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Twenty Fourteen

How best to sum up this year in running?

 

In terms of miles pounded out on the roads, paths and tracks it was 2,596 miles (or 4,177km).

This works out to 49.9 miles per week (aaarrgh why can’t it work out to 50??) or 80.3km per week.

Remember this is relative. Numbers stacked up against other people have limited value. It’s how much you can and want to get done. Looking back over previous years reveals this to be the lowest total I’ve racked up since 2010.  But there’s more to life than numbers, right? Right?

 

In terms of performances it has been a pretty solid year. On the road I achieved a full house of PB’s over the standard distances of 5k, 10k, half marathon and marathon. On the track I didn’t tick off too many but came within a whisker over 3,000m, running 9:07.1 to my 9:06 set back in 1996. On the track I did PB over 10,000m but does it really count when you’ve not run the distance before?

 

Ok onto some highlights of the year.

 

IMG_9609The first was undoubtedly London Marathon in April. I love this race more every year. This year was particularly sweet as I had almost no expectations going into it. The first few months of the year had been pretty topsy turvey with various injuries and niggles getting in the way. Running was even more on the back burner as I flew back to SA to visit my Dad and sister and her family who were looking after my dad who had taken seriously ill in February. Thankfully it wasn’t as serious as first diagnosed and I am happy to report he is recovering well, thanks to the incredible support of my sister and her husband and family. Back to the running, I wasn’t sure I’d even run London given the build-up but I decided to travel down, seeing as I had already booked all the accommodation, train tickets and so on. The weekend was brilliant and the race went very well. I blogged about it previously (2:43 PB) so won’t go into any more detail here.

 

The Highgate Harriers 10,000m race was another highlight. My first attempt at a 10k on the track. The conditions made it memorable for reasons other than performance. Windy and rainy, it was certainly an experience Mr Carter and I won’t soon forget.

 

My 5k road PB came at the Sale Sizzler series of races in Manchester. I was toying with a sub16 attempt and trusty all-or-nothing pacemaker Dan had stepped in to pace me to at least 4k on target. Although things went awry early on due to getting boxed in (a lesson we failed to learn from, Leeds 10k refers), we soon got back on track and although I never got under the 16 minute mark I was pretty happy with 16:03.

 

The next highlight also features Daniel in a pace making role and was the Birmingham Half Marathon. I didn’t have huge time targets on this as I just didn’t think I was fit enough. Dan thought otherwise and dragged my ass around to a 20 second PB in 73:29.

 

The final highlight of the year came in December and was probably the most satisfying of all. The Telford 10k in 32:44. I knew I had a chance of breaking 33 if all the pieces fell into place. They hadn’t at Leeds a month earlier when we got boxed in and ran 33:15. At Telford I was determined to fix that. I don’t remember concentrating as hard or hurting as much in this race as in any race since the 15:51 on the track in 2013. Telford had that sort of feel about it. I was bloody well determined to stay on pace no matter what.

 

So even though I’ve not run as much as previous years, I had pockets of good training and produced some good results from them. Running is a continual learning experience and this year has taught me that breaks in training, even unpleasantly long ones, need not derail you and you can still keep things going even when you think you can’t. Scale back, keep ticking over, all those clichés come out and in my opinion they come out for good reason – they make sense and they are the truth.

 

Thank you to all my support crew. Everyone I run with, my family, kids and loved ones. Thank you.

 

Keep running guys, let’s have an awesome 2015 and just enjoy working towards whatever we are working towards. Times, distances, challenges, health, whatever.

Running will fix you.

 

PB List

Distance Time Year
Track 800m 2:04 1996
1500m 4:11 1994
3000m 9:06 1996 9:07.1 in 2014
5000m 15:51 2013
10000m 33:18 2014
 
Road 3mi 15:24 2014
5k 16:03 2014
10k 32:44 2014
HM 1:13:29 2014
Marathon 2:43:27 2014

 

 

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Ok not quite but almost.

 

I went into this year’s London marathon with easily the least preparation for many a year. Only one training run of 20 miles all the way back in January and at a decidedly slow pace. Throw in a troublesome ITB and an unplanned trip to SA on a family emergency, and there wasn’t much marathon specific training going on at all. My planned diet of 60 and 70 mile weeks had been replaced with weeks varying from 3 miles to 50 miles.

 

What I did have in my favour was that I knew my fitness level was decent and that I had 4 or 5 years of decent, consistent mileage behind me. A good batch of good solid training. And fresh legs.

 

Saturday dawned and we headed off to London on a late morning train. We arrived and met our running chaperone, all-round-good-guy-and-in-no-way-sponsored-by-Adidas Dan, and travelled straight to the expo.

 

I savoured the privilege of being able to register at the championship table, a first for me. I picked up my race pack and after the usual stampede through the expo, coupled with the usual indecision about which branded race gear to purchase, we headed for some lunch. The rest of the day was spent checking into the hotel, eating, watching Arsenal squeak into the FA Cup final, and more eating. I slept well enough.

 

Race morning!

 

Shoes on, timing chips laced into both (a requirement for championship and elite runners only – another cheap thrill for me)IMG_9591, and off we went. Journey went smoothly and on arrival in Blackheath I hooked up with fellow BRATs Dan, Tim and Eloise in the separate championship start area.

 

A quick warm-up to reassure ourselves that we did actually remember how to run, tying, retying (and then reretying) of the laces, a few obligatory photos, and once Timmy had finished styling his hair, we headed to the start line.

