Monday, 14 April 2014

London Marathon 2014 - The Man in the Mankini

Runners cross Blackheath to the starts
I arrived on Blackheath with time to spare. Like an army of ants, thousands of runners had completed their winter's work and were making the pilgrimage to the red, green and blue start  areas.  I was lucky enough to have been allocated to the "good for age" area adjacent to the red start and I sat on the grass in the sunshine to contemplate the 26.2 miles that lay ahead.

As I reflected, I heard a big cheer. Mo Farah was warming up in the field next to our starting area. A man in a mankini ("MITM") had decided to keep him company as he jogged round the field limbering up. I was a bit worried that the MITM might interrupt Mo's focus for this for Mo was serious business. It wasn't to be the last time during the day that I would be concerned about MITM.

Waiting in the GFA holding area. 
You could say that I had similar race goals to Mo, only in my case the race goals would be an hour later. I had predicted in my previous post that I would run between 3 hours and 3:10 and I had put particular significance on my recent Ashby 20 time which suggested that I would run 3:07. As always I set off with the intent of breaking the hallowed sub three target but I knew realistically that sub three was a big ask. The forecasted cloud cover was absent and the heat from the bright sunshine posed a further obstacle that would have to be overcome.

My strategy was to coast to half way and push from there. Mathew Kingston Lee of GRC (who ran 2:46 at Rotterdam yesterday) has described the marathon as a final 20 mile training run with a "balls out" 10k at the end of it. After 20 miles of racing there would be no balls out 10ks for me! but I understood the intention from the message - try and get to 20 with something left in the tank. With all that in mind, I made my way to the start and I  got a good position which after the claxon sounded enabled me to cross the line about 40 seconds later.

The tools of the trade.
It is always a relief to get on the start line feeling healthy. It's a further relief to actually start running. The anticipation builds in the weeks before the marathon and in my case, although I 'enjoy' it, I was ready just to get the race done. The first five miles was uneventful. I knew I had got into a steady rhythm and I was well ahead of sub three hour pace. 

It was at about five miles that I noticed the crowds had suddenly become more enthusiastic. The crowd support at London is second to none but for some reason around five miles the spectators where whooping and hollering more than usual. It turned out that MITM was back. MITM was running alongside me wearing nothing but a luminous bright green mankini, complete with a tattoo of the Welsh dragon on either of his well tanned arse cheeks and a black wig on his head. This was a problem for two reasons. Firstly I like to think that I run at the sharp end of the marathon field alongside serious club athletes. It kind of knocks the wind out of your sails and disturbs your focus when every time you look up you see two tanned male arse cheeks staring back at you. Secondly, and even more pretentiously on my part, what would become of my race photos? How could I maintain the respect of my mates at work. They too think I'm a serious runner but if I had to show them photies of me running next to the  MITM any credibility that I had cultivated over time would be shot in an instant. Please take the time to click here  and meet "Nigel", straight in at number 6 and also know as my race partner from 5 through to 13 miles where we parted. I tried in vain to shake him off at various times but it just seemed that our paces were evenly matched even if our fashion sense wasn't.

I ran through half way in about 1:28:30. I was feeling fine, I didn't feel like I had exerted myself and my breath wasn't really laboured. This gave me a fighting chance of sub 3. it was time to steadily push on to 20 to see what I had left but then the inevitable happened.

Misery at 40k courtesy of Keith Measure.
Somewhere between 13 and 16 miles, I went from feeling good and optimistic to feeling awful and down. What happens is that the body clams up, the legs feel heavy and you can't manage to keep a good stride. The length of stride or "kick" becomes more and more restricted until you are left with nothing more than a runners shuffle to get you home. My breathing was still ok and I felt like I had energy but my body wasn't keeping up. My pace slowed right down, the sub three hour pacer came past me and as soon as I tried to stay with him, the slight increase in pace resulted in spasms, twitches and shoots of cramp. It was clear that I was in for a tough final 10 miles.

Experience matters in theses events and I knew from eight previous marathons, that if I could carry on at some kind of reasonable pace, there were similarly reasonable prospects of overcoming the wall. I staggered on in misery, mentally bemoaning how I had come to grief so early in the race. This year grandfather depletion visited early. At least I didn't have to endure the untimely visit with MITM, that might have tipped me over the edge!

At 20ish miles I saw Neil Thompson of Stockport Harriers, he was stood in the middle of the road having  a chat with another Harrier coming the opposite way. I resisted the strong urge to scream for help and instead smiled and exchanged a pleasantry as If nothing was wrong. By this point I was exhausted and I need to draw on a bit more experience by promising myself a treat at a point further along the course. I decided I would allow myself a squat in the underpass. Only a squat to relive the lactic acid, a quick up and down might do the trick. I was reluctant to stop. I wanted to be able to say that I ran it all but by the time the underpass arrived (which seemed to take ages) I was hurting too much. I shuffled to the pavement and got down in a position like a poised frog. That was a big mistake because I struggle to get back up and when I did groan back to an upright position (and God did I groan) my legs where spasming all over the pace.

Until next time.
Three miles to go, time to draw from more experience - eat everything you've got. I ate the last off my shot blocks and a gel and washed them down with Buxton water. Three miles to parliament seems close but Westminster was very far. I turned the bend on towards bird cage walk and tried again to muster something of a more respectable pace. The shooting pain in my groin put me straight back into place and thereafter I death marched up the  mall to finish in 3:07. I had called it right in the previous blog post - you can't cheat the rules of marathon running.   

Despite the misery of the final miles I'm now very happy to have completed my ninth London Marathon. Therein lies a problem - you can't do nine of something can you?

Thanks as always to everyone who has offered  support and encouragement. The marathon is a great event and an event that I respect more and more after each completion. If you haven't yet, but are thinking of entering for 2015, just do it. Its a life experience just watch out fort the man in the mankini!     


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