It was hot on Sunday. There were cobbles. There were bridges. Bridges = ramps = elevation (400ft to be precise). But all of these things are excuses really… Although the build up had been pretty good, I’ll be completely honest, I wasn’t entirely prepared mentally for Copenhagen Marathon. This reinforced to me how important it is to prepare psychologically to run 26.2 miles. This is where I maybe came unstuck…

The goal was to run 2:50. There were signs in training that this was a possibility… New personal bests over Half Marathon,10k, 5k and Mile distances showed that it was theoretically possible to drop 7 minutes from the time I ran in Berlin (2:57). But then, I had skipped a few long runs over the course of the 16 week programme and hadn’t trained that much at the required minute mile pace on as many runs as I should have. This probably also counted on the day, I could feel it noticeably in the legs when the mileage went over 2 hours. But what actually happened?

Well, I ran 1:25 through halfway which was bang on target. Then I probably got dehydrated. Actually scrap that, I definitely got dehydrated. It was 20C+ in the sun. I hadn’t slept enough or hydrated enough in the few days prior either. So whilst running 13 miles at goal pace was possible, I faded in the latter half of the race when loss of electrolytes lead to cramping. As evidenced by the splits below… ouch!

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There was one point in the race that stands out. Around mile 17 there was a ramp over a motorway and I caught myself thinking, maybe I should just walk up this? I didn’t, but I remember my heart rate soaring afterward. Then after a false flat not far around the corner I came to a water station and did end up walking. Probably for a good 30 seconds. This in turn gave my brain opportunity to listen to my body and it probably worked out that something was up and it wasn’t enjoying itself! I started getting cramps in my calves after that. To the point where they were just knotting up entirely and I was having to stop. This happened several times. Although I could still muster a 7:30ish pace through the last 4/5 miles I was struggling and I knew it. And soon 2:50 turned into 2:52, into 2:54, into 2:58, into get under 3:00! Mentally, I think I probably could have gritted it out a bit harder. I definitely gave into that feeling of ‘I’m starting to wish this was over’ rather than ‘I can boss this out for another 30 minutes’… And this is what I mean by needing that mental rigour to say, ‘You know what, just dig deep. There’s not long left. Give it everything.’

The notorious NBRO cheer station was much needed relief from running long stretches with very few people in front of me to run at / after. These guys were amazing and it gave me added incentive to dig deep between miles 22 and 25, to make sure that I got to that finish line and crossed it in a way that would make them proud, as if they were waiting for me at the end as well as mile 21.

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Speaking of support – quick mention to the Copenhagen crowd and particularly a lovely lovely lady waiting with a pushchair who having spotted me cramping, beckoned me over and fished me a gel out of her handbag! This was a lifesaver as I’d ended up using all of mine sooner than I thought I’d need them. I only hope this hadn’t been for her husband who’d ended up without! At the end of the race I did the typical fall to the knees, potential medical attention required, jump up and go ‘no no I’m ok’, think about crying etc. Then I saw my buddy Hugo who’d completed his first marathon in 3:02! Yes Hugo!

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Then my other friends started coming through one by one. And in the end I realised that we’d all had to tough it out that day and actually some of the performances were amazing given they were first marathons / conditions were hard / we’d all dug in.

Warwick, Danny, Steve, Wyatt, Rich, Jason, Andrew, Dougie, Manni, Alex, Liz, Charlotte, Melany, Cynthia, Jess, David, Will, Alex, Clare… EVERYBODY (sorry if I’ve missed anybody out)! Massive congratulations, I am super proud of you all, hence the smiles after what was a pretty hard day at the races for me. This is what running with my crew, with NBRO, with Bridge The Gap is all about. Looking out for each other, supporting one another and celebrating together. And that’s what transformed the Copenhagen Marathon from the toughest race ever into one of the most rewarding. Bring on the next!

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The big day. Berlin Marathon 2014. The one I’d been training for. The big PB. Nerves all round. This is the Berlin write up. To be honest, it’s kind of brief and what I’ll do is elaborate on some of the training methods and build up in a subsequent post around how to train for a ‘in the region of 3 hours’ marathon. More on that later. Here goes.

Training had gone well (ish). In the run up to marathon week I ran 372 miles over 12 weeks (457 over 16 weeks) averaging somewhere around 35 miles per week – peaking at 47. My efforts were nearly scuppered halfway through when I got flu and infection in my wisdom teeth and ended up doing 4 runs in 14 days… but otherwise things went well and I had an encouraging run at the Copenhagen Half Marathon 2 weeks before the race, clocking a ‘casual’ 1:26. Looking back, I was pleased with the track sessions, interval runs and long runs but considering the mileage (I was working from a guide) I should have clocked closer to 50 miles per week… hmm makes me wonder what could have been / could be!

