2016 London Marathon Training – Week 13 (28 March – 3 April)

The Monday following the long 100 mile plus bike ride was just an hour on the elliptical trainer in the morning as family occupied the rest of the day. I was out early on the Tuesday for a recovery style ten mile run. Feeling very tired there was to be no heroics, although the legs felt better during the end of the run and I was able to put in a 6:30 final mile. The legs were stiff, the left thigh buzzing like I had a phone vibrating near the bottom of my thigh. It felt weird, a couple of days later though the buzzing stopped and nothing more came of it.

It was just another hour on the elliptical trainer on the Wednesday as Easter holidays restricted the volume of training I could do with a big family bowling trip taking up the remainder of the day. I was meant to run later in the evening but when push came to shove I was just so tired I talked myself out of it. I wasn’t particularly proud of this moment of weakness and vowed to make it up later in the week.

Thursday morning saw another hour on the elliptical trainer and was still feeling really pretty tired. Clearly the efforts of the weekend were still in the body. That evening I headed to the last GRC marathon paced run for those taking part in the Manchester and Rotterdam marathons. The right glute and calf ached a bit but otherwise I saw no issues on a good confidence boosting run for the guys hoping to run 3:20 or thereabouts, with most of the ten miles miles comfortably under 7:30 as we headed out to the canal path and quiet country lanes for the first time since the clocks went forward for the summer.

Friday I had expected to be an enforced rest day working on the Bahrain GP but with the timetable and the small time difference (just two hours) I was able to put in a bonus 90 minute session on the elliptical trainer, which saw no issues other than a headache hindering my efforts a touch.

Saturday I had planned on running the marathon paced run I bottled out of on the Wednesday. As a bonus with the later than planned start of work, I was able to combine some marathon paced miles with an appearance at Belton House parkrun. It was a bit of an effort getting up to marathon pace after two miles run at 8am but after a couple of six something miles, I was able to run the next seven miles at sub six minute miling. The parkrun itself was a steady effort compared to some of my parkrun efforts. I reckon I was outside the top ten after the opening couple of hundred meters and was definitely in fifth after the opening lap, run at marathon heart rate. I allowed the heart rate to rise to half marathon HR for the second lap and as a result I was able to pick off a few more places, winding up second in 18:19 on a course made longer by the Belton Horse Trials preparations.

After a chat with some club mates and a very slow couple of miles back into town with a couple more of them, I ran the last couple of miles at an easy pace as I headed round town trying to find a bike shop that could repair the bottom bracket that was creaking during the last bike ride. The run ended up being 16 miles at an average of 6:27 per mile. A solid effort.

Sunday and I had a late start before working on the Bahrain GP but not quite late enough to get a bike ride in. So instead I headed out for another run. I had no real idea of what I was going to do on the run but after four miles or so I felt reasonably okay and so headed out up South Parade Hill and onto Gorse Lane, before coming back down Swine Hill. The sun had come out and it felt spring like as the pace came naturally down to around 6:30 per mile. At the mid point of the Drift and with 29 miles covered over the weekend I decided to take on a Strava segment I’d not attempted before and emptied the tank over that one mile up hill segment and continued on into town with a marathon paced effort. The reward was a segment in the bag and the second 16 mile run of the weekend covered at an average of 6:43 per mile.

As weeks go, it ended very well but the opening days of the week were definitely a little light on quantity and quality, but sometimes life gets in the way and I was very tired, so the reduced training load was probably a wise move. Just three weeks now until marathon day, hopefully, I can stay injury and illness free over the coming weeks.


2016 London Marathon Training – Week 12 (21-27 March)

The week began much as exhausted and tired as it ended on the Sunday following a monster week of work covering the Australian GP. I headed out on Monday for an easy paced run. The pace was okay, unspectacular. Around two and a half miles into the run I began to feel little cramp in the right quad, similar to what I experienced on the Saturday previous. I stopped at a bike shop for a couple of minutes to discuss a little business before recommencing the run. At around four miles the cramp feelings dispersed and I felt okay to try and commit to my normal ten mile loop rather than cutting it short.

