Monday, 18 April 2011

London Marathon

The London Marathon Exhibition at registration on Saturday marks the start of the event and is the time when I beginning to get excited and apprehensive about the forthcoming race. After registration I retired to the apartment only pausing for pasta and a glass of red wine from Pizza Express before bed. I awoke at 6.20am and left for the start. The streets of east London were relatively quiet but it didn't take long before I saw another solitary figure walking towards Stratford railway station clutching a red plastic kit bag and signifying a fellow marathoner. The Jubillee Line took me to London Bridge where I changed train. I was grateful that the overground train to Blackheath was less crowded than previous years.

I was genuinely glad to get to the start at Blackheath on Sunday morning the 17th April 2011. There's a lot that can get in the way of starting a marathon, in 2008 I arrived at registration 5 minutes late and they wouldn't let me run. For the past two years I've been 'managing' an iliopsoas muscle injury, then plantar faciitis which meant deferring my marathon entry and so to walk out across Blackheath was mildly emotional, not helped by a severe lack of sleep the night before due to pre race nerves and noise outside the apartments where we stayed.

First mission accomplished - getting to the start.
The queues for the toilets are legendary this year they seemed especially long despite 'new' men's urinal blocks and even women's urinals too. I'm not sure how women's urinals work but I've read since that they are a welcome addition, maybe someone can enlighten me? It was about five years since my previous London Marathon  but I remembered the pre-race routine, vaseline the nipples, the underarms and between the legs, factor 30 the forehead, make sure the timing microchips are attached to a shoe, pack everything you don't need into the red kit bag and place on the relevant baggage lorry according to your race  number. When the gun fires the baggage lorries take an alternative route to the finish so your bag is ready to colllect when you cross the finish line. I was really nervous at this stage I'd put a lot of pressure on myself to avoid aggrivating injuries but once my bag was on the lorry and I had made a final toilet trip I decided to make a consious effort to relax and so headed off to 'Pen 1' at the start.                               

When you apply for the marathon you have to state your estimated finish time. You are then allocated a 'pen' accordingly. I was fortunate to be placed in the first pen and was really close to the front of the field. I could see the start line easily and I knew it would only take a few seconds to cross. I had entered the pen some 15 minutes before the start. Usually there's a balance to be struck between drinking plenty to ensure good hydration but on the other hand not standing on a crowded start line needing a pee. This year I stole a tip from the Serpentine Runners website, I wore a huge wheelie bin liner and carried an empty bottle to pee into under the bin liner and just before the gun. In the event I didn't need it but the whole plot kept me amused as I waited for the gun which is actually a loud claxon.


Richard Branson sounded the claxon and 37,000 runners surged towards the start line ready to run the 26.2 miles to Buckingham Palace and Pall Mall. It took me about 30 seconds to cross the start and I remember the relief that at last I was doing that simple action I love most....... running. The first miles were uneventful until I attempted to escape an incoming runner at a water station. I put on a surge to get out of his way which had the effect of unitentionally blocking another runners access to water. I thought I heard him mutter something so I turned to offer him my bottle as a peace offering. When I looked to pass the water on, I noticed it was Bob Hope of Emmerdale Farm. I wouldn't have known him from the soap but I did recognise him from fell races which he competes in around the Peak District. He accepted the water, we exchanged a brief pleasantry about an endurance event that we had both completed and then I ran on. My other unintentional celebrity encounter was more uncomfortable and involved Nell McAndrew at about 8 miles. I knew Nell was a classy marathon runner and wasn't suprised when suddenly the crowd began shouting "go Nell!" I glanced to my left to see the model setting a good pace alongside. Nell had henna paintings of the cancer research symbol on the outside of her legs. Sadly, a 50 something male runner pulled alongside to 'chat' to her. Not content with saying hello he proceeded to ask, how she was feeling, whether Nell remembered him from last years race, how her children were?! and what she thought of motherhood! The motherhood question was the last question I heard. Due to having to conduct an interview with the lonely man Nell lost the pace and dropped back. For all Nell Mcandrew's running abilty, I can confirm she's has patience in abundance too. I only heard her politely answer lonely man's questions., It turned out Nell ran 3:08 so I assume she shook him off fairly soon after I left her.  

My race plan was to tick over until half way. I had to be disciplined not to go too fast, I wanted to get to 13 miles in good form but if possible under 1 hour 30 mins. The first ten miles passed quickly but I remember Tower Bridge seemed to be taking a long time to reach. That was perhaps my first minor point of demoralisation. I reached half way in 1 hour 31 and although slightly discouraged by the time I was encouraged because I felt good, with plenty of energy left to draw on in the second half. I had decided to now focus on the 22 mile mark and not allow myself to become obsessed with mike markers. Marathon running is like that, when it gets hard (and it always does) you end up longing for the mile markers to come in. The more you long for them the further apart they seem to get. The best term I have ever heard used to describe that desperate state is "personal turmoil". It happens with every endurance race, you desperately want to stop but you have to carry on and the finish seems ever longer away.       

