Congratulations to all the members who took part in this year’s Virgin London Marathon.
Not only did they all represent the club with distinction, but a couple of them have even found time in their recovery period to submit race reports.
First is this personal account by Phillippa (Pip) Nichol.
Aside from the obviously amazing atmosphere, what struck me most was that the London marathon is a bizarre combination of amazingly seemless coordination and totally rubbish signposting.
On Saturday, I registered in a flash during their ‘busiest period’ then spent two hours wandering lost in the expo trying to find the exit. When we finally escaped with my goodie bag (a rather strange concoction which included a 500g bag of rice) we managed to get lost in ExCel and walked about a mile extra to the wrong DLR station… Earlier in the day we’d waited half an hour for a train that didn’t exist and then I’d lost a contact lens. I was hoping that it wasn’t a sign of things to come. Later that night, when the congestion I’d had in my chest since an accident at work a month ago left me wheezing on inhaled fibreglass dust reached its peak and the muscles in my chest seized (part of a long term shoulder injury) I genuinely wondered if my marathon bid was going to be over before it started.
After a rather sleepless night, I headed to Twickenham station stupidly early. I’d been worrying about getting to the start in time since I’d discovered the day before that South West trains had decided that moving their engineering works from the 14th to the 21st would be a great idea. Seems I wasn’t the only one. The station was packed full of people with red bags. In the end, I needn’t have worried. I arrived at the start and handed in my bag, wondering if I’d ever see it again, there were just so many of them.
It was only as we got into our pens that I made a rather disappointing discovery. Despite putting 3:45 on my expected finish time, I’d been put in the back pen with the people in fancy dress, and more importantly, in the bay BEHIND the 4:59 pacer. In that moment, I think I knew things weren’t going to go to plan! On chatting to a few people I discovered that that’s just where the first timers go, regardless of the time they put down. I got myself to the front of the pen and tried not to focus on my sore shoulder and catchy chest. Shortly after a 30 second silence for Boston the gun went. We didn’t hear the gun go, but finally we were off. And then we weren’t. And then, finally, we were. It took 12 minutes to reach the line – something I’m very glad of noting since I discovered over the next few hours that Garmins do *not* like the London marathon course.
I can’t really describe the course – it was a bit of a blur and it was kind of impossible to focus on pace and not tripping over (at least 6 people around me twisted ankles on bottles at various points – they were everywhere) and look around as well. Back in the pack it’s tight – far more so than the GNR. While on paper my early pacing looks spot on, I wasted a lot of energy getting delayed and then catching up. Mile 5.5 we just ground to a complete halt. With the sun beating down on us relentlessly and sheer quantity of people, I realised 3:45 was highly unlikely to happen, so I stopped thinking about it so much and just soaked up the atmosphere as much as I could. The crowds are AMAZING. The signposting isn’t! Every water station took me by surprise and I missed the first couple of shower stations. I even managed to totally miss a mile marker, and believe me, I was *looking* for those!
The Cutty Sark was an awesome part of the course, I got a little distracted by it and almost fell over a barrier! Tower Bridge was incredible – I’ve actually never gone over it before. I think next time, without the crowds, it might be a bit of a let down! Turning onto the dual carriageway at 13 miles I spotted the end of the elites gradually turning into the faster non-elites, and got to shout madly ‘GO TYNE BRIDGE!’ at Stevie Cairns, who was powering along mile 22 looking fresh as a daisy. In contrast, I was having the second worse run of my life (I’ll get on to the worst one at the end). All my training runs had gone so, so well and I felt strong. In the marathon my feet hurt at 3 miles, and I was feeling haggard by mile 8. It was mainly the heat. I know it wasn’t ‘hot’, but to go from winter training to that was a shock. My head was banging from the sun and my shoulder hurt. While I was enjoying the atmosphere, I was acutely aware that things were really not going to plan.
Gladly, we were treated to some shade as the miles hit the mid-teens, and I started feeling less headachy and light headed. I still wanted to punch the guy in the crowd with the klaxon though. Things were looking up. Around mile 18, I thought ‘I can do this’, then a few seconds later BOOM, my knee went from totally fine to pain every step. It was the same knee as I injured in November, but in a different place. I guess I should better consult my chiropractor on this. I have found a great clinic and already had some treatment (check out Highest Health Chiropractic website if you also suffer from knee pain). By mile 19 I was genuinely considering dropping out, but it wasn’t actually getting any worse, so I thought ‘sod the time, lets just get to the end.’ Everything I’d read or been told said that I needed to be prepared for the last 6 miles to be the worst. Actually, *they* were totally fine, it was the first 20 that were the problem! My legs were tired and my knee hurt, but I was alert and in control far more so than I had been for the rest of the race. I started enjoying it a lot more as a breeze came in from the river and the crowds got more intense. I was told that at 24 miles I looked strong – I’m pretty sure it would have been a different story if they’d seen me earlier!
