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Apr 26 2017

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2017 Virgin London Marathon: Report

Andy Mellon reflects back on Sunday’s London Marathon.

 

2017 London Marathon and lessons I’ve had to learn to get it right this time

 

7am Monday 24th April 2017. The sun is shining, there’s no wind and I can still walk downstairs. A good moment to reflect on yesterday’s Virgin London Marathon (VLM) and my marathon experiences over the last 3 years. This was a day I’ve looked forward to since finishing poorly at Boston last year, a day to put right some of the things that didn’t go so well there. So this is my story and the lessons I have learnt. I hope it may help other TBH’ers.

 

  1. Be honest with your training and commit to it. Looking back I didn’t hit my targets for training pace in many of my long runs in my last two marathons. I have always followed the “run less run faster” approach which bases training on your current 5km pace. With Jon Moss and DD pacing me to a sub-19 Park Run at Christmas, this gave me a challenging pace to go for in my training and a predicted marathon time of around 3h 06. Three main runs per week – long run maxing at 7’ 18 mile pace, tempo runs at HMP until the taper when they went to MP, and interval sessions including 8x 800 about 4 weeks ago (a bit like Yasso 800s). The additional training is meant to be cross training twice a week. I have to be honest that I haven’t really built that in even this time around, but I did add in 1-2 more runs at low intensity of anything between 4-6 miles. The other training has been Ian Pickett’s Strength and Conditioning sets (body weight exercises, technique/form oriented) about once a week and the final training on a similar note is not a traditional one for runners –  a ballroom dancing class on a Tuesday night (which is why I never get to club nights on Tuesday) This is not just learning a few steps, a lot of it is about technique, core stability, balance and muscle control. Thanks Sam Baxter.
  2. Stay well. I have been really lucky this winter. No colds. Obsessive hand washing when faced with snotty children at work. Don’t panic if you do have a week or two of illness. Follow advice on what to do if you start to miss sessions. Most plans will provide guidance.
  1. Sort out your shoes. I wasn’t sure I had this right until 2 weeks ago. I knew something was wrong, starting to get sore heels, then new shoes too tight. Adidas Adios “glow in the dark” shoes finally turned out right.
  1. Plan your taper and stick to it. I’ve read various books about tapering. My plan gave me a three week taper. Previous marathons have left me feeling ready for the marathon a week before, a bit past my best on the day. After reading Matt Fitzgerald’s book on Nutrition for the marathon I planned a  two week taper with my last 20 miler a fortnight ago, which felt really solid. I took a week off work leading up to VLM. Last year at Boston I did too much physical exercise (course recce/sight seeing) in the 2-3 days before the race. This year I had as much time off my feet as possible. I used the last club session 3 days before race day to run an interval session with company. It was great to be with the club to do that last run.
  1. Eat well and get your carb loading right. Over the last week I avoided having any caffeine until the morning of the race, as advised by Fitzgerald. I did a five day high fat diet (aiming for 65% fat) to adapt fat burning metabolism to be more efficient followed by a 1 day carb load on Saturday. (see the end of this piece for a complete breakdown of that) I think  this made a huge difference as I have hit the wall in the last two marathons I ran. The aim was 10 grams of carbs per kg body weight, which for me worked out as 700 grams of carbs – almost 3/4 of a kilo!! That puts it in perspective. I was amazed how much food I had to eat to get that many grams of carbs I started at 7am and was eating every 2 hours throughout the day until 9.30pm when I had my last food. On the morning I had breakfast at 6:30-40 grams of porridge with 200 ml of milk, a 2 shot coffee and milk, half a bagel and that was it. I had drunk to thirst the day before and had a few sips of electrolyte/sugar pre race. I would seriously suggest trying a real carb load before one of your longest runs to work out how much you need to take. There are various carb counters available using google which will help you work it out. My son, who is diabetic, uses similar fitness carb counters all the time to help in his diabetic control,
