Running the numbers in the settling dust


Well, it’s Friday. Five days since Dublin. How are the legs? How is the body generally? What to take from the whole experience?

Well, I suppose one or two interesting stats, anyway, for starters.

The last finisher over the line came in on 8 hours and 30 minutes, and was placed 15,888th. This means that over 4,000 runners ‘went missing’. I don’t know what the drop-out rate is for Dublin on any given year, but I assume it would have claimed some of them. But 4,000? Seems a lot.

The official figure touted in most places was the full 20,000, making it the fourth largest in Europe (there is no qualifying time). One paper reckoned 19,500 started, with approximately 17,000 finishing, although the same paper had earlier reported the figure to be ‘up to 17,000’ taking part.

Does it matter? I guess not really, though it’s odd that no one seems to have checked the official finishing stats that clearly show 15,888 to be the total who crossed the line. And no doubt within seconds of the last runner of Wave 4 crossing the start line, the race organisers knew exactly how many people were taking part, as each runner is chip-timed, and we all cross the mat.

My mate, who was a pacer last Sunday, reckons that no-shows would account for most of the slippage, not least due to the fact that transfers are not allowed in the Dublin Marathon. This may seem churlish, but if you hit the deck and are getting medical treatment, it’s important they know who you are… your number will tell a different story if you’ve done a swap. And here I must confess I did run a half marathon under someone else’s name a few years ago. It’s always fine when nothing happens…

Another stat is the quartile rule. This is an unscientific stat that suggests that about one-quarter of runners in any given marathon do a sub-four hour race. Some other sites suggest it’s closer to 20%. And when it gets down to sub-three that percentage drops dramatically to less than 2%. Well, according to some sites, anyway. As I say, we live in a world of ‘questionable’ news (I can’t bring myself to say the four letter word beginning with ‘f’ and a ‘k’ in it…) and we can’t even seem to get some of the really important stuff right. Well, if any of the above is roughly correct, then approximately 5,000 runners should have gone under four. Turns out the figure was higher at more like 6,400. And that’s assuming all 20,000 started, which we know didn’t happen. Maybe we’re a fit bunch over here?

All of which is about as exciting, rewarding and useful as washing your hair with a Clif Gel Shot.

The other tedious stat, whilst I’m on a roll, is that I actually did a negative split. Sort of by accident, I have to admit. In the unlikely circumstance that there are any non-running readers left at this point, I should explain that a negative split is when you run the second half of a race faster than the first. Whilst this is a common thing for middle-distance runners who are all jockeying for the ideal position coming around the last lap, for most long distance events, the vast bulk of runners naturally slow down towards the end. And that had always been my experience too. Until last weekend. Not that I was going at any great pace to start with, nor did I break any land speed records at the end. But I picked up nearly two minutes in the second half somewhere. According to one of the wristbands I was wearing (I had both miles and kilometres), I was ahead of the posse at the 30k mark, which would be a good guide to where you are at. Not that I bothered looking at the wristbands. Nor my watch. I just made sure to stay with the balloons!

Again, I appreciate very little of this is of interest to the non-runners out there, but I guess you’re probably not reading this blog anyway. On the off-chance there are a few folk like me out there trawling the web for a few pointers on getting in under four, then perhaps this can offer you some encouragement. The sub-four journey for me took a few diversions. Even though I was a very keen and able runner in my youth, I was nearly 31 when I ran my first marathon. And it was so horrible, I didn’t do another one for years. I then did a few more, with several years off in-between, and whilst I sliced good chunks off my times, I seemed to be a good bit away from sub-four.

What made the difference was training. Quite simple really, and not much of a revelation. Certainly not to anyone out there who trains properly, and regularly. I run quite a bit, but rarely in any structured way. This time around, I was prepared. And I was coming off the back of reasonably good fitness, too, and this cannot be overlooked. Plucking a sub-four programme off a website, even if you follow it to the letter, may not do the trick if you don’t have the base fitness to build on. This base can take months, and ideally years to create.

