London Marathon Report – Phil Howson

London Marathon Report by Phil Howson

This year I will leave the mile for mile and ‘London’ aspect of running a marathon to others, as I covered that last year.

Two points I feel it is worth making, are one pacing been the essential element to a successful race day and how I am improving after 13 years of running. Pacing was the main point of my ramblings last year this year a few statistics to back up the point. Last year I set a goal of 3:30 (8 mins / per mile) and did each 5k within 20 secs of each other and beat my target by 13 second. The trick with pacing is setting the correct pace for yourself. In my view, and many other experienced decent marathon runners, you can only do this reliably from a long race in the build up. Last year I did Ashby 20 and the time I did told me 3:30 was just possible.

This year I did Stamford 30k, which is earlier in the schedule, but I went through 30k yesterday 4 mins faster than Stamford. The other may surprise some, is the 21 mile (3000ft) Grindleford Gallop. I finished 2 mins slower yesterday than I finished at Grindleford. John Rawlinson 3 mins faster at Manchester, Steve Haake 2 mins slower. Obviously there are odd exceptions, Doug ran 7 mins faster at London! Obviously, you know when you have done one of these races well, without tapering and they can be translated to what is realistic and achievable. Why is this so important, well for those yet to run a marathon, if you get your pace wrong, when you realise it, it’s too late. The risk is, you will lose more than a couple of minutes.

My very first marathon, I got it very wrong, 2 hr for the first half, 3 for the second. Second time also wrong, 1. 45 for the first and 1.53 for the second. I have not walked in a marathon since, though on my third attempt, I DNF’ed after 19, no point dragging my backside for another seven miles and putting myself out for several months when I have gone too fast. Though last year was perfect, I always knew that the 3.15 GFA time as likely to be too fast for me, but I was happy with last year’s time, knew I am running better than ever, I felt I had nothing to lose (not having sponsorship and family down in London helped significantly to keep me chilled).

So I did a race pace wristband for 3.14, as I knew from last year you cannot even rely on a Suunto for GPS tracking when you hit tunnels and the tall building in Docklands. I went through ½ at 1.47.06 was still OK at 20 miles, but already knew I was not going to hold the pace. The last 3.15 pacer caught up with me at about mile 23. I went through 40k at 3:05:24. The last 2.2k took 10:5 mins (4:56/k) whereas the average for the race was 4:39/k. In English I needed to do 7.26 mins / mile, averaged 7.29, but 7.45 for the last couple of miles. I was lucky I got to the end, without walking, I thought about it a couple of times when I had to dodge people and cramp was making itself known. The margins are so close, that is why getting the pacing target correct is so key.

One word on London, I will not be doing it again. There is no doubt it is a great event, that I encourage you all to do at least once, though in my opinion it is not a great race, too many people, too noisy and too much hassle. Manchester looks a better option and cheaper overall when you take travel, hotels etc into account. Very, very glad I have done it, but I will be one less in the club ballot this year.

My other point is motivation, knowledge and support, are you say, that is three points. Wrong. It is Steel City Striders and for those who are not on Facebook. Below is my soppy post from last night (race night) after a couple of drinks. (well that’s my excuse).

Feeling rather smug this evening, the abuse I got when I ran up the escalator from the underground was priceless. Oh very, very happy with the time as well. THANK YOU Steel City Striders, for the newer striders a little history, 13 years ago I did my very first race, Paula got her first world record and I did 4.56. I joined the Striders that winter and really, really struggled to stay with the group on a Wednesday, but back then as now, people dropped back and encouraged me. Simon Wiles, Dave Campbell, Dave Nicholls and Roger Stevenson to name just a few.

I never, ever thought I would be as good as any of them. I was over 16 and half stone, liked a drink and cake. Over the next year or so I got my half time down to sub 1.40 and 10k to sub 45mins and there I stayed for the next 10 years. My weight would be above 16 every Christmas down to 15st 4 in the spring, I would train hard, eat and drink what I wanted and enjoyed my running. Then 3 years ago, my kids were a bit older, I could get to every Monday and Wednesday. The club started to get some fresh blood, facebook took off, we shared info, tips advice and encouragement. I started to cut out some of the beer and cake. Then the new runners started to improve and they drove me on to train smarter and harder. I was not going to make it easy to beat the old fat bloke, with a gob and the running style to die for. Guess what, all my distance pbs are in the last 12 months thanks to you.

The moral of this story is do not limit your expectations, I never ever would have thought I could do 3.16, off not much more than 4 runs a week, a swim, spin and gym. I’m 14st 2 now so more to come off. So Pete Brown was correct at the Marathon seminar!

I thoroughly enjoyed my years in the middle to back of the pack, and I am still enjoying running with you all. Anything is possible when you are a strider.


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