Belfast City Marathon 2013 Review & My Technique For Breaking Through The Marathon Wall For Beginners
On Monday I ran my 3rd Belfast Marathon in 3 years and finished with a personal best of 4:37:15 which cut 15 minutes off my previous personal best in Paris and 17 minutes off last years time.
What follows is a short breakdown of the race, my new fueling strategy and most importantly my tactics for getting through the wall.
Early race strategy
I can’t say much about the first 18 or so miles of the Belfast Marathon. It went perfectly with me being able to keep a 10:18 min/mile pace without a problem.
A highlight was at mile 9 where I met Mark who was out with his fire crew supporting the runners with refreshments. As a keen marathoner himself (who cut an hour off his marathon PB in 6 months), Mark was fucking sprinting after runners with bottles of water for them.
I thought he was gonna fucking try to kill them at first going by how quickly he took off after them.
A great service.
A new fueling strategy
My fueling strategy for long slow runs is notoriously poor. It consists of running for as long as I can, burning out and then making a lame attempt to revive myself with some Lucozade Sport.
It rarely works.
This time around I tried something different. I bought 5 packets of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups and 3 SIS Berry Gels with Caffeine and put them in my Camelbak for the race.
This is how my conveyor belt in Tesco looked like on Sunday afternoon….
A peanut buttery strategy…
My strategy this time involved eating a Reese’s Cup every mile from 4-14 miles.
I tried to consume them after that but they had become all soggy with my sweat.
I was that embarrassed by the situation that I threw my last packet of Cups across the road, nearly twatting an angry-looking relay runner square in the face with them.
If that girl ever reads this blog, then I’m sorry for nearly slapping you in the face. I was not offended by your presence, I just needed to get rid of those horrible fucking things as quickly as possible.
It was just a coincidence that your face aligned with the best angle for disposal.
Tiring and preparing to hit the wall…
At 15 I ran with a fellow from Sligo and having someone to run with helped so much. The only problem was that we kept slowing down and speeding up at different times making it difficult to get into a proper rhythm.
Eventually he broke away and I wished him the best and I knuckled down into the race again.
From mile 16-20 I was still running strong and took in 2 of the SIS Berry Gels and they definitely gave me a boost.
Hitting the wall but not collapsing
The wall came as expected at mile 20 but fortunately it wasn’t anywhere near as bad as the Paris meltdown.
Before the race I accepted that I would have to walk a little bit and kept my head up and drank as much isotonic drink as I could during these breaks.
The glucose from the drink meant that I kept breaking back into half mile jogs before walking again and drinking more Lucozade Sport.
The damage limitation game…
At mile 20 I figured that if I walked the rest of the race at a 15 minute mile I’d finish in 4:58.
Instead of being upset with myself at stopping to walk, I took the same positive spin on the race that I did in Paris. I kept my head up high, walked as fast as I could when I had to and actually fucking smiled and relaxed.
So with the 4:58 worst scenario finish in my mind I focused on building on that mile on mile.
Here are a breakdown of my miles post-wall. When I say ‘Walk rest of race’ I’m implying that I’ll walk the rest of the race at a 15 minute mile pace.
Mile 21 – 11:55 – Walk rest of race and finish in 4:55
Mile 21 was the hardest run as part of me felt like I was cheating the Northern Ireland Hospice and all of the kind people who have sponsored me by walking again.
For 5 or 10 minutes I retreated back into my mind and it wasn’t a pretty place to be.
Mile 22 – 11:23 – Walk rest of race and finish in 4:52:30
This is when I knew I was gonna get a personal best. The pressure was lifted from my shoulders. I could run lighter and just take the race atmosphere in and not collapse mentally for once at the end.
Mile 23 – 11:50 – Walk rest of race and finish in 4:49
I was maybe a bit guilty of relaxing too much after mile 22. The concept that I still had another 3 miles to run killed my spirit.
At the start of the towpath my heart sank as one of the marshals shouted “Keep going everyone, you’re doing great! You’re set for a 4:45 finish!”.
This did not rest well on my mind. Here I was shuffling badly between a walk-jog-walk and to compound my misery I was gonna struggle to finish in 4:45.
It was at this point that I made a conscious decision to try to record a more impressive personal best and to ignore everyone else and just keep doing what I was doing.
Mile 24 – 11:26 – Walk rest of race and finish in 4:45:30
At mile 24 we passed up the Ormeau Road past the Northern Ireland Hospice Shop and their support team. Since I wasn’t wearing a Hospice top they didn’t recognise me but I was still motivated by their kindness towards all of the runners.
Towards the end of the mile I knew it was possible that I could record a sub 4:40 time.
Suddenly I believed in myself again.
Mile 25 – 10:53 – Walk rest of race and finish in 4:41:30
I was spurred on by Wayne from Uni who shouted “Go on Matt! Only a mile to go!”.
My spirit soared as I was on the final downhill stretch and I knew I was gonna go sub 4:40.
Mile 26 – 10:05 – I am not walking the rest of this fucking race!
I put all I could into mile 26 and finished with one of my fastest splits of the race.
By the time I got to 26 miles I decided to just fucking go for it and finished on a sprint passing tons of confused/bewildered relay runners.
Forrest Gump mode had been initiated.
I can’t really remember much else about finishing. I remember seeing 4:37 and just feeling proud of myself instead of disappointed for once. It was a great experience.
After the race I collapsed on the grass in the Ozone Complex and cramped up a lot.
- The wall isn’t something to be scared of, it’s just something you have to be ready for. I’ve hit it in all 4 of my marathons so far and each time it has sucked a little bit less.
- Since I started the race running 10:18 min/miles I expected the wall to be a lot worse this time. It wasn’t. In my last 3 marathons I’ve tried to run 11 minute/miles in the hope that the slower pace would lead to wall not coming at all. It did and it felt worse as my times were shitty.
- Marathons don’t necessarily have to be awful rape-like experiences. The 2013 Belfast Marathon for me was actually quite enjoyable and I’ll do it again at some point (next year knowing me!).