[You can watch all of these embedded videos which comprise my “Rich Runs a Marathon” vlog series at this YouTube playlist]
On April 10th 2022 I ran the Brighton Marathon. It was my first marathon and at the time I thought perhaps it would be my only marathon. My friend Dale had entered for 2021 but because he found out he had secured a place at the London Marathon that year, which then clashed with the COVID-delayed Brighton date, he transferred his place to me, deferring it to 2022. To be honest, if he hadn’t offered me his place I’m not sure if I would have simply signed up to a marathon of my own volition. The idea of a marathon always seemed pretty scary. However, the simple verbal acceptance of his place and him doing most of the admin meant I didn’t really give it all that much thought. I’d agreed to do a marathon “some time next year” but I didn’t need to worry too much about it for now.
Of course the thing with time is that things which at first appear to be a long way away get closer, and end up not being so far away at all. I knew in the back of my mind I would probably be doing a 16 week training plan and I’d probably be starting that in the New Year. So when we were getting towards the end of 2021 and I casually decided to count back 16 weeks from the date of the race, I realised that I would have to actually start my training in December. The 20th of December to be exact.
Now I’d started running during the first lockdown in March 2020. Before that I had very occasionally (over the last 15 years or so) attempted to run a 5K on a treadmill at the gym, mostly walking for a large part of it and possibly deciding I’d had enough at 3K. But with the encouragement of starting a virtual challenge with some friends of mine, and the government’s allowance to exercise outside once a day, I started running outside for the first time in a very long time indeed. Over the next several lockdown weeks I managed to start running 5K without stopping, then 6K, working my way up to 10K, 12K, 16.1K (10 miles) etc up to the half marathon distance of 21.1K/13.1 miles. By 2021 I’d managed to get my 5K time down to 22:15, my 10K to 47:46 and my half marathon time to around 1h:49 (Unofficially, just on Garmin/Strava). I’d learned the hard way about getting the right shoes and socks as I started off running in £40 trainers and normal socks which had led to sore toes, lost/black nails and occasional niggles in my legs. All of these issues started to go away with my first pair of Brooks Launch 7 shoes and some 1000 mile socks. Since then I have moved on to using toe socks and wearing Brooks Ghosts for most of my training runs, and Saucony Endorphin Speeds for speed work and races (including the marathon itself). (EDIT: I now have a pair of Nike Vaporflys for races which I love).
Of course after getting what I considered “quite good” at running during 2020, I fell out the habit and started running less and less, losing a lot of fitness in the process. I was disappointed with my first “official” time of 2h 02 at the Hampton Court Palace Half Marathon in September 2021 and my 1h 28 time at the Great South Run 10 mile race the following month, because I knew I’d run those distances much faster just out on the street.
Anyway by the time I started my training plan on December 20th I had run very little in the preceding weeks and had a bit of a mountain to climb to be ready for April.
Regarding the choice of plan, I settled on the Garmin Intermediate Marathon Plan, partly because I have a Garmin watch. I eschewed the beginners plan to try and push myself, and wondered if I could do it under 4 hours if I got some previous fitness back. The advantages of the Garmin plan over others were clear in that I could easily sync the workouts to my watch (Garmin Forerunner 245) so for example for interval or threshold workouts the watch would tell me when to run hard and when to rest, and I wouldn’t have to program those in myself. I could also move the workouts around using the calendar on my laptop if I needed to. However I did cross reference the plan occasionally with other plans supplied by Runners World, The Marathon Handbook, and Brighton Marathon itself. Of course, as I was out the habit of running and my first week was over Christmas, it was a bit of a disaster and I skipped most of the workouts, only running about 7km.
Once I’d got over that terrible first week I started to stick to the plan generally pretty well, aside from skipping the occasional easy or recovery run. It was a real shock to the system though running four or even five times a week, as even when I was running more regularly I would usually have taken a day or two off between runs and rarely run on consecutive days. I’d learned by now though about slowing down and running in low heart zones, which I never did before. At first during the plan I definitively felt like my fitness had decreased as I struggled to run at speeds I previously found relatively easy, and my heart rate seemed to get quite high.
