The London Marathon is always one of my favourite days of the year. The atmosphere and general buzz in the days before the race is awesome, and the day itself is unlike anything else you’ll experience in running. If you haven’t done it before, you need to get yourself on that start line.
It was a slightly different build-up for me this year, with absolutely zero focus on running a fast marathon/running a marathon at all. It’s been a winter concentrating on the bike and fine tuning the swim, so I found myself lining up this weekend with a longest run of 15 miles since November. It wasn’t going to be my first rodeo (London #3, marathon #18), but I knew from experience that marathons hurt, however many you’ve done before.
I spent the week building up to the race in Paris with work, and to be honest, most of my training was feeling pretty crap. I’m not sure if it was a little bug I was carrying or down to the fact someone had turned the temperature dial up 10 degrees, but everything felt like a bit of an effort. I took a couple of easier days towards the end of the week, and this seemed to make things better.
Friday was a long day, travelling straight from France to the Excel Centre to collect my number, before trekking a further hour home across London. I set a new PB for time spent in the expo; in and out in ten minutes. Normally I’d like to have a bit of a nosey around, but unfortunately, I just didn’t have the time this year. That did however mean that I managed to avoid spending hundreds of pounds on stuff that I didn’t need.
I assume most people spent Saturday with their feet up and relaxing ahead of the big day. With London not being top of the priority list race wise (this year), I had a 75-mile hilly bike ride in the diary. Fortunately, it was an absolutely stunning day and I had the pleasure of tagging in on the Clapham Chaser group ride and catching up with a few good mates.
I’d hoped for a relatively steady effort, but the route involved a few more climbs than I was expecting, which left the legs pretty sapped. I also had an interesting run-in with a rather irate motorist, with the exchange ending with his hand tightly clamped round my neck attempting to strangle me. Fortunately, the Chaser lads were able to pile in and ‘diffuse’ the situation. All fun and games.
I decided that was enough excitement for the day, so I got my feet up and ate a massive omelette. For those who don’t know me well, if I’m not eating porridge, I’m eating an omelette. Food of champions/chumps (delete as appropriate). After a half decent sleep, I was wide awake by 4am with the anticipation of the day ahead proving too much to allow for any more shuteye.
I was accompanied to the start by marathon club chief and Clapham Chasers royalty Martin Rutter, and we spent the journey discussing our own as well as everyone else’s hopes and chances for the day ahead. As we got closer to Blackheath we bumped into loads of other Chasers, exchanging good lucks and nervous pre-race chat.
This was the first time I’d qualified for the Championship start at London; something I’d worked towards for years, which had always seemed like a bit of a pipe dream. The requirement is to run a marathon in under 2 hours and 45 minutes, and unbelievably, I did this twice last year (London and Valencia), so I was able to take up my place with the big boys. Well, they’re all actually super-fast runners, so most of them are skinny, small boys. But you know what I mean.
Walking through this area before the race was an intimidating affair. I recognised many runners, knowing that pretty much every one of them was a lot faster than I am! However, it was great fun getting to catch up with loads of guys/girls I’d met through running over the years, and the time flew by and the start approached.
We were walked out of the championship zone and up to the start line, where we were positioned mere metres behind the elite men, including Sir Mo Farah. By now the shorts had been whipped off and the trunks were on show again, much to the dismay of those I was with at the time. I went from a social butterfly to billy-no-mates in the space of 10 seconds. I just can’t think why people wouldn’t want to be seen with me? Go figure.
I should probably pop in a note about expectations before the start; I didn’t really have any. The only plan of note was to not run too fast, to enable a quick recovery so training can continue towards Ironman UK in 12 week’s time. That’s the sole focus for the entire year; to get to that start line in the best shape possible. I wanted to enjoy the London experience and take in the crowds and surroundings. And possibly duck under 3 hours (he says, quietly).
The first few miles didn’t feel like a standard marathon opening. Worryingly, the legs felt heavy and sluggish, despite the heart rate being low. Thankfully, after a bit of running they seemed to loosen up and get to work. I had a few fleeting conversations with friends as I bumped into people over the first few miles. Most people didn’t want to be seen with me because of the trunks and confusingly, no one wanted to run directly behind me.
