As the recipient of the club place in this year’s marathon it’s incumbent upon me to report back, so here goes!
All you need to know is the number 3, yes that’s three, the magic number, a triumphant triumvirate (a nice bit of alliteration if I do say so myself), i.e. one less than four and one more than two. My finish time started with a three so I did under four hours which was my target, which quite frankly I thought was beyond me (more of that later)…what was my exact time? you ask…. well if you must, my word you are a stickler for detail…it was 3:59:15… yes, you’re quite right, “only just” but the metaphorical coconut was metaphorically won.
Let’s face it, I’m no spring chicken…but “wearing well” you say, why thank you, I’m blushing….and my, I’m no athlete, unlike some others I will mention later; my previous two marathons were in 3:56 and 3:57 at Berlin and Edinburgh 3 years ago; since then, as well as my aortic stenosis (a narrowing of the main outflow valve of the heart, a common heart condition), which was known about, I have developed a rare disease called dermatomyositis which is an autoimmune disease of the muscles (my body’s own immune system attacks and tries to break down my muscles; it also produces a skin rash)… you ask about any associated antibodies?, goodness you are knowledgeable about rheumatological pathology… I have the Mi-2 antibody if you must know, which fortunately is associated with disease that is both amenable to treatment and is not connected to an increased likelihood of malignancy (yes, “phew” is the word). Luckily it was caught very early…and here’s an important point…caught very early because I’m runner!; remember that downturns in performance can be due to serious illness, so don’t ignore them.
So all in all, I thought breaking four hours again was very ambitious, but because I got lucky in the club ballot, I had to give it a go. I trained very hard … sorry, what was that?, I’m writing a lot here about myself and you’d like to hear about the other club runners… yes, you’ll get that later, thank you, now back to me.. me, me , me… so I trained very hard and deliberately fitted some fasting (appropriately) between the runs and lost about 3kg in weight; being a seasoned campaigner with two marathons I felt able to construct my own intermediate training schedule the “highlights” of which were long runs of 25 and 27 miles; the runs of 10, 12 and 14 miles with 400m intervals every mile were also real killers… but hard work pays off!, yes, 3:59:15, get in my son! I am the daddy, the main man, numero uno, the dog’s … apologies, got carried away there. Now where was I?.. right, I suppose I better say something about the day… but just before that I should say that if you do the London Marathon don’t drive to the exhibition to pick your number up, it’s £15 to park…fifteen quid!…’nough said.
Me and wor lass were staying with some friends in St Albans so I woke up on the day at 6am, to HEAVY SLEET… I said something like “Gosh that’s unfortunate” … come to think of it, my words contained a little more anglo-saxon than that… and duly consulted the detailed weather forecast, which was more encouraging (sleet/rain to clear, nice running conditions) but made me glad that I had brought old tracky bottoms and several disposable upper layers to wear at the start. I got to the start at about 08:45 for a 10:00 start and must say (and this is a recurring theme), the event was extremely well organised; I even got a nice (free) cuppa in the holding area, which hit the spot I can tell you (electrolyte, pH adjusted, carb loaded, caffeine adjusted drinks ? ..pah, I say.. good old PG tips does the trick). Now at this point I will re-iterate the maxim “Be bold, Start cold”…. where did that groan come from? … ah, the B Group who are sick of me saying it… well flipping well stop overdressing and I’ll stop saying it then….it did turn out to be fairly perfect running conditions with a light wind and temperature of about 8-10 deg C and a Simpsons’ sky, I wore the club vest and shorts and I got a little hot but some people … well, I won’t waste my breath, they’ll never learn.
The starting 5k was a little congested; the whingers will probably say it prevented them getting into their stride but I think it is a good design feature and stops runners (definitely including me) going off too fast. There were more than enough water and energy drink stops although I think an another energy gel station at about mile 9/10 is called for (there were two; 14 and 21 miles). For the sweet connoisseur, there was adequate provision from the generous spectating masses; I would say a rough ratio of 2:1 for jelly babies to wine gums – my highlight was a particularly nice burgundy wine gum from a rather lovely old lady in Greenwich, a genuine old fashioned wine gum with a rich full bodied flavour; a rather pleasant plummy first note but deep licorice-like richness coming through.
The sights? The bit south of the river was somewhat lacking in monuments and history but the crowds were really encouraging. To maximise your own encouragement my tip is to avoid running near ..ahem…”characters”… honestly, the penguins and spidermen get all the attention, it’s just not fair, but if you are an attention-seeker then a light mask might be your best option to maximise shout-outs whilst minimising running inconvenience; a young gentleman running near me at one stage was wearing a Winnie the Pooh mask which provided very little encumbrance and he was everybody’s best friend. In saying that I must say that I was pleasantly surprised and encouraged by the number of people who shouted our for, and seemed genuinely surprised to see, a Ponteland top, and it was great to hear my name shouted out (how did they manage to read it with me passing at such a speed?). All that changed at Tower Bridge, perhaps it was the perfect weather conditions, but I was surprised at how awesome it was to run under, I nearly tripped up with my head in the air taking it in; I imagined medieval kings riding under it their glory or condemned prisoners making their last journey before being beheaded whilst being bayed at by a hostile mob – all completely anachronistic as I subsequently learned they only started building it in 1886.. ah, the power of the imagination. I really liked the Isle of Dogs… yes you heard right… the streets were narrow and tall and packed with spectators and it was a real party atmosphere, although by this time (15 miles ish) the sight of cold pints of lager being consumed track-side was starting to be torture.
