I stood in Horse Guards Parade, a look of disappointment across my face. I’d just become a marathon runner yet my family were confused that I didn’t look as happy as they were. The date was 22 April 2012.
Don’t get me wrong, finishing a marathon is a big deal. An amazing achievement and running the London Marathon is an absolute privilege and honour given the horrendously unfair process for entry. I’m not taking either for granted in any way. I ran my first marathon in a time of 5 hours and 16 minutes. I’d trained for a sub 4:30 marathon so I felt as though I’d blown it. I’d made a lot of mistakes. Drank too much water, ate too much pasta, put on weight during training, ran in untested kit bought at the expo, got an upset tummy from drinking lots of beetroot juice, set off too fast. Need I go on. Finishing my first marathon felt so bitter sweet. In fact it put me off marathons altogether and I was a little relieved to firstly to be unsuccessful in the ballot for the 2013 London Marathon and then have to defer the 2013 Brighton Marathon through an untimely hamstring injury. I now feared the distance but at the back of my mind I still had unfinished business with the London Marathon. This is the story of how I got even with the London Marathon.
On 26 September 2013, I’d worked from home so I could be in when the annual ritual of ballot results magazine hit my front door mat. I’d received a magazine with a blue smurf man on he front which given my Twitter feed had been filled with them all day suggested another failure in the ballot. Never mind I’ve got my Brighton Marathon place I thought. Probably best I didn’t get London. But something was still nagging at me. I still hadn’t put right the mistakes of London Marathon 2012. This ate away at me throughout the Autumn racing season and after running the Royal Parks half marathon on 6 October, which picks up some of the marathon course, my kind was made up, I would go for a charity place for London.
Two in Two
It wasn’t until Christmas that I decided that I’d not defer Brighton but instead use Brighton as a warm up for London. This would mean running two marathons in two weeks but I’d treat Brighton as a long training run. I had a 16 week training plan which started on 1 January and by mid March I’d decided that I was in good shape to go for it at Brighton and hope I’d recover in time for London a week later. As my previous blog reports, I ran Brighton Marathon in 4 hours 19 minutes, a whole 57 minutes faster than my first marathon at London in 2012. My recovery post Brighton was now important and my strategy was to keep my legs “turning over”. The legs felt great after the race. No aches, no tiredness, no blisters or chafes. Things were looking good when I ran a recovery 5K 24 hours after finishing Brighton at a good pace. In fact it didn’t feel like I’d run 26.2 miles the day before!
After a fantastic sports massage with Sam at CORE Physiatry in Warwick on Tuesday, I ran 10K Wednesday followed by another 10K on Friday. The legs were getting quicker as the week went on and I recording 10K times of 52:44 and 51:53 respectively, the latter only 40 seconds from my PB. I set off early on the Saturday for the expo desperate to rest my legs. Instead a 3 mile 5am walk to the station followed by Expo, an impromptu trip to Nike Town and a series of train and tube journeys to my younger brother’s house in Epsom left me feeling knackered. The expo was excellent though and did set the adrenalin going.
Before Brighton Marathon I got only 90 minutes sleep due to an over active mind so I was keen to ensure I slept well before London so after being fed by my younger brother Tim, I decided to get to bed early. I laid out my kit as I usually do, got into bed and drifted off. No problem sleeping this time, probably because the pressure was off having smashed my PB the week before. I rose at 6.30, put on my kit, shovelled down some porridge and strong coffee and my brother and I made our way to Epsom Station. Before long I was stood with Tim at the red start in Greenwich Park nearly an hour early. This was unusual. As I previously have blogged I am rubbish when it comes to race day logistics and I tend to arrive in a rush. Today, I had time to kill. No queuing for pre-race portaloos today as the crowds hadn’t built up yet. I sat outside my pen entrance and cleared my head and just thought about the race ahead.
Learning From Mistakes
My prep before today had been based around correcting the mistakes from my 2012 performance. I’d lost 3 stone since 2012 and had controlled my diet during training. Instead of eating masses of pasta I’d eaten less complex carbs and my pre-race nutrition was chicken, rice and sweet potato not the huge portion of lasagne I’d eaten the night before the 2012 marathon. I’d laid off the beetroot juice and hydrated in moderation. I’d also ensured that all my kit was tried and tested on my long training runs. There was just one last mistake I needed to correct this time around and that was to not go off too quick. The week before at Brighton I’d used a race strategy of banking time early over the first 14 miles but my strategy this time needed to be different. Firstly, it was hotter and sun was likely to be a factor later on. Secondly, the crowds at the start would mean bottlenecks and so a fast start was unlikely. I elected therefore for a steady pace throughout.
As I entered pen 7 (4:30-5:00) I knew I was in a pen back from where I wanted to be. I’d originally thought I’d be slower as it was my second marathon in 7 days but now I honestly thought I could nail another PB. My target was to run a sub 4:15. I headed to the front of the pen and spotted the 4:15 Runners World pacer just ahead of me at the back of pen 6. I’d toyed with using this pacer but was concerned he would be too far in front in pen 6. As the race started and we started to move forwards towards the start line I kept the pacer in my sight. After 15 minutes of shuffling forwards we finally crossed the line and we were off. I’ve never used a pacer before so wasn’t sure what to expect. What I didn’t expect was the competitiveness of runners to run right next to the pacer. Every time I negotiated myself through the crowds to run next to the pacer, another runner would muscle through and push you out of the way. This was tiring and I got fed up trying to compete to be near the pacer. I decided I needed to run alone and so pushed away from the 50 strong pacer pack. The 4:15 pacer was setting a level 9:43 per mile pace throughout. After a short while I realised I was a good 200 yards clear of the pacer and after the first 2 miles I was averaging 9:15 pace, a much quicker start than Brighton but I felt good and did what I said I wouldn’t do, continued at a faster than goal average pace.
