So, after 12 weeks of training and 887 miles on the roads it was time to put all that effort to work at the Frankfurt Marathon. The weather was absolutely perfect – a cool, clear morning with no real wind – and my taper had gone well so I had high hopes of a good performance. After a last minute decision to be a bit more adventurous with my pacing, I had three goals in mind – an “A” goal of sub-3, “B” goal of sub-3:05 for a London GFA place, and “C” goal of a sub-3:10 time.
My hotel was right around the corner from the start line, so after a relaxed few hours dosing up on bagels and coffee, I headed down to the start line, and entered the front coral with about 20 minutes to go until the start. The area gradually began to fill, and I found myself just in front of the 2:59 pacers. I figured this was a good position to be, as the area immediately behind them was likely to be crowded. Before I knew it the elites had started and we began to shuffle towards the start line. Let my third marathon commence!
(Note I am using the splits I manually triggered at each KM marker, but the 5K splits from the chip timing, so they don’t always precicely add up)
The first few kilometres were pretty congested, as is often the case with bigger marathons. I did my best to stay calm and just concentrate on keeping a steady pace and staying upright, especially when we went around corners. I knew at this stage a few seconds here or there wouldn’t make a huge amount of difference – the marathon is a long race – so didn’t panic too much when I occasionally got held up by other runners ahead.
The first 10km or so of the course winds through the main city centre, with lots of tall buildings, so I was prepared for the pace on my watch to not always be 100% accurate. The main goal then was just to keep the HR in the right range, make sure the effort felt nice and comfortable, and hope the splits at each KM marker came out at the times I was looking for (around 4:16, for a 1:30 halfway split). I was prepared to quickly drop back my “B” plan of sub-3:05 if the sub-3 pace was feeling like too much work, as I knew sub-3 could only happen if everything went perfectly.
The first kilometre came out in 4:14 – spot on! I hadn’t raced off too fast, and I was right around target pace. The second KM was a little slower at 4:23, and the next three in 4:14, 4:15 and 4:19 took me to 5K in 21:25 which was spot on. I was feeling super-comfortable and as the pack gradually thinned out I was able to get in to a very steady rhythm. The HR was looking good, and I knew that a sub-3 attempt was definitely on.
The next 5k continued to wind around the city centre. I was initially a little worried, looking at the course map, about all the twists and turns, but none of the corners were too severe and it wasn’t really an issue. There were a couple of slowdowns where the course narrowed and the sheer volume of runners caused everyone to almost come to a stop, but these soon cleared. I made sure I didn’t massively increase pace to make up for these stops, but instead just gradually clawed back the lost seconds.
At one point I glanced at my watch and saw I was in 5:xx/km pace territory, but I knew this was probably the buildings so didn’t panic and just kept up my steady effort. 4:11, 4:24, 4:16, 4:14 and 4:22 took me through the second 5k in 21:30, so I was just outside sub-3 pace, but now clear of the crowds and approaching the lovely straight roads that make up most of the rest of the route. The legs felt great, effort was well under control, and everything was looking good.
We headed down from the northernmost point of the course and over the Main river and my pace picked up – 4:12, 4:12, 4:12, 4:07, 4:12 for a third 5K in 20:58. This was a little faster than planned, and I was telling myself to make sure I kept a lid on things, but the effort was still feeling very easy so I wasn’t too worried. The kilometres were flying by and I was loving just cruising along surrounded by fellow marathoners and the very friendly crowd support from the locals.
Running at 4:12/km must be some kind of naturally comfortable rhythm for me as the next 5K yielded plenty more splits right around that pace – 4:14, 4:12, 4:11, 4:13, 4:12 for the 4th 5K in 21:05. Everything continued to feel good, and I was actively keeping the brake on knowing that there were plenty more kilometres to come. Still, I knew I was approaching halfway feeling far better than I ever had before at the HM point of a marathon.
I went through halfway in 1:29:35, which back in February would have been a PB, showing just how far my running has come this year. I was admittedly a touch faster than the planned 1:30-dead split, but I was still fairly close to my goal pace and had managed to keep things pretty controlled. It was a big confidence boost to reach this point still feeling so good, but I knew the hard work was yet to come.
The kilometres continued to tick by – 4:14, 4:12, 4:15, 4:15, 4:12 – and I completed the 5th 5K in 21:12, still right on pace. By this stage I was starting to feel a little fatigue in the legs, but nothing of any great concern and no niggles or pains that I’ve sometimes experienced in previous races.
