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My Two-Year Injury Marathon Comeback PB Explained

Monday, April 24th, 2017

I ran the London Marathon yesterday.

In a time of 2:44:42. A Comeback PB. I’m ecstatic.

I’m 44, and started running when I was 40. For the first two years everything went well. And I just thought I’d keep improving.

I set ambitious goals for 2015 – including a sub-2:40 marathon, sub-17 5k – and met none of them.

Two Years of Injury

Why? Because I’ve been injured for most of the past two years. One thing after another, after another.

And I’ve considered stopping running altogether. Many times.

Once a weekly-running-blogger, my posts have become less frequent and increasingly moany. Much like my running.

Even Joined a Gym

Eventually I joined a gym, took up tennis, and started flailing about, doing things like resting my left Achilles for a few months, actioning a daily Sufferfest programme, then attempting to go sub-3 in a marathon on no running training (spectacularly unsuccessful). Actually, I pretty much did this twice, posting 3:09 then 3:20 in Berlin in 2015 and 16.

But yesterday – on the back of a 35-miles-a-week-average block – I nailed it, doing my best ever run. And there’s no better feeling.

So I’m sitting here on a train. After an amazing slap up meal and weekend with the Kumars, having spoken to my nearest, and responded to everyone who’s been kind and interested enough to support me on social media.

At home with the Kumars.

At home with The Kumars.

How Did He Do That?

And a few people who know me well have asked how I did it, what my training was like for this marathon, etc.

So, here goes (incidentally, I’ve linked out to quite a few previous running posts throughout this article but you can find plenty more here).

How I Did It

It’s probably most useful if I share two things with you.

My original training plan for the 15-week block (you can download it by clicking this link).

My training log for the 15-week block:

David Sawyer’s Actual 2017 London Marathon Training Plan.

Feel free to download them.

Here are my observations on this year’s London Marathon training block:

  1. I was initially targeting sub-2:40. This was a massive stretch goal. With its undulations, London is not the best marathon to choose. This soon went out of the window in late January when I picked up an injury that saw me out for three weeks.
  2. But I didn’t give up. I swam and did pool-running, until I picked up an additional calf injury pool-running (irony of ironies).
  3. I didn’t recalibrate my goal. I was doing the London Marathon anyway and the bigger picture was my Achilles had stopped giving me gyp. I decided all these additional injuries were my body just getting used to running again. And it was such a joy to be doing anything without a painful left Achilles: I was just happy to be jogging again.
  4. My original plan had been to do whatever long runs our schedules allowed with another couple of clubmates also targeting sub-2:40, throwing in some 6:00 marathon pace in the middle. This thought soon evaporated with the three-week injury. There was no way I could have kept up with them.
  5. I managed to stick to track Tuesday, club Thursday, and a decent long run at the weekend. I didn’t have time to do a medium long run midweek but made sure I worked hard for at least part of the weekend long run.
  6. Outside of that, I did a lot of slow miles. Too slow, I worried. 9s, mainly. Three to four miles. Hilly, off-road, followed by a brief, slow breaststroke swim.
  7. This worked well. It let my body actively recover and the motion of the water provided a very light massage.
  8. For the first time in a marathon block I did no half marathon and few races. I ran well at the Masters cross country end January in Dundee. Then injured myself the day after for three weeks. The other two races were a 10-miler in 62:17 and the national short course road relay four weeks out from London where I managed 6:16 pace over 5.8 miles. Neither of these was a confidence-inducing run.
  9. On the flip side, I did three long runs, five, four, and three weeks out. Respectively posting: a moving-time 2:50 for a hilly 25-miler with coach Bernie, Iain and Andy, but including a seven-minute comfort break; a 6:43 pace similar-ascent (1200 feet) 21-mile run with a mate, from Callander along a NCR and back; and a solo 6:44-pace flattish road-run 20-miler, out and back along Loch Eriboll. All consistently-paced runs. And a new thing for me in a marathon block.
  10. From two weeks out I followed my usual programme of 10-day fat-loading, seven-day caffeine-fasting, and three days’ carb loading, and desperately tried to “trust the taper”.

