Cees van der Land’s insight into this year’s London Marathon is a marvel (heck, it even includes Scarlett Johansson).
2014 Virgin London Marathon race report by Cees van der Land
Inspired by the high quantity and quality of race reports on the Tyne Bridge site lately (and a little bit of post-marathon blues) here’s my race report for the London Marathon (you can skip to the 7th paragraph for the actual race day report…) (WARNING: contains a mix of imperial and metric units!):
Since I did my last marathon in a vest provided by the charity I was running for, the London Marathon was going to be my first in a TBH, so I was very much looking forward to be representing our club in this distance. According to my training log the first run in preparation for London was on the 9th of December. As this is a race report and not a training report I won’t bore you with all the details of logging slow and fast miles, just mentioning here that both weekly sessions at TBH have provided high quality training and good company every time! I opted for a training schedule that included not one, but two speeds sessions per week on Tuesdays and Thursday so that I could still come to the club. During training sessions I soon found out which TBH’ers were running in London as well, sharing plans and how our training was going. Around December Tim Kelso joined and as he had similar pacing ambitions I had someone to monitor my progress against. This was especially true when I would be walking Tess around the Moor and Tim would pass by running, causing me to think I should be out running as well instead of walking the dog!
The two weeks leading up to the marathon are mentally the hardest part of the training schedule, as you lower your mileage to recover. This means that you’ll have a lot of energy left, energy used to question everything from training mileage and intensity to whether doing a PhD was a good thing in the first place. Luckily I was not alone in my taper madness as I got anxious emails from Shaun Brown the week before, with subjects along the lines of “Taperitis is hitting hard!” One week before the marathon we had the National 12 stage road relays to use up some of that excess energy. Unfortunately most of the energy was used up by sitting on a bus during a scenic tour!
With marathon day coming closer and the nerves hitting a high I thought, just like Michael Nemeth, it would be a great idea to visit the Newcastle Beer and Cider Festival on the Thursday before the Sunday I had been training towards for over four months. As opposed to Michael my first beer choices tasted excellent, so I didn’t have to test too many different ones. After three half pints I found my way back home, ready for a long night of sleep before taking the train down south!
I had booked a room very close to the start (1.15km to be precise) and the plan was to get the train in the afternoon on Friday and pick up my number at the expo (also known as the “please buy all this stuff you don’t really need from our sponsors” event) before going to Blackheath. The expo was uneventful, after picking up your number and chip they make you go through this huge Adidas store followed by endless stands of other stuff. I did get a dozen or so flyers from marathons I’d like to do in the fall (no flyers for the North Korea marathon yet!) and made sure to pick up a few gels from Lucozade. I wanted to test how my stomach would react to them as they would be handed out twice on the course and I hadn’t used them in training. Stomachs are weird things, especially at mile 20 as I discovered during my last marathon when I took one of the organisations gels which were very sweet. The plan was to carry three gels of my own and have two provided on course. Friday night ended with an excellent pasta dish which tasted very well, despite eating pasta for nearly a week by now.
Saturday morning, less than 24 hours to go!!! Did a short easy run to the start followed by a few strides and a warm up at the place where I wanted to do my warm up on Sunday. Legs felt OK since my last run on Wednesday followed by a sports massage from Sophie Marr, thanks again! The rest of the Saturday was not spent visiting London, but as relaxed as possible, not trying to tire my legs. Met up with a friend who was also running, as it was her first marathon she was more nervous and needed some reassurance that she would make it. I tried to convince her by saying that 98.5% of the people making it to the start line finish, she did! At the end of the day I met up with my housemate and TBH’er-to-be Niklas Heinemann who was also running. After yet another pasta dinner he suggested it would be a great idea to go watch a movie somewhere for distraction. As you might have noticed from this report so far, I like to plan my marathon in quite some detail and since this wasn’t part of the plan I had my doubts, however, it would be good to divert some of the nerves. We strolled along Greenwich Park, again across the start line, to a nearby cinema. Unfortunately their selection did not include enough guns and actions (needed for distraction). As it was now shortly after 8 o’clock I would not have minded going back to the apartment, nevertheless we decided to grab a taxi to another bigger cinema. While walking and navigating through the streets of London I wasn’t paying attention to the uneven pavement and half twisted my ankle, this inspired me to a half minute of swearing at the street and myself, yes, I was a bit anxious about the day to come. Arriving at the next cinema they offered a movie with the right amount of guns, action and Scarlett Johansson. A quick look on the internet informed me that the movie would take till 23:45 to finish, which I felt was a bit late the night before a race. However, the movie was very entertaining and I figured there would be a taxi stand just outside to take us back quickly. Upon leaving the cinema we discovered no such thing as a taxi stand, plus the cinema seemed to be placed within a large shopping complex, far away from any place where we could find a taxi. With my phone out of battery, having no clue where exactly we were I didn’t feel very convinced that this was a good idea or a good preparation for running 26.2 miles the next day. We ended up walking around for another 15 minutes (in what I believed was the wrong direction) and had a local restaurant call a taxi for us. I suspect that this taxi was just a friend of the restaurant owner as it lacked a meter, but that didn’t matter he got us home! In bed at 00:30, alarm set for 07:30, let’s do this! I followed some advice from my training schedule to have a last high carb snack just before going to sleep, not sure if it helped, but you never know.
