So, here we go, the 29th London Marathon and this time I’m running in it - my first ever marathon. I got accepted into the race in late 2007 but deferred my place until this year. You can read about my recent training in a previous posting but this is how the weekend unfolded… Saturday morning it was off to Bushy parkrun where I was taking photos and generally trying to relax and take it easy. Followed by a catchup with some friends in Teddington then off to the parkrun HQ for a cuppa tea I headed home to do very little for the rest of the day other than get all my running gear together.
I had no real nerves or worries on Saturday, managed to eat a mountain of pasta for dinner then went to bed about 10:30 with the alarm set for 5:45am.
Sunday morning, the sun was shining and I was up and cooking porridge just after 6am. At around 6:40 Sharon and I headed to Twickenham railway station to catch the 7:03 to London Waterloo. As we walked along the platform John, a friend of us, came over grinning from ear to ear. His wife Anna, who was going to be supporting on the course decided to go into labour and have their first child on Saturday evening! Whilst she’s in the hospital John was sent out to run the marathon! Well done to them all. What a cool start to the day.
We jumped onto the train and met up with a few others (Simon, Danny, Nathan, and Frances) so it was good to have a chat with friends on the way into London. After arriving at Waterloo I bumped into a old work friend and after waiting for Ben to arrive, the runners headed to Waterloo East station and I left Sharon to head off to where she was supporting at mile 22 (and 13) - a special place called Fetchpoint.
The train from Waterloo to Blackheath was (as expected) heaving with people. It was just like a weekday rush hour! On arrival at Blackheath it was easy to get to the start, and once there there’s not much to do other than queue up for the toilets - which I did a few times! I got my running gear ready, applied some more suncream, put my spare clothes/money/phone onto one of the baggage lorries and prepared for the start. As I said on a previous posting I was in starting pen 1, which made things really smooth at the start. I got into the pen and about 10 minutes before the start we began to move forwards towards the start line (I was on the ‘blue’ start - there are two other starts ‘green’ and ‘red’ and after about three miles all three have merged into one). At 9:45am prompt the starting gun went and we were off. Although all timing is ‘chip times’ from a electronic device attached to your shoe (ensuring accuracy however long it takes to start) I crossed the start line in less than 30 seconds and was not held up at all.
During the first miles its always easy to get carried away and with my trusty GPS watch I made sure this didn’t happen (much). My first few miles I settled into about 7 minute 23 miling, which although was slightly faster than my ideal time (7:26 pace), I was feeling good so took advantage of it (the first part is also a little bit downhill anyway).
I have to say the first 13 miles or so were absolutely amazing. Here I was, running my first ever marathon, the London Marathon, along with 35,000+ others in beautiful sunshine. The weather brought out an unbelievable amount of supporters. They pretty much lined the whole route multiple people deep at times for mile after mile. Every now and then there were bands playing, DJ’s spinning tunes, or just really loud cheers. It was awesome. Cutty Sark wasn’t very special (due to it being under repair following a fire) but it was nice to run alongside the National Maritime Museum which I remembered from going there to watch the start of the 2007 Tour de France bike race in London. Although I soaked up the atmosphere I was out there to run a race, so was mostly concentrating on the job at hand.
During training I’ve no real blister problems with my feet. If anything my longest toes on both feet would get small blisters but nothing painful. Today I had the same shoes and socks I’d worn in training so wasn’t expecting any problems. How wrong I was! At about eight miles I felt pain in both feet - blisters had arrived. I’d not had anything like this before and it was starting to get painful. At this point I knew I’d have to HTFU (‘harden the f*** up’) and deal with it.
At about 11 miles I was spotted by Simon and Deborah from Ranelagh Harriers - the running club whose vest I was proudly running in (the club has more than one vest, but I think you know what I mean here!). I knew there’d be a few familiar supporters on the course but had no idea where they’d be or who it would be so it was a great boost to see a familiar face. Shortly after 12 miles you take a sharp right and head onto Tower Bridge - one of the most iconic sights in London. The crowds were strong and I made sure not to stay on pace as many people apparently get over excited here and pick up the pace (only to pay for it later!). After crossing the bridge you turn onto The Highway towards Docklands.
