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Monday, 28 December 2015

2015 Review

2015 will go down as a year of surprising destinations, unexpectedly good results from marathon experimentation and a brief glimpse into the usually unseen world of post race drugs testing....

Although the year ended up with both myself and Hannah running a sequence of 10 successive sub 3 hour marathons (both of us averaging 2:54) there was no intention at the start of the year to attempt anything like that sort of number.

So what happened?

Well, it kind of just became fun experimenting - 

1. Experimenting with the time interval between successive marathons.
2. Experimenting with the build ups, ie race a lot, race sparsely, race short, race long?
3. Experimenting with diet and fuelling.

What was a two person experiment for the first half of the year became more of a three person experiment as we became aware that a certain Ian J Berry was on a very similar mission of experimentation.

In the picture below at the Kent Roadrunner Marathon (Ian in the middle as race director that day) on 30th May a total of 17 sub 3 hour marathons had been completed (Hannah 5, Ian 7, Steve 5).

By the end of the year a further 20 had been added to give a final tally of 37 sub 3:00 marathons (Hannah 10, Ian 17, Steve 10).

The following summaries for each individual were artistically produced by Ian:

Steve Darby - Average 2:54:19

Hannah Oldroyd - Average 2:54:55 (New British Record for female sub 3s in a calendar year *)

And just in case 10 seems lazy:

Ian J Berry - Average 2:50:05 (New British Record for male sub 3s in a calendar year *)

(* as advised by Tim Grose based on the Power of 10 database of performances)

The year in pictures and stats:

March - Wrexham Marathon 

Time since previous marathon - 18 weeks
Mileage since previous marathon - 1066 (weekly avg. 59)
Longest training run - 13 miles
Races since last marathon - 5k, 10k, 5k, 5k, 10 miles, 5k, HM, 5k, 10 miles, 5k, 10 miles, 5k, 1 mile, 5k, 7.5 mileXC, 10 miles, 5k, 5k, 6 miles, 5k, 5k, 10k, 5k, 5k, 5k, 5k, HM, 5k, 10k, 5k, 5k, 10k, 5k, 10k, 5k, 5k, 30k, 5k, 10 miles, 5k, HM, 5k

The year of marathons started in Wrexham in March.

This was the first marathon for over 4 months. In terms of the build up the main thing of note was that were no training runs longer than 10 miles but there was plentiful racing at a wide range of distances from 1 mile to 30k.

In the blog at the time I rated this as the best marathon performance to date at 2:48:12, so coupled with Hannah's 2:52:41 there were plenty positives from this one.

April - Canberra Marathon

Time since previous marathon - 5 weeks
Mileage since previous marathon - 298 (weekly avg. 60)
Longest training run - 10 miles
Races since last marathon - 5k, 5k, 20 miles, 5k, 15.5k, 5k, HM, 5k, 5k

One week after Wrexham we disappeared to have a superb 5 week jaunt to Australia.

Besides taking in Melbourne, Adelaide, Sydney and Perth on the trip we also went to Canberra and had the opportunity to compete in the marathon during our brief stay.

Canberra was 5 weeks after Wrexham. In the intervening period there had been no training runs in double figures and just two races longer than 10 miles, Locke Park 20 miles at Redcar and an 11.2 miles abbreviated half marathon at Murray Bridge near Adelaide.

It is also worth noting that there had been lots of walking in the lead up to this one as we explored some amazing places and some of the terrain had been quite challenging.

The outcome, again, was pretty positive with a 2:52:10 for myself and a gradual climb through the field for Hannah to go from 7th at 10k to earn a podium position by the finish.

April - London Marathon

Time since previous marathon - 2 weeks
Mileage since previous marathon - 112 (weekly avg. 56)
Longest training run - 12 miles
Races since last marathon - 5k, 10k, 5k

Just two weeks after Canberra it was time for the 2015 London Marathon. The main memory of this race was how incredibly cold it was. Nonetheless, for the most part it went pretty smoothly to record 2:50:55. Hannah had to go one better though and is seen in the picture below just about to overtake me with a mile to go and then go on to record a sparkling new PB of 2:50:07 just two weeks after the previous marathon.

This wasn't the first time that she had run an unexpected PB within a week or two of a previous marathon - an interesting point of note!

May - Belfast City Marathon

Time since previous marathon - 1 week
Mileage since previous marathon - 30 (weekly avg. 30)
Longest training run - 6 miles
Races since last marathon - 5k

One week later, and therefore the 3rd marathon in a 3 week period, it was time for Belfast. 

This was a tough event with a continual eight mile climb from miles 6-14. If any course could be expected to find out tired legs it would be this one but it felt strong throughout, especially during the climbing. The final times of 2:54:54 and 2:57:08 were more than pleasing.

