Last Sunday I was fortunate enough to line up against (quite far behind) some of the best runners in the world, in my 4th London Marathon. I’ve said it before, and no doubt I’ll say it again – it’s the best race in the world. As long as I’m lucky enough to run a time that qualifies me for entry each year, I’ll keep coming back – a terrifying thought for regular readers as they contemplate having to read my 58th London Marathon blog in 2073.
I penned a few thoughts on how I hoped the day might pan out beforehand, thinking that if things went well, then my PB from Valencia 18 months ago would be in danger of falling. The buildup wasn’t the smoothest, with a lingering virus leaving me sweating my way towards race day. Thankfully it cleared up just in time, and by Friday afternoon I felt relatively healthy.
I spent spending Saturday afternoon watching the mighty Leyton Orient secure promotion back to the football league, deciding to skip the pitch invasion at the end, with images of me stacking it over the barriers and carding a DNS flashing through my mind. Plenty of porridge consumed during the day (no different to any other day, really), before boring Katie with my split plans for most of the evening.
Ironically, she had to get up first in the morning, planning to get 15 miles in before heading onto the course to support. One of the best things about doing London is being able to spend the night in your own bed, and I slept pretty well before enjoying a leisurely breakfast on my own sofa.
Enter to the story, Paul Hunt, the plucky young Irishman, who would feature heavily in the days events. We cabbed it together to Waterloo, before jumping on a rather empty train to Blackheath, arriving in the start pen with just over 5 hours to go until the start. Since they hadn’t even erected the changing tent yet (jokez), we waited, before taking a prime spot of real estate on the floor, allowing time for 27 trips to the toilets and generous application of vaseline to sensitive areas.
I enjoy every part of the London experience, and the pre-race chin-wagging is always good fun. I caught up with various running friends and club mates, everyone nervously anticipating the day ahead.
With about 30 minutes to go until the start, we were allowed out on to the road to take part in a ‘warm-up’, which consisted of running around in a tiny circle at about 9 minute miling. I bumped into Chrissie Wellington (4 x Ironman World Champion and all-around legend) and we had a bit of a catch up and she asked me how Katie was getting on. We met after London two years ago, and she really is the most genuine, lovely individual. Even though she did take the piss out of me for splashing out on some Nike Vapourflys…
I need all the help I can get.
By now everyone was rushing towards the start, whilst I’d faffed around with toilet trip #28, and found myself right near the back of the pack. My pre-race plan to run with Paul was already in tatters, as I couldn’t see him anywhere. I squeezed my way towards the front, and as luck would have it, spotted him just a couple of people ahead. Panic over.
They wheeled out all the big names before announcing them to the crowd. Much to my surprise, they’d missed my introduction, skipping straight from Kipchoge to Farah. Good lucks exchanged all around, before game faces were applied and it was time to get on with it.
The buzzer went and we’re charging off down the road, with Paul constantly trying to keep me in check as I practically sprinted through 400m, forgetting this was a marathon, not a sprint. We also shared the first couple of miles with FOTB (friend of this blog) and top lad James ‘Bosh’ Bosher. Our running journeys has seen us take similar paths over the years, including this race 4 years ago where we both spectacularly blew up after running the first half together.
The first 5km in London is always fast, with quite a significant downhill during mile 3. However, 18:06 was probably a bit too punchy, as I was pretty sure we weren’t going to run a 2:32 marathon. Someone who was, and did, was the amazing Steph Davis – fellow Clapham Chaser. I imagine as I pulled alongside her for the 2nd race in 2 months, she was thinking something along the lines of ‘What is this twat doing?’ Quite sensibly, I let her charge off into the distance, as she ended up finishing 2nd in the non-elite race. What. A. Legend.
With Paul still playing the role of wise old man and trying to reign me in, we settled into a more maintainable pace, heading around Cutty Sark, a point I’ve never failed to get goosebumps – the support is out of this world. 10km passed in 36:41, but the first doubts were already creeping in.
