On Sunday 24th April I ran the London Marathon for a challenge, for charity and for the spectacle. It took me 02:55:08 to complete the 42.2km course. Over 39,000 people started the race. And each and every one will have their own story to tell. Here’s my perspective…
On one day in April the streets of London are transformed into the world’s greatest stadium – the noise emanating from this arena is unimaginable and unforgettable. I read that finishers often feel ‘shell shocked’ after crossing the finishing line. I thought this was just another exaggerated line to fuel the clickbait headline ‘top 10 things you didn’t know about the London Marathon’. I can’t quite describe how loud it was out there on the course. I only knew a handful of spectators and yet the cheers and encouragement followed each and everyone one of us all the way around the course.
The training through winter was pitiful. My motivation was off and it showed, with less than 18km/week of running in November and December. In January I made a plan, and the shift in mileage was insane. For comparison, so far in 2016 I’ve averaged 52km/week. I don’t think it was one thing in particular that led to consistently running 200km+ per month; something I’ve only previously achieved twice before (Feb 2013 and Jan 2015). Consistency at work, having a plan, eating well, sleeping well, stretching and being a smidge nervous of the ominous London Marathon all combined to produce the results. Looking back, the only thing I would change for next year is joining a running club; speed sessions just aren’t as productive on your own.
I had previously ‘poo-hooed’ this event as ‘just another marathon’, probably a hassle too… Well, it’s true that there was a lot more planning required than for the Manchester Marathon. And the sheer number of spectators and competitors did make things a little bit more stressful, but overall it wasn’t so bad – I’d go as far as to say I enjoyed the event.
1 day to go
We arrived in London on Saturday morning. The train down was mad busy which didn’t help with nerves. Of course, I came prepared, wielding a detailed plan of how the day should go. This was my strategy for coping with nerves and removing as many unknowns as possible from the event so that I could relax and enjoy things (sort of). I believe it worked.
I’m not sure how I feel about the Expo at the EXCEL. In some ways it felt like part of the build up and in others it was just a load of tat, plastered with advertising and staff trying to push their products on you. When I got past this though there were a few good features. The ‘motivational talk’ area was pretty interesting and definitely worthwhile for newbies. Whilst I was sitting listening to this Mum let me know she was queuing to see Paula Radcliffe – I was mortified… “leave the poor woman alone” I thought. She’s a superstar and has got way better things to do with her time. Yeah I’m a dick… a minute later I was stood in the queue with Mum and I’m so glad I did. The fact that Paula’s world record hasn’t even nearly been touched is a testament to her dominance in the sport and I only hope that it serves as an inspiration for the next generation of British athletes to strive towards.
The rest of the day went smoothly. We took a walk round Greenwich up to Cutty Sark, recce’d where would be a good spot to spectate on Sunday and then headed for some pasta before calling it a day. The hotel was great, they even rolled out the red carpet
for us (hehe).
Based on past experience I knew I wasn’t great at sleeping before a marathon, but this time really took the biscuit. The air conditioning units directly outside our window were obscenely loud and completely to blame for my 3am wake up call. I read for a bit, listened to podcasts and dozed ’til 6 and then gave up on getting any more kip. It was time to see what my legs could do.
The morning of the race continued to be a bit rubbish as I forced down some rather liquidy porridge rather than the stodgy consistency I’m used to and prefer. With food in me, I took back control and I was back on plan with my supporters ready and raring to go too.
There’s only so much you can prepare for the unknown, but I think I got it just right. My nips and anywhere else prone to chaffing received a generous smothering of sudocrem and I was calm as we left the hotel around 8:30 to arrive at the start at 9.
Everything about the event was bigger and bolder than anything I had experienced before. There were people everywhere, the queues for the loo were ridiculous – in some ways it would have been interesting to experience the mass start and ‘runners villages’ of either the Red or Blue start. I have no complaints though, I was in the GFA warm up zone and had plenty of room and time to psyche myself out without worrying about anything else.
09:15 – 45 mins to go
Join the toilet queue. Final drink. Banana skin disposed.
09:40 – 20 mins to go
Finally go to the loo. Tracksuit off, last lube of the nips with some vaseline, quick swig of water and then it was time to drop off my bag and warm up.
09:50 – 10 mins to go
Runners called to the start. I keep running around trying to get the legs ready. Start trying to get GPS signal on watch.
