Tuesday, April 22, 2014

LONDON MARATHON 2014 - Sunday April 13th

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So, after nearly 18 weeks of relatively trouble-free training and four days before the marathon, I go down with a sore throat and runny nose!!
By the time I head off to register at the ExCeL on Saturday afternoon, the sore throat has all but disappeared but I'm still sniffing and coughing. Upon arrival at the Expo, the first thing I had to do was pick up my race number and timing chip; I expected huge queues and a long wait but I registered within five minutes and was soon in the main arena proudly showing off my race number.

The Expo was huge and I could have spent a fortune on running gear, gels, medal hangers and entry into world-wide marathons; however I resisted and only came away with a London Marathon teddy bear and a pin badge. It was here at the Expo that the nerves started to kick in and the realisation of how big an event the London Marathon is. On top of pre-race nerves, I was increasingly worried about my cold and the fact that the weather was set fair and likely to be on the warm side.
Having eaten plenty of pasta in the lead up to the marathon, I chose noodles with tofu as my pre-marathon meal which I knew would still have all the carbohydrates I needed without sitting too heavy on my stomach. Back at the hotel in Stratford, I laid my kit out, pinned my number to my vest and attached the timing chip to my running shoe. I was too nervous to go straight to bed so planned out my train journey down to Blackheath and refocussed my goals for the marathon. I knew that any chance of a PB had gone and 8:30 miles would be beyond me, so my focus now was just to enjoy the experience and then see how I was feeling during the race itself.

Up at 6am and I had my usual breakfast of porridge and a cup of green tea. The nerves were really taking hold now but I knew once I left the hotel and boarded a train with the thousand's of other runners I would be able to relax. My wife, Louise who was going to track my run and watch the marathon from the comfort of the hotel, took this photo as I was about to leave the hotel at 7.45am.

8.25am and I along with hundred's of other runners boarded a train from London Bridge to Blackheath. The walk up to Greenwich Park took around ten minutes and I soon found myself in the Blue Zone where I dropped off my kit bag and took in the sights and sounds of my first London Marathon. Over the tannoy, I heard the announcer start the wheelchair and IPC races, which meant there was an hour to go before the masses were sent on their way. I thought this hour would pass slowly but it went by so quickly. Around 9.20am, I made my way to pen 5 which slowly filled with runners but at no point
got too overcrowded that it became unbearable. The weather at this point was clear blue skies, a slight breeze and bright sunshine. There was a very calm and relaxed atmosphere as the clock ticked towards 10am. Marshalls began slowly moving the pens forward as the starter set the elite men on their way. This was it, the beginning of my London Marathon.

The view from pen 5:

The mad dash to start:

What I didn't anticipate as we moved forward was that the pens would be released around 100m from the start line and as I continued to walk forward, the majority of the runners behind me had begun to start running, so although I had started in a pen with runners of a similar ability, by the time I crossed the start, I was amongst those whose anticipated finish time was around 5 hours. It would have been easy at this point to get caught up in the moment and start too quickly but I held back and didn't start running until my feet hit the start mat. It was very overwhelming but it wasn't as noisy or crowded as I had imagined, maybe it would have been different if I had started in the Red Zone?

I couldn't quite believe that I crossed the start line only 6 minutes after the elite men had started and that the road ahead of me wasn't that congested. I got myself into a very steady rhythm and hit the first couple of miles around 9:30 pace. The crowds even at this early stage were very noisy and this made for a great atmosphere. I was soon catching up with slower runners and getting my first taste of how congested the route can get. Speed bumps and traffic islands over the first few miles didn't help either and meant there was quite a lot of weaving round runners and trying to avoid clipping the heels of those around you. It was through these first few miles that it was very clear that my cold was going have an impact on my run; my breathing was a little laboured and my nose was certainly running a lot more than usual!! Just enjoy the experience and don't try and be a hero, I told myself. At mile 3, the roads got even more congested as the red starters joined the masses; there were huge cheers from the crowds and other runners as we all became one huge group. The congestion between miles 5 and 6 was really affecting runners and on a number of occasions I got shouted at, as I pulled round slower runners only to block people behind me. One bug bear of mine at races, is the way runners dart across to water stations without thinking and then then take one sip before throwing an almost full bottle of water on the floor. This happened through every water and Lucozade station and caused many runners to almost trip and fall and it wouldn't surprise me if the runner I saw at mile 5 being treated for a huge gash above his eye, had tripped on a water bottle.
As you head towards mile 6, you are on the far side of Greenwich Park and approaching the Royal Naval College and Cutty Sark. Here, the crowds were 10 deep and cheered so loudly, I could hardly make out the music on my iPod. In the briefest of moments I was round Cutty Sark and on my way to mile 7.

