Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Virgin London Marathon

The hardest thing is starting. Are you ready? Can you finish? Self doubt or self belief. Everyone standing around in their own inner thoughts had all been through their own personal dilemmas and questions. My build up was not ideal, an injury and an illness but, 5 years of ballots, raising money for Prostate Cancer UK and for Boston ensured I got to the start line.

It was a perfect spring morning and a perfect place to race, London, but I was feeling far from perfect. Over the previous couple of days my cold had steadily gotten worse although when I was too busy to feel sorry for myself it never felt bad enough to defer my place. Registering for the race and wandering around the stalls at the Excel was a good distraction during the day and an evening out in the West End watching The Book of Mormons had me in fits of laughter instead coughing fits which settled me in for a reasonable nights sleep.

Waking up early but still feeling under the weather I was unable to force much breakfast down.  I loaded up on paracetamol and caffeine and headed to the start line. The train was packed with other runners and the  sounds of the gathering crowds grew as we drew closer to Greenwich. Exiting the train en mass it was an inspiring sight to see so many people making their way up to the park and begin their race preparations.

This was my first road marathon so I had no expectations. I had only really started training specifically for this race in the last month. However, I was now injury free and had no doubt that I could complete this distance in a good time. I believed I could run better than 3.15 and after talking to UltraStu at the previous weeks Torq trail running camp I decided I would try and use some of his philosophy and run hard and fast for as long as you can. There was even talk of a beer or two if I could achieve certain goals. What more motivation do you need?  This was all before I picked up a cold though...would my aching head and sore chest ruin everything?

I was running from the Blue start and once there I had plenty of time to figure out what I would take on the run. I should now consider myself as an experienced long distance runner but whether it was the short training build up, running a road race with expectations of running faster and taking no walking breaks, or just not thinking through things and believing it wouldn't happen to me, I broke the golden rule of not doing things for the first time on race day. My faithful old road running shoes, comfy for 10 mile runs but not really tested on longer distances, would turn out to be too small, my feet having grown since buying them all those years ago. This didn't really slow me down but it's given me some ugly toenails to protect! No, my issue mainly came from either using gels, taking on too much water or taking paracetamol. Maybe a combination of factors, but already feeling weak from my cold I certainly did not help matters by putting untried products into my stomach on race day. My lesson to take away will be to practise a little more on the sponsored nutrition goods or leave the science and stick to the normal foods I always take.

Back at the race start I had filled my pockets with a few gels and some Clif shots, my usual sweets (which I basically ignored for the entire race), phone and ipod (unused due to the noise levels making the music redundant).  I handed in my bag and took a final long gulp of water which inevitably leads to finding the end of the toilet queue! It was incredible how many people were in the line but better to go now than during the race. I made my way to my starting pen and met up with Ben from Trail Ferret whom I met last weekend at the Torq event in Shropshire. It was good to have a chat with someone who had run the London marathon before and kept my mind off anticipating all the things that could go wrong. Stay positive.

30 seconds of silence was followed by all as a mark of remembrance to those affected by the incomprehensible events in Boston.

49 seconds and 50 metres to the start line and we were off. ...only another 26.2 miles to go. The first few miles go quick, things are fresh, the pace is set by the runners crowded around. It feels good though, manageable, and I was running hard. Every time the running pack started to thin out another group merges into the masses. The pace stays steady with low 7 minute miles. I have lost Ben and there's too much going on to worry about a running companion, especially as I no longer feel like talking to anyone. Concentration is the name of the game. I try to focus on how I can pick up the pace. I feel in good spirits, the sun is out, I am high five-ing all the kids lining the streets with their hands out. Their smiles and cheers are infectious. The noise of the crowd willing us all on to accomplish our hard earned goals was deafening and felt very special. The drum bands, singers, techno music and dancing girls were a constant uplift.  Particularly the dancing girls. It was hard not to smile and soak up this atmosphere.

I knew I was not on my A game today but run hard and fast and see what happens was the plan so needing the loo 10miles in was a frustrating delay. I am not sure if it was after this or beforehand but my guts started playing up and so for the rest of the race I had to contend with nausea and unmovable stitches either side of my body. Not what I need!!