  1. Plan what you’ll do for drinks and energy during the race. I have tried to rely less on gels and drinking during my training this time. A colleague at work is involved with GNR medics and they see far more people who have over hydrated with water and dropped their blood sodium than anything else. Dehydration doesn’t usually get you into the medical tent, but low blood sodium does. Drink to thirst only. I opted to take a hand held bottle containing an electrolyte tablet and 30 grams of sucrose, plus had 3 gels in a bum bag. In the end my intake was probably 400 ml of my drink (I squirted 100 ml over another runner at the start by mistake when holding the bottle between my legs!) and about a quarter of a bottle of lucozade sport. I didn’t use any of the gels. Last year I used them regularly during the race but by 20 miles when I hit the wall I could hardly bear to swallow them. This year lucozade sport tasted delicious in the last three miles. I didn’t take any of the bottled water, as I didn’t need it.
  1. Be prepared for the conditions. Last year in Boston I was caught out by warmer conditions than expected, and was dowsing my head with water from the first mile. I ended up too hot and with bad sunburn as I washed off all my suncream.This year I bought a lightweight white cap and made the decision to wear it at blue start as the sun broke through – good choice as it was very similar to Boston last year. Even in April in London you can get sunburnt so I was sun creamed on exposed surfaces. Also a small strip of kinesiotape is a sure way to avoid nipple chafing, and it comes off relatively painlessly in the shower. Other brands of sports tape are available. Female runners should use their own judgement about this particular approach.
  1. Toilet strategy. With that much food I was a bit concerned about this. Fantastic loo facilities at blue start. Short queues for  most of the time. One mistake was to misjudge bladder tolerance which meant I had to use the portaloos at 3 miles (Lesson – you don’t mess your race up in the first half even if you have to stop (toilet/laces/etc). You can gradually work your way back to where you were over the next few miles) I took some advice from my sister and carried some imodium with me, which I took at about 10 miles when I had a few gripes. I think that really helped and it is WADA legal.
  1. Have more than one target for a positive mindset. This has helped me in every marathon I’ve done and I took it from Marathon Talk. Don’t put all your marathon-ambition eggs in one basket. My programme based on 5k time gave me a 3h 06 target time. That seemed too ambitious. I felt that 3h 15 was achievable. I thought 3h 10 was possible if everything went right. 3h 20 was good for age so another target, and 3h 28 my PB as another target. Finally, finishing the race was the last target. It’s not the end of the world to miss your PB – I know.
  1. Expect to have some negative spells in the race. In every marathon I’ve run I have had slight cramps in one or other calf at about 8-9 miles. Don’t know why. It happened again in London. Was my lace too tight on my right foot? Was I in danger of a calf strain? I think I was probably sitting back a bit subconsciously and could feel my right foot holding on to the shoe. Thinking about form (Thanks Ian Pickett – toes up, good heel recovery) helped me adjust my posture and I felt my foot reposition in my shoe and felt much more comfortable by mile 10.
  1. If you can run with someone else for part of the race it helps. First marathon at Chester I joined forces for the last ten miles with a young woman running a strong second half which really helped. We were able to work off each other’s energy overtaking more than 700 runners. On Sunday, a tap on the shoulder at about 4 miles and I had company for the next ten miles from fellow TBH’er Kenny “Tower Bridge” Chambers. We settled into a steady pace around 7’20 per mile. We knew we had similar targets – sub 3h 20 or better, and kept the 3h 15 blue pacer in sight. Kenny ran really strongly and helped me through my tough spot at 8-9 miles. It felt like a team and we briefly talked about holding together at that sort of pace throughout the race. I had visions of finishing down the Mall together. That would have made a TV moment (Little did we know what would happen on Tower Bridge) Kenny had told me about the buzz going over Tower Bridge and last year he and another runner had egged the crowds on as they crossed it. So we did the same again, as the world saw. Sometimes you have to be in the moment so as not to miss it.