Through 5km in a slightly too spritely 20:12 and I kept telling myself to slow it down, relax, and enjoy the day. It’s so hard not to get caught up in the fun though! It was already toasty, and at every water station I was taking a small bath in whatever bottles I could grab. For reasons unknown to everyone, including me, I’d decided to wear an old geezer’s flat-cap, which probably wasn’t the best for keeping cool. Looking cool however; I had that one covered.
The crowds in London are always absolutely insane, with people 2-3 deep lining the route for pretty much the entire 26.2. I was grinning like a loon as we passed around Cutty Sark, feeling privileged to once again be running the best race in the world. I threw out some high fives to people on the sides and settled into a nice even pace.
I spotted Nick Thomas from Fulham running club in a pretty flamboyant shirt and we shared a few miles together having a chat. Tower Bridge came just before halfway; in my opinion one of the best parts of the day – I always get goosebumps at this point. I was still feeling good, but it wasn’t a stroll in the park, and I knew the second half wasn’t going to be all fun and games.
Halfway passed in 1:27:15, slightly too fast, but I was planning a gradual slow during the remaining miles to keep the legs in some sort of respectable condition. The Chasers were out en masse around mile 14 and it’s always an amazing lift hearing the roar as you approach; best club going, hands down. Everyone else, you’re awesome, don’t get me wrong: just not Chaser awesome.
Heading around the Isle of Dogs (15 miles), I had the first negative thoughts start creeping in. ‘There’s still a rather long way to go’ and ‘It really is quite warm isn’t it’. I pushed these out of my head and concentrated on smiling; the more fun you’re having, the easier it is to forget about the pain. Canary Wharf was rammed with people as usual, and I always get a lift passing my old workplace (KPMG) knowing I’ll never have to step foot in that building again.
Passing mile 19 I spotted the portaloo where I had to make a quick pit-stop last year and happy memories came flooding back. No such problems today fortunately, despite a few rumbles; I survived the whole race unscathed. Fellow chaser Jack Hambleton came floating past as if he was on a casual Sunday stroll on the way to a brilliantly consistent 2:51; one of the runs of the day. His two half marathon splits had a difference of just 6 seconds – now that’s pacing.
Once you hit mile 20 it’s 6 miles directly west to the finish. Turns out we were in for a nice little headwind; never ideal, but not much to be done. The closer you get to Central London and Big Ben the more the crowds build and the noise level rises, until you’re just running through a wall of sound. It’s amazing and at the same time slightly disorientating.
It does also make family members hard to spot, but luckily, I saw Mum and Dave the Lion with a couple of miles to go and stopped briefly for a quick chat and a cup of tea. Back running again, I bumped into Nick Thomas for the second time, and we quickly decided we were both pretty knackered and would run it in together, just as we had during the national cross country back in February.
The last mile in London is spectacular, and fortunately I was in a reasonable condition to be able to take it all in and enjoy myself. Turning at Big Ben, running down Birdcage Walk and then passing the Palace onto the Mall is an immense finish to a race, and one I don’t think I’ll ever tire of.
Normally, I’m sprinting to squeeze out every last drop of energy, but with times not as important today, I was the moron who decided to do a few press-ups on the Mall before crossing the line in 2:57:14. A marathon is a marathon, whatever intensity you chose to run it at, and the legs were definitely ready to stop running.
After consuming around a gallon of water and Lucozade I bumped into a few more running mates and exchanged some sweaty hugs and congratulations. It was a real battle out there on Sunday and everyone should be proud of just getting to the finish is one piece; quite tragically not everyone did.
In what is quickly becoming a post-race tradition, Glen and I caught up with Mum and Dave the Lion and had a good chat about the day on Horseguards Parade. We headed to the Red Lion and shared a drink with some more running friends (I do have normal friends as well, I promise).
That evening I headed off to the pub to celebrate with all the other Chasers who’d run earlier in the day (as well as those who had done other spring marathons in the last few weeks). I had far too much to drink and enjoyed myself immensely. Everyone was a little worse for wear on top of being extremely sunburnt, with some cracking vest lines on show.
So, another London in the books, and at the risk of sounding like a broken record, it’s the best race in the world. Thank you to every single person that shouted at me during the day, and a huge congrats to everyone that ran. Of course, I’ll be back next year, and this time with all being well I’ll have Katie with me, so she can finally get to experience running London. That’s going to be an awesome day.
11 weeks and 5 days until Ironman UK. Let the hard work commence.