 

I was racing in my Union Jack emblazoned Brooks Green Silence. A relatively easy decision as I’ve had many good races in them in the past. But with that model now sadly discontinued (come on Brooks, change your mind!), and my remaining pairs looking somewhat worse for wear, I don’t know how many more races they would see. As my running buddy Riaan put it to me post-race: “Nice way to finish the green silence marathon era”. I hadn’t considered that, but yes it probably was.

IMG_9594

We started directly behind the elite runners (an experience which for me was akin to standing next to the red carpet on Oscar night). It was a special thrill seeing the backs, and sometimes faces, of the best marathoners on the planet. Being so close to them felt a bit surreal. The crowd went wild for Mo naturally but there was good cheering for each of the other runners when their names and achievements were announced over the PA.

 

But we’re not here to talk about that. Go time.

 

5k 18:49

The gun went and we were off. I had been in two minds for some time leading up the race about whether to start slow and ease into it, given the lack of miles in my legs or to throw caution to the wind and head off with Dan and Tim who were targeting 3:37 kays in search of a 2:33 finish. I knew I didn’t have that kind of time in me but had been toying with running with them for a portion of the race and then sliding off the back of the bus as and when it happened. I latched on behind them and set off. Without really knowing it I had opted for the “going for it” option. Before we got to the first mile marker the alarm bells were going. The pace didn’t feel like work but it also didn’t feel easy. We hit the first mile in 6 flat and I decided to pull the plug on it then and there. I knew it was a touch too fast and I knew if I stuck with it for a few more miles it would be too late to undo the damage. I backed off and ran without thinking about pace for a few minutes. Just assessing what I wanted to do. I still didn’t really know how I was going to approach it. I noticed someone who looked like they knew what they were doing. He had a relaxed stride and just looked easy. I thought, run with this guy for 5 miles, let him do the thinking, and see what happens. His vest said “Sean” on the back. I set off behind Sean and mentally cleared my head of any pacing thoughts for the time being.

 

10k 38:06 (5k split 19:17)

I clipped along behind Sean, we were running a nice even pace. I had chosen to set my watch to kilometres for the race. Two reasons, one it had worked well in Abingdon (my most recent marathon, a 2:47 in October 2013) and two, I figured the London course had mile markers with big clocks at every mile anyway so I could get my mile splits from that if I really wanted to.

 

My watch was ticking off kilometres in the 3:45-3:55 range nicely now. Sean knew his game, clearly. A big shout from some of my supporters who had found their way to the 6 mile mark just before we turn and head around the fantastically restored Cutty Sark (a WSP project I might add).

 

15k 57:36 (5k split 19:30)

I spent most of this stretch continually reassessing how I felt and whether I had any chance of actually finishing at this pace. As each mile ticked by without me feeling any worse, I started wondering if I might be onto a good day. I hadn’t yet bothered with taking on any water or Lucozade so I grabbed some water at the next stop and had a few sips. All systems were good.

 

20k 1:17:02 (5k split 19:26)

This section is about one thing and one thing only. Crossing Tower Bridge. I felt my excitement building as we weaved through the streets towards the point at which you turn right and witness the enormous bridge looming up in front of you. No matter how many times I run this race, this is a goose bump moment. Last year I had the rare pleasure of sharing this moment with one of my favourite people in the world, Phil. Phil had stayed in Joburg this year so I was on my own, but as per our text chat before the race, I turned to my right where he would have been in 2013 and said “here we go mate”. Anyone seeing this probably thought “this guy has clearly lost his marbles. Talking to invisible people and we’re not even halfway.” But I didn’t care. The emotion hit me and I felt myself welling up. Man-up dude, you’re running a race here. I pressed on and crossed the bridge, soaking up every second of the amazing experience. The crowd screaming their encouragement, the bridge silhouetted majestically against the clear blue sky, a perfect spring day in the capital. It was unforgettable. It always is.

 

20-25k 1:36:21 (5k split 19:19)

As I crossed the last part of Tower Bridge I calmed myself the hell down and made the right hand turn that marks the point at which the race is about to become a countdown to the finish instead of a count up to halfway. The halfway mark. For the few miles leading up to halfway I had been telling myself to relax and get to halfway, look at the number and challenge myself to run the second half at that same pace or quicker.

 

Halfway in 1:21:13.

 

I thought of a text message I’d received that morning from another good friend, Simon, who was sharing the London marathon experience with Phil in his living room in Joburg. Simon had sent a text guessing what my halfway split might be “Mince’s Goal 21 split. How does 81:47 sound?”. I smiled at how close he had been. These guys know me well, and sometimes I think they know my running better than I do. I also smiled because I had been quicker than his guess. Small pleasures at this stage in a race.

 

Back to business and I was still tracking Sean. We hadn’t said a word to each other but subconsciously we had paired up and were working our way through the race together. Splits just kept coming 3:51, 3:52, 3:52 and so on and so on.

 

25-30k 1:55:42 (5k split 19:21)

Something strange was happening. As we ticked off the miles, I started feeling stronger and stronger. It wasn’t a sudden change, just a slow realisation that I was now going through the 15 and 16 mile marks and on assessment of my legs, still felt like I hadn’t really started running yet and certainly hadn’t started working yet. It was a fantastic feeling and one I seldom get in marathons. Once I got to the 16 mile mark I told myself it was single figures now as we headed home. 9 point something, 8 point something miles to go. This was happening and I absolutely knew I was going to be ok. I knew I could make it to the end of the race at this pace. It was a marvellous sensation and I savoured every bit of it. Writing this now I am still savouring that feeling that washed over me as I ran through this section.

