Australian Liam Adams ran an impressive 2:12:52 to secure a 9th place at this years Berlin Marathon. Based in Moonee Ponds, Melbourne, Australia he is already looking back at an impressive career in cross-country, on the track and on the roads. After years of solid marathon performances he was able to run a PB in Berlin. I catched up with Liam to find out more about his recent race in Berlin and what he targets next.

Photo: Sarah Matray

Runssel: It took you three years to lower your former PB of 2:13:49 (Glasgow 2014) to your recent 2:12:52 in Berlin. Was it a natural progression or did you change something special in the build-up on the way to the race?

Liam: There’s definitely a bit of natural progression that you’ll get with each marathon preparation and marathon that you run, but it’s no where near the natural progression that I should have had since my PB in Glasgow. I probably should have had this improvement years ago but I’ve had a few issues in my last few races especially with my attempts to qualify for the Rio Olympics.

In 2015 I was trying to qualify for the Olympics by trying to run a fast marathon. The marathon I did was Chicago and I was definitely in the best shape of my life and should have absolutely smashed my PB. At the 23km mark of the marathon, I twinged my hamstring going around a corner. I was on a pretty good time (about 2.11 pace) so I kept going because it would have still been a good qualifying time but it got worse as the race went on. I had to stop at least 5 times to stretch my hamstring out and limped to the finish line in a time of 2.16’29 finishing 11th. I got a qualifying time but knew this wasn’t going to be a fast enough time to qualify for the Australia team. I was pretty much knocked out of the qualifying positions a week or two later, which forced me to target another marathon early in 2016 to try get a position on the Australian team

That next race I chose was Lake Biwa in Japan. I probably wasn’t on that same level of fitness as Chicago but I was feeling pretty good and went through half way in 64.41. At around the 27km mark I lent over a bit too far to grab my drink bottle and twinged my hamstring. This time it was the opposite hamstring. I slowed down dramatically and by the 35km mark I knew I wasn’t going to improve my qualifying position so I was forced to pull out of my first race ever in an attempt to try run another marathon before the qualification period ended. Which gave me a maximum of 7 weeks to recover, reload and run another marathon. That next race I did was Orlen Warsaw Marathon and the aim was to play it safe and run a time that would secure a spot on the team. I thought the time I needed to secure a spot was 2.15 so I ran to pace and secured the second spot on the team with a time of 2.14’58.

At the Olympics I was in reasonable shape but strained my ankle at the start on that slippery surface. I decided to run a conservative race because of it and by about the halfway mark, I gained some confidence that it wasn’t going to be an issue so I picked up the pace. I came flying through the field from 73rd at the 20km mark right down to 44th at the 30km mark. Unfortunately at the 30km mark something strange happened. I took a drink and probably went too long without taking a breath. I had an immediate heavy flush through my legs and went from flying past everyone to running about the same pace as everyone I was catching. That last 12km was a battle and was very slow but I still managed to pick up some places. I ended up coming 31st in a slow time of 2.16’12. I was thoroughly disappointed in that time especially considering I nearly ran quicker in Chicago and the last 20km of that race I limped to the finish line.

So I guess that kind of explains why I haven’t really progressed with my marathon running up until my result at Berlin last week.

Liam crossing the Berlin Marathon finishing line

Runssel: Your splits give away that you ran an exceptionally even paced competition. What was the game plan and how did the race unfold for you?

Liam: My game plan going into this race was to try run a time that would secure a spot in the Australian team for the commonwealth games. The time I thought I would need was anything under a personal best and I should be in a pretty good position to qualify.

I had the choice of running with the 2.11 or the 2.14 pack. I didn’t hear too much information on the 2.14 pack but I knew there was a large group going through at 2.11.
The pack I chose to run with was the 2.11 pack, which was a bit risky as I knew I wasn’t in that shape. This pack was made up of guys that wanted sub 2.11 pace and guys that didn’t quite think they were in 2.11 shape. Ultimately the pace was always going to be dictated by the German runner Phillip Pflieger.

I thought that it was going to be a big pack and that if I could get a nice little ride on one of the fastest courses in the world then it was possible to even come away with more than just a slight PB. There was also a strong chance that the pack could split into two, including a slower pace group that would be more suitable for my fitness. Basically my game plan was to hold onto my pack and get a ride for as long as I possibly could.

In terms of how the race unfolded. In the first couple of km’s I thought I’d made a mistake as we were clicking along sub 2.10 pace, but after a couple of km’s we settled into about 2.12 pace and I was a bit more confident with that pace. Our pack held that pace quite well but by the 30km mark our pack started to disintegrate. At the 35km mark, there was about five left in the pack. I could feel the pace drop a little bit, I thought maybe a second or two per kilometre but it ended up being a lot more than I what I thought (roughly 7 seconds per km). I was on roughly 2.12 pace and by 40km I had pushed out to 2.13pace. Over the last two kilometres, I dropped it back to that even pace I had been running previously.

I was quite disappointed with that 35-40km split. I lapsed and probably played it a bit too safe. I knew I was on a big PB and on my way to securing a spot on the team. I’ve had a number of things go wrong with my last few marathons so there was still a little doubt that I’d get through the race unscathed. At that point of the race, I thought only losing a second or two per km was nothing just as long as I made sure nothing went wrong in stopping me from getting the time I needed. With the way I felt towards the end of the race and afterwards, I know I could have pushed a bit harder through that stage of the race. Nevertheless, there’s a huge amount of confidence I’ll take out of the race and I’m looking forward to doing my next marathon.

Liam slipping on the finish line at the Rio Olympic Games

Runssel: You stated that you were not happy about your build-up to this year’s Berlin Marathon. What happened?

