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Things I learnt from my second marathon

Updated: Jul 22, 2020

I recently blogged about the things I learnt from my first marathon, Canberra in 2014.

In the month or so after Canberra, my training rolled along at about 40-50km a week and my marathon fitness took me to new 10km and half marathon PBs.

By the start of June, I had decided to run the Sydney Marathon, and started to think about training in terms of getting ready for another marathon. I definitely didn’t follow a training program, looking back I would say I had no idea what I was doing. But having gotten a fair bit faster over the shorter distances, I had a new mindset to push myself harder in training.

The result from Sydney wasn’t my worst marathon, it was actually a PB at the time (3.02.36). But it was by far my worst marathon preparation. Hindsight says that I made a lot of mistakes in my training, which also means there was a lot to learn. I have to admit that I didn’t learn many of these things in time for my third marathon, which is a lesson in itself. But better late than never!

Here are the things I learnt from my second marathon (aka, the story of how the Sydney marathon completely put me in my place).

Overconfidence can kill you – okay, not literally kill you, but leave you in lots of running related pain. For most of 2014, I was enjoying one of the benefits of increasing my training kilometres – running a lot of PBs. The biggest one was when I surprised myself in the Gold Coast Half Marathon, and ran 1.22.13. Based on that, I thought I could definitely run a sub 3 marathon. The McMillan running calculator estimated my marathon time as 2.53 based on my half result. I knew that was a stretch, but thought it gave me enough of a buffer to come in under 3 hours.

The problem was, while I was fit enough for a half on the back of my marathon training, I wasn’t anywhere near fit enough for a marathon. I assumed because I was faster than I had been before Canberra, I would be faster over the marathon too. I was, but not as much as I thought I would be. The lesson here is that the marathon MUST be respected.

It doesn’t get any easier – in fact, it was so. much. harder. This probably continues on from the point above, because I underestimated how tough it would be. It’s funny because when I thought about how much the end of Canberra hurt, I was scared to do another marathon. Obviously a few months of good running made those memories fade, because it wasn’t on my mind going into Sydney, though it probably should have been. When Canberra got tough, I hung in there. When Sydney got tough, I started walking. The 3 hour pace group was drifting slightly ahead of me and before I knew it, I had stopped. I ran/walked for about 1.5km before starting again, and got a bit of a second wind in the last few kilometres.

While my training was a big factor, I did wonder at times after the race if I gave up too easily. My splits don’t show that I was slowly down significantly, but I was definitely feeling tired. Either way, having completed the distance before wasn’t any help to me when I found myself struggling along Hickson Road at 34km. I was pushing myself harder than I had in Canberra, trying to reach a new goal. That was always going to be a challenge, one that I should have been more prepared for.

You need to be committed – I was committed in the sense that I was always going to run, but I’m not sure I put enough focus on the Sydney marathon. At the start area before the race, I remember thinking that I couldn’t believe I was about to run for 3 hours. I don’t think I was ever fully ‘in’ this marathon. I entered Canberra at least five months before the race, maybe more, and it occupied my thoughts consistently in the lead up. With Sydney, I decided to do it almost on a whim, and I had a lot of other things going on. I wanted to run a city2surf PB, I was doing a new interval session that meant speed training following a long run, I was trying out different parkruns.

Running a marathon is not a small task, and I don’t think I ever fully got into the headspace required for what was in front of me. It might have meant I wasn’t mentally ready to tough it out when it started to hurt. Again, the marathon should be respected.

Races don’t replace training runs – My training for Sydney ran from June until September. During that time, I raced the Heart of the Lake 10km and Cooks River Fun Run 10km, both in June, the Gold Coast Half Marathon and Sydney Harbour 10km in the first two weeks of July, and the city2surf in August. That meant there were five weekends where I missed long runs. I ended up with 4 runs over 30km, and one 25km.

Often these events also impacted my training if I did a light taper, or had a couple of recovery days. In the week after the c2s, I got sick and missed the long run I had planned. At the time, I was concerned that I was missing key sessions, but continued with my plans to race anyway. When I got to the start line I knew I hadn’t done as much training as I could have, but since I had been “running well”, I thought it would be okay. For an event that relies on endurance training, you definitely can’t wing it. If you’re underdone, the marathon will find you out!

Sporadic training does not work – this might be the biggest lessons I have learnt. There were parts of my training for Sydney that weren’t too bad, but there were almost as many weeks around 30km as there were around 80km. The weeks where I didn’t do a lot of running, mostly because of the point above this one, were hurting my training. Once I finally started to be consistent, I got the result I was after.. but I’m getting ahead of myself. That is a story for things I learnt from my fourth marathon. For my second one, I simply didn’t do enough training.

Running fast all the time makes you tired – in other words ‘duh’. Because I suddenly found myself a bit quicker, I felt like I had to run fast, all the time, to maintain it. I did three of my four long runs at approx. 4:19 pace. They were okay in the first half, when I was getting into a rhythm and enjoying the feeling of running faster. But by the end of them, I was exhausted and forcing myself to keep going. I ran some of my mid-week long runs around the same pace, which were shorter, but I was still working pretty hard. That, combined with all the races, makes it not surprising I had so many days off!

Fueling too late won’t help you – I didn’t use a specific fueling strategy in my first three marathons. I have more recently, along with much smarter training, so I don’t know how much each contributed to the results. But I do know for sure that after running for 25km over the Harbour Bridge, down to Mrs Macquarie’s chair, up Oxford Street and through Centennial Park forever, and you’re starting to feel a bit tired, one gel isn’t going to save you! This is one thing I did try to fix for my third marathon, but so much went wrong that day I don’t even really remember when I took gels. I would say now though, plan what you’re going to do and stick to it. Even if it’s only a placebo benefit, you don’t want to be trying to figure it out on the go.

Two is never enough – most runners take a few marathons to hit their peak. You might still be figuring out how to run it, developing endurance or gaining capacity for more training. I was disappointed at the end of my second marathon, and almost immediately signed up for another one. That might not have been the best decision I ever made, but whether it was immediately or further down the track, I knew I was nowhere near mastering the marathon and wanted to give it another go!

Image of me running in front of the Opera House inthe 2014 Sydney Marathon
Heading towards the finish line of the Sydney Marathon

Things I learnt from my third marathon here!

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