 

My fantastic supporters had somehow managed to get to a two further points on the course and yelled encouragement at me as I trotted past.

04 - Mark Ince

30-35k 2:15:13 (5k split 19:31)

The dawning realisation over the previous few miles had begun to change things for me. I went from thinking, can I keep this up, to thinking, at what point should I put my foot down and see what I can do? Sean and I had picked up another runner, I’ll call him Ely because I think that was the club vest he was wearing. Ely, Sean and I formed a little triangle and worked together. I came really close to saying out loud “guys we are working so well together, let’s keep this going to the finish”. Something stopped me from saying it though and I think it was because it felt like I was tempting fate if I voiced how well things were going out loud.

 

The 20 mile mark came and went in this section, and I noted that the 2:04something was a 20 mile PB for me. But we all know these intermediate splits don’t count as actual PB’s, a point Simon has made very clear in the past.

 

I started to speed up now and broke away from Sean and Ely. I had mixed feelings about this, like I was somehow rudely ending the silent camaraderie we had shared for the previous two hours. I pressed on, feeling like I was starting to wind things up. In reality however, and I only noticed this on reviewing my splits post-race, the pace had actually stayed in the 3:50 zone and if anything had slowed a fraction. But I was raising the effort level no question and thought I was running quicker.

 

35-40k 2:34:50 (5k split 19:37)

It all began to feel very marathon-like now. A few things happened very close to one another. The first was that Sean, who had clearly been sandbagging, no wonder he had looked so comfortable all the way through this, suddenly came back past me. He was on the other side of the road as he did. Clearly the friendship was over. The lines were drawn. I upped my pace thinking, yes, I can get a tow from him and we can run even quicker. But it wasn’t happening. I was working increasingly hard to close him down, and wasn’t having any success with it. He slowly disappeared into the runners ahead of me, passing them faster than I was, until he was out of sight. It was now starting to hurt a lot. I played my final hand and poured all my effort out onto the road. No more reserve tank, let’s finish this thing. The crowd noise which I should have mentioned earlier was insane. Screaming and cheering as we gutted it out alongside the river up to Birdcage Walk and past Big Ben towards St James Park.

 

40-finish 2:43:27 (2.2k split 8:37)

The hurt locker, which I had been smugly avoiding even looking for the key for, was now open and I was scraping around inside for somewhere to hide. The 800m to go sign couldn’t come quick enough. Could I even get to the 600m to go sign without walking? The mind plays tricks at this stage, telling me I was spent and needed to stop. I negotiated with myself, don’t walk now, slow down if you have to (I had no intention of letting myself do this, but it’s all about empty promises to your body through the final minutes of a marathon). 600 to go. Turn the corner in front of Buckingham Palace, run under the “385 yards to go” banner. Head for home. Turning one final right hander into the finishing straight and staring at the clock at the end of it. Ticking away patiently and mercilessly.

 

The pain is suddenly manageable in those final seconds. You know it is ending right now and the body relaxes and goes, ok we’ve got this. I watched the clock tick into the 2hr43’s as I pressed on down the home straight. Over the line, stop the watch, done.

 

2:43:27.

 

Elation. Relief. Happiness. Exhaustion. Pain. Satisfaction.

 

All the emotions merge together in a heady mix that invariably results in me sobbing (briefly mind) like a little kid.

 

I pull myself together and begin the post-race routine. Walk up the little ramp to get the timing chips cut off my shoes. Yep, that’s right, one on each shoe. More shameless pride in being a championship entrant. Collect the goodie bag, walk down the long line of baggage trucks. Collect my backpack. Marvel yet again at the immaculate organisation of the London marathon. Everything just works.

 

“Mark!”. Tim has spotted me. I find him in a crumpled heap on the ground with Dan somewhere nearby. We operate in a trance, trying to find the strength to swap vests for t- shirts, drinking water, pretty much anything is a battle. This weird post marathon daze lasts only a few minutes. Energy levels get restored and balance returns. The fatigue stays, it’s there for the long haul, but now at least my mind is able to think clearly again.

 

IMG_9605I dig out my phone. Dozens and dozens of messages. Thank you to each and every one of you who sent me supportive, good luck messages, and well done messages. The first time I see my finishing time is from a text conversation between my friends in Johannesburg, thanks Riaan for letting me know. They have actually created a photographic representation of my time. What a bunch of heroes. I love you guys.

 

We walk through the finish area and meet up with our unbelievable supporters. They’ve all done a fantastic job. Probably worked as hard as we did on the roads of London today.

 

Post-race

Time to head off to a pub for some r&r. And to talk the hind legs off anyone who will listen, about the race. Timmy assures us he knows the way to the pub. He has booked a table there. “No tube necessary” he announces. “it’s only a short walk”. About 100 miles and 3 days later we stop and look at the map (again). Joking of course, we did find the place (eventually). Thanks Timmy for organising. The beer had never tasted so good. Neither had the steak sandwich (with salad not chips – Noakes and Gear nod in approval).

IMG_9609

Tired and happy we leave the pub a few hours later and head off to catch our respective trains back to Brum.

 

London, you provided us with an unforgettable marathon weekend, yet again.

