Marathon, Paris, 2012

15/04/2012
marathon
Paris, France
3:17:55
4:41 min/km
171 hrm

So. Paris. Would I finally break my PB? I certainly hoped so as I was sick of not being able to do that for such a long time. I certainly worked hard for that. Since the beginning of 2011 not only did I run a lot, but, perhaps more importantly, I run as systematically as never before. That surely had to count for something, right? RIGHT?

I thought my preparations were fairly decent. I may have overdid it a bit with the 40K run just 3 weeks before the marathon. I may... They were decent all right. The week leading to the marathon I decided to take it very easy. On Tuesday I did easy 6K followed by strides (10x100m). And then I did a sport massage. With a follow-up on Wednesday. That was another first. The masseuse claimed that this should make a huge difference. I wasn't so sure but it certainly wouldn't hurt.

Then on Thursday I did 5 1K intervals. While doing them I was thinking. Talking about the Polish Footrace Jan was saying that it's all in one's head. Dean Karnazes in his "Ultramarathon man" was saying, talking about his 200mile race, that he run first part with his legs, second with his mind and last miles with his heart. (Btw. the rumour has it that Jan may soon take the main prize for the coolest running guy from Dean. And I certainly do hope that he's working on a book that would bear witness to that). While they were both talking about races much longer than marathon and while I took their proclamations with a grain of salt, it certainly was true that a lot of such running was "mental" (bad pun intended). So maybe I just wasn't trying hard? Maybe I wasn't giving it all I had? While doing those intervals I took a resolve to change that in the upcoming Paris marathon. It got me so pumped up that the last 2 intervals I sped up from the planned 4:30-4:40 min/km to 4:14 min/km. Oh yeah.

I was planning to do a short warm-up on Saturday but somehow couldn't fit it in in the day. I was also trying to do some carbo loading but with my total ignorance about food I ended up mostly gobbing lots of crappy food -- I don't think that's the idea so probably I would have been better off without it. I also didn't sleep much the last night (as usual), but the previous night I slept well and long so cannot complain much about that

Together with Michal we went to the start. We didn't take too much extra time (waking up before 7am was scary enough for me) so we ended up rushing a bit and getting to our starting zones at the last moment. So much for the warm-up (another first, I think, as I don't recall ever running a marathon with no proper warm-up). And off we went.

I have to say I was pleasantly surprised as the race was organized pretty well. The start was very smooth and the wide Champs Elysees left enough space, even battered with 40.000 runners, to take others over. I set into a steady and comfortable pace of ~4:32 min/km (slightly faster than planned, but that's not a first at all). The first surprise came around 10K when I was overtaken by Michal. He was one zone behind me and started 3 minutes later. If I was heading for 3:11 then he was for... 2:59? Wow.

I slowly worked my way to the 3:15 pacers who started spread throughout the starting zone, whereas I was at its back. I took over the last one (there were 4) around the half-marathon mark. I still had a pace for 3:11 at that time but I couldn't help but wonder whether I will see all of those guys again. I hoped not. And I was wrong.

Around 27th kilometer my pace dropped by a few seconds per K. I blamed the tunnels. You see, we were running on the street along the Seine, which was constantly taking a dunk down under a parallel street only to come up afterwards. The descents were slightly helpful but the ascents were killing at that point in the race. But the real problems started after 33K with "only" 9K to go. I still had a pace for a respectable 3:12:40 at that point but my pace dropped and dropped fast. 4:45, 4:53, 5:03... it was getting worse by a minute with the last kilometer as slow as 5:40.

Shortly after this bloody 33K I also gave up. I knew that yet again I won't improve my PB. And nothing else seemed to matter much at that point. Yeah, sure I trudged on, but I wasn't really fighting, I just wanted it be over. The saddest thing is that I repeated the same bloody scenario yet again. Going strong until 30+K and then spectacularly collapsing.

I don't want to sound too gloom, it was a good race and while I'm pouring my bitterness into this post, all in all it wasn't bad. And I finished in 3:17:55, which sure, is more than 2 minutes short of my PB, but on the other hand is my 4th best time ever (out of 10) and the best in last 5 years, so hey, could be worse, right?

But now that I'm on the train on my way back to Amsterdam I do wonder one thing: what am I doing wrong? Last 1.5 years I was training very decently, at least when it comes to training volume. (When it comes to training smartness I'm not so sure, but if I'm doing something spectacularly wrong then I'm going to blame it on Jan :P). So: what's the matter? Now, I could accept the simplest and quite likely explanation: I don't have it in me and this is the best I can do. Fair enough. Only one problem with this explanation: I set my best times in 2004 & 2005 when I knew very little about running and my training got much more serious since then: shouldn't that count for something? Or maybe it's simply the fact that it was 7 years ago and, well, I'm not getting any younger?

Out of curiosity, and because I'm a stats junkie ;), I did this simple analysis of all my marathons and the average weekly distance in the 12 weeks (12 being somewhat arbitrary) leading to the event. Here it is:

Date Location Time Weekly km
19/10/2003 Amsterdam 3:23:53 33.8
4/07/2004 Brugge 3:15:53 48.5
13/02/2005 Rome 3:15:17 35.7
20/05/2007 Copenhagen 3:40:14 51.3
29/10/2007 Dublin 3:16:32 46.6
19/04/2009 Vienna 3:30:51 46.1
26/09/2010 Warsaw 3:20:43 49.5
1/05/2011 New Jersey 3:25:40 67.7
2/10/2011 Budapest 3:25:51 69.2
15/04/2012 Paris 3:17:55 66.8

Conclusions? The table confirms that for my last 3 marathons in 2011 & 2012 I put quite a bit more effort into preparations, with weekly averages approaching 70K (and individual weeks often substantially exceeding that; keep in mind I also count the marathon week itself and it was the tapering one week before that that brought down the Paris average). Other observation is that my best result in Rome corresponds to essentially the lowest workload (not counting Amsterdam which was my first marathon ever). Could it really be that less is more?....

Whatever the explanation I don't see much future for me in marathons ;). Ultramarathons on the other hand are a different story altogether. If I cannot run faster maybe I can at least run longer? Maybe. Maybe not. But I do want to find out ;).

Oh, by the way Michal did 3:05:35. Mind-blowing. Kudos, dude. If you keep at this pace soon you should be turning pro.

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