Wow, a very rewarding and very different experience from my past few marathons. Each one is a journey of self-discovery but the last three have been a tale of what if’s?; this one answered some internal questions and restored my faith in my ability to run this insane distance, not just by the time it was run but in the manner, a sustained controlled pace pretty much from the off ….
The day started well, a reasonable sleep after fuelling on pizza and honeycomb Arctic roll at Prezzo in Woodford with Pete the night before, and an easy trip in from East London, feeling the tension from fellow runners on the train under charcoal skies, no sun to be seen. Getting off at Blackheath I immediately bumped into Andy Wheeler, who was looking confident, and wandered up to the start. The prospect of heavy rain seem to have abated, so after bumping into both Harvey and Oli (what were the chances!) and talking through last minute strategies, it was time to dump the bag and join Pen number 3 on the Blue Start, in anticipation for the off. At 10.10 as a flurry of discarded bin bags sailed overhead we were off. No signature anthems (at least I didn’t hear anything) and within a minute or so, we’d managed to cross the start line.
The first couple of miles were carnage! I was intending to go out at steady 8 minute miles, but as the first one sailed past in 8.40 due to the sheer weight of numbers, the focus was not on time but on avoiding other peoples feet and humps in the road, which in itself involved a high level of concentration. It eased out though after about 3 miles and it felt easier to run; the numbers were just as large but everyone just seemed to settle into some kind of rhythm, which was established by the time we headed to Greenwich. At some point I went passed a personal Marathon talk hero, Tony Audenshaw (the guy from Emmerdale) who was running with Emu on his arm, and wished him luck!
The atmosphere as we went passed the National Maritime Museum and the Cutty Sark was fantastic, and I managed to step up the pace a little, partly to escape a pack of runners who were sticking like to glue to the 8 minute mile Pacer, including a man in an 8 foot Buxton Water Bottle Costume! I was really trying to absorb the festival like commotion between miles 7 and 13 as we headed for Tower Bridge, which I think are definite course highlights. I took the first of my three gels at about 8 miles and kept to a strategy of just taking a little water every 4 miles or so, which strictly kept to the whole run working on the basis that there was little point in deviating too much from what I would do on long training runs. Enjoyed going over Tower Bridge with all the cheer and before we knew it we are at half way; my watch clocked at 1.43, so slightly ahead of expected schedule but feeling strong
In the past couple of London Marathons the wheels came off between miles 16 and 19 at the Isle of Dogs. The conditions were very kind this time, about 10 degrees and thick cloud with a little drizzle on occasions, so weather was no excuse. The training miles had been put in, so I was determined not to befall the same fate! Mentally I labelled these graveyard miles; nothing really happens, it’s perhaps the least interesting part of the course and is less well supported, but I focussed on just running consistently and trying to follow the blue line as best as I could. 20 miles then came and went quickly and a few people were starting to struggle and I think it’s at this point that you have to be really mentally strong. My watch was telling me that was pace had remained pretty much consistent at 7.45 for a good hour and a half, at this point, and I was surprised with how good I was feeling, passing a lot of people and feeling quite ‘springy’, counting down the miles rather than worrying about how many had elapsed.
It was great going passed the crew at Bliss at about 22 miles, and the noise level upped a few decibels as we headed back along the embankment, taking in the magnificent views along the River and the Eye. At about 24 miles it was a case of just focusing on maintaining the effort which was eased by the sight of the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben and the run through St James’ Park. The last 600m did seem inordinately long though but there was still enough energy for a final burst up the Mall and the finish. It was only then that whilst feeling mentally really good, the legs felt absolutely gone!
I couldn’t be happier with the time. Ironically I ended up running at faster than 3.25 pace, averaging 7.45’s, but running 26.5 miles, but personally it was important to prove to myself that I could do it without recoursing to run walk, and amazingly looking at the splits, from 15 km (after the race had settled), my 5km split times varied by only 2 seconds, so the pace was sustained. I was delighted with a slight negative split too, the second half was a minute or so faster than the first.
I was then fortunate to have both a massage (very gentle) and a shower at a post race reception put on by Bliss, which will hopefully go some way to mending those thousands of little muscle tears endured en route!
So a few personal lessons learned:
1/ Ease into the race. Concentrate on just avoiding peoples feet for the first few miles, knowing it will ease out
2/ Do not aim to run at an exact pace that is being paced by an official Runners World guy. They become running Honeypots
3/ Be extra vigilant at water, and particularly lucozade gel stations – I cursed on numerous occasions nearly tripping over empty gel sachets
4/ Count down the miles, not count up. It’s gives so much re-assurance
5/ Pray for a cool, dry day!
6/ Break the run down – some parts are better supported than others, be prepared to almost try and switch off for those ‘graveyard miles’
7/ Try and follow the blue line as far as possible. Try not to run further than need be, but expect to do so – unless you’re an elite Kenyon you won’t be running 26.2!
8/ Don’t run with an iPod – the atmosphere is unique, it’s amazing. Let it wash over you, don’t drown it out. I don’t race to music any more and it’s made a big difference in the past couple of years.