Tuesday, May 23, 2023

Racer Story: Joost's 6th Star and Age Group Win at the London Marathon

Article by Joost De Raeymaeker

The Story of my 6th Star

As I write this, it’s May 22nd. Tomorrow, it will be exactly a month since I ran the London Marathon, my 6th World Marathon Major. 

And with that, a project of mine sort of came to an end. I say sort of, because for the most part, I did better than I set out to do at the start of 2018. However, there is that nagging feeling I need to try and go back to the one race that didn’t go as well as intended.

Runners in general and definitely marathon runners will know from the title what the 6th star is. The Tokyo, Boston, London, Berlin, Chicago and New York marathons are what’s called the World Marathon Majors. When you finish all 6 of them, you get a special medal from the series’ main sponsor, Abbott right at the finish line. All you need to do is set out to run them, register and let them know before your last one that you’re going to run it.

You still need to get in and actually run the marathons, of course. As far as getting in is concerned, people seem to think that Tokyo is the hardest one, but in my experience (being one of the faster runners in my age group), London was actually the one that was toughest to secure a starting place for. 

How to get a Bib for the Big Six

With these major big big city marathons, there are basically 4 ways to be able to get a spot in the race. 

Almost all of them (with the exception of Boston) have a ballot system where everybody gets a chance to enter. You need to have a lot more luck than I do at games and gambling to actually get in this way, but it’s always a good option to try out. 

The second option is to contact one of the many specialized marathon travel agencies, who will take care of everything for you. A starting place, hotel, travel are part of the packages they provide, at a cost. 

Third is the charity route. You can sign up while pledging to raise a certain amount of money for one of the supported charities of the race. This usually also doesn’t come cheap, but you’ll be helping out a cause. 

The last option is to be reasonably fast. Boston’s entry system is entirely based upon qualifying times and the charity route, but the others all have a certain previous marathon result which will get you into the race. Usually, these systems are pretty straightforward and entry requirements change with age in the so-called good-for-age categories. I got into all of them this way, but somehow the London marathon has a different set of qualifying standards for British people and residents of the UK than for foreigners. When I first inquired about this at 51, having just run a 2:26:10 marathon in Berlin, they told me that for a championship entry as a foreigner, I needed to run a 2:23 marathon instead of a 2:30 as the locals would need to (I don’t remember the exact numbers, but there was a fairly big difference between the two) to get a place.

Luckily there seems to be a way around this if you’re a member of a UK running club and registered with England Athletics or UK athletics. So there I was at the starting line of the last of my 6th marathon major, with a 6 star medal waiting for me at the finish line, donning a singlet with a skull of the McCarKiss Running Project (forever grateful, Anthony Hatswell and Richard Simkiss).

My Training 

A couple of injuries and a certain pandemic made sure I would only finish the 6 majors just over 5 years after starting in Tokyo in 2018. 

Training started out well enough, with lots of volume and a nice 1:14 half marathon in the humid heat of Caxito, Angola to kick off my specific training block. 

A couple of 125 mile 7 day averages in the mix made me quite confident I would be able to get back under that magical 2:30 mark, now at 55. However, a proximal hamstring injury on my left side (after last year’s right side before Boston) made it very difficult to train fast and hard, something you really need to do if you want to run a fast marathon. 

After a faster training session, I would basically need most of the week to regain enough mobility and strength and reduce pain enough to be able to go again. Not ideal if you’re aiming for a win.

In the opening paragraph, I alluded that most of the marathons had gone better than expected. My original aim was to make the podium in my age bracket in all 6. After actually winning Tokyo in 2018 in a course record for my age group and doing the same in Berlin and New York in 2019, only finishing 5th in Boston in 2022 and winning in Chicago in 2022, I had something of a mixed bag of results. Overall better than expected, but that Boston 5th place…

London Marathon Race Day

The weather was awful for someone who lives in the tropics. Cold and rainy. It was going to be another marathon in hat and gloves from start to end.

As I was trying to warm up a bit in the chilly morning rain on the grass field before heading to the start line of the London Marathon, there were 2 trains of thought going through my mind. I knew the marathon was going to hurt a lot. My sister who is a dancer saw me getting up from my chair and limping to the bathroom just 2 days before D day and told me afterwards that she didn’t think I would make it to the finish. 

My first line of thought was: just go and finish, get the medal. You’ll have won 4 of the 6 majors, the same number as Kipchoge and the circle will be closed. The other one was: Let’s win this thing, it’s going to hurt either way. You’ll get the 6 star medal, 5 out of 6 wins and then you go back to Boston before they add more marathons to the Majors series to win that one as well. Then you can go and train for some other distances or something else entirely (I quite enjoyed doing a duathlon last year and have been on the bike more again because of the hamstring injury).

