Paul can taste that sub-3 finish and he likes it!
ear with me, I’m having to project. I’m writing this in early March for the pre-london Marathon edition of this column. This is normally the time when I put forward my time predictions. Regular readers may know that I’m part of that band of hardy souls targeting sub-three hours. It’s been a long journey. Hopefully, by April I’ll be breathing the rarefied air of the sub-3 brigade. Oh, to begin your answer with ‘two’ when people ask your marathon time. Oh marathon spirit, give me strength! Carry me forth, oh mermaid of the Thames! Deposit me onto The Mall in glory!
As you may well be picking up, it’s all getting a bit much. I’ve never gone for anything athletic with more focus. The pressure is getting to me. I’m in a sort of hibernation from other facets of life, preparing to explode into life one spring morning. And I’m thinking how I can keep it simple on the day.
First things first: I’m aiming for 2:55. I need to go through the halfway mark in about 87 minutes to give myself a cushion, and I then need to ignore the cushion. If I think about the cushion, I’m going to relax into it. It will make me lazy and smother my dreams. Aside from the not-to-bethought-of five-minute cushion, going for 2:55 also means I’ll be a few steps ahead of the sub-three pace group and the collective tension around water stations when you’re caught up in the sub-three throng.
Secondly, I’m thinking in kilometres. This may surprise you; I do tend towards the traditional in running matters, but when running a marathon I like kms. There’s more of them. When I’m tired I can get lost in a mile. From 23-24, a world can open up, an abyss that I can fall into. I need to stay tethered to the more regular markers of passing kms. Hit them in 4:10(ish). They’re only two-and-a-half laps of a track. I can do that. Bang. Reset.
So how will I approach these 26 miles? We know that when you’re going for a time it helps to have a system in mind. Some people see it as a 20-mile run to a 6-mile race; some go for a negative split. In my last marathon, in York, I’d settled on a fairly complicated formula of viewing the 26.2 as three 10K races, followed by two Parkruns and, finally, five laps of the track. This is an attempt to mirror the effort needed in the later stages of the race. The longer the race goes, the shorter the aims: the first 10K slips by easily; the next is a bit harder; by 30km you are deep in the race – the high fives have dried up, you’re nothing but a gelchugging, water-splashing vessel of muscle and air. You’re tired, but you can do a Parkrun, surely? And then, having done that, I know you’re exhausted but what’s another Parkrun? At the end of that you’re spent, beyond fatigue, a moaning, cursing beast, but having come all this way, you can definitely swing five laps of the track…
This felt good and it was great to factor in psychological restarts later in the run. The problem was I got confused somewhere near the middle of the second Parkrun. Also, the times and the 10Ks started to do my head in: what’s the 30km time and what does that mean for the end? And what about the very end, that irritating little .2 of a mile ? When you’re knackered, the mental arithmetic just makes you weep.
So I’ve refined it. I’m racing to 25. The aim is to hit that point in 2:48(ish). I’ve noticed in races that the last mile tends to take care of itself. No matter how tired I am, the finish always pulls me in like water down a drain. If I can hit 25 in 2:48 I can do it. Oh Lord, give me strength! I’ve got it, my formula: 3 x 10K, 2 x Parkruns and a 400m glide to 25. I’ll know then. I’ll have it in my pocket. Then the last mile and .2 victory parade upon the wings of angels!