The 2.38:59 berlin 2019 marathon recipe by fitnesswith david

    Competition is the easy part. The work is behind the scenes. The hard work to get to the one race that you need to run.Usain Bolt

    I couldn’t agree more. I enjoy training. Especially the hard work-the intense days, the adrenaline that comes with thinking about the speed work the following day, the long run, the tempo run that lights a Bunsen burner in the legs. Even with that, there are days when you feel like not getting up, like giving up, but you don’t, you need to rise, you have to. Those are the days that make a difference.

    Welcome to my Berlin marathon training-the behind the scenes bit, the day to day that got me to the finish line with a 2.38:59 on the finish line clock. A training that was taking place in a unique period with a lots happening around me that required more than the usual day to day attention. I had however set certain goals for myself and had a clear focus on taking charge of whatever elements of training were in my control- the dedication, consistency, hard work, diet, hydration etc. The rest I handled as they came.

    My general training consists of 6 days of running per week with two gym sessions incorporated to the runs on short easy run days. My wake up call is at 4 am or earlier based on the schedule at work each weekday and varies on Saturdays depending on that particular days run.This particular training took place in various places mostly around Nairobi, Ngong hills and included some days in Vietnam and others in Mumbai.

    Saigon Vietnam market

    Race specific training

    My race focused training started in July right after Lewa Marathon as follows,

    1. Initial build up to 100 kms in the first 2 weeks of July
    2. Eventually settling on 125 kms per week in the last two weeks of July and all of August-(There is a relationship between weekly mileage and marathon finish time-
    3. An eventual 3 weeks taper in September beginning on the second week of September at 80% of total mileage on that week,60 % week 2 and eventually under 40% on the race week.

    Effect of training mileage on marathon times-Runners World.

    Some of the training took place during travel including some runs under very high temperatures and humidity conditions in Saigon Vietnam and 2 weeks in severe monsoon rains in Mumbai criss crossing on piles of rubbish with mongrels, rodents and crows feeding from it. Training had to take place as long as I was in good health.

    Mumbai Training


    My training consisted of Tempo runs, easy recovery runs, some long runs and interval trainings. At peak of training, the general program, which would cumulatively total to 125 kms per week comprised of-

    • 15-25 km Tempo runs on Monday morning mostly in Karen averaging between 3.45 min/km s on the 21kms and 3.37 mins/km on the last 15 km tempo a week to race. Karen was favored because of its relatively flat terrain and altitude at about 1800 meters above sea level. The flat course helped the legs to get accustomed to maintaining very high paces for long. This was key in improving my lactate threshold. Towards the race, I moved this to Friday or Saturday to align them with the Sunday race day.
    Karen Tempo runs

    Karen Tempo runs

    • Easy runs of between 18 and 25 kms on Tuesday in Ngong or around Nairobi.I used these to recover from the high impact Monday Tempo runs
    • Speed trainings-The full focus on these was in the last week of July all the way to race week. These were all done in Vapor track in Ngong a field that is at an elevation of 2020 meters.They constituted of a warm up of about 45 min followed by 10 repeats of 1000meters sprints all at a pace of 3:20 minutes per km,400 mts*5 reps at under 3 min per km,and 200mts*5 reps strides. These eventually reduced to 800mtrs*8 reps at under 3:15 min per km pace,400 mts*5 reps and 200mts*5 reps in the last 3 weeks

    Vapor speed training

    • Easy runs or rest on Thursdays (if my long run was to be on Friday). These would either be in Ngong or Nairobi based on my schedule for the day. The distance would be 18+ kms.
    • Long runs of 40 kms per week in either Ngong Kahara hilly route or fast 40 kms in Karen. The runs I considered as the main long runs were 2 and eventually 1 month to race 4 weeks apart. These I did in the Karen flat circuit averaging 3.59 min per km at  the end of July run 8 weeks to race  and 3.55min/km a month to race.This was a faster pace than my last PB of 2hrs 48 min in Chicago 2017 which  meant that I was all set for a better PB in Berlin factoring the lower altitude and pre race taper. The other long runs would all be in Ngong Kahara route.

    • Easy runs on Saturday (15+km) if long run was on Friday or the long run would be on Saturday. These would be upwards of 15kms.
    • Sunday rest.

    Muscle care

    With this kind of intense training, the muscles certainly take a thorough beating especially because of the combination of explosive fast speed, tempo runs and the intense long runs either on fast course or the grueling Kahara course. Muscle care constituted of the following.

    • Warm up and cool down. My runs are always preceeded by slow warm ups especially before the fast runs (minimum 3 kms before Tempos and speed training). For the other easy runs or some of the long runs, the slow warm up would then gradually transition into the run. The main part of the run would then be followed by a cool down (minimum 1 km)
    • Stretching-After the cool down, I always deliberately reserve time for an extensive stretch upwards upwards of 10 minutes. This schedule is worked into all runs so that I never neglect the stretching. The end of each run always ushers in the preparation for the next one and stretching is key to that preparation.
    • Physiotherapy-I had a minimum of 1 but mostly 2 weekly sessions at the Nairobi physiotherapy Sports Injuries and Wellness clinic.
    • In addition, I would regularly use a vibrating foam roller as I stretched. A nagging hamstring strain required a lot of pampering to keep going.