MILES 7 - 22
The next couple of miles were fairly uneventful other than I passed a couple of pace groups (4:15 - 4:30) and the congestion wasn't easing that much. I was doing my best to follow the blue line on the road to ensure I went the quickest route but this proved quite troublesome. I was on the heels of the 3:56 pace group which for a brief moment filled me with confidence as usually I would be able to run at this pace quite easily, however I couldn't keep up; which just showed how below par I was today. There were more and more street musicians and bands as you got closer to Tower Bridge and this made for a wonderful carnival atmosphere. Just after mile 12, you turn right towards Tower Bridge but nobody tells you beforehand what an impressive sight comes into view and seeing Tower Bridge in the distance was amazing. Running across Tower Bridge was a bit of a blur and I was over it no time and soon running towards halfway.

Marathonfoto though got a great shot of me on Tower Bridge:

Along the far side of the Highway as you approach 13.1 miles, the elite runners are heading past mile 22 and here I glimpsed Richard Whitehead making his way to the finish. I hit halfway in 2:02, which considering how I was feeling, I was really pleased with and this spurred me on if not to run sub 4 hours but at least run an even paced second half. I certainly didn't want to put myself under additional pressure and fall to pieces over the last few miles. Narrow Street as the name suggests was very narrow and here the crowd felt like they were on top of you; I was certainly pleased to get through this part of the course and head on down to the Isle of Dogs. At mile 15, you went under Canary Wharf but at this point although I was aware of all the mile and km markers, I couldn't really place where I was. I was fuelling well, taking on jelly beans and natural energy bar every 3 miles. The midday heat was becoming a factor but I ensured I drank 250 ml of water every 6 miles or so.
I had heard that Canary Wharf was one of the more difficult parts of the course and I did find it quite tough between miles 18 and 20. There were a lot of twists and turns and the tall buildings made it quite claustrophobic. I was still feeling good within myself and tried to inject a bit of pace and did manage an 8:26 mile but I couldn't maintain this and slipped back to 9:20 pace but I certainly wasn't slowing down or feeling out of sorts. I can't really remember much about miles 20 - 22 but I knew the finish line wasn't that far away. Back on the Highway you could see those runners just getting to halfway and here there were a few people in fancy dress and a marching band.

The last 3 miles or so were certainly taking their toll on quite a number of the runners and there were more and more runners opting to walk. The heat had probably taken a lot of runners by surprise and it was very warm as the clock ticked towards 2pm. Surreal moment was at the Lucozade cheering point where you went through Blackfriars underpass and went from bright sunshine to darkness in a matter of seconds. I had my worst 5km at this stage (30 mins between 35km & 40km)and between miles 23 and 24, I lost focus for a few moments and slipped back to nearly 11:00 mile pace. I gathered myself, moved out from close to the barriers to avoid the walkers and got back into a rhythm and then managed an 8:07 mile! Along the Embankment, I had clear views of the Shard, the London Eye and Big Ben was looming up ahead. Not far to go now, just keep it together and enjoy the last 10 minutes of the marathon. Along Birdcage Walk, the countdown signs appeared, 600m to go, 385 yards to go and then turning right by Buckingham Palce there's the famous 200m to go sign. Crowds were roaring, the atmosphere was electric as I tried my best to sprint to the finish...

I raised my arms as I crossed the line, the clock showed 4:12 but with the 6 minute delay to my start, I knew my finish time was going to be around 4:06. I was ECSTATIC, I didn't collapse in a heap, I stretched and kept myself moving and was so proud of my achievement. Once my chip was removed, I had the pleasure of having my medal placed round my neck. Words can't come close to describing how I felt at this point.

London Marathon 2014 finisher:

I looked down at my Garmin and I had ran 26.5 miles in 4:05:43 with an average pace of 9:16. I was so pleased that although I had run slower than planned, I had run evenly and at around 75% fitness. It's not always about PB's and in light of my cold, the heat, the congestion and this being my first London Marathon, I was very happy indeed.
My official finish time was 4:05:46 - a course PB!!

What a brilliant experience the London Marathon was and I would run it again in a heartbeat. I have already entered the ballot for 2015 event.
On reflection, I have no regrets about resetting my goals and I think the fact that I took it steady helped my recovery and it has also filled me with confidence that at full fitness, a 3:45 marathon is achievable. Roll on Dublin at the end of October.

A huge thank-you to everyone who supported me on this journey, particularly my wife Louise who had to put up with 18 weeks of hell during my training. I have to mention CAUSE http://www.cause.org.uk/ who I was raising vital funds for.
The volunteers, marshalls, St John's and the crowds along the route deserve a mention for making the London Marathon what it is.

Oh and here's a pic of the medal with my chicken mascot, a few moments after I crossed the line.

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