Some people (Dave Austin), have requested a shorter version of the report. So if you can’t be bothered to read the below, scroll down to the bottom of the page for the ‘summary’ report
The London marathon. I remember as a kid, I’d sit at home on a Sunday morning every year (usually eating doughnuts and a pizza) and watch hours and hours worth of coverage of these mental people running around the streets of the capital. Little did I know that one day I would become one of those nutters. After taking up marathon running back in 2008, this was the race that I wanted to do more than any other, and I finally had a chance (through the charity Shelter) to toe the line with some 40,000 other runners.
The build-up started on the Friday, when I met up with my old friend and running buddy James Bosher (from now referred to as ‘Bosh’) to head to the expo and pick up our race numbers and see how much free stuff we could get our hands on. Going on the Friday turned out to be a wise move, as we got to dodge the majority of the crowds (apparently Saturday was pretty rammed) and also bumped into the legend that is ultra-marathon runner Steve Way. He told us he’d picked up an injury during training and so would be taking it ‘easy’ at the weekend. (Official finishing time; 2.35.38)
The majority of Saturday was spent slouched in front of the TV, conserving energy, and eating as much as was physically possible. The highlight of the day was a trip to Tesco to buy yet more food. Unfortunately, half of Brixton had decided to riot and were blocking my route (Didn’t they know I was running a marathon – selfish). Instead of taking the long way round, I decided to take my chances and plough straight on through. Fortunately I made it there and back, pasta in tow, objective achieved.
Sleep was hard to come by the night before the race, and after what can only have been a couple of hours kip, I got up and made myself some breakfast and started getting ready for the long day ahead. The journey to the start was really easy, with the marathon putting on free travel for all runners on the day, and I arrived in Greenwich to meet Bosh with plenty of time to spare. We joined the throngs of runners heading through Greenwich Park over to Blackheath and the starting area.
Once our numbers had been checked and we’d been let into the red starting area (London has 3 different starts as the race is so large, with the route merging together after around 3 miles) we had a wander around and admired the vast number of porta-loo’s they’d managed to fit into such a small space. Despite the fact we arrived pretty early (about an hour and a half before the start), time passed really quickly as we discussed our plans and goals for the 26.2 miles ahead of us.
With about 45 minutes to go we checked our bags into the baggage trucks, stripped off our warm layers of clothing and made our way to the starting pens. In London, you’re assigned a pen reflecting how quickly you plan to run, with the fastest runners start right at the front so they don’t have to weave around many of the slower runners in the first few miles. We were in pen 2, which was an excellent position around 80m from the start line, meaning we should have a pretty clear run all the way through.
We got chatting to a couple of guys during those last few minutes of nervous anticipation before the gun goes, with a guy from Leamington Spa, Rich, deciding he might run a similar pace to us for a while as we all had the same target times. An eerie silence descended and ‘good lucks’ were murmured to each other before a loud hooter and cheer symbolised the start of the 35th London marathon.
We knew it was going to be difficult not to get caught up in the hype in the first few miles as everyone stormed off down the road. More than 6 months of training had been leading up to this single day and adrenaline was really pumping. The plan was to run each mile in around 7 minutes, which would take us very near to our target of 3 hours and 5 minutes.
It’s hard to put into words how incredible the atmosphere was, with thousands of people lining the route, even during the first 5 miles or so taking us through Charlton and Woolwich. Bosh and I had to keep each other in check, as it was important to save as much energy as possible now for the harder miles ahead. We also had Rich in tow and we helped each other out, taking turns grabbing water from the water stations and sharing it about.
First 5 mile splits: 6:58, 6:58, 7:00, 6:26, and 6:54.
With the opening miles out of the way, we tried to settle into a steady pace but it was so difficult with so many other runners in front and behind. The first major landmark passed – Cutty Sark, which was absolutely incredible. It was impossible not to speed up slightly with the crowds going mental. Just after this I spotted a mate from University, Alex Thomas, who gave me a massive shout which was much appreciated.
