Post race reflection is key and Nigel Martin looks back on his 2:18:09 marathon debut in this month’s Fast10 contribution. 

The day before the race I didn’t have the usual pre-race buzz. I was full of self-doubt and had a slight feeling of dread. I had absolutely no niggles to worry about, so all my focus was on how the hell I was going to run at goal marathon pace when my long (but short relative to the marathon) tempos had resulted in a slow-down towards the end.

Of course, there’s the taper, but whereas I usually enjoy a taper, I didn’t feel that fresh from this one. 

It might sound like hindsight, but I was thinking rather than 5:05 pace, 5:15 pace was more realistic. I knew with no spectators, high winds and sharp turns it wasn’t going to be ideal. I was confident in my training, but for me no number of good sessions can make-up for a good race.

I’d not even run half distance at race pace since my last half marathon race in late 2019!

Race conditioning not there?

I was desperately lacking race conditioning. You might ask why didn’t you do 15-20miles at race pace in the prep? Well, you can’t do everything. I’d need very fresh legs for a session like that and instead when I was fresh, I focused on 10k Time Trials. My aerobic fitness was certainly there at least. 

On race morning I asked myself what time I thought I’d get and it was clear – 2:17. I’m usually very good at estimating what I’ll do and consistent in achieving it. Of course, it was all too easy to ignore this feeling and still go for my goal of sub 2:15. After all, it’s the Olympic Marathon Trials.

I knew I’d regret not going for it and sub 2:15 certainly didn’t seem impossible. As it happened sub 2:15 would have placed me 5th, not far behind Dewi Griffiths and ahead of some big names.

I’d be lying if I said I hate making excuses. I naturally over-think things and that leads me to find fault with everything that didn’t go perfectly. I’m almost never completely satisfied with my performance after a race or how things went, it’s part of what makes me want to run faster and keep improving. 

The course and weather

There’s simply no accounting for the weather. We got unlucky. The forecasted 10mph itself wasn’t so bad and often to be expected on any typical day, but the gusts were 25mph+ and that’s what really made it difficult towards the end.

Whilst good sections of the course were sheltered, the most exposed sections were into the wind and on the last 2 laps I’d not saved enough to combat it. 

The course was certainly flat enough, but I noticed that we were losing quite a bit of momentum on the corners, even running in small groups.

I’d say there were 5-6 sharp turns per lap (13 laps in total) and that was fine for the first 30k when you’re able to accelerate after the corners to hit the required pace, but after that it was very difficult. Chris Thompson himself said after the race that it was the turns and the weather that led him to back off the target pace.

First time finishing last

I’ve never finished last in a race before, but does it count as last if 1/3 of the field dropped out?

If I had to describe the race in a word it would be bittersweet. I was very grateful to be able to compete in such a special event – the first British Olympic Marathon Trials in 40 years. Tom Bedford and his team did a great job organising everything and in very difficult circumstances.

Ironically it turned out to be a great event for spectators and perfectly served its purpose as a selection race. It was also pretty brutal as a debut marathon. The fields were tiny, with only 50% of the 30 invited managing to make it to the start-line, then only 10 finishers for the men and eight for the women. However, there were some very high-quality pacers and they all did an excellent job. 

If you look at the results, almost everyone apart from the male and female winners in each race blew up to varying extents.

In fact the only other person I’m aware of who didn’t was Andrew Davies, who was running in my group. Completing his 25th marathon he must have been the most experienced in the field! Similar to Tommo, he ran his own race. He was in my group for 30k, but he did drift off the back at times and ran right at the back.

Top marks if you can spot Nigel in this picture from the start.  Credit: Nigel Bramley/Alamy Live News

Facing the (windy) music

I remember taking the lead around 16 miles, getting slammed by the wind, then dropping back to recover, feeling sorry for myself. The 1.4k straight was great with a glorious tailwind, but each lap the wind did more damage. Coming up to the start area at the end of the lap, near 32k, Andy Davies came through and I thought…. “shit”. 

You could just see he was full of running and he was certainly embracing the old adage that the race only starts at 20 miles. I’ve heard many people say that 20 miles is half-way, but I really struggled to accept that before the race and it’s almost impossible to understand what it means, until you get to 20 miles in a marathon and see someone running at your goal pace and you try and match it! 

In contrast to Andy, I had ignored the various subtle warning signs from my body early on that the pace was a tad too quick.

Listening to the warning signs

The first 20 miles wasn’t ‘hard’ and it felt decidedly easier than tempos on my own, but it wasn’t easy enough. With 7k to go I was on my own and my pace dropped a lot.

I didn’t hit the wall, the only part of my race that went really well was nutrition, but my goal time had slipped away and there was little left to salvage other than a decent finish.

I tried various things to try and really commit and pick-up the pace, but it was no use. I was in ‘live to fight another day’ mode. I was also in totally unchartered territory and just wanted to finish strong. Maybe some people are really able to give it 100% in every race, but I’m not. I need inspiration for that, the kind you can only get when you know it’s your day. 

We had to include this picture as the delight on Thommo’s face was felt by many watching too. Additionally the joy on Tom Bedford’s face seeing all his and his team’s hard work pay off with an Olympic qualifying time (with another to come from Steph Davis) run at his well organised event. Credit: Nigel Bramley/Alamy Live News

Tommo ran his own race

I was definitely inspired by Tommo’s run. I’m not good at time trialling, so I admire people who are all the more. In fact, the ability to time trial is perhaps one of the most important traits for achieving WRs.

Mo Farah certainly had the speed to set the ‘big’ WRs (5000/10000), but I think it’s fair to say he wasn’t great at time trials. He was a pack runner with an unbeatable kick. I’m a pack runner with no kick so there’s no hope for me.

The combination of ability to time trial and world class running talent is an incredibly rare combination, but it’s very clear when it does appear, like most recently in Joshua Cheptegei. 

My experience in a race is that if you get dropped by a strong group, you never make it back. There are very few people who can buck this trend. You’re actually looking at all-time greats to see who can, like Bekele who did this so well at Berlin 2016&2019 or GNR2013 (though I think that was a setup as Haile took Mo out too hard for a few miles to tire him).

If there’s any event where it’s really possible it must be the marathon. It’s one of the only events where race pace is tolerable on your own for long periods of time. It’s also a distance where a lot can change in the last 10k and how you’ve paced it overall is what matters most. 

Running the best lines?

I wonder if part of the reason Tommo’s strategy worked so well was because by running on his own, he was able to take the perfect racing line on the corners and from an economy point of view this really paid dividends by the end. 

Tommo of course wasn’t really dropped, he could have kept running with that lead group and maybe still won, but he decided to run his own pace. I don’t regret my approach as there’s a big difference between running around 10th place for 13 laps on your own just trying to hit a time, and legitimately battling for the win and a place in the Olympics! 

I do intend to do another Marathon as although I didn’t get the time I wanted, it wasn’t a total disaster. I wasn’t too disappointed after.

In fact, I was even a little proud that I’d finished the bloody thing. When I do another though it will definitely be a big city marathon with crowds of strangers screaming at me to run faster at 35k. But up to that point I’ll try and remember Tommo’s run here, run my own rhythm and a bit too easy if anything for the first 30k.