London Marathon took place last weekend, I was lucky enough to be selected to go by the Ballot gods. Be careful of what you wish for - you might just get it!
As the final date approached, I thought back to October 2014, when I got my place at London. My physio gave me two bits of advice - don’t get ill, don’t get injured. So far, all was well - a few niggles along the way, and nothing more than a cold bubbling under the surface.
Most of my training was in the bank, though work pressures meant missing a number of the longer runs. Plenty of support was offered from the more experienced runners, though I ended up doing most of my training alone. I was on a low-mileage training plan, mainly due to caution about my knees. I had run 20 miles, but no further - or as I put it “never been all the way, though I came close at Merthyr!
Jo gave me a clean bill of health for my legs, so I was ready to go.
After some re-jigging of plans, I ended up going to London alone. I was delighted to catch up with Rich at Paddington who took pity on me and asked me to join him going to the Marathon EXPO to collect my number.
The Expo was something else, imagine a football pitch full of running stuff to buy and try. Image walking around thinking “I really shouldn’t be walking this much today” and “if I buy anything new then I’m going to want to wear it / eat it now”. I was so disciplined, I collected my number (5678), had my chip programmed (by a chap who said “oh, you have the Nigel curse too”, at which point I gave my usual response - “it means Man of a certain age”, “yes” he responded, “all over 50”. At this point, I wasn’t quite so chatty, and moved off. I had a photo taken by the Timex “predict your time” booth, asked if Steve Way was around on the Garmin stand, and that was about it. So many trainers on show, both from common makes, slight exotics and totally unheards of brands.
It did give me a chance to see the “Hoka One” for the first time. Boy has been talking about these for some time, and they are promoted by “Sage Canaday”, who’s running videos can be quite interesting. Having seen them in person, it was a bit “wow - that explains it” - the soles are about 2.5 times the size of regular running shoes. Could be quite handy for runners not “blessed” with my height - I’d have difficulty getting under doorframes if I wore these.
Applied a bit of discipline - left the EXPO early, booked into my hotel and settled down for a six minute treadmill run, just to warm up the legs.
Checking through my bag, I had left something behind. Now, hotels can be very accommodating, they do say that if you forget anything then they’d be more than happy to help out. Cue a visit from a porter with a bin liner for keeping the cold and the rain out the following morning. It was transparent - even better since most people wearing bin liners look the same, I was still able to show the maroon and white.
Following a dreadful night’s sleep, I got up, packed and prepared for the day. I got over to the Blue start by about 08:30, bought a coffee while I had the chance and caught up with fellow Lliswerry runners to have a group moan about the weather - cold, wet and windy. Passing the time by popping to the toilet queue (well, I had an hour to spare), I was intrigued by the sight of one of the pacers. He had this massive backpack with a sign / flag on it - how on earth would her get into the portaloo? I did see something new in the middle of the field - Female Urinals. Never thought that these things could exist before. In discussion with my fellow runners, one told of a previous race when someone pulled the sheet away, much to the horror of the ladies behind it. No such trouble this year, despite the wind.
Before we knew it, it was time to line up at the start. I went to my pen (5) but spotted an opportunity to move to the front. Three other Welsh runners were there, and it was good for a photo opportunity. You’ve just got to be sociable and stay there after that. Only trouble was, countdown nerves set my bladder off. Luckilly, just as we started to move, a makeshift toilet station made turned up in the form of a metal fence, situated just the right side of the chip timing mat. A quick stop helped me to complete the race without further need - quite an achievement in itself.
The race started slow - a bit congested, but not too bad. I had my set pace, and I was sticking to it. The Green start merged in without issue, and I was waiting for the “boos” as the Red start joined us. All I remember was someone moaning about the bloke bouncing his basket balls - you just heard a pounding - boom, boom, boom. If that’s not inspiration to move forward then I don’t know what is - oh hold on, how about the bloke in the Mankini with the mesmerising buttocks. I didn’t see him, but certainly heard about him later - not to mention the bloke in the Morph suit and nothing else who traumatised my kids while they studied the TV footage for me.