However at this point I had probably the biggest scare of the whole race. As I was running along someone cut right across behind me and clipped my foot. I very nearly went flying chin-first in to the tarmac, but thankfully I still had full control of my legs at this point and I was able to stay upright. The guy apologised, but given the course wasn’t super-crowded by this point, such a move was pretty stupid.
This came at probably the worst point possible too as we were approaching one of the few gradients in the entire race as we circled up an on-ramp on to the Autobahn. The surge of adrenaline sent my heart rate up, and I had to really work to calm down and bring the HR back under control. I did my best to put it to the back of my mind, reassuring myself that it was just a blip in an otherwise perfect race so far.
I continued to feel good for most of the sixth 5K, although the extra few seconds per kilometre perhaps reveal that fatigue was definitely starting to creep in. 4:17, 4:19, 4:14, 4:17, 4:21 gave me a 5K in 21:31 and I knew the real race was now beginning. My quads were beginning to complain about what I’d been subjecting them to for the past two hours, and I was having to concentrate a lot more to hold a pace that was previously pretty effortless.
I tried to remind myself of all the miles I’d run, all the work I’d done to prepare myself for this point, willing the legs to keep turning over like they were before. This helped to some degree, but the quads were not happy and I knew that while I could have perhaps pushed to keep the pace up for a few more kilometres, the effort wouldn’t have been sustainable. The difficulty came and went, as reflected in the varying splits of 4:23, 4:20, 4:29, 4:26, 4:36, but after a seventh 5K of 22:16 I now knew a sub-3 was fading away.
Nonetheless, I took some comfort in knowing that barring an utter disaster a good sub-3:05 time, and a big PB, was still achievable, so I did my best to keep the pace up, and after 4:31 in the 36th KM, I even managed a 4:19 for the 37th! My mental strategy shifted from trying to remind myself why I was here, to simply repeating “don’t be shit” over and over again in my head. Proof if ever it was needed that you need to be slightly mad to run a marathon. It did help take my mind of my burning quads though.
At this stage I was starting to feel pretty thirsty. I had taken the energy drink offered every 5K up until this point, but as it was supplied in paper cups, which aren’t the easiest to drink from while running, I had probably only had 2 or 3 gulps each time. I therefore made a strategic decision, knowing I had a decent chunk of time in the bag for a sub-3:05, to briefly walk at the water station at 37.5K to make sure I took on some water. Looking back I don’t know if this was more an excuse to give myself a brief break, but I did feel better after taking on some water and after a slow 4:55 including the walk break, managed to get back up to 4:36 for the next kilometer.
Another short walk at the 40K water station gave me 4:52, and an eighth 5K of 23:15. It was two minutes slower than my best 5K of the race, but nonetheless I knew sub-3:05 was still within reach, so it was time to knuckle down and just pound out those final 2195 meters as fast I could manage. It turns out the answer was not that fast – 4:38 for the 41st kilometre, but now just 3 laps of a track left to go! I’ve got this I told myself.
As we headed back up the road we had started the race on three hours earlier and passed under the start gantry, I was desperately looking ahead to see where the turn was that signalled the final few hundred meters that would take us in to the Festhalle and over the finish line. After what felt like an age I spotted where the runners up ahead were turning, and steeled myself for one final push.
The crowds and music were incredible at this point, and as I glanced at my watch I realised that if I went for it I could just nip under 3:03. I summoned whatever sprint my tired legs could manage for the final few meters along the red carpet. The disco lights swirled around the Festhalle, music blaring, creating the most incredible finish line I’ve ever experienced. In my mind I was thinking “I’ve done this… I’m going to run a GFA time”.
As I approached the finish line I raised my arms wide in celebration, and I passed the line in 3:02:54.
I felt a little wobbly as I slowed to a hobble, and quickly found a railing I could lean against while I spent a minute or so to gather myself. I glanced again at my watch and smiled, as a few tears started to form in my eyes. 3:02:54, a “good for age” qualifying time for London. When I first started running back in 2012 I hadn’t exercised for the best part of 15 years, and I’d done everything I could to avoid PE before that. Running close to 3 hours in a marathon seemed like an impossible dream, something only sporty types could ever manage – not something for a geek like me. But with some hard work and consistency, I’d done it!
Overall I’m really happy with how the race went, I don’t think I made any major errors and I don’t think I’d do much differently if I had the chance. The pace between 10K and 25K was maybe a touch higher than it should have been, but we’re only talking a few seconds a kilometre so I don’t think it had a major effect on the rest of the race. I also perhaps should have taken on a little more water in addition to the energy drink – just a few extra sips each water station might have helped with the thirst I felt in the final 5K.
