Friday, 10 October 2014

Chester Marathon 2014 & how I managed to go sub 3:30

Last Sunday I ran in the 2014 Chester Marathon. Having failed to go sub 3:30 at Milton Keynes (weather and lack of training) and Berlin (packed field in the early part of the race) in 2013, I was determined to hit my goal at the third time of asking.

I had heard good things about Chester and it did not disappoint. The organisation was excellent, there was plenty of space at the start / finish area of Chester Racecourse. The course was not flat but not hilly by any means. There was plenty of support as you passed through the various villages on the route and the crowds in the last couple of miles provided us with a real boost. I can see why it has been voted the UK's favourite marathon by Runners World readers. The conditions on the day were nigh on perfect and I was feeling confident at the start.

My training for Berlin last year had gone well and I believe that if it were not for the aforementioned crowded field, I would have gone under 3:30 there. I chose to go with the same 3:30 marathon training plan which is created by an American trainer by the name of Jeff Gaudette and is free on the Runkeeper app.

My training on the whole went well. I had a much better base of fitness than prior to my training for Berlin and save for missing the odd session (largely down to holidays), it went without a hitch. Due to the High Peak 40, which was 2 weeks before Chester, my last long run (22 miles @ marathon pace) was 4 weeks before race day. Ideally this session would have been run 3 weeks out but otherwise I don't think I would have changed much.

The main difference between my training and racing at Berlin and my training and racing at Chester was my nutrition. I had felt for a long time that nutrition was one of my weaker areas and somewhere I could target for performance gains. Back in April, I started eating a 'paleo style' diet. My motivation for this was that I had heard about people running relatively fast marathon times and doing so without the need for traditional fuel, both prior to and during the race. This was something that appealed to me and so I set about a radical overhaul to my diet. More on which to can read about here.

I believe that the changes I made to my diet back in April and the adaptations that have occurred within my body over the last 6 months are the key difference in me achieving a sub 3:30 marathon at the third time of asking. On my way to Chester, I have lost over a stone in weight and am keeping it off, despite having relaxed my diet a bit recently, I scored big PB's for the 5k and 10k on the way to a 6 minute PB in the marathon at Chester. I am also able to run for 3+ hours without the need for energy gels/drinks etc.

At the High Peak 40 I ran for 8 hours and burned over 5000 calories. Yet I only had a smoothie for breakfast and consumed less than 600 calories on the run. At Chester, I ran in a fasted state, having only had a coffee and cream for breakfast. On the run, I only consumed water until mile 25. Having run up the final hill (and admittedly feeling pretty spent), I grabbed a gel from a marshal. I am sure the benefit of that gel was purely psychological as I doubt it would have been digested by the time I finished the race.

When I began this journey back in April I had hit a plateau and I knew I had to change something in order to kick on. I had no idea whether 'going paleo' was going to work for me, let alone effect my performance in a positive way. 6 months down the line, I am really pleased to be able to say that it has done both. Day-to-day I feel much better, with more energy and no sugar crashes. My performances this year speak for themselves. I have arguably done slightly less training, yet because I have been able to shed a bit of weight, I have been quicker. Plus it has saved me a fortune in pre-race, race and post-race nutrition!

I would love to hear from others that have gone through similar changes to their diet and am more than happy to answer any questions from anyone who is considering switching to a paleo or low carb / high fat diet.