My VLM 2010: James Spalding (3:58)

A fine line between love and hate - the course was too crowded and I missed my dream time goal. But I had back-up goals and hit them!

Posted: 29 April 2010
by James Spalding

At the Finish
My sister and I with my medal and my brother's homemade banner!

I’m going to get it out of my system. I don’t want to be negative - but I have to say this. I hated the Virgin London Marathon (VLM) just as much as I loved it. Not because of the pain or the hard work during the run and the training, but because for me the race was 26.2 miles of road rage.

When I signed up last May, the furthest I could run was about five miles. I had never run a race and running was still pretty new to me. On the application you have to estimate your time. I can’t remember what I put - but imagine I put about five hours, maybe more. This affects where you start: I was in Pen 8 of 9. Bear in mind there were 36,700 runners in total - I was potentially starting behind 26,000 others. I did manage to sneak into Pen 6 and in turn, in front of about 6,000 runners. But I was barely in front of the 10-minute-mile pacers and I was hoping to run 8:30-minute miles.

I knew it was going to be a slow start but thought I would conserve my energy and minimise weaving and speed bursts. I would wait for things to spread out and then look at making up my pace. It was at about Mile 8 when I realised things weren’t going to "spread out" I was stuck behind lines of people impossible to overtake. My pace was varying wildly, sometimes slowing to a walk from the sheer weight of traffic. If I wanted to salvage any time goals I would have to do something about it. 

I started weaving from left to right on the course - in and out of people, dashing for any open space I could find. I wasn’t the only one. Often I’d be cut up or forced to hold back from others doing the same. I knew that my golden time of 3:45 was out the window. But I felt if I tried I could still get sub-4:00.

There were a couple of points that I could see clear stretches - along the path or even on grass verges behind the supporters. I took the opportunity to go "off road" and passed dozens of people at the same time. In hindsight I think that this is why my time chip didn’t work. If I missed a mat sensor on the course while overtaking - I am assuming that it doesn’t track the rest of the race, let alone the finish. It's probably still waiting for me to hit the missed checkpoint. 

All the way to the end I was fighting the crowds. You get tired and cross that others are getting in the way. I was apologising for dodging in front of people but I wasn’t sorry. I was angry that they were getting in my way. I was behind people in fancy dress. People walking and chatting. People on the phone (though I was at points too...). Why were these people in front of me? I wanted to enjoy the experience - but I wanted a good time more.

I was keeping an eye on the elapsed time. I was doing quick calculations of how long I had left to get the elusive four hours and the distance left to go. 9-minute-miles - I could do that! At Mile 21 it got painful. I was tired and my legs hurt. I never hit "the wall" but did start questioning if my legs would still work. I was telling myself, "It’s only another four miles, I have done that distance a hundred times in training. It will all be over in half an hour or so - just keep going."

I was still fighting against the crowd. People were just stopping in front of me now. One guy to my left just fell over. Everyone was struggling - but I knew there were only two miles to go. As I turned up Embankment I could still see a sea of people in front of me. Densely packed together - I prayed they weren’t walking and that I could get through. The last two miles were possibly my fastest. They were definitely my hardest. 

Seeing the 600m marker wasn’t a relief. It felt like it was an impossible distance. As I turned the corner of The Mall and saw the finish, all I could think was that it looked like a step too far. I had given all I had but I needed to find something else. I could hear the PA system offering a final bit of encouragement. I crossed the line doing 8-minute miles. I beamed at the camera as best I could, but I was ready to drop. It probably took me 20 minutes to get through the finish area. I was moving - just. I kind of didn’t know what to do for the best. I ate a banana and a Mars bar. Drank an energy drink and stretched. 

I left the finish area and joined the crowds of supporters all eager to meet their runners. I was choking back the tears when I saw my brother and sister. After a hug and photo I sat down. I had completed the London Marathon. Not only that but I had a time of 3:58.

It was a fight as well as a marathon. As my chip time didn’t register I have no official "place". But looking at another guy with the same time as me I would have been about 10,450th. That means I overtook about 10,000 people. I can’t help but feel I could have done a lot better if I wasn’t stuck behind the crowds of people, if I’d had a clear run. It was a lot of effort and it felt like it.

I didn’t enjoy it as much as I could have because I was so focused on my time and the people in my way of it. I know I should be pleased for what I achieved - and I am. I broke four hours! That was my secondary goal. But it comes with a slight bitter taste. 

I’ll not walk away from this with a negative feeling though. And even now getting the rant out my system - I’m thinking less about that and what I have achieved. Like I say, the race wasn’t all bad. The crowds were amazing. A big thank you to Thomas and Emma, Mark and Lucy who I saw along the way. Also to Valine and Mel, Emma and Julie and Dad who I know were there but missed.

The course itself was well-staffed and above all the organisation, from the Expo to the start areas, to the processing of the finishers was excellent! 

They say that it is the biggest single fundraising event in the world. I can believe that! Most people were running for charity which was great. As you probably know I was running for Leukaemia CARE. My target for them was £1,800. As of today I have raised an outstanding £2,326! (and counting...) Again, a big thank you to all who have helped me achieve this.

There is a thin line between love and hate. Yesterday was tough. But I’m not to dwell on the negatives - instead I’ll use them to fuel my next Marathon, (Nothing booked yet...) and learn from the experience.

If I get asked ‘how was it?’ I will cut out the detail and summarize: 

The whole thing has been an amazing experience. I have run the London Marathon! I have covered 26.2 Miles in under 4hrs! I have raised over £2,300 for an excellent charity! And I am looking forward to the next Marathon when or where ever it may be....

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My VLM 2010: Karen Robinson (finish volunteer)
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My VLM 2010: Monique (3:14.03)

sub-4:00, first-timer

Discuss this article

Almost the exact same experience I had James, even the time (3.57) although fortunately my was registered officially. I found it hard and amazing in equal measures. I can totally relate to the love/hate aspect...
Posted: 26/04/2011 at 14:05

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