Sunday 10th October, 9am
My training for this marathon commenced on 6th October 2020, with the first run in my training diary being a 12.5 mile easy run along the Forest Way. The opening page of my diary reads as follows, “It’s the 6th October and my last mass-participation running event was the Lydd 20 miler in March 2020. The Covid pandemic has led to the cancellation of many or most large social gatherings. I was due to run the Cork City Marathon at the end of May (2021) and was just 6 or 7 weeks into my training before lockdown was introduced. It’s uncertain as to whether a cross-country season will happen and parkrun has an unknown return date. Most Spring marathons have been postponed until Autumn 2021. My goal is the Budapest marathon in October 2021. It will be my thrid, after London 2018 and Boston (UK) 2019.”
Further to this, in my 2021 preview blog post, I set myself the following running goal for the Budapest marathon:
“My training for this third marathon attempt is geared towards running a time as close to 02:50:00 as I can. Why this time you ask and why not just aim for sub 3 hours? Well, having raced on numerous occasions over various distances and terrain and with two marathon experiences under my belt already, I feel it is best to train towards a faster time and be in the knowledge that if circumstances on race day do not go as planned (which can often be the case) then I have room for manoeuvre.”
So, did I run a time which was close to 02:50? Did I run a time under 3 hours? Did I achieve a new PB (previously 03:08.05)? Read on to find out…
Race day schedule
The evening before the race I had already prepared my race bag, energy gel flask and overnight oats and set out my clothes, which left me with little to do on the morning of the event. Below I provide a play-by-play of my race day morning schedule:
- 5:30am – wake-up, get changed and ready.
- 6:00am – consume overnight oats.
- 6:20am – collected and dropped off at Tatabanya train station
- 6:40am – depart Tatabanya train station
- 7:30am – arrive at Budapest train station
- 7:40am – depart Budapest tram stop, head toward Infopark tram stop
- 8:00am – arrive at race village following a short walk from the tram
- 8:35am – enter the male changing area to use toilet and get changed
- 8:52am – exit male changing area with little time for a warm-up
- 8:58am – joined my start corral
- 9:00am – race start
As you can see from the above schedule, despite having arrived at the race village 1 hour ahead of the race start, I didn’t leave myself sufficient time to complete a decent warm-up and this was one of the controllable circumstances which I failed to control!
I had kept a “weathered eye” on the weather forecast leading up to the marathon and took screenshots of this in the 10 days leading up to the 10th October. The first image below (left) was taken on 1st October, the second on 6th October and the final one on the morning of the marathon.
As you can see, the weather conditions which had been forecast in the lead up to the race were far more favourable than those which we were presented with on race day and were in fact, not too disimilar from those which I ran in during my last marathon attempt in Boston (Lincolnshire) in April 2019.
The start line
I joined the start corral which I had been assigned (those planning to run between 4:00 – 4:30 per km), having completed only a very brief warm-up of running drills. Due to the short period of time from exiting the changing area, to joining the start I hadn’t thought about starting my watch until moments before the start of the race…
I looked down at my watch seconds before the start only to realise that I hadn’t pressed the start button in order to lock in the GPS (something I would already have done, had I not rushed the warm-up). Just before we set off, I pressed start and for some reason my watch asked whether I wanted it to connect to an external heart rate monitor (the watch has a built-in wrist-based HR monitor and has never asked me this question). I can only assume that another runner nearby was wearing a HR monitor and my watch had picked up on this! As I had to make a quick decision, whilst also trying to find my place amongst other runners and concentrate on not tripping, I pressed OK and my watch attempted to connect to this other HR monitor. To cut a long story short, the watch never connected to that HR monitor, nor did it locate GPS and therefore, I was running blind. This was the second of the controllable circumstances that I failed to control! From here on out, I would have no idea as to my running pace and as the course was marked out in kilometres and my training had always been in miles, I wasn’t ready to do the maths to convert miles to kilometres, but I estimated that the pace should be around 4 minutes per KM, which as it turned out, was about right.
The race – first half
I completed the first few kilometres comfortably,feeling strong and by 5km (approx. 21 minutes) I had joined a group of 5 other runners and was chatting away to a guy from Poland. He informed me at that point that we were on for a 2:50 clocking, so I knew that I was on pace. We went through 10km in around 42 minutes and having completed the first short loop 12km in to the race, crossed the start line once more before heading back to complete the longer “loop” and the next 30km!