    Vibrating roller

    • Ice soaks-After most of the long runs and at times some of the Tempos, I would take an ice soak in the bath tub for 15 minutes. Over time I have become comfortable enough to stay in without jumping out. These were very helpful.(The hardest part of that ice soak is the first 3 or so minutes because the ice is so cold and the body goes into a resist and flee mode. To protect itself, the cold at some point manifests as severe pain. The same pain you feel when you take a hot sufuria off the fire with no insulation in your hands and the brain forces you to drop it. Piece of advice-persevere those first few minutes and the rest of the time is bearable. By the time you get out of the ice you feel like you could take on another run there and then.)

    • Core training-These I love. On each of the easy short run days or at least one of them, I would spend some one and a half hours in the gym working on the muscles. These as we know have an impact on the runs.

    Strength training


    We are all unique in our own way and the way our bodies react and respond to different stimulus. It is important that we pay attention to this and come up with measures that address the various challenges that may come up with our uniqueness- for me, one of the greatest challenges is that I sweat profusely while running resulting in lots of cramping due to severe lose of both water and salts to an extent that I have collapsed in one of my initial races many years ago(story for another day).In some of the runs,I would have traces of blood in my urine something that happens to athletes in endurance sports.

    Over time I resulted to carrying my own Isotonic in a running bottle and had tried various types with Maurten having been the last one used in Chicago marathon 2018.Even then I would still cramp around the proverbial 37 km mark “where the marathon begins”. I would then have to slow down and let the cramp fade away robbing me off some minutes each race. This time I decided to try out different isotonic and products paying attention to their composition. After lots of experimenting, I settled on the following for the long runs and tempos

    • Taking ORS for the two days preceding the run. Peditral was my preferred.
    Peditral ORS

    Peditral ORS

    • Half a bottle of Maurteen drink mix 320 the afternoon before long run and on the drive to the run start point.
    Maurten drink mix-

    Maurten drink mix-

    • One glass of water on waking up
    • Orange water in the run together with plain water. Taking at 3km intervals to condition the body to the frequency of water points in the marathon.

    • I changed my gels to Gu cold brew Coffee Roctane gels which have a higher concentration of sodium and Caffeine than from my regular Gu Vanilla Bean gels which I had used in previous races.

    • Salt tablets in the run
    Cold brew coffee roctane gu gelsVanilla bean gu gels
    Amino acids1,425450

    Happy to report that with all these interventions, the cramping went away-at least in training. The real test was however to come in the race.


    I had run my previous races at a weight of between 68 and 70 kgs.I wanted to run this one with a weight of around 66 kgs. Over the training period in July, I established the quantity of food and especially carbs (chapattis etc) that were sufficient to meet the demands of training. I also reduced my portions by reducing the size of the plates and containers I used to take food in. Reducing portions was a bit of a gamble especially knowing the calorie demands of the body and possibility of “hitting the wall’ in the runs.

    Packed Breakfast and Lunch taken with half chapatti each.

    Packed Breakfast and Lunch taken with half chapatti each.

    Lunch at a restaurant on a day before easy run.

    Lunch at a restaurant on a day before easy run.

    To cater for the nutrition needs, the summary is as follows

    1. Maurten the afternoon before, race
    2. Coffee and a half brown bun with peanut butter when I got up in the morning
    3. Maurten enroute to the run
    4. One gel 5 minutes to start and one every other 45 minutes
    5. Hydration with the isotonic as per above.

    I also did not do as much carbo loading in the last week as I had done the previous races.I trusted the almost 12 weeks of long runs of trials to make it safely upto the finish line.

    Gait Analysis

    In June I had my running gait analysis carried out by George Parkes of Run Beyond with recommendations of reducing my ground contact time and to strengthen my left leg.After a few trials on the treadmill I got a feel of how to reduce the contact time.Im still working on both of them.

    Training shoes

    1. Nike Pegasus for endurance runs
    2. Nike vapor fly 4% for tempo runs and speed training
    3. Nike Vapor fly Next % for the race

    Race week

    Monday 23/09/19

    Interval training (Lenana rd 1750 M ASL)-

    1. Warm up 3kms
    2. Interval training (Lenana rd 1750 M ASL)-400mtrs*5 repeats with a 1 min rest
    3. 200mtrs*5 reps with a 1 min rest
    4. Cool down 3 kms

    Wednesday 25/09/19

    1. 8 kms Kahara farewell run

    Thursday 26/09/19

    1. Departure for Berlin

    Friday 27/09/19

    1. 7 kms easy acclimatization run Berlin City plus expo mid morning
    Team Run Fit Club Berlin Marathon Bib collection and Expo tour

    Team Run Fit Club Berlin Marathon Bib collection and Expo tour

    Berlin Marathon Expo

    Saturday 28th September-Pre race day Couch potato day-Rest day. Relaxing hydrating.

