The marathon is a funny one, and unlike any other running distance I’ve tried so far. With a 5 or 10k, or even a half marathon, you can get a very good idea of your potential finishing time during training. With the marathon, you can make all the plans you want – but you can never really know how it’s going to pan out until the day itself. Even if you hit your target pace for every single training run, it doesn’t mean that your body will stick to the plan for 26.2 miles.
It’s a bit of a bugger in that respect.
For Brighton this year, I didn’t want to give myself a goal finishing time. It was my first marathon, and I had no idea how my body would hold up for that sort of distance. My parents had run close to 5 hours the year before, so I told myself that something around the 5-hour mark would be awesome. But even so, I didn’t make any plans. I set off at a comfortable pace which I kept up for the first 21 miles (letting my parents go on ahead at the 10k mark) before taking close to a 1.5-mile walking break at 21 miles. I admit that I glanced at my pace band here and there, but when I saw that I had lost my chances of a sub-5 finish, I didn’t feel upset or disappointed in any way.
In fact, by the time I hit 22 miles, I started to get excited – because I know, at that point, that my body was capable of getting me to the finish line. And for my first marathon, that’s all that really mattered to me. I came in at 5:16:15 (with my Garmin showing 26.4 miles), and cried happy tears as I crossed the line – with my parents on either side of me (I managed to catch them up just after the 25 mile marker).
Paris will be my second marathon, and after almost 2 years of training for Brighton, I feel like I should have a more concrete goal this time round than to simply ‘finish’. When I met my personal trainer for the first time last week, we discussed my history and also my fitness goals – with the main one being Paris. He asked me what time I wanted to finish in, and I’ll admit that I was almost scared to say a time out loud.
I mean, I’m not a great runner. I’ve never really stuck to a proper plan, besides ‘run X miles X times a week’, and my fastest mile EVER was 8:40. This was at the start of a 5k run on Christmas day last year with my little brother (who happily runs 7:00/mile without breaking a sweat), and I ended up walking for a good few minutes afterwards just to recover. My comfortable pace is 11:00/mile, and a good pace for my shorter runs is 10:00. Sure, I’d love to be able to bust out an 8:00-9:00/mile average on my shorter runs, but up to this point I’ve never been great with speed and pace.
I told him that I’d be happy just to beat my previous time, or to come in at under 5 hours. His immediate reaction was ‘oh, you can definitely get under 5 hours. What about 4h30?’
I almost laughed out loud at this point. But at the same time, a little voice in my head started whispering ‘what if?…’
Maybe, just maybe, by stepping outside of my comfort zone and pushing myself a little, adding in some proper speed and strength training and knuckling down for my long runs, by sticking to a structured plan and focusing a little more on recovery… Am I capable of more than I give myself credit for? Can I really give myself such an ambitious goal?
I’m excited to find out.
For those who have done multiple marathons, how did your training change after the first one? Have you been able to shave off much time?