Wednesday, 25 February 2015

You Win Some, You Lose Some

Tarpley 20 mile - The Autopsy

Firstly, important to clarify what I mean by a "bad" race. It's not me describing a particular finish time as bad. For a start, that would be unfair on runners who record a slower time but may rightly be very happy with the result. It is of course all relative, and about comparing your own time against your expectations, and against previous races, PBs, etc.

Mile 15, and it wasn't going to plan
Furthermore, whilst I was way off target pace, and very unhappy with the finish time, when I refer to it as a bad race I am really thinking as to how the race panned out overall. As in, it felt tough throughout, and involved a couple of stops on the way, and there were a few miles towards the end where I walked sections. I was accompanied pretty much from the off with stomach cramps, the leg cramps kicked in around mile 14-15, and I got a stitch at mile 17 that I couldn't shake off as well. Other than that, it went really well!

What happened?

So, one of those runs I can honestly say I didn't enjoy at all. There are very few positives I can take from the experience, except that my ongoing injury didn't really resurface, other than a small amount of discomfort afterwards which I am more than used to. What becomes important now is where I go from here. Can I figure out what went wrong, and why? I have only suffered from leg cramps in 3 previous races, namely the two marathons and a 30 miler. So a clear common factor is distance/time on feet. However on those previous occasions I believed heat to have also been a factor, and at about 3 degrees celsius I don't think I can get away with that excuse this time.

Energy gels. A bit like drinking snot. 
Was it nutrition? Breakfast was my usual - honey on toast - and I allowed plenty of time to digest before running, so I don't think this was the problem.
Was it hydration? Not in the build-up: I thought about this carefully and drank plenty the day before and on the morning. I didn't take on much water during the race itself, but when I did take more on at the last water station, it seemed to lead immediately to a nasty stitch. So possibly a mistake there.
Was it the gels? I don't think they can have done any harm - in fact, for about half a mile after each one I did feel a bit of a boost, although this is possibly psychological. I took them in the hope of avoiding leg cramps, since they replace lost electrolytes for exactly this reason - but they clearly didn't stop the problem.

Tired Legs

After some reflection, I have decided the most likely cause is general tiredness, caused by over-training. The week in the build-up to Tarpley was not ideal. I had been unable to fit in my scheduled 18 mile training run the previous weekend, a common issue since I have my son to stay alternate weekends. Don't get me wrong - this is great, and one of the many benefits of my new job, and no longer working shifts. Thanks to the joys of flexi-time, I arranged to go into work later on Tuesday, and so with Charlotte on half-term (she's a teacher!) we were able to go together, which is good for me since she stops me running off at a stupid pace. The run itself was fine, but two days closer to Tarpley than it should have been. To compound this issue, I was unable to fit in time for a recovery run the next day, so delayed this until Thursday morning - but still went to running club that evening, meaning 11 miles for the day. Adding on the 20 from Tarpley this meant 49 miles spread over 6 days, which was probably too big an increase in mileage all at once. This is one of those common mistakes all keen runners know they should be aware of when training for marathons, and I'm probably lucky I haven't picked up an injury.

I'm not trying to make excuses for my race - it didn't go to plan and that's no-one's fault but my own - but I feel it's important to figure out what happened so I don't repeat the mistakes next time. I know that I ran my first marathon with tired legs, having run a half marathon a week before - if this sounds daft, it was to give myself confidence following a period out with knee problems, but it clearly didn't do me any favours come race-day. For London last year, I believed I had tapered correctly, but reading back through my blogs today I notice I actually ran a parkrun the day before - albeit not at usual race-pace, but still I'd forgotten that I'd tried that, and this time around I shall definitely be resting the day before! So I suspect this is definitely a key factor - but it's not the only one.

The Most Likely Reason?

Quite possibly, I am trying to achieve a better time at longer distance races than I am currently capable of at present - meaning I am setting off too quickly. If I can run a half in under 1hr30, then it's hard to set off at over a minute a mile slower for a race that's only 7 miles longer. But clearly doing the whole thing at 7m45 pace - a finish time of 2hr35 - would have been far more preferable than what I actually achieved. What I managed to do in fact was to set off at 6m45 pace, go through 10 miles with an average pace of 7m15 (so already slipping) but then taking a further 1hr43m20 to do the second half - average pace over 10min miles due to the stops and the walking.

Good training runs and build-up races should simply give me
the confidence to hit my original target of 3hr30m, not mean
that I get carried away and change the target.
So being realistic at the start line is clearly a key lesson to take from this - but therein lies the problem I have with long races. I've talked before about how often I've raced my preferred 5km distance - upwards of 75 times now. This means I have been able to experiment, try out different tactics, etc - and then try something different the next week. The whole process is a learning curve, and I'm clearly still learning. The next time I race Thetford, for example, I intend to try to front run from the off - not something I've attempted before. It's taken me four attempts now to properly understand the course, and to get to know the competition, and it's now something I'm comfortable trying. And if it does go horribly wrong - it doesn't matter, I just try a different tactic next time, and either way I'm one parkrun nearer my 100 T-shirt.

Obviously with longer races, they don't come along with such regularity. I do one marathon per year. When London 2014 went wrong, I toyed with the idea of attempting an autumn marathon, but in the end decided against it, for reasons I've blogged about before. And so it will have been a whole year waiting to put it right. The fear of going off too slowly, finishing strongly and then regretting not having pushed harder is always going to be there for me. However, on reflection, that's got to be preferable to the opposite, and my marathon experience to date - ie, going off quickly but having a horrendous second half.

So perhaps at Oakley 20 - in about one month's time - I will set off at a much slower pace, and then see if I can build, with the last quarter being the strongest. Psychologically, finishing well - even if I'm not particularly blown away by my overall time - may just be what I need so that I can go into London with more confidence.

Being Realistic

It will be nice to enjoy the finish this year.

And as for the marathon, perhaps important at this stage to downgrade my expectations somewhat. I have been getting extremely encouraged by the improvements that I've made recently in other distances, but I think I just need to accept - and this is not the first time I've told myself this - that I am not naturally strong at marathon distance, and this year I should concentrate on getting a solid rather than spectactular time under my belt.

My recovery run on Monday was tough on my tired legs, and I decided not to attend club training the following evening, wanting a couple of days rest before taking on our club 5km tomorrow. However, this morning I woke feeling slightly less sore and decided to run my usual 5 mile loop before work. Everything felt fine, and a quicker last mile has given me the boost I need before attempting the time trial. I was originally targeting a PB for this, but following Tarpley I have no idea how it will go. Hopefully it will be the first step in regaining some confidence moving forward.

I vaguely considered pulling out of London following my experience at the Tarpley 20, but instead today have booked our hotel room for the night before - one bad race doesn't ruin everything, and in fact, providing I can learn from it, it may well have helped.

No comments:

Post a Comment