Can you have too good of a marathon build up?

Can you have too good of a marathon build up? This is one question that I have been asking myself over the last few months, as things just didn’t go quite right for me at the Greater Manchester Marathon. It seems that the best laid plans don’t always give you the desired results. Back in November my Mamma paid for me to enter the Manchester Marathon as a Christmas present. I had spent the previous four months working on my speed endurance to improve my times over the shorter distances, in the hope that this in turn would help to decrease my marathon time. I managed to get my 10k time down to 33:28 from 34:29 which equated to a predicted marathon time of sub 2:35, providing I got my marathon build up right. I was in great shape and feeling really positive about starting my marathon training plan, my confidence was really high and it gave me real boost, knowing that I was in the shape to take a good chunk off of my PB which stood at 2.42.27.

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I had planned to do a sixteen week build up with a two week taper, with the help of my coach Dave Tune. We searched the race calender looking for some good build up races that would enable us to ensure that I was progressing at the required rate to ensure that I reached peak fitness at the required time. The first race we choose was Ribble Valley 10K which was held between Christmas and the New Year. Sadly my Mamma passed away on the 11th December 2014, so we had a difficult and very emotional Christmas period. The build up to this race was hard and the circumstances took there toll on my motivation to train hard and eat healthy over the festive period. This meant that I ran a slower time of 33:39, with an average pace of 5:29 min/mile and a average heart rate of 179 BPM. This was 10 seconds slower than i had ran the previous month which was a disappointment as I had been hoping to go quicker as this was the last race in the block of 10k, I had got planned and a Northern Championship Race.

I analysed my marathon race data using my gps watch. The speeds and heart rate information are important as they help me to try to understand why I didn’t perform to my full capability over the marathon distance.

I was able to get a couple of weeks good quality, hard training in before racing again at Pocklington in the Snake Lane 10. I hadn’t raced a 10 mile road race for 12 months, so I was confident of running faster than my current PB of 58:35. I ran well knocking 3 minutes off this time, completing the course in a time of 55:47 and finishing in 4th place. My average pace was 5:32 min/mile with a average heart rate of 174 BPM. A solid start to racing in 2015. As the weeks past I was feeling really strong, I was hitting all of the target times set for me in my sessions and my heart rate was lower than ever again this helped to increase my confidence. I put this peak in performance down to an increase in the number of  miles that I was completing and starting to run twice a day on three days per week.  I was running at least 20 miles in my threshold HR training  zone every weekend, with one of my final runs being a 22 mile run along an old rail way line, averaging 6:04 min/mile pace with a average heart rate of 159 bpm. This was only just in my threshold zone.  If this had happened during the actual marathon I would have had a lot of room to push on as the race progressed. I was really confident I would be able to maintain this pace on race day which would have enabled me to record a sub 2:39:00 finish time and I would have been able to take a sizeable chunk off of my Edinburgh Marathon time of 2:42:27.

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I started to let my mind run off with all sorts of crazy ideas of the times I might run come race day, also family and friends were saying they hadn’t seen me in this kind of shape before and were excited to see me race.

The pace that I could comfortably run in at my threshold heart rate zone (the heart rate zone I can maintain for a marathon) started to alarm Dave, as it was around 5.45min/mile pace and he was concerned that there was a real possibility that I could be  peaking too soon. We decided to relax some of my sessions and with the Retford 1/2 marathon coming up, it gave me the perfect opportunity to taper and recover properly in addition to slowing down my progress. It was hoped that I would then be hitting peak fitness at the required time. I had completed Retford in  76 minutes in 2014 so knew the course was slightly undulating with a quick couple of miles to the finish. I was really pleased when I ran a lot quicker posting a new PB of 73:35 with a avg pace of 5:34 min/mile averaging 178bpm. With only a month to go before my marathon, I was in the best shape I had ever been in and felt really strong in my Lactate Threshold heart rate zone of 159 – 170bpm which i would be running Manchester Marathon in.

In the final month there wasn’t much more I could gain in terms of fitness, I just needed to look after myself and not do anything daft. Lincoln 10k was the final chance to give my legs one last shake out, before letting the tapper do its job. I didn’t hold much hope of getting a PB in Lincoln as I was really tired and my legs were feeling were heavy. I even considered not racing but decided against that idea as it would be good to get a bit of speed into my legs before backing off and tappering. To my suprise I ran another PB of 33:23 averaging 5:24 min/mile and 182bpm compared to last years result of 34:29. I felt that if I could run this well when I was so tired I could surely run faster in Manchester when fully recovered. I started to get excited at the times I may run in a couple of weeks time and this was comfired when I went to see Dave for my Lactate Threshold test and sort out my race plan. Unfortunately the race plan was thrown out of the window on race day. The figures I was producing during testing were so much better than my previous test and showed I was able to run comfortably under my target of 2hr 35min.


Pace min/mi Avg HR 1min intervals Pre Edinburgh Avg HR 1 min intervals Pre Manchester Blood Lactate (mmols) pre Edinburgh Blood Lactate (mmols) Pre Manchester
7.00 150 bpm n/a 2.7 n/a
6.30 159 bpm n/a 3.4 n/a
6.10 n/a 156 bpm n/a 3.1
6.00 165 bpm 161 bpm 4.3 3.4
5.50 n/a 166 bpm n/a 3.8
5.40 n/a 169 bpm n/a 4
5.29 174 bpm n/a 9.5 n/a


The results confirmed my thoughts from the long training run I did by my self averging 6:04 min/mile I would be able to maintain this speed for the full distance. The scientific evidence was showing at 4mmols of lactate (the amount, reasearch shows you can run a marathon at) was 5.40 min/mile pace which would represent a sub 2:30 marathon may be possible. The race plan set for me would be a conservative one with a steady start and slowly building thoughout the race and finishing really strong giving me the best chance of running the perfect marathon, something every marathon runner strives to do but very few ever mange it.

As my taper progressed, I noticed I wasn’t hitting the pace I had been able to previously and my heart rate was starting to be higher than normal, at a slower pace. It didn’t feel like I was working hard to get the desired pace but my elevated heart rate indicated that I was. I had read about this happening to a few people during their taper but come race day their heart rates had returned to normal. I decided I would stop wearing my heart rate monitor and run to feel during my last few training runs, hoping that come race day all of the hours and miles put in during training would come together.

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Unfortunately this wasn’t the case, as I set off through the 1st few miles at a pace of 6.05 which should have been in my recovery zone, my heart rate was actually really high at 170bpm which was in fact my tempo zone. The same heart rate I had previously ran the half marathon in but at a pace of 5.30min/mile. Race day pace was 40 seconds slower. I knew it was going to be a long day at the office as it is not physically possible to maintain such a high heart rate and stick to the race plan which would have involved pushing to run even faster towards the end of the race.

So what caused this big dip in performance?

I honestly don’t know what caused this dip in my performance, it may have been the emotions of the day that got to me, knowing my Mamma had paid for me to enter the race and this was the last present I would get from her that made me buckle under the pressure. A few people said they had never seen me look so nervous before a race but in side I was totally calm and relaxed. At the end of the race so many questions were left unanswered: Did I run my best race on a long training run? Had I peaked to soon? Was my training plan too hard and too long? All these questions have gone round in my head time and time again to the point where my wife and coach said I need to let it go and accept that it just wasn’t my day.

So we will put it down to it being “ONE OF THEM DAYS”

The 18 week training plan I did will be my next blog post

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