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Pisa Marathon
Sunday 20th December 2015
Christof Schwiening

I was hoping that Pisa might be another attempt at sub-2:45, but my racing and training after Frankfurt caused too much damage to my feet. It was a combination of a rutted Hereward Relay Stage 2 and some other bits of running just after it that caused my Achilles and arch/ball of my right foot to complain a bit too much. In the end I was content to make it to the start line with a shot at managing to finish the marathon. I was about 4 kg heavier than at Frankfurt and running with a heel strike and roll-off onto the outer edge of my right foot.

The start was a typically disorganized Italian affair resulting in Max and I being separated. I stuck with Ryan Snell - a Strava-friend who had made a late decision to turn-up having completed an abbreviated block of 'Christof-type' training. He had a previous PB of 2:42 and was hoping to beat that.

I set-off at a thoroughly sensible pace - with masses of slow runners in front of me putting in a couple of 4:20 km (just a bit slower than 3 hour pace). I gradually ramped my heart rate up to marathon effort (~149 bpm) and it began to look like a sub-3 might be possible. I was being ultra-careful to avoid using my right forefoot as with each flex I could feel some pain from around the ball of my foot. I could see the 3 hour pacers in front of me and by 12 km I had caught-up with the 3 hour group (probably about 30 runners at that point). I decided, since that section was still pretty calm with a slight tail wind, to sit in front of the group so that I could see the road and choose a sensible line. But, the 3 hour pacers were not running a flat pace plan and I had to work a bit harder than I really wanted to. Oddly enough my hip flexors were protesting almost as much as my feet. It may well be that the 25km of walking on Friday had been a bit too much. At the turn around point just after halfway (which I crossed in 1:29:23) I let the 3-hour pacers head in front of me. By then the wind had picked-up and I knew that if I was going to make the sub-3 I would need as much of a draft as I could get. The group was still pretty much in tact and there was no easing off the pace. As we headed back towards the town the pacers gritted their teeth and surged onwards. With multiple surges and a faster than necessary pace they eventually managed to drop all of their group except for two of us. By 40km I was the only one left - doggedly running on the heels of one of the pacers with his balloons repeatedly knocking against my head. It was then with 2km left that my right foot finally caused me to drop back - I still had plenty of time in hand and could afford to nurse my way into the finish. By 42km (on my watch) I began to panic. The course was not short this year and I was worried that I was going to miss the sub-3. On rounding what turned-out to be the penultimate corner I saw the 3 hour pacers waiting (it must have been 200m before the finish). I ran past them and rounded the final bend to see the finish line. 2:59 was still on my watch. I crossed the line exhausted. Sure, my right foot was painful, but I wasn't expecting my legs to also be in such a mess. Within the space of 4 weeks I had turned myself from a 2:45 runner into someone only just capable of a 3 hour marathon. The colour of my pee, when finally managed to produce some in the evening, was the colour of treacle. Clearly I had done far more damage to my leg muscles than on any previous marathon (the dark colour was probably myoglobin released from damaged skeletal muscle). At no point in the marathon was I ever even remotely close to an aerobic limit. I think my altered gait from the foot pain had caused me to use my muscles in a rather odd fashion. I probably was leaning rather like the tower. It was a tough marathon - they are never easy - and running with an injury after a sub-optimal training block whilst overweight was not very sensible.

Ryan finished 11th or 12th in a time of 2:37. A big PB for him and a good strong finish. Max started even more slowly than me and finished his first half marathon by continually over-taking people with plenty left in the tank.

Now begins a gentle period of recovery before the ramp back-up for VMLM. Time is short and my body is reminding me about the need for care. I am missing the XC season this year - it is not a risk I want to take.....endurance training, hard anaerobic efforts and a body on the edge of failure do not mix well.

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