    • Break fast-Pancake and brown bread, scrambled eggs, tea and baked beans
    • ORS 1 litre and Maurten one bottle in the afternoon. Lots of water
    • Some beef and rice for lunch
    • Pasta for dinner
    • Preparation of running, hydration and nutrition kit

    • In bed by 9.30..Tossing and turning upto some point not sure when.

    Race day 29/09/19

    • Up at 5 am. A glass of water, wash room business and a shower
    • Breakfast before 6.This time no skimping on carbs.The race is a different animal from training.
    • A bit more pancake and brown bread with pea nut butter and some coffee, scrambled eggs, tea and baked beans

    Race day breakfast

    1. Departure for race start before 7am.Taking a train
    2. Drop of my bottles with lemon water for designated water point’s placement by race organizers. One for 15 and another for 30 kms points.I keep one with me from start
    3. Start warm up, meet up with Jack for some more warm up.A bit surprised that at the tail end of the warm up I cant hit my anticipated 3:40 min/Km.I conclude that it must be due to the trees around the start area.
    4. These guys even have some special sink like urinals around the start line-All very busy. I wonder about the lady’s and quickly focus. Worrying about what is in my control.

    The Race

    Smile….The cameras are here..Me…Trying..

    Smile….The cameras are here..Me…Trying..

    • Jack and I are in PEN 2.The reality of this being a fast course is cemented. Pen Pen A has 2.20:00 to 2:40:00 hours finishers and B has 2.40.01-2:50:00 hrs finishers.In other races we would normally be in Pen A
    • Some minutes to start, all additional layers of clothes are thrown off as the tick tock time approaches
    • 5 minutes to start and I take the first gel. Just as per the instructions and training
    • Race starts at exactly 9.15 and progresses well. Trying to maintain apace of 3.40 min/ km.
    • I get to the 14 km mark and prepare to pick my second bottle of lemon water at the `15 km mark. They are supposed to be placed right after the elite water tables before getting to the main water points. I get there and there are so many bottles it takes some seconds of stopping to pick my labeled one from the crowd that’s there. Pace for that kilometer drops to 3.55 per km.I drop my other one that’s finishing up and proceed eventually picking up speed.
    • At 20 kms I take my first salt
    • At 30 kms, again I slow to pick my third bottle, drop it by mistake, I contemplate leaving it but the thought of cramping and loosing time makes me bend and pick up the bottle.(I have seen elites bend and never recover from the action but I take the  chance)
    • From a speed of 3.3 9 min/km at 30k lap my speed moves to 3:58 min/km at lap 31.I never manage to get under 3.40 again.
    • At 35 kms,the bottle feels like a baby elephant and I cant just swing my hands powerfully enough to propel my body forward. The bottle had to go. I toss it away and carry on drinking what is now on offer in the route.
    • At 39kms the pace is now02 min/km and the rest of the kilometers are extremely tough. So tough that there is a strong urge to throw in the towel and walk. Thoughts of why I’m I doing this again are actually overwhelming. This is always the case with every marathon. Somehow I overcome and cross the finish line in the last second of 2:38 for an official time of 2:38:59 and an average pace of 3:44 min/km.This was approximately 10 minutes from my previous PB of 2:48:29 in Chicago Marathon some 11 months from the date.

    It has taken lots of lessons over the years to get here. Lots of taking risks to see what works and what doesn’t, lots of sacrifices, hard work, disappointments from various races and picking myself up, lots of lessons from other peoples experiences and a huge personal investment in an in-depth understanding of marathon training. All this has eventually paid off some serious dividents and Im happy to share with all

    Grateful to all for the support. My pace makers at home, Ann,the kids and the DM for the support from the love and care, nutrition and the space to be able to train, my extended family for awesome support.

    My Run Fit Club training mates, thanks for the camaraderie that gives a positive and supportive environment especially when the going gets tough and the cogs don’t align, the encouragement that brings out the best in us, all the running club team mates Urban Swaras, PSC Elite, Team Jasho, Kitengela Mbuni runners, Fitness  Revolution, Hash Harriers, Impala Club and Tipwa Tipwa for all the great runs  we have together that keeps the fire glowing, colleagues, my awesome fans and friends who are always encouraging and cheering me on and to The Almighty-to get out there and train that much in the wee hours of the morning criss-crossing the roads and being safe from different forms of danger, being healthy and having the strength to do this is certainly a blessing.

    Summing up the training..”There may be people that have more talent than you, but that’s no excuse for anyone to work harder than you.” Derek Jeter.

    Looking forward to the next challenge.

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