So, now, doesn’t matter how well you’ve prepared, your legs will start to hurt at some stage; it’s usually my hams but London picked on my quads, so from 15 miles on they were increasingly burning. This is where the training gets you through; having your race pace firmly embedded into your muscle memory keeps your pace going. At 20 miles, the 4 hour pacer slowly moved past me; this proved very useful as I gritted my teeth and kept up with her – I probably have her to thank for my success as I suspect I’d have dropped off a little without her and …. yes, as you pointed out, thank you… I was only just under my target time at the end. So miles 20-24 were hard graft but the increasingly loud and encouraging crowds (and the painkillers) got me through in touch with the pacer and as we got onto the embankment I fed on the encouragement and concentrated on my technique. The internal conversation was “keep your head high and back straight son” … what was that? Yes Bs I did think “helium balloon”…. “move those arms, relaxed shoulders, triple joints” and I must say that must have looked a grand sight with lots of other people flagging around me… yes ok, perhaps I was feeling a bit light-headed to think that. So I left the pacer behind on the embankment and turned the corner past Big Ben with increasing elation. I concentrated so hard on drinking in the sights and sounds along Horseguards and up the Mall that I’ve completely forgotten them..ha ha .. not really.. it was brilliant to be finishing whilst maintaining form and on schedule but … it guts me to say this and how can I live with it?.. a lady sprinted past me to rob me of the coveted fourteen thousand four hundred and forty first finishing place to leave me in fourteen thousand four hundred and forty second; you know what they say “fourteen thousand four hundred and forty second is the first loser”.
So, after the race was so well organised. Straight to your goody bag and a really nice, quality t-shirt (the London Marathon is such good value!). Then the baggage lorries – the guy on my lorry had spotted my number a way off and had my bag ready for me to take!. I must comment on my journey back to St Albans as it destroyed stereotypes of London people. I had my jacket open so my medal was on show … ostentatious? I should coco, but you’ve got to haven’t you?…and I lost count of the number of people who congratulated me and this was on the tube away from the finish (bloody cockneys, they don’t avoid eye contact on the underground and they engage you in friendly conversation); I was standing on the train at the start of the journey and then I thought I was going to have a face-off for a seat with some Crystal Palace fans on their way to the Cup semi-final but they just said “here you go mate, you deserve it” and I proceeded to have good laugh with them up to my destination. I like to think it my wishing them luck had a small part to play in their success against Watford.
Well, I mentioned my even splits; there was 12s difference in my fastest and slowest min/km pace – who could beat that I thought? – our own Matty Bell as it turns out! He ran a brilliant PB in 3:31:47 and just to reiterate the old adage that even pace is best, there was only 10s difference between his fastest and slowest min/km pace. Well done Matty, massively well done, all that training and planning coming together, 3:30 has got to be in your sights now. See, I told you I would get around to the other club runners; in fact my big regret for the day is that I didn’t manage to meet up with the other guys, I had to dash back to ensure we got back to Pont that evening for the (pesky) kids; I was really jealous of you all having a pint together afterwards but I’m sure we’ll catch up on the stories of the day soon. So who else was running?, well let me start with what I believe was another PB (and forgive me if anybody else got one that I’m unaware of, and yes I would have known this info if I had made the pub!) from Elliott Ward in a superb 3:39:48 – what an improvement Elliott has made in a few years since he joined the club; I recall being ahead of him at a couple of events only a few years ago and he’s miles ahead of me now – well done Elliott. Next up Paul Doney who clocked an incredible 3:19:52, I think an encounter with Cindy Crawford may have been his inspiration? From the published times it looks like David and Elaine Stroud ran the race together in a great time of 3:41:40, what a brilliant shared experience, now come clean, who would have won a proper race?!. Final mention goes to Laura Choake who probably deserves the most credit, she was running for charity but illness curtailed her training to 4 weeks (yes, only 4 weeks) but she soldiered on. Her initial splits were great up to half-way, and on target for 3:30ish, but it must have been really tough for her as she ended up going slower than me (heaven forbid) at the end. But she finished! In 3:51:43, So go donate to
I should also briefly mention that Paul O’Neil did the Madrid Marathon over the weekend at, wait for it, 3:14:22 and wife Helen did the half at 2:05:52; I hope we get a separate report.
So finally I must get a bit serious on your asses. Just beforeSouthwark Bridge I saw the ambulance crew taking away a man in the recovery position. Unfortunately I think this will have been Captain David Seath who died from a cardiac arrest aged just 31. He was running for Help for Heroes and there will be a donation page set-up in his name and if I can beg your indulgence, I encourage you to give to this cause as well. I mentioned that I had aortic stenosis earlier and on Thursday last I had my annual check-up; to cut a long-story short, it is probably getting a bit worse and I had a long conversation with my cardiologist about doing the marathon (he even ‘phoned me at home); he was happy for me to do it as long as I took my time but it’s obvious from the above that I couldn’t stop myself going for my target, so this will have to be my last marathon.
But it was a great event and I’ll have loads of great memories to take away! I encourage anybody who hasn’t tried a marathon to do so and I’d be delighted to help; I must be crazy as I love all the training and preparation as well as the big day. It does hurt but the sense of achievement is massive.