Tower Bridge comes up on you out of nowhere
In fact I could have gone quicker but I found the hillier red start hard as each hill was followed by a bottleneck of runners slowing down. I was amazed to see runners actually walking after only 2 miles and this caused me a major frustration. I maintained a similar pace through miles 3 and 4 and as blue and red starts merged I started to worry that I wasn’t sticking to my race plan. I decided I needed to slow it down and miles 5 and 6 were at 9:37 and 9:34 respectively. I passed Cutty Sark and felt strong, the crowd was massive and the cheers immense. The crowds felt bigger and louder this time compared to 2012. The next 5 miles passed quickly through Deptford, Rotherhithe and along Jamaica Road towards Bermondsey. My pace remained constant at around 9:30 per mile. I was still ahead of the 4:15 pace I’d targeted but I was aware that my last fling with the London Marathon had started similarly and the wheels had come off after crossing Tower Bridge. Tower Bridge comes up on you out of nowhere. It’s one of the moments most London a Marathon runners will say was the highlight of the race. It really is an amazing experience. The noise from the numerous charities positioned there as well as the public is incredible and since it is on mile 13 it represents the tipping point of the race to the finish.
In 2012 I had drank too much water in the first 10 miles and crossed Tower Bridge desperate for a loo stop. This was to effectively end any chances of hitting a sub 4:30 time. Shortly after Tower Bridge I queued for 12 minutes for a portaloo and never really got going again. Mindful of the facts I’d felt dehydrated at Brighton, the sun was shining and my experience in 2012, I had been careful with my hydration this time. I’d been grabbing bottles at every water stop but only consumed a couple of gulps before tossing the bottle away. I didn’t feel thirsty nor did I need the loo so I figured this approach was working well. I hadn’t changed my gel strategy from the strategy for Brighton which was a gel at 6, 11, 16 and 21 and at mile 14 I could feel the lift of the mile 11 energy gel kick in. As I ran up Narrow Street, I could see the championship runners heading in the opposite direction on their 23rd mile. This is always a challenging sight but I kept my head down and pushed on. By now I’d settled back into a 4:15 pace of 8:43 per mile. The hardest miles were yet to come though.
Pain is temporary, pride lasts forever
Miles 16, 17 and 18 were tough. I’d slowed to 10 minute mile pace and by mile 18 my legs wanted to walk. I promised them they could walk for 100 yards when we reached 20 miles and we’d got through Canary Wharf. I’d walked most of Canary Wharf in 2012 due to cramp in my hamstrings. With the promise of a walk at 20 miles, I ran through Canary Wharf at 10 minute mile pace. The 20 mile marker came up but I’d gotten a second wind so instead of a little walk I pushed on along Commercial Road albeit at a slow 11 minute mile pace. My legs were screaming now and when I saw the 4:15 pacer go past with only a handful of runners following, I wondered whether I’d be in that small pack overtaking those runners that went off too fast. I didn’t have time for regret now. Before the race I’d written on my hand with a Sharpie pen “Pain is temporary”. I kept looking at it and it helped me put things into perspective.
Sub 4:15 had gone but I didn’t care. My time wasn’t going to be far off my Brighton time and I just wanted to finish now. Miles 23 and 24 were a bit quicker but I was resolved to finish without walking. I could sense the finish was near now and I worked out I’d lost 6 minutes off of my 4:15 target in the 4 miles between 21 and 24. This meant a 4:21 finish time if I could knock out the last 2 miles at my target pace. I pushed the pace up a notch and as I ran along the Embankment and spotted my brother Tim in the crowd it spurred me on. Then came the glorious sight of Big Ben and the immense crowds and noise. It is, like the first time, largely a blur from this point on and Birdcage Walk seemed to go on forever. I didn’t look at my watch for pace, only distance remaining now. Even a simple calculation of how much distance was left was difficult but finally the 26 miles alarm flashed up on my watch. I could see Buckingham Palace. Not long now. I estimated 400 yards. I knew I hadn’t followed the blue line and had “lost” 200 yards. Suddenly a sign appeared 600 yards. 600 YARDS!!! I know I wasn’t the only one disappointed as a lot of runners stopped to walk at this point. I didn’t. If anything it spurred me on. At least I knew what I had left now. I was running at 9:30 pace now and as I turned into The Mall I could see the line.
A lesson for next time is to stick to the blue line
I felt relief and happiness as I crossed the line in 4:25:46. I had run 26.67 miles, a whole half a mile further than the 26.2 miles I should have run. A lesson for next time is stick to the blue line! I had lost a whole 5 minutes by not doing so this time which would have put me close to my Brighton time. I hadn’t hit my target of 4:15 but I was very proud of my achievement. 2 marathons in 7 days both more than 50 minutes faster than the disaster of 2012. Business was definitely finished!
I’m not done with marathons yet!
Before I set off to the race the Brighton Marathon, I told a lot of people especially friends and family that these would be the last marathons I’d run. I may have been a little bit hasty. I am completely in love with marathon distance and, while I have the target of running a sub 50 10K and a sub 1:50 half marathon next, I’m relishing the thought of running my next marathon. On the Tuesday after London Marathon I entered Brighton Marathon 2015 and Chester Marathon 2014 (5 October). I will also be entering the London Marathon ballot in the early hours of tomorrow morning. I’m not done with marathons yet!