In the weeks following the London marathon back in April the overriding feeling was disappointment. I’d run a large personal best (completing the course in 3 hours and 13 minutes – 16 minutes quicker than in Paris 12 months previously), but I felt that my training had merited a faster time. For some reason I wasn’t able to bring out the form I’d been showing in training and racing – it was extremely frustrating.
One thing I am quickly learning is nothing comes easily in the marathon – if you don’t respect the distance and give it your full attention, those last 6-8 miles are going to be some of the worst in your life. Sometimes training can go perfectly but you just don’t have that edge you need on the day when it really matters.
I decided sometime after London that I would have another crack in the Barcelona marathon next spring, but maybe get another race in during the autumn to get some more experience of the distance. The Thames Meander looked like a friendly, much smaller event, so I thought I’d give that a go. The registration fee is certainly a lot cheaper than London!
I’d spent August swanning around America, where I had a decent break from running but probably came back a few pounds heavier than I had been in a while. I just couldn’t resist those pancakes. I also only had about 9 weeks to train – a much shorter period than a typical marathon training cycle (usually between 12 and 16 weeks).
However, those 9 weeks of training went really well – I broke my personal best over 5k twice – the first time by nearly 30 seconds. I was feeling in great shape in the lead up so decided I would just go for it and have another attempt at 3 hours and 5 minutes – the ‘good for age’ qualifying time for automatic entry into the London Marathon.
Most marathon runners will know the paranoia that usually sets in regarding the weather forecast in the build up to the big day. I’m fairly sure I must have accounted for half of BBC weathers internet traffic as I watched the predictions go from bad to worse. By Friday night I was facing up to a morning of heavy rain and howling wind – probably the worst conditions imaginable.
After a fairly decent nights sleep (unusual for me before a much anticipated race), I was up bright an early for the customary bowl of porridge. The event started over in Kingston, and with the rain holding off (for now), Katie and I hopped on the train at Vauxhall for the half an hour journey. The start and finish were based at the Hawker centre – a 20 or so minute walk along the Thames from the station.
There we met my good friend James Bosher, who I’d run with for the first half in London earlier in the year. He’s a much better runner than I am (with a marathon personal best of 3.02 at the hilly Loch Ness marathon), and he’d very kindly agreed to race with me, some much needed company which was massively appreciated.
A big plus was the fact that Kingston parkrun started at exactly the same point as the race itself, so Katie was able run that an hour before the marathon. I happily spectated (funnily enough I wasn’t that tempted to run), but I did spot a couple of half marathon runners taking part who couldn’t resist getting their weekly parkrun fix.
Registration was as smooth as you could want, taking about 30 seconds with no queue to pick up my race number and baggage tag. Space inside the Hawker centre was limited (mainly due to the horrible weather outside), but we were able to find a corner to get our kit sorted – I loaded my belt up with some energy gels to take out on the course. The start seem to come around very quickly, and after a 5 minute warm up, Bosher and I lined ourselves up in the second or third row from the front, ready for 26 miles and a bit miles of fun.
Despite hoping the forecasters had messed up their calculations, the rain started falling just as were set on our way. The first 2 miles saw us running back down the river towards Kingston, doing a small loop before passing the start/finish area and heading in the opposite direction towards London. Here I saw Katie and my mum a couple of times, which was a great little boost early on – despite mum doing her best to get lost on the way to the start.
The first few miles ticked along really nicely, and a benefit of the race being a much small affair is that we had loads of space to run in right from the off. Bosh and I ended up settling into a group of 4, running with our new marathon mates John and Dave. We worked together and tapped out a nice rhythm, going through 10km in just over 43 minutes. At this point I was feeling great, but knew there was an awful long way to go.
One problem with the route, which really couldn’t be attributed to the organisers, was the fact that the heavy rain had turned some of the paths along the river into a bit of a mud bath, and at points I found myself weaving around puddles and having to concentrate on not falling over. The route itself was really scenic, as we wound our way through Richmond and Kew, and for now the wind wasn’t causing us too many problems.
It was great that we’d formed a little group on the course as we spent the first 13 or so miles encouraging each other, passing water around after drinks stations and keeping the pace from quickening – it’s easy at this point to start running too fast while you’re still feeling fresh – this usually comes back to bite me later on.
There was hardly anyone out watching on the route (not surprising considering the weather – did I mention it was raining), but we were moving well and slowly making our way forward through the field and passing individual runners. I can’t say how grateful I was to have Bosher at this point – if I’d have been out there on my own I’ve no doubt it would have been much tougher mentally.