Big Ben chimed 2 as I approached and I knew I had 12 minutes to get to the end if I wanted a sub 4, so I ran as hard as my knee would let me. I don’t remember if you could see the palace or not, I wasn’t paying any attention. I sprinted down the finishing straight (well, it felt like sprinting anyway, it probably more resembled a bit of a sloppy amble) and my main concern at that point was how many photographers there were and how I hoped none of them had got a picture of me. As I crossed the line I genuinely wondered if I might keel over. A St John’s Ambulance guy looked like he was about to grab me, but then decided I was fine, which actually spurred me on a bit. The walk to the bags was cruelly long, and the medal felt ridiculously heavy. But I got my bag easily and found my friends almost immediately.
This marathon has been a big journey for me. Two years ago I was on the verge of buying a walking cane due to nerve problems in my foot that rendered me virtually immobile. A series of accidental discoveries lead to me beginning to run in minimal shoes (which, over the past couple of years has eased my foot pain when walking too), and last May I ran the Edinburgh 10K. It was a stinking hot day and I hated every second of that race. I swore immediately after it that I’d never race again. The next day I watched the marathon and thought ‘I want to do that,’ and signed up for this year’s Edinburgh marathon the following week. I discovered TBH in July last year and have never looked back. The support everyone in the club gives each other is amazing! I was SO happy to get the club place for London this year. It may not have been the best result I could have had, but I did my best in the circumstance and am really proud of myself. I’m not sure if I’ll be able to run Edinburgh now – I’ll just have to see how my knee fares, but London was a truly awesome experience. Thank you all for the messages yesterday – they really helped!
Next up is this terrific report by John Tollitt.
Not too long ago to have got myself out of bed in time to catch the winners of the London Marathon crossing the finishing line on the telly would have been something of a result for me. Since then I have got into this running lark and even ran a few marathons myself. However, despite posting respectable times, I don’t feel that I have done myself justice at this distance and felt inspired to give it another crack after hearing of people’s experiences at last year’s London Marathon and thinking that it might be a good way of marking 50 years of my existence. This was all despite the fact that I recall saying that I’d never run another one after having a nightmare at Edinburgh 2011. Having failed in the open ballot I was lucky enough to have my name picked out of the hat and claim one of the 3 places made available to the club.
Training started in earnest after Christmas and coincided with a particularly cold and bleak spell of weather. Initial plans to arise at the crack of dawn every Sunday morning and join up with David Appleby for a long run soon went by the wayside, and my long, weekly runs took place at a more civilized hour although always seeming to coincide with intense snow showers at one point or another.
As winter failed to turn to spring and race day approached, travel and accommodation arrangements were made, and the taper phase kicked in. My game plan was to target a time of 3.15 although anything under 3.30 would be a result as far as I was concerned.
Events at the Boston Marathon in the previous week certainly put any personal worries and concerns into perspective and, rather than any suggestion that the event might be in jeopardy, seemed to galvanise all concerned into ensuring that it went ahead as planned.
I headed down to London by train on the Saturday with my personal support crew (Vicki Deritis), and we made our way straight to the ExCel Arena to pick up my number and wander around the array of stalls flogging all manner of running kit. It certainly struck me what big business running has become for such a simple and straightforward activity. Having picked up my number we managed to escape from the Expo and found our way to our hotel which coincidentally was on the marathon route at Canary Wharf.
I was up and awake bright and early on race day and was pleased to see that conditions looked ideal for running, if a bit chilly, to start with. The Docklands Light Railway took me from outside the hotel straight to Greenwich in plenty of time to wander over with the growing crowds to my start point. I must say the organisation of the event was superb, as there was minimal queuing at the bagdrop or for toilets. Sometimes getting these little details right can make all the difference on the day.
And so to the race itself. Prior to the start, a 30 sec silence was impeccably observed in memory of the victims of the Boston bombing. In addition, everybody was wearing a black ribbon as a mark of respect.
