The Sub 3:30 marathon Experiment

With the Brighton Marathon in 2020 being cancelled and the world basically imploding with COVID for 2 years, my plan after Brighton 2019 to break the 3:30 mark took a back seat. It’s not that I stopped running – just ask my wife or check my Strava!! But the organised events and in particular marathons that I could sign up for and had sub 3:30 potential dried up.

My focus moved on to trail events, and in 2020 I signed up for the 2021 Robin Hood 100. A 100 mile event around Sherwood Forest. Read about that here.

But doing that meant a training plan , and a training plan that was aimed at serious endurance, not a mere 26.2 miles! (I can’t believe I just wrote that – my how things change!! In all honesty 26.2 miles is anything but a ‘mere’ distance. It’s a marathon, its a lot of miles, its hours of running – even for the best in the world.

That training plan however did more than just prepare me for the endurance of a 100 mile event. It built my fitness up, it tightened my speed work and physical strength. It made me feel more capable and able. I began hitting numerous PBs at 5Km, 10Km during interval sessions, I really felt good. So whilst it wasn’t;t the plan, I felt that the sub 3:30 marathon experiment still had some chance. So I signed up for the 2022 Brighton Marathon. I didn’t target training for it. I ran my 100 miler and then restarted the same training program with more ultras in the calendar for 2022 (this time for the Chiltern Wonderland event ran by Centurion Running. Brighton Marathon just happened to fall into the training timetable, but I felt good that I would be able to turn in a good result.

In the run up to my 100 miler I ran the 2021 Big Half and set a new PB of 1Hr 23. I felt I had really smashed that, and the thought of doing a 3:30 marathon no longer filled my marathon sights, I was now thinking the 3Hr dream might just be the one I needed to aim for. Sub 3 would be beyond my expectations. I didn’t believe I had any reason to think I deserved to be that good, to break a line that is so far detached from what I thought I would be doing in 2017 when I started running.

As Marathon day approached I felt in good shape and put in a sensible taper for 2 weeks. Well that’s a lie, I ran Reading half marathon 7 days before the marathon and foolishly ran a 1:32 !! I should know better by now!

I decided on race day to run with the 3Hr pacer, see how I got on and if I had to I would drop back. But if I don’t try …

My first problem was that the pen I was in (sub 3:30 expected time) had no 3Hr pacer. They were in the elite group and so were some way ahead of me. Arggh!!

I worked my way to the front of the pen but couldn’t;t eve see the 3Hr pacer as I started, what do I do! 2 options …

  1. Run my own race, pace with my watch and control things myself.
  2. Catch the 3Hr pacing and use them to control the pace, knowing that they would do a better job.

Well, I opted for 2. I am not the best at self pacing and thought I could do without the added concern of keeping an eye on my pace. So catch the 3Hr pacer I did. According to the official timing for the marathon, this was a much bigger error than I thought. Official my first 5Km was 17 minutes ! Far far too fast. I would end up paying for that.

Now my other issue is that I am a runner that sweats a decent amount and I need fluids. I really need a good amount of fluid 500mL to 1L over the course of the marathon. I carried a bottle (500mL) hoping I would manage, but again this fell short, and the use of paper cups at the race – though commendable and something I support for environmental reasons, are just useless for taking on fluids if you are trying rot run fast.

So I had to refill my own water bottle, costing precious time.

At around 20 miles I started to slip back from the 3Hr pacer and immediately felt my 3Hr target was done for. I did however pull my big boy socks up and refuse to just let it fade into disappointment. I kept pushing, knowing now my target was 3:15 – which would be a PB (beating my treadmill PB from April 2020).

The crowd as ever was brilliant, the. whole town is so supportive of the race and the runners, so much cheering, encouragement and joy out there. The race brings Brighton to a virtual stop, driving anywhere near Brighton that weekend must be a nightmare, but embrace it they do and I’m so grateful for that, without that support it would be so much harder.

Eventually I hit Madeira Drive, saw the finish line and the customary extra skip in my step meant I crossed the line in 3Hrs 4minutes. Not the 3 Hrs I wanted, not the nirvana state of a time starting 2Hr … but still, 3Hr 4 – WOW. I cannot begin to comprehend what I would have said back in 2017 if people started telling me the ti would one day complete a marathon in that time. Its bonkers, it’s nuts, but it’s my time, I did it and nobody can deny me that.

One day I will try again for sub 3Hr, but for now I can look at that medal and the photos and think, I finished 276th our of over 8000 runners. That’s a memory to last a lifetime.

Thankyou Brighton, you were again brilliant.

3Hr 04 – that will do!!

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