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Training Blog: Madrid Marathon


Tom Wheatley of ShortList blogs about his progress so far

Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Tom WheatleyIt's probably fair to say that my attempts at preparing for the 2013 ShortList triathlon weren't as focused as they could have been. Yes I did train for it, however I was really just doing enough to make sure I survived it with a modicum of dignity. My plans pretty much consisted of making sure I ran, cycled and swam at least once a week, but I seldom actually sat down and worked out how to make improvements as the event drew closer.

This year I'm not taking the blasé approach. Aside from actually having a diet plan (instead of just drinking a protein shake occasionally), my calendar is now booked up with events and training days to make sure I stay on track over the next few months. I've always found that without having some kind of event in the near future my fitness dwindles as I get distracted with restaurants, bars, cakes or DVD box sets. My competitive nature also means I push myself a lot harder in races and see improvements a lot quicker than just training on it's own. It can get pretty expensive though.

My first major event this year was the Madrid marathon. Possibly not ideal preparation for a sprint triathlon but I had it planned months ago and it meant I could spend some time really working on my running before I hit the other disciplines. It's probably important to mention here that running is the only one of the disciplines I actually enjoy racing in, something that means I struggle to evenly distribute my training for a triathlon.

Over the past couple of months I've done quite a bit of running in preparation for Madrid, largely doing half marathons every couple of weekends and even using the Brighton marathon as one of my long runs, although in actuality it was my only long run. I've seen some improvements over the past few weeks, however due to the inclusion of the six week ETC course at Equinox gym, which meant my body was in a constant state of flux, it's been very difficult to actually work out how my running was coming along.

I ran the Brighton Marathon smack-bang in the middle of the hardest stage of the ETC course, and even though I only wanted to use it as training run I found it really hard (I wrote a bit about it here), so my hopes for getting a good time in Madrid were fairly slim. Firstly the temperatures there over the past few weeks have been up to 27 degrees which, bearing in mind I'm a very easily-burnt ginger man, didn't fill me with joy. Secondly the elevation for the course looks like this:

I've never actually enjoyed a marathon and every time I do one I tell myself it's the last time. Not only do I struggle with the pacing at anything over a half, I just can't be bothered to put the hours in for the long runs. My PB was a 3.53 in Paris last year, at the time I had no idea how I managed it as I was injured for the month before and wasn't even planning on running it. Since then I ran a 3.54 in Munich and nearly keeled over at the end. So yeah, a ridiculously hilly course, intense heat and a fairly unknown fitness level meant I set my sights pretty low. Also, ignoring any advice anyone has given me, I decided to wear lycra running shorts for the first time ever without testing them in a training run.

Luckily for me the temperature wasn't too bad as I turned up at the start line. I'd also managed to get about ten hours sleep the night before and, although leaving little to the imagination, my lycra felt pretty damn good. So things were looking fairly positive, although the course elevation chart was an image that wouldn't leave my mind.

My aim was to run at a consistent 5.20 minutes per kilometre. Normally I end up going off too fast and by mile twenty I have next to nothing left as I grimace my way to the end, occasionally stopping “to do my shoelaces”. I was actually way under for the the first half of the marathon, my friend constantly warning me that we were going too fast. I felt great though and I didn't want to lose the momentum so carried on regardless.

As we got to halfway, the point where I normally start wavering, something strange happened and I actually began to speed up. For the first time in a marathon my legs felt fine this far in, so I went with it and kept going to the point where I was hitting well below 5 minute kilometres. In the back of my mind I was just waiting for the moment when I slowed down dramatically as I had done every time before, however at 35km I was still maintaining the pace.

In all the reviews I'd read on the Madrid marathon, every single one warns of the hill that spans the last five miles, a final distance which fills runners with fear even on a completely flat course. The Madrid one is far from flat and as we stared up into the distance I was sure it was going to break me. I knew that if I managed to keep going I'd be on for a pretty good PB so I pushed myself forward, knowing that I could easily lose it all if I weakened.

Strangely I kept going, not only maintaining but speeding up, I'm not sure whether it was excitement of the PB or the three packs of biscuits I ate the night before, but I still had enough energy left and my legs felt fine. Passing the finish line as the clock struck 3.40 meant I'd taken at least 13 minutes off my Paris time. Yes I was happy, but confusion was at the forefront of my mind.

Now with my new PB under my belt, a pretty nice medal and an impressive Adidas commemorative running top, I feel like a have some closure on the running side of things. For the next few weeks I'll be weighting my training across to the cycling and swimming disciplines as well as trying to get my shorter distance running down. Then comes the difficult bit of actually combining them together, something I didn't even attempt last year until the day itself. This is probably why ended up running the last 5k a bit like Clegg from Last Of The Summer Wine.

I'd probably put Madrid down as one of my top two marathons so far with Paris. Not only because I ran it better than I'd hoped but because I actually enjoyed it. Fine there were loads of hills, but my major problem when running a race of that distance is the boredom. A flat marathon may be easier but I find that windy roads that undulate keep my mind busy, I notice myself looking forward to the declines and like not seeing a long stretch of road leading into the distance. As well as being well organised there is a massive emphasis on the data for the participants. As well as a handy app which follows the runners as they go round there's even a nice matrix breakdown of participant times (here's mine).




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