London Marathon. An iconic race that everyone has heard of and one that most runners and many non runners say that they would like to do one day. Include me in that.
6:00 am: This is still the middle of the night in my book and not a suitable time for the alarm clock to go off. However, it is race day so time to get up, have a rather unexciting cheese sandwich for breakfast and then after a final kit check get a ride to the Surbiton station from Nik to start my journey to the start.
So why run marathons and the London Marathon in particular? I’ve now done 5 marathons and 10 ultras (races longer than marathon distance) so I should be able to answer that easily. I can’t though. I could say that I love doing them (and I do) but generally end up finishing in a considerable amount of pain which could last for many hours and who can love that? I could mention getting fit but shorter distances would do that just as well if not better. The challenge is definitely part of it. Can I do that distance? Can I do that distance in this time? These are self generated challenges, only of interest to myself, but completing a long run in a decent time definitely gives me a buzz even if I usually end up at the first aid station afterwards.
London is easier to explain. Curiosity. The biggest race I’ve been in had 2,000 runners, so London, with twenty times as many, is going to be a completely different experience. It has fantastic support from spectators with people lining almost the complete route, many bands and other entertainment by the side of the road. It is also pretty flat and all on road, two things I’ve not done before at marathon distance.
It is also difficult to get into which by itself suggests it is something special.
7:00 am: Surbiton railway station. It appears that I am not alone with most people wearing running shoes. Most of the remainder appear to be supporters.
Many of the railway franchises are allowing London Marathon participants to travel for free. This doesn’t include South West Trains though so I have to pay for my ticket. The wonders of modern technology allow me to achieve this by waving my phone over a pad on the gate. Anyway, the train is on time and not particularly full so gets me quickly into London and Waterloo station.
There are various ways of getting into the London Marathon, some easier than others.
For men, if you can run a 2 hour 45 minute marathon then you can get a place as an elite runner. This is just plain laughable for me.
For 41 to 49 year old men, a 3 hour 15 minute time in the last year will get you a Good For Age place. My best time before London was 3 hours 45 minutes in the Cornish Marathon so I was still some way off being able to enter via this route.
Probably the easiest way of getting in is via a charity place. The London Marathon raises a lot of money for charity and this has to be commended. However, many people don’t realise that the charity has to pay a minimum of £300 for this place. This means of the money people raise, the first £300 doesn’t go to the charity, it goes the London Marathon organisers instead. On principle, I refuse to get a place this way. Just to be clear, I am very happy for people to run for charity and did so myself. I also understand why the charities are keen for people to raise money this way.
7:30 am Waterloo East Station. Things are starting to get a little bit busy with runners everywhere. There are three starts for the London Marathon which all join up after a few miles. Red is the charity places, Green is the Good for Age runners and Blue is for the ballot places and club runners. Different stations service the different starts and as I’m in Blue, I’m going to Blackheath with the other ballot / club runners.
The other methods of entry into London are via the general ballot, which is open to everyone, and getting a place via a running club. This year there were roughly 250,000 entries for 10,000 ballot places so a 1 in 25 chance of getting in. Truro Running club was given two places with about 20 people looking for a place so a 1 in 10 chance that way. Overall the chance of getting in isn’t great, but the more times you try the better your chances are.
It took me six years, but last year my number came up and I received a ballot entry for the 2017 race. My sister of course, also managed to get a place. On her first try. Some people get all the luck.
Note: Many people remember the time that you used to get a guaranteed place after five rejections. This was discontinued a while back as it was unsustainable.
8:00 am Blackheath. It is now just the matter of a short 15 minute walk to the start. Things now really are getting busy with people everywhere. On the way, I pass the Reopening Vehicle. This follows the runners at 7hr finish pace and indicates that the roads can be cleaned up and reopened. I very much hope not to see this vehicle again.
I have arrived probably a bit earlier than really needed with an hour and three quarters to waste before the start of the run. I does mean though that I can use one of the many toilets without having to queue.
Running is my hobby and I do many runs / races a year and trying to raise money at each isn’t really appropriate. London though is different and special so I had decided a long time ago, that if I got in, I would try to raise money for charity. There are many worthy while charities that deserve help so how to you choose which one to run for? Regrettably, my choice was easy. I chose to support Breathing Matters.
9:00 am. There is now just an hour to go before the start and I’ve managed to meet up with Hollie, James, Helen and Lynne. Thank you Mr Superman for taking the picture.
We all seem to be ready, but all are a little bit nervous. Not only us though, everyone at the start. This means that there are something like 15,000 to 20,000 people who all want to go to the loo at the same time. This causes a queue, but not just one. Each group of portable toilets has its own queue which is has a marshal at is head shepherding people as quickly a possible in the next available receptacle. It all seems to work and Hana will be pleased to note that they were clean and well stocked when I made use. This was early on though and they may not been as great later on.
I also managed to meet up with my sister at the start. She wasn’t late but left it close, with only just enough time to visit the loo and drop off the kit bag before making over to the start pens.
