As some of you may know, I'm ran in the Tralee Marathon on Sunday (16th). I've been getting a few questions about it that I'll try to answer here.
1. Why the Tralee marathon? - Well my training plan (for the Connemara ultra) had me doing a 40-44k long run that weekend anyway, so I thought that rather than running for four hours (or more, probably more) on my own around the village where I live, why not do the "long run" with a bunch of other people and get a t-shirt and/or medal to prove it!
2. What is my goal finishing time? - I don't have one. Honestly, this may be a "race", but it's really a training run. If I push myself too much, then the rest of my training for Connemara will suffer. So slow and steady does it.
3. What's my nutrition plan for the race? - Water. That's it. Water, in moderation. If you have any questions about that, I'll refer you to the excellent book "Waterlogged" by Prof. Tim Noakes. Also, as I eat very few carbs, I won't be using gels etc.
4. If I'm not eating during the race, and it starts at 9am, what will breakfast be? - Bacon, eggs and coffee.
With that out of the way, here's how it actually panned out...
I got the train down to Tralee on Saturday (so much cheaper than driving!) and walked the 1k or so to the Brandon Hotel where I had booked my room. I had chosen this hotel as it's where the race expo was and was pretty close to the race finish line (thinking ahead...).
Picking up my bib number at the expo went by pretty easily and I took a minute to chat to Brendan Doyle about his exploits in The Race. He was also doing the marathon, just two weeks later!
After that I took a stroll around the town and bought a 250ml bottle of water to bring around during the race. I knew water would be available, but wasn't sure if it would be in cups or bottles, as it happened they supplied bottles. I ended up having dinner in the hotel and getting a reasonably early night.
I was up at 6:15 the next morning - the hotel opened the breakfast room from 6am especially for runners, a nice touch! At breakfast the room was about half full, all of the people were dressed in running gear and eating cereal, toast and/or bananas. I sat down and when the waitress brought out my plate of bacon and eggs everyone in the room stopped talking. Like they just didn't believe what they were seeing...
So after eating all of that I headed back to my room and slowly got ready - I don't like rushing things before a race. It was lightly raining but there was also a breeze coming in off the sea. So I ended up in a long sleeve technical top and a wooly hat along with my club singlet and compression shorts, running shorts, Injinji socks and "normal" runners. I usually wear minimalist runners, but find on rougher ground/roads the balls of my feet are pretty tender from 30k onwards. A few times during the race I took the hat off, but would end up putting it back on again a few minutes later, depending on whether we were running into the wind or not.
It was a 4-5 minute walk to the start line and there was only a couple of hundred people doing the full and about the same doing the half, which started 20 minutes later. Eventually after doing my warmup the gun went off and I went out at my planned pace of between 5:45 and 6:00 the whole way. I knew there were a few hills that would slow me down, but I wasn't going for a goal time.
Pretty soon (about 3k in) a few of us were moving at a similar pace, so we just ran together and chatted, a nice distraction from the distance. About 10k in the half marathon leaders came sprinting past us and shortly after the routes split, with the full going out towards the coast. We got to the 10k mark in 55mins, pretty much on pace. By the time we got to around 17k we got to the first of two big out and back sections. This one was a right turn, up a steep incline, down the far side, go about 200-300m, turn and come back over the hill back to the main road. I thought it was tough until as I was rejoining the main road I saw the only wheelchair competitor about to go up the hill...huge respect to him!
The 20k mark was hit at 1:55, slightly slower but most likely due to the hills. I lost the rest of the group around here, some went faster and some slowed down once we hit the half way mark (21k). When I was passing the aid station at 23k I noticed my 250ml water bottle was nearly empty, so I swapped it for another of the same size and kept running. Pretty soon I was hitting the 30k mark at around 2:45 or 2:50, which I was pretty pleased about. I had unintentionally caught up some time!
From here on every time I passed an aid station my mind was asking if I wanted some gels or jelly babies, jaffa cakes, fruit etc. I'd do a mental check and never felt hungry or lacking in energy so I passed them all up. As we were starting the second out and back a woman caught up with me and asked if she could run with me as my pace was pretty consistent. We chatted for the next 15-20mins along the journey, a great distraction. We were about half way between the 4:00 and 4:15 pacers.
A man at the side of the road called out to me by my first name, I did a double take and smiled and waved as we ran by. Only later did I realize he had a print out of the runners and race numbers in his hand and matched them to to give us some encouragement!
Pretty soon my running buddy said she was slowing down to take on some food, so I kept up my pace. She would overtake me on hills not too much later (there are *no* hills to train on where I live).
At around the 36k mark my left foot started giving me problems and in no time I was hobbling and in pain every time my foot hit the ground. I tried altering my form but it didn't make any difference. By about 38k I was reduced to try some walking to try to make it less painful and then some easy running and back to more walking. Around this time the 4:15 pacer overtook me, I wasn't disappointed, I just wanted to finish.
On two occasions during the last couple of KM the route took us around a roundabout to turn right and all the cars were stopped to let us by. There were a good few twists and turns at the end, which was good and the last 100m or so brought a welcome view of the finish line. Getting over the line I almost immediately stopped and grabbed a railing to let my foot stay off the ground for a minute. Great to get it done though!
After eating two bananas and drinking some water I hobbled back to the hotel.
Apart from the foot issue (which turns out to be a strained tibialis posterior tendon), everything went according to plan. I never felt hungry, never had a lack of energy and was able to keep a solid pace (up to getting the tendon issue).
Would I use this nutrition strategy (low carb, high fat) again? Definitely. At the start of the race I saw one runner with eight gels tucked into his waist band and some sweet packets in his back pocket. At the half marathon I did two weeks before I was chatting to a runner with four gels. Why do people use so many? Is it a confidence thing or is it something they read in a running magazine and follow to the letter?
Either way I'm very happy with how things worked out (again, apart from the injury).
Oh, I also beat my previous marathon time by 8 minutes too...