 

To my fellow runners, outstanding performances all round. Dan 2:34, Tim 2:34 (close behind…!), Ed 2:57 and Eloise 3:07. All heroes.

 

To our supporters – you were amazing and continue to impress with your dedication at finding good spots to watch us from. Thank you for buying into the craziness of the entire weekend.

 

Mo, respect for putting it out there. Next time it will be different.

 

This is what keeps us coming back.

 

 

 

 

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Yes I know it’s almost February, but here is my wrap up of 2013.

It will not be a year I forget in a hurry.

There are many things that shape our lives, some good some bad. And as we stumble through these things and find the paths we need, we get hurt and we get knocked down. But we develop strength and resilience. And most importantly, we always always learn along the way.

So onto my running headlines for the year.

Where do I start with the year I’ve just had? In any other year each of the following items would be head and shoulders above everything else. In no particular order here they are.

Friends

“Lame” I hear you say. Too bad. The support from my running friends has been overwhelming and unwavering. I’ve lent on so many of you so many times. So many to thank, you know who you are.

There are some standout moments. Running London with Barrow (more on that later) the older brother I never had (and did I mention older? ), the flexibility afforded to me in training times – people being willing to adjust their schedules to suit my higgledy piggledy new regime. Dan doing everything in his power to get me to run the Coventry 5000. “I just really want you to have a go mate”. Offering many lifts, sacrificing his car for the entire week if needs be leading up to the race to help me get on the start line. Simone and Gracie, both rocks in so many ways, there for me, providing hands to drag me from the brink of some of the darkest blackest holes I’ve had the displeasure of looking in to. I will never be able to fully express my gratitude guys. Looking back on how the year started is like looking at a movie of someone else’s life. I’ve come so far since then and it seems surreal that I was ever in that place. The foundation created by those first few months was the platform on which my running year was built, but it could have been so different without the help of all my friends. Thank you each and every one.

15:51

ABMC 1551h the infamous Coventry 5000. Probably the single  most significant race of the year. An earlier blog post covers it in full detail. Click the image for a link to the post.

Summary: I broke a long standing PB from 1994 as well as getting under 16 minutes for the first time.

18:55

2013 6StgNational Six Stage Road Champs. First time under 19 minutes and first (and possibly last) time I’ve beaten the class of Dan R, Chris A and Tim C in the same race. This race is an unusual distance (5.85km), so it is difficult to relate it to the other race distances but the powerof10 website ranked it higher than all my other races save the 33:06 Telford 10k in December.

73:49

Bristol Half Marathon. After the 15:51 this is probably the next big breakthrough I had. I went in with a PB of 77:26 and aspirations of breaking that time and possibly sneaking under 75 for a UK Marathon championship qualifier if it went well. It went very well. I ran fairly even splits to about halfway or just after and then dropped the hammer over the final 3-4 miles for a big negative split and even bigger PB.

33:06

I had the pleasure of running this exact time twice in two months. First in the Leeds 10k in November and then in the Telford 10k in December. My previous PB was 35:00 so I was chomping at the bit to get under the 35 minute mark. Leeds goes down as the big breakthrough simply because it was first. Similar to Bristol I ran a negative split although not as marked. Halves of 16:42 and 16:24. I was over the moon. The whole race felt good, never in too much trouble. The next month at the Telford 10 I put no pressure on myself, thinking that the 33:06 was out of reach. As it turned out I had had another great day and was on pace for a PB and even a sub33 through halfway in 16:29. I tied up a bit on the second half and the final slight inclines from 7-9k did me in.

Mileage 3018

My mileage for the year topped out at 3018 or 4855km. This works out to 58 miles or 93km per week. Not my biggest year, in 2011 I ran 100 miles more overall, but I feel this year the quality of the running was much better and I was able to tap into some of the strength I’ve been accumulating over the past 4 or 5 years of reasonable miles.

108 miles in one week

Prior to 2013 I had never run a 100 mile week or even a 90 mile week. In the summer my training was a bit sporadic on a week-by-week basis depending on the childcare situation. One of the weeks when I wasn’t seeing them at all a colleague asked what I intended to do with my free time. “I’ll probably just run” was my response. The week didn’t even start off that impressively and I didn’t start thinking about what it might total until the Wednesday. I felt great all week, probably because the novelty of the mileage was overriding the general fatigue I must have been carrying. Two weeks after the 108, I ran a 91 mile week. I look back on those two August weeks and really believe they kicked my form on for the rest of the summer.

VLM

2013 vlmA fantastic race weekend with Gracie, Barrow and I and a very personal shared race experience. One of my favourite people in the world and lifetime mate Barrow, who like a fine wine gets better with age, came over from SA to run London with me this year, and to try and break 3 hours. We ran every step together, and although we never quite hit the sub3, ending with a 3:04, it was one of the running highlights of my life.

Iffley Road Stadium Mile

A chance to run on the fabled Iffley track, surely the most famous running track in the world. And better still to run the distance it became famous f2013 Iffley02or, the fabulous mile. Travelled down with Dan and Tim, partners in crime. Dan and I were drawn in the same heat and quickly moved to the front of the race when it became obvious the others weren’t keen on the 70 second laps we wanted. I took over from about 500 or 600 metres in and kept the gas pedal pressed hard, Dan stuck to my shoulder all the way through the bell. I felt him wanting to come past and I pressed again determined not to let the pace slide. Going around the final bend into the finishing straight he eased wide and came past me. I kicked to stay in touch but he was too strong and I ended a second or two behind him in 4:41.62 for second place.2013 Iffley01

Roon the Watter

Going into any race as defending champion is pretty cool and I loved turning up at Roon and getting a mention on the start line. Jon and Teri were there as always. Teri looking after the girls while Jon, Bec and I ran. I had run 34:50 something to win the 6 mile race the previous year and was hoping for quicker. I didn’t know my road form but had been racing a lot on the track which I hoped would have me race sharp at least. I won it in 33:12 and have a full report on the blog already here.

