It’s now been nearly two weeks since I ran the London Marathon and it seems like forever ago. For the record, I completed it in 4:55:53, four minutes ahead of my target, and it was a fantastic day.
In the drizzle before the start, it was a real boost to receive some last minute donations from generous sponsors: a reminder that people were supporting me and that now was the time to turn my efforts from fundraising to running. With Gift Aid included, I’d reached around £2,500 of my £3,000 target, and I’d like to say a big thank-you to everyone who’ve sponsored me so far. I’m still happy to receive donations if you’d been meaning to donate but haven’t had chance yet: www.virginmoneygiving.com/LookSharpInLycra.
Back in pen 9, the last of the groups to start, it was 22 minutes after the gun went off that I finally crossed the starting line – in among the rhinos, the men dressed as pantomime dames, various superheroes and a man running with a 2m aluminium ladder. (Strange: health and safety rules seem to be fairly relaxed where marathon running is concerned!).
We were a motley but diverse crowd that really did represent a cross-section of society. Tuning in to the conversation behind me I heard as a man explained this was his tenth marathon, but that he hadn’t started running marathons until he was 60. To the questioner’s surprise, he was now 68 and planning on running several more.
Setting off, it wasn’t long before I’d passed a man dressed as an incredibly authentic dinosaur who would have easily graced the set of a Jurassic Park movie. He was gliding slowly but with beautifully choreographed lower leg movements, bearing the notice “official world record attempt”. I saw him on the news that night, and though his bid for the record books ended in failure, he nevertheless finished the race in human form, and raised over £3,000 for charity in the process.
Before too long, I passed Mario and Luigi wearing cardboard Formula 1 cars, and Mr Testicles: a man dressed as a large pair of gonads whose impressively large pubic hairs wafted around as he ran. It sounded like he was hot and sweaty in there.
As I’d been warned, the rhinos and Wombles had proved to be a blight on the course itself for runners like me. Support from the crowd was immense – the very best part of the day – but finding yourself running alongside one of these creatures was to suffer a wall of noise that could last for miles on end. Beer-happy punters outside the many pubs along the route chanting “Rhino! Rhino!” or “Womble! Womble!” left me wishing I’d trained just that bit harder to accelerate away from them. If you’re planning to run a marathon, this is what interval training is really designed to help you do!
I felt good through the half-way point over Tower Bridge, taking in the high fives from the crowd and hitting the ‘boost’ posters people were holding to urge us on to the finish. Still good through to 18 miles, and on to Canary Wharf at 20 miles, with a gradual loss of energy at around 22 miles – the farthest I’d ever run until that point – rather than any sign of the mythical ‘wall’.
The last four miles were difficult but not unbearable. I imagine everyone has a different way of coping with them. The crowds at this point were tremendous, urging us on, with every shout of “Come on Sharpie”. I can’t tell you how much each one of those shouts of encouragement meant to me.
For me, it was technique that got me through to the end, and the exhortations of our running coaches back home, Kevin and Evette. ‘Pockets to sockets’ is how Kevin teaches us to run, with your hands and arms doing the work to build momentum that your legs will naturally follow. Val had teased me during my early preparation that technique would only get me so far, it was practice and strength that would count most. Of course she’s right (nothing new there), but it was reverting to the mantra of ‘pockets to sockets’ that helped me pull my body back upright, got my arms moving and ultimately propelled me on to where Val was waiting in the crowd, just 100m short of the finish line.
Despite taking time out to give her the biggest hug and let the accomplishment wash over me, my last 5 miles or so had seen me pass 533 other runners, with only 138 passing me (one of whom was walking!). So a relatively strong finish.
It was only that last 100m that I found hard. Having stopped for less than a minute my legs had stiffened and my knee was suddenly hurting, as I encountered what can only be described as an outer body experience. That big red gantry, the one you’ve seen hundreds of times on TV, the one that marks the end of the London Marathon, was before me. I was about to pass under it. But instead of being there, I felt like I was back in the living room in mum and dad’s house, watching me finishing on TV.
But what an experience.
So what did I learn? Well, first off you run a lot more than 26.2 miles on a marathon. In my case, half a mile more. Where that becomes a problem is with pacing. I knew I needed to average under 11:27 mins per mile to hit my 5hr target time, and according to my watch I was well under that. But when the GPS on my watch said I’d hit the fifth mile, the five mile marker on the course was still some way in the distance. By mile 25 the gap between what I’d actually run, and what the London Marathon mile markers said I’d run, was amounting to a real drag on my pace. I’ve pasted my mile splits at the bottom of this blog, but as you can see from the stats below, my actual average pace was 11:17 per mile, an average speed of 5.3mph.
I also learned – or rather re-learned – another old mantra of mine from my cycling days, namely: respect the ride. Always respect the challenge or you’ll pay on the day. I wasn’t sure I’d finish or that I’d beat my target time. But I knew there was nothing more I could have done to prepare, and even if I hadn’t finished I’d have gone home with my head held high. I’d not drunk alcohol for six weeks (many had been on the waggon much longer), I’d taken lots of slow release carbs on board in the week before the event, and I knew all there was to know about the route.
“Neither of us particularly regarded ourselves as ‘cyclists’, but by turning up in cycling shorts and helmets and eating porridge we seem to have convinced everybody along the route that we were.” – Lands End to John o’ Groats cycle ride, 2012
And I learned that all those thoughts I’d had over the years (‘running is bad for you’, ‘I’ll never be a runner’ and so on) were all a load of rubbish cluttering up my head and stopping me from growing. It reminded me very much of the quote above from an earlier blog for Bickers and Sharpie Bike Britain: if you look like a runner, and you run the London Marathon, you can easily convince people you’re a runner. Even yourself, eventually!
Above all, I learned another reason for running the London Marathon in addition to the ones I’ve blogged about before.
From pockets to sockets (thank you again Kevin and Evette) it was bloody good fun!
Next: improving my swimming, and getting back on the bike to prep for Ironman South Africa 2016.
Appendix: my split times for the London Marathon 2015