Sunday, 28 April 2013

London Marathon 2013 - Insanity

"That was insane" were the words that I remember muttering to myself as I crossed the finish line.

Good luck comes to those best prepared.
My goal was sub three hours but I crossed the finish line on the Mall 3 hours 2 minutes and 49 seconds after I set off from Blackheath. The first emotion was relief, thank God it was all over. I knew I hadn't gone sub three but I wasn't sure about my official chip time and at that point I hardly cared. My previous best was a time of 3 hours and 3 minutes which I set in 2002. There was a chance, just a small chance that eleven years later, my official time would be better. I wouldn't know for sure until I staggered further up the mall, retrieved my bag and searched for the official result via my mobile phone. The London Marathon is up with technology, as soon as runners cross the line their finish times appear almost instantaneously on the Marathon website. Ironically, supporters at home who had tracked my progress 'live' via the online tracking tool would have known my official finishing time before I did. I still had to stagger up the mall to collect my bag and that wasn't going to be easy.
I had a good run this year. I cruised through the first 13.1 miles and arrived at halfway feeling fresh. I had unintentionally picked up the 'Runners World' magazine sub three hour pacing group at about mile 3. I usually try to avoid the pacers because they are accompanied by a swarm of like minded runners all trying to keep a steady pace. I prefer to find space to run away from the crowd. The pacer wears a light back pack with an extended flag attached. The flag reads "2:59", if you stick with the pacer and the pacer gets it right, you will run an even pace and arrive back on the mall slightly under three hours. I was later to learn that another sub 3 hour pacer who had run off a different start came to grief at mile 19, full story here. By mile 18 I was still with the pacer, he was some 50 metres in front as he had been since I inadvertently happened upon him at mile three. I had made no attempt whatsoever to stay with him it was just that my pace ,matched his which I guessed boded well for my sub three intentions.

Always privileged to start in the GFA pen, more space, near the start line.
Although I went through mile 14 feeling fairly fresh by 15-16 I noticed I was working harder for the same pace. My breath had become more laboured, during the first half I could have held a staggered conversation but by mile 16 that would have been more difficult. Despite the laboured breath I continued at a good pace. As I approached canary wharf by mile 19 I noticed that  I was gaining on the pacer and eventually I caught him up. It was a bit like meeting someone famous. I had spent the last two hours watching him from a distance, his plight was very important to me. Suddenly I was close enough to assess his features. The sub three pacer was a small, thin man with chiseled features and short hair. To be able to pace a comfortable 3 hour marathon he must be able to run his own marathons close to two thirty. He looked every bit a two thirty man and I passed him with a bit of trepidation and lots of respect.

Mile 19 was probably the strongest part of my race. I was running strong and I had just passed the pacer without trying. My sub three hour dream was well and truly on, I just had to hold it all together. If mile 19 was my strongest part of the race, although I didn't know it at the time, it also set the scene for the weakest part which was about to follow. By mile 20 my famous pacer friend had infamously run back passed me along with the swarm of other folk hanging to his side. I don't know what happened, perhaps he sub consciously knew I had followed him since mile 3 and he thought he would teach me a lesson. He would lull me into a false sense of security by slowing down letting me pass. He would give me half a mile to wallow in my happiness, he would wait until until I had convinced myself that as I had just passed the pacer I was sure on for sub three then he would strike back and knock me down a peg or two. Not a mile since I had passed him at Canary Wharf the pacer came gliding back past me. From that point he and his sub three posse gradually lengthend their lead on me until by mile 23 they were virtually out of sight amongst a few hundred runners in front. I remember seeing the tip of his flag bob about far off in the distance until eventually it could be see no more. Meanwhile, I was left behind to be reunited with my annual cockney acquaintance, personal turmoil.