Why?

So that was 2013. In a nutshell the best running year I’ve ever had. All-time personal bests on the track over the mile and 5000m and on the road at 5k, 10k, half marathon and marathon. Where did it come from? I’m not entirely sure but there are a few factors this year that have almost certainly had a big part in it. It would be remiss of me not to mention the weight loss. I lost half a stone early in the year and decided to tighten up my diet and ensure it stayed off. I cut out a lot of fizzy drinks and crisps, and my personal Achilles heel, late night snacking.

Nutrition aside, I joined Bud Baldaro’s training group in January and it is surely no coincidence my running curved steadily upwards once the Tuesday sessions with Bud’s group started bedding in. I couldn’t be more grateful to Bud, Johnny Cullen – who talked me into joining them – and the Tuesday night gang. Thanks guys.

The only PB’s I still have outstanding from my uni days (or first career as Jamie calls it) are 800, 1500 and 3000. Let’s see how 2014 goes.

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London Marathon is this Sunday and a lot of the pre-race hype has been (rightly) focussed on the quartet of A-list Kenyans on the start line. Selection of the Kenyan Olympic Marathon squad has been an international talking point in running circles. Who will they pick, who won’t they pick, what do they need to run? And so on.

 

But enough about that. I want to talk about a little Eritrean named Zersenay Tadese.

Anyone worth their salt knows a pretty rock solid rule about marathoning. To be a good marathoner, you need to have run a good 10k (and half marathon). Name any great marathoner and look at their 10k. It will be the business. Arguably the world’s best over 26.2, the late Sammy Wanjiru, went well under 27 minutes on the track before he stepped up. However, and this is the point, the converse is not true. Being a quality 10k and half marathon guy does in no way guarantee you success over a marathon. The fact is no-one really knows how they will fare over a marathon until they actually run one. There are probably a few high-profile distance men and women who haven’t reached their marathon potential. (In as much as “potential” is determined by 10k and HM performance) but none are as high profile as Zersenay Tadese.

 

If ever there was textbook case to highlight the lack of conversion rule, it is Zersenay.

 

Remove his marathon attempts from this discussion and his distance running CV becomes pretty much as good as it gets. Kenenisa Bekele may have had his number of the track thanks to an indomitable finishing kick, but Tadese didn’t do too badly behind him.

  • A 10k in less than 27 minutes? Check.
  • A half marathon in less than 60 minutes? Check. In fact a half marathon in less than 59 minutes. In fact the WORLD RECORD HOLDER in the half marathon in 58:23.

Ok, how about championship racing?

  • Any medals on the track at global level? Check. (No titles maybe, as time and again KB put paid to any chance of that). But he has a bronze from the Athens Olympics 10k and a silver from the 2009 Berlin World Champs.
  • Any medals at World Cross Country level? Check. In the toughest race of them all, the World Cross Country Championships, Zersenay beat the world, and KB, in 2007 (KB dropped out of the race with a lap to go). He also has an individual silver and two individual bronze medals in World Cross to go with that gold.
  • Now, the final question, what is he like on the road? I’m glad you asked. Ignoring the marathon, he is probably the greatest road runner of all time. World HM Record Holder, four-time World Half Marathon Champion and a World 20k title for good measure.

 

It’s a pedigree anyone would aspire to. So imagine the buzz around the running world when he decided to run his first marathon. It was a few years back, London 2009.

 

The world waited with baited breath.

 

Zersenay’s debut in the marathon coincided with a big step-up that was currently taking place in the world of international marathoning. He arrived on the scene, with marathoning on a big and aggressive up-curve, and was caught out by experienced marathoners, led by Wanjiru. They aggressively attacked at all points in the race and pushed a ridiculously fast early pace. Zersenay lasted as long as he could before dropping out.

 

The following year, 2010, he returned, to a similarly aggressive racing environment. With slightly more battle experience, this time he finished. But his 2hr12 was widely accepted as nowhere near a true indication of his capabilities, and again the field had beaten him up and left him behind.

 

In 2011 it seemed he decided to take a break from London and move his focus back to the areas in which he had excelled and enjoyed success, the 10k on the track, and the half marathon.

 

Skip to the announcement of the 2012 London Elite Field and his name is back on the list.

 

In early 2012 he ran the Lisbon Half Marathon, the course where he set the current world record, 58:23. It was billed as a World Record Attempt but he ended up running about a minute off that pace, finishing in 59:34 for his third title in a row. The gurus at LetsRun have spoken at length about proper focus on a marathon resulting in a runner that should not be sufficiently sharp to run a half marathon PB in their marathon buildup. If this is true, and I personally subscribe to the same belief, then Tadese may just be perfectly poised for this year’s London.

 

Most of us love to see hard-running, hard-working athletes perform at the highest level, and Zersenay Tadese is the hardest working, hardest running of them all. Over the years he has become one of my all-time favourite and most inspirational athletes.