Race day! In the great tradition of pre-race day preparation I had already pinned on my number to the well know black and white vest the night before so I was ready to go. Instead of wearing my vest to the start I decided to keep it folded in my bag until I was ready for my warm up (an advice I got last week from Stevie Cairns, I think it worked). Breakfast consisted of porridge with bananas washed down with some cranberry juice, followed by some energy bars leading up to the start. We made our way to the start at around 8:20 and were joined by a massive amount of runners from Blackheath station onwards. I said goodbye to Niklas who was starting from a different spot and made my way into the good for age assembling area. I walked a few laps around the area looking for familiar faces but since I was early I didn’t see any. The sun was warming up the field nicely and I spent a few minutes just sitting down facing the sun with my eyes closed. Lots of people around me did the same. At around 9:15 I put on my vest and left the start area to do my warm up, I ran into Rob Wishart just outside the entrance. Knowing of his cross-dressing experience I notified him that there is an official marathon world-record for “fastest marathon in a nurse’s uniform (male)”, he dryly replied that would not be his attire of choice for today. While doing my warm up on the same stretch as I did it two years ago and on Saturday (yes, superstitious) I noticed a little niggle in my right knee, but quickly realised that I’ve had this niggle before races in which I’ve done well, this surely must be a good sign. Upon returning to the start area and shoving all my belongings into a red bag I was about to join the end of the queue to get into the start area. However, I noticed some people shouting at me from the line and turning my head I saw the familiar black and white vests of Dave Moir, Shaun Brown and Tim Kelso. While covering the club logo on my vest I quickly jumped the line to join this motley crew. Happy to see the same faces I had been training with for the last few months. While shuffling towards the start line we exchanged our plans to tackle this 26.2 mile long beast. As Tim and I had the same target of 2:45 we decided to run together, this turned out to be an excellent choice. We were slowly approaching 10 o’clock and we were treated by recorded messages from a member of the royal family and a guy called Mo. Anticipation build-up reached a high when all the elite runners were announced, ending with introducing the man to make his marathon debut, Mo Farah. The clock was slowly ticking away the minutes, turning into mere seconds…
10.00am, Sunday the 13th of April, 2014. Off we go! As usual in these mass starts I find it hard to find my pace, trying to take over people, while trying not to go too fast. Soon the pack thinned a bit and we were able to find our pace, at this point Shaun was already out of sight as he was aiming for a sub 2:40 time. As I had done the course before I knew there was a bit of a descent at 3km, so I didn’t panic too much when we started off a bit slow as I knew we could compensate for that with this descent. Also, starting off a bit slow is always good, a lesson Haile Gebrselassie did not follow pacing the elite men to 14:21 for the first 5km (2:01:06 pace). The first 10-15km went as predicted; we joined with the blue start at mile 3, ran around Cutty Sark and were on our way towards Tower Bridge. All this time I was shadowing Tim or vice versa. From my experience I have a tendency to drop my pace a little trough water stations and forget to pick it up again after finishing my drink, running with someone really helps staying focussed. It also helped that we were both wearing a vest with Tyne Bridge Harriers (despite Tim’s attempts to start his own club called “Timebridge Harriers”) across the chest which meant that supporter only had to yell “Go Geordies Go” once for two runners. According to the amount of cheering London is full of TBH supporters, really motivating. Coming across Tower Bridge, close to the half-way mark, we had a little chat about how we felt. It was determined that the legs were still feeling great and that we were ready to tackle the second half of the route. My initial plan was to stick to the same pace all the way to the end, trying to run as flat as possible. We crossed the half way mark at 1:22:09, right on schedule for sub 2:45 with a little bit of room for slowing down near the end.