The Race

champs start london 2017 marathon david sawyer

Me just before the start.

Internal dialogue as follows:

The Start

“We’re off. Right, keep it steady for the first two, conserve your energy, don’t get caught up in it. Excellent, Bruce and Russell (Carmichael and Whittington, with whom I started the race) are keeping it steady.

“Hmmm, they seem to be pulling away (glances at watch) 6:25 average pace. Ahh, whatever, stick to your guns.”

Mile 1

“Hmmm, right, need to catch up with them, phew, made it (they then pulled away again and I decided to leave it).

5KM

“19:12, excellent, that sounds about right. When I did Berlin in 2:43 something my splits were between 19:10 and 19:43 so I’m on pace (for sub-2:45, reach for the stars and all that). But it has been rather downhill so far and I went through to this point in 17:55 two years ago. Still, that’s cool.”

sub 245 london marathon 2017

10KM

“Those two look good. The tall guy is making running look easy. He’s a glider. He’s going to make my running seem easier. And the girl has a really efficient style. But I don’t want to be one of those guys who runs behind a woman with a nice backside. What am I talking about, I’ve never been one of those guys (this bizarre arse-riff kept me busy for at least another two miles).

15KM

“Still on-pace, oh no, that guy’s gone flying because the woman I’m running behind (wearing headphones) without so much as a backward glance has veered off towards a drinks station, and the poor bloke’s tumbled.”

20KM

“Everything’s fine, but of course it’s always fine until half way. Feet hurting now, probably due to wearing brand new trainers on race day. They’re going to be shredded. I’ve been feeling them since mile eight but they’re really hurting now, but still 14 miles to go. Ha, no pain no gain, and pales into insignificance versus that guy in the Barkley Marathons documentary yesterday. And anyway, I’m lucky to have feet. Some people aren’t so fortunate…”

Tower Bridge

“Where’s Anne? Surely I’ll hear Anne. Whoa, there’s my next-door neighbour from Glasgow. Tower Bridge is very high, the crowds are amazing, I can’t hear myself think.”

HM

“1:22-something. Below 1:22:30. It’s going well. In control. I’m on the racing line, I’ve taken on half a bottle of Lucozade Sport at miles five and 10, I’ve hit every water station purely to squirt half a bottle over my head, and I still have the SiS caffeine gel I’ve been cradling like a comfort blanket since the start.”

(It was around this time I lost all concept of gun time and chip time, gave up on my mile-by-mile pace band, and focussed solely on my average-pace-set TomTom watch and my 5k clock time pace band).

25KM

“Ha, well done man (man who was legged up by headphone woman, who I’m still running with, runs past showing her is lacerated arms saying ‘you did this’. In a gesture of solidarity I drop her too. I will pass him later and tell him her race number). But more importantly, my pace is dropping. I’m down to 6:14 average pace. It’s sliding away from me. Down from 6:08 after five km to 6:14 after 25. Ach, this happened in London in 2015. And in my last two joke marathons I’ve hit the wall at 16 and 18. But I’m doing really well to be at this pace anyway. And that was my plan. Hold sub-2:45 as long as I could, let it slide out to 2:50, and getting back to sub-3 would be a hell of an achievement in itself. But if I can try to keep the watch at 6:14 for just a couple more miles. Just a couple more.”

(At this point I ran a panic mile. TomTom shows Mile 16 in 5:43 average pace, quicker than the last half mile of the race: 5:45).

30KM

“30k, what’s that, around 18 miles, what’s the formula again, times by 10 divide by six? Or the other way round, and what about the decimal point (gives up). I’m 10 seconds down now on where I should be. Just keep it going, Just get to 20 miles and give yourself a chance. You always finish strong when you’ve trained properly. But 35 miles a week’s not properly: who are you kidding. Just keep it going.”