Crossing over Tower Bridge was very special. The crowds were amazing, the runners all pushing themselves into the heat of the day, even if they were just wearing a mankini. I was overtaken by 2 of them! I was just happy that Mr Tickle didn't finish ahead of me.  Although a man carrying a 40lbs back pack managed to - unbelievable stamina. Once over the bridge we were treated to the front of men's elite fighting it out in the latter part of their race. I was halfway and these guys were nearing mile 22!!  By this point I was determined to keep with the 3.15 pacer and any chance of a better time was all but given up on.

As the miles ebbed away slowly, and the pacer increasingly crept away from me, I had absolutely nothing left to give and so my times kept sliding. By this time I had also given up on putting anything else in my stomach and took on only a little water at each station with the rest of the bottle going over my head to keep me cool and focused. Staying positive at this point was a hard place to find. My smile was fading, my head throbbing, and my mile 17 turned out to be mile 16 so still 10 more to go. When I actually made it to mile 17 I noticed that this was my normal training time for running 18 miles.

With plenty going wrong I was forced to dig deep. I was still running and every now and again I would get that pick me up we all need. These especially happened when passing my Prostate Cancer UK cheering teams. The noise was deafening with shouts of encouragement, whistles, rattlers etc. By waving and applauding these volunteers and supporters helped push me on that little more.

The final parts of the race was hard and I was fast running out of energy. Soreness was creeping into my body now and my times were now a far distance from the 7 min miles I was registering early on and were now into the 9's but by running slower at least I would be sure of  making it to the end. Many would not and all around me runners were getting as far as they could and having to stop. Worryingly some were being carried away on stretchers having collapsed, others staggered off to the side on their own. There was a great presence of paramedics around to help those in need but I just had to keep going. It felt that I was going backwards, it felt like all around were passing me with ease but to give up now would be heartbreaking and not an option. In fact, in the last 7kms only 338 people overtook me but, believe me, it felt more like 3338. Although 114 runners were finding it harder than me as I somehow passed them.

Seeing Big Ben was a relief. The end was near. I had had enough and was desperate to finish. The roar of the crowds and the thought that Lou might be there on the embankment ready to take my picture prevented me from walking as I rounded the corner and down into Birdcage, willing everything I had to push on for that final section. Turning into Buckingham Palace and the finish was a little surreal. I think I was just so happy to not have to concentrate any more, having run the entire course and not walking any of it or having to stagger into an aid station for help. There had been so much doubt over the preceding dismal days when my cold had been at it's worst.

With ecstatic people all around me a medal was draped over my neck, the chip cut away from my battered old 'never to be worn' again trainers, a goody bag pressed into my hand,a quick picture taken and then off to drop bag collection all in a whirlwind minute whilst the legs adjusted to that feeling of walking again. A quiet moment then to reflect on achieving something special in a sombre week that made us all run for Boston.
Unable to contact anyone on my mobile I made my way to the Horseguards parade meeting point.  Coming off The Mall I saw a Prostate Cancer UK group and introduced myself and said I would be back once I had found my girlfriend, not even noticing that she was standing there with them smiling and waving at me. I eventually heard them all screaming after me as I walked away and I sheepishly walked back. What can I say, I was a bit tired! We were taken to the post race reception, the organiser apologising profusely for the fact that there were so many stairs to get to the venue. It was still relatively quiet when we arrived and I was greeted with warm congratulations, food and drink plus and a much welcomed sports massage.

Crossing the line gives you that unique moment of satisfaction. You have completed a challenge set long ago, that felt like an age away only to come along all too soon. the day passes in a flash but the memories will stay forever with the medal reminding you off a proud day, sun shining and crowds all united with the running community. I cannot say if I will run another road marathon but I am happy to have participated in the 2013 London marathon. It is a special day. 

Stats : 26.2 miles in 3hrs28mins
Mile splits
7.56 7.46 6.53 7.38 7.40 7.21 7.31 7.20 7.23 7.28 7.58 7.20 7.36 7.30 7.40 7.50 7.53 7.40
8.06 8.22 8.27 8.36 9.03 8.39 9.21 9.01