At around six and a half miles, from out of the blue, severe cramp hit both legs in the upper quads. I hadn’t experienced cramp like this since I won the Maverick trail race back in the Summer – where again an inexplicable bout of early cramp hindered me severely. Several miles away from home I battled on but the cramp got worse, not better, and around a mile away from home, coming down a hill, I had to stop and admit defeat. I did under a tunnel arch for a couple of minutes to recompose myself before hobbling slowly home.

I’m not entirely sure what caused the cramp but I reckon it is a combination of tiredness, dehydration, and possibly the consumption of an Indian takeaway the night before. I may be wrong, but I reckon that is now the third or fourth occasion I’ve had this attack of severe cramp following a takeaway the night before. It may be totally coincidental, but there has to be a reason for these early onset cramps.

Anyway, initially I thought that was it for the day, but at around 6pm I remembered I had booked onto a spinning class which I couldn’t cancel, so I hobbled there and sat myself on the stationary bike. I was expecting to be barely able to turn a pedal, such had been the discomfort earlier in the day, but actually the spinning wasn’t too bad. Indeed I reckon it did a good job of helping to shift the excess lactate in the quads.

Tuesday morning saw an early hour on the elliptical trainer, which was a tired affair, especially with the after effects of the cramp still felt in the legs. A few hours later I ventured out on a crap clearing run to try and help loosen the legs. I think it worked, the miles getting progressively quicker to the quicker side of my easy run zone. I was still very tired though – at one point I nearly got lost and disorientated running a route I’ve done near constantly for the past three months!

Wednesday was a busy day outside of training, which meant I had an early wake up and depart for my ten mile run with eight miles at marathon pace. The body and legs didn’t really want to know for the two mile warm up; the first mile at MP was a real struggle, 6:16. Thereafter things got significantly better, averaging around 5:58 for the final seven miles, but I never felt that fantastic, and indeed tired a lot in the final mile or two. The cramp had more or less gone from the quads, the right calf though ached a bit, as did the hip.

Thursday morning saw a routine hour on the elliptical trainer – no issues other than feeling tired. That evening was a ten mile run with Grantham Running Club, with the unexpected guest runner in the form of my brother, who had come over with his family from Germany. He has just begun his training for an autumn marathon and this was comfortably his longest run in several years, but he ran well – as did the entire group, to average comfortably under 7:30 for the eight miles at the marathon pace. I felt fairly comfortable and all in all it was a most pleasing run.

Friday was a day of rest and a day with my brother and his family at a very busy day as we celebrated Food Friday. I felt distinctly sub-par for the most part, feeling like I was fighting a cold – so much so I took a couple of flu and cold capsules mid-way through the day.

Saturday morning and I had to push aside any thoughts of feeling unwell as I had my last realistic opportunity of putting in the long one before London. The 24 mile run is a staple of pretty much all my marathon campaigns, the time spent on feet usually the same or a little bit longer than the actual time spent running in the marathon. I could have done loops of town, but with the calf pain feeling much diminished since the work done on the hip (with more done during another massage on the Thursday) I decided to map out a run which took me out of town and up and down some hills – which I’ve been a little lacking of during training in late.

I was out at 8 am – the weather was cloudy and the wind strong. The first few miles were lethargic and not that quick – over seven minutes per mile as I felt the effects of cold fighting on the body. I had a pit stop at five miles and thereafter felt a bit better, especially once I’d tackled the big climb of the day on the A52 pass the barracks. A spanner in the route plan came as the road I’d intended to run down was closed due to the initial Grantham bypass construction. This meant I had to run a section down the slightly dodgy High Dyke before taking a right hand turning which took me back on to my intended tracks. I had to then make some calculations as to how much extra I had run and how best to revise the route so as to get back to 24 miles.

The following three or four miles through to fifteen were tough as they were mostly slightly uphill and into a head / cross wind which, at times had me near dead stopping in my tracks. However once I came to the peak of the hill and turned direction I had the wind at my back and the pace picked up significantly to around 6:30 per mile. I made it down a steep hill without the feared bout of cramp in my quads. My calf felt good and I worked on clicking down the miles as efficiently as possible as I took to the canal path and back towards Grantham.