I knew Sharon would be on the other side of the road at around 13 miles so I made sure I was a position where I could be spotted. We passed a double-decker bus in the middle of the road which was playing loud uplifting music and it was a real boost at this point. Only a matter of seconds later I could see the Fetch support area in the distance on the left so gave a wave to try and help attract attention. I’d told Sharon when I had expected to get there and I’d say I arrived bang on time.
I waved, I cheered and the supporters waved and cheered ten times as loud back at me. I could easily spot Sharon (maybe it was the great big camera!) and it was a most welcome boost. I knew I’d be back there to see them again in about nine miles time which would be cool.
The first 13.1 miles (half marathon split) was about 1 hour 37 minutes. Bang on time for a sub 3 hour 15 marathon. This was my ‘A’ target - something I’d be massively delighted with. All was looking good. As I continued on The Highway I heard a massive cheer for me on my right. I looked over and it was Duncan M. from Ranelagh/parkrun. He really has a voice on him I tell you!
Shortly after this point you head onto Narrow Street. Its not that narrow, but is I guess compared to the other roads we’ve run down. I saw Mike B. and Guy W., and Mike saw me in return. It’s so cool to see people you know supporting on the course.
We then head on towards Docklands. At this point I saw one runner who’d collapsed and was lying in a heap by the side of the road. There were people looking after him but the warm weather was certainly taking its toll on people. The miles ticked by and at about 15/16 miles I edged past Doylie from The Stragglers and pushed on. At around mile 17 I suddenly came across the Runners World supporters point at Mudchute. Phil Aitken gave me a big cheer along the lines of “Go on Dave….I mean David!” which made me laugh. Nice one.
At around this point I knew I was slowing, but putting more effort into to maintain my pace. The enjoyment at times was starting to wear thin, very thin! HTFU.
In Canary Wharf (photo by Liz Souness)
We then head into the middle of Canary Wharf. At this point my GPS got completely screwed up and all the mile markers on my watch were way off track. I wasn’t sure how many miles I’d run and wasn’t using my watch for miles at all - only for pacing information. This wasn’t a problem at all though. As I turned one corner there was a big cheer from Chris Brook and family (who were very noisy from the other side of the road), and then a few minutes later from Clive, Mark and Julia. Thank you.
There’s lots of 90 degree turns in this part of the course which wasn’t too much of a problem as there were not too many people around me, but I’m sure further down the field it probably gets quite congested. A little while later I spotted Liz and Alan standing up high on a right hand side. I gave them a wave and a hello and continued on. Liz’s collection of photos can be found here.
Somewhere round here (I think) I heard a “Go David Rowe” behind me. I raised my arm to say thanks but had no idea who it was. I found out later that it was Andy B. from Ranelagh. Cheers.
At 20 miles you’re now onto the final ‘straight’, with only 10km left to go. This is where theoretically many people hit ‘the wall’ but there was none of that for me. I’d eaten well(ish) the last few days and had plenty of fuel on the run (one carbohydrate gel 20 minutes before the start, and another at 6, 12 and 18 miles mixed with a few sips of water and Lucozade Sport throughout). It was just a case of pushing on towards the finish.
I always had it in my plan in that if I was feeling good after 20-22 miles I’d try and up the pace a bit, but there was none of that today! My feet were very painful, and I glanced down on a few occasions expecting to see blood on my shoes but thankfully there was none. I later found out after the race that there was blood - making a nice stain on my socks!
At about 21 miles I saw Mike B. for the second time, and he was enjoying a ham sandwich by the side of the road. We often comment about him always having a ham sandwich when he watches races and I couldn’t believe that I went past him at this exact moment. It was very amusing and a great boost.
From here I knew I’d be seeing Sharon at about mile 22, but before here (I think - my mind wasn’t quite there at this point!) I came across Duncan M. once again. Duncan - your support was incredible and if you kept going like that then I’m sure you’ll have lost your voice by now! Cheers mate. Cracking.
As I headed towards Fetchpoint I moved towards the side of the road. I saw Sharon, I heard cheering and screaming, I continued to run, and I forgot to get my final gel from Kirsty! Doh. Not to worry, only another four miles - I’d just make sure I took on more Lucozade Sport drink at the next ‘fuel station’.