Breathing Matters is a charity that performs research into idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis. This is a disease that I hadn’t heard of until my mother was diagnosed with it, although it kills as many people as lymphoma or leukaemia and about half that of those who die of breast cancer or prostate cancer. IPF causes the lungs to scar and basically stop working which means sufferers end up on oxygen as they struggle to draw breath.
As IPF has a low profile, research into it gets very little funding even though it affects so many people. This includes four other members of my direct family as well as my mother who passed away in 2010. It could also potentially affect me and my sister as well as others of the next generation in the family, though a genetic link hasn’t been proven.
Running London for Breathing Matters was an easy decision to make.
10:00 am The Start. My biggest worry about running London was the start as I wasn’t sure how it was going to go. I wanted to do a good time, but I had heard various stories about it taking a long time to get over the line and then the first few miles being so crowded with people that it was difficult to go at your target pace.
My starting pen was further back than I would like so as the start approached and the pen barriers were removed, I moved forward from the 3:45 pacer, past the 3:30 pacer and ended up beside the 3:15 pacer. This was faster than target, but hopefully it would mean I could dictate my own pace and people could go past me if they wanted.
I run pretty much everywhere with my phone and carefully record my routes using the GPS. My app of choice is runkeeper and I’ve used it for the last three years. You would have thought that I knew how to use it by now. Unfortunately, about 30 seconds before the start, I discovered that I managed to put it into a mode where it doesn’t record GPS and there was no obvious way of switching it back. Back into the pocket, my phone went with no tracking running. Fortunately, I had a back up with my GPS watch so I would just have to rely on that.
I’m sure that there was some sort of bang at the actual start, but I really can’t remember. I can recall waving at the camera as I crossed the line which I did 50 seconds after the actual start. No long delays for me so that was one worry out of the way.
I always go too fast at the start and I wanted to try and be sensible, but what pace should I go off at? 8 minute miles average would get me my target of 3 hours 30 minutes, but it would need to go a little faster than this to give me a buffer. 7:30 minute miles would give me a 3:15 finish and a Good for Age result, but this really wasn’t on the cards. 7:45 pace maybe?
But what was I capable of? My 3:30 target was fifteen minutes faster than my PB which is a lot to knock off. London though is flat and all on roads so will be fast, but completely different to the tracks and hills I normally run on. Will I find it easy and be able to keep to a fast pace or will I find it really hard and have to slow? Lots of questions, but no easy answers.
Mile 1. The first mile marker comes into view and there is a problem. The clock on the course says 8 minutes, but my watch says I’m running at 7 minute mile pace. One tells me I’m a bit slow, the other is telling me I’m a lot too fast.
Ah yes, I need to knock 50 seconds of the clock time to correct for the time it took me to get over the start line. I’ve gone off too fast again you idiot.
The next few miles are a bit better at around 7:20 to 7:30 pace and I’m keeping up with the 3:15 finish pacer. The route is crowded, but everyone is going at pretty much the same pace so it isn’t difficult to run. I feel good, this is within my capabilities, I’m not pushing it to keep up, it is early, but this feels sustainable. Maybe, just maybe, 3:15 is on the cards? Should I slow down and ensure the 3:30 finish or keep at this pace and see what happens?
At this point I also remember that I have more than one app on my phone for creating GPS traces, so out it comes and I have it going in seconds. Why didn’t I think of doing this at the start? Oh well.
Mile 5. At this point, the red and blue routes have merged. This makes things more crowded, but also combines the race pacers from each group. I’ve been running a little behind the 3:15 blue pacer. However, as the two starting groups combine, I discover that I am ahead of the 3:00 red pacer. Eeek! However good I think I am, I’m not a 3:00 hour marathon runner and don’t want to go at this pace. So what has happened? Is the 3:15 blue pacer fast or is the 3:00 red pacer slow? I start trying to do mathematics on the times…
So, 6 miles is coming up, I think I’m going at 7:30 pace so 6 times 7 = 42, add on 6 times 1/2 which is 3. What was the first number, ah yes, 42. What was the second number, ah yes, 3. Is that a water station coming up? Why is that person in front of me running diagonally. Oh no, there is a bollard in the middle of the road. So 42 plus 3 that is 45. But I need to remember to correct for the my start time so subtract 50 seconds. No, that isn’t right, add 50 seconds. Yeah, I think that’s right. Now what was the question?
Doing anything involving thought whilst running a marathon really isn’t possible.
Mile 6 Greenwich / Cutty Sark. I was being supported in London by Nik and her cousin Den. They were out on the course and I seem to remember them saying that they planned to see me at around the 6 mile mark, a bit before the Cutty Sark. I kept a look out for them, but unfortunately I missed them and
they missed me (actually this is not true – they were there just after Mile 5 and they saw me there). It was nice to think that they were out there somewhere though amongst the crowds.