 

Come Sunday morning, I will be hoping he gets into his familiar groove, seen so many times at the front of races around the world, in the lead pack and survives, or ignores, any suicidal pace changes during the race.

 

In amongst the Kenyan whirlwind of class and ability, and pressure, I would love to see nothing more than the little Eritrean powerhouse slide in under the radar and knock 5+ minutes off his best time, and get his marathon time down to the level befitting a guy of his pedigree.

 

Heck I hope he wins the entire race. It’s a long shot, but optimism never killed anyone, right?

 

 

 

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I’ve been toying with writing about this topic for a while now. More than a year if I’m honest. Quite how successful I’ll be at spelling it all out, and getting my point across, remains to be seen.

In simple terms, and of course in my opinion, the synopsis is this: The manner in which a competitive international marathon is contested and won has changed. Not a gradual evolution, but a rapid step change, set in motion on the day Samuel Wanjiru won the Olympic gold medal in Beijing in 2008.

Naturally we didn’t fully grasp the enormity of it at the time. It was an astonishing performance yes, one of the best of all time. But the effect it would have on marathons from then on was what truly defined it. All we knew was that the Olympic marathon had been won in a way never seen before.

Beijing was an aggressive non-conservative attritional race. It was full of pace surges – FROM THE GUN.

Fast marathons had been run before but never like this. In the past they had been even-paced or sometimes fast-paced early on, with slow decays to the end. Fast times were obviously still achieved (Steve Jones in Chicago 1985 for example. Halves of 61 and 66) for what was then a world record and is still the UK record. Beijing was different. It wasn’t a fast but even pace. It was fast no question, but it was the surges Wanjiru threw in, oh the surges. Starting inside the first 10km, they were incredible.

They were what set this race apart from those preceding it.

The conditions it was run in are worth more than a mention. They add significantly to the unbelievable nature of what was happening. Beijing was hot (30 degrees?) and humid. It was no place to toying with human performance and pushing your body to speeds teetering on the thin edge of what normally would be considered the top end of what can be achieved in ideal conditions. Yet it was happening.

The group was whittled down to the truly world class in a matter of minutes. And the group of super-elites that reminaed at the front, then began shrinking one by one, as the athletes realised there would be no let-up in pace from Wanjiru, not today. Martin Lel, Luke Kibet, one by one they were falling by the wayside.

Wanjiru was racing it like a cross country race. Or perhaps a 5k on the track with a strong runner not wanting to leave it to a final lap burn-up. Only Moroccan Jaouad Gharib and Ethiopian Deriba Merga were able to cover the moves for any length of time. Indeed Gharib got dropped a number of times but somehow managed to keep the gap under control and come back when you were convinced he was now gone for good. A truly gutsy performance.

Merga covered the moves better than Gharib and in truth, was the only one who could live with what Wanjiru was doing. He ran himself into the ground hanging onto Sammy and ultimately, lost out on a medal to his fast-finishing countryman, Tsegay Kebede.

 

Since then, the age of the super-fast marathon arrived. 2:06 became 2:05. Suddenly a pair of Kenyans were running 2:04 in Rotterdam. Paris, Berlin, Chicago, everywhere big city marathons were having their course records reset.

Wanjiru arrived in London after his Olympic success, and the pace was ludicrous. He hurried the pacemakers up, repeatedly urging them on to the point that the pace at the 10km mark projected a 2:01 marathon. And he was throwing in lung-bursting surges anytime there was a drop in pace. He finally killed off the pack around the 20 mile mark and ran home unchallenged for another low 2:05.

In light of recent events I certainly hope we have not seen the last of Sammy Wanjiru. He has added a new dimension to marathoning that is not wasted on the many aficionados around the world. We owe him and his crew of fellow crazies (Kebede, Merga, Kibet, Makau, the list is growing) a debt of thanks.

We’re experiencing a golden era in marathoning that we may only fully appreciate many years down the line. And when we look back on it and go “Wow, that was awesome”, we will remember it all started in Beijing 2008.

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Aka: London 2010

Sunday 25 April 2010

What a great weekend. Let’s begin at the beginning. I make no apologies for this report, read it at your own risk.

Saturday morning, car packed and girls bouncing with excitement, we took to the motorway, destination London. We were staying in Stratford – hub of the Olympic construction site, which consequently confused the hell out of satnav-lady who kept trying to send us down roads that had been swallowed by the Olympic village construction. Eventually we found a place to park – but not before we got ourselves stuck in a loooong queue coming out of a supermarket car park. Welcome to London, we never learn our lesson.

So parked up, we headed off to find our accommodation. This year we had opted for a serviced apartment instead of a hotel. The thinking was it would be better to have our own kitchen for preparing the night before carb-fest and also having separate bedrooms for the girls to sleep in etc. What a great decision it turned out to be. A lovely spacious two-bedroom en-suite apartment awaited us; with living area, dining area, and a bigger kitchen than we have at home!

We dumped out luggage at the apartment and pushed off to the expo to pick up race packs etc. At this point we met up with Gracie (Mark Grace) and Nice Guy Eddie (Ed Banks). We all sauntered off to the expo; Abigail was loving the tube and train journeys – but would it last? We got our packs with no fuss at all (kudos VLM organisation) and managed to get through the expo without spending any money. Lots of lovely running gear, but we had what we needed. Jodo wrote some lovely good luck messages for me on the graffiti wall and virtual graffiti wall in the expo.

