In 2010 Martin Williams ran 2:17:36 at the Seville Marathon to clinch selection for both the European Championships and Commonwealth Games later in that year. When he lines up in London this weekend he is confident that a more aggressive approach to the race and a more sensible approach to training will pay dividends and result in a new personal best.
He said: "I'm very hopeful of improving on my PB. I know I've got a faster one in me. When I ran 2:17 I ran quite conservatively to make sure that I nailed the Commonwealth Games selection (sub 2.19) and also knew the team GB standard for the Euros was there for the taking at sub 2.18 just in case there was a selection opportunity."
"In Seville I ran virtually two even paced half marathons with a slight negative split. Also when I won Edinburgh in 2:18.24, I ran another negative split for my second half and was running within myself with no pressure of achieving splits."
When compared to the success of 2010, things didn't quite go to plan for the Tipton Harrier over the marathon distance in 2011, he ran 2:20 at London and Edinburgh in the spring and 2:21 at Berlin in September. However, Williams believes that he has identified the reasons for underperforming and is able to learn from the mistakes that he made.
He continued: "The three marathons last year were disappointing. I think the two Championship marathons in 2010, both in very hot and humid conditions and then having my first child in November 2010 coupled with still running big miles on top of work just sent me over the edge."
"You get immune to always running fatigued and find it hard to guage when to ease back on the training and let the body recover. This was compounded when Layla (his daughter) arrived in November 2010, my racing performances nose dived. At this point all the advice was to take a break and cut back on the running but I went the opposite way and ran three weeks of back to back 140 mile weeks on top of getting hardly any sleep with Layla."
"This little intense training spell actually picked up my fitness and my sessions improved. I then began to push the boat out more and because I wasnt really in touch with my coach at the time, Bud Baldaro, I went a little over the top with the training. I ran a 165 mile training week in a week of terrible snowy conditions and put in some back to back 140 mile weeks."
Although he went on to run a half marathon personal best of 65:35 at Bath the end of a 145-mile-week, this intense spell of training eventually caught up with Williams.
"I pushed a little too much and followed up the Bath Half with a hard track session on the Tuesday of bulk session of 400m reps with fast tempo miles either side having not ventured on the track for months and tweaked my hamstring. I still soldiered on with the miles and ran Norwich Half on the following Sunday with the twinge in my calf still there. At 10 mile I had built up a good lead over Ian Kimpton who was running well last year. My calf pulled though and I still stupidily tried to hobble on in agony where I was overtaken in the final hundred metres."
This injury forced Williams into a lengthy layoff during a vital period of marathon training ahead of last year's London event. With a World Championships place on the line, he decided to toe the line with just a couple of weeks training behind him but his lack of fitness proved pivotal this time before atrocious weather conditions at Edinburgh a month later also prevented him from hitting a qualifying time for Daegu.
The disappointment of his next marathon attempt was more difficult to elucidate. "Berlin in September was a genuine disappointment", he explained. "Training went so smoothly under the guidance of my new coach Nick Anderson. I was healthy in all of the build up, Layla was sleeping through the night so I was getting more sleep and sessions were going very well so I was really confident of doing well. I was involved in a car accident several weeks before the marathon where I had a little bit of back pain, but nothing that seemed to seriously interfere with my running in the final few weeks."
"The race itself was perfect conditions and a great course, I was just so tight in the hamstrings and feet. My race was over just after halfway as I was in bits. I later had physio and he stated the tightness in the thoracic region was his assessment and the reason why I just couldnt open up when running, I was running 'tight' and it was effecting my biomechanics. Whether or not this was the true reason for my performance, it shows how unpredictable the marathon is."
The 34-year-old has been aided by a number of top coaches and advisors including Bud Baldaro, Dave Payne, Dave Sunderland, Tony Milovsorov, Andy Holden and Paul Davies-Hale but is currently benefiting from the coaching of Nick Anderson.
"Nick obviously is not local to me, but has been great in keeping in regular contact and adjusting training to suit my individual needs. He recognised the areas I needed to improve on, such as more 5k/10k type work which has been neglected at times. He has structured in more rest and a little less mileage and he has also tried to cut down on my races. I have gone against his advice on some of the races I've done for my team Tipton this year but compromised on some of them by running a session or run in the morning before a Birmingham League or using them in place of a tempo run."
A devoted club man, Tipton Harriers plays a huge role in Martin Williams' running both for support and inspiration. He said: "I've always loved turning out for the Tipton team who are a great bunch of lads. I've probably done the team a dis-service at times by not prioritising some of the team races but I still feel that I'm providing a contribution if I'm turning out and making the scoring 6. The team ethos is a massive inspiration for my running and I probably wouldnt carry on running without it."
"Its important we all try and turn out for one another as often as possible or the club just folds and becomes a club of 'individuals' and 'divas' and often people think the club is there to provide for them but offer nothing in return. Running is a poor man's sport run mostly by volunteers and this is important to remember. There are some great characters within the club at all levels who I've trained with at some point and I owe a lot to all of them. I take inspiration from the club's great servants such as Holden, Milovsorov and Stirk who have achieved great things by keeping a group ethos, training together, racing together and keeping things simple."
Whatever has happened in past years, there is only one thing on Williams' mind for 2012.
"London is the big focus this year. It is the number one marathon in the world in my eyes and nowhere matches the atmosphere and crowds in my experience. There's also the big carrot dangling of an Olympic place. The big problem is not only being first or second Brit past the post, sub 2:12 is a big ask. I think the IAAF standard of 2:15 is a realistic target for most Brits and hard enough to achieve in itself; if it were set at 2:15 I think we would have a mass of runners going for it this year and a few running big negative splits and in the 2:12-13 area."
With Scott Overall already assured a place on the team for the Olympic Games, only two further spots are available. Williams believes that Dave Webb is in the driving seat for one of the places with the Olympic 'A' qualifier he set by finsishing 15th at the World Championships but there is sure to be a group of Brits attempting to run under 2:12 on April 22nd. He thinks that a sensible race plan could be the key to success.
He continued: "I think there will be a few casualties if suddenly there's a host of Brits going through halfway at 65:30 and it will be a case of who slows the least. Theres no going back if you set off too fast in the marathon but who knows, it may come off for one runner who does take a risk and goes for broke at that pace."
"Realistically its a massive ask for me to suddenly be running ten minutes quicker than my last marathon, so I will not be aiming for a sub 66 minute first half split. First and foremost I want to run a pb, I think I have to run smart and be aware of what shape I'm in before doing so."
"It's hard to judge what shape your in prior to the marathon due to always being in heavy training. I don't think half marathon or 10k races tell you much about what your going to do in a marathon as it's a hell of a lot further than that and far greater athletes than me have run pretty average times when it comes to the full distance."
As a police officer, Williams is forced to run at times of day that we be unheard of for most of us, but he doesn't see his profession as a hindrance to his running career.
"Running and working for the police means I have to be organised with my time. The biggest impact is lack of rest and sleep; I can't remember the last time I had a lie in past 7am. It's no different to anyone else working full time, I just have to be a little more organised when working unsociable hours and be prepared to run at various hours of the day and night to fit in the training and try not to impact on the family too much whilst still getting in the right training."
By Craig Gundersen