Alarm goes off so get some gear on and Dave and I are off out the door for a run. We head towards the park but it doesn’t look very appealing once we get there as it’s pitch black so we stick to the foot path. Dave heads back after 3 or 4 minutes and I continue on for a couple more minutes before heading back. I jump in the shower and punish myself with a cold blast to help wake me up some more. Next on the wake me up agenda is a couple of black coffees and a light breakfast of a couple of bread rolls and some other carby stuff lying around. After a bit more faffing about we eventually make it onto the bus and make our way to the Olympic Stadium which is the start and finish of the race.
It’s a very short trip to the stadium and there are already lots of people making their way to the start. I feel sorry for them knowing that they’ll have to stay outside and try to keep warm for over an hour whilst we’ll all be inside and comfortable and warm right up until the start. One of the perks of being a half decent runner I guess. We head to a room allocated to the men and I have a quick chat to a Dutch guy that is also looking for 2:20 so at least I should have some company. The time goes pretty quickly with multiple toilet stops, a quick 5 minute warm up, and getting into my nice and new shiny yellow Mizuno racing kit. The shorts are rather, um, short, but they are very light and airy feeling so they feel fast. Likewise, the vest is very light and being bright yellow it has to be fast! A good time waster in here was writing down some splits on my hand for various km markers. It’s more for later in the race when my brain isn’t as sharp and I found it really useful when pacing in Toronto as it was more like a game to try and hit the times I’d written down (and when pacing, this was quite important!). I actually had 2 columns of splits, what I’d like, and what I’d hope to keep under. Basically, 2:19 (turns out it was actually 2:19:15 pace I’d written down due to my rounding!) and 2:19:59. My last 2 London marathons I hadn’t even got to halfway on target so I thought this would help me focus a bit more. My plan for this race was to run to heart rate as I have some (what I believe to be) reliable stats from previous marathons so know where it should be, hence no real target pace, just run at the pace that gives me the right HR (172/173 bpm). With about 15 minutes to go, Dave and I had half a gel each and headed out to the start to brave the cold. We did a few more minutes warm up and I find out that some Spanish guy is also looking for 2:20 so looks like there might be 3 of us. We are then herded back behind the start line waiting for the gun…
The usual happens now in that an official tells one of the Kenyans/Ethiopians to move back as they have their feet over the line, not that they need the head start. I swear, every time I line up in a big race there’s one (unintentionally) trying it on!
Bang, we’re off and jostling for position as we make our way around the track and out of the stadium. I’m trying to look out for my 2:20 buddies and spot the Dutch guy ahead but no sign of the other one. At about 1km there’s a decent group forming ahead of me but I’m a bit hesitant to join it as I see I’m ticking along at 4:55 pace which is a tad fast at this early stage. I look behind and there’s already a large gap, probably 5-10 seconds. It looks like it’s going to be a lonely race so best get used to it early on! I missed the 1st km but I go through 2km in 6:22 which is about 10s ahead of schedule. This is fine as I’ve now settled into a nice rhythm, the HR is holding steady in the right range, and the group ahead has broken up a little with some of them pushing on. There are 3 Dutch guys ahead of me (including the guy looking for 2:20) and they are pulling away. This is really going to be lonely! I go through 5km in 16:21 which is still about 10s up on schedule and now the 2:20 Dutch guy is coming back (having gone through 5k in 16:08). I grab my first “special” drink which is just water to take a sip from and pour over my head. The next 4km pass pretty quickly as I’m closing down on the Dutch guy and counting the gap down, 11 seconds, 8 seconds, 5 seconds. At 9km I pull up along side him and say “I finally caught you!” to which he replies “Yeah, I always start fast”. Something to learn from perhaps;)
We passed through 10km in 32:51 which was still a good 10s under schedule. I missed my next drink but I had a couple of small sips of the Dutch guy’s drink which was very sweet but was all I needed. I think he was offended that I didn’t drink more of it. He thought I didn’t like it but I just told him that that was all I needed. Besides, my plan was to not take on too much during the race as it’s been my undoing previously and I’d successfully experimented with very limited fuel in Toronto (ie a few sips of water and a few sips of Gatorade). The next 5km was pretty relaxed in 16:32 and it was good to have someone to run with even if he had a personal drink hander-outerer on a bike. At one point he ducked in behind me to shelter from the wind but it was good that there was an understanding there that we would take turns later when it was going to be windy (ie 20-34km!). In all honesty, I knew he wouldn’t be there to help out but I wasn’t too worried. I’ve learnt that if you want to maintain a pace, sometimes it’s easier to do it yourself and take the wind rather than rely on other people to take it as it can be frustrating and more stressful watching the pace slip when you should be relaxing taking your turn at going along for the ride.
