Prague Marathon

Posted: May 11, 2015 in 2015, May, Races - 2015
Tags: , ,

I could start this by saying that Prague Marathon came along at a somewhat awkward time, what with me only finally, belatedly back in training after many, many weeks off after Donadea but the fact of the matter is that the Prague Marathon has had its slot on the calendar booked for a long time now. In fact I’ve been registered for Prague for a long time now, knew it was coming, had flights booked but just kind of chose to ignore it. My fellow Prague entrant Skippy had done similarily, the two of us choosing to ignore the elephant in the room and skirting around the topic for months. Eventually, a few weeks ago we could ignore it no longer so I booked some accommodation, looked at the calendar and tried to formulate some sort of plan.

I’d been averaging about 30-40k a week from the middle of March having only run a couple of times between Donadea in the middle of February and then. I wasn’t going to get in any kind of marathon shape in four weeks but there was a chance I could get a reasonable base under my belt before Portumna 50k on the 13th of June if I get my finger out and had that as a target. Prague right in the middle of that block would be a bit of an inconvenience if I tried to ‘race’ it but if I just used it as a long training run, at my target 50k pace, trained up to it and got right back into it afterwards, then maybe it could actually work out well for me. So I drastically upped my mileage for a couple of weeks, jumping up to 82 and then 95km, with each week having a medium long run as well as a long run of over 30k, before doing a mini taper back down just before Prague. Now obviously no marathon plan or coaching manual would advise jumping from 35 to 80 km in a week but (a) I kept the intensity very low and made sure I recovered well to try to mitigate against injury and (b) I felt I needed the big weeks, and particularly the long runs, to psychologically get me ready for Prague. The 35k run on the Saturday of the 95k week in particular was a huge confidence boost.

Of course, despite my protestations to the contrary, I still clocked in an abysmal taper, eg do almost nothing, which is a part of the whole marathon thing I’ve still to get right after quite a few attempts.

I arrived in Prague then with something of a base, a couple of really good weeks under my belt and a definite plan in mind – 42.2km @ 5:50/km with nice, even pacing, even 5k splits throughout and no blowing up. I’ve had similar plans in mind before (Clonakilty 2012, Killarney 2014, Dublin 2014) but always made a balls of them, generally by going off too fast in the early part of the race and/or in the few days leading up to the race suddenly getting a dose of misplaced confidence and deciding to drastically upgrade my goals. This time it was all about sticking to a realistic plan.

I managed to make it through Friday night with nothing more unhealthy than a couple of bottle of beer and some crisps imbibed, which was a small victory in itself when there were suggestions from some quarters that a couple of not entirely focussed lads, on their own in Prague, might think better of slogging round the city and just go and sample the sights instead. Saturday saw us strolling round the city, popping out to the expo to get our numbers, briefly appear on tv and then eat a pile of pig and potato in preparation for Sunday.



We're famous!

We’re famous!

A couple of things that worried me while strolling around on Saturday were the fact that there didn’t seem to be much in the way of flat roads or streets in Prague, and also that the temperature seemed to be steadily rising. When I arrived on Friday there were grey skies and non-stop drizzle, perfect for us Irishers and also for marathon running. This blue sky and sunshine craic, not so much. Stepping out of our flat at 8am on Sunday morning there wasn’t a cloud in the sky and it was already warm enough that back home tops would be off, barbecues would be getting fired up and sales of Bulmers would be sky rocketing. I’d worn an old t-shirt down to the start line over my running one but already discarded that a few minutes prior to the off. Remembering how I, and most other people struggled at Dublin marathon in October when the temperature was a few degrees warmer than normal, though still grey and overcast, made me even more determined to stick to my planned pace, as well as making more of an effort than normal to drink at the water stations.

I think this is one of those selfie things. Unfortunately my photographer had stayed behind in Ireland and we were forced to take our own pictures.

I think this is one of those selfie things. Unfortunately my photographer had stayed behind in Ireland and we were forced to take our own pictures.

At 9am, the music blaring over the PA switched from terrible Europop and dodgy rock to the more sedate sounds of Dvořák, ballons were released and off we went. Immediately hundreds of runners went streaming past me, even more than usual, and I remembered that when I applied initially for Prague marathon I was hoping to knock a bit more off last year’s PB of 3:41 set in Hamburg and get a bit closer to 3:30. That might have to wait for a little while yet, for now it was it was all about slow, steady and consistent.

The first 5k was pretty crowded, as to be expected from any city marathon but especially one starting in the narrow streets of Prague’s Old Town, and you had to be mindful of the changing terrain underfoot – smooth tarmac, cobbles, cris-crossing tram tracks, the odd step or lump of wood masquerading as a ramp. It was all fine for me as I was just trundling around but I wouldn’t really fancy it if I was pelting around, looking for a PB, maybe running in a big group. As it was I was just glad that the drizzle that soaked the streets on Friday evening, causing me to slip in my spanky new Nike AF1 Duck Boots, had disappeared and everywhere was dry as a bone.

The second 5k was a little less congested than the first so marginally quicker, but I was still making a concerted effort to keep it very slow and steady (29:02 for the first 5, 29:29 for the second) especially as the temperature was still rising. I’d made the decision to wear earphones for Prague, in part just to reinforce the idea that it was only a training run. I haven’t worn them since my third marathon, and never wear them when I’m ‘racing’, but if I’m going for a long run by myself I’ll often listen to a podcast for the first half of it before then switching to some music. I’d put a ton of music onto my MP3 player the night before leaving for Prague, but forgot entirely that I’d been having issues with the earbud/foam tip falling out, which of course happened again less than 10k into the race. I faffed around with it for a couple of kilometres but it was far more hassle than it was worth so I just took them out and stuck them in my pocket. They really weren’t needed anyway as a nice feature of the Prague marathon was a DJ or live music every two kilometres, and with this being eastern Europe in a lot of cases ‘live music’ means dodgy rock bands, which was absolutely brilliant. I grew up on dodgy rock bands – AC/DC to Guns’n’Roses, on to Metallica and then death metal – and still have a real soft spot for it so it was great to see so many exponents of tight jeaned, questionably coiffured, fist in the air, irony and pretence free hard rock/heavy metal around the course.