The final miles are strange. Personally I’ve supported from here once before (at mile 25, in 2007) and the noise was immense. This year it was my turn to be a runner. Looking at my watch a 3:15 time was long gone, but a finish inside of 3 hours 20 was very possible. I just had to hang on to the finish. One thought that went through my head was “in less than 30 minutes I will have completed the London Marathon”. I’ve never run for longer than about 2 hours 50 minutes before if training (my longest training run was 21 miles) so this was all new territory for me. There was nothing that would stop me from finishing, and I wasn’t going to stop and walk - no way whatsoever. I’m running this marathon - all 26.2 miles of it. This isn’t a sponsored walk you know (here’s hoping none of the ‘walkers’ read this!).
At around mile 25. How happy do I look? Love it! (photo by Mike Bourne)
As I headed past 23 miles you go past the 3 mile ‘mini-marathon’ start line (for under 18’s) and you’re into the final part of the race. I was finding it tough here and I was purely running just to get to the finish. The crowds were thick with people and noise all the way along Embankment towards Parliament Square/Big Ben. I then saw Andy and Michelle from Ranelagh - who were shouting loads of support at me - thank you very much. At 25 miles I ran past one of The Stragglers running club supporters points and waved to them. A couple of people recognised me there and I gave a big cheesy grin to Mike Bourne who was there with his camera (and took a photo that I love!).
I didn’t get to appreciate at all in full the final miles. I was fully concentrating on staying strong and getting to the finish under 3:20. It wasn’t easy, but I just had to get on with it. You turn right at Westminster then head towards Buckingham Palace. I didn’t see the London Eye (across the river), I barely noticed Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament and I didn’t even get a glance of Buckingham Palace!
Throughout the final stages the crowds were stacked with people and in the distance I saw a “600m to go” sign. You then turn a corner and its “400m”, then “200m”, and then next thing its the final straight. The sun was shining, my time was looking good and I crossed the finish line in 3 hours 19 minutes at 46 seconds. Job done. My legs were hurting, but I’d done what I wanted. I had completed the London Marathon and finished in position 2699 - out of 35,306 finishers (as of 7pm Sunday).
As you cross the finish line there’s lots to do… smile for the camera, collect your goodie-bag, collect your medal, post for your ‘finishers’ photograph, then collect your baggage from the truck you put your things in a few hours earlier in Blackheath. The process was like clockwork - and it was great to keep walking once you finish - else you’ll seize up and have trouble moving again!
Once I collected my belongings I made a few phone calls - to Sharon and then to my parents. They’d got some automatic text messages during the race already but it was good to update them in person. I wandered around a little to keep the legs moving and had some food and drink. I then started heading towards a pre-arranged meeting point - a pub near Trafalgar Square. At the pub I caught up with a number of friends which was great and got to sit down and rest my legs for a while. Later on a few of us headed back to Waterloo station where we met up with Sharon and some fellow supporters and then headed home.
In the evening Sharon and I went into Kingston for some drinks and food with some of the runners and supporters from Ranelagh Harriers. A fine end to a fine day.
At this point my legs ware starting to stiffen up - but nothing like they are now as I write this on Monday. My legs are - to but it bluntly - buggered! They feel like they did after I did the Barbados Half marathon in December off of no training. This time I’d trained reasonably well (if five weeks solid training is good) and managed all my planned long (18+ mile) runs. I believe its just the last few miles that make the difference.
Before I started the race I’d said that the London Marathon was just a training run - as I’m doing a marathon in July (after a 2.4 mile swim and 112 mile bike ride) as part of an Ironman triathlon. The first 13-15 miles felt like that (a pleasant training run), but the last ten were much harder.
Other than the Ironman in July, I really want to get my marathon time down closer to the 3 hour mark - so this certainly won’t be the last time I run this distance. With a bit of luck I’ll be back on the London start line next year. I’ll just have to wait and see.
If you’ve got to the end of this write-up then well done, you’ve just completed a marathon reading session! If you want to see a fuller set of photos as taken by Sharon then head over to our photography website.