The support all the way around was amazing. There was only a few places were there were gaps between those watching and in most places the crowds where many people deep. The noise was very loud, especially the drums under the bridge and my name was called many many times. It really is an event which gets you to perform to your very limit, there is barely a second where you aren’t being encouraged.
Mile 8 Toilet stop. Ah yes. Hmm. Lets just say that the portable toilets at mile 8 are not for you Hana. Enough said.
Mile 12 Tower Bridge (first time). Coming across the bridge, I happened to notice the gaps in the road where the road lifts up to allow ships through. For some reason, this was more interesting than anything else. No matter, I can look at the main structure as I pass the second time.
It was at this point that the first signs of trouble raised their head. I was doing well and the 3:15 pacer was still just ahead. Fortunately, the 3:00 pacer has disappeared, further on, hopefully making up time so I didn’t have to worry about going at that pace. Unfortunately, my right foot announced that it had a blister and was really rather hot and bothered. Wouldn’t you mind slowing down just a little bit?
Mile 15 Canary Wharf. Nik and Den were out again on the course and this time they caught sight of me. Less fortunately, I completely missed them despite being on the look out, their signs and them yelling their heads off.
A certain distraction at this point was my legs, not only did I have a painful foot, but my calves and hamstrings were really starting to hurt. My pace had dropped and the 3:15 pacer had disappeared into the distance, but I was still moving a good pace so onwards.
Mile 18 Isle of Dogs. Ok that hurt and could only be one thing. My blister had popped.
Mile 21 Canary Wharf. On the look out for Nik and Den again. Unfortunately, I missed them again though again they spotted me and yelled their heads off. A pity as it would have given me a lift which I needed. This was probably my lowest point. There was still a long way to go and I was in a lot of pain with feet, calves, quads and hamstrings all competing to complain the loudest.
I had quite a buffer to finish within my 3:30 target, but I was going slower all of the time and those around me where in general overtaking me. If I slowed too much, I was in danger on going over 3:30 and I really didn’t want to do that. But surely I could get away with a little walk? That wouldn’t matter would it? Just a quick little rest for my tired legs?
I ignored the voices and kept going.
Mile 23 Tower Bridge (second time). Three miles to go. It is just a parkrun. I’m still on target. I can do this. Don’t stop. Keep going. Ignore the pain. It isn’t important.
I completely missed Tower Bridge the second time around, I’m sure it was there, but I no recollection of seeing it.
Mile 24. Where the hell is Mile 24? If Mile 24 doesn’t come up soon, I’ve blown my 3:30 finish. Where is it? No, no, no. I can’t have slowed down that much can I? Lets gently panic, but … Just Keep On Going …
Mile 25. How did I miss Mile 24? Who cares, I don’t give a monkeys. I have one mile to go and I’m easily going to make my target. I feel good.
Finish. I come down the last section and pass the 600m sign, then the 400m sign with just one thought, getting to the end and stopping. The clock says 3 hours 2 something and I’m done.
I find out afterwards that Will, Kate and Harry were giving out medals on the line for a while and one runner came through and received a medal from one of them without realising and completely blanked them. I can completely understand this. I was completely shot and my emotions were all over the place. I would have likely done exactly the same thing.
Finish Area. I often have a funny few minutes after a long race and today was no different. I have discovered that if I keep walking, I can get over the worst of it so after picking up my medal and goody bag, I spend a while walking loops outside of the medical tent. My legs and blisters would prefer that I didn’t do this, but they get no choice as otherwise I lose all the blood out of my extremities and generally look and feel terrible.
Once I feel a little better, I enter the medical tent and ask for help with my blisters. The tent appears fairly busy, but there are enough medics to end up with four of them attending me, two per foot.
My blisters aren’t pretty and I will save you the pictures; however, one of them was good enough that one of the medics asked permission to take his own pictures. I can just imagine him bringing out his slide show of horror pictures at his next dinner party.
Afterwards. I was quickly able to meet up with Nik and Den and spent a fair while on the grass feeling not so great thank you. A small portion of expensive chips sorted me out though and I was able to meet up with Helen, Lynne and my sister.
Nik was able to tell me that my finish time was 3 hours 27 minutes 27 seconds. This was eighteen minutes faster than my previous best. A time I am very happy with.
So why do I run marathons? I still can’t answer it. I am writing this report fours days later and I can still only walk short distances due to my blisters. This still doesn’t put me off and I’m now looking forward to doing 40 miles in three weeks’ time, assuming my feet have sort of recovered.
Will I do London again? I’m not sure. Likely I will, but I’m thinking I’ll try and get a Good For Age place by running 3:15 in another marathon and then run London in fancy dress and not worry about the time. I’ll likely enjoy it more that way, though I certainly don’t regret running my feet off (literally!) this time. Not next year though.
I will also do my running shoes up that little bit tighter. I think that was all I did wrong to cause the blisters. Such a simple thing.
A big thank you to my support team of Nik and Den. It was very much appreciated. Thank you too to all those that have sponsored me. Together, over £1000 has been raised for a very worthy cause.