The heavens opened a few miles before home but that didn’t disturb me as I reveled in feeling fresh at 23 miles despite having taken on the run with no water, no gels, no breakfast and just a cup of coffee to see me through. I ended up running a bit over 24 miles – 25 and a quarter to be precise – in 2:54. I felt pretty good, certainly no worse than when I was doing the long 20 mile runs with a parkrun in the middle. With that in mind I headed to the Belvoir Sportive website to enter for the following day’s ride. Alas, they closed the entries at 10am!

Undeterred I headed out on Sunday morning to see if I could fit in a 160km ride that may have had similarities to the Belvoir Sportive without actually taking part in that event itself. As it happened I chanced upon meeting up with several members of Witham Wheelers, who were taking part in the shorter 100 km ride. I rode with them for around thirty miles before going my own way and riding the vast majority of the remainder of the ride solo. It was hard going with plenty of tough hills around Rutland and the Vale of Belvoir and a nasty headwind to contend with for the opening half of the ride and for all of the final hills. Despite this I felt relatively strong, taking it fairly easy on the flat stuff and pushing as best I could on the hills.

I rode a few extra miles at the end to confirm that I had ridden over 100 miles and came home tired, but content that another week’s training was in the bag – 67 miles of running, 105 miles of proper riding, around 25 miles of spinning, and a couple of hours on the elliptical trainer. This will likely be the biggest training week of the marathon campaign – hopefully it will see me in good stead come race day.



2016 London Marathon Training – Week Five (1-7 February)

The week began conveniently enough with the start of a new month too. One thing that remained consistent with January moving into February was that the wind, which has been seeming ever present since November, was blowing as hard as ever. The first session of the week was an easy paced ten mile run, the legs felt tired but otherwise I was okay – the wind though made it nearly impossible to keep moving at times.

The evening was spent at the gym. Thirty minutes on the elliptical trainer was followed by a spin session. I increased my FTW slightly (from 260 to 265), the difference that makes is to hit certain colours or percentage of max FTW requires a little more effort. This was shown in the end result  an increase to 3.9 w/kg from  3.8 w/kg for the previous few weeks. I found the low cadence high resistance hill efforts easier than the high rpm sprint sections – those bits I struggled to maintain power.

Tuesday saw an early morning hour long session on the elliptical trainer, time spent with no issues other than the legs feeling fatigued. I headed out a couple of hours later for a ten mile run which was planned on being a marathon heart rate run. However with the legs feeling really tired and the wind blowing so fiercely pacing was nigh on impossible, the session was quietly shelved and became a mere easy paced ten mile run. A sign of the strength of wind is that the last two miles were 6:00 and 5:50 run with no more effort than the middle miles where seven minute miles was an effort.

It was just the one session on the Wednesday – the marathon heart rate session postponed from Tuesday. Again a ten mile run the schedule was six miles at marathon HR which became 10k to make it end at a convenient stopping point. The opening miles were tired and sluggish, therefore it was very pleasing that the 10k at marathon heart rate felt pretty comfortable and was relatively swift – running 36:40 for the 10k. The legs generally felt fine but the left IT band needed attention as the knee was beginning to ache.

Thankfully Thursday saw a planned massage session following another uneventful hour on the elliptical trainer, which helped ease some of the discomfort in the IT band. Thursday evening saw a GRC marathon paced session with six miles at the supposed pace of 7:30 per mile. The session was a success despite some of the miles being a touch on the quick side, I’m finding it increasingly difficult to maintain steady pace with others in front of me pulling away and then coming closer. I had a bit of a dodgy tummy during the run, following an emergency pit stop I was able to put in a couple more miles with a club mate on the way home.

Friday morning was virtually a day off, just an hour on the elliptical trainer following a strength and conditioning session. The legs felt a touch tired, I felt tired. I also felt myself fighting a cold and a slight cough was brewing.

The hardest part of Saturday’s run was making it out of bed having set the alarm for 6:30. As the alarm went I heard the rain smashing against the window. If ever there was a day to stay under the duvet it was today. It took ten minutes to drag myself from under the covers, hardly full of enthusiasm, but by 7:20, a cup of coffee and half a banana consumed I set out on my long run. The plan was similar to a couple of weeks ago – run some miles around town, take part in Belton House parkrun, then run some more miles before heading home.

