I am a purely recreational runner – and not a particularly good one. I have no great expertise or knowledge so this is certainly not a ‘how to ..’ post – at best it might be a ‘how I ..’ review.
I ran the Rotterdam Marathon on 7th April 2019, aged 63. I’d run two previous marathons (London) in 1998 and 1999, just breaking 4 hours both times. After that I did relatively little in the way of sport until I started road cycling about 10 years ago so, if I’ve been anything it’s been a cyclist and very occasional runner to keep my wife company.
Our younger son ran the Brighton Marathon in 2017 – 4h 06m on a blistering hot day and he decided he wanted to run another to break the 4 hour barrier. He chose the Rotterdam Marathon because it was easy to get a place and it is said to be both a flat and fast course. Foolishly I decided to run it with him.
I chose a 20 week plan because of my age, its simplicity and because of the fact that it had two rest days a week. I didn’t want to train more than 5 days a week. Also I knew I’d be unlikely to stick to it over Christmas – and I had nearly three weeks booked for skiing in January. I guessed that, on a longer plan, I’d be better able to cope with the occasional lapse or problem.
It required one long slow run, two normal runs, a session of speed work and a cross-training session per week. I stuck to it better than I’d expected (subject to the issues covered later) – but 20 weeks is a long time and I was certainly pretty weary of it all by the end. I think it was the right choice – but I’d have been attracted by something shorter if I’d been younger.
I ran what seemed to me to be a lot of miles (450 of them – 725km) in training. That was many more than I did for either the 1998 or 1999 marathons. Partly I was able to, being retired, but mainly it was fear that the day itself would be very painful if I didn’t train properly. I did 14 runs over 10 miles (16km) this time (I did only 4 when preparing for each of the previous marathons). My longest training run was 22 miles (35.5km) but I did two others of over 20 miles.
If I ran an average of 10 mins per mile, with the race itself, that’s about 80 hours of running on top of more than 50 hours of cross-training and time on the turbo trainer. You need to be committed to the project and a supportive partner/family will come in handy too.
Injuries and illness
I was very lucky not to be ill during the training and I didn’t get very injured either. The exception was Achilles tendon issues – they had begun to hurt every morning, even before I got to the start of the training. I guess that was just age related but I did aggravate the problem by doing calf raises with too much weight in the gym early on in the training.
Speed and endurance
I kept to the training plan quite well – except for the speed/hill work which I was sure would finish off my Achilles Tendons. Accordingly the endurance was OK but I was always off the pace for speed. The hope at the start had been to run sub 4 hours but it became clear that was not going to happen as I failed to run any significant distance at the required pace for that (5.41min per km or 9.09 per mile).
No doubt the lack of interval and speed sessions didn’t help – but I’m sure that was also down to age which shortens the stride, and a general lack of athletic ability.
I’m 5 feet 10 (just under 178cm) and when I’ve done silly cycling challenges in the past I’ve not found it too hard to get under 65kg (143 lbs). This time, my weight was more resistant and stuck around the 68-69kg for much of the training. eventually I got it down to nearer 66.5kg (147 lbs). I don’t know if that was due to putting on some muscle (unlikely as it’s hard to put on muscle as you get older) or me being less disciplined with the food intake. Happily, running is a less sensitive to extra weight than cycling up mountains.
Marathon wisdom is that everything you do on the run itself should have been well tried and tested in advance. I tried to do that as far as possible but with a run abroad there is a limit – I did not know what breakfast would be available in the hotel and discovered that the energy drink served on the course was not available in the UK (so I stuck to water on the run). I took some breakfast oat bars, energy bars and gels with me to Rotterdam and stuck with them.
The weather throughout the training was pretty poor so I hadn’t tested warm weather running gear as well as I’d have liked. Right at the last minute, it turned on its head and we got a very warm day for the race itself, such that I got tan lines in just a few hours. I’d only worn the lycra shorts once in training – they were fine on the day but proper running shorts would have been a good idea if I’d been able to test them in advance.
I thoroughly enjoyed the trip to Rotterdam and the experience of running a marathon abroad but the travel does make things a little more complicated – not a reason to avoid a run abroad but certainly something to think about.
The run itself
I went out with the 4 hour pacers and kept with them beyond half way before dropping off the pace and finishing in 4h 11m. More importantly, our son beat his 4 hour target. We didn’t try to run together which was a good decision – it could have ruined both our runs.
It is important to remember to enjoy the day itself. If you train, and choose your marathon well, it should be a great experience and the crowds can make a big difference. You may be lucky (or gifted) and sail around without any problem but I guess that would put you in a small minority. Despite the training, I found a few miles around the 22-25 mile marks (35-40km) to be pretty tough. At this point a lot of it is in the head – it would be easy to give up but sheer bloody-mindedness is a useful attribute.
I remember the ‘never again’ feeling at the toughest point in the run but now, a few days later, I haven’t ruled out another. Our older son would have run this time but for being a passenger in a motor accident last summer – if he decides to give a marathon a go, how could I resist the chance to run with him?
It would be great (ridiculous?) to see if I could go under 4 hours at 65 – perhaps there is an appropriate race late in 2020? The main factor will be the state of the Achilles’ – after 6 months of soreness every morning, I need to find a way to keep them happier.
So, I’ll carry on running which will be a good addition to getting back to cycling – and who knows, if the shoulder I hurt skiing gets back to 100%, perhaps I can improve my swimming enough to have a go at something more than a sprint triathlon?
I went to the gym on Thursday – light weights and a 2km run (just over a mile). Strangely, I didn’t feel the need to do the other 40kms (25miles).