Debut Marathon adventure – training for a marathon in three weeks
On April 30th 2017, I committed to running a marathon. In Worcester. In three weeks’ time. On Sunday 21st May. Yes, three weeks’ time. 21 days. 504 hours. 30,240 minutes.
Disclaimer/explanation of context: My level of fitness at this time of my life (age 37, been running for approximately 4 years, an average of about 20-25km per week) means that I could already run a half-marathon at will in a time of sub 1 hour 40 minutes. I wasn’t starting from complete zero. I am a slightly built man, weighing approximately 11 stone, height of 5’9’’ and have a long history of exercise. I would not advise anyone to train for a marathon themselves in three weeks, but then that’s entirely up to you.
Up until I committed to training in three weeks for running a marathon, my longest three runs were as follows:
23 miles, running to Matlock from Chilwell at 5:00am to get to a training course in January 2016: https://www.strava.com/activities/473783489
15 miles, cross country race (Ely to Cambridge in 2013): https://www.strava.com/activities/46599045
One of a few half-marathons. The quickest one was 1:19:12 in 2014: https://www.strava.com/activities/200524805
So, whilst I have done some longer distance running, the Marathon distance was uncharted territory for me.
Why did I want to run a marathon? And with only three weeks preparation?
I have always revered long distance runners. Growing up as a boy, I loved watching Eamonn Martin dominate the cross country races on the TV and always enjoyed dipping in to see progress of the Great North Run and the London Marathon. I was in awe of how they could keep running for such a long time at such intensity and really wanted that to be me. Unfortunately, this coincided with me also wanted to be a professional footballer, cricketer, professional footballer, Rounders player, skateboarder and professional footballer…did I mention I was really in to football?!
As such, there just weren’t enough hours in the week to pursue all of these things and so I drifted into the comfortable and mainstream: football during the autumn, winter and spring, cricket in the summer. This pattern continued from the age of about 12 to the age of 30. It soon became clear that this pattern, routine and amount of time spent on sport wasn’t going to be able to continue as marriage happened and my passions were compromised.
What this did do, though, was provide an opportunity to look for other ways of exercising and keeping fit and healthy, enabling me to test my body, compete and have some desperately sought ‘me’ time.
Over these more recent years, the London Marathon, Diamond League meets, World Championships and the Olympics took on increasing importance for me. I appreciated not only the track events but the field events too. It became one of my ‘bucket list’ items to run the London Marathon. I have had several false starts regarding attempting to enter the London Marathon. My memory seems to have let me down on a regular, annual occasion – so much so, that I have not entered the ballot in 3 of the last 4 years of deciding I wanted to run the race. This year was different. I decided, during the ballot week, that I wasn’t going to apply for a ballot place. Many of my friends have explained how many years they’ve been applying and been unsuccessful in the ballot.
I didn’t want that and I also don’t want the pressure currently of having to raise upwards of £2,000 for a charity for the opportunity to run 26.2 miles around London. There is just too much going on in life to add this, as well as training for a marathon, to my hectic schedule.
So, having read the ‘Good for Age’ section in previous years, I again consulted the webpage on the London Marathon website. Apparently, I needed to run an England Athletics-registered marathon in 3:04:59 or quicker in order to qualify for a ‘Good for Age’ place.
One thing you need to know about me. I happen to be one of the most optimistic, (quietly) self-confident people you are likely to meet, particularly in the realm of sport.
Therefore, as you might be able to understand, I wasn’t phased by this qualifying time. My response was: ‘Well, when I trained for a half-marathon, I got my time down to 1:19:12. Double that is only 2:38, so I’ve got another 26:59 to spare. Should be fine!’
What I obviously hadn’t quite appreciated was the impact of spending three hours constantly pounding the streets would have on a body that just wasn’t used to it. Or at least, would only spend three weeks trying to acclimatise to the demands of such an amount of time and such a distance. There was also the issue of obsessing over the ‘Maths of the Marathon’.
By this I mean working out the differences in pace between finish times of 2:59:59 and 3:04:59 in kilometres per hour, of considering the exact length of the marathon distance (26.2 miles / 42.4km), by considering markers to ‘tick off’ during the race (1 hour, 2 hours, 2:30, distances and/or times? each 10k time, the 10 and 20-mile marks and times they are reached, time left at 38k (so only a parkrun left to run, etc…). All of this maths was exhausting, but it became part of my intensely focused world for a three week period.
I also needed to decide on a training plan. Funnily enough, there aren’t many ‘Train for a Marathon in 3 weeks’ training plans – for obvious reasons. It is stupid. Mad. Ridiculous. Time to think again sunshine, that’s just completely idiotic.’
I did say all of these things to myself during my training. I told only 2 people of this project because I wanted to keep naysaying to a minimum and didn’t want to heap extra pressure on myself for what I knew was a significant undertaking. The two people I chose, I chose wisely. They were unbelievably supportive.
Why Worcester of all places?!
Well, the Good for Age entries opened in June. I have no experience of how long this window lasts for (the ballot was one week, for example). Therefore, I wanted my marathon time to be done in time for June, so I could ensure I could enter straight away (there’s that optimism!). The only choice really was wither the weekend of 21st May, or the following weekend, 28th May. The possible options, according to a website listing of marathons I was using, was either Worcester Marathon on 21st May, or the Liverpool Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon on 28th May. The cost of the former was half the price of the latter. Decision made!
What I hadn’t also appreciated was that an elevation gain of just over 100m on a marathon is actually quite significant when you’re running such a long distance.
So, this was the premise for my three-week adventure in training for a marathon.
Next time: My three–week training regime for the marathon.
Have you ever entered a race on impulse? What was your reasoning (if any!) for doing so? How did it go?