As this run was planned to be twenty miles I wanted to get plenty of miles in before the parkrun. Things were looking fine with eight miles under the belt, despite the heavy rain falling, when my tummy once again struck trouble. The usual public conveniences were still closed thanks to it being a touch early, so I had to make an impromptu diversion back home to just about make it back in time.

Pit stop done I was out the door and picking up the pace to make it to parkrun in time. I made it with four minutes to spare, thankfully the pre-run briefing was kept brief as the rain lashed into our faces. With exactly twelve miles run I set off with Will Parkin and another young runner at my heels. I let them take the pace for the opening quarter mile as we battled with the wind, once we headed onto the grass I took the lead and, metaphorically speaking, never looked back. I was running with headphones and music, and it therefore felt exactly like a training run rather than a race, which parkrun can often feel like. I hadn’t reset my watch so I didn’t know my time, but I knew I was running sub 6 miles relatively comfortably. I finished first, 18:12 was called by the timekeeper, which was very pleasing considering that is just four seconds outside my course best. The next runner was over a minute behind so it was a fairly emphatic run.

I didn’t hang around too long, I didn’t want the legs to stiffen. I headed to the gated exit to find it was locked with strong winds due later in the day. I tracked back and ran another lap of the parkrun course before heading back home in a distance that couldn’t have been better judged – 20.1 miles (a bit extra to stop just past my home). I averaged 6:39 for the run and was delighted with how fresh I felt at the end. It was as though I’d just run the parkrun and come back again, forgetting the twelve miles run beforehand.

Sunday morning was Witham Wheelers Reliability Ride #4 – 48 miles planned on a route described as undulating. Group 5 (the fastest) merged with group 4 so it was a mixed bunch of riders setting off. I literally lost my bottle heading down the hill at South Parade, the lack of liquid for the ride was not a huge issue as it was only a few degrees above freezing, but it didn’t help.

The opening miles were brisk as we enjoyed a tailwind. I felt strong up the first climb at Londonthorpe and felt good enough to spend the first 30 or so miles at or near the front, spending plenty of time taking on the brisk headwind. It was a bit of a frustrating ride, we stopped three times for punctures, each time we stopped I got cold and struggled a bit to get going again.

On the run in the pace picked up as the group began to fracture. I managed to stay with the lead group as we approached the final climb at Skillington, but I was dropped on the hill as I was stuck at the back of the group on the approaching descent and missed the split as the front of the group put the hammer down. The exact same thing happened when we raced there last summer.

Dropped from the group I had to ride alone on a long drag into a stiff wind. I struggled and was caught by an older rider who had battled up the hill and was now riding better than I was. I stuck on his wheel and rode back to the club room, taking turns at the front which clearly weren’t that fast as he kept pushing on past me. It was pretty much my first bad patch of the year on the bike – looking back, it was hardly surprising given Saturday’s run. 18.4 mph was the final average speed, I seem to be getting slower week by week!

Riding home I kept an eye out for my dropped bottle as it is one of my favourites. Luckily I spotted it in the gutter, missing the liquid it contained but otherwise in the same condition as when it was dropped. Back in the cage I headed home and straight out for a ten km brick run. Like last week the first couple of miles were a bit of an effort but improved in the closing stages so I ended up running as though the ride hadn’t happened. It was though aided by a tailwind for the closing stages. Still 6:45 average and feeling comfortable was a pleasing end to the week.

69 miles of running for the week, three and a half hours on the elliptical trainer, 55 miles on the bike and an hour of spinning. All in all a good week, ending strongly after feeling tired during the week. Tiredness is to be expected, I just need to be careful not to overdo it and to be aware that there are loads of colds and viruses doing the rounds at the moment. I just hope I don’t catch any of them!

2016 London Marathon Training – Week One (4-10 January)

The annual Christmas and New Year tradition of eating way too much and drinking even more left my body feeling a veritable mess come the first day proper of marathon training. I felt like I’d put on a stone or more; I can’t tell you how much exactly I did put on – I was too scared to weigh myself…

Feeling like I was five foot ten and a hundred tons, Monday came and even if I hadn’t quite got the full urge back to put my heart and soul into another marathon campaign, I was utterly determined to lose the weight I’d put on over Christmas. Thankfully the sore throat and general malaise I’d suffered over New Year was somewhat cleared and I could start training relatively refreshed.

