Upping the Pace:

20-miler

20.1 miles in 2:41:40

March is always a big month in training for the London Marathon. It’s the month that the majority of the longer training runs are completed and it’s usually at around this point that I’ll get a feel for how the training is progressing, and whether I’ll need to adjust my target or not.

When I first attempted the marathon in 2009, I was aiming for a sub-4 hour marathon. Ah, the blissful ignorance! Swanning from gym to gym, treadmill running through the colder months and doing absolutely no speed or interval training whatsoever. And when I ran a 19-miler on March 21st 2009 in 3:20:00 and realised that a 4-hour marathon wasn’t going to be achievable, I was bitterly disappointed. It was a tough truth to face, knowing that I hadn’t done enough and I remember feeling very naive. That year I completed London in 4:45:51.

In contrast, today I ran 20-miles in 2:41:40.

Over the last month I’ve put in some good mileage at pace. I’ve been running 5 and 7 mile loops around Hyde Park with a chap who’s running the MDS (sponsor him here) and I’ve kept up my twice weekly speed sessions. During these sessions, my short distance times have improved dramatically. In training, I’m running 7-miles at a 7:25-min/mile pace and managing to keep up with the editor of Runner’s World magazine during our not-quite-5K handicap race (a man who last year ran a 3:08 marathon in Boston). And after a 16-miler a few weeks ago produced a surprising result, I decided to adjust my marathon target-time again.

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Ain’t nothing like a bit of competition:

ARSE Award

Me winning the A.R.S.E award for the handicap race in 2011 (Award for Runner's Season of Excellence)

If you follow me on twitter (and let’s face it, you should), you’ll probably have seen me pipe-up on Thursdays with something like,

“Another 11 secs off the (not quite) 5K PB today (paced round by the bull that is @RW_ed_Andy).”

…or…

“Paced to a 5K PB today by the determined Deputy Editor @runnersworlduk. Now down to 18:30 (18 seconds off last week). #shapeofmylife”

So what the hell am I talking about? Well, working for the UK’s #1 running title has its perks. Every Thursday, myself and a few colleagues do a little warm-up jog south of the river (London) to meet up with the team who organise the Virgin London Marathon. These guys, very kindly, run a 5K handicap race for us. Equipped with stopwatches and a spreadsheet, two guys will set 15+ runners off on a course around Central London.

The course, which actually works out at about 2.95 miles, crosses a fairly major road (twice) and is positively teaming with tourists. And the field is made up of all sorts of runners, with varying abilities (from just under half-an-hour to a chap who can do it in 14 minutes!). If you’re unfamiliar with the concept of a handicap race, because the abilities of the competitors varies so much, the start of the race is staggered so that people end up finishing at roughly the same time. While this makes the timekeeper’s job hard, it makes for very entertaining racing (with a lot of gut-busting sprint finishes involved).

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Sub 3:45 or die!

Success in the ballot

Success in the ballot

After three failed attempts at gaining a London Marathon place through the over-subscribed ballot system, I finally managed to bag one. I’d have been running in 2013 either way as I’ve been able to creep into the 5-goes-and-you-get-a-guaranteed-place system before they phased it out. But in April 2012, I’ll be running the Virgin London Marathon without the pressure of raising money for a charity, or being followed as a pacer. This year it’s all about me!

Actually, it’s always been about me. I’m writing a blog documenting the highs and lows of my personal training, a subject that interests no-one but me. How narcissistic can you get? I mean, come on. “Oooh, boo hoo, I lost a toenail.” or “Look at me, here’s how many hits this blog has had.” [I actually did this.]

And to top it off, I’ve been writing posts describing, in detail, just how little training I’m actually doing, in the hope of running a sub 4-hour marathon on my first go? My naivety was actually pointed out to me quite recently by some forum members on Runner’s World while I was writing a piece on running a sub 20-minute 5K. And they were quite right to scrutinize. “Jogging occasionally” was pretty much what I was doing.

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Cheating on my blog:

“No posts since the marathon? Who does he think he is?” … I hear you say.

Well that’s because I’ve been whoring myself out to Triathlete’s World for the last few weeks. Check out the TW Relay Team articles here and read about me failing to hit my training targets (on a much better website).

Triathlete's World

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Pacing the Virgin London Marathon 2011:

Canary Wharf - London Marathon 2011

Photo by Kevin McGarry

Two words sum up the Virgin London Marathon 2011. Hot and heaving!

This year was the first that I’d set off from the blue pen. As I understand it, the ‘masses’ and charity runners start from the red pen. Good for age and some celebs start from the green pen, and the elite runners and ballot entrants start from the blue.

After a pre-race pep talk from the Runner’s World crew (no weaving, hit your mile times, no listening to music and enjoy it), myself and the other pacers set off for our pens. I was 11-minute/miling and starting from the very last group (pen 9). Everyone seemed to be very nervous. I imagine that because the blue start holds the ballot runners, most haven’t run London before. So I was bombarded with questions and even asked to fix a broken GPS watch. Like I was some sort of running guru! I was feeling quite cocky, until someone tried to throw their scrunched-up bin liner over the fence and hit me in the side of the head. A few chuckles. Nerves gone. You’re welcome. Read more »

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Virgin London Marathon 2011: The Facts

Nell McAndrew

Image by Julian Mason via Flickr

It’s that time of year again. The Virgin London Marathon media guide is out! Each year the people at London Marathon release the fact pack for media organisations across the world to fuel up on the details of the event before race day. I imagine that it’s a great resource for the commentators, who have to fill hours of air time chatting once the elite runners have finished.

I did a little round-up in 2009, and again in 2010. So to save you from sifting through 244 pages of PR spiel, here’s a selection of 2011 Virgin London Marathon facts that I think are worthy of a mention.

Enjoy.

SJAL x
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Speed Work:

My home for the last 4 months - The Mall

My home for the last 4 months - The Mall

I’m a pretty comfortable distance runner. When I start a long run or race, I know that I’ll be able to finish. But finishing in a reasonable time has always been a struggle for me. I’ve yet to hit a sub-4 marathon. Yes, I do struggle with nutrition, but I think that my drop in pace toward the tail end of a long race is largely down to the lack of one simple element in my training; hard work!

I’ll follow a training plan as far as mileage is concerned. And I’ll maybe occasionally do a hill session. But when I’m on my own, I’ll rarely do the actual fartlek or repetitive speed training that’s asked of me. So if there’s one thing I’ve done differently during my Virgin London Marathon 2011 training this year, it’s to incorporate a lot more speed sessions.

High intensity, speed training is the hardest part of training for a marathon (for me) by far. Running up and down a straight piece of road, or around a running track doesn’t hold much appeal at all. So in order for me to start training in this way I had to enlist the help of my work colleagues and join them on their Tuesday sprints session up and down the Mall at Buckingham Palace. Read more »

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