Yesterday I completed the Virgin London Marathon. I have so much more to say about the whole experience that I really don’t know where to start.
Sod it, I’ll launch straight into the race itself which didn’t entirely go to plan! To set some context, I ran 1:29 for the Bath Half Marathon six weeks ago, and although I missed some training since then due to injury, I only missed one long run, so I felt 3:30 was comfortably within my reach for the marathon. The start was great. I was in start pen number 4 and was over the line within a couple of minutes of the gun, and up to my planned pace immediately.
It was warm, but I felt good through 3, 5, 7 miles. At 10 miles I was still feeling easy and on course for around 3:22. As I crossed Tower Bridge approaching the half way mark I had the first inkling that all was not well. At this stage, though, I just put it down to the start of the gradual tiring process you go through in the second half of any race. Nothing to worry about. I was through half way in 1:42, which was absolutely fine. Mile 14 was OK, mile 15 pretty uncomfortable, and then BOOM! That’ll be the fabled wall, then. After 15 miles! With four comfortable training runs of over 20 miles under my belt I was not expecting this.
I can’t describe the level of discomfort. Every slow, shuffling step was horrible, and I could not have mustered a sprint if Megan Fox was in a bikini beckoning me 50 yards away. In the space of a mile I revised my target from 3:25 to 3:30 to my Dad’s PB of 3:43. After another mile I was starting to wonder if the 4 hour mark was going to be possible. At this stage my only aim left was to finish without walking. Every quarter mile felt like a mile. The winding section through Canary Wharf was heartbreaking.
During mile 23 my fingers went numb, and my vision went blurry. Both my arms started to tingle, and I became slightly dizzy. I probably should have stopped! I made a conscious decision that if my choices were to walk, or to pass out, I’d rather pass out. Luckily, the dizziness passed and I was able to shuffle on. Finally, I approached the Houses of Parliament, across Parliament Square, up Birdcage Walk and round into the Mall. I should have felt elated, or proud, but I was incapable of feeling any emotions until I crossed the line. My official time was 3 hours 49 minutes and 42 seconds.
Have a look at my mile splits and you can see exactly where it all went belly up!
I’ll never know for sure what went wrong. The heat may have been a factor, the missed training won’t have helped and I possibly didn’t have enough carbs for breakfast. Given my training performances, though, between them those factors could have caused serious issues at mile 23 or 24, not mile 15. I think I took on plenty of fluid, so I don’t believe that was the problem. It’s tempting to say I went off too fast, but a minute-per-mile slower than the Bath Half should have been absolutely fine, and it was a conservative race pace in relation to my performances in my long training runs.
One observation that may be somehow related is that my weight has been doing very odd things of late. In the couple of weeks prior to serious carbo loading my weight started to climb. I was running a bit less due to the injury, but doing plenty of cross training. Then, when I started to carbo load, my weight plummeted. I dropped five pounds in the last three days before the race, whilst carbo loading! The only speculative explanation I have for this is that my metabolism failed to respond correctly to the various changes in my training regime.
Anyhow, any disappointment I feel regarding the time is dwarfed by my sense of pride, not just for completing a marathon just 14 months after starting to run, but for carrying on under fairly tricky circumstances.
After the race, I grabbed a quick shower and went onto the pub for the best tasting pint I have ever had, followed by an equally enjoyable curry. As ever, there was a healthy turn out for the festivities and it was nice to get yet another cheer as we entered the boozer. If only that happened every time I walked into a pub!
My race performance, however, is a miniscule part of the overall experience of the day. If you take away the two hours or so the second half of the race took me, it was one of the greatest days of my life. The atmosphere and camaraderie amongst the runners is incredible. The heart wrenching and inspiring stories that you hear every year are all the more impactful when you are in amongst the protagonists. And the crowds. Oh my, the crowds. I had my name on my shirt, and from about mile 8 onwards I didn’t go 30 seconds without someone screaming “Come on Colin” like they meant it. Without that, and without the even greater lifts I got at each of the points where my incredible friends had gathered to cheer me on, I wouldn’t have made it.
The race organisation and associated logistics are immaculate. Normally at any race, if you don’t notice the organisation they’ve done a good job. Like football referees! Yesterday, however, the execution was so perfect it enhanced the experience throughout.
A few words for the rest of the Huddle team. Firstly Bulat who is simply a machine. With only about 8 weeks of injury-free training, and without following a prescribed schedule, and with zero speedwork, he raced round in a brilliant 3:20. A staggering performance which placed him in the top 8% of all finishers. Harry twisted his knee after 10 miles, and had it “knocked back into place” by a fellow runner who I hope was either a physio or Mr Miyagi. Despite the injury, he finished in 5:23. Ash, stormed round to a terrific 4:11 and also provided the quote of the day. When asked by the waiter in the curry house what position she finished, she replied confused (admittedly a few beers down the line): “the upright running position”. Genius.
Today, my legs don’t feel too bad. Maybe it will be worse tomorrow, or maybe I simply didn’t run quick enough to really hurt them. Don’t get me wrong, they are sore, but I can get up and down stairs without going backwards, no problem.
I’d also like to get all Oscar acceptance speech on you and thank a few people. Firstly, the staggeringly generous contributors to my sponsorship total in aid of the brilliant IT4CH. I’ve banged on enough about their amazing work in previous posts, but remember if you haven’t yet sponsored me, you can still…you know the rest:
Secondly, the friends who came out to cheer me on, including the awesome Huddle cheering crews, and the other friends who were out watching anyway and cheered me just as loudly. I think I saw you all!
Lastly the missus, for her support not only on the day but over the last four months as my training has taken over our lives. From 5.30am alarm calls to evenings left alone, to hearing me jabber on about nothing else, it can’t have been fun!
The big question is, would I do it again? As I see it, there are two reasons to do another marathon. First up, to try and get the time I wanted. With the other exciting stuff going on in my life it’s unlikely I’ll be in a position to train this hard again anytime soon, or possibly ever again. The second reason would be to experience another day like yesterday, which means it really has to be London. Is that enough? Well, I have duly noted that the 2012 ballot opens on 26th April.
On that bombshell…