After that, you just have to put your head down and do it. Get the legs right, and the head should follow. Whilst the 26.2 miles is always the same distance, it really helps if you can ‘shrink’ that down to a more manageable size. This mental trick can only be achieved with miles in the legs which should give you the confidence to get your head around the task ahead. For me, as an example, that meant comparing stretches of the race with training routes at home I had done countless times. Around Bushy Park (when I lost my buddy Ciaran to a hamstring) we had 9 miles left to go. That’s about 15k. So I just said to myself, let’s get the next 5k done, and then we have 10k left. Both of those distances I can visualise in the park where I train. It made the last third or so of the race eminently doable.

Some like to break this into bite-size pieces of set distances. Whatever works. Then just make sure you’ve done all the other boringly-obvious things you keep reading about in those ‘top-ten-tips’ you keep Googling before race day. You know, the ones that tell you to get rest, hydrate (but don’t overdo it), don’t try new runners or gels, or indeed anything new at all. You know the type. The reason you keep seeing all this stuff is ‘coz it works. Get a fueling strategy sorted weeks in advance and stick to it. Apart from a simple and generally insurmountable problem of not doing enough training, a poor fueling plan is the most likely thing to derail your efforts.

For what it’s worth, I suspect most people need to take a couple more gels than they think, but not as many as the manufacturers would recommend. Put that another way, all the bumpf tells us that we can carry about 1800 calories on board (as glycogen), and that we burn about 100 per mile, hence running out of juice around the 18 mile mark (and therefore, hitting the wall). Back of the envelope stuff, I know, but it’s not way off the mark either. So you need to replace this lost fuel, and not too late either. But do you need to replace ALL of it during the race? This is where I would beg to differ from the gel makers who recommend 3 an hour to get your 60 plus grams of carbs (energy/calories/fuel; call it what you will… mostly it’s a form of sugar of some sort). This is fine if you like gels, and I have yet to meet anyone who does. But in reality, if you cross the line with half a tank of gas, that’s not a problem. Running out IS a problem. So have a plan, put it in action on your long runs, and don’t decide to change your mind halfway through. That may be two gels an hour, for example.

My plan was to try and get something in the tank just prior to every water stop, and there were ten of those, from memory. The water was just to wash down the sugar, no more. No danger of dehydrating around Dublin in Autumn. I also had some Clif Bloks and they worked a treat too. If you feel the urge to to take electrolytes, then I suggest you get some gels and bloks with added sodium, etc. But your mileage will vary on that score. Just do whatever you have been doing in training.

My mate reckoned he saw someone around Chapelizod (about 7 miles in) getting fed a banana by a supporter who jogged alongside. Now that’s dedication, but to me sounds a wee bit like a recipe for an upset stomach. Again, don’t try this without a safety net… if you’ve done it before and it worked, happy days. Otherwise you may be looking at that banana again, a few miles down the road. Let’s hope you’re near a portaloo…

My running mate Mark seems to have caught the buzz. He was there on the day for a high-five and some cheering, which is always much appreciated. We went out for a run yesterday, and he is looking at Dublin next year. I have no doubt he can do it too. And with any luck, I’ll be there; either cheering from the sidelines, or running alongside.

All the best with your training, running and other events out there. Waterford Half Marathon for me next month, and I am planning on having a crack at the full marathon along the canal at the end of the year. Then we’ll see. There are other things that need some attention too, like the heating, the garden and the office, to name but three. They won’t sort themselves!

And before all of that, S is running in the park tomorrow morning; the same Phoenix Park we ran through last weekend. It’s the Mo Run for charity. I’ll be there, with my few-days-old ‘tash that I will be growing for the same good cause. Check it out!


6 thoughts on “Running the numbers in the settling dust

  1. Well done on the marathon! Very impressive time. Am thinking about it for next year but a lot of work to do yet. I would be a sub 5 hour job with a bit of luck. What training plan did you follow?

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Any form of pace at all; it could be speed in miles or kilometres, but the easiest way most runners run, I reckon, is how many minutes per mile/kilometre. (So for example, to run a five hour marathon, you need to do each mile in 11 minutes and 27 seconds). It’s the easiest way to figure it out. You don’t necessarily need a GPS watch or smart phone app either, as long as you know the distances of your runs, and can remember some fairly basic maths (I’m not great great with calculations). But certainly a watch is great, not least if you are doing a programme that suggests speed work at a set pace over a distance, for example, plus tempo runs and long runs, all at defined speeds. It’s the only way you can gauge where you are at.


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