Sometimes we need to go back to basics, and consider why we started out on our journey in the first place. It’s all too easy to forget the reasons why you do something, what drove you to get where you are and how far you’ve come. Considering this in the context of recreational running, it’s easy to get obsessed about whether you’re running 10 seconds per km slower than normal, forgetting that the reason you started running was not in order to get fully acquainted with the inadequacies of a GPS watch.
The London Marathon this year was a good example of needing to focus on the ‘why’ and the ‘how.’ The conditions for runners were unseasonably warm this year. I wouldn’t say they were hot – they were just hotter than most UK runners had experienced in recent months. I know, for example, that my last proper long run prior to the marathon had been in the snow! No-one had much time to acclimatise. The advice from the organisers was, amongst other things, to adjust your pace and your goals.
The race, therefore, was an ideal opportunity to try to listen to your body and run based on feel rather than on what your watch was telling you. With the sun out and the crowds likely to be large, it was a chance to focus on enjoying the experience. It was reasonable to assume that most runners weren’t going to achieve the time they had been targeting in their training. Running in that the sort of heat can add on up to 10% to finish times. It was a day to simply focus on enjoying the run, keeping relaxed at the start, and being ready to focus on pushing a bit harder at the end if your legs allowed.
I think it’s fair to say that a lot of people were unable to heed the advice of the organisers and still set off too fast. I had decided early on to take it easy for the race. But even in the first few miles, it was evident that I was one of the few in that mindset. Others were already focussed and stressing about keeping a pace, worrying about the fact that they were already feeling pretty warm, and perhaps already wondering whether they could sustain their X minute per km pace at just mile two. It’s not to say I have perfect pacing. The reason I decided to take it easy this year is due to previous experiences where I have just not had an enjoyable time. I’ve not practised what I preach, and have set out too fast with a specific time goal in mind, to then slowly die (or at least that’s what it felt like) in the last 10 miles. I had decided that this year would be different.
My approach of taking it easy at the start paid off. I felt comfortable. I was relaxed. I could have done with someone to chat to, but unfortunately most of the aforementioned goal focussed runners would not oblige. In any case, when I hit halfway I was feeling good and if anything, a bit bored of running at such an easy pace. Listening to an interview with Lily Partridge this week (who was first female Brit in the marathon and 8th woman overall), she recalled how she got to the 32km mark and it felt like she was just out on a long run. This is how it should feel in my experience. This is how it felt for me this year. I was, of course, getting tired, but I felt strong and in control as I went through the 16 and 20 mile points, unlike last year when I had to stop and think about quitting.
I imagine last year I spent a lot of time looking at my watch. This year, I didn’t bother. I checked it early on but only to make sure I wasn’t going too fast, as it can be easy for the adrenaline rush of the day to let you get carried away. I knew how hard it should feel though, and I knew I was ok. UK elite runner Tina Muir is a strong advocate of ‘watch free’ running and I completely agree. Watches don’t usually make us run quicker – particularly in a marathon. They can easily stress us out about not keeping to pace when we should really be listening to our body. At the marathon, I tried to remember that I was there to enjoy the day, to prove to myself and others that I could run that far. My main goal was not to collapse from heat exhaustion and to feel strong and have a smile at the end.
(If you really HAVE to know, what my finish times were for this year and last, you can check them out here)