I’m immensely happy though with the result, and also glad I gave sub-3 a go, even if it didn’t quite pay off this time around. I came relatively close, and while I did slow down towards the end, I stayed strong and held on well enough to keep my main sub-3:05 goal alive. I will write a separate review of my training and what I think I need to do to improve, but I’ve come away from Frankfurt confident that with a few tweaks and another solid block of training I definitely have a sub-3 time in me.
For now though, I’m going to enjoy a few days doing nothing, and eating everything. Prost!
|1||6:21 min/mi||169||11 ft|
|2||6:38 min/mi||176||-11 ft|
|3||6:35 min/mi||179||4 ft|
|4||6:49 min/mi||182||6 ft|
|5||6:59 min/mi||182||21 ft|
|6||6:55 min/mi||182||-8 ft|
|7||6:47 min/mi||184||-2 ft|
|8||6:38 min/mi||180||-12 ft|
|9||6:43 min/mi||178||-4 ft|
|10||6:46 min/mi||180||-14 ft|
|11||6:42 min/mi||180||9 ft|
|12||6:42 min/mi||176||-22 ft|
|13||6:47 min/mi||175||-1 ft|
|14||6:43 min/mi||178||6 ft|
|15||6:50 min/mi||181||5 ft|
|16||6:47 min/mi||180||-19 ft|
|17||6:50 min/mi||182||35 ft|
|18||6:48 min/mi||179||-29 ft|
|19||6:58 min/mi||182||1 ft|
|20||7:00 min/mi||181||1 ft|
|21||7:09 min/mi||181||5 ft|
|22||7:14 min/mi||180||-2 ft|
|23||7:09 min/mi||179||20 ft|
|24||7:39 min/mi||180||19 ft|
|25||7:53 min/mi||180||-0 ft|
|26||7:11 min/mi||180||-36 ft|
|0.4||6:55 min/mi||186||12 ft|
|Total||3:02:54||26.2 mi||6:58 min/mi||180|
|1||4:14||0.65 mi||6:28 min/mi||167|
|2||4:22||0.67 mi||6:32 min/mi||173|
|3||4:14||0.65 mi||6:31 min/mi||177|
|4||4:15||0.63 mi||6:45 min/mi||178|
|5||4:19||0.68 mi||6:22 min/mi||180|
|6||4:11||0.62 mi||6:45 min/mi||183|
|7||4:24||0.60 mi||7:16 min/mi||182|
|8||4:16||0.62 mi||6:53 min/mi||183|
|9||4:14||0.59 mi||7:10 min/mi||183|
|10||4:22||0.64 mi||6:47 min/mi||181|
|11||4:12||0.63 mi||6:38 min/mi||185|
|12||4:12||0.64 mi||6:36 min/mi||180|
|13||4:12||0.63 mi||6:39 min/mi||178|
|14||4:07||0.62 mi||6:38 min/mi||177|
|15||4:12||0.62 mi||6:48 min/mi||181|
|16||4:14||0.62 mi||6:47 min/mi||181|
|17||4:12||0.63 mi||6:42 min/mi||180|
|18||4:11||0.63 mi||6:39 min/mi||176|
|19||4:13||0.63 mi||6:40 min/mi||177|
|20||4:12||0.62 mi||6:45 min/mi||176|
|21||4:14||0.62 mi||6:46 min/mi||175|
|22||4:12||0.63 mi||6:42 min/mi||179|
|23||4:15||0.62 mi||6:50 min/mi||181|
|24||4:15||0.62 mi||6:49 min/mi||183|
|25||4:12||0.63 mi||6:41 min/mi||179|
|26||4:17||0.63 mi||6:49 min/mi||181|
|27||4:19||0.63 mi||6:52 min/mi||182|
|28||4:14||0.63 mi||6:44 min/mi||177|
|29||4:17||0.62 mi||6:53 min/mi||181|
|30||4:21||0.62 mi||6:58 min/mi||182|
|31||4:23||0.62 mi||7:03 min/mi||181|
|32||4:20||0.63 mi||6:54 min/mi||182|
|33||4:29||0.62 mi||7:12 min/mi||181|
|34||4:26||0.62 mi||7:07 min/mi||181|
|35||4:36||0.63 mi||7:19 min/mi||180|
|36||4:31||0.63 mi||7:08 min/mi||178|
|37||4:19||0.61 mi||7:06 min/mi||181|
|38||4:55||0.64 mi||7:39 min/mi||181|
|39||4:36||0.56 mi||8:09 min/mi||178|
|40||4:52||0.63 mi||7:45 min/mi||180|
|41||4:38||0.64 mi||7:13 min/mi||180|
|42||5:08||0.73 mi||7:01 min/mi||184|