Virgin London Marathon – 21 April 2013

This should be an easy race report to write. Long training run. Done. But I though I ought to add a little more detail…

I got my place in this years London Marathon by running a ‘Good For Age’ time last year. I ran 3 hours 9 minutes and that gets me a guaranteed entry for 2013 and 2014. This year the day of the marathon fell four weeks from my main early season event, an Ironman triathlon that I’m doing in mid-May. For me I don’t believe that racing a marathon four weeks out would be great for my training (as a result of the recovery required from such a hard effort) so I decided that this was to just be a long training run instead! I’ve never run any more than about 21 miles in training before – and many of the books/articles I’ve read in the past say that once you go past 20 miles in training, the odds of getting injured from bad running form and generally causing muscle damage that can take a long time to heal (than if you ‘just’ ran up to around 20 miles) exponentially goes up. It’s just not worth the risk. But this is the London Marathon!

I’ve run London twice prior to day and enjoyed it both times – the first time (2009) was my first ever marathon and the second time (last year) I ‘raced’ it and got my marathon PB (personal best) time. I’m fortunate enough to be quick enough to be ahead of many of the ‘ipod brigade’ and those who weave around the route bumping into people. I’ve heard many stories from competent runners who are a little further back in the field and because of the ‘argy-bargy’ etc. many don’t like it and prefer less crowded races. Thankfully I avoid much of that and have a nice area to run in with not too many people too close by.

Anyway, back to the run. I wanted to run steady, not too fast to destroy my legs but quick enough to have a time I was happy with and also be able to get back to full training within a few days. To ensure I didn’t get carried away (like I have done a little in previous ‘races’ that I’ve written about on the blog) I thought I’d give myself a little distraction. A GoPro. This is a tiny little video camera that I decided to bring along with me (along with a little wrist strap) so I could try and document the run and have a bit of fun along the route.  All of the photos that you see in the blog post are video stills from the GoPro.  A video will follow at some point soon(ish!).

The journey to Blackheath was straightforward and I was there a good hour and three quarters before the 10am start. I’d much rather get there early than late. For the first time I was in the ‘Fast Good For Age’ starting area. I was personally greeted by Rachel and Michael (who run at Bushy parkrun) and after I got through their security barrier I was able to relax and prepare myself (i.e., go to the toilet repeatedly!). Prior to the start I saw a couple of other people I knew who were running (Grant and Roger) and wished them luck – they were racing this hard today. I wasn’t.

(clockwise) Sharon and I in the car on our way to the train station. Rachel greets David at the start. David, Grant and Roger before the start. Crowds before the start.

Prior to the start there was a 30 second silence to remember the victims of the recent bombing at the Boston Marathon.

Silence for Boston.

After a huge round of applause we were set off on our way. A cheer from Jo and Dylan who were on the side lines and I was off. I put myself at the back of ‘Pen 2’ in this Good For Age area of the red start and it took me about one and a half minutes to cross the line.

The Start - Me! Crossing the start line (with Jo and Dylan waving from the sidelines).

The crowds were absolutely huge. The early miles weren’t too busy with runners and I didn’t get elbowed once during the entire run. Although it looked busy, everyone seemed to be heading in the same direction at a reasonable pace so it wasn’t difficult to get and stay in a rhythm (at least during the first 20 miles).

During the first few miles there was plenty to keep me occupied. I saw a couple of people supporting at the side of the road with a large ‘Christian Aid’ sign and they were flicking water onto the runners. I guess to give us good luck! Then there was the mankini – in a grown (around 50 year old) man! With nothing underneath it! Once I got that disturbing image out of my head my start (Red) was running alongside the runners from the Blue start for a few hundred meters before we merge into one group at about 3.5 miles in. It was funny as I glanced across to my right and saw a chap from Belgrave Harriers running club in London also running with a GoPro camera!

The next bit of fun was at about five miles as we headed through New Charlton and towards Greenwich. A friend of mine, Stuart told me that he’d be sat on a wall by a BP Garage in Charlton looking out for me. I gave him an estimated time that I’d get there and we’d agreed that I’d wave my arms in advance of my arrival to give him a better chance to see me.

I think it worked!

(clockwise) Stuart (up on the wall) taking a photo. Stuart waving back at me. The photo!

I was having a great time. The miles were ticking by and one of the famous parts of the route, Cutty Sark was not far away. Breaking the run into smaller pieces works for me. Cutty Sark, Tower Bridge, Narrow Street, Mudchute, Docklands, Tower of London, Blackfriars Underpass, Big Ben….

I always look out for some support from fellow Ranelagh Harriers running club members in the Greenwich area and this morning was no exception with Steve, Sonia, Simon, Deborah, Aiah and Phil there supporting in different places. Brilliant.

Miles 7-12 was just a case of enjoying the crowds out in the sun who are cheering us on. On a normal day these roads are (in my opinion) pretty dull but on marathon Sunday they come alive. At about eight miles I had to remind myself that if things got tough later in the day (i.e., around 20-25) miles I needed to draw strength and remember how much fun I was having so far. You might feel great at eight miles but anything can happen and turn a run/race into a really bad day. I really hoped this wasn’t going to happen today.

Crossing Tower Bridge.

Crossing Tower Bridge is a special part of the London Marathon and after this you’ve North of the River Thames for the rest of the race. That’s a big chunk done and dusted. 12.5 miles done.

