Silencing the Inner Critic – My Journey to a Debut sub-3hr Marathon by Karl Pryor

I have always been quite competitive with myself and will generally try and push beyond what I am capable of. So why would I be content with just running a marathon for the first time, when I can try and run my debut marathon with a sub 3-hour target right?! Ambitious I hear you say? – yes! Perhaps a little foolish as a first I hear you say? – maybe! But a target I can get totally stuck into? – absolutely!

I must admit I set this target at a time when my best half marathon was 1:28:XX and had read all the articles that I could possibly find that suggested doubling you HM time and then adding 20 minutes and numerous that read to double and add 30. None of these seemed to appeal to me though so a sub-3 it was and once I said it out loud a few times, then I kind of dedicated my whole being to achieving it (another symptom of my competitive nature) without a single clue on how I would achieve it.

Training through the winter went well. I am a cyclist at heart really but cycling training is at its best during the summer months for obvious reasons, whereas I find the opposite true for running so they go hand in hand in that respect and means that you can up the mileage (sufficiently enough to prepare for a marathon). I set myself mini goals in the lead up but little fragments of doubt did start to creep in (which I chose to ignore). The two sessions each week that undoubtedly helped me the most were the weekly speed session and my weekly long run. Working from home and having to look after my children during the day too, meant that I had to do all my sessions early in the morning – luckily for me I found a good running buddy in Stuart Henderson, who was also fond of a 04:00 alarm clock and was aligned to my get up, get out, and get it DONE approach. I have always found it easier to get the motivation to get up and start running at an early time in the morning, if you are running to meet up with someone at a specific place and at a specific time. Kind of makes the 04:00 alarm call worth while right?

So race day came, Saturday 3rd April 2021 at Dorney Lake, near Windsor. To say I was nervous was an understatement and typically when I get nervous before an event the toilet beckons – A LOT – 3rd April was no exception but at least I wouldn’t be caught short halfway round a lap when the race started, which would have (probably) pretty much destroyed any hope of a sub 3-hour time. I was part of the first wave off and was group ‘U’. Figuring I still had time, I made my way back to the car to top up on some refreshing water and to get my game head on before the start. As I made my way back I could see that runners were starting. I still thought I had time though, so I took a gentle stroll to the start line. When I got there however, I was the only one as everyone else had already gone!! (oops first lesson learnt for the next marathon).

I set off and had wise words ringing in my ears from Vicky Henderson in a message that I had read that morning that said in summary (race your own race and keep at your own pace – finish strong). I looked down at my watch after around a third of a mile and saw the average pace at 05:50/mile. I felt good, so spent the next minute or so rationalising whether it would be a good idea to try and maintain that pace all the way round and finish epically but then wisely concluded (with that Vicky voice still in my ear) that I should slow down – after all, it was a marathon not a sprint! I slowed down and maintained a good pace still feeling good past half marathon then up to 15 miles. I was confident as I ran up to 22 miles in training and felt ok with that, so was feeling confident that I wouldn’t hit a hitch until the last couple of miles.

However, just before the final lap at around mile 17, this gigantic wall of fatigue just hit me like a brick and I started to feel totally rubbish and was looking at every coned off area and contemplating stopping at one of these for a well-earned rest. After all, I had earned it right?!! This was the thought process I battled with for the next 4 miles, but managed to keep the pace alive. Then the wheels really started to come off at mile 21 and 22 where I posted my first two 7 something minute miles – I spent those two miles calculating and recalculating how much time I could lose before having to admit defeat and miss out on that sub-3hr. Luckily, I met a guy called Josh who was running about my pace, had the same goal as me, and was also feeling the same way I was. I say luckily, because this is where it started to run back round for me. Running together and chatting (sort of) pushed our pace back up again and I started seeing sub 7 minute miles again and the confidence grew and grew. As I approached the last mile, I calculated (some of my cycling mates call me a walking Garmin) that I had over 8 minutes to run it! At that point I knew I had achieved it and was actually overcome with emotion a little bit.

I wasn’t winning anything for this achievement and it would be forgotten in about the same time as it took me to win it. However, setting a goal that seems out of reach, working towards it with consistency week in and week out, without making any excuses to yourself (or silencing them when the self-made excuses do inevitably visit), facing up to my inner critic, and then throwing everything I had at all of the above on race day, made me feel like I had just won World War 3! I had silenced the inner critic – even if only temporarily, until I start working towards the next goal.