At around mile 8 I came up on Lucy Charles, another professional ironman triathlete, with multiple 2nd place finishes in Hawaii. I said hello and did my little fan-boy piece, mumbling something about doing a triathlon or two myself sometimes (Have I mentioned on this blog that I went to Kona?) Unfortunately, she wasn’t having a great day and had to drop out at halfway.
It was clear I was going to be in for a different marathon experience today. In Valencia, I felt incredible all the way through, accelerating towards the end and running a negative split (2nd half faster than the 1st). Here, I was already feeling like the effort was too hard, worried I was biting off more than I could chew.
I told Paul things weren’t great, but he just kept motivating me along and we kept clocking the 6 minute miles. Great runner/blogger Russell Bentley had written about just concentrating on the mile you were in, and not worrying about anything else. I resolved to do that, and worry about the bigger picture in the closing stages.
We ran mostly into the wind all the way to Tower Bridge, with Paul and I seemingly dragging a huge pack of guys through Bermondsey. We both had a look back, and said ‘bugger this’, letting some of the other chaps come through and take on some of the workload.
Tower Bridge is always immense, and Sunday was no exception. It’s an absolute wall of noise, and I personally think it’s impossible not to smile. Others might not share the same point of view, but you’ve got to enjoy it, right?! Like a fool, I waved the cap all over the place, spotting some familiar faces and generally acting like a pleb. Probably cost me 4 seconds, but it was so worth it.
I usually find it a bit of a come-down coming off the bridge. You see it in your head as halfway, but there’s still another half mile until that point, and then it suddenly dawns on you that there’s still a bloody long way to go. Suddenly I felt like I was working far too hard, and things were about to go south very quickly.
We hit that halfway point in 1:18:36, which beforehand had kind of been part of the plan, but I didn’t expect to feel this knackered. It was going to be an absolute battle from here. Time to find out if the mind was as strong as the body.
It was here that I swapped running buddies, with Paul quite clearly feeling much stronger than me. I frankly told him to p*ss off, as I wasn’t about to hold him back for a second longer. He immediately pressed on, and I was joined by Claire Grima, a very strong runner from a local club to me – Hercules Wimbledon. We’d met once or twice before, and egged each other on for the next few miles. It was great to see another friendly face and she really kept my head in the game.
I got a big buzz passing the masses of Chaser support just after mile 14, and a grin was back on my face, before the
stern encouraging fatherly words from Adam Woolgar shook me back to the job at hand. Onwards through the docklands, and the lights are already starting to dim, but I tell myself to get to the next mile marker.
Claire’s still just ahead of me, running at a metronomic pace, and I just try and fall in step with her. As we approached Canary Wharf, I seemingly got a 2nd wind and started feeling a bit better. I went past her and urged her to just tuck in behind me for a while, as she’d helped me so much in the previous miles. Problem being, I don’t think anyone wants to run behind me when I’m in those trunks.
Mile 21 was where things really started to wobble. I’d still been knocking off 6 minute miles, but this dropped to a 6:18 and I didn’t feel like I had anything more to respond with. At this point, I’d actually ruled out running sub 2:40, and thought I’d be happy to get under 2:45 and qualify for the Championship start for another year.
But then I’d tell myself to stop being soft and try and push on, before it hurt a bit too much, and 2:45 seemed great again. Just like my running, I was heading around in circles. I also felt like I could throw up at any point, and I was struggling to keep my head from lulling backwards slightly. Not a great look.
By now we were heading east again, on the long stretch back along Embankment towards Big Ben and the finish. I went through the Chaser support crowd again, before being pleasantly surprised to spot members of the Bishop’s Stortford Massif, Brownie and Lewis, who gave me a huge shout. I just shook my head and mumbled something about marathons being hard. Great insight Spraggins.
I’m not speeding up, but not slowing down either. 6:12 and 6:17 for the next couple of miles, and we’re well on the way home now. I suddenly spot Paul ahead, and realise I’m closing in on him inch by inch. I get to him as we pass through the 37km mark – just 5km or ‘parkrun’ to go. My scrambled brain tries to run the maths in my head. We need to run 19:20 for the last 5km to get in under 2:40, I think.
