Place and chips

A few weeks ago I ran the Sunderland park run and after less than a minute I looked around to see the spread of the field, there were more runners behind me than in front of me. In my quick estimation I was approximately in the top third. With the intensity of a 5K race you don’t have time to count the runners ahead or behind, in fact it’s impossible to do that in any race. The point of this is that I realised early in my running life that I was never going to be much more than an average runner. So, every time that I enter a race, I hope that there are more runners behind me than in front of me as the finish line approaches. There have been times, even in half marathons, that I’ve put in a burst of speed to overhaul one or two runners in the final yards in an effort to improve my placing. Equally, if no one is close enough for me to attack I’ll often check those behind me to make sure that no speed merchant is making an attempt to go past me.

As I cross the start line in London I’ll be doing so with the knowledge that there are about 35,000 runners on the roads of the capitol and with every runner carrying a timing chip every possible statistic will be being recorded for post race dissection. As the timing clocks placed above the Mall come into sight it will be inevitable that if I need to put in a final push to pass a fellow finisher, or hold of a fast pursuer, I will do it. The question that should be going through my mind at that moment is, “is it necessary?” Research has suggested that putting your body through the 26 miles of a marathon and then putting in a major effort over the last 200 or so yards is one of the reasons why runners collapse when finishing the race.

When the stats become available it may be that my time and effort are good enough for me to be in the top half of the field, gender, age group or infact any other group I may classed within. The trouble is if I’m seconds too slow it’ll be too late to do anything about it!

The London Marathon statistics are easily viewed, so I’ve been checking up on runners in my age category that finished their race in my target time. The chip timing gives good definition for each 5K and the half way point. My desire to finish in less than four hours is a realistic target for anyone in my age category that has put in the mileage in preparation for the big day. Looking at the race info if I do end up cracking the four hour barrier I’m reasonably sure that my time will put me in the top third of the field. The temptation to make that last big effort in the final few hundred yards should be easily ignored if the target time is in hand.

Most runners will run with  some sort of timing device with them, be it a watch or a mobile phone but the mental maths to work out the splits and pace still take some effort. Ultimately it is still about getting around London in a time that makes you happy and doesn’t leave you collapsed in a heap surrounded by paramedics.

Time and tide

It has been said that “Time and tide wait for no man” and in running terms the first part of that statement is very true. As you stand on, or as near as possible, to the start line the only tide that appears will be the tide of humanity as it’s released by the starter’s gun. Time won’t be the least bit concerned about your need to tie your laces,stop for a comfort break or take into consideration the adverse weather conditions.

In the two or so weeks since I started marathon training I’ve probably changed my race day plan a dozen times. Each change has been time orientated. The goal is to run the race in under four hours but the splits to achieve that are constantly in a state of flux. I’m not even sure that even as the announcer counts down those final seconds I’ll be confident that the race plan buzzing through my mind in those moments will be acted out in the forthcoming hours.

Watching athletes on TV we often hear them talking about their game plan or strategy and I often wonder whether any of us club runners can achieve these sort of aims. A third of the way around a marathon course is it possible to pick up the pace sufficiently to claw back lost seconds from the early stages, or, for that matter how do you go about slowing the pace down a little to maintain energy levels? Both of the above are possible but it does seem that it is a fluctuating series of events. You slow down for a mile or two as you feel you’ve gone too fast and then you have to pick the pace up as you are now behind target. As anyone that has done a few marathons will tell you it is all about averages. My target time is a fraction over nine minutes a mile so however I get there that’s what I’ve to target.

Time is what we judge ourselves and others on when competing in races but running a marathon is more of an achievement and our finish time should be irrelevant. Shouldn’t it?