One person who certainly shared my view on it was the incredibly enthusiastic, overly excitable middle aged Italian marathon runner who was stopping at each little stand to exhort, exalt, or eventually just join in with the bands, before jumping back on to the course and tearing off after his friends. I have no idea if he managed to keep it for the entire race, whether he dropped dead of a heart attack or whether he was dragged away by security after some overzealous gyrating with some of the female singers on course. Any of these explanations are as likely as the rest.

10-15k was another consistent split, 29:14, just keeping everything steady, taking water on board (far more than normal) and also grabbing a sponge at the water stations and sopping my quads and hamstrings, hopefully pre-empting any late race niggles. There was quite a few out and back sections where runners were passing each other, 3:30 – 3:45 people going one way while I was going the other, then I was on that side looking back at the 4:00 – 4:30 people. At that point I was keeping a look out for Skippy, wondering how he was coping. He’d had a similarly poor prep for Prague, and to top things off not long beforehand and was struck down with The Black Lung, so his aim was to do a Mo Farrah and just run the half, despite the fact there was no official half marathon on the day. I passed him on one of the out and back sections, I was at about 23km, him at about 19km, and he was looking great, fresh and full of the joys of life. A quick detour for a fistbump and some words of encouragement and then back into our respective runs.

20-25k was my fastest split so far, 28:07, the sun was shining I’d just taken my second gel, I was feeling fantastic and running felt so, so easy at that point (it would be nice to get that feeling at this point in a marathon I’m ‘racing’ but I’ll definitely take this for now). It wasn’t like this for all though. I spotted an Irish guy wh’d been in the same starting pen as me, wearing a Bohermeen half marathon t-shirt, walking at about the 26k mark, so veered over to him to give him a pat on the back and offer some words of encouragement. When he turned to look at me I recognised that expression instantly, the ‘please fuck off and leave me alone’ with the misery just dripping off him. I’ve been there myself on many an occasion so just left him to it. There was a long way to yet and a little early to be feeling that way so I didn’t envy him the rest of his run.

From 25-30k (28:21) we had the pleasure of both the best band on the route (A.N. Other rock band but with an absolute legend of a lead guitarist) and the worst ( some prematurely middle aged miserabilist with an acoustic guitar and phonetically written English lyrics on an A4 sheet). The best thing was it was another out and back stretch so I got to hear both of them twice, the highlight definitely being the most depressed version of Bad Moon Rising I’ve ever heard.

I had a slight issue at 30k when I reached for my third gel only to find nothing there. Not a disaster or anything as I still had one left so just adjusted my strategy, going for gels then at 17, 25, 33 with top ups of the energy drinks on course rather than my initial plan of just gels at 18, 24, 30 and 36. I slowed down a bit from 30-35k, in part due to spending a bit more time going through the water stations, making sure I really sponged down my legs as I was starting to feel it a bit in my hamstrings, and in part just because I was slowing down. 35-40k was slightly slower again, 30:48.

Even though I’d slowed down quite a bit now I was still going faster than others around me for the most part. All around me people were slowing considerably, stopping to walk or just stopping altogether. It was a nice change to not be one of those people, not to be in pain, questioning who you are and why you’re doing this, instead just enduring a dull ache and some mild discomfort but salved by the satisfaction of a job (almost) well done. I was a bit miffed that for the first time my average pace had dropped to 5:50/km, having been at 5:48/km for the bulk of the run. Just going past the 40k mark it actually clicked over to 5:51, so I was outside my target pace for the first time today. For two kilometres then it was the struggle of effort and pain vs motivation and desire. I wanted to finish with an average of 5:50/km but how much did I want it? Especially now I was feeling a sharp twinging in my right hamstring. Very easy to ease up now, and I was doing a good job of talking myself into it. No point rushing things now, what difference does it make if I finish 5:50 or 5:51, these are just arbitrary numbers, what does it actually mean in terms of what I’ve done, in terms of effort or exertion or recovery or anything. Just trundle along to the finish, definitely no sprint finish, don’t want to pull a hammy!

And I didn’t. Pull a hammy that is. Or pull out a sprint finish. I did however manage to increase my shuffle rate just enough so that as I crossed the line my average pace for the day clicked back down to 5:50/km, and (somewhat) arbitrary number or night I was absolutely bloody delighted. I’d gone into a marathon with a definite plan – steady, consistent splits, no blow ups, no hissy fits, no injuries – and I’d done it. Training run or not this was by far the best executed marathon I’d run, the first time in numerous attempts I’d done what I’d set out to do. Obviously it’ll be another thing to execute to the same sort of level when trying to run a PB but this was easily the happiest I’ve ever been finishing a marathon, even more so than Hamburg last year which I ran 26 minutes quicker. Such a big part of running a race, or I suppose any endeavour is managing expectations, obviously your own in particular. If you go into a marathon in four hour shape, expecting to run 3:30 because that’s what you did a year ago, well you’re on a hiding to nothing. You could run 3:45 but be absolutely disgusted with yourself and spend a good two hours of your time out on the road berating yourself and running round in misery. Run 3:50 on the same day when you’re going in expecting, and planning for 4:00 and your experience is going to be the polar opposite.

Maybe this is one of those lessons learned things?


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