Annoyingly, this was just about in our range. Achievable, but it was going to be sufferstreet.com – I’m asking myself how much I really want this? The watch is basically irrelevant now – just head down and run as fast as your little stumpy legs can carry you. Paul tucks in and is on for the ride – we’re committed.
It’s nearly curtains on the Embankment when friend Tom Blake roars some support and offers me a low-five, which I stupidly accept. Being a strong guy (him, not me), I hit his hand with speed and am nearly knocked backwards with the force of the collision. Maybe I’ll stick to the wave next time.
Down by the river, the noise is (as always), absolutely deafening, and my limbs are flailing everywhere, like a drunken spider, trying to stay on pace. We pick up Nick ‘the badger’ Bowker, who joins our merry gang, trying to surge and drop me at every possible opportunity, the scamp.
We make the turn at Big Ben on to birdcage walk and I throw the kitchen sink at it. I can’t quite see properly, my chest feels tight, and I know it’s going to be oh so close. There are signs at every 200m (800m, 600m to go and so on..). The gaps between these might as well be 200 miles – it seems never ending.
Despite my frazzled state, I desperately try and take in my surroundings, as it dawns on me I’ve been lucky enough to run yet another London Marathon. We pass Buckingham Palace and I get my first glance at the finishing clock. Oh Christ – this is going to be close.
Me and Paul deploy what feels like a Usain Bolt-like sprint, which in reality was a slight increase in pace. He inches past me with a few meters to go, but I’m just looking at the clock – am I going to miss it?!
After we crossed the line, I’m immediately on the deck. BBC iplayer video of the finish line (exactly 2:40:00 on the race clock), shows me having a little lie down before being dragged to my feet by a couple of medics and Paul giving me a big man hug. I was totez emosh by this point, and muttered some thanks before saying something along the lines of ‘that was absolutely brutal.’
A quick check of the watch confirmed I’d snuck inside 2:40, with an official time of 2:39:57. Paul and I ended with identical times, which can be entirely attributed to the fact that he was wearing even better ‘cheat shoes’ than me, and if i’d have had the green one’s on, I’d probably have won the entire race.
It was brilliant see Claire cross the line just behind me in 2:40, even more incredible considering she’s a vet-40 (hope she won’t mind me saying..), a really inspirational performance. We had a quick chat, and hopefully we’ll get to run together at some races in the future.
People were apprehensive towards me in the aftermath, thinking I’d be disappointed to miss my personal best by just 9 seconds. I’d covered the 2nd half of the race in 1:21, only a 3 minute slow down on the first, but I don’t think that tells the true story. This is probably one of the most mentally challenging races I’ve ever done, and I’m really proud of myself for holding it together and battling all the way home. Valuable lessons learned.
We spent a fair amount of time in the finish area, faffing around getting some team photos, before going through the slight shambles that was bag collection – weird, because London organisation is usually so smooth, but this was carnage, with people nearly getting crushed as the crowds grew rather quickly.
I caught up with my Mum and Dave the Lion afterwards, who as usual were on hand to offer some great support. Top lad Glen Winning had smashed under the 2:30 barrier, and we had our annual Horse Guards Parade debrief, where I met his family, feeling rather under-dressed meeting his wife and small child in my budgie smugglers. Fool.
Finally I got to see Katie, and as always she was happy to see me run well and still be in one piece. It’s such a hard day for her, having to sit on the sidelines and watch, deferring her London entry for a 2nd year in a row. This year, she’s even had people congratulating her on her London time, despite not running! Come on people, way to kick someone when they’re down..
We headed to the pub to ‘re-hydrate’, which lasted most of the afternoon and evening.
So, another London Marathon in the books. I gave it a real go this year, and really enjoyed focusing on my running for a while. However, I’ve got the small matter of an ironman triathlon in just 10 weeks time. I’m heading to Germany to take part in Challenge Roth. I suppose I should probably get on my bike then…