I knew I probably wouldn’t need to go sub-2:30 for a 55-59 age group win, so I basically focused on hunting down any gray-haired men I would see ahead of me. 

Soon enough, I was in a world of pain, trying my best not to slow down too much after going through halfway in 1:16. 

Slower than that initial local marathon I’d run at the start of February. 

In the end, I managed 2:36:03 and with it, an age group win. 

Luckily, the other gray-haired men were slowing down more than I was. Somehow, my competitive side always wins over my take-it-easy side when I’m racing.

Gear and Stuff

Probably as interesting for most geeks out there reading this as the story itself is what I wore on race day and in training, what I did for hydration, etc.

For training I wore a mix of shoes I happened to be reviewing for RoadTrailRun, for some of which I still have to add my bit to the review. Some that spring to mind are the New Balance Rebel 3 (RTR Review) , the Topo Cyclone 2 (RTR Review) , the Mizuno Wave Rebellion Flash (RTR Review) . The other main pairs I wore were the New Balance SC Elite 3 (RTR Review) , an old pair of Nike Vaporfly 2, my trusty Kinvara 13 and my favorite shoe for marathon training: the New Balance SC Trainer (RTR Review). My pair has over 900 miles on it and it’s still looking and feeling incredibly good.

As for apparel, I trained mostly in Tracksmith Twilight split shorts and singlets, but also use some of their other stuff. 

I’ve fallen in love with the Tracksmith Allston lined half tight and used that mostly for my evening sessions or races. I also continue to wear the great Saysky short and singlet I was sent last year. Apart from that, I have some pretty colorful Nike split shorts and singlets I like to wear to local races. 90% of my socks are Steigen 0 length, but I also have a couple of pairs of ultra light Injinji I really enjoy, a pair of Darn Tough merino socks Sam got me last year in Boston and also a couple of pairs of Drymax and Feetures socks. All socks are the thinnest and shortest possible.

A couple of weeks before the marathon, I got the new Vaporfly 3 for review (RTR Review)  and decided right away I would run the marathon in them. 

They are my second favorite pair of Vaporfly (after the original Baby Blue 4%) so far. 

During the race I wore a pair of Tracksmith Allston lined tights I was sent for review, Steigen socks, the McCarkiss club singlet and a basic non-running hat and gloves I got at a Target store in Chicago last year before the marathon.

For fueling, I normally just have a banana or 2 in the morning and during the race I go for the cups of energy drinks and that’s it. When I checked out the London course and water tables, I saw that the first few were really only water, so for the first time ever, I bought a box of Maurten gels (the plain ones), offered half of it to my fellow Angolan runners and kept 6. I had one around 15 minutes before the start of the race, another one at around 8k, 14k, 24k and then around 34k. The last one is sitting in my fridge waiting for a long training session. I can’t really say I felt a big effect of the gels, but apart from being in physical pain for a big part of the race, I never felt at a loss of energy.

What’s Next

Apart from my intentions to go back to Boston next year to go for the win in my age group, I’ve also been invited to the Majors World Championships, which will be held during the Chicago Marathon in October. So far, I haven’t been able to run much because of my proximal hamstring tendinopathy, but I’ve picked up the bike again for some decent zone 1 and 2 base training and I hope that with the exercises I’m doing and some dry needling I have scheduled at the end of the week, I’ll feel good enough to get going and give it all I’ve got. I’ll write updates to my marathon majors stories when that time comes.

Joost is a Belgian in his 50s living in Luanda, Angola, Africa, where he faces the heat, humidity and general chaos to run anything between 60-100 miles per week. He was on a mission to run and win in his age group in the 6 marathon majors and got his 6th star at London in 2023 with a 2:26:10 PB in Berlin in 2019 at 51. He recently won his M50 AG at the 2022 Chicago Marathon in 2:29 and in 2023 won his AG in London in 2:36. Only Boston, so far, escapes him for an AG win at the 6 Majors. He ran in primary school, but then thought it would be a lot cooler to be a guitar player in a hard rock band, only picking up running again in 2012, gradually improving his results. Please check out Joost's coaching service here

Some products mentioned were provided at no charge for review purposes. RoadTrail Run has affiliate partnerships and may earn commission on products purchased via shopping links in this article. These partnerships do not influence our editorial content. The opinions herein are entirely the authors'.

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Rocksteady74 (Scott) said...

As a 71 year old runner, I found this article very interesting.

Jeff Valliere said...

Truly amazing! Congrats on such fine performances, so inspiring and thanks for sharing.

Mike P said...

Congrats Joost!

Anything interesting regarding the Stryd pod data?

Anonymous said...

WoW. As a fellow hamstring sufferer can't imagine running at that pace for that long. You must have an amazing pain tolerance. Good luck getting what you are looking for in Boston.

rms said...

Congrats Joost! Some good reading too, and enjoyed the pics