Reality check here – this isn’t really how not to run a marathon. Yes, there are a lot of things I could have done better in the run up to Brighton Marathon 2023, but on the other hand, I ran it, I loved it and I got a sub 4. So I’m not going to be super critical. But despite having run 12 marathons, 6 of them under 4 hours, I still have some very familiar lessons to learn!
So let’s start with the good stuff. What worked?
- Carb loading. I did carb load properly for Brighton. It was slightly different to previous times and I found it much more manageable. I went by Martin’s rule of 7g/kg body weight on Thurs, 9-10g/kg on Fri and 7g/kg on Sat (finishing earlier to allow for digestion), but this time I took in 200g of those carbs in the form of drinks. In past years, I’ve changed my diet to accommodate more carbs as meals or snacks, but this time, I just cut back a little on fat and protein and made sure I drank orange juice (breakfast and mid morning) and sports drink in the afternoon. Part of this was because I was ill over the carb load and lost my appetite, and partly because I was travelling and having drinks with me was very convenient. I diluted the orange juice with water and the energy drink I used was OTE super carbs which has 80g carbs in 500ml, so I stayed hydrated and got a LOT of carbs in. It meant I didn’t have to obsessively count or worry, just make sure I set out my drinks in the morning and consumed them during the day. OTE duo bars are also a bit of a saviour here – very light, easy to carry and eat but 40g of carbs. I also made sure not to have any sugary snacks after 7.30pm and that really helped my sleep. On which note…
- Getting lots of sleep! This wasn’t deliberate, but it worked. Normally I’m working in the run up to a marathon. The week before Brighton I got a cold that went to my chest. I ended up working 1.5 days out of 5 that week, having 3 days off sick and sleeping for most of them. I wouldn’t have made it otherwise. But it really made me appreciate the value of sleep (and not running much) in that final week. Not sure 14 hours a day is necessary, but use the time you don’t need to run to sleep. It really does help.
- Science says 60g+ carbs an hour during the race. I can’t claim I hit that but I did have a regular gels throughout, ended up having 5 x 30g gels over the course of the marathon. And two things I note from that. More would still be good and have a positive impact, I will aim for 6-7 next marathon; training with the gels has meant I tolerate them well and all but 1 were caffeine gels. It’s a process of trial and error and I know caffeine really works for me, but I think I’ll save the caffeine ones for second half of the race and see if it gives me an extra boost.
- Know your priorities and modify your plan if needed. After an injury ridden build up, I wasn’t expecting a PB, but I was hoping for around 3.45. After getting a cold literally the week before the race, and it going to my chest, I wasn’t sure I’d even be able to run. So I had to go by feel on the day. I went out slightly too fast in retrospect but it felt comfortable. I started to tire at mile 13 which wasn’t a surprise given my hit-and-miss training, but I then had a choice. Push on through with a tight chest, and coughing, or modify. It was time to assess my priorities. Was my priority a GFA time or to enjoy the race? I chose to turn off my watch and walk a bit at each mile marker, and just enjoy. Somehow walking in a marathon can feel like a failure – but its really not. I don’t regret taking the time to enjoy the last 10 miles instead of suffering through. It really did show me the power of knowing your why though. My desire for a GFA time just wasn’t strong. So if you want to go for a time, you need to really want it and know why its important to you.
And what didn’t I get right
- Not respecting the taper.
Due to injury, my training was hit and miss. I lost over 2 weeks in peak mileage time, and ended up doing a 20 miler 16 days out from the marathon. I did too many miles in the penultimate week compared to the rest of my training, and didn’t focus on refuelling well. The final week was only a proper taper because of illness, and probably saved the day. The taper is a tricky time to get right. Too much running and you don’t recover, too little and you feel sluggish. This is truly a time to listen to your body and your coach.
- Not listening to my body (running when ill). This was the worst of all my sins in the run up. I felt headachy and unwell on Saturday night a week before Brighton, so pulled out of my 10 mile race the next day. I decided on a gentle test run instead. That didn’t go well – I pulled out after less than 3 miles easy because I felt weak and shakey. A sensible person would have gone to bed, but I was determined to do what was originally planned before I got ill. So I rested and then went back out for 7 more miles, 6 at marathon pace. If I’m honest. my recovery from my cold would have been a lot quicker without this and it may be why the cold went to my chest. Moral of the story – please adapt and listen to your body or your coach. Going back out again on Sunday was foolish. I did listen to my body the rest of the week and was able to recover for the marathon, but it was touch and go. And that run on Sunday is probably why.
- Not practicing race pace. If you’re rested and your legs feel good it is SO hard to do short runs at race pace during the taper weeks. But a few seconds a mile does make a difference, it is well worth sticking rigidly pace to in the final couple of weeks and ignoring the desire to run faster. Running faster adds no extra benefits so close to the race, and hitting the pace trains you both to recognise the place and to be disciplined. I didn’t do a single run at my proposed race pace (all were slightly faster) and of course that meant…
- Setting off too fast. The first half of the race at Brighton I ran faster than my original proposed race pace before I got ill. So it was probably inevitable that the second half was going to involve fading… This is a lesson I have never got right, but one day I will, and won’t bomb the second half of a marathon! Top tip – stick a pace band on your wrist and use it to guide you. I may even try and follow a pacer for my next one!
All in all, I was lucky. I got to do an amazing race on a beautiful day, I ran my revised sub 4 goal and was able to slow down and enjoy the moment. I may still have lessons to learn, but I’ll re-read this before my next marathon, and hope that I’ll make some new mistakes instead!
The distance never fails to humble me. Good luck, marathon runners, and above all, enjoy. Don’t forget, we do this for fun!
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