09:55 – 5 mins to go
I finally get signal on watch and warm up is over. I ditch my throw away jumper and join the queue for the start.
09:59 – 1 min to go
I dump the space blanket and check my watch for a final time. All set.
10:00 – Go!
The boom of the start gun and… no movement around me.
We start to jog and get into stride just before the line. We’re off! Wooo. Now it’s time to channel the past 3 months plus of training into the next 3 hours or so.
As the race merged around 3 miles in, the sheer volume of runners suddenly became apparent. We spanned 4 lanes of road and there was barely enough room to not run into the person in front. Over the next couple of miles we started to disperse slightly as everyone found their pace and settle into a rhythm; I passed Bob the ‘crab’ – if he kept up that speed he was on for a great time.
The next milestone was Cutty Sark, where I received a huge roar from the crowd as I lifted my arms in the air. Beth and Libs did a cracking job getting a prime spot at the front and I spotted them straight away. It gave me such a buzz and I had to consciously slow down round the corner to stay on pace. Unfortunately this was the first and last time I spotted my family. They did see me once more near Canary Wharf but it was so loud and I was so in the zone that I was oblivious to their cheering.
Tower Bridge was the next unforgettable moment. Each side was packed with spectators – again, two runners just in front rallied the crowd by raising their hands in the air. The eruption of noise was insane and such a boost.
I was through half way in 01:27:06. 24 seconds up on schedule. All fine. Just got to do that again… eek!
Canary Wharf was the next section which left me feeling a bit shell shocked on exiting. By this point we were a lot more spread out, rounding bends in single file which was good as there were a few tight turns.
With 3okm behind me, my legs started to twitch. And over the next few miles it only got worse with my quads tightening up, finally turning into a burning ache. I was definitely nearing my limit, teetering on the edge of going too far too soon, but I was still 20 seconds up on schedule. I needed to keep pushing. My speed did dip over the last 10km, but I was doing well and still passing other slowing runners.
Running along the final 5km of the course, there wasn’t a single spot where it wasn’t at least 3 deep with screaming spectators. It was unbelievable how many people were out. By this point runners were definitely outnumbered by those on the side. As we turned on to Birdcage Walk I thought it was around 500m left, just up the road I spy the 1km to go banner. WHAT??? That’s not fair. I see nothing other than the 3metres of road in front of me. I blindly get funneled from one side of the road to the other as we go around the spectator passing points. My legs are burning everywhere now.
400m to go. And I found that last tiny little bit. Sprinting in ludicrously slow motion round the final bend on to the mall and the finish is in sight. I looked down at my watch. Sheeeet, I’m so close, so close… And. I just, just missed it. 02:55:08, a mere 8 seconds outside of my target time. I’ll take that. I was a complete wreck.
My legs had just managed 42.2km and all of a sudden they couldn’t quite compute how to move one more step. The walk down the rest of the mall was painfully slow. I was shuffling at best, weaving my way past lorry after lorry on my way to bag collection. I toyed with the idea of sitting down, but knew that I’d struggle to ever get back up again. This is by far the worst bit. All the emotions, pain and suffering become overwhelming. Several helpers and other runners check to see if you’re ok. Yeah… sort of… As I continue to sway. I somehow make it to the final truck in the line where my bag awaits.
I grab hold of the lorry and gradually lower my body to the ground, kicking out a couple of cramps on the way. I spend the next 10 minutes rolling around trying to get my legs in to my tracksuit without my legs going into spasm. I devoured all the food in the goody bag and swiftly gulped down plenty of fluids. I eventually found the reserves to pluck myself off the floor and wander over to Horse Guards Parade (not a pub) to meet my family.
I was surprised to see Olly and Rachel waiting for me – completely unexpected. I was so happy to see some familiar faces and just did a lot of hugging, laughing and smiling. Later the rest of the crew arrived after what sounded like a bit of an adventure exploring some routes waaay off the beaten track. It was all worth it. I did it. We did it. And I realised I couldn’t have asked to share this moment with more incredible people (missed you Sammy).
At the end I finished just outside the top 5% of men in 1266th place behind 1228 men and 38 women. I can safely say: I will be back. If not next year then at some point in the foreseeable future. Maybe Paris, Berlin or somewhere else next? We’ll see. Right now, a week on, my legs are still a long way off being back to normal. Walking is fine but running has a way to go. I’m just savouring this moment for a bit and then it’s on to the next goal.