I loved the Brighton Marathon. And I will never, ever do it again.
“Oh, everyone says that,” say my veteran marathoner friends. “I said that when I finished my first, and look, here I am on marathon number 59!”
But I actually think that (barring some kind of lottery win where I can give up work and devote a few months of my life solely to training) that I mean it. And here’s why.
When I started my training, I had the idea in my head that so long as I didn’t get injured, by the end of my training I would be at the peak of my fitness. A 10k would now feel effortless, I’d be getting PBs at parkrun every week and feel fit and strong and on top of the world. For the first three months of my training this seemed to be completely correct. My body responded well to the training. I ran my fastest ever mile (9:51) and 5km (32:46) in November. My parkrun and 10km race times were coming down. I ran fifteen kilometres before work. My weight and resting pulse declined. I felt good and strong.
And then things started to happen. My body started to give me the very clear message that I was doing too much. Little aches and pains appeared. I wasn’t recovering from one run in time to do the next. I developed a cough and cold that wouldn’t shift. My parkrun times started to go down. I started missing short runs so that I would have the energy for my weekly increasing long runs, robbing Peter to pay Paul. I felt constantly tired, to the extent that I couldn’t keep my eyes open. I felt there were not enough hours in the day, days in the week or weeks in the training plan. I could not face anything that made running more difficult, especially bad weather. I was engulfed in a terrible hunger that never seemed to go away however much I ate. I constantly craved (and ate) sweet food. I put back on all the weight I had lost at the start. My resting pulse went up to the 60s, higher than it was before I started training. I felt constantly on the verge of injury. And worst of all, I started to find running a chore. I found myself not counting the days to my next run but counting the number of long runs left until I could go back to a normal life. What happened to my love of running?
My time on Sunday was only seventeen minutes quicker than my time at Dublin, where I’d not run more than 20km in training and spent most of the last two months on a sofa nursing an undiagnosed stress fracture. Of course I was disappointed that all that blood, sweat and carrot cake resulted in such a small improvement. But I wasn’t terribly surprised. I knew that my body had already had enough, and that all the final stages of my training had given me was the ability to slog on at a very slow pace for an indefinite period of time. Which, admittedly, is a significant part of marathon running. But it wasn’t pretty, and I wanted it to be pretty.
The positive side of this is that I have learned a lot about my body and running and what it likes and what it doesn’t like. It clearly likes my long runs to be between 10-15km, and it likes to run about 25km per week. So this, in future, is exactly what it will get. I think I have another half marathon in me – since 21.1km is just pushing at my boundaries, rather than doubling them and adding a bit. I’d like to apply the “jeffing” principle to a half marathon and see if I can improve on my 2nd PB (I’ll just leave the PB as untouchable though). My biggest regret from marathon training is not starting “jeffing” the long runs sooner, as I don’t think I really had long enough to get the hang of it or discover the right ratio, and I think I needed to get further with my long runs. And this is why people do marathon after marathon, because there’s always something you could improve! I’d definitely like to do the Great South Run (10 miles/16km) again as I think this is a distance that suits me well but didn’t get to give it my all last time as I had not recovered from my injury in time to train properly and had a stinking cold! I would like to find some other 10 mile races to do too. But for the next couple of months, I’m going to be giving it all a rest and not running more than 10km in one go.