It doesn't seem like a decade ago my wife Liz ran in the Beijing Olympic marathon. She went into that race in the best physical condition she'd ever been in. After running 2hrs 28mins at the London Marathon in the spring of that year her form continued to improve, sessions got stronger, times got faster, recovery felt easier, mentally she was resilient, confident and sharp, she was, in every sense, more ready for a marathon than she'd ever been before.
We'd prepared in her training build up for a championship style marathon and specifically for a super strong second half where the hammer was likely to go down and her aspirations of a top 10 finish could be fulfilled. After cruising the first 10miles in the lead group, Liz was totally in control, relaxed, poised, waiting for the move and ready to respond.
We weren't expecting what happened next.
In a busy pack of runners someone moved suddenly, sidestepped, and took Liz out. She went crashing to the ground, combat rolled, (not something we'd practised), got back to her feet, shaken, clawed her way back to the group. Once her adrenaline had settled she noticed the cuts on her arms and shoulders, the road rash on her back and the intense pain in her ribs. Turned out she'd broken a rib, and a dream. Bravely she battled on for 26th place in a 2hrs 31min finish. After the race she was hugely disappointed at losing her chance, when in the shape of her life, to perform to the best of her ability on that day, on the world's biggest sporting stage. But she said something after the race that has stuck with me.
'It's only running". She said. She meant it too.
Things don't always work out as expected, planned or hoped when racing. Just as we saw recently in the Commonwealth Games marathon when Callum Hawkins, 4th in the World Championships, 9th in Rio Olympic marathon, reached 39km on the Gold Coast and looked set to take the title. Then in dramatic style as he wrestled his internal voice, heat stroke, disorientation, over-exertion, pain and fatigue he hit the deck, hard, and was unable to continue. Then, in Boston where the wind and rain battered runners into submission we saw only 3 of the 16 pro African runners finish in a men's race that was won by the "Emperor of pain", Japanese marathoner Yuki Kawauchi, and a women's race won by the first American woman for 33years, Desi Linden.
A marathon is full of the unexpected, unplanned and unprepared for. You can't control some things (like the weather!), but you can control your response to these things. It's part of what makes exploring your own physical and psychological possibilities exciting. How you respond when in control, when things are seemingly going out of your control, how you focus on priorities, take risks, deal with discomfort, surprises and challenges, the choices you make when it's emotionally difficult, it's these responses to key moments in a marathon that make the race memorable. When you look back on a race, even with its curve balls, its spanners thrown, the demanding decisions made and the tricky choices faced you'll remember how you dealt with those situations, how you answered those questions and how you adapted.
This is where the true transformational qualities of a marathoner exist.
Here's a timely scenario. You've been training all winter in the cold, and the forecast for your marathon is for a belter of a hot day! Don't panic! You can't control the weather. You can control your response to it.
1. Adjust your finish goals - and be content with what this looks like. Adjust your target time down.
2. Slow down to cool down. Control your effort. Pace control is a big factor. Start slower. Carefully regulate your effort and control your intensity.
3. Keep cool before the start. This is known as pre-cooling. Stay in the shade. Wear light coloured, meshed, cool clothing.
4. Be hydrated before the start, but, importantly, don't over-do your pre-race hydration.
5. Keep cool when you run by;
- Dousing (not soaking!) cool water on your head, legs, back of neck, wrists.
- Wearing lightweight, light coloured kit with mesh or vests to promote cooling. This could include a visor or cap. Don't overdress at the start.
- Applying a suitable sunscreen. Although sunscreen can impact sweat response you want to avoid sunburn.
- Running in the shade if/where possible.
- Hydrating - but not drinking too much. You can't tip more and more fluids down your neck and expect this to cool you down. You'll only risk over hydration.
- Listen to your body closely. Your body generates more heat the faster you run/more effort you put in, slow down before you feel too hot.