London Marathon 2016 Experience

My memory of the London Marathon goes back to the 1980’s, and whilst in my younger years I had ambitions of doing a marathon one day, it was one of those things that I’d put off till I was a bit older. I recognise you can’t just turn up on the day and get round; after all it is 26.2 miles. Put into perspective, it’s the equivalent of running from Ramsey to Cambridge. I knew it would require a period of specific training; I would have to put other things on hold and have support of my family. It might only run one marathon and I wanted to do it right. Anyone that knows me will recognise I rarely do things by halves.

I had been to watch the London Marathon in 2013, 2014 & 2015, supporting Ramsey Road Runners and friends, savouring the atmosphere and being inspired by their achievements. I decided in May of last year that it was time to enter the ballot for London, acutely aware that chances of success via this route are slim given the popularity of the event. I would find out in October if I’d got a place but I was also hopeful that if I was unsuccessful I might get an opportunity via the one club place given to RRR by UKA. I fulfilled the eligibility criteria but I wasn’t alone and it would be down to the luck of a draw. Nevertheless, during the autumn of 2015 my mind started to shift towards the longer distances. I had run 1hr 33mins half marathon in Reading during March and I felt I could go quicker. Attempts to revise my PB at The Great North Run (Sept) and Great Eastern (Oct) quite frankly ended very disappointingly, the latter had me questioning whether I was cut out for the longer distances. I asked myself at the end of both of these runs; could I have turned around and run it in reverse to make up the marathon distance? (even accounting for running at a much slower pace). The answer was an emphatic no and I was a bit lost as to how if I did get a marathon place I would get round. I rarely doubt myself, I trust my own judgement but these experiences brought more questions than answers. However, I still wanted to prove to myself that I could do a marathon and do it well.

I was predictably unsuccessful in the ballot but had a change of fortune in the RRR draw for the club place which took place in November. I was lucky to get the spot. Very excited about the prospect of running in the world’s greatest marathon I arrived home and immediately registered the place on the Virgin London Marathon website. I now had some focus that in five months I would be on the start line at Blackheath, but what type of training programme should I adopt? A bit of internet research revealed a variety of programmes, I opted for the Martin Yelling Advanced 17 week plan which was on the London Marathon website. Advanced in the title related to the number of times you expected to run a week (five) rather than expected time and it commenced on 28th December.

I also had the benefit of club members and friends who had run a number of marathons who were willing to give advice. I guessed there was no secret formula, experienced runners had run some fantastic times and had also got it wrong, and I needed to take bits of that advice and do what was right for me. After digesting the advice over early part of the year I got it down to a few basics that I wanted to on.

  • Make the start line fit and healthy was a priority
  • Make sure you don’t miss the long runs, they are the miles in the bank.
  • Listen to your body and adjust to what it is telling you
  • Enjoy the training
  • Taper and start the marathon fresh.

Sounds simple doesn’t it? But it’s not.

The training went well, I tried to stick to the self-imposed principles above. As weeks past I found the longer runs less daunting and exceeded my expectations with my performances at Folksworth 15 and Oakley 20. An alcohol ban for the last 5 weeks indicated to me I was taking it seriously. I had set myself a marathon target time of 3hrs 29mins 59secs. I felt this realistic, it was my first marathon and I wanted to cross the finish line with a smile on my face rather than being carried across the line. Setting anything more ambitious had potential for it all to go horribly wrong and I might only ever do this once.

I headed down to London on the Friday of the marathon weekend, visited the Expo at Excel, collected my number and absorbed the atmosphere for a couple of hours. I decided to get my name printed on my vest. An £8 investment that later became very important and money well spent. Over the course of Friday and Saturday I got all my kit sorted out, I didn’t want any stress on the Sunday morning.

