Sunday, 29 April 2012

London Marathon 2012


Good luck comes to those best prepared.
The Thursday after the race I found myself on a training course with work. It took place on the 11th floor of a high rise block somewhere in the financial district of London. My mind wandered frequently as I gazed out across the magnificent London skyline. From my seat I pondered how much of the London Marathon course, which I had run four days previously, I could see out of the window. I could certainly identify Canary Wharf at 15 miles. Closer were the Gherkin Tower and and the London Eye, sights which for most of the course delegates would have represented significant symbols of the capital city but for me they represented markers along the final six miles of the route along the Embankment. I looked towards Westminster and Big Ben where there is the long awaited 45 degree turn towards Bid Cage Walk and the finish. I sat and questioned what might have been. What if the weather had been a little cooler? Did I drink enough? Did I drink too much? Perhaps I should have gone off a bit slower or maybe I should have run a bit faster in the first half. Such a post race critique is usual and shouldn't be misinterpreted as an indication that I am disappointed with my time of 3 hours 5 minutes and 40 seconds. 

Sub 3 ambition
The day before the race I had indicated that I would be content just to finish, it's never guaranteed as was tragically illustrated by the death of a runner in the final mile. I would be happier with sub 3.10 which should qualify for a good for age place in 2013/14. I predicted I would be happier still If I could beat last years time. I managed that too by a mere 21 seconds! The only unachieved target was the elusive sub three hour target. Five minutes doesn't sound much but it's the best part of a miles worth off running and in reality I don't consider that I came all that close. 

We spent the previous night at an apartment close to Canary Wharf. The location was handy for the marathon exhibition and had good tube connections to get me to the start on race day.  After eating copious amounts of pasta, bread and panacotta at an Italian restaurant adjacent to the Thames I returned to face the dreaded pre race night's sleep. I always struggle to sleep before the marathon, anticipation rather than nerves get the better of me each year. This year I did perhaps sleep a little better than last year but my eyes were awake half an hour before the three alarm clock's which I had set buzzed at 6.30am


like a horse looking at the fence
A bowl of porridge and a banana later and I was out of the apartment and into the quiet streets of East London. I hadn't realised but our apartment was on marathon route. During the night the organisers had stealthily decorated the street outside and yesterday's busy traffic route was now empty and set for an onslaught of 37,000 runners, It seemed strange that I would pass again later. Not 100 metres after leaving the apartment I saw another person with the familiar complimentary kit bag making their way through the quiet business district towards the station. Like bees to a hive the swarm slowly gathers. At Canary Wharf there was a handful of other runners busily making their way to the Docklands Light Railway. Rather than jumping the DLR I walked the opposite way and took the Jubillee Line to London Bridge and then caught a train to Blackheath. As last year, the plan worked well, the train at London Bridge was relatively quiet and I was easily able to get a seat. The swarm of marathoners was fully gathered outside Blackheath station and we marched on up Blackheath High Street and out on to the common to our respective race starts. This was it, the culmination of a hard winters training was about to take place. Hours of training on the roads, speed work, races in different parts of the country not to  mention the diet sacrifices, all for the next few hours of effort. I sat next to a BBC sports producer at a wedding once and he enthused about his love for the passion of sport. He was fascinated by 100 metres runners who could dedicated their life to hard training and sacrifices of the highest order just for a defining 10 seconds of effort. A lifetimes dedication which culminated in just 10 seconds on a track. This was my ten seconds.  I was pretty nervous by this stage but psyched by the energy of the thousands of other runners at the start each of whom I knew would have devoted as much dedication as I, just to run around the streets of London chasing different personal goals. Pre race at London has a mystique all of its own. Every eye contact with another runner  has an unspoken commonality with it, you both know how important a race it is and how hard its likely to be.


This year i was lucky enough to given a 'good for age' entry which included a separate assembly enclosure with access to the front of the start. I felt quite privileged not to have to queue for the toilets so long and to have a little more space to get changed, it made the whole pre race procedure less stressful. The lack of participants in the good for age pen meant that I met plenty of familiar faces. Tony Johnson of Ropsley Runners, Matt Willis of the BBC Running Club and a couple of folk from Wilmslow were some of the other racers who I chatted to before the serious business of greasing my nipples began. 
off to the start

The downside to the 'good for age' assembly area was that there was only one baggage bus and any time I gained in the short toilet queue was perhaps lost in the queue to dump my bag. The baggage system works well. Just before the race starts you give your bag to a volunteer who places it on the back of an articulated lorry. The lorries, perhaps as many as 30 HGV's drive to the finish whilst runners are racing and by the time we get to the Mall the lorries are parked right by the finish line ready to dispatch bags back to their needy recipients.


I shuffled into the start area, I was perhaps 100 metres from the start. It isn't until you watch the television coverage later that you get a sense of the thousands of runners lining up behind you. The race horn started and 9.45am and it took me perhaps a minute to cross the red start line. This was it, steady for the first half then let rip until the wheels fall off, then hang on to whatever you can find!