Let’s skip through some of the boring stuff… flew from terminal 5 (actually this is not so boring a comment, I bumped into Scott Overall in departures – obviously didn’t speak to him – Scott on the day finished 14th in a time of 2:13… fairly rapid), stayed in an Airbnb with my buddy Phil, was quite nervous, ate pasta etc. Now I really should have got more involved with the Bridge The Gap crew on the first couple of days as the hospitality, as always, looked incredible and I heard amazing things from our guys as to Run Pack Berlin being superb hosts. Next time I’ll try and make sure I hit these guys up but on this occasion I kept it really low key, probs cos I was nervous; I hit up the expo early on the Saturday and went for a quiet jog with my roomie, followed by a quiet dinner eating dinner with my other buddy (and DJ for the weekend! Christian)!! Shake-Out run pic:

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The day of the race. One of the things about Berlin that people report favourably on is the organisation and I can absolutely vouch for that. The race starts at the Tiergarten in the centre of town and the whole park is given up to welcoming 30,000 runners, ensuring they have the time and the space they need to prepare to do what they gotta do. Starting in a wooded area is genius also because it means no matter how long the queue for the facilities, nature is at hand in case of emergency! Anyway, the morning was fresh and clear, very little wind. No real humidity. You could tell that it was going to be a beautiful day and warm later on, but the organisers catering for this, start the race at 8:45am. Nervous tension at the start but also a quiet confidence. I say quiet, for some reason, Phil and I got gee’d up for the race of our lives by reciting Bon Jovi’s ‘Bad Medicine’… no idea why or where that came from…

The game plan was the following – ‘run 6:45 miles consistently through the entirety of the race. Watch the splits early on and ensure you don’t take off too fast. Cruise comfortably (if possible!) for 20 miles (and how many times did I repeat that to myself! we are cruising for 20 miles – this basically implying that a sustained effort should be kept for 20 miles) ensuring mentally that I was preparing for the real battle which came in the last 10k. Take a gel at 6 miles. Take a gel at 12 miles. Go through halfway in around 1h28. Take a gel at 18 miles. Get to 20 miles then the it’s business time, put on your business socks. Maintain effort for 2 miles. Dig deep for 2 miles. Hang on and summon all of your remaining energy and use the crowd and adrenalin to run in the last 2.2.’

So the above was the game plan and I have to say the above worked! I got a massive boost at mile 12 when friends Babs, Lara, Christian and Nonny J. gave me a shout. I also got another boost at mile 21 (ish) when Cheer Dem were out in full force:

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I don’t really remember that much of the course other than the noise at the side of the road being pretty amazing, so there must have been hordes of people come out to support. I do remember the Danish however. Now I know from running with NBRO in Copenhagen that running is big news and they love it. I didn’t know that even in Berlin there would be Danish flags everywhere. Next time I am wearing my Danish vest! Pretty concentrated on executing the plan above, I really only took in the runners around me; as in kept pace with those who looked strong and were roughly at the same cadence as I. Where I perhaps felt I was off the pace, I’d tag onto someone and just watch them navigate the course whilst I’d concentrate on my breathing and whether I needed to get fluid at the next water station. I only saw one RDC runner for the whole race – Miss Sorrell Walsh at 5k – with whom I exchanged a brief ‘good luck’ (she bossed a 3h07 by the way, securing a Boston spot for 2016 – awesomeness). It sounds like a boring strategy, ie ignoring the sights and sounds in favour of concentrating and focussing on what needed to be done. In retrospect I wish I remembered more of the initial 20 miles but really when you are that into doing what needs to be done, you don’t.

The only possible wobble I had during the race was maybe mile 24/25. I had in my mind that when I hit 23 miles I was practically home, a 5k push, just 20 minutes… it didn’t quite work like that. I had to really focus for 5 minutes or so on maintaining and digging deep as fatigue started to set in. I hadn’t been further than 22 miles in training, let alone run it at the pace I was going, so I had to concentrate on how I was feeling for a sustained period, enough so that I knew the finish line was around the corner. This is where the experience of 3 marathons previous really came in – I knew how to tough it out psychologically, knew that the end was near and that I needed to shorten my stride length, keep the cadence up, breathe and think of home. I got there.

Although much of the race was a blur, the last mile wasn’t. Turning the corner to run under the Brandenburg Gate was special. At that point I took in the crowds and even had the energy to whip them up a bit with a ‘COME ON’ in an arms raised gesture. Through the Brandenburg Gate, almost stopping as I had in my mind that this was the finish line (it’s not) then the last 500 yards. I looked at my watch at this point rather than at the clock as I knew I’d set off 1/2 minutes late, I was well inside 3hrs… this was when I realised I’d done it. I crossed the line and did an embarrassing pistol fingered salute, shooting down the pb (photos to follow), and stopped the watch at 2:57:17.

Done. Sub 3hrs. PB by 11mins. Boston qualifier. Happy boy.

What followed was as awesome… a pint of non-alcoholic beer which tasted amazing for some reason, meeting up with the above mentioned friends in front of the Reichstag for congratulatory photos, learning my buddy had smashed his pb by 40 minutes running 3h06, then eating ALL the food and partying that evening with Bridge The Gap:

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To be honest the weekend probably hasn’t sunk in yet. I am delighted that I got to where I wanted to be and mostly that I had a plan, pretty much a goal I’d set for the year, and executed it. I said 2:57. I ran 2:57. Knowing that it was there and that I went out and got it was perhaps the biggest achievement. But I didn’t do it alone. Thanks to everyone that helped me train for it, generally encouraged and supported, friends, family, everyone at Run Dem. That got me over the line as much as my legs did! On to the next. New York City. Not sure how I’ll fare, I think the 3rd marathon in 1 year could spell toughness. But what I do know now is that if you prepare mentally and physically you can get it. You just gotta go for it. Gonna do ta ting in NYC. Then big plans for 2015.

TBR.