If I had pretenses of being a coach in the waiting or some kind of running guru, I could pretend I spent hours and hours devising an in-depth training plan for the forthcoming weeks. The reality is somewhat different. Following on from the successful summer 2015 training campaign for Chester (four personal bests from 5k up to marathon) I have opted for the same very simple plan. Aim for around two hours of cardiovascular activity each day, plenty of easy paced runs with marathon heart rate runs thrown in, the odd interval session, spin sessions on the bike and, as it is the start of the year, an attempt to take part in as many Witham Wheelers’ Reliability Rides as possible. I’ll prefer to operate on a train as you feel basis, hopefully avoiding some of the injury issues that have plagued training plans where I’ve religiously tried to stick to a plan ambitiously mapped out when feeling fresh and injury free.

For the first week (and probably the remainder of January) the theme was very much about building base mileage – plenty of easy paced, relatively long, runs. I liked the idea of running ten miles a day on those base building days purely on its simplicity, so that is pretty much what I did.

Feeling like I needed to start the week with a bit of a blast to help start shifting the flab I set out on my favourite ten mile loop of Grantham and soon found myself running at a steady pace just a few beats lower than my prescribed marathon heart rate. In many ways it was a good session to begin with as it gave me a good indicator of current form. The conclusion was that I was in reasonable shape, certainly better running wise than twelve months earlier, averaging 6:21 per mile and concluding the run with a 6:00 mile.

I was still suffering the effects of the cold, so I kept it at one session for the day. Come Tuesday, feeling much better and with the eldest kid back at school – I began the twice a day regime. First up the easy paced ten miles in the morning which felt surprisingly easy; later in the day a comfortable hour on the elliptical trainer, which I remembered after a few moments on it had all but fallen apart just before Christmas. Two days of research later and a new one was on order.

Wednesday was more of the same, albeit with the hour on the elliptical trainer first, and the ten mile run a little later in the morning. Thursday I rocked it like I did on the Tuesday – ten in the morning  (a little harder going than in previous days) and an hour on the elliptical trainer in the afternoon.

Friday was logistically a difficult day to exercise so it was just an hour on the elliptical trainer, which was probably no bad thing after 40 miles covered in four days. That evening saw a rare night on the tiles. Mixing cider and cocktails was never going to be a good idea and Saturday’s long run / parkrun combo idea was quietly put to bed as I overslept and woke with a slightly sore head.

Dehydrated and head still pounding, I headed out at around 11 am for long run #1 of the training campaign. I opted for an out and back 15 mile effort to a relatively unused (for running) lump in the earth called Hough-on-the-Hill. Despite my best attempts to handicap myself the run was surprisingly good – a healthy tailwind on the outward leg meant I was running comfortably under 6:40 per mile; the return was tough at times into the wind but it was not too hard to maintain miles at around 6:40 – finally averaging 6:39.

Feeling really thirsty I thought it was a good time to weigh myself, so as to potentially lessen the depressing scenario. The rather surprising news was that I was half a pound less than a week before Christmas, which was certainly a good morale booster, even if it was probably a false dawn caused by serious dehydration.

Sunday and it was time to test the liver once again by heading to Lakeside, Frimley Green, to watch the final of the World Darts Championship. It was a fairly early start but I managed to get out for another ten mile run on what is now a very familiar route. I was really happy with the run – low heart rate and a 6:45 average. The darts was brilliant; the benefit of it being a one-sided affair meant I didn’t get to drink my body weight in cider, although I had tried pretty hard in the three hours we were there.

Week one’s training went far better than I could have envisaged and has given me great optimism for the weeks ahead. Spurred on by this wave of enthusiasm, I finally got around to joining Belvoir Triathlon Club and entered the Dambuster Duathlon in March. I had entered the Clumber Park Duathlon last year but a sacrum fracture put pay to that; hopefully I’ll make it to the start line this year.