    Andy & Kenny crossing Tower Bridge

    Tower Bridge is indelibly burned into my memory. That gave me an incredible mental lift.Unfortunately Kenny started to struggle suddenly at around 14-15 miles and our pace dropped. He’d helped me earlier keep it together. We ran on for another mile, then the green 3h 15 pace group surged past us. We chatted.  Was he ok? Hip pain. Could he run it off? Didn’t think so. Then he said I should go on if I felt ok and could go faster. That felt really hard, but a quick fist bump and we parted company at 16 miles.

  1. Believe in your training, nutrition and running plan. My plan had been to go through halfway at 3h 15 pace, then see how I was feeling between 18 and 20 miles and push on if I could. I had run 4 or so of the final 6 miles last month when passing through London. I reached halfway in 1 h 37 14. There was one mile at 8’09 pace then I was on my own with a single target – catch the 3h15 pace group who had come past me. Tyne Bridge Harrier’s favourite Bad Boy, David Hellard was green start pacer. He passed me and Kenny in the tunnels round docklands, encouraging his followers like some latter-day pied piper offering advice, gels and caffeine. I could see them in the distance. I felt good. I pushed my pace up, thought about form and cadence (again thanks Ian) and began to pass other runners. I know how positive that is in the latter stages of a race. I stopped looking at my watch – the pace group became my watch. Catch them and I was back on target. It took two miles, but I was back amongst them and passed them at an awkward 180 degree turn deep in docklands. Should I sit in and stay with them? I still  felt strong. No sign of glucose depletion. I felt I was running better than the people around me. So I let the positives win and kept moving on. Every runner passed was a victory and gave me confidence. Think about form, count to ten then start again, don’t think about how far it is just how near. Relate it to your long runs from Ponteland – this would be the A1 bridge, this is Weetslade, this is Gossie Park. Don’t let your form drift on the uphills. Don’t overdo it but keep the feet turning over. Keep sipping from your bottle. Then across the line with a second half of 1h 37 mins 34 seconds and finish time of 3 h 14 mins 48 secs.
  1. The power of people calling your name out. Kenny had told me two weeks ago to get my name printed on my shirt. There’s a stand at the expo where they do this for £8. Lots of alternatives but that made it so easy. “ Go on Andy” “Go Kenny” “Tyne Bridge” – It is just so buzzy. When you are feeling strong and managing to overtake in that last stretch you get even more encouragement.
  1. The last two miles is like the seafront at South Shields on the GNR – you never seem to be getting there. Suddenly I felt like I was standing still as others put on their finishing dash for the line. Don’t misjudge and go too early. There were a lot of runners pushing hard outside Parliament who came back going towards the Mall. Its not a sprint race. Keep focused and keep your form.
  1. Remember to switch off your watch as you cross the line. Finally got that one right.
  2. Warm down. I started to stiffen up as I walked to collect my bag after the finish. Then I heard a voice in my head “ Remember to stretch” My final thank you to Ian Pickett. I found a bit of space with a fence and some grass and went through the post S&C warm down stretches. It made a huge difference to comfort levels. That plus newly bought compression tights, which were only bought at the expo cos I’d left my own at home, have really helped me feel comfortable since the end of the race.
  1. Take your time to sign up for a marathon. I started running in 2011 after a 15 year break from being a pretty active triathlete. I swore I’d never run a marathon because I’d seen too many people get injured in the buildup. For various reasons I was persuaded to run Chester marathon in 2014 and I think  that was the soonest I could possibly have done it safely. I had various calf injuries in my first 3 years back running, and I have adapted my approach to running as I’ve learnt more about the biomechanics of running. I think it now shows in pictures I see of myself running. I have hamstrings which are still tight but much stronger than before. 
  1. Belong to a fantastic club and have relatives who also belong to a fantastic club. At every step along the way TBH has been so supportive, I can’t thank people enough. I can even forgive David Appleby (joking) for changing my championship entry to the mass start  – there were more toilets for the mass start area! I was within 100 yards of the start of the elite race and across the line in about 1 minute. My sister and brother in law run with Bromley Veterans AC and they turned out in force to cheer on their colleagues, as well as TBH runners as proxy friends and family. Knowing the club were following the race either in the crowd (including Gaz Gibson, TBH’s biggest fan) or using the tracker is a big mental positive. Reading the FB and other comments/messages has been such a bonus that just adds to the whole experience. I felt proud to be associated with the The Tyne Bridge club in the BBC clip – it felt appropriate for two of us to be side by side at that point crossing Tower Bridge.
  1. Looking ahead. There are always new goals. Learning from the relative negative experiences has helped make me a stronger runner. I have good for age entries for the next 2 years. My next goal is the largest half marathon in the USA in a month’s time – Brooklyn half marathon  – V55 winner last year was around 1h 24. Top ten age group finish is possible and a target. I am looking forward to getting back into club sessions and  the Masters athletics events over the summer. Then there’s a little matter of 13 or so miles to South Shields and a lifetime PB to think about.