Back to the apartments and we met up with the final member of our group, Andy Wells. We went to our respective apartments, prepared our food and then all converged on the Ince apartment for a social carbo-loading, nonsense-talking evening session. We took a couple of photos – pose inspired by the Hajj crew down south.

And a variation of our own, entitled “little runners”. Then it was time to wrap it up and get ready for an early night.

Race morning! I got up, got ready and met the other three guys in the lobby. A couple of photos taken by Bec, standing on the balcony above, and we were off. The journey to the start of London is always an expedition. We took a DLR train from Stratford to Canary Wharf, then changed and caught another one to Greenwich. To say the trains were packed with runners wouldn’t do it justice, but it all added to the build-up. At Greenwich we then had a walk of over a mile to get to the blue start. A fair old trek but well worth it when the gun goes and you don’t have to fight for space with the teeming red-start. Don’t get me wrong, the road is crowded, but thanks to the seeding pens it’s mostly crowded with people going your pace.

At Greenwich we left Gracie who stayed behind to meet his missus for a pre-race motivational chat. We got to the blue start and said farewell to Nice Guy who was off to the “Fast – Good For Age” start, a special separate area with even less congestion, for the speedsters – you have to have a sub-3 marathon to get into that little club…

Andy and I got to our blue start area with about 40 minutes to the gun. Then of course the heavens opened. Actually this didn’t worry me at all and I was quite pleased, given all the heat wave warnings that had been kicking around the weather reports in the buildup. The rain stopped with about 20 min to show time. Andy and I said our farewells, got our bags into the baggage trucks and headed to our respective pens. I was in Pen 1 – in theory the 2:45 to 3:00 pen, but for people who haven’t actually achieved that otherwise they’d be in Nice Guy’s start area. Gracie and Andy were in Pen 3.

They marched us all forward towards the start line. In front of Pen 1 are the championship runners (sub 2:45) and the invited elites. Not a group who would be getting in people’s ways really. They announced the big names and fired the gun. We were off! I was over the line and running within about 20-30 seconds of the gun I think.

My race plan was roughly worked into three stages. Stage 1: ease into it. Take the first mile or two at equal or slower than target pace (credit PQ). Stage 2: get onto 6:45 per mile pace and run as close to that as I can manage for as long as I can manage. Stage 3: assuming stage 2 had played out to plan, evaluate situation somewhere after 20 miles and then do whatever the hell I can to get to the finish.

So we were off. I was carrying two phrases in my head. nicked from Shaun Meiklejohn (Comrades winner early 90s). Relax and Control. He had written them on his hands the day he won. I didn’t go that far, but kept repeating them in my head, along with “Bitch, be cool” (Pulp Fiction).

First mile, 7:20something. Don’t panic, this was the plan. Keep easing into it. Second mile 7:00, better. Third mile (downhill), 6:30-something. Ok stage 1 finished, now was the time to start deploying the 6:45’s… This is where it left the script ever so slightly. I couldn’t seem to get to 6:45 with my target effort level. I was determined not to “push for a pace” this early, surely that would be suicide. So I kept the control mantra and hoped the splits would do their thing. I was clicking off 6:50s, 6:55s, occasional sub 6:50s but each one was a few seconds slower than target and was slowly accumulating a deficit that would prove tricky to get rid off.

That’s how it continued until halfway. I went through in 1:30:23, giving me a cushion of precisely nothing. In fact an anti-cushion to the tune of 23 seconds. I should have been more worried but I wasn’t. I was vaguely concerned that I would have to negative split the race now to get my sub-3 but I felt like I had been doing everything right to this point so I had a fair chance of it. I also thought (hoped) that 6:40 pace would emerge as the second half unfolded so that the problem would take care if itself and I would find myself under target just by continuing my plan. It became clear this wasn’t happening. The 6:55’s continued and there was nothing I could do about it without seriously risking the race. Worse still, it was starting to tell in my legs anyway and by about miles 15/16/17 I was having to up the effort noticeably to keep the pace sub-7. Any slower than this and I knew it was race over, I couldn’t afford any more slipping.

Bec and the girls were waiting just before the 20 mile mark. I had assumed they would have been well aware of my progress through the 5km live updates, only to find post-race that the live tracking website hadn’t worked at all. As it turns out Bec did know something was up because there was a 3-hour pacing runner with a flag that said 6:50 on it and she saw him before she saw me. Still, I wasn’t panicking. Relax and control. I high-fived Jodie (racing tradition), caught sight of Abigail looking bemused in her buggy, and gave my peak cap to Bec. She shouted something like “6:50 miling is just ahead of you”. Took me a while to figure out what she meant. Still seeing them had given me a boost and I knew it was time to act if I was going to get this stinking sub-3.

I went through 20 miles in just under 2:18 (and I mean just under… 2:17:48) and the writing was clear as day. I had to run the final 10km in 42 minutes. I was tiring a lot but still felt some confidence in that I could surely up the pace now and get what I needed. Mile 21 and 22 came and went and was only managing 6:45-6:50. It wasn’t enough. I knew I had to ditch the relax and control mantra now and get the f**k out of dodge. I hung onto another runner who seemed to be passing lots of people, and then it got tough very quickly. I was mildly annoyed that I left myself no cushion. Mild annoyance turned to despair and I tried in vain to hit the 6:20s I thought I had ready to deploy. I swore I would never get myself into a position where I had to maintain and INCREASE my pace at the end of a PB marathon. It was madness. Who runs like this? Mile 23 went by in 6:46. All this effort and I wasn’t making a dent in the deficit. I was beginning to think it actually wasn’t going to happen. I’ve fooled myself all along and now it’s obvious. A lot of thoughts were going through my head. 3 miles to go. 20-21 minutes of running.