35KM

“Embankment’s going to start soon, that’s the best bit. But you’re 20 seconds off-pace now. That’s a lot to make up in the last 7.2k. What a shame about Colin…must be his Achilles. Mine’s ok though, thanks to him. Right, time to make a decision. Are you going to go for it? It’s a total longshot. But are you just going to let it slide away? Or are you going to make it count? Have you noticed that even though you’re slowing slightly, you’re still passing lots of people? These are all great runners but you’re passing someone walking every minute or two now. Dig in, ditch the shuffle and run on your toes, use the crowd more, think of the tracker, make your friends and family proud.”

(I passed 114 runners in the last 7.2K and was passed by just three. That’s a good feeling.)

40KM

“‘Russ, come one, we got this’ there’s not much in it. Tiny margin’. (I want to say I’m running fast, latch on Russell, hop aboard the Sawyer Train, but he’s a quicker runner than me and I don’t want to be patronising. I put what I think is a friendly hand on his shoulder and beckon him; I find out later that the shock nearly knocked him over). I’m flying now, steaming along, sprinting past people (my TomTom tells me I hit 5:20 pace in mile 25. By the power of grimace I keep it going for mile 26, round the corner and I’m on the Mall).

385 Yards to Go

“What time does the clock say, what time does it say? I can’t see it. 2:44:30. 31. 32. Aaah, it’s ages away. Speed up. Leg it. I’m not going to get there. I am. I have!”

(I cross the line in 2:44:58. I turn. I can’t see Russell. He’s not behind me. Nightmare, he’s missed his champs place. I’m on Cloud Nine. I chat with a few people, including Russell, but I don’t ask the question. I’d be gutted. One very slow change in a portaloo later, an emotional chat with Rach, the application of three Compeed blister plasters, and a hobble over to the Sherlock Holmes pub and I’m downing a few shandies with my clubmates in the sun. I check the tracker; quickly remember the difference between gun time and chip time. And am delighted I’ve not only gained 16 seconds but Russell has too, coming in in 2:44:58!)

Post-Race Analysis

Quick recap.

I’ve shared my 15-week training plan, and how it played out in practice. I’ve picked out the main points from my training block. And given a run-through of my internal race dialogue. Lastly, here are the main factors that contributed to running my best race ever.

  1. I love marathons. Every run I do is about training for a marathon. So I want it.
  2. Yesterday was my ninth marathon, and third London. I was able to draw on that experience. “In 2014 I did a 5:56 split for mile 25. I can do that again. Ooh, there’s the place I stopped at mile 19 in 2015 then started up again with Nige. I had a great race from then onwards. I can do it again.” That sort of thing.
  3. My weekly mileage was low and my race times were mediocre, and I was injured for a few weeks, but everything else about the block was good. I adapted but stuck to the core programme.
  4. The fat-loading and caffeine fasting thing gives me a boost. No-one else does it. It gives me the confidence I’ll finish strong.
  5. I felt a lot of people were willing me to succeed. I received more DMs/emails/texts from people before this marathon, than all the other races I’ve done in my life put together. It’s not that I didn’t want to let them down, more that I wanted them to have something to genuinely get excited about. And the thought that people would be sitting on the tracker seeing it sliding away from me, gradually, every 5k, until 35KM, made me dig in and run a cracking last 4.2M (if I do say so myself).

Conclusion

I don’t think I can put it any better than my post on Facebook yesterday.

giffnock north scott wilson david sawyer london marathon 2017

Post-mara with my Giffnock North clubmates, including Scott Wilson who went sub-3 for the first time.

Thank you Rach (in particular) for putting up with my running-moaning this last two years. Love you. Next for me is a two-week break from running. Followed by a month or two fun-running. Then I’ll start training for Berlin in late September (touch wood, injuries allowing). Thanks for dropping by. Tootle pip, Dave (you can check out my training on Strava here).

My splits from yesterday's race.

My splits from yesterday’s race.