Danny's Marathon Story: The Big Day
Danny finished his marathon in a fantastic time but a lot can happen in 26 miles, and the effects of those miles are both physical and mental. It's time to find out what happened on the big day.
"Right then. Where were we? It’s taken a few weeks for me to finally attempt to capture what happened at The Abingdon Marathon. I’ve spent considerable time reflecting on my own performance, the outcome, and how I can use the experience in the future. The race was tough, very tough – and I kept to my original commitment of leaving a little bit of myself in Abingdon. In short – I went all in. Something that will hardly come as a surprise to those people who know me…
Without a doubt, I learned a lot throughout the training schedule, on race day, and in the post-race period of reflection. The lessons most certainly transcend beyond how to run a marathon. They go far beyond that. I learned valuable lessons that apply to work, sport, competition, and life generally.
The original aim was to run 3:15 – and this goal had become an obsession. Right from the outset – I knew that this would prove to be audacious. I knew that significant time and effort would be required. I knew that I’d need to have a plan – and I knew that sacrifices would have to be made. That said, I didn’t realise that the level of sacrifice would mean getting up at 5am on a Sunday morning to consume calories and fluids ahead of embarking on a 24 miler in the pitch black whilst sensible people slept!
I can confirm that I ran 3:15:52. What’s 52 seconds across 26.2 miles, right? Well, it’s 1.98 seconds per mile to be precise. Surely nothing to worry about? Surely? Well it has proven to be a big deal to me…
I had worked very, very hard throughout the training schedule. I’d watched my diet, my sleep, and hydration. I’d invested in the best footwear, I’d sought guidance from experts. I had followed the training schedule. No stone had been left unturned. I also sustained an injury one week before race day. An injury that genuinely led me to question whether or not I would be able to run. What this taught me is that you can do absolutely everything to be prepared. Cover every base. But stuff will happen. The unforeseen. It was a very difficult managing the taper of the last week and thinking about if and how I could manage the injury on race day. You have to be resilient and you have to be prepared to react and pivot. I arrived in Abingdon with the attitude that I was going to go all in regardless.
Things started well. I managed my pacing very carefully through the first 2 miles as planned. This allowed me to get warm but it also allowed me to get past the initial pain in my adductor. As I got into the 3rd mile I felt comfortable both mentally and physically – and we were off. As I clicked through each mile I went through a series of questions in my head to ensure that I was managing the pacing. Interestingly, I didn’t run any of these checks and balances using the watch. Instead, I checked in with myself and asked; How does the pace feel? Is your heart rate under control? Is your pace steady? Do you feel comfortable? As the miles passed me by it felt like I was putting on a marathon running clinic. I was really in the zone. That place where all the hard work was paying off. However, things shifted fairly dramatically at around 18 miles. The pain in the adductor had crept up on me and was now severe. To compound matters, the pain was also now in my buttock and down my left hamstring. 18 miles in and I’d gone from feeling amazing to wondering whether or not the leg could manage another 8 miles. I had to quickly adjust, think about plan B, manage my mental energy – and find a strategy to get to 26.2.
From about the 22 mile marker the leg was bad, very bad. Serious doubt was getting to me. It genuinely occurred to me that I might not make the distance let alone make 3:15. I slowed the pace down and made an agreement with myself that the aim now was simply to finish. Just finishing was now the goal. I convinced myself that finishing would be a win.
I crossed the line and my running gait was completely compromised. I felt so inefficient and deflated. To add insult to injury I reached down to stop the timer on my watch – and the battery had run out! I couldn’t believe it. It was as if the watch was shielding me from the time! As I was ushered over the line I was handed a medal, a goodie bag, and a cup of tea. But I still didn’t know the time. By this moment the human tide of finishers had washed me across the finish line and into the baggage collection area. Leg was now pretty much locked straight, pain in the backside was ridiculous – and I still didn’t know my time.
The drive home was no more than 35 mins. I had to stop half way at the motorway services to straighten my leg out. I’d done some damage – but I had made it over the line. As I came off the M40 I didn’t know what I was going to tell the people around me. I didn’t know the time – but I did know that the wheels had seriously fallen off at 18 miles when the adductor gave in. It felt like the 3:15 had been completely compromised. I arrived home to an empty house. I grabbed a Yorkie and sat there contemplating how 30 weeks of training had gone to pot.
Around 4 hours after I got home, it was really driving me mad not knowing the time. I logged onto the race web site, entered my race number – and the digital tracking would give me an accurate time. I was amazed – 3:15:52. I checked it multiple times. That was the time. Sat in front of the PC I then fired up my watch and the race data immediately migrated via Bluetooth from the watch to the phone. What had happened? The watch battery ran out at 16 miles. Up until that point I had been averaging 7:08 min miles. This is an important marker because the average min mile pace required to run 3:15 is 7:26. During the training, my coach and I had noticed that I was frequently able to run times / distances beyond the 3:15 schedule – so we knew that I was in shape. Our plan had been to bank that extra performance and use it on race day based on how I was feeling. Two things had occurred here. Firstly, my pace was very, very good right through to 18 miles. That meant that I effectively had some time in the bank when the injury hit. However, the time in the bag wasn’t the only thing. I’d also managed to really hold it together much better than I had anticipated. I knew that I was slowing and I knew I was in a lot of pain. However, I also knew that if I was going down – then I would be going down fighting.
This left me in a really difficult position psychologically. I had run 3:15 – which was the original plan – so I should be delighted, right? Well I really wasn’t and that hasn’t really changed in the weeks that have passed. I should be chuffed. After all, I set out to run 3:15, I ran through the injury – and I’d held onto hit 3:15. Job done? Not for me. The circumstances have left me feeling like there is some serious unfinished business here. On reflection, I did the best that I could do on the day and with the circumstances as they presented themselves to me. However, having felt so good prior to the injury I am convinced that I can run quicker. I also know that I won’t get many more opportunities to perform at this level the body clock is ticking. I am definitely not getting any younger.
One of my work colleagues congratulated me recently on my run time. In the conversation that followed they also said something really intriguing. Something that has really resonated with me. Something that applies to the marathon training but something that also applies to business and to life in general. What they told me is that anyone can set a goal, and, of course, everyone wants to win. Everyone wants to enjoy that moment of success. However, not everyone is ready to do what it takes to prepare to win. The point here is a fairly simple one but it is also of fundamental importance. Whatever it is – whether it is in life, in work, or in sport – if you want to achieve your goals then you have to be able to commit yourself to do the hard yards, to plan, to research, to sacrifice, to manage time, to re-set, pivot – and to do the hard yards. Everyone wants to win, but it comes down to whether or not you can do what it takes to prepare to win. It’s a subtle but highly significant way to look at things.
In the aftermath of the race, I’ve had a rest, been to the physio, had acupuncture, an x-ray, and multiple treatments (which are ongoing). The plan had been to bounce back quick and go again in March 2020. That’s unlikely now as I’m currently unable to run beyond 5 miles. I’ve elected to see this as a blessing. I’ll heal up, rest, and be ready to train properly through 2020 with a view to repeating Abingdon in October 2020. Only this time we’ll go after 3:10. No point going for half measures and all that.
I’ve learned so much about myself, distance running, how to be effective, long term planning – all sorts. Things that apply to work and sport, things that I’ve been able to share with my kids. Bottom line is that if you want to get somewhere then you must have a plan and must be ready to do what it takes to prepare to win. You need to pay attention to the details, and you need to play the long game. The short cut is a lie."