This year marked my 4th London Marathon in succession. I was overjoyed to qualify right at the front with the elite “Fast Good For Age” amateurs, thanks to my shock 2016 finishing time of 2 hours 52 minutes. Through 2016 I’d clocked up 2,180km – an average of a marathon every week, generally split into a half marathon and two 10km runs. I was routinely running sub 4 minute km’s regardless of distance, and even worked with a running coach to finesse and improve my technique in pursuit of even faster times. Never too old for gold, I say!
However, on the day of the Marathon itself I felt a sense of foreboding rather than the usual nervous energy and excitement. My spring training schedule had been shot to pieces by 4 long haul trips in as many weeks through March/April, a nagging twingy injury that my osteopath couldn’t really get to the bottom of, and no time for complimentary exercises such as yoga. I’d been struggling to hit my target marathon pace for 10km runs, regardless of the effort I put in, and I was relying on wishful thinking that a week’s tapering might put me back to my previous form.
This was coupled with unfamiliarity of being in a pen of skinny, sharp elbowed, slightly manic looking men all surging to be at the very very front, rather than the more “fun run” atmosphere I was used to. I wasn’t sensing much enjoyment here, and it became something I simply wanted to get over and done with. Which pretty much sums up the rest of my run. I’d tried to cheer myself up by buying some fancy new compression socks at the Expo which gave me a blister within the first 10 minutes, and I was barely through Bermondsey when I first seriously thought about chucking it all in.
The crowd over Tower Bridge lifted my spirits and I powered through the Isle of Dogs and the relentless, slightly bleak section in the back end of Limehouse when my lack of training and asymmetric stride caused by the blister began to really hit me. I bravely fought ahead of the 3 hour group who had been on my tail for some time, before resigning myself to letting them surge ahead. Then what felt like the longest 10km run of my life, fighting as hard as I could to at least deliver my second fastest race – which I did achieve with a time of 3 hours 6 minutes.
Yes, I know most marathon runners would dream of a time that fast, just like most non-marathon runners would dream of simply being able to complete one at all. For me, like most runners, it’s all about competing with yourself rather than competing with others. My long journey of continuous improvement had come to an abrupt end. As one of my blunter friends told me, “Oh dear, that’s very fast but quite a lot slower than you ran last year, right?” That was exactly how I felt when I crossed the line, and you can see it in my eyes in the photo.
For the next couple of months I completely lost my running mojo. I was still running two or three times a week, but largely out of habit than for any sense of enjoyment or achievement. I mixed running with cycling, and completed a 100km charity cycle challenge around the Surrey Hills, which luckily reminded me how much more I liked running. If anything my running pace was getting slower, so in the end I switched off the pace reminders on my app and just went with the pace of my body.
Four months and what feels like a lifetime later, I’m loving running again and hitting some of my fastest times. Here’s some of the lessons (and tips) I’ve picked up along the way:
- Switch off pace reminders and simply go with the flow. Some days you run faster, some days you run slower, and whilst it’s great to be told the former when you’re midflow it can put undue pressure to keep it up, and it’s never helpful to be told you’re running slower than normal when you’re putting in as much if not more effort! I still track my runs all the same, but I don’t look at my average pace until the end. It’ll be what it’s going to be.
- Mix things up a little. Try out different routes, even if you know they’re going to be slower e.g. having to wait to cross roads, walk/run through busier sections, run uphill, etc. I even went back to the treadmill in the gym for a few interval sessions and superfast hill sprints, and really enjoyed the variety (ok – just for 15 minutes or so…)
- Try out different running shoes. Having run consistently with my “racing” shoes (Adidas Adizero Adios) I know I run slower in less responsive shoes, and differently again in my barefoot style Vivos. Changing shoes means you can’t compare like with like.
- Don’t always run at race pace. To be honest I find this hard, as my training regimen is basically “run as fast as I can for as long as I can,” but I’m told slower recovery runs are just as important as fast ones. Switching off the pace reminders definitely helped with this, as does mixing up routes and shoes – all the habits you develop to maximise running efficiency.
- Run with friends, old and new, or with a group. Not only does time fly so much quicker, it also completely changes your pace as you have to go at someone else’s rather than your own. The most rewarding running I ever did was with some of the guys from work who were doing their first ever 10km park runs, to accompany me whilst I did my first ever 100km run.
- A bit of retail therapy never goes amiss. There’s nothing more motivating than buying some fancy new running kit to encourage you to get out for a run. Just don’t do it the day before you run a marathon! I’ve got a pair of Vivo barefoot trail shoes which I can’t wait to take out whilst in the Isle of Skye next week, and a pair of Newton running shoes which I’ll try out when I’m back in London and start posting some reviews.
- Remind yourself that’s there’s nothing worse than not being able to run at all, and that being able to run is a great privilege. Unless you’re a runner – and if you’re reading this I’m sure you are – you’ll never really know that the joy of running exists. When you lose your running mojo you lose that joy, but it’s not gone forever – you simply need to rekindle, rebuild it and rediscover it. It’s a lot easier to do that, than to have found it in the first place.
In both pictures I’m wearing Iffley Road kit. Click here to pay them a visit!