After focussing on completing my first Ironman during 2014, I had decided that this year I would concentrate on running with the odd triathlon thrown in for fun. I had deferred my London Marathon place last year, so this was going to be my target race for the year. My winter training didn’t go as well as I had hoped, as I had niggling calf problems that kept running to a minimum. By the time January arrived I had, as Darren Jackson put it, “Put on a bit of timber” and I hadn’t run further than 6 miles since the Ironman run leg the previous July. I had originally hoped to run a sub 3 marathon, but this had changed to merely being able to finish.
Lots of physio, losing a bit of weight and changing the type of running shoe I wear meant that by the end of January I was at least running. As the weeks went by and I stayed injury free, my goal slowly changed from getting round; to maybe getting my good for age (GFA) time of 3:15 and finally going full circle back to running a sub 3. When race day arrived, the weather was perfect for marathon running and as my last long runs had gone really well, I had decided that I was now aiming for a new pb (2:58:10). Then, thanks to the wonders of Facebook and Statto, Mike Harris’s great work on the club records, this was further reduced to 2:57.
Although there were plenty of Harriers running, my only interaction with them on the day was via the internet as we were all at different starts. That was until I met Chris Smullen in the start pen. After a quick chat about what our targets were; we shook hands and were off. Being in the GFA pen meant that we could get into our running from the start and we ran together for a couple of miles. I had a plan to run no faster than 6:45 per mile, but as usual, the downhill start at London and the thousands of supporters cheering you on, meant that I was going a few seconds faster. By mile 3, Chris had started to pull away from me, but as I was still going faster than my plan, I decided to let him go. The Cutty Sark at around 7 miles was the first of the iconic London landmarks on this great course and I was running comfortably and hitting my target pace. The crowds were amazing as always and I was looking forward to seeing my own support crew around 8-9 miles at Surrey Quays. I saw my wife and daughter and got an extra shout from Pauline Foster who was there supporting her husband Tony. It’s a buzz to get your name shouted and always appreciated.
I had set my Garmin to automatically record each mile, but for some reason it was measuring them short compared to the official balloon arches on the course. By the time I was at mile 11, there was a 55-second difference between my watch and the course. I decided it was safe to increase my pace a bit as I was feeling good and had finally convinced myself that my watch must be wrong as they would probably have measured the course correctly.
As I approached the 15-mile marker, I finally got a glimpse of Chris again and by mile 16, I was running alongside him. We had a chat and he said he was feeling good and that his Garmin was doing the same as mine, but he had been on 6:45 pace when he passed 15 miles. I told him that I was feeling OK, but my legs were feeling very heavy. By now, I was hitting 6:40 pace (on my watch) and sticking to the new plan. Somewhere around Canary Wharf, I saw Darren Jackson shouting support. I had heard a few other people shout me since Surrey Quays, but hadn’t actually seen who was shouting; Darren made sure that I couldn’t miss him.
People say that the halfway point in a marathon is 20 miles, but the good thing about London is, the last 6 miles are the best on the course as far as I’m concerned. Not only are you nearly finished, but the support somehow gets better; it’s like they know that you need a lift from them. As I passed the balloon arch, I felt like I had bags of energy and I was sticking to my pace, but my quads were hurting and felt like they could start to cramp at any time. I was beginning to think that my lack of running miles during training was going to cause me problems in the “second half” of the race. All I could do was keep running and hope I was OK.
For a mile or so on the course, you get to see runners on the opposite side of the road from you. For me, going out that meant seeing the best of the visually impaired runners as I passed halfway and I passed on my respect via their guide runners. As I reached the 22-mile mark I saw some of the middle of the pack runners as they too passed halfway and I shared a nod of mutual respect with a few of them. You also get to see all the other famous landmarks to keep you interested as well; that’s if you’re up for a bit of sightseeing. Running back passed Tower Bridge was amazing, the crowds were massive and they were screaming for all they were worth. The 24-mile mark is just after an underpass and although there were no crowds down there, there was a DJ playing some running tunes to keep you on it. As you leave the underpass and the bass is ebbing away it is replaced by the rumble of the crowds once more.
I was now on The Embankment and historically I’ve always suffered along here, but today I was running strong and passing people all the time. These were all runners that had fancied a really good time, but they had either slowed to a painful shuffle or stopped completely to stretch out a calf or a hamstring. I wanted to tell them to keep running, but when someone has stopped running so close to the finish, you know it’s because they had to. Reaching the London Eye coincided with the 25-mile marker and the time on the clock made me smile because I had almost 10 minutes to cross the line and I would have beaten the 3-hour mark again. Something like that makes running seem easier, no matter what state you are in and I started to up the pace, just a little bit. I turned at Westminster, but missed my wife and daughter, who had managed to get a prime spot. The noise of the crowd was deafening and I was running with my head in the clouds, so I just didn’t see them. Birdcage Walk was littered with sub-3 hour wannabe’s struggling to get over the line, but there was no time for sympathy; my pb was at stake.
As I approached Buckingham Palace the big screen was showing the presentation for the Ladies Elite Race. I was striding out and a last look at my watch confirmed a new best time was there for the taking; only the cramp sniper could stop me now. My thoughts changed to the row of photographers and how I wanted a nice photo of me running, for my Facebook profile. What I forgot to do was tell my face how happy I was.