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Analysing My 2:39 Marathon | Learning From My Mistakes

Auckland Marathon 2022 was set to be my best marathon. My training had gone perfectly. Probably my best ten-week block of training EVER. I don’t think I missed a workout, and that wasn’t through being super addicted to training. I loved every run and only began to feel tired in my last ‘training’ week before my taper (3-weeks from the race). I felt like I had a system that was working.

What did my training look like?

After building back from Covid, I did two major blocks of training. Each block was three weeks, with a one-week recovery in between. Each week was about 650 TSS (training stress), 9hrs, 120km, 1000m elevation. I did a midweek threshold workout and a weekend marathon tempo workout each week. The rest of my runs were easy, mainly off-road and hilly.

I specifically made a point to slow my easy runs, which greatly impacted the quality of my workouts and my day-to-day recovery. For reference, most of my easy-aerobic runs were around 4:30-5min/km, 80% LTHR, 80% FTP. Last year, in building up for the Tarawera Ultramarathon, I realised that when my weekly training load is over 100km/wk or 8hrs/wk I can’t run my easy-aerobic runs at the top of my zone 2 (85-88%). Otherwise, I struggle to recover from the big weekend workouts.

➡️Follow my training on Strava

Marathon Workouts

I did four marathon-specific workouts, the biggest being 30km @ target marathon power three weeks out from the race. I ran the last 10km at the top end of my goal power, averaging 3:35min/km and heart rate staying in zone 4 (sub-threshold). I felt great. It gave me a lot of confidence that I could run in the low 2:30s come race day.

Race Week

My 2-year-old son gets gastro on Tuesday (race is Sunday), and then my wife gets the bug on Thursday. I felt fairly average from Wednesday but never appeared to have contracted the bug. The day before the race, I felt like a truck had hit me. I told Emma how disappointed I was that I wouldn’t be able to race to my potential. However, that afternoon, I felt 100% times better and thought I had finally experienced that taper-week bounce. Race morning, it was pouring with rain, and I mean torrential rain. I couldn’t find my car key, and then I lost my hotel key. Honestly, it felt like the world didn’t want me to do this race.

Process Goals

I felt so bad the days leading into the race that I made a point to write out non-outcome goals that would make the race a success. Expressing myself, having fun doing what I love, and being proud of my effort were the key goals I put together. Once I had these goals in place, I felt I lot better about running a race in which I may not be able to perform to my physical potential.

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The Race

I had my watch on 5km laps with my screen showing lap power, lap pace, real-time HR, and real-time power, which gave me a good average of what I was doing rather than looking too much into each km or mile. I’ll break down my race in each of these 5km segments.

Goal Numbers

Power = 340 – 360 W
Pace = 3:30 – 3:40 min/km
HR = 160 – 170 bpm first hour, 170 – 180 bpm onwards

0 – 5km

Time = 18:53
Power = 353 W
Pace = 3:47 min/km
HR = 163 bpm
Elv = 86 m

Everything was going to plan. I felt good but not great. I was in no man’s land between the 2:30 group and the 2:40 group. My pace was a bit slow, but I knew that would be the case with nearly 100 m elevation gain in the first 5km.

5 – 10km

Time = 17:58
Power = 355 W
Pace = 3:36 min/km
HR = 170 bpm
Elv = 20 m up and 40 m down

With a little bit of downhill, I was right on track. I had to stop briefly to find my personal bottle at the aid station, but it was nothing major. I was having a good time and thought this could be a good day.

10 – 15km

Time = 17:44
Power = 359 W
Pace = 3:33 min/km
HR = 175 bpm
Elv = -10 m

I thought everything was going perfectly. I enjoyed running a bit faster on a nice long flat section with a slight bit of downhill. BUT, I was ignoring my heart rate. While I was running within my pace & power targets, my HR was 5 bpm above my 170 bpm limit. I remember seeing my HR in the 170s, and thinking I should probably slow down a little, but I didn’t…. I just went with my rhythm. I discussed this scenario with Dr Matt Miller on the Performance Advantage Podcast this week. Check it on Google, Apple, Spotify

15 – 20km

Time = 18:46
Power = 346 W
Pace = 3:45 min/km
HR = 174 bpm
Elv = 50 m

This section had the Auckland Harbour Bridge, which was a 50m elevation at 4% gradient, so I always knew it would be slower. My HR got up to 178bpm at the top of the bridge climb, which I knew was way too high for that stage of the race, so made a point to relax on the downside and get things under control. Unfortunately, the damage was done.

20 – 25km

Time = 18:27
Power = 344 W
Pace = 3:41 min/km
HR = 176 bpm
Elv = –

On to the flat out-and-back section along the waterfront. I knew all I had to do was lock in a good rhythm and hold together until the finish. This is what I had trained for. I was hurting and knew I would need to drop to the bottom end of target pace and power targets to make it through. At 25km, my average pace was 3:40 min/km, which would be a 2:35 finishing time. Perfect.

25 – 30km

Time = 19:27
Power = 327 W
Pace = 3:53 min/km
HR = 174 bpm
Elv = –

Just a rough patch, hold it together. I thought to myself. I mostly knew I was cooked, but I had my process goals to fall back, and I was still having a good time. I pushed on with the hope I could find a second wind.

30 -35km

Time = 19:34
Power = 327 W
Pace = 3:55 min/km
HR = 174 bpm
Elv = –

Goodbye dream. This is the part of the marathon where you wish you entered the half, and really want to be anywhere else. I was in full-on “do not give up” mode. Luckily one of the guys from the 2:30 group was in a similar state to me, so I was able to use him as a carrot. This section was mostly just pain with the motivation that if I kept under 4min/km I might get under 2:40.

35 – 40km

Time = 19:24
Power = 330 W
Pace = 3:53 min/km
HR = 180 bpm
Elv = –

I had caught the guy in front of me and was now in 10th and on track to stay under 2:40. I was deep in the pain cave with a 180 bpm average heart rate. This section was all mental.

40 – Finish (42.5km on my watch)

Time = 9:35 (2.5km)
Power = 332 W
Pace = 3:52 min/km
HR = 182 bpm (max 188 bpm)
Elv = –

Where is the finish line! 2:39:44 – thank god. I got passed back by the guy from the previous section, which helped spur me along again.


Time = 2:39:44
Power = 342 W
Pace = 3:46 min/km
HR = 174 bpm

While my overall stats don’t look too far off what I had hoped for, the execution was far from ideal. By ignoring my HR limit in the first hour, I ran over the upper end of my aerobic threshold, which meant I was burning too much carbohydrate and building fatigue too quickly. The trap is that it doesn’t feel that hard. I was still within my pace and power targets, but having been a bit sick and it being a wet humid day, I was running a bit harder than I usually would for those pace-power numbers. While I had my mental process goals that kept me pushing from start to finish and ultimately being proud of my effort. I needed to be more flexible in my outcome goal so that I could say to myself, yes my pace and power are great, and I feel fine, but my HR is too high, so something isn’t right, SLOW DOWN.

Until the next one… Tarawera Ultramarathon in February!

Happy Running,
Dr Will


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