Virgin London Marathon

Overall the build up to London had gone well. I had built up to a 34k long run and ran this distance for 5 weeks. I had had some high mileage weeks with a peak of 100k and 8 weeks of over 60k and I ran a (relatively) comfortable 1:24 half marathon 3 weeks before London.

I definitely wanted to run sub 3 hours like Gloucester and recent evidence suggested that I was in better shape than then. I had had a solid three months training behind me, had put in the long runs and had some good race performances albeit at shorter distances. I was however still nervous leading up to the race. Running a quick marathon was going to hurt and I still felt like a bit of a fraud lining up with a Good for Age time.

I travelled to the Excel Centre to register on the Friday evening to try to avoid the queues and so that we wouldn’t have to leave too early on the Saturday and the stress that that would cause.

We were staying at the Bexleyheath Marriott for the Saturday night and as we were not far from Charlton went to the game to see the Addicks clinch the League One title with a 2-1 win over Wycombe. A great start to the weekend!

The day of the race was good as well. The hotel was comfortable and I got a decent night’s sleep. A good breakfast and a 15 minute walk to Barnehurst station started the race morning. Even the train journey couldn’t have gone better. Having used the train for the Great South Run a couple of times and had to cram into crowded trains I was expecting the same for London, if not worse, so to see a completely empty train roll into the station was a surprise to say the least. We took our seats in comfort for the 15 minute journey to Blackheath. Superb!

I found the Fast Good for Age start area, said goodbye to the wife and went in. It was a stress free start to the morning. There was plenty of room, urinals so there were virtually no queues for the toilet, and even the sun was shining! I lay on the grass with my head on my bag and tried to relax and visualise the race ahead for twenty minutes or so before handing my bag in to the baggage truck, making one last trip to the loo and lining up for the start.

I managed to get to within a couple of rows of the front and counted down the minutes. Another final pee at the side of the road along with several hundred others and a 9.45 the gun went and we were off.

My pre race plan was to try to match the times from the Paddock Wood Half Marathon and run at or just over 4 min/km. I felt this was at the optimistic end of what was possible for the marathon but was achievable. Overall I was expecting to run in the mid 2:50’s but in my wildest dreams wanted to run a 2:49 so decided to start at that pace and see what happened.

23 miles gone – the hardest 3 to go

I settled down quite quickly and hit race pace from the off. It helped I guess that all the runners were similar paced but there were still others going off at a very quick pace. The crowds started after about 100m after the start and were a constant presence around the route.

The first few miles were uneventful, the running was easy – as it should be that early in a marathon – and the roads were fairly clear. As the starts merged at the 5k point things became a little more crowded. Although we were all running a similar pace it was quite difficult to maintain a running line. Whilst not exactly jam packed the were runners all over the road which meant that passing other runners could be difficult. There wasn’t the pace differential the pass quickly and changing lines to do it was tricky as well.

Things were going well though. I was maintaining my intended pace without any difficulty, through 5k in 19:47 and 10k in 39:49. I spent a couple of happy km’s following Nell McAndrew around the Cutty Sark before dragging myself away and overtaking her!

The crowds were awesome. There was only a few places around the Isle of Dogs and Canary Wharf areas where there was little support. For 80% of the route they were 4, 5 or 6 deep and at times it was deafening. Despite being told haw good the support was I wasn’t quite prepared for hoe good it was. Turning the corner and running over Tower Bridge there was just a wall of noise which brought a sizable lump to my throat and I felt genuinely emotional.

Just past Tower Bridge I managed to see my wife, son and mum on the other side of the road just before the halfway point, gave them a wave and thought about how much more I would be hurting the next time I saw them at the 23 mile point. I went through the half in 1:24:45, still bang on pace but it was beginning to get harder.

Around the halfway mark I started running with a guy called Gavin from Essex and we chatted for a good few kms. It was at this point I went from maintaining position in the pack to passing other runners. I had kept reminding myself  of the Portsmouth Half in February and the importance of proper pacing and it started to pay off. Although it was getting harder I was maintaining pace, from 20 to 30k my 5k splits were both 20:04. As we ran around Canary Wharf we passed packs of 10 or 15 runners on a regular basis as they slowed. Often we split to run either side of the group before meeting up in front of them and encouraged each other some more.

From 30-35k I ran 20:20 and was beginning to feel the pace. I had taken gels as planned at 5, 10, 15 and 20 miles and had a mouthful or two of water at most of the water stations, more than I usually drink during a race as too much liquid whilst running I find uncomfortable. Gavin gradually pulled away from me although my pace was still good. I passed my wife again and knew I was on the final stretch along the bank of the Thames.

I was still passing others but occasionally being passed myself now and I was wanting the finish to come. I was pushing as hard as I could but the pace was dropping, 35-40k was 21:15 but the finish was near. As I passed the 40k marker I made a conscious effort to up the pace til the end but at the 600m to go point I cramped in my left hamstring and had to stop to stretch it. I got going again to the loud cheers of the crowd but couldn’t find any pace without feeling the hamstring again so jogged around the corner onto The Mall and up to the finish. I ran the final 2.2k at 4:21/km despite the stop and final jog.

No mountains, just dodgy data going through the underpasses!

Actually this wasn’t a bad thing. I knew I would make it to the finish with a good time even if I was walking unlike a few other I had seen weaving all over the road from the 24 mile mark onwards. A few of them would I imagine would have struggled to finish. I was able to look around and enjoy the moment because I had slowed and wasn’t sprinting for a time at the line and was waving at the crowd and enjoying the moment.

I crossed the line in 2:51:44 having run at 4:04/km or 6:33/mile.

It was an awesome experience even though as expected I suffered in the final km’s. It think I paced it reasonably well with a 1:24:45 first half and a 1:26:59 second so a 2:14 positive split isn’t too bad. Although my absolute ‘A’ target was a 2:49 I think that it was probably unrealistic. The fact that I cramped with 600m to go showed that I was running at my current limits and that on the day achieved all I could. An 8 minute improvement from my first marathon 15 months ago is no mean achievement and one with which I am very pleased.

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