Next up was the half way mark and I crossed this in 1 hour 42 minutes 24 seconds. This would equate to a marathon time just under 3:25. That would be at the fast end of my estimates so I didn’t have a problem with slowing down at all in the second half. I got a good cheer near here from David, Simon and Simon from The Stragglers running club. Thanks guys.

Just after 14 miles you turn onto Narrow Street. This is unremarkably a rather, er, narrow street and is where I knew Sharon and Kirsty were watching. I had a good idea where they’d be but the area was swarming with people. It was manic. I was looking for them both but couldn’t see them and then at the last minute I heard screaming! I quickly turned my head and saw them – but only for a brief moment. Sharon had been there since about 8am and I was gone in a flash (about four hours later).

Narrow Street - In the top right photo Sharon and Kirsty are the fourth and fifth 'heads' visible on the left side. It's hard work spotting people here because of the crowds, but its a fantastic place to support (and also run through).

At about 16 miles as I was in Millwall on the Isle of Dogs I saw (and heard) someone shouting my name from the side of the road. It was Stefan from Bushy parkrun. He warned me that Katrin and Rodney were a little further up the road so I should smile! That I did.

Stefan, Katrin and Rodney giving me the paparazzi treatment at mile 16!

I wasn’t expecting to see anyone here and it really took me by surprise. Between 15-17 miles are probably the quietest parts of the course for supporters so it was lovely to see someone I knew here.

Photos that Stefan (left) and Katrin (right) took of me.

You then run around the tower blocks of Canary Wharf. Any thoughts of using your watch GPS to keep an eye on pace are best ignored here as the reception goes nuts because of the tall buildings. I just ran at about the same pace I had been doing so far and hoped that I’d come out the other side running well.

At about 19.5 miles you turn out of the Isle Of Dogs and head west towards the finish. Only 6.7 miles left to run – and this is where the so called ‘wall’ can show its face and make your day a disaster. Thankfully this wasn’t going to happen to me today.

I saw Rachael and Michael (who I saw before the start) again in Poplar giving a big cheer and then it was just a case of ticking off the final miles, enjoying the crowds and not getting carried away and trying to race the last 10k.

Limehouse Town Hall has a fantastic soundsystem blasting out music really loud. Last year it was great music. This year – MC Hammer. Hmn… I wasn’t convinced!

At around 22.5 miles I saw a familiar sight at the London Marathon. Mike Peace. He’s a fellow member of Ranelagh Harriers and one of the London Marathon ‘Ever Presents’. He’s run every single London Marathon since it the race first started and this was his 33rd year in a row. Coming into 2013’s race there were 16 men (only men) who have finished every race from the very first in 1981 to the 32nd running in 2012. I got a smile and a few words (polite, not even a ‘feck off’) from him.

Mike Peace - One of the London Marathon 'Ever Present' runners.

Shortly after 23 miles you enter the Blackfriars Underpass.  This is one of the few places on the course that you cannot be seen.  It’s quiet, it’s dark… well, it used to be.  Although there’s no supporters in the tunnel this year it was called ‘The Lucozade Tunnel Of Yes’ – it was really cool.  Big balloon things were illuminated with encouraging motivational words such as ‘Stay Strong’ and ‘Nearly There’.  Unfortunately I didn’t see one with ‘MTFU’ on it.

Mile 23 - "The Lucozade Tunnel Of Yes" - awesome.

Just before mile 25 I ran past the usual supporters group from The Stragglers running club. I got some great cheers from Katie, Nigel and Emma amongst others.

Marathons are tough. Yes, I may have still been smiling all the way round but 26.2 miles takes its toll. The sunny weather will have no doubt troubled some people, and problems with hydration and taking on energy (whether its energy gels, jelly babies or whatever) can hit anyone. Not to mention cramps etc.

(l-r) Mile 25 - The Stragglers running club support area. Some poor chap who'd collapsed a mile from the finish.

Turning at Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament and heading into Birdcage Walk was great. Some people are no doubt getting excited that they’re nearly there and this is the final push (as I was when I first ran at London). I was loving the crowd support (as I had done for the past 25.5 miles).

(clockwise) Just before the '385 yards to go' sign there was a chap being pushed away in a wheelchair. So so close.... Running past Buckingham Palace I cheer to the Queen! Getting applause from a policeman. Support on Birdcage Walk. Coming up towards Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament.

Then it was the final turn at Buckingham Palace into the finishing straight. I’d had a great run – the pacing was just what I wanted to do and I pretty much grinned the whole way round. Seconds before crossing the line I heard a huge shout from the stands – it was Karen from my running club. Thanks x

I crossed the line with a chip time of 3 hours 26 minutes and 12 seconds. Job done. Or as the finishers t-shirt said a couple of years ago, LonDONE.

(clockwise) The final straight. Immediately after finishing. Being presented with my finishers medal.

Straight after crossing the line it all goes quiet. You get your timing chip taken off of your shoe, you get your medal, you have your photo taken. It was quite the anti-climax of an amazing day. After collecting my bag (with some clean clothes in it) I put my finishers t-shirt on (and medal of course) and strolled over to a pub that quite a few people go to post race. As I was stood at the bar ordering a (soft) drink the timing was perfect as Sharon walked in the door. We had a couple of drinks, chatted and then headed home.

London Marathon evening always ends with a lovely get-together in a pub in Kingston with many other members of our running club where we wear our medals with pride and have a few beers and plenty to eat. It’s a lovely end to a great day.

Looking back at the London Marathon 2013 I had had such a lovely time, if only all long runs were like this.

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