It’s been more than a year since my last marathon in Frankfurt in 2017. I had initially planned to run Frankfurt Marathon again in October 2018 but I got injured and I had to skip it. After recovering from my injury, I started looking for an early season marathon. With a PB of 3h06, I wanted a flat and fast course with good weather conditions to attempt breaking the sub 3 hour mark. Seville Marathon was the best option. The city is beautiful and the course is flat and fast. I was a bit worried about the temperature but I thought there was a very low risk to have a hot day in February, even in Spain.
Why attempting a sub 3 hour marathon now?
The most important question that every runner will ask when training for a marathon is “what is the race pace?”. From my previous marathon experiences, I learned how to find mine. I basically aim for a challenging pace that would feel difficult to hold when starting the training for the marathon, but not so fast that it becomes unrealistic. If it feels comfortable then it is certainly not a good target and I should aim for a faster pace. I ran Frankfurt Marathon at a 4’25”/km, it is a pace that is definitely not exciting based on my fitness level around December. A challenging pace would be a 4’10”/km to 4’15”/km which gives a marathon time between 2h56 and 2h59. My marathon pace training was around these values. They felt hard at the beginning but, after few weeks of training, they started to feel more comfortable. As the race day approached, I had no doubt that a sub 3 hour marathon was within reach.
I started the training early October. Even though I was just coming back from few weeks without running due to injury, I had plenty of time to get in a good shape. Following my coach’s plan, I built up the training volume from 11 km in September to 325 km in January. It is good to mention that my running volume is relatively low from March to August but it was complemented with a high bike volume. My highest weekly volume was 85 km and I was averaging 67 km in the last 10 weeks leading to the race. My body managed the workload without any issue. Overall, I respected my coach’s plan religiously, only missing few training sessions here and there due to illness. I must admit that it was tough to train in the winter. Running in the dark, cold, rain and snow was challenging but there is no other way around it. That is the downside of an early season marathon.
The race plan
It is basically the same race plan as for my previous marathon in Frankfurt 2017, only the paces change: Run 8 times 5km at 4'10"/km to 4'15"/km then run 2km with what is left in the legs. That would give 5km splits between 20'50” to 21'15'' and a final time between 2h56 to 2h59. 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.
I was at the start line in my best shape, my legs were fresh and my body was at a 100%, not even a little niggle after the long weeks of training. I was very confident in my training and my race plan. The race day was sunny with no clouds in the sky. It was a bit cold before the start but the temperature was expected to rise above 15°C by midday.
After a 10-15 minutes warmup, I set myself at the front of the 3h-3h15 coral. I was surrounded by experienced runners who obviously were here to break the 3 hour barrier. As the gun went off at 8h30, I started running almost instantly at my marathon pace. I was actually surprised by the smooth start, I had enough space to run despite being in the middle of hundreds of runners all starting at a fast pace. I was very careful not to start very fast as it would definitely compromise the rest of race. It was not an easy task but I clocked the first kilometre in 4’15”, right at my target pace. From there I was in a cruise control, I was logging the kilometre after kilometre at the same pace without even thinking. My main focus was on hydration and nutrition. I reached the 10th kilometre mark in 42’22” which was great, and the half marathon in 1h30’30” which was slower than expected. I believe I dropped the pace due to a lack of focus as my legs were still feeling good. Around the 22nd kilometre, and for no obvious reason, I walked at the aid station. Even though I was still feeling good, it is never a good sign to start walking this early in the marathon. This resulted in losing around 45 seconds. At this point, I had to really focus to maintain the pace. I was able to get back on track and run at a 4’15”/km pace until the 30th kilometre. I looked at my watch and realised that I was 2 minutes behind my schedule. With 12,2 kilometres to go, I would have to run at least at 4’10”/km to finish the marathon under 3 hours. With the fatigue that started to set in, the task seemed impossible and I understood that today was not the day. Since my only goal was to run a sub 3 hour marathon, I had no interest to keep fighting for a slower outcome. My mind gave up completely and I had no power to run anymore.
All runners know that at this point of a marathon, it is all about the mind. There is no way the body could tolerate the suffering of the last kilometres without the power of the mind. Unfortunately I gave up. Now that I am writing these lines, I think it was a mistake to not keep fighting until the finish line. At least I would have known how close I can get to the 3 hour mark. As a punishment for my laziness to fight, I covered the last 12 kilometres in more than 1h10 and crossed the finish line in 3h19.
When I stood at the starting line of Seville Marathon, I was very confident that I would be able to run the marathon under 3 hours. My confidence comes from the training I have done which was harder and longer than my training for Frankfurt Marathon (3h06). The marathon pace (4’15”/km) felt comfortable in the last few weeks of training and I had no reason to think that I wouldn’t be able to achieve my goal.
During the race, everything was rather good until the thirtieth kilometre. I gave up from the moment I knew I was behind the schedule. I lost the motivation to keep running on painful legs. While there is definitely a mental part that affected my performance, I believe the main reason for underachieving is that I didn’t have the aerobic endurance to run a 4’15”/km pace for 3 hours. This is something I need to address with my coach. This race was a great learning experience which will help me improving my preparation for the next marathon.
Even though I finished Seville Marathon in 3h19, I still believe I am very close to a sub 3 hour marathon. It might take one or two more races but I will definitely get there. In the meantime, I need to decide whether I sign up for another marathon in April/May or wait until September/October as the temperatures will be more suitable for a good performance.
Thanks for reading! ;-)