Bird Cage Walk
By 18 miles I had begun to suffer. This was common with my previous London marathons, it always seems to be about 18 miles when the muscles become depleted and you feel like you want to walk or even give up and retire. I used energy gel and shot blocks this year, previously I have only drunk on the marathon and not eaten. I can't confirm absolutely that eating wards off 'the wall' but there is a psychological comfort to merely putting a gooey gel or a sugary sweet in your mouth and I suspect that helps. Although I had started to deteriorate I was encouraged to some degree by the occasional muttering from the crowd "they are close to 3 hour pace" I heard on more than one occasion.

I had bought a stop watch at the marathon exhibition and had spent the previous evening dutifully studying the settings. Sadly at some point during the race I must have banged into another runner and the time recording stopped. This wasn't a big deal as the microchip on my shoe would ensure an accurate detail of my time every 5K to the finish but the disadvantage was I was unsure what time I was pacing. I was encouraged about the possibility of running sub 3, its my dream, but in honesty I knew I was some way behind that pace despite what I was hearing from the crowd. If I could not run sub three, there was another massive incentive. If i could run sub 3:10 I would qualify for a guaranteed entry to next year's event. That's a good illustration of the madness of running. I'm at mile 20, knackered, shot, wanting to stop and walk, hurting and stiff yet I'm ignoring the pain because I need to keep running fast and achieve a sub 3:10 time so I can come back and get hurt again next year!

Mile 22 came and I reminded myself that this was my next planned milestone. In addition to the crowds sub 3 hour mutterings I had heard a spectator say he thought we were running at 3 hour 5 pace. I thought that was more accurate and with now only a little over four miles left I knew I had to knuckle down and keep putting one foot in front of the other. I reminded myself that I had less distance to run than an average lunch time training run. I was excited about getting a good time. I would be thrilled with sub 3 hours 10. The marathon isn't over however until you cross the finish line, Sophie Raworth and Dwight Yorke will confirm the same. Rawoth dropped at mile 24 and ended up in the St John ambulance tent, Dwight Yorke 'bonked' big time. He was on for sub 3 as late as 23 miles but finished in 3:23 indicating the level off his personal turmoil over the last few miles. Raworth finished some time later after the medical assistance of the heros at St John's who line the route, incidentally I passed more people lying in the road this year than in previous years but thankfully I haven't since of heard of any fatalaties which is great.

Somewhere before mile 23 you run under an underpass I look forward to this section as its the only part of the course where you are by yourself away from the crowds. The crowd support is fantastic and part of the spectacle of the event but for that few yards of underpass its nice just to collect yourself away from others, have a mental chat with yourself, fix your hair and emerge back into the chaos ready to try and hammer the last three miles. I passed someone staggering at mile 24 someone just caught him before he fell, I felt desperately sorry for him to have come to grief so late on but I hope he got the Raworth medical treatment and managed to finish. I turned the corner at Big Ben and knew I was on the final push for home.

I started a last push down Bird Cage walk, 400m left, then 200m round the bend outside the Palace and the most beautiful site lay ahead - the FINISH. I can't muster a sprint and notice the clock is about to turn to 3:06. My Offfcial finish time - 3 hours 06 minutes and 1 second.
"Never again"

I was thrilled with the time, thrilled just to finish. Coping with my injury, managing to get an entry, the winter miles in the snow, the two 20 mile races in preparation not to mention the half marathons, lunch time and evening training runs and that awful Sunday morning 4 hour run across the Vale of Belvoir, it had paid off .I had finished my fifth London Marathon and it felt great. The chip was cut off my shoe and I staggered on up the Mall towards the baggage lorries. On the way I heard "Rushi!" glancing to my right I was met through the wire fence by the welcome sight of my partner, Tracy. We kissed through the fence. Tracy knew what it meant to me to be there. I carried on up to collect a goody bag including t-shirt before collecting the other bag which I had deposited on the baggage lorry some hours earlier.

I am very grateful to all the people who have sponsored my run. At the last minute I ran in aid of Save the Children's Japanese tsunami victim's relief fund. It's not too late to sponsor. The just giving page will remain open for 9 months and I'll dedicate the rest of this years events to the cause: 

The biggest thanks should go to my partner Tracy. I know I became a bit difficult in the week leading up to London, nothing else matters in the preceding week, thanks for putting up with me!

 Competing in the London Marathon's a great experience, described to me once as a 'life experience', I think that's that an accurate description, the pain the happiness, the turmoil, the glee, the camaraderie, the satisfaction all make it a day to remember. The shared sense of accomplishment between runners is special. I had to go back to work the day after but on the train back from an appointment in Peterborough I spotted a red bag. A girl on the seat opposite had run and we exchanged stories about the day before.

Although I said "never gain" after crossing the finish line I suspect I'll take advantage of my "good for age" place next year. So it looks like I'll be back. I need to do more speed work in training next year in addition to endurance work. There's s still that sub three hour dream, I know its possible!!!     


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