Burnt Toast

Chicago. October 08th 2024. Marathon conditions – Perfect.

I just can’t understand what went wrong…” I mused to a running friend (coincidentally called Jemima, but a somewhat speedier (and younger) version (2:54:10) 

I’d gone out at 7:30 pace with a plan of holding steady to 20miles and then pushing on. 

“That’s where it went wrong”. You went out at 3:15 pace….”

Screenshot of pace times

“7:26 is 3:15 pace – You won’t like what I have to say, but ultimately that’s where it fell apart.  You didn’t do any training that suggested you were in 3:15 shape and you did the first 5k at that and you paid for it. I’m telling you straight because you need to make sure you don’t do it again.” 

Jemima #2 is brutal with her feedback. I like it. 

I’d calculated that to run a PB (sub 3:19:37) I needed to run at 7:30 pace. Recognising this was a 3:16:38 marathon, I was taking into account you always run more than 26.2m in a big city marathon major (interestingly I didn’t this time – I’d caressed that blue line like my life depended upon it) and you *always* slow in the second half as tiredness descends (classic amateur runner mindset) and so I was giving myself a 3-minute slippage window. 

And my long run training had been done at the 7:20-7:30 window… Not in hindsight that any of my long runs had been in that range consistently enough. But because my speed sessions had gone well and I’d nailed the faster paces, around the hilly Richmond Park, I thought I had the 7:30 legs for the super flat and fast Chicago Marathon course. 

I didn’t. 

Instead I burnt the toast.  

Burnt ****ing toast. 

And once it’s burnt you can’t un-burn it. 

You can scrape it, but you can’t un-burn it. 

Burnt ****ing toast. 

And that’s what I keep doing. I keep burning the goddamn toast. 

Post my 3:19:37 at Dorney Lake in April 2021, I keep burning the toast. My follow up 3:20:42 at the October 2021 London Marathon is a story of two halves – fast first half and slow painful death from mile 18 to the end. Burnt toast. 

And it’s only gotten worse. Chicago 2022 – a death march from mile 15 (albeit I did finish without the need for an ambulance and an ice bath so you know, let’s take the wins Bird). Tokyo 2023 – mile 10… although here just a slippage and not a crash and burn until mile 19 and that was more to do with a daft decision to run to the finish and not stop at a portaloo for fear of wasting time. The irony. 

And now Chicago 2023. Perfect conditions. Training that had set me up for a marathon easily sub 3:30.  And what did I do? I burnt the toast. 

So here’s the positives…

  1. Even on a poorly executed day I can hit 3:30 – I would’ve dreamt of this a few years back. And another #BQ in the bag
  2. Nothings broken. This toast may be burnt but there’s another loaf in the oven ready to bake for Boston 2023
  3. I now know the issue – stop burning the toast

There’s something beautiful in the process of training for and running a marathon. 

The early morning grind, whether it’s the cold morning winter runs for those spring marathons, or the beat the heat super early runs to manage the hot summer training miles for autumn marathons. It’s a repetitive process – get up, stretch, lace up, run, eat …and repeat. Day after day. Week after week. Month after month. 

This repetitive process mirrors the miles themselves – one step in front of the other, recovery miles, tempo miles, speed miles, marathon pace miles, easy miles… and repeat. Day after day. Week after week. Month after month. 

All so you can turn up to a marathon ready to throw yourself into it. Be at its mercy. Safe in the knowledge you’ve readied yourself for the big dance. 

What you’ve then got to do is not burn the toast. 

Hit 5k at more than your previous PB marathon pace, or even what you’ve been training for… Chances are you’re going to burn the damn toast. 

It’s not like I go out determined to be greedy, in my head, the pace sounds sensible, easier than target marathon pace and then build from 20 miles. Only target pace isn’t really the pace you can hold – you’ve never done it in a race before, so you’ve got to be sensible. You’ve got to be calm. Don’t be dumb, don’t burn the toast. 

So here’s the promise to myself. 

Boston 2024 – we’re going to train for those Newton Hills. We’re going to callous our legs over winter around Richmond Park so that they ride them like we’re surfing them. So that when we get to the top of Heartbreak we’re going to high five that last 10k with momentum, spirit and joy. 

Secondly, we’re going to stop believing that to break 3:19 and target 3:15 we need to run at 7:30 min miles from the start – recognising it’s a super fast start at Boston due to the crazy down hill start. Let’s not get to mile 4 and encounter that first little rolling uphill and think, damn I’m in danger of burning the toast. 

Finally – believe. You can run sub 3:19:37. You can target sub 3:15 if the training has gone well and tells you it’s there. Just don’t, under any circumstances burn the bloody toast. 

2023 – Race season done. 

Report card – B- | 3 world marathon majors completed, WMM six star collected.

WMM 6-Star Photo - Steve | Jemima | Matt | Sarah

Enjoyable time had with the best of friends, and fallen in love with running again. 

Keeps burning the toast in key moments.

2024 – Targets incoming…

Boston – Sub 3:19:37

Berlin – Sub 3:15

Toast – no burnt scrapings, lightly buttered. Maybe some jam on top.