After passing through Barnes and Mortlake we reached the turnaround point just before Putney which signalled the half marathon distance. With 1 hour 30 minutes and 30 seconds on my watch, we’d made great time, and counting the runners coming back the other way towards us before the turnaround, I was in about 14th position. At the London marathon I reached the half-way point about a minute slower, but crucially I felt so much more relaxed than London, and felt like I’d conserved energy well ready for a big second half.
It was at this point our group split up, as John and I pressed on, leaving Bosh and Dave. I was planning to stay with John for as long as possible. He was a 2.45 marathoner and apparently ‘hadn’t really trained’ for this race – ridiculous! That’s crazy fast in my eyes.
However, I was having some problems. I was desperate for the loo. I tried to ignore it for a couple of miles and concentrated on watching the runners coming past the other way further down the field on their way to the turnaround point. By 15 miles I literally couldn’t carry on running – it was either walk or go to the toilet. With no toilets out on the course, there was only 1 thing for it – I had to dive into a bush. I sought out the most secluded bush I could find, and – well, the less said about that the better. To be honest, I think I made great time, being in and out in about 45 seconds. No queues surprisingly.
Back out on the towpath, and I was now back behind Bosher and Dave. I quickly bridged the gap up to them – safe to say they were very surprised to see me behind them – before pushing on and chasing John up the road. I knew it was important to not try and make up all the time I’d lost in one mile – so focussed on running slightly quicker miles, about 10 seconds under my target pace of 7 minutes per mile.
By now I was completely alone with, sometimes getting a glimpse of John on a long straight before he turned a corner on the river. I passed a couple of runners but apart from that it was completely a solo effort – extremely tough mentally. At about 21 miles I managed to catch up with John and passed him – but I could see from my mile splits that I’d started to slow down. 5 miles to go and this was where the real hard work started.
Rather cruelly, this was where the wind also started to blow a gale. As we ran through Richmond it felt as if we were running through a hurricane – driving rain and huge headwinds – precisely what you don’t want at the end of a marathon. I passed another lad from the Stragglers running club who had started walking, and started telling myself the quicker I ran the quicker it would be over.
3 miles to go – less than a parkrun – and I was still managing to keep the splits below 7 minutes 45 a mile. I was sure the 3 hours and 5 minute goal had gone but if I could just keep slogging away, a personal best was definitely possible. My legs were absolutely screaming at me to stop running and I was feeling really nauseous, but I was determined not to throw it away from this position.
We had to run straight past the finishing line with 2 miles to go – this was awful, but I did get to see my Mum and Katie for the first time in a couple of hours and they gave me a big shout, letting me know I may be in the top ten or so. I was aware John was still pretty close behind me, and sure enough with about a mile to go he went past and ran off up the road – I had nothing left to try and go with him.
Into the last mile and for the first time, I allowed myself to look at the total race time, and then allowed myself a grim smile. Barring disaster another decent PB was on the cards, I just had to grit it out and drag myself to the end. It can’t have looked pretty, but I mustered all I had left to haul myself over the finish line, before the now customary ‘collapse in a heap on the ground and try not to vomit’ act.
3 hours, 6 minutes and 37 seconds. That’ll do nicely. A 7 minute personal best, and 10th place overall in the race. Bosher came in 4 minutes later, in 3 hours 10 – a superhuman effort considering the lack of marathon training and the fact that he seems to be racing pretty much every weekend.
For the first time I ever I felt satisfied with my performance in a marathon race. I’d certainly given it everything, and considering the conditions on the day, I was very happy with the time. Just got to find those 98 seconds from somewhere – or 0.9% of my total race time. Small margins in marathon running terms.
The event itself was extremely well organised – Hermes running did a fantastic job, especially considering the conditions they had to deal with on the day. There was plenty of food and drink on offer after finishing – I just wasn’t in the mood for eating at that point so passed. I did make up for it later, going out for a massive birthday meal with my family before having a few sherbets with mates in the evening – all in all a brilliant day.
Thanks must go to my Mum and Katie for coming out in quite appalling conditions (although they did get to go shopping for a bit mid-race), and also Bosher for coming along to race with me – always a pleasure to run with him.
I’ve managed to bring my marathon time down from 4 hours and 30 minutes to 3 hours and 6 in the last few years, but I’m fairly certain there’s still one more chapter to write. After a couple of weeks ‘off’ (I’ll still run because I enjoy it too much – just some easy runs though), it’ll be a fully focussed 16 week build up to the Barcelona marathon in March. The title of this next chapter; ‘Sub 3 or bust’.