I was overwhelmed with the amount of people who came out to watch and support. There’s absolutely no way I’d be able to mention everyone in this report without it turning into a short novel, but going through Rotherhithe I saw some of the guys I’d see a number of times throughout day, including my Mum and Dave the Lion, Katie, and a load of friends from university and work; Richards, Dunford, Helen, Charlie, Nick, Lizzie, Claire, and Darren. It was brilliant seeing people out and about, and it gave me a real boost each time someone gave me a shout.
Miles 6-10; 7:17, 7:00, 6:52, 6:54, and 7:07.
Through ten miles, and although I wasn’t absolutely spent, I wasn’t feeling brilliant. This wasn’t good news as at this point I should’ve still been feeling relatively fresh, and I’d done so many runs in training at this speed where getting to 10 miles would have felt like the easiest thing in the world. We soldiered on, keeping up the positive chat and trying not to let any negative thoughts creep in.
We passed another key part of our support crew on the day in Bermondsey – my housemate Dave, and other good friends Brownie, Lewis and Dom. They did brilliantly to make their way around London on the day, especially considering how much I know Dave hates running. I’ve registered him for parkrun and know he’ll cave one day and join me on a Saturday morning…
Turning right onto Tower Bridge was incredible. It’s meant to be one of the best experiences in running, kind of like playing in a world cup final. But, instead of 22 people getting to do it every 4 years, thousands get to take part every year in London. It was a wall of noise, with people standing 5 deep either side of the route. It also quite symbolic, as it signals the half-way point of the journey. Me, Bosh and Rich went through together in 1 hour and 31 minutes. Bang on for that 3.05.
Unfortunately at this point, our group split up. It wasn’t intentional, but I turned around at one point and found myself off the front. Not wanting to slow, and having discussed this scenario before the race, I pressed on hoping to see both of them a bit later on. It was brilliant having those 2 for company during the first half though, and hopefully we’ll get a chance to run together in the near future. From here the route turned east and headed through Limehouse and towards the dreaded Canary Wharf area.
Miles 11-15; 6:50, 6:57, 6:50, 7:00, 6:56.
It was really starting to hurt now, and although I’d managed to maintain the pace through 15 miles, I was worried about trying to sustain it for another 11 and a bit. In the past Canary Wharf has had a reputation for being a bit bleak and sparsely populated, but this is all change now with just as many people out watching as other parts of the course. It was brilliant to see my Mum and Dave again here, luckily spotting them in the crowd as dark thoughts were starting to set in. There was another great moment where both the Will’s (Richards and Dunford) ran along with me on the other side of the road for 50 metres or so before dropping back. This was the same Will Richards who is now a fully-fledged athlete himself, with rumours of him signing up for marathon number 2 circulating around the running scene.
Mile 19 was where it all went wrong this time. I’d been slowing slightly in the 2 miles before, but by now the rot had well and truly set in, and I knew it was going to be a massive struggle from here all the way to the finish. This was the London marathon though, and I was going to leave everything out there on the day, just concentrating on putting one foot in front of another, trying to maintain as good a pace as I could. Rich came storming past me, encouraging me to go with him, but he was looking awesome and I told him to crack on, I was struggling.
Miles 16-20; 6:59, 7:16, 7:27, 7:59, 7:35
Hitting mile 20 is a significant barrier in the marathon, and if you’re feeling ok, having 6 miles to go doesn’t seem that bad at all. However, I was not feeling ok. So I knew it was going to be the hardest 6 miles of my life. I kept seeing more people that I knew but instead of giving them a massive grin and wave as I had been earlier in the day, it was a struggle to even lift my arm in acknowledgment. I even managed to miss people all together as I tried to hold it together and concentrate on hauling myself to the finish.
I had my name printed on my charity vest, and the support in the last few miles was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before. People could see how much I was struggling compared to others around me, and it felt like the whole of London was willing me on towards the finish. It was absolutely impossible to stop, as much as it was hurting. I could barely remember where I was, let alone how long there was to go and what time I was meant to be running.