Just before the 15km marker there was a large group of children cheering and screaming and I did my best to make their day by giving some kind of interaction with the old wind up move. I think they were impressed as they all ran to the other side of the road where I was shortly to come past again due to a turn around point on the little dog leg we had ventured onto but I behaved myself this time and kept to the task at hand. The dog leg turn around point was good timing as it gave me a glimpse of the runners behind and I was pleased to see some familiar faces and could see Dave was running well in a decent sized group. I got my 15km drink which was the Dutch lucozade equivalent (AA sports drink) and had a few sips and made use of the sponge facilities. It was just after here that I started to drop the Dutch guy but he was never fully dropped until about 18km as he was sitting off the back of me by about 5 metres. I kept glancing round to try and encourage him to stay with me but I think he was done at that pace for the day. I was happily maintaining pace and HR and preparing myself for the lonely stretch back up the Amstel and into the wind. Finally crossed the bridge where there was some good support and headed back up. I went through 20km in 65:53 so was still on track for a very good time. I picked up my 20km drink which was again some AA sports drink and had a few sips before discarding it and seeing a very excited kid run off to collect it! My 5km splits so far had been very consistent at 16:21, 16:31, 16:32, 16:30.
My next milestone was going through halfway and I thought I was going to be closer to 69:00 but it turned out to be 69:28, I guess I forgot about the extra 100m. Only 52 and a bit laps to go I said to myself;) I’m not entirely sure what happened in the 20-25km stretch but I was getting faster when I shouldn’t have been due to encountering some expected head wind. It wasn’t really strong (7-8mph apparently?) but it was noticeable and it all counts against you in the end. I guess I’d worked myself up that it was going to be windy and lonely for a good stretch and that it was time to really nail down and focus and not let the times slip. My HR went up to 173 having been 171/172 for the majority and at 24km I saw 174 so I calmed myself down and got it back to 173. It was easy to do this as I was going faster than planned and I still felt really good and every km ticked off was another km closer to the finish. I went through 25km just outside 1:22 and now I was close to 30 seconds ahead of my “what I’d like” schedule and feeling great. This was actually my 2nd fastest 5km split of the race in 16:12, on paper it should have been one of my slowest. I grabbed my 25km drink which was the first of my next 3 loaded up with some caffeine lucozade. I only had a few sips again but it was good to get a change from Mr AA.
I pretty much maintained a slightly increased pace for the next 5km and it was good to get off the river path and onto some wide open roads. There were times along the river path where I wondered if I was still on course as there was no markings on the path and not too many officials around, not to mention there were no runners to follow. I went through 30km in 1:38:24 with a 16:19 5km split and over 30 seconds ahead of schedule. I grabbed my 2nd caffeine lucozade and this one had my one and only gel attached to it so grabbed that off. It’s kinda my lucky gel as I carried it the whole way in my pocket in Toronto without using it.
I went through 32km a few seconds under 1:45:00 which I knew to be about 30s off 2:18:00 pace so worked out I was on for a mid 2:18 time if I could keep at it. The best thing though was realising that I had nearly 35 minutes to complete the last 10km and I’d managed 34 at London earlier in the year and I felt a whole lot worse then! I must have been smiling the whole way home from now, if not on the outside then definitely on the inside! The pace continued to be strong despite being into a slight head wind until 34 km. At 34km the course turned to the left and this was the bit I’d been waiting for as it meant any wind was behind basically until the finish. My 30-35km split was 16:22 and total time was 1:54:46. 35k was the point in Toronto where I would have loved to wind it up and hammer it to the finish but I obviously had this race to save myself for. Now that I was at the same point in the race and feeling even better than I did in Toronto, I wanted to make sure I did the last bit of the race the justice it deserved. I grabbed my last caffeine lucozade drink, had a few sips, and was now a man on a mission to see what damage I could do to my pb.