I want to try and put in an honest effort so the training in the next few weeks will tailor itself a little to that – spin classes, bike rides, brick runs and, not forgetting my secret weapon, the elliptical trainer. On the way down to Lakeside I popped into Leekes in Coventry to pick up my new ride. Coming in at 69kg it certainly was a challenge to get into the car (Luckily I had some help). The proof will be in the using but at £400 after a hefty reduction and a double cashback I think I may have grabbed myself a bit of a bargain – if I can work out how to put it together…

Race Report – 2015 Virgin London Marathon

Part 1 – Pre Race

Back in January when I was in full training and looking like I could make a serious stab at Sub-245 at London, I’d booked some train tickets to London on Saturday with the intention of sourcing accommodation overnight. With the fractured build up and last minute decision to actually take part, I found myself with nowhere to stay and devoid of actual train tickets, thanks to a succession of issues too mundane to report here.

Salvation came in the form of fellow Grantham Running Club member Rob and his partner Catherine, who were planning to travel down from Grantham on the morning via car and train. They kindly offered me a space in their car – they even pre-bought the train tickets from Stevenage to avoid any potential queues in the morning.

I was very pleased with this arrangement. When I lived in Coventry I always drove down on the morning of the race. The lure of a familiar bed and a familiar pre-race meal and routine outweighing the drag of an early wake up call on race day. Even that is arguably favourable – rising at 5am gives the body plenty of time to fully wake up before the race start at 10:10am.

We left Grantham at 6am and made good progress down a quiet A1 to arrive in Stevenage seventy five minutes later. The station was reasonably full with like-minded runners and spectators. The race fever began to kick in! We were on the 7:35 train into Kings Cross, which pulled into its destination just before 8 am. I wished good luck to Catherine as we split on to different underground trains thanks to starting in different Good For Age locations.

The rest of the journey to Blackheath could not have gone much smoother – the Northern Line to Euston, a switch of lines to head to Charing Cross, then making it just in time to catch the 8:30 to Blackheath. Walking along the platform I happened to spot old running friend Rob Thompson standing in one of the carriages. I think we last ran together at the 2006 London Marathon. He’s making a comeback of sorts to running after a spell away, and today he was tackling the course dressed as Freddy Mercury. “How did you recognise me?” he joked. He was fairly hard not to notice, even the BBC managed to later on in the day.

Rob Thompson – the fastest Freddy Mercury at 2015 VLM!

The train journey can best be described as intimate, as it fast became an exercise of just how many people you can fit on a train. It was a blessed relief when we arrived at Blackheath and could make the short walk across the common to the start area. I was there at 9am – plenty of time to prepare for the race. As I approached the Good for Age start and realised that we had been upgraded to now be known as Fast Good For Age, I couldn’t resist but attempt a selfie in front of the rather flattering banner. I’m not one for taking selfies, and my efforts showed as I struggled to even get myself in the picture let alone anything resembling the desired background. Fortunately salvation once again came in the form of a fellow runner wanting the same ego stroking photo opportunity but struggling with the practice of performing a self portrait. We used the tried and tested practice of exchanging cameras phones, and posing for a rather satisfying, if for 2015, technically incorrect in terms of being fast or good for age, photo. Thanks fellow runner!

Stretching the concept of ‘Fast’

Once inside the hallowed enclosure of the Fast Good For Age pen the preparations were rather condensed, having spent far too long on the photo above, but were smooth and stress free. I changed into my kit and promptly put my bag on the truck, much to the delight of the girl with the loudhailer, who amused and irritated in equal measures with her near hysterical demands to get your bag on the truck by 9:30. I joined a queue for the toilet, which although not exactly short, were not panic inducing like Nottingham last year nor when I’ve been on other starts at London. I chatted with a couple of runners, who it transpired lived with a couple of miles of each other – who knows if a future running partnership will ensue? The actual port of call at the Portaloo was uneventful save for the redistributing of the Powergels I’d fastened to the inside of my shorts which now had to be carefully moved again to avoid unwanted tickling of areas best tickled in situations which don’t involve running, let alone running a marathon. That mini-drama over, I joined the compact but clearly excited Fast Good For Age start pen exactly twenty minutes ahead of the start.