Mid Flow on we go.
 Between miles 22 and 23 the wheels had come seriously off. I kept running but I knew my pace had dropped and there was nothing at all I could do to keep up with my previous pace. The wheels always come off, the marathon finds you. This year I managed to stave off the inevitable a bit longer than usual. It was time to dig deep. I always look forward to the under pass at Blackfriars bridge. The tunnel always provides a good opportunity to gather yourself ahead of the final push. The crowds this year were as plentiful as I have ever seen. This was my eight London Marathon. It came a week after the tragic bombing of the Boston Marathon and yet the crowds on the streets of London were unrelenting. The hum and buzz of the cheering crowds lifted us mile after mile. Every now and again a band at the side of the street gave extra motivation to wilting runners. The Caribbean drums near the financial district are a highlight. The underpass at Blackfriars is the only point on the course which is absent of spectators. The tunnel lasts about a quarter of a mile. This year there were inflated balloons in the underpass with messages inscribed upon them. One balloon read, "pain is temporary, glory is forever".
By this point things were miserable. I was knackered. The balloons coupled with the relative stillness of the underpass away from the crowds made for an eerie environment. It felt as if I had been taken off stage mid performance. The underpass was quiet apart from the odd heavy duty audio speaker between the balloons and the patter of runners feet adjacent to me. The speakers were relaying the crowd cheers from outside the tunnel in an attempt to create a continuing atmosphere. I felt a bit odd running through the tunnel, a bit disconnected. I had run from the chaotic frenzy of streets lined with spectators into a lone tunnel flanked by large white balloons and occasional speakers relaying muffled audio of crowd cheers. It seemed surreal and I felt closer to the runners that were around me, the gravity of our collective challenge was bought into focus. The exit of the tunnel was welcome but no less weird. From the relative calm and surreality, we we thrust back up the gradual ramp back into craziville and the cheers of the crowds were even more prolific. It was time to run home.


The Marathon makes you lose your hair.
By now I had less than  there miles to go. I wanted to stop. I had used the tunnel to reflect. I knew my pace had fallen off sub three it would have been tempting to throw the towel in but there was really no excuse for that other then weakness. I had trained hard this year and I owed it to myself to keep pushing on. By mile twenty four I consciously tried to extend my legs and revert to a more usual bouncy running style. My effort was met with a shooting cramp all around the top of my thigh. I had to leap to the side of the road to avoid impeding those behind me. I carried on running and I swore repeatedly under my breath. Cramp is a worry. I don't usually cramp and it would be a new experience trying to keep it at bay. I carried on running and within a few paces I had run it out. I was now closing on the House of Parliament which marks the welcome turn towards bird cage walk and the finish. I was able to pick up the pace a bit and by bird cage walk I was trotting on with some style. This was the glory leg time to enjoy it. I focused on the crowds and used their energy. The "400m to go" sign came into view, "just one lap of a running track" I thought. The bend in front of Buckingham palace is long but eventually you round it to see the most welcome sight - the finish. I rallied up the mall and under the central finish bridge raising my hands in the air and muttering to myself "that was insane".

The after show - aka - the best bit.
After retrieving my bag I met Tracy, another welcome sight. My phone was full of messages from folk who had tracked my live progress. I could only see the first lines of their texts, "great time, well done". But what was my official time did I PB? It was difficult to access the marathon website but I resisted the temptation of reading my texts in full and finding out the time third hand. Tracy managed to get online with her phone and the result was confirmed a PB by 36 seconds 11 years later. People have asked me if I'm disappointed not to have gone sub three. There isn't a single tinge of disappointment, I trained hard, ran strong in ideal conditions and came home with a PB, I'm happy with that, and besides, I've still got something to aim for.... 

Thanks to everyone who supported this year.
NB) We noticed whilst in London that I also ran London in 2000 and 2001. My complete London Marathon hostory is:
2013 - 3:02:49
2012 - 3:05:40
2011 - 3:06:01
2005 - 3:11:59
2004 - 3:11:54
2002 - 3:03:25
2001 - 3:20:12
 2000 - 3:23:23



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