I was consistently seeing 5:0x pace on my garmin and to my surprise my HR was still around 172. It even dropped to 170 at one stage but luckily I saw this and told myself to try a bit harder. The next few km’s were all around 3:11 and I went through 40km in 2:10:48. This was my quickest 5km split in 16:02. Had I been (able to be) a bit more observant I seriously would have put in a bit of effort just to get a 15:59 split;) Just before 40km I saw Justin/JAP again (saw him about 2km) and this time I told him that “2:20 is owned!”. I’d also worked out that if I could get to 40km under 2:11 then maybe, just maybe, I’d have a chance at getting under 2:18 as it is quite hard to close the last 2.2km in under 7 minutes (especially as they sometimes sneak extra distance in here, trust me, they do it!). Luckily I had more than 7 minutes but it was still going to be touch and go. Straight after the 40km marker I finally passed a couple of runners (first I’d seen since about 15km!), one must have pulled out and the other, Simon Tonui, who I trained with in Kenya, finished just over 3 minutes after me.
There was a little rise out of the park, which wasn’t very big at all, but it certainly puts you out of your stride. I got back into stride pretty quickly though and was fast approaching the finish. I passed the “1km to go” mark in 2:14:50 which meant I had 3 minutes and 10 seconds left to complete the last km. I was still unsure at this point as I didn’t know if it was an accurate “1km to go”, though it was good to see that the 40km to “1km to go” split was 4 minutes so more than likely to be correct. From here, the research that Dave and I had conducted the night before became invaluable. We had watched the end of the race video from the previous year and saw that from one of the last corners, it was about 2 minutes to get to the finish line. More accurate than that though was that at the point of stepping on the track it was taking the 2:10-2:17 guys about 50 seconds to reach the finish line. This gave us a rough benchmark that upon stepping foot on the track that 60 seconds should be enough to get to the finish and if all is going well then 50 seconds should be possible. This was some good ammo to be packing in case some extra motivation was required so close to the finish. At the corner I had around 2 minutes so things were looking good. There was some good crowd support in the last stretch before entering the stadium but I didn’t take too much of it in as I was concentrating on getting to the finish as quickly as possible. I entered the stadium and upon stepping foot on the track I had just over 50 seconds, 51 I think to be exact. Safe to say that I gave it full beans. 200m to go and I had 41s to spare, easy I thought, that’s slower than marathon pace. Still holding on to my lucky gel I decided I’d rest it in my shorts waist so I didn’t have to carry it anymore but it pretty quickly feel through and I just managed to catch it before it dropped onto the ground. Back to carrying it I guess! 100m to go and it was over 20 seconds now so I knew it was well and truly in the bag. I kept it going and I made it about 45 seconds for the last ~250m and 35 seconds for the last 200m. End result - 2:17:54.
I still can’t quite believe it when I see my time written down and there’s a 7 after the 1. 2:17, un freakin believable! It only got me 22nd place though as it was heavily stacked at the sharp end. That time would have got me 13th at London this year and 16th at Berlin (not that I care what position I was after that time!). My last km was a 3:05 and the last 2.2km was 7:06. Only the first 2 guys managed to beat my 2.2km split with 6:32 and 6:45. It’s safe to say that I was absolutely stoked with my time but also a little surprised. I knew I could run sub 2:18 but I totally wasn’t expecting it this time round due to my less than ideal build up. I guess it goes to show that things don’t always have to go right in the build up for things to go very well on the day. I think one of the biggest factors that helped me this time (and Toronto) was my (lack of) fuelling strategy. My old strategy was to take about 4 or 5 gels during the race and some drinks and some caffeine pills/drink for good measure. Looking back it was no surprise that I had issues in a couple of my marathons where I think my blood sugar was too high and also where I started off on a bit of a high for a while and then come crashing down and felt like crap. It seems that the minimalist approach of a few sips of water or sports drink every 5k works much better for me, oh, and it doesn’t hurt to carry round a gel for fun either;)
Official splits below:
5k 16:20 (16:20)
10k 32:51 (16:31)
15k 49:23 (16:32)
20k 1:05:53 (16:30)
25k 1:22:05 (16:12)
30k 1:38:24 (16:19)
35k 1:54:46 (16:22)
40k 2:10:48 (16:02)