As the days and hours drew closer to the start, the number of good luck messages started to increase. Some very inspirational ones amongst them, providing additional motivation and focus for what I was about to embark on. A smooth journey to the blue start and favourable weather conditions added to the anticipation. After depositing kit bag, chatting to other runners and the obligatory toilet stops I entered zone three of the blue start area. I confess to feeling a bit emotional at this point. I reflected on the 17 weeks of marathon training, how lucky I was to have the club place, those less fortunate than me and who are experiencing difficult times or adversity. As we edged forward towards the start line, with the Tim Peake countdown from space beginning, this was it, the best bit, the actual London Marathon. This is what I’d trained for. During the Great North Run I found the first few miles congested, and the same happened here. Constantly chopping stride, avoid those that had over estimate their finish time and gone in the wrong zone and looking for clear running space. I hit the first mile at 8mins 30secs. A 3hr 30mins finish time required consistent 8 mins per mile. No need to panic I told myself, it was only 30 secs and over the next 25 miles I was confident I could make it up. The miles soon passed and I was at the first big landmark, Cutty Sark. The noise for the crowd was amazing; I was back on target pace and feeling comfortable. My mind turned to the next big sight, Tower Bridge at 12 miles, again the noise was uplifting. Checking my watch I was still going well, halfway in 1hr 43min 19secs. As I approached the 14 mile point I moved towards the central reservation, knowing family and RRR members would be positioned on the opposite side of the road. Sure enough, I spotted them and they spotted me. If you’ve run the race, you will know how special that feels. At 15 miles I had high 5’s with Team Bex members, including Rebecca Griffiths herself. If you ever need inspiration, read her story, it won’t be with a dry eye. Around Canary Wharf it started to get a bit tougher with a few hills and the twists and turns. The thought of seeing Claire, Sam and the Ramsey crowd on the return route at 21 miles was my next focus. Yet again, they didn’t disappoint willing me on to the finish.

Those that had run a marathon before told me the last 4 miles will hurt. They’d also said it better to have some in reserve as you’ll need it and it’s a better feeling going passed others rather than them passed you. Well, those 4 miles took me to places I have physically and mentally not been to. Running races have hurt before, but this was a different type of hurt.  I told myself the pain I was suffering was temporary and nothing compared to the suffering of others. The voice in my head, aching muscles and twinges of cramp in my left hamstring was telling me to stop but I knew if I did I would never get started again. I recall very little of those last 4 miles. The mile markers didn’t seem to come every quickly, London Eye didn’t seem to get closer and Birdcage Walk went on and on and on. I do remember though random people shouting my name. The £8 spent for the name on the front of my vest seemed to be a good investment. At Buckingham Palace I knew the sub 3hr 30mins target was going to be tight. I knew I had slowed and turning into The Mall I couldn’t relax. My 10 secs of frame on the BBC coverage saw my checking my watch and then checking my watch again. I’d like to say good pacing but there was a bit of panic. Across the line in 3hrs 29mins 55 secs. I’d done it, very, very happy for my first marathon. I didn’t cross the line with a smile on my face, more agonising pain but inside I felt elated.

There were also great performances from the Ramsey Road Runners members. Simon Mead smashed his PB with 2hr 44mins 17secs and goes from a ‘good for age’ category to ‘Championship Entry’. That is an amazing run for a 43 year old (and I’m not mocking his age…..he is a week older than me). Steve Hall running his first marathon lived up to expectation with a classy 2hr 51mins 38min clocking. Darren Paine broke the 3hrs mark with 2hr 55min 40secs. So pleased for Darren who has come so close before. Michelle Brett crossed the line in 3hrs 24mins 4secs, an amazing run from her and finally Steve Burton came in with 3hr 26mins 51sec, the stats showing a difficult last 10km.

An amazing experience. I do need to say a massive thank you to a few people. To Ramsey Road Runners for the club place, to those that accompanied me on training runs, those that offered me advice and messages of good luck, the supporters who came down to London to shout and scream at me and the other Ramsey Road Runners and finally to Claire & Sam for the support they gave me during the training, build up, race and recovery.

I set out on the marathon journey saying I might only do one marathon and I wanted it to be London. So would I do another one? The answer…..a most definite yes.

 

 

I better do something before I start getting too fat

I’m no stranger to running. As a teenage I was quite a handy athlete on the local / regional scene up North, concentrating on 800m. At 17 years old I ran 1min 53secs over that distance and represented the County and ran in the English Schools Championship on track and cross country. In those days I lived less than ½ mile from the local track and there seemed to be little else that occupied my time. If you go searching Google, unfortunately, you won’t find anything. We are talking about the late 80’s / 90’s when I used a telephone box to phone home, my first car had a manual choke and the TV had four channels.  I then went off to Staffordshire University with thoughts of progressing academically and athletically. Staffordshire University at the time was considered to be one of the best educational establishments for athletics behind Loughborough, Birmingham Uni and some of the London Colleges. Distracted by independence, cheap beer and girls perhaps my focus waivered somewhat and I didn’t quite achieve what I wanted to athletically. I moved to Cambridgeshire in the late 90’s and picked up the Senior Men’s 800m crown around 97/98 before hanging up my spikes.