The first half of the marathon was largely uneventful I remember a hill on the red route before the runners merged and there seemed to be a few more turns than I remembered on the blue start the previous year. After three miles the routes merged and any space I had found was lost. I merged with the runner's world magazine sub 3 hour pacing group. I was a bit annoyed about it because there was a mass of runners surrounding the pacer with the intention of sticking to him like glue in order to be paced round in under three hours. It was my goal too but I wasn't going to run the marathon in such cramped conditions and so I edged out to the side and pushed on to find more running space a bit further ahead. In the end I didn't run sub three which suggests at some point the pacer must have passed me. I don't remember the sub three crowd coming back past but I suspect it was somewhere around 19 miles when I was struggling to hold it together.

I look forward to crossing Tower Bridge. Its significant as its almost at half way. The crowds are awesome around the bridge, the sound is amazing. I ran across feeling good and confident about the second half but hoping that the bridge was strong enough to take the thousands of cheering spectators that had gathered. I wanted to go through half way in sub 1:28. I had a semi permanent skin tattoo of pace time on my under arm. I was on pace, feeling strong, the second half was beginning all I had to do was run the second half like the first and the mission would be accomplished. I ran through half way in 1:28:51.

A tall order

Two miles later I was running past the apartment that I had left bleary eyed not four hours earlier. I pondered if Tracy would still be around but thought it most likely she would have made her way towards the finish. I ran past the 15 mile mark under which I had been photographed the previous day after the marathon exhibition. The marathon expo takes place in the preceding week at Excel Arena. After registering for the race you can amble around a massive exhibition of running related merchandise including the latest gimmicks on the market, the 1000 miles socks that won't give you blisters, the massage stick that will make you more supple and the Hokka shoes that are perhaps the opposite of the bare foot running craze but are 'guaranteed' to help you run longer! Karl Meltzer a famed US ultra runner is a fan.

Shortly after mile 15 I heard my name "Go, Paul Rushworth!" I glanced across to see friends James and Helen, I knew they were across from Belfast but I didn't know where they would be, they did well to spot me. I was enthused by the support and ran on still feeling good towards mile 16. Mile 16, 17 and 18 went well but I do remember beginning to feel a little tired. I was on target for sub three as late as 19 miles but when it happened, it happened fast. Within three miles I had gone from feeling great full of energy and confident about the remaining miles to feeling whacked. My mind felt good but my legs simply stopped working efficiently I felt like I was in a child's reign and somebody was holding me back. I knew I had to keep the momentum but it was absolutely noticeable that my had dropped. I questioned whether I was imagining it, perhaps I just felt like I was lowing down. "My legs are bound to be a bit tired perhaps in reality I had maintained pace" I thought. As I ran through the clock at mile 19 it was confirmed, I had lost about 40 seconds on sub three pace and it didn't at all feel like I could pull it back. I slurped another energy gel, drank more at the next aid station and swallowed a shot block that I had in my pocket. Usually I will come out of a period of dejection but not this year. Mile 20 came in and I had lost about a minute. The final six miles carried on like that it was pretty desperate. People were passing me all the time. I noticed that I hadn't passed anyone for ages which meant perhaps that I was struggling more than every body else in the entire marathon! In reality everybody struggles during those last five miles. The crowd support was as usual fantastic. I've heard it said, "If you are losing faith in human nature, run a marathon" such is the amazing experience of seeing thousands of other strangers scream at you with support and encouragement, willing you towards you goal. In honesty I would rather have been entirely by myself at that point. I was thoroughly dejected, I questioned whether I should walk, maybe even give up, this just wasn't my year I thought. I must try and remain more upbeat next time personal turmoil strikes, dejection nearly got the better of me this year. 
I mumbled and shuffled on moaningly to Big Ben. I remember muttering "yes!" to myself aloud whilst turning towards the final mile. I'd had enough. I didn't know what time I was on for at this point, I really didn't care, sub three had gone, all I wanted was to get this race finished. I ran toward the Palace and the signs 800m to go, 600 then 400 as I turned through the final 200m I could see the finish in the distance. I  muttered a much stronger version of "Thank Goodness for that" and mustered a kind of increased pace to the finish in 3 hours 5 minutes and 40 seconds . Relief engulfed me more than elation. 


In addition to Ben Mason and Ben Hatherley we made up a trio of runners representing Grantham Running Club. I had trained through the winter evenings with Ben and Ben and I knew they had miles on their legs an would run strong. Ben H ran home in 3:31:12 and Ben M 3:45:21 both great times in what I thought were warm conditions. Thanks to B&B and everyone else from Grantham AC who helped with encouragement and competition in training, it helped.  


The pub with friends including Steve Wehrle (in white) who has run every London Marathon

Post race I sat with my partner, Tracy in St James Park. We took in the post race atmosphere and exchanged stories with other runners. I spoke to a Swedish runner who had done the Boston marathon the previous week before flying to London to compete in less hot conditions. We shuffled on to the pub and met James Lawne, a veteran of 11 London marathons and his partner, Helen who had arrived back from their spectators positions at Canary Wharf. It was good to see other familiar faces from the BBC running club. A special round of applause was reserved for "ever present" Steve Wehrle finishing his 32nd London marathon having completed every previous London Marathon including running a pb of 2 hours 59 minutes and 59seconds!!!!!!


Entries for London 2013 open tomorrow (Monday 30th April). I might go again.

OK - I'm bound to go again.     


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