Part 2 – The ‘Race’

The weather was near perfect, early rain had passed and it was cloudy, fairly cool at 8°C, with a slightly chilly breeze. This made it rather unpleasant as we lined up – I was grateful for the bin bag I had packed and was now wearing, and grateful too for being again as condensed as sardines in a tin just behind the start line. There were random bursts of applause for no apparent reason, but generally the atmosphere at out start was fairly muted. Certainly nothing compared to the rousing rendition of You’ll Never Walk Alone experienced at the Rotterdam Marathon last year.

With no countdown nor fanfare, at 10:10 the race began. We were into our running within seconds of starting, which is all you can ask for in a race and quite a feat of organisation with so many entrants of varying abilities. There was certainly no repeat of the fiasco a few years back when they stuck the celebrity runners in front of Good for Agers, which almost literally saw punches thrown, as a C-list wall of joggers blocked the path of runners pretty desperate to get into their (far, far quicker) running.

Right until the start I wasn’t totally sure how I was going to attack the race. I had originally intended to jog slowly, enjoy the atmosphere and be prepared to walk most of the way if necessary. Then, as I guess Paula must have felt, when you actually prepare to set your toe on the start line the racing instinct kicks in. The night before I harboured dreams of feeling so fresh I would be able to give it a full beans to marathon heart rate style attack. Once into my running I felt fine in the sense that everything appeared to work as it should be and I was comfortable running a 7:04 first mile, but aware that it didn’t feel like I could push on and sustain mile after mile at a pace the best part of a minute per mile quicker.

So it came to be that I settled on the plan I expected I would given the circumstances – treat it like a regular long run, so keeping broadly within the zone of my long runs (145-155 bpm) and see how long I could go before the wheels fell off. It wasn’t totally possible to stay within the zones, the opening three miles on the red start (which I don’t recall running before) had a couple of noticeable drags although overall downhill, but by and large I was running smoothly and to plan, clocking a pair of 6:45 miles through to the third mile where we joined the main start and the swarms of runners and masses of spectators. It was here I felt a little ache in the left hip and glute, but it soon passed and I don’t recall feeling it again, which was a blessed relief as the area had stopped me running altogether after just a few minutes nine days earlier.

I took my first of six gels at three miles, the rest consumed every four miles thereafter. I assume the joining of the two races and the significant drop in elevation spurred me on a touch as I ran what turned out to be my fastest mile (6:37) through mile four. The fifth mile passed with little incident at 6:50 and I began to envisage wild thoughts of sustaining this all the way to a sub-3 clocking. The sixth mile heading towards Greenwich and Cutty Sark has long been my favourite in the marathon. The drummers under the A102 bridge on the Woolwich road have never failed to send goose bumps down the arms – their intensity as impressive as the sheer volume of spectators lining the course a little further down the road.

It was at Cutty Sark where I felt the first twinge in my upper right thigh, close to the IT band. I could sense it was the very early onset of cramp. I knew that whilst the cardiovascular effort of running would not be too bad thanks to the hours spent on the elliptical trainer and bike, the sheer physical demands of running 26.2 miles with little in the way of running in the build up would more than likely take its toll. The intention now was just to keep calm, keep running smoothly and try and avoid the onset of cramp for as long as possible.

The sixth mile was 6:48, the seventh a little slower at 6:58, but there was a slight slowing through congestion at Cutty Sark. The slight drag leaving Cutty Sark has not been my favourite part of the course, so was pleased to clock a pair of 6:47 miles taking me to nine miles. It was at around eight miles that fellow Grantham Running Club of sorts (She was wearing a Nene Valley Harriers vest, and I was wearing the green of Kenilworth Runners) Abi Schofield came alongside. She commented she was a bit surprised to be running up where I was. After I explained my less than ideal build up to the race, she tried to look on the bright side and said perhaps the break from running would do me good. I knew that was wishful thinking. Had I have had another 3-4 weeks of running then perhaps I could have been in full shape. As it was I was hanging on and hoping for the best. I let her drift slowly into the distance en route to an excellent 3:07 PB.

It was around this stage I fancied a stop for a wee, the preferred option of a Portaloo was fruitless on a couple of occasions as they were fully occupied, so I took the less glamorous but equally popular option of using a building site entrance just shy of the 15km marker. This cost me forty odd seconds for mile 10, but according to my Garmin I was just about on sub-3 pace (Although the creep in disparity between the Garmin mile markers and the official ones was starting to grow).