January and February were also quite unusually busy for me workwise. I spent a couple of weeks up in Edinburgh shooting a TV show which involved long days resulting in squeezing in runs on the treadmill before a quick dinner and bed, although I did manage a couple of nice long runs around Edinburgh at the weekends. It was also in Edinburgh I decided to get a second hand GoPro to make my vlogging easier.
By the time I was half way through the plan I was definitely feeling like I was getting fitter and faster, and was running the furthest I had ever run. I’d also been consciously researching running tips at the same time and had been working on my running form, in particular my running cadence. Having previously let my cadence slip into the 150s for easy runs I’d been working on increasing it to 165 and above by taking shorter steps thus reducing my impact with the floor and my vertical movement. This also seemed to allow me to run faster while keeping my heart rate lower. (EDIT: I now run a lot of my easy runs with a cadence of 170, and get up to 180 at faster paces).
I finished the training plan feeling pretty good and confident that I could at least run the marathon and get over the line. I’d done a couple of runs over 30K which helped psychologically that on the day I would only have another 10K to go, plus I’d managed to pull back my half marathon PB back down under 1hr 50 and even managed a 5K parkrun PB time of just over 22 minutes.
I had experienced my first leg soreness after doing the long long runs combined with doing leg strength work, but I managed to ease these with stretching and haven’t encountered those since (touch wood). I’d practised with gels and high 5 tablets and got a list of things I would need to take for the day itself, so was feeling nervous but confident.
Brighton didn’t have a bagdrop on the day (EDIT: there’s been a lot of things reported about the organisers now) so all participants had to go down the day before to drop off things and pick up their race bibs. I packed an old comfy pair of trainers to change into (I hear other runners pack flip flops) along with fresh pants, jogging bottoms, T shirt along with some water, protein bars etc. On the day I took my hydration vest with a litre of water in it, plus several gels (knowing some would be handed out), my GoPro with spare batteries, and that all important Factor 50. (EDIT: I now run with a hat)
After starting the race I felt fresh and pretty good, although I realised I hadn’t really decided on what pace to run! I’d thought about aiming for under 4 hours with a margin for error pace of around 5:27min/km but I ended up going off faster than that. I covered the first 5K in 22 minutes and was halfway by 1hr 48 (which was a PB) which I thought was probably too fast, and sure enough by about 25K I was starting to struggle and having to walk a little bit. I walked a few more times when collecting water from the aid stations and by about 32K/20miles I was thinking how great it would be just to stop, and I convinced myself that going under 4 hours didn’t matter. But by the time I got to only having 5K left and realised I could still go under 4 hours if I ran a relatively easy 5K in 30 to 35 minutes (a pace of over 6:00min/km), that gave me the motivation I needed to keep pushing, and along with the amazing crowds, I managed to get over the line in 3hr 53.
Getting over that line while still being upright and capable of walking was such an amazing feeling that it wasn’t long before I started wondering whether I could’ve done even better if I’d planned my pacing better or taken gel-alternative nutrition… so sure enough I signed up for Manchester marathon for 2023. In the meantime I plan to not throw away that marathon fitness and keep up a consistent weekly mileage, perhaps beat some shorter distance PBs (I actually managed a 21:36 5K time a couple of weeks ago) and then go into Manchester Marathon next year even fitter. I’m thinking about trying to get closer to 3hr 30… anyway. Watch this space!
(EDIT: I have now beaten all my PBs – check out the latest ones below)
By the way to sum up the training plan, I ended up running the following mileage over the 16 weeks:
|Total run||Long run|
*the race itself
You may be surprised, as it’s not a huge weekly mileage on average, but where I perhaps missed the odd easy run, I generally kept up the “quality” sessions, so the tempo/threshold runs, the intervals, and the long run. Also if you check out this blog post where someone pulled weekly mileage out of Strava for various marathon times, you’ll see I wasn’t not a million miles (no pun intended) away.