I’ve watched the London marathon on TV for many years… and for most of my adult life that’s been whilst also nursing a hangover and a bacon sandwich.
Five years ago I would never have imagined I’d be in a position to enter, let a lone complete the race, however – since joining BvH in 2010 – my aspirations (as well as my fitness) have evolved.
My London story began on December 1st 2012, when I was jubilant to have landed one of the three club places drawn at the Christmas party.
I trained steadily up until the beginning of March 2013, and a good ‘Droitwich Half’ with a PB of 1h 39m meant I was satisfied with my progress. However, a heavy cold kept me out of the ‘Ashby 20’ and despite a sensible spell of no running, those achy, flu-y, throaty symptoms hung on and on.
As March became April, thoughts turned from ‘doing a good time’ in London…. to just ‘doing a time’… to possibly ‘not doing it at all’. By the second week of April, with no running for almost a month, I had to concede that trying to complete the race would have been a very miserable experience. I well remembered a race report by Mike Scotney, which advised, “you’ve got to respect the marathon”. So with a heavy heart, one week prior to London 2013, I hit the ‘defer’ button.
Despite the disappointment, with accommodation paid for and the kids re-homed for the weekend, my wife and I decided it was too good a chance to miss and headed down to see the other BvH’ers complete the course. It was a brilliant day, and with my 2014 place guaranteed, at least I’d got something to look forward to. Plus, now I had a full 12 months to properly prepare.
I resumed running in May 2013 and ran steadily all year – with a reasonable performance at the ‘Birmingham Half’ in October.
‘Christmas’ is always a milestone on the runners calendar, and just as in 2013, I begin the New Year with a fresh plan of attack and a ‘No booze till April’ policy.
January and February came and went, and other than the odd niggle (nothing a decent sports massage couldn’t resolve) I was feeling fit and strong. Like many others, I balance a hectic job, a young-ish family, plus various other commitments – but a 2hr 48m finish at the ‘Ashby 20’ gave me belief that a 3h 45m finish at London was feasible.
Late March however, once again proved to be ‘nightmare- time’ – bizarrely, those flu-y, achy symptoms of 2013 seeming to make a comeback.
I took 10 days off from running, yet frustratingly my energy levels felt really low – just like the early stages of a heavy cold, though never actually breaking out properly. This year however, I didn’t have the luxury of deferring my entry …it was ‘use it or lose it’…’now or never’…so I focused on just being well enough to take to the start line on April 13th.
Despite lots of sleep and barely 20 miles running completed in the final two weeks, I still had no ‘get up and go’ in me. What I did have was a nagging sense that the London Marathon wasn’t going to be a whole load of fun.
The night before the race, with no improvement, I was again close to dropping out – the agony of ‘do I or don’t I’ really splitting me in two. On the one hand I knew I might never be in a position to run the race again, yet on the other, we’ve all heard horror stories about people collapsing (or worse) whilst competing when ‘unfit’ to run.
On the morning of the marathon I felt rotten – cold, shivery and lacking any energy. I’d read the official VLM bumph dozens of times and the words “it is very foolish to run if you have had any sort of virus or injury in the last four weeks” were burnt into my brain.
I sat on the train down to Blackheath, surrounded by excited runners, thinking “What am I doing? I’m not well enough to run this race – I don’t even feel capable of finishing!” Yet, despite my head telling me ‘No’, instinct pushed me onwards to the start line.
I’d never been to this part of London before, yet the ‘Blue start’ area felt strangely familiar – probably due to my years of armchair following – so the frustration at not feeling ‘up for it’ was amplified as I took my position in the starting pen.
My revised plan was to maintain a pace of just less than 9.00 min/mile – and try to sneak round in sub 4 hours. By now, I was holding on to the hope that ‘adrenaline’ and ‘the crowd’ would carry me through.
We set off in brilliant sunshine and after a creaky first couple of miles, settled into a reasonable 8.45 min/mile rhythm. If there was one spell when I did fell ‘good’ it was coming around The Cutty Sark – such an iconic part of the VLM course – however by the half way point at Tower bridge, I knew my sub- four hour hopes were fading.
Mile 14 onwards was probably the most miserable stretch of running I’ve EVER completed. What should have been the highlight of my running life was reduced to an endurance test like nothing I’ve ever done. It’s often said that the last 6 miles of a marathon are harder than the first 20 – well for me there was no discernable difference between mile 15 and mile 25 – it was all a bloody misery!
The couple of miles back along the Embankment – a stretch I’d dreamed about for the last 18 months – were purgatory. Big Ben appeared to be MILES away, and by now it was warm and I’d been running on empty for a long time. Other runners were flaking out around me, yet perversely this did seem to spur me on – as I was determined that however badly I felt, I would not walk.
As I rounded the final bend at Buckingham Palace, I felt a real mixture of emotions – glad to have finished, yet disappointed that nothing went to plan… proud to have completed, yet annoyed that it had taken me 4 hours and 8 minutes to do so.
Now, a few days on with the dust settled, I’m a bit more philosophical about the whole experience. I’ve learned that if your not ‘fit to run’, adrenaline and the crowd alone won’t get you over the line. On the flip side (and maybe dangerously), I’ve also reinforced my belief that if you are waiting for the perfect day, when everything feels great, then you might never run another race again.
Overall, it’s will power and mental strength that’s needed most to get through a drama, a crisis or a 26.2 mile run around the capital.
Looking back at ‘the beast’ that is The London Marathon… I’m glad it’s over…. I never want to do another one… but…just maybe, there is a small part of me that feels I’ve still got some unfinished business in London.
Now, wheres that bacon sandwich…