Yesterday could prove to be a crucial day in my preparations for my first marathon.
Storms across the UK played havoc with my race schedule. The Deal Half Marathon, which should have been this morning, was cancelled three days beforehand due to the forecast of exceptionally strong winds (which turned out to be correct ). I had swiftly entered another half marathon, about 2 hours drive away, noting that refunds were available if you withdrew with at least a couple of days notice. However, when I noted that the race began at 9.00 am, and thought about the ridiculously early start to the day (or the expense of a hotel room) I decided against this, and instead resolved to do my own Deal Half Marathon.
Yesterday (Saturday) was the last in a brief series of bright sunny days, with little wind, that we have been enjoying lately. So I resolved to do a time trial over the race route (which is local to me), the only snag being that I was working until just before dark. So I donned my hi-viz shirt and put on the glowing armband that I had bought in the morning, and set off.
Once I got going, I felt that I was running reasonably well and keeping a good pace, without feeling unduly fatigued. I was wearing my barefoot shoes, even though I had resolved to wear more substantial shoes a week ago. I had changed my mind because I had developed a very sore blister on my heel (through wearing spikes with only ankle socks during interval training), and felt that the barefoot shoes would not dig into this sore as much as a traditional running shoe heel. This worked, and I had no problems in this respect. However, I did start to get very sore calves as I progressed through my run. At one stage, I felt it was getting beyond stiffness, and I would probably have to stop. But I was more than five miles from my car by then, so tried to ignore it and push on. I also believed that I was running well and heading for a good time, perhaps one that might threaten my pb from the race two years previously. Thankfully it didn’t get any worse, and the pain in my groin that I had felt after my last race was still there, but not bad enough to warrant stopping.
The whole run was in the dark, which took me back a bit, as I often used to run on the roads at night, but rarely in recent years, as the roads around where I live are not very conducive to doing this safely. I had to slow down a little for cars, who all spotted me and slowed done themselves (most slowed down significantly, but other hardly at all). Though almost all the run was on unlit country roads, I was rarely running in very dark conditions, due to a lovely full moon, and somehow the run seemed to go by quite quickly. I finished reasonably strongly, but not so strongly that I could accuse myself of taking it too easy, and it was with great anticipation that I stopped my watch and moved under a streetlight. The display read 1:40:59, which was disappointing to say the very least.
If I allowed about thirty seconds for the few occasions when I had to slow or stop briefly to allow a vehicle to pass, this time was still about eight minutes slower than I ran in the race two years ago. Here is list of possible or likely causes of me running slower than in the race two years beforehand:
- I am two years older
- I had no competition
- My calves and my groin felt a bit sore
- I went out for a meal the night before and drank over half a bottle of wine, plus a glass of beer.
- I was tired from working, and perhaps hungry having hardly eaten anything since breakfast (though I did have an energy gel before and during the run).
- I wasn’t sure where the precise start and finish line was, and might have erred on the side of running very slightly too far rather than too short.
These reasons might explain why I would be one, two, three , four or even five minutes slower than in the race a couple of years ago. But I believe that the single biggest factor was probably the barefoot shoes. The fact that I ran a strong race in the mud at Parliament Hill a couple of weeks ago, one that was perhaps not quite as good as my effort there two years previously, but certainly within a minute or so, suggests that loss of form shouldn’t have caused more than a couple of minute time lag compared to my 2018 half marathon. The wine and possible fatigue and muscle stiffness (balanced by the fact that I felt reasonably good in myself during the run) could perhaps account for a two or three minutes, but no more.
So its seems that my barefoot running experiment, at least in terms of performance on the road, has not been a success. Even if I am overestimating the degree to which the minimalist running shoes are slowing me down, I am pretty certain that they aren’t making me any faster! Perhaps I tried this change too late in my running life, and perhaps it would come good given time, but with my marathon debut fast approaching , I think I need to re-acquaint myself with traditional running shoes. I feel that this will give me the best chance of getting through the training and the race injury free and perhaps completing it in a time under three and a half hours. Two days ago, I would have said that this was my minimum target and I was really hoping for something closer to 3:15, but after my run yesterday, I realise that I should be delighted if I completed the full marathon in something close to 3:30, and proud of running the distance, whatever the time.