The London Marathon is addictive. It eats me up and spits me out every year and I always say never again at the finish………but just days later, I find myself planning for the next one. It was a beautiful sunny day in the capital that marked the 2014 event and my 5th London Marathon in a row.
This year I started on the blue start away from the masses on the red start, but also away from Neil Prescott who had been my training partner throughout the tough winter – today I would have to go solo. I was in pen no.2, which was set up just around the corner from where Mo Farah was limbering up. Just 5 minutes before the start, a temporary tape barrier was lifted and we shuffled in behind the elite men including Mo. I was standing on the start line just 30 yards behind a World & Olympic champion……….surely I was in the wrong place!
The winter’s training had gone well, very well in fact. But just as I started to think I’d made it, I trapped a nerve in my leg 9 days before the big day and I was also suffering with a painful shin splint. I could feel my leg throbbing on the start line and just hoped it would go away as the adrenaline surged. The new game plan was to take the race in 5 mile chunks and see how I felt. If I could keep mentally strong then I would be at 20 miles before I knew it……..that was my thinking.
The first half of London is fast & flat and the miles were clocking up nicely, the shin pain had eased and all felt good. However, my nerve problem had left my leg feeling numb and it throbbed with pins & needles. At 11 miles I had a wobble that lasted for a couple of miles…………the demons were in my head saying “just give up, you’re injured”. I passed friends & family just before half way at Tower Bridge and I put a brave face on but I wasn’t feeling great and I knew there was still a long way to go.
At 14 miles I saw Mo at around 22 miles on the other side of the road, he was struggling. In a strange way, this motivated me as seeing him struggling at pace in the heat gave me some comfort. In a way, we were in the same boat. I decided to dig deep and the next aim was to get to 20 miles and the real start of the race. I hit this point at about 2:17, which is 3 minutes slower than I wanted to be but still gave me a shot at a PB and even sub 3. The crowd noise was deafening, with ½ million people lining the streets, but I could hear one voice shouting louder & louder……….it was my wife Louise on the other side of the road! I was at about 22 miles at this point and that gave me a boost.
Just after 23 miles, the Runners World 2:59 pace man eased up alongside me then slowly started to drift ahead. I looked at my watch and I needed to do the next 3 miles at 6:45 pace to stay with him. I clung on for about ½ mile but my nemesis of the past, leg cramp, was a strong possibility if I stayed at this pace as I could feel it in my hamstring. The dilemma for me was either to slow up a little or push on and risk getting cramps that could cost me not just a sub 3, but also a PB and good for age place. I’m still learning at the marathon distance, and decided to slow and actively manage the rest of my race to get me to plan B. I think it was the right decision.
I crossed the line and my two GPS watches both read 3:04:07, so a PB and under the good for age 3:05 that will give me an automatic place for next year. The official LM time says 3:04:42 but I’m convinced that’s my gun time as it says it took me just 1 second to cross the start line!? Never mind, it’s still sub 3:05 and still a PB – who cares? I asked 3 questions after crossing the line;
1) How did Mo get on? (2:08 & no new British record)
2) What is the Liverpool v City score (they were 2-0 up!)
3) How did my training partner Mr.Prescott get on (2:57)……….he’s a sub 3 marathon machine that fella – great effort!
Less than an hour and a half later, Louise crossed the line in 4:28:30 for her first marathon……….sign her up Harriers!
Same again next year………..never, maybe, probably, definitely!