The Sunday and day after I DNF’ed at the WAM 100 miler (Whistler Alpine Meadows), I was full of energy, motivated and felt I wasn’t done for the year. I’d felt like that Saturday morning as I drove back from Whistler, after a strategic DNF after spending 10kms off course (see previous blog). Another ultra was a potential shot, but due to limited annual leave (read I was already taking days without pay to finish 2019), extra time off wasn’t going to happen. Plus, I’m experienced enough as a runner and understand the science to know that whilst I probably could pull it off, it poses a higher risk doing such a quick double. So the idea of a road marathon was suddenly on the table. First off, after running Berlin in 2017 (not long after my debut 100 miler), I had zero desire to do another one. Zero. It was telling that suddenly the idea of hammering 26.2 miles was appealing to me. Plus, it’s a distance that on completion, wouldn’t leave me totally buried (comparative to trying to race a longer ultra). You never quite know with back to back schedules, and people have both succeeded and failed in various iterations, so there isn’t a perfect formula. Generally speaking, overdoing it doesn’t end well. With some encouragement from a good friend Emma (who won her debut marathon in a savage sub three run last month, #proudfriendmoment), Frankfurt marathon in October (exactly four weeks after Whistler) looked like a good option. I spoke to Coach, and on the condition I took a full week off to recover as a precaution AND promise to dial it back if anything at all felt off at any point, then I was good to go. So three weeks out, I signed up.
After a promised week off, I jumped straight back into higher mileage and workouts. Thresholds during the week and marathon pace long runs on the weekends. Marathon training bread and butter. The three weeks flew by and I was tapering before I knew it. Frankfurt would be my fifth road marathon, and in tradition of my prior ones, next to no specific training. I’ve always focused on ultras, so last minute decisions to race marathons have been my thing. Both to my benefit and detriment. I had some time goals, and like most of my goals, they were audacious but in line with my potential. As someone that understands the science and physiology of training, I was also very cognisant that coming off 100 mile mountain specific training and only three weeks of marathon focused training, is a very limited opportunity to develop the pacing and physiology required for a road marathon effort. Being fit definitely helps, but there is a reason road marathoners generally spend anything from 8-16 weeks building up to a race. Specificity is critical. So whilst I had some numbers, my primary goals were to pace as evenly as possible (ideally negative split), and finish the race having enjoyed the experience (Berlin 2017, was hot garbage).
The race started like all marathons, hordes of faster people (I was just behind the official elite runners, in a prime starting spot) jockeying for position and trying to find a groove. I saw my time on my watch as we hit the first km marker, where I noticed I was bang on 6 minute mile pace, overall goal pace. As part of my plan, I wanted to start slower so from that point on, anytime I felt I could push a little more, I did the opposite. It felt slow through 10km, but controlled and steady as planned. I was especially pleased I got to see my cheer squad of Emma, Russ and Rhi multiple times (you guys were awesome), which is always a bonus in a race. Coming through half way, I had wanted to feel smooth, which I did. Splitting 1:23:50, a very conservative split for what I wanted which I hoped would set me up for a great second half. Hitting the 30km point, the forecasted rain had started to fall. Not a lot, but enough to change it from a dry race. I had been running with a pretty consistent group at that stage, a few solid guys and a few female elites (including a Swedish girl I’d block wind for over the next few miles). The pacing was consistent and we were well on our way back into the city centre to finish. Coming up to 34kms, I had a final gel to take, before the final 7kms to close out the race. There were moments of strain at this stage, as is fairly normal in a road marathon. Pacing had felt consistent and I was confident I was right on target to run a shade faster incoming on the second half. Not likely to dip under 2:40 as I’d hoped, but a respectable time and PR if things continued well.