 

Andy

(Andy’s time of 3:14:48 is a new MV55 Club Record – DD)

 

Below is the load intake leading up to the Marathon

 

Day 1 fat load / caffeine exclusion

Breakfast

2 egg omelette cheese olive oil

Glad semi skimmed milk

1 piece toast sourdough

 

Lunch

2 pieces of toast 1 avocado

Olive oil

Half tomato

Rocket

Piece ginger cake

Handful pistachios and cashews

Spritz and 2 glasses of wine

 

Tea

2 mackerel fillets

1.5 leeks

Cheese sauce

Potatoes

Greek yoghurt rhubarb

 

Carb load Saturday 22nd April (marathon day minus1)

Estimated carbohydrate content in grams (g) and cumulative total carb intake for day in brackets

 

06:50 Protein drink and 200 ml milk          13.6 g

Bite bar                                                          19.8 g             (33.4)

 

08:40 4 pancakes plus honey                      91 g (124.4)

09:30 1 pancake                                           22.5 g             (146.9)

10:25 coconut drink                                      13.4 g             (160.3)

11:45 Tidbits lunch (vegetarian restaurant in London who charge by the weight of your plate. I have added one more figure here which is there total weight of the food {weight}

 

First plate                                                       100 g              (260)               {434}

Drink                                                                29 g              (289)

Second plate                                                   37g              (327)               {200}

Lemon drizzle cake                                        50g              (377)

 

14:00 Crepe ice cream banana orange j   53 g              (430)

18:30 bagel                                                       45g              (475)

19:00 roll                                                         24.2g              (500)

19:40 pitta hummus                                      18.6g              (518.6)

20:00 pasta broccoli leeks                             80g               (598.6)

20:30 apple crumble                                       24g               (612.6)

20:30 lemon tart                                              18g               (630)

21:30 bagel                                                      45g               (675)

 

8 comments

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  1. Double D

    Congratulations Andy on a fabulous performance and thanks for a terrific read. Even old dogs like myself can still pick up a few tips.

    Good luck in Brooklyn.

  2. Kay Black

    Brilliant report Andy. Really enjoyed reading it.

  3. Sparrow

    Nice one! How about that picture?! There’s a lot of sense in that preparation – hope it helps people to prepare as well as you did.

  4. Alex Lockwood

    Fabulous breakdown of the race prep and experience Andy, and well done again

  5. Sinead

    Many congrats on your achievement Andy. Really interesting read. I was a little concerned about the amount of fibre being consumed but the use of Imodium was clever. Well done. Recover well.

  6. Andrew Mellon

    I’m vegetarian Sinead so pretty well adapted to that

  7. George Stainsby

    Amazing attention to detail in your preparation, Andy- it’s lots of little things that make a huge difference. And some great tips for next year, hopefully! Great report and time!

  8. Stuart Walker

    GREAT READ!! (Y) ….well done fantastic effort ….shows the devil is in the detail

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