- Race: Abbott Global Run Club Virtual Marathon
- Date: Sunday 14th November, 2021 – 8:55am
- Time: 3 hrs, 14 minutes 29 seconds
- Location: Dulwich Park, South London (25 laps!)
The final race of the season saw me tackle a virtual marathon for the first time. It was a brilliant day, and I learnt a lot in the planning, preparation and execution phase and couldn’t have asked for a more ideal opportunity to test myself, not just physically but mentally, based on the work I have been putting in this past year.
My reason for signing up for the Abbott Global Run Club Virtual Marathon was primarily driven by the incentive that it was a qualifier for the Abbott marathon age group world championships to be held as part of the London Marathon next year. Having turned 40 in October this was the first time I could get a time as a ‘age group’ participant and whilst just a slim chance, it was fun to challenge myself to see if I could put a good time in, and sneak into a qualifying position.
In the end I secured a 13 minute personal best! Sub 3:15!!! I could not have been happier.
As this was the result of multiple factors coming together to create a wonderful outcome, I felt compelled to lay out my approach how I executed the race, physically and mentally, both for my own reflection and in case it helps others in seeing the mechanics and strategy that may not be as visible when watching runners pound the road.
So here goes…
PRE RACE PREPARATION
My alarm went off at 5am. I got up within 5 minutes, drank water and set about my morning routine, with the primary focus to give my body time to prepare before the race.
5.10am – Porridge oats, almond milk, Maca powder, chia seeds, hemp seeds, goji berries , water
Eating is important before a marathon, however I am always careful to leave plenty of time (at least two hours) between my breakfast and the run to ensure my stomach is settled. This is my typical breakfast on any given morning so I recommend keeping to something you know and maybe having a conservative portion. For the 24/48 hours proceeding race day I will ensure I have fairly plain, stable food, such as pasta. Nothing rich and plenty of carbs.
5.30am – Breathing exercises and mediation
Since January I have been focusing giving myself time and space to clear my mind and get clarity on my goals and what I am trying to achieve today. I do this in a number of ways, commonly leveraging the Wim Hof technique of breathing (4 x circa 3 min hold breath cycles) whilst mediating and ‘thinkitating’ on the key questions in my mind. On race day I tend to visualise the race and walk through how I want to act in certain circumstances. Doing this when thinking logically not emotionally (or fatigued during the later parts of the race) helps a lot!
6am – put on race kit!!
It is autumn here in the UK so a bit chilly but prominently mild, so I wore appropriate clothing. Fortunately, I had no injuries of note going into the event, so limited my strapping to kinesiology tape on both ankles (doubled up on left) and a strip on my left calf which had been niggling after my final interval session.
As this was a virtual marathon I had to be completely self sufficient. Despite running a route with multiple laps I decided to carry everything I needed which included my Naked running belt (with 6 energy gels – SIS orange flavour) and Naked running vest (with two circa 300 ml soft bottles on my front with water and electrolyte tablets in – SIS berry flavour). This added weight however I soon got used to it.
7am – 10 minute warm up routine
I use the Petoton app for most of my stretching before activity and commonly follow a Becs Gentry 10 minute dynamic stretch routine before runs. I think it is important to keep to what you know and not try anything new the day of a race so true to form this warm up got me in a good place with plenty of time before I set off. Incidentally, I had already decided I would warm up twice to minimise the potential for injuries so this was the first, hence how early it was – 2 hours before my run.
8am drove to park, half a banana, water
I parked up and had one final snack in my car before walking to the park. This was the time for serious mental preparation so after collecting my thoughts I wrote mental triggers on my right hand:
Have fun, don’t panic, enjoy!, progress (over perfection), the obstacle is the way, humble, grateful, your choice, you get to run, 20 miles is halfway. These would come in handy at multiple times throughout the run and helped me a lot during the London Marathon back in October.
8.30 – second warm up
Time to get ready to go, walked to the park and did my Koach’s warm up routine exercises and form drills to get in the zone. One last bathroom trip and we were ready to go!
8.55 am run start
Woo hoo! Let’s do this! My bag with my jacket was hidden behind a tree, turned on my Garmin Watch and clicked play on my Audible book – Marcus Aurelius Mediations from chapter 2.