Which of course, they did not. Coming up to 35km, I grabbed my final gel. A Spring Energy Mcraevoery gel. Yes, a gel that Spring put designed for late in the race ultras (where you are going 3-4 minutes slower per km) or for after a long run. NOT for hard racing at all. I knew that coming in, but my fast and loose approach to nutrition for marathons (and close to perfect record with nutrition in ultras), I figured I’d get away with it. WRONG. Oh the hubris. The second it touched my lips, I felt ill and the need to vomit. Instantly. Not wanting to waste the calories, I proceeded to slowly sip and force it down, as my pace slowed and my body began to aggressively react. I sucked the last of it down, just in time to hit the 35km water station. As I grabbed a cup of water, a little sip washed the rest of the gel down. For sudden, violent, eruptive, projectile vomiting to start. Black filth shot out of my mouth, causing alarm amongst the volunteers, and splattering on the pavement in front of me. I managed to stagger several metres away to other side of the road. From there, I was like a 15 yr old who’d discovered binge drinking and proceeded to continue that horror show of projectile vomiting for several minutes. Oh the choices we make. I cant even remember the last time I was as sick as that (nights out included). Possibly when I had a gastro virus. I’d certainly never been even mildly sick in a race. It wasn’t pretty. I paid dearly for my gross over-confidence (thats what I get for cheating on Gu). Finally, after several minutes, I felt fine. I stood up. Took a breath. Took another. Sipped my water. And realised I was back. I sculled the rest of the water, threw the cup down, and then just shot off to the roar and cheers of the volunteers who were glad I wasn’t about to die in front of them. The Puke and Rally. A timeless ultra-running tactic, that has been part of many a comeback story. With pep in my step, I dropped one of my fastest 5km splits and didn’t relent until I crossed that glorious finish line. Yes, the final few miles were pretty tough. Welcome to marathon racing. The long straight finish was both a blessing and a curse, but my final mile being one of my fastest, and my mentality to push never waned. A big change from Berlin two years prior where I believe my post race comment was “F**k this shit”. Crossing the finish line I was just outside of my 2:48 PR. And yet, I wasn’t disappointed.
1:23:50 then 1:25:32. My best splits for any marathon pacing wise (even if they didn’t yield a PR). I’m also fairly confident that had I not made a fools error with that single gel, I’d have been right on target for a negative split. Alas, that’s racing and it doesn’t always go to plan. On the positive side, I achieved both my goals. I enjoyed it (minus the projectile vomiting portion, but I’ll chalk that up to practicing for a future 100 miler), and am very pleased with how disciplined I was early on with my pacing, allowing me to close hard. The Puke and Rally is a funny story, and I know exactly why it happened. Lesson learnt (I did cop a lot of grief for that one too from my coach and multiple others, rightfully so). I felt great walking around afterwards, and the proceeding days. Two races in a row where I wasn’t beat up or had much to the way of traditional fatigue and soreness. A big victory. Especially pleasing was my friend (Emma’s brother) Paul ran a PR of 2:17 in his England debut. Incredible run from him, and he was definitely the MVP that day.
So that’s my 2019 season over. It’s been a heck of a year. I’ve had some great adventures out in Arizona, California, Colorado and Canada. I’ve learnt plenty. I’ve volunteered at races, crewed and paced friends, and had a mixture of success in my own racing. I’ve made new friends and cultivated existing ones. I’ve not had an injury and the two weeks off I had from running this year were planned (and done so begrudgingly). All in all a pretty successful year. Yes, results wise I didn’t finish the big race I had planned. 100 milers are inherently challenging and with so many variables that are not present in any other type of race distance. It is that unique challenge that draws me in, and what will keep me coming back. I learnt a huge amount racing Whistler Alpine Meadows 100 this year, and so many of those micro lessons will benefit me when I race in the future. For 2020, I have my eyes set solely on Leadville. High altitude, but run-able (and yes I know how using the term run-able in a 100 mile mountain race is incomprehensible to 99% of people) terrain in the Colorado Rockies. A historic race and a worthy challenge for me. I’ll be back out at Western States in June, amongst a bunch of other trips that see me predominantly focused in the USA. I have a lot of goals, as well as the desire to just spend time outside, exploring and adventuring, with some wonderful like-minded people. As Winter fast approaches, it’s a lot of base building now and focusing a little more on other things in my life. My career is in change as we speak, and the goal to move from London and to somewhere probably in the US like Flagstaff or Boulder/Golden is still very much a priority. The future is always in flux, and I look forward to what 2020 brings. For now, we have a little left of 2019 and I’m sure the learning, growth and excitement will remain.
Frankfurt Marathon Gear
- Altra Duos (a nice change from the Escalante Racer which I still love)