Dissecting “disaster”

Disaster is a strong word but in light of getting nowhere near my London goal it’s worth reflecting on what contributed to it after four months of solid training.

  • Training block: 1st Jan – 23rd April 2017 (16 weeks)
  • Training Plan: Pfitz 18/70
  • Total Mileage: 810
  • Long runs (Single 15+ miles): 12 –  15, 18, 15.1, 18, 20.1, 20, 16, 20.3, 19.3 (Grizzly race), 20, 31.4 (Canalathon 50k race), 20
  • Races: Grizzly (19.3 miles), Canalathon 50k
  • PB’s set: Parkrun 5k – (16:50)

It’s been a couple of days since London Marathon and my “disastrous” run where I simply didn’t have the legs to maintain my hoped for 2:45 pace beyond halfway and as I was going to do a training retrospective anyway I thought it might be of use to others to learn from my successes and ultimate failure should you discover this post or my London Marathon 2017 race review.

I’ve used the word disaster fairly liberally – I guess in the grand scheme of things I ended up running 2:57 which was just 3 minutes off my 2015 PB and a time many people (myself included just a couple of years ago) would be thrilled with.

Perhaps it’s over-egging it to call suffering for half a marathon and still getting in with time to spare for a Good For Age time but in the context of 16 weeks of training and making this my goal race I’m sticking with the result being nowhere near what I wanted.

How was training?

I chose the Pfitzinger 18/70 plan from Advanced Marathoning as it peaked at 70 miles and a lot of weeks were around 60ish which I felt was a reasonable step up from the 45-50mpw I’d been building up to in the months before Christmas after a frustrating 2016 with a hip injury.

I was ready to move up to that mileage  in January and while it was initially tiring, I didn’t have too many problems with the mileage in general and I made specific efforts to get out and do the long runs once a week around family time.

It started ominously on my 3rd run of the plan in January when I stubbed my toe on a bit of broken pavement and fell heavily on my knee and hands and ended up in A&E getting a big cut patched up which wasn’t a great start but luckily it was mostly superficial and healed pretty quickly without me losing any running time.


The one thing I did find right away was that tempo sessions in the first couple of weeks were very hard on top of an additional 20ish miles a week. I didn’t have the legs for it so I thought I’d be better off focusing on consistent mileage initially and layer in speed work in a few weeks.

What went right?

The mileage jump to 60-70mpw proved to be something I could handle fairly comfortably and quite often included a decent effort 20 miler. I’d like to maintain that distance at least and layer on a quality speed session once a week.

Getting a quality long run done each week was important for endurance – that much was obvious anyway – and often I’d be comfortable running a stretch or all of it at 7:00/mile or below which is comforting and a definite improvement on where I was as a runner even 6 months ago.

In the first half of training I was also able to get a regular medium long run (12-15 miles) done during the week but it’s difficult to find that 1:45 – 2:00 hours needed on work week morning to be honest and some of the sessions ultimately got skipped but by and large up to the last few weeks I stuck with them.

I think I managed to nail about 75% of the sessions in the plan but …

Good results

I didn’t really race much, I missed Dewsbury 10k in Feb which is a tune up race I try to do as it’s a good PB course and I’d hoped to run sub-35 this year but I was ill the entire week and unusually for me was off work for 3 days as I could barely get off the sofa so that was a big miss.

I’m not a big racer and the only other races I had booked in were the Grizzly (19.5 miles/4,400ft elevation of cliff and trail in Devon) and then Canalathon 50k. I wanted to do a couple of good size races (distance wise) to get a feel for where I was at and  had big personal bests in both finishing just outside the top 25 in the Grizzly out of more than 1500 runners and then following up with a joint 3rd place in Canalathon 50k in 3:47.

Two weeks before London I went to Paris to support Ally who ran the marathon and I finally ran a Sub-17 parkrun (16:50) at Montsuris parkrun finishing in 1st place too.

What went wrong?

Ultimately there’s not much I can really look back on in training and say it “went wrong” – I got through the entire training block without injury barring a last minute trip to the physio 4 days before with some glute pain and a loss of power in my right leg which was quickly diagnosed as a hip flexor issue and quickly fixed with no ill effects two days later on a final shakeout run before going to London.

There are two big red flags people have raised straight away in light of my London run and that’s the potential lack of recovery from racing a 50k ultra 4 weeks earlier (although I followed this with a good final long run a week later and felt very strong) and probably more importantly – a significant lack of speedwork and marathon paced sessions.

I don’t think the 50k was a massive contributor to my London disappointment in the end – I think it was my lack of specificity in my training, namely the marathon pace efforts at the back end of long runs.

I just didn’t get them done and for that I think I’ve paid a heavy price on race day.

Subconsciously I think I’ve fooled myself into thinking that because I was comfortably able to maintain the goal 6:15 pace on shorter runs that the marathon would be something I could get to 20 miles and see how it went. At that pace though and without the miles done at or quicker than 6:15 in longer runs in training it’s ultimately little surprise I fell apart at halfway (although I thought I’d last a little longer).

Specificity and respect for the distance

It’s been a bit chastening reflecting on my training block and I’m a little annoyed at myself that something so obvious has been overlooked and perhaps a more modest goal of sub 2:50 would have been about right on the day but I’m glad I aimed high even if this time it was a “failure”.

There’s much I can improve on and refine for next time and it’s been a good reminder that marginal gains and diminishing returns play a big part as your running improves and to perhaps be more reflective in advance of the race and adjust goals if necessary.

Racing the Grizzly and Canalathon took out 2 weeks of training in taper and recovery time and I may have been better off looking for a fast road half marathon and a 20 mile road race as prep instead of a trail run and an ultra. It was easy to think that “racing is racing” but perhaps the sharpness needed for those wasn’t as relevant as I’d thought initially.

I don’t feel the goal is beyond me but I realise now I didn’t prepare adequately so next time will be different for sure.

What’s next?

Kirklees Way Ultra is next – 73 miles and 7,000ft of trails and public footpaths in July followed by a massive challenge of the Self Transcendence 24 hour track race in September.

The focus is changing a little from road to trail running from now and I’m hoping to introduce some proper strength training / weights over the next couple of months as the endurance side needs a little work on long days out so here’s to the next training block.