The London Marathon Experience.
It’s the morning after and I’m a bit tired as I didn’t sleep well at all. Every time I moved in bed the pain in my legs reminded me of what I’d put my body through yesterday. I’m feeling every inch of the 26.2 miles that I ran / shuffled yesterday. My right achilles feels like someone is sticking hot needles in it, and stairs are just terrifying – anyone who’s ever ran a marathon will understand what I’m on about. The pain I’m feeling this morning means as much to me as the medal that a nice volunteer put round my neck yesterday because it proves that I gave it my all. I didn’t run as fast as I would have liked BUT I couldn’t have run any quicker, so in my mind I can’t say fairer than that.
My race day started at 6am when my cousin Mike and I got up to eat breakfast. We then headed towards Charing Cross Station to catch the train up to the start at Blackheath, more a cattle truck than a train really. The train was so crowded that I couldn’t breathe out without my chest touching the person in front of me, anyone with claustrophobia would have been in hell. Mind you it must be a logistical nightmare to try and get almost 37,000 runners and their supporters from central London out to Greenwich, and I can’t help but admire the organisers for their efforts. Half an hour later and we were at the start, it was the usual pre-race chaos but magnified one hundred fold. Bin Liner clad runners joined queues for the portaloos that seemed a mile long, some annnoying bloke was talking nonsense on a PA system, a chorus of garmins beeped as satellites were found through the rain clouds, and lines of trucks as far as the eye could see were being filled with red kit bags. I wished Mike good luck as we both made our way to our respective pens.
As I lined up at pen 3 at the blue start I looked to my right and couldn’t believe my eyes, there was my friend and training partner, Lesley. What were the chances at a start line that contained over 20,000 people of accidently standing next to one another? We chatted and wished each other luck but then as the final minutes before the start counted down, the crowd surged forward and we lost each other. Lesley would have a brilliant race and smash her pb by almost 15 minutes to finish in 3 hours and 53 minutes.
The noise of all the runners was defeaning, so much so that I didn’t even hear the starting gun/siren, I only knew that the race was underway when I saw the crowd in front of me start to move. There was only slightly more room than there had been on the train earlier. The first mile went by in just under 10 minutes, I wasn’t deliberately running slow, I just couldn’t move any quicker. The pattern was set for the rest of the race as my eyes focused on the 6 inch space in front of my feet, as I kept altering my short stride pattern to avoid tripping over fellow runners feet. Feed stations along the route would become a nightmare as the race went on. Disaster almost struck me as I passed through the first one, runners were throwing their discarded bottles of water to the side of the road. One such bottle landed under my left foot and I went over on my ankle resulting in instant pain. For a second or two I thought my race was over, but grimacing I managed to run it off. I spent the rest of the race taking extra care and watching where I placed my feet.
I’d also been worried about the heat and becoming dehydrated, thankfully until the final few miles the sun didn’t really come out. It was however pretty humid all morning. I’d obviously hydrated too well before the race because at 3 miles I had to stop for a ‘comfort break’.
The race seemed to be going by very quickly, although I seemed to be running well within myself. I had worn a pace band for a finishing time of 3.45 and going through every mile I was about 10-20 seconds behind pace, I was pleased with this because I have a tendancy to go off too quickly in races. At around 11 miles I got a boost as I managed to spot my wife, Em in the crowd. Or rather I spotted Lesleys husband, Richard, who happens to be about 6ft 4 inches and Em was stood next to him. We’d also spot each other at Canary Wharf and on the Embankment, and each time I couldn’t help but increase my speed in response to their enthusiasm. Just before the half way point I crossed Tower Bridge, to me it seemed that the bridge was straining under the weight of all the people on it. The noise of the support here was deafening, I couldn’t actually hear my own breathing. Half way across the bridge there were strips of timing mats, some poor guy in front of me was too busy waving at the tv cameras that he didn’t spot the mats. He tripped and landed face first on the tarmac, I winced as I past him, but medics were already at his side. Passing over the bridge the course swung to the right and I headed out through the Isle of Dogs towards Canary Wharf. At this point the elite runners were on the other side of the road and heading for home, they looked so graceful as their effortless strides carried them past me in a heartbeat. It must be nice to be able to run like that.
From about mile 17 I was slowing down, I was now a minute down on my pace guide. I got a much needed boost from my fellow Pirates at the MudChute feed station but despite the support I found the whole Canary Wharf section of the race to be difficult with its twists and turns, it felt like I was just running in a hamster wheel. Before I knew it I was back at Tower Bridge and my legs were about to get a shock. There was a short sharp hill down into an underpass, the change in running stance and the extra pressure on my quads destroyed me, and that essentially was my race over. I tried to pick up my pace but it was like I was running along dragging someone holding my ankles. My head was fine but legs just wouldn’t listen. I knew as I emerged out of the tunnel onto the Embankment that my pre-race goal of going under 4 hours was beyond me. There was still a chance that I could beat my stand-alone marathon pb ( my quickest was in a triathlon ) of 4.17. With just over one mile to go I was joined by a fellow Pirate, ‘Huff’ and together we kept each other moving along to the finish. I crossed the line and managed a smile for the cameras, I had a new pb of 4:13:05. I had finished in the top half of the field ( just ) in 14222 place.
I was filed through the efficient system : chip removal, medal collection, kit bag collection and goody bag collection. The poor guy trying to direct me to the finish photo opportunity area looked dismayed when I told him “I can’t be arsed with that”. I just wanted to meet Mike and Em at our designated meeting point and get out of London as quickly as possible. I managed to meet Mike straight away, he’d finished in 3:45, but unfortunately Em was trapped on the Embankment and it would be over 2 hours before she made it to Horse Guards Parade and the athlete meeting point.
I’ve had time now to reflect on the day, at first I was a bit disapointed but now I’m pleased with my performance. My build up hadn’t been pefect having lost all of January to a broken wrist, and this wasn’t my ‘A’ race. So now as I sit here with my aches and pains I’m pleased with my efforts. I really enjoyed the actual race, I didn’t enjoy all the chaos that went with it. In terms of atmosphere and enjoyment I don’t think London is a patch on the Hamburg Marathon. And neither of them compare to the magical experience of Ironman Germany. That’s not me being critical of London, I’d recommend that everyone does this race at least once. I’ve done it now and have no desire to do it again. I’m leaving for the airport in a few minutes for 5 days of rest and relaxation before returning to some serious Ironman training, and I can’t wait for that. My only concern now is going back upstairs to get the suitcases !!
Well done to everyone that ran, and thanks to everyone that stood and cheered for hours.