Chasing the elusive 3hr marathon
Although I live in the mountains and spend most of my time running up and down trails, I surprised myself in March 2013 by running the Paris Marathon in 3:08. Being a spring marathon, my training was heavily interrupted by the Alpine snows, and I spent as much time on skis as I did getting quality runs in, so I figured if I picked the right race, had a whole summer to train and put some quality mileage in, I would have the potential for a sub-3hr time in me, while I’m still the right side of 40!
My first choice was Berlin, but I was unable to get a place, so I plumped for the TCS Amsterdam Marathon on 19th October. The idea being that a fast, flat course at the end of autumn would mean that I could spend the entire summer getting some proper training in.
I based my training loosely on Hal Higdon’s Advanced 1 Marathon plan. The idea being that the early part of the week would be fairly straight forward, with a quality Tuesday run sandwiched by a couple of easy sessions, followed by some intense speed work, hill repeats or tempo run on a Thursday. Friday would be the only rest day, ready for a decent pace run on the Saturday, and the long, slow run on a Sunday.
I found that I quickly adapted to this – 6 days a week is more than I was used to but I managed to start ramping up the volume, peaking at around 90km per week, leading into a 3 week taper for the marathon. I definitely felt faster (and may pace times validate that) after putting in the Thursday speed sessions.
I had a good taper and started my carb load as normal, then flew out to Amsterdam on the Friday. Unfortunately a minor emergency at home meant my wife couldn’t come with me, but it meant that I didn’t feel the need to tire myself out being a tourist in Amsterdam, I could just rest and eat in the apartment. My apartment was next door to one of the best areas in the city for running (Vondelpark) and so I spent Saturday morning going for a shakeout run.
I picked up my bib number and race t-shirt from the Expo and headed back to rest and eat. Everything seemed good
The combination of excitement/anticipation, being fully rested and full of carbs always makes sleeping difficult the night before a marathon, but managed to get some decent sleep. Getting to the start was easy as the city had laid on regular trams going in one direction – to the Olympic Stadium where the event started and finished.
This was the third big city marathon I’ve done (after London and Paris) and was definitely much lower key. Despite 12,000 runners (as opposed to 35,000-40,000 in the others), it was large enough to be a big event, but small enough not to be utterly daunting.
The stadium start gave a good atmosphere with a sizeable crowd giving an enthusiastic sendoff as we all left according to our start pens. Unfortunately, the streets immediately out of the stadium were quite narrow and the initial couple of KMs were quite slow and below my target pace of 4:15min/KM. This meant when I got free I felt the need to speed up to make up time and was soon putting in KMs in 3:59-4:07 range, a bit too fast to be sustainable. This would come and bite me in the arse towards the end.
All was reasonably good until around KM 30. I became aware of how warm it actually was, and quite humid and pretty soon I could see the 3hr pacing group with their white helium balloon slowly disappearing into the distance with no hope of me catching up. The last few KMs I started to get cramps in my inner thighs and pinging twinges in my calves – something I aways experience in marathons and thought I might have banished by finally increasing my training volume.
I was very disappointed to hobble in at 3:07:23, although this was a new PB by almost a minute, so I can take some solace in that. However considering the level of extra training effort I added, it represents a substantially diminishing return.
Since I still have plenty of miles in the legs I’ve decided to be pragmatic and go for one last shot at sub 3 hours. The Turin Marathon takes place in the middle of November, so if I can maintain my form, get another 20 miler in and a bit of speed work, I will try again but this time try to keep my pace under control and see if it helps.