stronger. I also decided to tweak a few other things. I tried not to have protein shakes, only after my long runs and I would only take minimal gels on runs. I would also embark on a new brand as potentially SIS caused my two toilet stops at London. After seeing constant adverts on facebook, I went with a brand called 33 Shake. This is promoted as all natural ingredients and only one an hour is required. I thought, why not, what have I got to lose apart from the £19.00 for 10 gels. They come ‘dry’ so need mixing and end up quite gluppy so hard to take.
After finding my cross training was becoming stagnant, I decided to join snap fitness after 10 years at Calderdale Council gyms. This brought new motivation and I was training with new treadmills and doing two/three exercise classes (boxfit and abs blast) a week. This helped break the mileage up and I was seeing good results.
All was good, my miles and speed was building but at the back of my mind I was conscious about burn out. I’ve seen many people do so and so far had always managed to avoid it so took the view that all slow miles needed to be really slow and I wasn’t to do anymore than necessary. In time I decided to drop the classes as doing 70 a miles a week was enough and time was becoming more sparse.
Another change this time was instead of doing 16 on the canal with 8 at MP I would go full throttle at the Great west coast. I looked at previous results and thought I could place well, the initial plan was to run at 5.50s but after a few mile, I thought this was unachievable so decided to stick to sub 6.00 minute miles on the climbs (not many) and faster where downhill and flat. I had a good race where I managed to win it and come out with a PB but more importantly injury free and a massive boost of confidence. It would all have been in vain if Amsterdam didn’t go to plan though so I had to stay level headed and focus on the task in hand.
The taper is the most mentally draining part of training but as the same time, the most crucial. In the last week though I had to visit the physio (Jimmy Farrell @ Heath mount) as I feared I had a recurrence of a previous swollen disc. He said that during the race it should warm up and go but would ache afterwards. Later, I found that he would have been spot on. It came and went just as fast then afterwards it ached.
After months of training, it was clear I was fitter and faster than I’ve felt previously but this marathon would be the first I’ve done in 3 marathons on my own as usually have my hand held (not literally) before and during by Jamie (Westwood). I’d done near enough all my training on my own so there shouldn’t an issue if I managed my pace right.
Prior to the race I meet up who with Leon who despite me wanting to relax near the toilets was anchoring to get to the start line. Like in London, I found somewhere to sit, listen to music lay out my gear so I didn’t forget anything: water, sis energy go drink, beet it shot, 4 33 shake gels, bio freeze, Vaseline, ibuprofen gel, rock tape, tiger balm and a black bag.
Onto the race, the target pace for the race was 6.15s so I knew if I achieved this for the majority of race, I would have a few minutes to play with if/when I got tired. Personally I’m not a fan of believing someone can run a perfect split as we aren’t machines and ultimately will tire at some point. The race didn’t start too well as I’d managed to lose 15 seconds in the first mile as it was too busy but through experience, for once, it didn’t bother me, I knew I’d pull it back if I concentrated. 15 seconds may not sound a lot but when you are potentially chasing a goal where every seconds count, its important to get them back where you can but in the past I may have tried getting the deficient out of the way in the next mile and burnt out later on.
After the first two miles, it was great to seeing various lions through the park then with my wife at the top by my hotel. After much criticism in the past by a few lions, I tried to make the effort by looking happy. About 2.5 mile, after running through the Riksmuseum to a pungent smell, I did wonder if this was going to be the norm around the whole course. Luckily, it was the last time I smelt it till the evenings activities (passive 😊). More lions were present on route which was nice as helped break the miles up. I knew that once I got on the canal (3.5mile out and then back) I could calm myself down and just tick the miles off. The halfway mark came on the canal so the first part went smoothly (1.23) but I had a few more miles before I needed to implement my plan and then the true race would begin. I said to myself, run another 3 then its only 10 left. Once I got to 16, it was time for another one of my ‘special’ gels. I then told myself to squeeze out 2 2’s to get to 20 where the race began. The strangest thing to see whilst on route was seeing Julie and her other half Russell about mile 18 in the middle of nowhere. At 32k (ish) Alison told me to look up and watch a video which was actually two of my children doing a good luck message which was a nice touch. Ed and Mark had reminded me a few times that Mile 20 is where the race begins and providing a good carb load, it was more mental strength. At 20 I had already began to slow down but I was still comfortable and didn’t really have to dig too deep. So I had another 2 more 2’s to get to 24 (where I saw lions and top of the park). I took the approach of slowing down so as not to blow up but maintain a strong pace. I tried to take another gel as got a stitch but as I was getting it out, I felt a strong sense of nausea so had to put it away. It was at the top of the park where for the first time in the whole race I realised I would get sub 2.50 if I kept my head together and just keep moving. This was a great feeling and helped motivate me during those last two miles.
Coming down the hill to the stadium saw the crowds getting bigger but with tired legs, I had to concentrate as that is where the tram lines were in the road, one slip and that would be that. For those of you that haven’t seen the video on facebook, the announcer (in a dutch accent of course) announced ‘from Halifax, Stephen Hall’ and asked how I found it. That got me all excited and then around the corner, I saw Mark first with his hand out high fiving. The euphoria of that 25 metres is like nothing I have ever felt before in a race. It was truly amazing. Then about 25 metres later whilst running through the stadium I had to pull up and be sick. I had to pull myself together and run the required 200m. I felt great in the last 200m but knew I was potentially only one step away from failure. One foot in front of the other would get me through.
With the emotion of sub 2.50, I remember crouching over the railings about to break down in tears. That was short lived so got my medal and plastic sheet I went to find Alison and the others and must have missed the water, they’d moved so it took about 20 minutes to find her and then it had truly sunk in what Id managed to achieve when everyone was congratulating me. After medal engraving, a pre-massage shower and massage it was time to cheer the halfers come in. This was fun and helped return the kind support they had shown me. My personal highlight came when the announcer advised the first lady was coming and put the winning banner to only find that it was a man with long hair.
Once everyone was in, we arranged for a 7 o’clock meet in the old/little sailor in the red-light district. Firstly, a 2 mile walk back to hotel and then a quick turnaround before food. Once in the red light district, it was great to catch up with all the lions and talk about the days experiences all whilst watching the ‘ladys of the night’ earning their crust. This engaged various giginess amongst the lions. I had to leave about 10.30 as I’d had enough and Alison was tired so left all the lions to god only knows what 😉. We didn’t fancy the 30 minutes walk back so got the wild and wonderful bike taxi.
It was an amazing weekend with the best personal support, I’ve had on a marathon. It was great getting a personal best of 2.47.57 but so glad I got to share it with so many. I would definitely recommend it as a marathon and as I understand, the half is an amazing course.
Marks piece of advice for me once over was, train hard as everyone can run a marathon but not everyone can race one. I agree but here is mine – A marathon is all about training for the worst and hoping for the best on the day. A solid base is required for any marathon so don’t leave it till 16 weeks before.
Thank you for reading but if anyone wants any advice/tips, feel free to contact me. I’d like to think after doing 6 marathons, I’m more than experienced to pass my knowledge on.