Perspectives on setting a goal and sticking to the plan to try and achieve it.
Many can attest to the fact that the Marathon is an arduous challenge. Combining this with the potential to run the English qualifying standard for the Commonwealth Games and you have a recipe which is going to be both testing and risky, yet with the prospect of a fantastic reward.
I think my experience at the London Marathon in 2017 has relevance to both sport and wider skills, and hope it’s something to which people of all abilities can relate.
Having run 2:17 in my first marathon back in 2014, I felt achieving the 2:14 English qualifying standard was a realistic goal for this attempt. Doing so would need a thorough and extensive training programme, with mine having commenced in Oct 16. Although the goal was realistic if the training went to plan, unfortunately the realities of being on a front line Squadron put paid to the necessary preparation. The working day meant I rarely trained during working hours, and opted to complete sessions before work in an attempt to ensure they were achieved. Combining this with routine deployments and flying supervision duties was a challenge and resulted in a significant amount of my quality mileage being lost, and an uncertainty over my form leading in to the race. On race day, the weather forecast suggested near perfect conditions and many were hopeful for a fast day in the Capital. The excitement and adrenalin combined with a tailwind over the first few miles was likely to mean a swift start and splits being somewhat ahead of the schedule. Experienced coaches and athletes will advise that you ‘cannot bank time in a marathon’, meaning that going out hard is unlikely to prove fruitful later on in the distance, since the fatigue of the early pace will result in your ability dropping off later on.
Noting the goal, I opted to latch on a group containing both pacemakers and athletes of a comparable standard to myself. However in doing so, I failed to stick to the game plan which was more conservative and would have seen me go through the 5km mark somewhat slower than 15:26, a split which suggested a 2:10 finishing time rather than the already stretched target. Not sticking to the plan at this early stage was likely to cost me dearly and highlighted the need to focus on the goal rather than being lured by what seemed to be the right thing at the time. I stuck with the group through to the 9mile mark where I elected to drop back, logic and reasoning overcoming the excitement and glory which had driven me to go so hard from the outset. Of those runners who stayed in the group, none of them achieved the intended Commonwealth standard, likely due to the early pace.
My splits for the remainder of the race steadily slowed and by half-way my time had slipped just outside the goal. Consistency is key though for the marathon and continued focus meant I held this 2:15 pace for a considerable period through Canary Wharf and towards the final 10km. In doing so I started to pass a number of other runners who had remained in my initial group. Others dropped out, whether through injury or fatigue, highlighting another important lesson: to continue to focus on the aim despite what may have gone before.
Although I too slowed in the final sections, the performance was sound and accelerated towards the end to finish in 2:19:54, 32nd overall and 12th British athlete. Granted someway outside the goal, but considering the preparations and uncertainties going in to the race, a credible achievement which bodes well for the future when supported by a more appropriate level of training.
The London Marathon is used as both the RAF and Inter Services Championships; I placed as first male in both competitions and nearly 6 minutes ahead of my nearest rival, though unfortunately our combined time failed to retain the Team title as the Army proved to have more consistency across their squad. The race provided an excellent opportunity to showcase the RAF within a high profile event: television coverage of our group throughout the first half provided excellent broadcasting of both the RAF vest and the RAF Athletic Association prime sponsor, the Royal British Legion. The Team are grateful for their support and that from the RAF Central Fund, since without them the sports of Distance running, Track and Field, and Tug of War would be far less supported or invested in.
Moving in to the summer, the Association will now focus on the Inter-Services Championships on the Track, Field and Tug of War, all of which will also provide athletes with an opportunity to progress to UK Armed Forces representation and international competitions.
The future is bright and strengthening across all cadre.
Competing at this standard is highly valuable to me due to the development it serves as both an athlete and in personal skills.
The numerous takeaways are relevant in sporting and work environments, and to personnel of all abilities or levels, since although my finishing times may be somewhat faster than the majority, the themes around their achievement remain the same.
In the case of my experience this year though, my lasting memory will be that a risky strategy is likely to reap rewards, but needs to be bounded by realism: straying too far beyond is likely to compromise the goal.