Miles 21-23; 8:17, 8:01, 8:07
The mile 23 marker was at the Tower of London, and I knew I was on my way home now. 3.2 miles to go – pretty much the length of a parkrun. I’d done so many of those this year, surely I could manage just one more. Heading along the Embankment, there were runners streaming past me, whilst I was overtaking some of those who were reduced to walking. As much as I was hurting, I wouldn’t be walking today. I couldn’t walk during the London marathon. Interestingly, London provide stats about the last 7 kilometres – during this time I was went past 84 runners. However, in the same time period, I was passed by 405 runners! I really was struggling at this point.
My charity, Shelter, had a cheer point set up at around 25 miles, and as I went by I was spotted and got some huge shouts which pushed me on towards Big Ben. Turning at Big Ben onto Birdcage walk was an awesome feeling, mainly because I knew it was nearly over, but also because this was a pretty famous point in marathon running. I spotted Dave and Brownie in the crowd here I managed a little fist pump, just happy that it was nearly over.
I lost my Nan during the year, and I’d had written her name on my hand earlier in the morning. It had just about rubbed off by Mile 25, but I spent the last couple of miles thinking about her to brighten up those really dark moments, and I know she’d have loved to hear all about it.
I wish I could say I pressed on in that last 800m towards Buckingham Palace but I had absolutely nothing left. It was taking everything I had just to stay upright and keep moving forwards. That last 800m seemed to last a lifetime, but eventually I was turning at the palace onto the Mall. I allowed myself a quick look at the watch for the first time in ages. I knew 3.05 was long gone, but it would be nice to sneak inside 3.15. I had plenty of time, so I had a look around, and took in the crowds and the atmosphere in the last 100m.
Miles 24-26; 8:17, 8:51, and 8.35.
I allowed myself another fist pump just before I crossed the line in 3.13.12, a 16 minute personal best. I finished 3,384th out of the 37,500 finishers, comfortably in the top 10% of the field. This was a big jump to make in just a year, but I couldn’t help feeling slightly disappointed it wasn’t quicker. I promptly collapsed into a heap just after the finish line, losing all control of my legs. A medic came over for a chat and after a couple of minutes hauled me to my feet. I felt like I was going to pass out, so stood still for a couple of minutes and drank about 3 litres of water, eventually feeling fit enough to drag my legs towards my medal and finishers t-shirt.
I now had the tough task of attempting to walk the quarter of a mile or so to the post-race reception Shelter were putting on at a nearby hotel. In normal circumstances this wouldn’t have been much of an issue, but at this current point I’d lost pretty much all use of my legs, so it was very slow progress. The volunteers were excellent and could tell I was in a pretty bad way, and they kept coming up to me to check on my progress.
After about 45 minutes I finally arrived at the hotel to find Katie and my Mum and Dave waiting for me, and I collapsed into a chair, completely spent. During the next hour or so, loads of the guys that had been supporting on the day turned up and it was great to catch up and say thanks for being out there – everyone was awesome. Bosh also turned up and we swapped stories of our struggles. He’d had a really tough day, having to run a number of miles without his shoes on as he’d got bad blisters. Considering this, he came home in a heroic 3.22.59, and I know he’ll be back for more in the future, and when he nails a race, he’ll be miles ahead of me up the road. Our new mate Rich ran a superb 3.07.24 in his debut marathon – incredible running, great effort mate.
I spent the rest of the afternoon with friends catching up on a few well-earned beers. I didn’t have the race I’d have hoped for, but rest assured I’ll be back for more in the autumn. As for the imminent future, I’ve got a few triathlons coming up in the next couple of months, so I should probably get in the pool and do some swimming!
Thanks so much to everyone who came out on the day or supported me at some point on the journey. I’ve also raised over £2,500 for Shelter, so thanks also to all those that sponsored me or came to one of the organised events.
I did a marathon. It was in London. It was really hard. Some people finished before me. Quite a lot of people finished behind me. I finished in 3 hours and 13 minutes. I was really tired. I had some beers afterwards. Loads of people came to watch, and I was really grateful.