After Firenze Marathon in November 2016, I was in my best running shape and I had some big goals for 2017. Unfortunately, few weeks after the marathon I injured my left hamstring and have been struggling with my running since then. I kept biking and swimming consistently but I had to stop running for some time and lost all the running fitness I worked so hard to gain. I slowly resumed running around the beginning of March. The injury was not healed yet and I was never able to train properly or build up any running volume. It was only around July/August that I started feeling better. I had my best run at the Ironman 70.3 World Championship in Chattanooga mid September. It was the first time in a very long time that I enjoyed running without feeling any sort of pain. I felt so good that I decided to sign up for Frankfurt Marathon which took place just six weeks later. It is very challenging to get in shape for the marathon in this limited time. My coach Chris did an amazing work to get me there. I was not only ready for the race, but I also had a strong belief that a new PB a awaiting for me at the finish line.
The race plan
42km is a long way to go and breaking it into splits makes it easier to manage. My race plan is very simple: run 8 times 5km at 4'25"/km to 4'30"/km then run 2km with what is left in the legs. That would give 5km splits between 22' to 22'30'' and a final time between 3h06 to 3h10. Mentally, I break the marathon into three phases. In the first phase, the legs are fresh and should be able to run at the target pace without any effort. Maybe just a little bit of control at the beginning to avoid going too fast. The second phase is when the legs start to fatigue and would need an extra effort to keep the pace. The last phase is when the legs become very tired and every step is really painful. That's when the mind has to take over and maintain the pace despite the pain. The longer the first phase last, the better it is for me. I was confident in this plan and my ability to stick to it the whole race.
The weather forecast for race day was not too bad. Temperatures between 8°C and 12°C with no rain but the wind was expected to be rather strong. I started the race in the second coral for runners with an estimated finish time between 3h and 3h15. When the gun went off, the first few hundred meters were crowded and it was very difficult to find a clear path. I thought it was good as it would help me not to start very fast. But when I reached the first kilometer mark, I was surprised to see that I was running at a 4'15''/km pace. I should have expected this relatively fast start since the runners around me looked fit and fast. :-) I decided to drop down the pace a little bit and stick to my race plan. I ran the first 5km in 22'04", 4'25"/km. The pace was confortable and my legs felt so light. They were turning naturally at the right pace, I didn't even have to think about it. At some point I was a little bit faster than my target pace but my heart rate was in the right zone and I was feeling good so I just kept going.The splits for the next 5km until the 30km mark were 22'16", 21'33",21'52, 21'58" and 22'04".
From the 27th kilometer, I started to feel some fatigue in the legs. It was a sign that I had to mentally shift to the phase where I had to work to maintain my pace. It was really good to have made it this far before having the first signs of fatigue! I started to focus on maintaining the right pace. I paid more attention to my running form, legs turnover, breathing, nutrition and hydration. The pace felt comfortably hard and still manageable. At this point of the race, I also started to pass so many other runners who were not able to maintain their pace. It was a great mental boost. My 5 km split at the 35th kilometer mark was 22'08" and everything was still under control. From the 37th-38th kilometer, I started to feel pain in my legs. I was struggling to maintain the pace and each step was a torture! It wasn't actually too bad as I had only few kilometers left and I should be able to support this torture for the remaining time. I had some thoughts about stopping and walking but my will to keep running was stronger. At the last aid station before the 40th kilometer, I walked for the first time in the race, I had a coke to get an extra boost of energy then I resumed running. My 5 km split was 23:05, the slowest of the day. Part of it because I walked and another part because of a very strong cross wind that made me slow down. The last 2 km were really tough, too much pain in the legs at each step! But the race was almost over and I had the mental focus to maintain a 4'30"/km pace till the end. I crossed the finish line in 3h06'47"!
3h06 is an amazing performance, I am extremely happy that I was able to do it. A big thank you to my coach Chris who got me to this level of fitness despite a very low running volume this year. I am now just 7 minutes away from achieving every runner's dream to run a sub 3 hours marathon. Even though I had some painful kilometers at the end of the race, the pace never felt too hard and dropping few seconds per kilometer should be doable in the forseeable future, if no injury occurs on the way. It will of course require hard work and dedication but I am very confident that it is within reach.
This was my final race in 2017. I will now focus on revovery then slowly start preparing the 2018 season. Thanks for reading! ;-)