May - Kent Roadrunner Marathon

Time since previous marathon - 4 weeks
Mileage since previous marathon - 255 (weekly avg. 64)
Longest training run - 10 miles
Races since last marathon - 5k, 5k, HM, 5k, 5k, HM, 5k, 5k, 1 mile

On 30th May it was time for Ian J Berry's own creation, the 17 lap Kent Roadrunner marathon at Gravesend Cyclopark.

It isn't a flat course by any means but as it is exactly the same course that gave rise to Steve Way's 100k British Record it isn't as slow as it first appears.

Despite Hannah running in full cow regalia and stopping mid race to perform a cartwheel in the showboating competition it couldn't have been closer as we crossed the line in 2:53:34 and 2:53:44.

Hannah and our good friend Simon Newton displaying their very shiny winners' trophies:

July - Potteries Marathon

Time since previous marathon - 5 weeks
Mileage since previous marathon - 305 (weekly avg. 61)
Longest training run - 6 miles
Races since last marathon - 5k, HM, 10 miles, 5k, HM, 5k, 5k, 10k, 10 miles, HM, 5k, 10k, 10k, 1 mile

Into July and the born again Potteries Marathon proved an irresistable draw as I had taken part in the previous incarnation of this event 22 years earlier.

Despite the previous version being tough it was nothing compared to the relentless hills of the 2015 course.

The build up to this one was about as anti-text book as it is possible to get. In the last 10 days leading up to the Potteries Marathon we raced hard no less than 6 times - 10 miles, HM, 5k, 10k, 10k, 1 mile

No coach would ever advise a runner to do that kind of thing in the immediate lead up to a marathon if they wanted to perform half decently but, to confound all notions of logic and common sense, it became the best marathon performance I've ever experienced.

The time of 2:52:40 doesn't look overly fast but when the severity of the course is taken into account this easily surpassed the 2:47:34 at Yorkshire in 2014.

To prove this was no fluke, Hannah also did reasonably well off the same silly build up :)

September - Carrickmore Marathon

Time since previous marathon - 10 weeks
Mileage since previous marathon - 643 (weekly avg. 64)
Longest training run - 8 miles
Races since last marathon - 5k, 5k, 5k, 5k, 10k, HM, 2.75 mile trail, 100k, 5k, 5k, 10k, HM, 5k, 5k, 5 miles, 5k, 10 miles, 5k, 10 miles, HM, 1 mile, 10k, 48 miles

A sizeable break of 10 weeks then passed before the next marathon, the inaugural Carrickmore Marathon in County Tyrone.

There were 23 races of various kinds in that 10 weeks including, for the first time, two events venturing beyond marathon distance:

Thunder Run - A 24 hour event completing 62.1 miles each.
St Albans Stampede - A 12 hour event completing 48 miles each.

I suffered towards the end of this one due to expectations of the course profile being a little kinder than it turned out to be. The final few miles were all about managing remaining resources against the time left to squeeze under 3 hours.

Meanwhile Hannah was using the stunning scenery to motivate herself to a perfectly paced victory over the challenging course:

October - Yorkshire Marathon

Time since previous marathon - 4 weeks
Mileage since previous marathon - 230 (weekly avg. 58)
Longest training run - 6 miles
Races since last marathon - 5k, HM, 5k, 5k, 10k, 5k, 10 miles, 5k

Four weeks later it was time to return to the PB course at York. 

There was nothing unusual in the build up except a couple of races where calf issues had been experienced, probably due to dehydration. There was probably some residual damage from those experiences as this marathon fell apart when strange cramping started around 19 miles. I actually dropped out to all intents and purposes after walking for the best part of 2 miles but gradually got going again and managed to just dip under 3 hours.

This was a bemusing pre-race incident as, somehow, I was mistaken for a minor celebrity :p

A 2:53:37 for 4th place was a good result for Hannah before the day took an unexpected turn as the glass in the pic below exploded just as the picture was being taken resulting in a slashed wrist and lots of blood.

October - Leicester Marathon

Time since previous marathon - 2 weeks
Mileage since previous marathon - 106 (weekly avg. 53)
Longest training run - 4 miles
Races since last marathon - 5k, 5 miles, 5k

Two weeks on and, from my point of view, it was good to get another chance at a marathon so quickly to try to establish that the calf cramping at Yorkshire was a one-off.

Sure enough by the end it was great to have finished with no recurrence and to have actually felt strong enough to push over the final few miles for a 2:55:11 clocking.