Setting off for the first of my 25 laps of Dulwich Park I had a sense of trepidation. I had a plan of sorts, but not concrete. Essentially it was to see how I felt after 10k and decide how I felt – kick on or stay at the same pace.
So I took the first 10k conservatively, just feeling my way around the course and finding out how my body felt. I was conscious of my ankles which had less support as I had decided to wear my racing shoe (Nike Vaporfly 2), which was a trade off for extra bounce, lightness and whether a placebo or not, appeared to help me run at a faster pace. I was under my zone 1 target of 8 min miles by 20 secs per mile it felt good so eased into a slightly quicker pace to review at 10 laps.
Mentally I had split race into 10 laps, 10 laps, 5 laps segments having a ’20 laps in half way’ mindset to not get ahead of myself. At 10 laps reverted my mind to say ‘this is lap 1 of 10’ – ‘after these ten I will be at halfway’.
As the course was known and essentially half slightly uphill, half slightly down. I picked a few of my mindset triggers to focus on from my hand just before the uphill piece (usually – ‘you get to run, humble and grateful, you choice!’). On the downslope I relaxed, checked my form and leaned forward so I could conserve energy but up the pace slightly.
Half way I noticed I was on a good pace (circa 1:35 for first half) but my mind was at risk of self sabotage as it started to plant seeds of doubt ‘had I gone out too hard?’ ‘Will I hit the wall have to go deep in the well?’ I put a stop to this by reaffirming my affirmations and made a conscious decision to focus on my form and nutrition, living in the moment one lap at a time (counting up to finish the second set of ten laps). I had gels at 40 mins, 1hr 10, 1hr 40, 2 hr 10, 2hr 40 and a gulp of fluids from 1hr and every 15 mins after that.
20 miles was passed around lap 19 and to avert my mind from racing to the finish line I still kept my attention on ’20 laps is half way’. The Stoicism in my ears helped – various comments about pain – how we are in control of my mind and soul and the only time it is unbearable is when we die, otherwise we can cope and just need to listen to our body.
I leaned into the fatigue and wall, embracing it, thriving on it. Smiling that this is where I meant to be, this is where my growth is, telling myself that I succeed because I work harder than any one else and I owned it, leveraged it and kicked on.
The last 3 laps were pretty tough, there’s no escaping that. But being a known entity as I had ran hundreds of laps of the park before, I could see I was definitely going to get a PB and sub 3:15 was still on the cards, so I leaned into it even more on the back straight each time. I didn’t have my scheduled gel a 3:10 as I was on my last lap. My phone had died with 2 laps to go so I took my headphones out and dug in.
Running uphill for the last 400 metres I gave it my all. It helped that it was the finishing straight for 60+ 5k races I had done in the park so I drew from that.
My phone showed 26.2 miles so I ran until it was at 26.23 just to be sure.
Coming to a halt, I stopped my watch in disbelief It said 3:14:29 – I had done it!
I put my arms aloft exhausted, grabbed my bag and walked 100 metres before pins and needles came across my body and chest afterwards for 20+ mins had to sit down for ages – wobbling when walking.
My chest felt a little tight so I took off my running top and vest and HR monitor and put on my coat. I took me a while to get to my car where I drank a protein shake, ate the other half of my banana, drank water and the emotions came over me and flooded out. I was done – received, elated, excited, fatigued, empty, the purest most vulnerable honest response I’ve ever had to a race – I cannot explain it – as if I had sacrificed, executed, committed to the best of my ability and the result had come and the past 6-18 months of effort had been proven to be worth it and I CAN achieve anything if I commit to it and be disciplined in learning the skills I need to, to accomplish.
Marathons are never easy, on the contrary they are raw challenges of personal resilience and a clear reflection of where you are in your training and mind. There is nowhere to hide. Despite hitting my goal and the joy and fulfilment that came from it, it was a moment in time evidencing my progress and now I have a great foundation to build from. It is important to celebrate the wins, and enjoy the journey, as that is what life is, but now we look forward to Post Season training and target breaking going sub 3 hrs in 2022.
All in all – an amazing day. Onwards!
Have a great day folks!