At around 16km, I felt a bit of a stitch and decided to reduce my pace slightly rather than trying to run through it, which worked. Unfortunately, this drop in pace meant that I had lost the group that I had been running with and it was at this point that I noticed my pace beginning to slow a little. I ended up passing halfway in 01:27.27 which, if I could maintain that pace, would put me on target for a 2:55 finishing time.
The race – second half
Unfortunately, I covered the second half of the race in a time of 1:47.24 and to save you getting out a calculator to work out my finish time, I shall share it with you – 3:14.51.
I could feel my pace slowing the further I ran and I remember getting to 32km in approximately 02:15 and reasoning with myself that I can run 10km comfortably in 45 minutes, which, had I not already run 32km beforehand, is certainly true. The mind plays a crucial part in running (and all forms of exercise) and as soon as you begin to lose control of it, you will struggle to get it back on side, as I found out. I ended up covering the final 10km in around 1 hour with a number of walk breaks at the fuel stations and struggling even to get into a continuous jog. The hardest point for me, mentally, was when I reached 37km and with 5km to go, knowing that, not only would I not achieve a sub-3 hour clocking, but that I would not even better my current marathon PB of 3:08.05. At this point I really lost my mind and became very frustrated.
The finish line
As with any race, when the finish line is in sight, you can always muster a fast finish and so I put my legs into action and crossed the finish line in just under 03:15 (chip time). As you can see from the picture (below, right) I was unable to hold back my emotions.
I wandered towards the volunteers to collect my finisher’s medal, blanket and goody bag before being greeted by a very proud girlfriend (Nora). She could sense my disappointment but reassured me that given all of the circumstances, not least of which, the unexpected weather conditions, I had done an amazing job! I’m very grateful that Nora was there for me as it would have been even more difficult for me to process what I considered to be a failure.
Unfortunately, there were a number of circumstances on the day which did not go as planned and although some of these were within my control, others were not. Although it is a hard pill to swallow, now that I have had time to reflect upon my performance, there is a lot that I have learned and I know that this will make me stronger going forwards. I can now say that I am proud of my achievement.
New running goals
I have decided to focus my attention on improving my current personal bests over shorter distances before I return my focus towards the marathon again. The reason for this is that I would like to improve my running form and efficiency over shorter distances before applying this to longer distances where it is very important to reserve energy, certainly in the latter stages of the race.
I have a few races coming up over the Autumn and Winter – a 10km and a number of cross-country races, but beyond this, my first goal will be to better my existing PB in the mile (currently 5:26) and I hope to do this at The Vitality Westminster Mile, which usually takes place in May. As soon as I reach this goal, then I will move up to 5km, 10km and half marathon before I have another go at a marathon, which could be a couple of years away now.
I am a firm believer that, in setting a goal it will provide you with the focus, commitment and energy required in order to keep you on target.
My marathon journey, so far
- 2018: London – 21 degrees (wore shorts and vest), 03:31.13
- 2019: Boston, Lincolnshire – 7 degrees, dry, windy (wore shorts, vest, hat, gloves & buff), 03:08.05
- 2021: Budapest, Hungary – 7 degrees, drizzle (wore shorts and vest), 03:14.51
Remember that you might be in the best possible shape for the race or event which you have trained for, yet, there will always be circumstances on the day which are either within your control (arriving in good time at the event, making sure that your running watch is ready or conducting a 10-20 minute warm-up) or beyond your control (the weather, availabilty of race day facilities or public transport running to schedule).
With this in mind, I would like to share two mottos with you, which I have written up on the noticeboard in my studio, “you can only control the controllable” and “train for the best, prepare for the worst”.
I hope that the content of this blog post will help you to prepare you for your next big event, whether that be a running race, work meeting, school presentation or house move for example. If you can learn from the mistakes that I made in my marathon and ensure that you control all of the controllables within your power then I am sure that you will succeed or at the very least, perform to your best on the day!
Help with achieving your goal
If you need any assistance with your training, whether it be a training plan, a 1:1 session or even just a chat, then please reach out and contact me by phone – 07743 073788, e-mail – email@example.com or in person and I will be very happy to help.