A very well paced effort resulted in a victory for Hannah in Victoria Park:

November - San Sebastian Marathon

Time since previous marathon - 5 weeks
Mileage since previous marathon - 243 (weekly avg. 48)
Longest training run - 8 miles
Races since last marathon - 5k, 10 miles, 5k, 10k, 5k, HM

With 9 out of 9 sub 3 marathons each so far in 2015 we now quite fancied extending that to a nice round 10.

Unlike the rest of the year, where courses of all sorts of severities had been tackled, San Sebastian in the Basque Country was specifically chosen because it looked like a decent event to load the dice a bit in our favour for an attempt to notch up the 10th.

Despite being a very hilly region the 2 lap course around San Sebastian was as good as you could hope for. 

Again I had the pleasure of being overtaken by the young Oldroyd, this time at the 34k point, as she went on to clinch 2nd place by a mere 5 seconds after a final 400m head to head battle on the track within the stadium of Real Sociedad.

The times of 2:54:20 and 2:57:03 nicely rounded off the 10/10 sequence that had become a bit of a target part way through the year.

What followed after the finish at San Sebastian was certainly a first though as Hannah was allocated a chaperone and escorted off to be drugs tested. I'm sure this procedure is very straightforward if you're used to being involved in this sort of thing but for Hannah this became over an hour of confusion with the language barrier making the whole thing a bit unfathomable. Her utternces of "I'm just a pleb not an elite" didn't seem to have much effect!

So what was learned from all the experimentation?

This is not an easy question to answer.

If one overall lesson can be taken from this year it would be that there really is many different ways to prepare for a marathon and, as is usually the case at shorter distances, the best results often come at the most unexpected times off the most unusual preparations.

a) Optimal time between marathons? - No idea! With the fastest times of the year being 18 weeks and 2 weeks after the previous marathons and the best feeling performance being 5 weeks after the previous marathon it is difficult to draw any conclusions on that one.

b) Optimal racing build up? Again, more confused than ever. After starting the year thinking that anything faster than marathon pace in the final 10 days leads to a struggle in the closing stages of a marathon that thinking went up in smoke at Potteries after having a great run off 6 hard races in 10 days.

c) Diet and fuelling - At least this was one area where definitive answers were found for marathon performance. Without question, eating lots more protein and much less in the way of carbs is a major step forward, as is limiting carb intake pre-race to ordinarly levels.

With his larger sample size of 17 sub 3 marathons in the last 50 weeks or so you would expect that Ian Berry would have some more profound and useful conclusions from all the experimentation......but I think he is just as confused as we are!

Recent Marathon Record

2009 April - Blackpool Marathon 3:24:17 (Age 42)
2009 September - Fleetwood Marathon DNF (Age 43)
2010 October - Amsterdam Marathon 3:04:27 (Age 44)
2010 November - Milton Keynes Track Marathon DNF (Age 44)
2011 April - London Marathon 3:18:30 (Age 44)
2012 April - London Marathon 2:57:04 (Age 45)
2012 October - Chester 2:55:36 (Age 46)
2013 April - London Marathon 3:11:29 (Age 46)
2013 June - Cork Marathon 3:06:19 (Age 47)
2013 October - Budapest Marathon 2:58:53 (Age 47)
2013 December - Lancaster Marathon 2:54:17 (Age 47) (1st)
2013 December - Pisa Marathon 2:54:09 (Age 47)
2014 April - Manchester Marathon 2:51:52 (Age 47)
2014 April - London Marathon 2:57:52 (Age 47)
2014 June - Rhyl Marathon 2:58:24 (Age 48)
2014 October - Yorkshire Marathon 2:47:34 (Age 48)
2014 October - Dublin Marathon 2:58:53 (Age 48)
2014 November - Town Moor Marathon 2:54:56 (Age 48) (1st)
2015 March - Wrexham Marathon 2:48:12 (Age 48) (5th)
2015 April - Canberra ACT Marathon 2:52:10 (Age 48) (15th)
2015 April - London Marathon 2:50:55 (Age 48)
2015 May - Belfast City Marathon 2:54:54 (Age 48) 
2015 May - Kent Roadrunner Marathon 2:53:34 (Age 49) (4th)
2015 July - Potteries Marathon 2:52:40 (Age 49) (6th)
2015 September - Mary Anderson Colour Marathon 2:59:17 (Age 49) (7th)
2015 October - Yorkshire Marathon 2:59:30 (Age 49)
2015 October - Leicester Marathon 2:55:11 (Age 49) (11th)
2015 November - Donostia San Sebastian Marathon 2:57:03 (Age 49)
2015 December - Spiejkenisse Marathon 3:01:10 (Age 49)


No specific plans for 2016 except to get to new locations and try out as many different and interesting events as possible.

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