I had managed to get myself fairly close to the front of the blue start as the race started, so it only took me about 1 minute to get across the line. Even so the first mile or so was fairly slow and left me behind my planned pace of 7.26 min. mile so I picked up my pace a bit to get back on track. I am not the greatest tactician when it comes to running, and even though I had my Garmin on and wrist bands with each mile time on, I proceeded to continue to go off far too fast. The miles seemed to fly by as we ran through Woolwich, picking up the runners from the Red start and then turning back east towards Greenwich. Approaching Greenwich, I started to become more aware of the level of support there was along the length of the route, which only became more vociferous as we ran past the iconic Cutty Sark. Somewhere between Deptford and Rotherhithe I spotted the familiar running style of Kev ‘Mr Parkrun’ Lister, whom I ran with for a good few miles before he pulled away ahead. The support from the sidelines was still superb with the smell of barbecued fish and the heavy bass beat of sound systems, set up in front gardens adding to the occasion. Approaching Tower Bridge, which is just before the half way point, the noise from the crowds picked up another notch or two before we made a sharp turn right towards Docklands, the opposite direction to our ultimate destination.
For the next couple of miles, the returning runners run back on the opposite side of the road, although the only ones I saw were the partially sighted runners with their guides, who had set off before the main event. Despite a chilly start to the day, the sun was well and truly out by now and runners were looking to keep to the shaded sides of the route to avoid the direct sunlight and a tunnel on the approach to Canary Wharf provided more welcome shelter. The route dropped down the west side of the Isle of Dogs peninsula, where I spotted the even more distinctive running style of our own Sean Kelly, who indicated that he wasn’t having the best of runs and encouraged me to push on ahead. I then headed on back up towards the futuristic skyline of the Canary Wharf development and past the Hilton Hotel which I left only that morning. I was still feeling strong (and going too fast) as the route made it’s way amongst the skyscrapers through miles 18 and 19 and was pleased that I hadn’t hit ‘The Wall’ at that psychological milestone; mile 20.
As we retraced our previous route, I derived a certain sense of Schadenfreude from seeing the runners on the opposite side of the carriageway heading eastwards as I made my way to the finish which was ‘only’ a mere 5 miles or so to the west. However, my smugness was short lived as I started to feel the pace and the distance, and saw the 3.15 pacer, who I had wrecklessly ‘left for dead’ at Charlton, pass me by, accompanied by a cluster of more disciplined runners than myself. Despite my best attempts at keeping up with this group it gradually, and slowly pulled away from me, as my legs began to feel heavier with each step. I was fully aware that the final 5 or so miles of a marathon are as much about mental strength as they are about physical strength. Even so, once that sense of doubt creeps in, it can become difficult to counter those inner demons telling you to slow down or pull over and stop. You try and counter these negative thoughts with positive ones. I thought about ‘Tony the Fridge’ running 100 miles round the Quayside with a fridge on his back, compared to my paltry 5 miles. I heard the sound of Wilko Johnson blasting out from somewhere, a man who is showing an incredibly inspirational approach to a terminal illness, and thought ‘get a grip Tollitt’.
My pace slowed down markedly as we approached the Embankment, but I was spurred on by Vicki and her brother and sister-in-law roaring me on at mile 25. Although I knew I couldn’t make 3.15, I thought that I might just make 3.20, so I dug deep as we approached Big Ben and turned up Birdcage Walk. At this point I became aware of how many people were really struggling, with people being attended to by paramedics or barely managing to keep moving with only half a mile to go. A sign ahead read 800m to go and, after what seemed an eternity, another read 600m to go. It was like one of weird scenes in a film where the corridor seems to get longer. Passing Buckingham Palace, the finish line finally came into view, a short way down the Mall. I stopped my watch on the line and clocked 3.19.55, before realising that my legs were barely able to support my own weight and I staggered off to collect my finisher’s medal.
Meeting up with Vicki at the meet and greet area, I was informed that various people had spotted me on the telly. This brought a wry smile to my lips, as I had been joking the previous night that my game plan was to sprint off at the start and get on the telly. So it had worked. I had, indeed, gone off too fast and got on the telly.
On reflection and despite not making my target time, I was very pleased with my run and my time which was officially recorded as 3.19.51. The London Marathon is a fantastic event which I would thoroughly recommend to anybody if you’re lucky enough to get a place. It is generally seen as a fast course, the organisation and attention to detail are second to none and the support all along the route is awe inspiring.
p.s. if anyone knows where you can buy the soundtrack to the race which includes Janet Kay’s Silly Games, Underworld’s Born Slippy and Dr Feelgood’s Roxette, please let me know.
TBH Results (half-marathon split time in brackets).
Steve Cairns 02:40:22 (1:19:30)
Mark Hall 02:58:43 (1:26:34)
Sean Kelly 03:25:58 (1:29:41)
Phillippa Nichol 03:56:33 (1:54:12)
James Robson 03:49:20 (1:46:24)
John Tollitt 03:19:51 (1:33:24)
Rob Wishart 03:00:16 (1:25:26)