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.