Crowd support was incredible - just as everyone told me it would be. I tried to acknowledge every shout with a nod, wave, smile or wink - it really does make a difference, and stops you from dropping your guard. I was asked recently what I think of when running long distances - I find that there’s enough to keep you busy monitoring how things are going, watching the road and other runners - you never know when one will jump out in front of you!
Water stations were everywhere. Unfortunately, water bottles were all over the road too. Why do people do this? My mate Julie was taken out by a bottle at the half-way point and while she carried on, her pace diminished rapidly.There were a few sticky patches on the road too from the free gels. I took three of my own gels along - two IsoGels and one High 5 Gel with caffeine. That was plenty to get me though, all tried and tested during training.
I looked out for the Lliswerry cheering stations. Needant have bothered - I could hear them! Amazing to see so many faces from home with shouts of encouragement, bellowing and looks that said “get yourself over that line”. I had been running with a girl from Parc Bryn Bach for a mile or so before the main one, and it seemed only fitting that we should go hand in hand at that point (before she left me for dust). Thanks to Mike Ridd for this photo of me "enjoying myself":
Continued on past Mile 20, now running further than I’d ever gone before. Felt myself slow down, but just kept it going just fine until Mile 24. My legs started to seize at the hips. Pace slowed and found myself starting to mince forward, the legs not stopping, just far more straight than before.
Approaching Big Ben, I was delighted to hear it chime, just for me. That meant it was two o’clock, giving me ten minutes to get to the finish. My legs started to work properly once more - after that, it was a blur until I saw the final clock - desperate to get under before the four hour mark - took a little leap for the camera, then it was all over. Crossed the line, got my medal and had my photo taken. Caught up with a few people who I met prior to the run and sat under a tree to investigate the goodie bag.
One of the more “interesting” features of my goodie bag was a strip of Beef Jerky. Not something that I eat, but potentially offensive to Vegetarians, Vegans or people who’s religion forbids the eating of Beef.
After catching up briefly with the Lliswerry Runners at the meeting point, I wandered over to meet up with the people from the Charity that I’d been fundraising for - “East Anglian Air Ambulance”. Unfortunately, it took me a bit longer than expected to get to them (can’t think why), and they were gone by the time that I got there. One of the other Charity people kindly gave me a little flag to hold for a photo, so I still made it onto their Twitter feed.
Rushed my way back across London and made it safely to the train. I apologised to the lady sat next to me for the smell (I hadn’t chance to get changed). I sent a text to Rich at this point, asking him how he got on - “Amazing, PB by 30 minutes, really happy with my time - 3:55, how about you?”. I left it until he asked specifics about timing before responding almost embarrassingly with “Ummmm 3:54”.
Upon checking my Garmin records later, I actually ran 44.6km instead of the required 42. This despite doing my best to “run the blue line”. The blue line was a series of two sets of lines in dark blue, highlighting the shortest path - very handy for seeing where the next turn in the road was going. I followed these as much as I could, but they were only present at certain places, and the slightly crowded nature of the course made it difficult. I went out at 3:45 pace, as planned and whilst I was delighted to complete at 3:54, I was curious towards where I lost a bit of time. Turns out, 2km at 5:20 more than equals the 9 minutes extra that it took me to run the extra distance.
One thing that I’d never experienced before was seeing the time at every Mile - that was really useful. I was slightly envious of those who collected “pace bands” from the Adidas stand at the EXPO. These were personalised bands, worn around the wrist with the times that you should be hitting each mile as you go. Combined with the clocks, they seemed a really good idea. Shame I missed them, though you can make your own using this link from the Adidas web site. Looking into it some more, you can even get “Pace Tattoos”. Some people are driven by numbers, and others actively avoid them - I’m in the first camp and I see this as something to add to my pacing arsenal (and something else to keep my mind occupied).
Thank you for all your support, both at the club and also with my fundraising.
Apologies for mentioning times in this report. I don’t normally, but I’m dead proud of that one and it fits here and there with my thoughts. My goal was to go sub-four, and it happened!