Do, or do not, there is no try. Pah! What a bunch of baloney.
Many have described the road marathon effort to me. Mike (better-than-yoda sage is he) says the event as a knife-edge effort. The trick appears to be knowing where that edge is before you find yourself on the wrong side of it.
And road, unlike trail, is a numbers game – wanting a sub three hour means <4:15min/km constant pace for all 42.2km. The events also seem to cater for a rather more predictable pace with relatively standarised flat courses. Everyone’s got a number in their head.
The time-focused marathoners goal then is to run as fast as you can for as long as you can. With that in mind the plan was to run a steady effort at 4:10km/min pace to St Heliers or Kohimarama return and then make or break the race from there. With my handy dandy Suunto Ambit2 marathon app it was simple to keep a steady effort and pace without too much monitoring or guesswork. In fact we hit my St Heliers supporters within a few seconds of the time I told them I’d be passing.
At that point I felt nothing more than an accumulated weariness, energy was good, no obvious points of stress, a happy runner. Some few hundred metres after Mike followed the plan to a T and upped the effort considerably. I followed (admittedly the elastic keeping us together was a bit slack), and after acclimatising to the new pace, briefly settled in for the final 7km.
Somewhere between St Heliers and Kohimarama I didn’t find the knife-edge so much as a knife-fight. Cramps came on quickly cycling through the calves, and quads (but fortunately not hamstrings), not quite full lock up but rather more than a twinge. With nutrition and hydration already good, all I could do was limit the time damage. The group I’d previously caught with Mike drifted off the front, and I was left constantly balancing the risk of the sub 3hr with a DNF, stumbling every five minutes or so with spasms.
The effort/suffering vs speed chart over time/distance kind of looked like this. Start is always a bit uncomfortable, then got into a groove, speed then peaked with Mike’s attack and dropped, and hurt just kept on going up (though note the keen finishing speed 😉
In the end I managed to keep my head, closing my eyes and blowing out the pain, trying to relax as much as a I could, limiting the return journey damage to 6km in the 4:20km/min range. Made it in at 2:57:50hr (shaving a neat 38min off my only other road marathon), surprisingly even caught maybe 8 or so others on the way into town.
The post finish pic of the MEC sub three hour finishers says it all – I failed on trying to stand-up and if you look closely you can see my right quad spasming. Mike’s look of pity/concern is nicely off-set by Sam’s ‘look at me I can stand-up’ face.