This was probably my worst preparation for a marathon and I believe the problems all stemmed back to when I injured myself in the Olympic marathon last year. The strain that I sustained at the start of the race and the big slip over the finish line caused some tears in some ligaments and an inflamed tendon in my ankle. The injury required 9 weeks off and a few months of rehabilitation and a light running program. This was the first injury that I’ve had which required time off from running.

I really struggled getting my fitness and confidence back from that injury. I felt like I was half the runner I was pre Olympics and every time I made progress getting back to my old fitness, I would have a session or a race that would contradict this. Although I had improvements there were still a handful of terrible sessions in my marathon program that put doubt in my mind that I was on the right path towards running a solid race at Berlin.

During my program I also struggled with the balance between work and training. I was working my usual 42-44 hour weeks (as an apprentice electrician) like I did leading into the Olympics but because my confidence was down with how I was progressing with my training and fitness, my motivation was quite low too. The first part of my program was horrible. I had a consistent month through the middle of my program but the last six weeks was quite terrible too. It seemed like every Thursday I would skip my session because I felt my body needed a nap after work. By the time I would wake up it was way too late to get out there and run. I’d either skip the session entirely or change the session to Friday and combine my Saturday threshold into my Sunday long run. There were quite a few low mileage weeks and skipped sessions, so my program definitely didn’t go to plan. I felt like I was probably two months off being primed to run a fast marathon and that’s not the type of position you want to be in or the thoughts you should be having leading into a marathon.

Liam and his training partner Mitch Brown

Runssel: Who is your coach and do you have a group your regularly train with?

Liam: My coach is Ken Hall, and I’ve been with him for just over seven years now. Ken was a very good miler back in his days. We had a pretty solid squad going but a few guys moved away or had other responsibilities that took up more of their time and made it too hard to continue with their running. So it’s now just myself, Mitch Brown (who just debuted in his first marathon at Berlin) and another training partner that is trying to make a come back. Because of work we can’t always time our runs well with each other so I also do a bit of running with Steve Dinneen’s squad and some other mates too.

Runssel: Is there a distinct key workout that was or is crucial in your preparation for a marathon?

Liam: I did my usual type of key sessions such as 3x6km off 4min recovery. The times I did weren’t spectacular but at the time I was very pleased with it because I was down on confidence and somehow did this session with ease. The times were 17.51, 17.45 and 17.41.

I thought some of my longer thresholds such as a couple of my 16km thresholds where I averaged 3.06 per kilometer were quite beneficial in this program and gave some good aerobic strength. I also thought that some of those runs where I mixed a threshold into the later stages of my Sunday long runs gave me huge strength and confidence that I should be able to finish off the marathon strong. One of those runs was a 45km run where I did a 13km threshold from 30km onwards where I averaged about 3.03 per km for the threshold part.

There was also a session that I helped my training partner Mitch Brown out with as he helped me out with my 3x6km session. I reckon this session had some big benefits and put me in good stead for Berlin. His session was 7km, 6km, 5km, 4km, 3km, 2km, 1km as a continuous run off 1km jog/float recoveries. We also used this session as an opportunity to practice our fluid and gel intake. Times are below:

Runssel: Did you had a special nutrition plan going into the race?

Liam: Like the session I mentioned above, there were a few sessions where I practiced my hydration and gel intakes but I didn’t do this all the time as I didn’t want to be too reliant on taking drinks and gels during my race. I think that if you become too reliant on taking your drinks and gels at specific points in your race then you run the risk of ruining your race if you miss one of those drink stations. I also believe that if you can give your body a little bit of exposure into stressful states when running then your body should become more efficient with race metabolism or running in a hydrated or dehydrated state.

My plan going into the race was to have a full bottle of sports drink at each 5km drink station with gels on each bottle from 15km onwards to give me the option of having a gel whenever I felt like I needed to have one. My drinks were in sauce bottles so that there was a controlled amount of fluid coming out of the bottle. I just didn’t want to run the risk of what happened in Rio when I consumed too much at the one time and had that interruption with my breathing pattern that gave me that heavy flush. I tried to consume at least a sip or two at each station and when I felt I was getting closer to a dehydrated state, I would have more. With the gels the plan was to have one at 15km and one whenever I felt I needed one after that point. The plan went fairly well, it was the first time I have been able to successfully implement a nutrition and hydration plan in an important race. I consumed a drink at each station except for one of the drink stations at around the 20km mark where my bottle wasn’t on the allocated table. With the gels, I had a gel at 15km and one at about 30km. I felt the stomach handled it fairly well and I’ll try to emulate this in the future.

Runssel: What shoes did you use in Berlin?

Liam: I used the adidas adizero adios. I use this shoe for most of my road racing but I believe it’s perfectly designed for marathon running. The specific pair I used in the Berlin marathon, I had only worn once in a half marathon a couple of weeks before the race. I just wanted to have a little bit of wear in the shoe going into the marathon and try have as much grip on the shoes as I possibly could just in case it was a wet day.

Runssel: Your goal was to score a place in Australia’s commonwealth squad. How are the odds? Any other race plans in addition that?

Liam: I believe I am in a pretty good position to qualify for the Australian team for the commonwealth games. I’m currently ranked second at the moment behind Michael Shelley and there’s about 8 weeks left until the qualification period ends. There are a few quality guys stepping up to the marathon distance trying to qualify over the next few weeks so I’ll have to keep an eye out on those results. There is also Collis Birmingham giving the marathon another crack and I’m expected he’ll run well and potentially push me down a position. If I’m pushed into that third position over the next few weeks than I’ll need to consider running another marathon and tagging or sitting on my next biggest threat. That’s my current plan at the moment but if it looks like my position is safe than I will shift my training towards running the Zatopek 10km/the Australian 10km national championships.

Check Liams IAAF Profile, Website & Instagram