After one of his 2:29 marathons I remember Martin telling me the only thing that slows you down at the end of a marathon is your mind, and how much pain you are willing to take. I had to give it a go. I thought of Eric, always leaving himself far too much to do in the final 14km of Oceans and then always coming so close, refusing to blow and let it slide. I took comfort in that, I thought I’m going to run these final 3 miles like that and then I’m never putting myself in this position ever again. Mile 24. 6:41. Four blessed seconds under pace. Not enough. It was too much at this point, and the runner I was trying to stay with was just too strong. To quote Arnie “I let him go”. For a few hundred yards I realised it was over and I wouldn’t break 3 hours. I regrouped, and did the best I could to maintain. Mile 25. 6:51. Too slow. But more importantly I checked my total running time – 2:51:41. I thought: I have 8 minutes to run the final 1.2 miles. This has got to still be on. But I didn’t know. What I did know is that I threw all caution to the wind and went for it. I knew there were “800m to go”, “600m to go” and “400m to go” boards in the final mile and knew that if I could just get to them I would be ok. Embankment just went on forever; then turn right past Big Ben and Westminster. The crowd noise was unreal. I was thinking, are they aware of how close we are cutting this? I was also thinking “why aren’t the other runners picking up the pace, they must know there’s a chance if we sprint?” I pushed on. The 800 to go board came into view, I looked at my watch, I had just less than 4 minutes to go. I didn’t know if I would do this. A 3-something final 800? I pushed on. The 385 yards to go sign appeared, I looked at my watch. It said 2:57-something. That was the FIRST TIME in the entire race that I knew I was going to do it. I relaxed, but not my pace. I rounded the corner past Buckingham Palace and tried to soak up the occasion. This was it. I was going to run sub-3. Finally I was going to do it. It was an emotional 385 yards let me tell you.

As soon as I crossed the line I just wanted to see Bec and the girls STRAIGHT AWAY. But it’s a long walk once you’re done. First get your medal, then get your chip removed from your shoes, then a photo, then the goody bag, then the long line of baggage trucks, reclaim your bag. Then out into runners/supporters meeting point. As I left the runners area Nice Guy was waiting with his parents and fiancé. How did you get on? 2:59 I said. It sounded sweet. How about you? 2:44.53 !!! Wow Ed!! A championship qualifier by 6 seconds. And he had missed a lot of training these past two months with a knee problem. That performance was an absolute stunner.

I waited at the “I, J, K” section and after about 5 minutes the family arrived. I was so pleased to be able to give them some good news after the previous couple of London’s. Emotional bits done, we began the journey home. Two tubes back to Stratford to collect the car, Abby still not getting tired of the novelty of trains in tunnels, and then the long journey back up the M1 to Birmingham.

En route Gracie called to find out how I did. I told him and asked how he got on. “I’ve qualified for Boston!” He ran a 3:10:35 (3:10:59 required for Boston). Awesome running! Andy had a tough day out there, running a solid time, but well below what he is capable of. Next time Andy!

A 7 minute PB for Nice Guy, a 7 minute PB for me and a 9 minute PB for Gracie. Not bad team, we must be doing something right.

Mile splits below:

Mile Time Split  Projected finish
1 00:07:22 00:07:22 03:13:00
2 00:14:36 00:07:14 03:11:16
3 00:21:14 00:06:38 03:05:26
4 00:28:01 00:06:47 03:03:31
5 00:34:45 00:06:44 03:02:05
6 00:41:46 00:07:01 03:02:23
7 00:48:38 00:06:52 03:02:02
8 00:55:31 00:06:53 03:01:49
9 01:02:28 00:06:57 03:01:51
10 01:09:19 00:06:51 03:01:37
11 01:16:14 00:06:55 03:01:34
12 01:23:01 00:06:47 03:01:15
13 01:29:45 00:06:44 03:00:53
14 01:36:32 00:06:47 03:00:39
15 01:43:28 00:06:56 03:00:43
16 01:50:25 00:06:57 03:00:48
17 01:57:25 00:07:00 03:00:58
18 02:04:08 00:06:43 03:00:41
19 02:11:03 00:06:55 03:00:43
20 02:17:48 00:06:45 03:00:31
21 02:24:37 00:06:49 03:00:26
22 02:31:23 00:06:46 03:00:17
23 02:38:09 00:06:46 03:00:09
24 02:44:50 00:06:41 02:59:57
25 02:51:41 00:06:51 02:59:55
26 02:58:02 00:06:21 02:59:24
26.2 02:59:19 00:01:17 02:59:19
       
1st half 01:30:23    
2nd half 01:28:56    

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It’s marathon week baby. And if you don’t know what that means, move right along please, this is not the blog you’re looking for.

Boston today and London on Sunday. The Boston question is: can an American win the men’s race? (Ryan Hall being the most likely American according to pedigree) while London will be another hallelujah attempt on the world record by a handful of the best marathoners currently hanging around the planet. London ladies will be a tasty battle between top-Brit Mara, yank Deena, and defending champ Irina.

Let the games begin…

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