Coming off Tower Bridge you enter the Highway, the part of the course where runners run in both directions, the noisiest place of the course as it is lined with many supporters, including Darryl Davison, Lizzy Clamp and Vicki Deritis who yelled so loud that we heard them loud a clear over all the other supporters! They cheered us on from the opposite side of the road and I made a mental note of where they were located so that I would not miss them on the way back, when I could really use the support. By this time there wasn’t much chatting anymore, exchanges were mostly non-verbal or included grunts. It felt like Tim was picking up the pace a little bit at this point, confirmed by my Garmin. I decided to stay with him and maybe pick up the runner who overtook us earlier after informing about our time goal. The part along Canary Wharf seemed endless, with many twists and turns, a long tunnel which made me lose satellite reception and a bit of a thinner crowd. I was very much looking forward to coming back to the Highway. This was where the hardest part of the race started and I was very happy to have Tim with me to keep the pace going. I was slowly counting down the miles, waiting for mile 20 where I always get a mental boost, thinking “it’s only 10km from here!” We were coming down to the 30km mark and I still felt strong, knowing it would be more of a mental game from now on. As we were already steadily picking up the pace since the half way mark I decided that I might as well continue this and see how it would end. I was alone with my thoughts as only happens during this part of the marathon, not paying much attention to my surroundings anymore and focussing on my stride and pace. By the time I woke up from this trance I checked for Tim but couldn’t see him anymore trough my tired eyes.
I was very much looking forward to the 35km mark as I knew the TBH support team would be just behind there. I sped up a little, trying to look as relaxed as possible. High-fiving all of you really gave me a huge boost! Looking at my watch and calculating how much I still had to do I realised I could significantly drop my pace and still make my sub 2:45 target, again, a great confidence boost. I also noticed that I was taking over more people than vice versa, another boost. Unfortunately these boosts seem to last shorter than the overall feelings of “why am I doing this to myself” and “where the heck is that finish line”, but I had been expecting those. Coming down from the Highway towards the Embankment I knew there would be a long and empty tunnel to conquer before the final stretch. I also knew Claire Norman would be standing here somewhere, although my tired mind didn’t really remember whether she was going to stand on the left or on the right. This made me concentrate a bit more on the crowds, anything to distract me from that thing I’m doing right now and my body is protesting against. I heard Claire yelling, but saw her a bit late; I did manage to half turn around to smile and wave at her. She said I made it look easy, it sure didn’t feel like that.
By this time I was definitely picking up a lot more runners than before, my legs were protesting, but my mind kept focussed on the next runner to overtake. This provided a good distraction from my entire body telling me to stop whatever I was doing to it. Past the 40km mark now, this is just a stroll of 2.2km, I can do this. Now, why do they put in another tunnel here and why is there an incline coming out of this tunnel?! Ah, turning right towards the Mall, the finish is really close now. Oh, wait, another turn to the left, this is not the shortest route, why are you doing this to me!? 800 meters to go, how long will 800 meters take me with this pace, how much longer till this is over?! The 26 miles mark, great, how much is 0.2 miles in meters; I cannot do this calculation anymore at this stage. This is the final finish straight right? If so, why can I not see the finish yet?! Another turn, you got to be kidding me, this must be the last turn, why am I not finished yet!? There it is, the finish, I can see the finish, yes, running is almost over, I hate running, I’m so glad this is over!!
2:43:10, a PB by 6 and half minutes and well under my target of 2:45, but all my body is saying is “why did we do that?” Met up with Tim after the finish who smashed his PB by doing 2:44:10 with a negative split. Smiles everywhere, both from us and the volunteers who were congratulating everyone on their achievement. My legs were very happy that this torture had stopped and were protesting any additional movement, so I shuffled my way to the meeting point to catch up with Claire. A well-deserved recovery pint was consumed, followed by a few more. As my train was already at 4 o’clock we decided to make our way to Kings Cross. Legs were protesting the stairs in the London underground, but this was very much compensated by a free ride and congratulations from random strangers. The train ride was spent replying to all the motivating messages from TBH and beyond. Completely crashed at 9 o’clock and slept for over 10 hours, dreaming about sub 2:40. A goal that will be reachable thanks to the excellent sessions at TBH!
Ps. To Katie Monnely, you can skip reading the second to last paragraph and sign up for a marathon!