Race report by Doug Banks
Marathons – that Greek guy Pheidippides has a lot to answer for after he ran the distance in 490BC to announce victory at the Battle of Marathon – before dropping dead by the way which begs the question. Are Marathons good for you?
One thing is for sure they have the ability to break many a decent runner, and throw many a successful training campaign firmly in the bin come race day.
So in many ways this is precisely why the human condition is attracted to these sort of challenges. Its difficult, unpredictable and can lead you on a journey of adventure and discovery.
Runners run for fun, they run for the freedom that is bestows, but also sometimes due to the slight obsession with numbers and the significance of them. This is a great leveller as everyone has their own personal targets, their own previous bests, and the results of training can “sometimes” be enjoyed by improvements in performance. A new PB! Its the stories behind the numbers where is starts to get interesting.
Marathons are becoming ever more popular and are giving people reasons to travel all over the world, experience new cultures, live new adventures and forge new friendships. Every marathon runner understands the pain and suffering of a fellow marathon runner especially in those final few miles where everything can fall apart in spectacular fashion.
This Sunday saw the 43rd running of the Berlin Marathon, one of the 6 marathon majors around the world with 41000 participants. The others being London, New York, Tokyo, Chicago & Boston. Quite a big crew of Sheffield runners made their way across to give the flat and smooth streets of Berlin a bit of a pounding. It is billed the fastest course in the world, and with good reason, as the World record was set here.
For me personally this was attempt number 6 at trying to break the 3 hour barrier, with 5 previous 3:0x times. There are so many little lessons you learn with each attempt. Finding out what works in training, what works on race day, and what to avoid. Its only once you start comparing yourself to others that you realise that you generally only get results if you put the work in. Natural Talent will only get you so far in an event like the this. Its incredible to see how much work some people put in. On this latest attempt I had made a conscious effort to up the work ethic, but as always life gets in the way and little niggles and injuries appear as the volume or intensity are increased.
4 weeks out a great little trail race down in Belper over 30k had provided a great training run but had caused an episode of Metatarsis meaning no running for a fair few days to let the inflammation ease. The intention was to hit a few 100km weeks on the trot, however in reality only 1 of these was achieved.
2 weeks out 20 miles in the Peak over the 9 edges was a great confidence booster with a 22 minute PB over the distance, in a race that was supposed to be just a training run. I find that using these races for long runs is much easier mentally than slogging out the miles on the Trans Pennine Trail. Its without doubt the achilles heel, and always has been. Lack of endurance due to lack of long runs. Each campaign has had an influence on the following and there has been a notable increase in endurance capacity each time.
Coming to the end of the 2 week taper, the runs shorten and the speed increases a little trying to lock into desired marathon pace. I’d chosen to go for 2:55, this would allow a buffer if the inevitable drop off in pace happened in the latter stages, and if it didn’t then, well that would be a big bonus! However the day before after getting down the expo to pick up the race number and witness carnage as people literally fought for adidas merchandise decided to do a quick 3k run round the park. The right calf tightened and became quite painful. A DNF or even DNS was now very much on the mind.
Fast Forward to 10 minutes before the race – bag dropped off, 41000 people trying to queue for a toilet or simply scurrying into the woods to do their business. Off to the starting pens. Luckily i’d managed to get into start block C 2:50-3:00 which meant a bit of room to keep lose and relaxed.
Off we went straight into a great rhythm and pace. Was also aware that the GPS reading would be long so adjusted for this. It was warm but still a good temperature. Stomach didn’t feel great but everything else seemed to be working and remarkably no calf pain after a warm up and some good stretching.
Through 5k in 20:43 – feeling really comfortable. Through 10k in just over 41 minutes. Cyclical thoughts of keep patient, hold back a bit were going through the mind.
We were through half way in 1:27:13 faster than any marathon completed so far. It still felt easy. Ironic really considering how hard it was to break 1:30 for a half just a few years ago! On for sub 2:55 – that would be nice. The heat was ramping up, the water stations becoming more chaotic. The striders vest getting more crumpled and saturated.
The business end of the marathon starts at around 25k. This is when you notice the paces of those around you start to change. Those perhaps with inexperience who have been whisked along by adrenaline and the big occasion suddenly find themselves treading water, others have just completed their 25k warm up and are shifting up the gears to start racing.
Things were still going well, but not feeling quite so easy, the heat was definitely having an effect, and my ability to do simple arithmetic has start to wain. A sign that the carbs are starting to vanish from the brain. Gels, Bananas, and water were helping a little.
It was around the 30k mark that the hamstring started to cramp, I decided to tactically stop at around 32k to stretch both legs for around 15 seconds. Both legs were wobbling and getting going again felt odd. Pace was still on target to 35k. New predicted time was 2:56.
After 35k it became a world of hellish mental and physical punishment, the exponential decline in strength, coordination, pace, everything was quite something! I was now running like a Baby Giraffe shortly after birth. Both legs firing off the belly of the hamstring, the head has tilted back and there was an awkward grimace going on. The pace was dropping fast.
Managed to get to 40k and had the demoralising sight of the 3 hour pacers come steaming past, this happened at London too with around 3 miles to go where I ran an agonising 3:00:18. I tried to console myself that they had caught me later than London and were probably on for a 2:59.
Then disaster at 41.2k with a km to go the right hamstring completely locked up, let out a shout of frustration. Fellow competitors were trying to slap me back into running as they sailed past. I spent 20 seconds stretching it out and willing it back into action.
Just a k to go, a delirious uncoordinated mess by now – the finish was in sight. Kept on looking at the watch but couldn’t really figure out what and how or how fast I needed to “sprint” it was going to be close. 200m to go managed to pull something out the bag that resembled a sprint just to make sure and over the line, completely spent, but a punch of the air. 2:59:55 on the watch.
Finally the sub 3 had been achieved, ridiculous really when you take a step back and realise how arbitrary the number is, but the journey to get there has been one that has truly been an adventure. Many lessons have been learnt, and a deep sense of fulfilment has been achieved, well for at least 48 hours anyway.
I was very much cursing the distance shortly after the race, and am still is awe at how it has the ability to break down the smoothest of first half performances and let you know who’s boss in a big way.
The best bit was sinking a few massive cold German Beers and eating a few sausages despite someone saying they were the Wurst.
It now means London 2017 can be run without pressure, it would be nice to get the marathon “right” thats now the new aim. It definitely hasn’t been achieved as yet.
Race date: 25th September
Kenenisa Bekele established himself as the second fastest marathon runner ever with a winning time of 2:03:03
Fellow Ethiopian Aberu Kebede took the women’s race in a world-class time of 2:20:45, the second fastest time in the world this year.
Doug was sole strider of the 41,283 runners from 122 countries.
Full results: http://results.scc-events.com/2016/