As the years rolled by I dabbled with running on a very ad hoc basis, until the summer of this year (2014) when an expanding waist called for immediate action before it was too late. Encouraged by Claire and Sam, a trip down to Ramsey Road Runners beckoned. I had paced Sam around the Abbey Fun Run for the previous two years and was out kicked by my 8 year old in the last 100m of this year’s event. Back in the day, my sprint finish was an attribute I relied upon to beat the opposition, now I couldn’t move my legs fast enough to beat my 8 year old son. Whilst, Sam had improved his time by over a minute and ran 11mins 2secs, and I was really pleased for him, I was not mentally prepared for him to take the bragging rights. I was brought up in a competitive environment and the knock I had taken had ignited my fire to compete again and set myself some targets. I also realised my diet and lack of exercise was not doing me any good. I wanted Sam to see his dad competing again and hope it encourages him to do better himself.

My first attendance at a Ramsey Running Club training night was a welcoming and friendly one. It was good to hear banter and the tales of the previous weekend’s races. I had done some training on my own in the weeks before whilst on holiday to try and get back into running. I also did a few Parkrun’s at Hinchingbrooke. I had been told most midweek runs are a 5 mile circuit around Ramsey & Bury but I also heard mention in the training room of ‘efforts’. Darren looked and talked like a decent athlete and it was too early for me to be doing ‘efforts’. The others there also looked pretty serious. I decided to tag along and despite being dropped pretty early one it was good to get round. I wasn’t to be disillusioned and tried to establish a routine of getting out for a run each week at the club and when I get back from work, rather than putting on the TV. I decided to join the club. The training became easier, I recovered quicker and my competitive edge has started to return.

My introduction back to racing was on a very warm October morning at Priory Park, St Neots for the first Frostbite Friendly League. It was great to see so many people participating and demonstrates the healthy appetite for these type of events. To get round was an achievement, it was hard work and in hindsight I went off too fast. This event had shown me how much I’d missed running. Whilst by its very nature an individual sport the event requires a team score and this fuelled my motivation and adds to the togetherness amongst the runners.

Onto the second Frostbite Friendly League event at Bushfields, Peterborough and in the lead up tales amongst club members of this being a fast course and a large field would be assembled. Conscious of my over exuberant start a month earlier I decided to position myself further back at the start line. It seemed to do the trick and I hit the first mile mark at my target pace. I felt good and going into the last mile could see the familiar gait of Gavin Stokes in his red Ramsey vest ahead. Despite my best efforts I could not get close to him. The training was starting to pay dividend though and I was happy with the run. I had finished 44 places higher than St Neots and it was a bigger field. I’d also average under 7min per mile. Again, I qualified as a team counter and for me this is a huge motivator. Others were dependant on my performance.

The latest race instalment came in the mud bath of Hinchingbrooke Park for the third Frostbite race. In anticipation, I’d purchased a pair of ‘Trail’ shoes but nothing on my feet could have compensated for the deep claggy mud in places. It certainly was a challenge. Following my previous performances I’d set myself a target of bettering my finishing position at Bushfields. I considered times pretty irrelevant on the difficult terrain. I felt though that Gavin, an experienced season campaigner might be in my sights. Approaching the last mile or so I’d not seen Gavin and was expecting him to come surging past with the sprint finish so many had talked about. Thankfully, I’d got the better of him this time but I’m sure the competition in the middle order will continue. Again, I improved on my placing, finishing 23 places higher than the previous event and I was encouraged to see those ahead of me (Simon Mead, Steve Hall, Darren Paine, Shaun Walton, Andrew Brett and Lisa Marriott) congratulating me as I approached the finish line.

As 2015 approaches I hope to continue improvements in the Frostbite League and would like to crack the top 100, run some 10km’s, 10 mile races, possibly a half marathon and hopefully run in some of the team relay events.

I have found Ramsey Road Runners to be a very friendly welcoming club, incredibly encouraging and there is a great atmosphere on the Monday and Wednesday club nights and at races. Thank you to all those people who make it happen and seeing so many juniors turning up on a Wednesday night bodes well for the future of the club.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you all. Good luck in 2015.

Neil