The run towards London Bridge and halfway saw the slow onset of cramp begin to hit the legs. I was determined to save myself at least the ignominy of making it to halfway before having to stop so I tried my best to relax and put the pain messages coming from the legs to the back of my mind. It seemed to work, clocking 6:50, 6:48 and 6:50 miles through to halfway. The atmosphere before, during and just after London Bridge was simply stunning, another goose bump moment. I went through halfway in 1:31:04 (On my watch – the clock at halfway had malfunctioned) which confirmed that my Garmin was a little out by now (It had me going through a minute faster). On a good day I’d be confident that I would be able to negative split enough to come home sub-3. Today I knew that these comfortable miles were soon to be consigned to the past.

It was here where I was cheered on by the majority of the Kenilworth Runners support crew for the first time. I was smiling much of the way round, when I heard them call my name I was beaming. No matter what was going to happen this was definitely a most enjoyable marathon. Mile 14 despite feeling somewhat tired I managed a 6:52; the fifteenth I was hanging onto my legs for grim death, but churned out a 6:46.

I stopped for the first time just after 15 miles. It wasn’t a full blown bout of cramp in the right quad, but enough to make me want to stop and stretch it a couple of times. Despite the legs feeling fairly poor and a couple of stops, I managed a 7:36. I think I would have slowed even more but at 17 miles I was caught by a pair of Kenilworth Runners who were looking to run around 3:05. I originally told them I was going to drop back straight away, but from somewhere the legs appeared to improve for a couple of miles, so I tackled the twists and turns around Canary Wharf and other very tall buildings in 7:04 for miles 17 and 18 and pulled a now alarm bell ringing 6:51 for mile 19 (I do wonder if GPS accuracy is to account for this – it didn’t feel that quick at the time).

The wheels finally fell off at 20 miles, just as we tackled a rather curious loop back on the wide A1261 which I don’t recall having ever tackled before. Both pairs of quads cramped up, not in a searing outpouring of pain, but enough to leave no option but to stop and walk a while. In previous marathons this would have onset a spell of dejection as all hopes of setting a target time would be thrown out of the window. Today, I barely cared. I looked forward to being able to stop and chat to Tom and Pauline at 22 miles, which I did, taking 30-40 seconds to see how they were and how other Kenilworth Runners ahead of me had got on (And instinctively, I asked how Paula was doing). I would rather have not faced the final six miles with legs that hurt and resolutely did not want to cooperate, but at the same time they served to authenticate the genuine marathon experience of hitting the wall, yet battling on determined to the end.

Gingerly running along as the cramp sets in at c. 22 miles.

So mile 20 was 8:07. The next four miles I adopted an impromptu jog / walk strategy, stopping and walking when I felt a wave of cramp sear through my quads. This meant miles 21, 22  and 23 (which included a stop for a chat) took 8:32, 8:05, and 8:57 respectively. Every time I stopped and walked the crowd begged me to start running and cheered loudly when I did, fellow runners offered encouragement to keep it going to the finish.

The 24th mile was the hardest. I must have felt fairly bad as I decided to take one of the Luco*ade drinks just before the loneliness that is the long underpass approaching the Embankment. Despite having thrown up the contents during a race of this drink on previous occasions, I reckoned it wouldn’t be bad this time as I was running so slowly. It took the length of the tunnel for this theory to be proved wrong as the sickly orange liquid began to repeat on me. Thankfully I managed to keep the contents down.

It is at this point I was looking constantly at my Garmin to see how much longer I had to go. It was disappointing from a desperately wanting to finish point of view, that Garmin had me running around 0.6 mile further than I actually had. If anyone has any doubts over the validity of the distance of the course, then check out the route I supposedly took below. I know I was a bit wobbly on the legs at places, but I definitely did’t wander this much over the road (Nor turn back on myself) and I did manage to stick to the course rather than recklessly head through buildings. The moral is GPS watches are great as a guide to speed and distance, but they are no where near the last word in accuracy.

Wandering all over the place – according to my Garmin.

After my low point, just before the Luco*ade where I did actually stop briefly at the side of the road and was asked by a marshal if I was okay, coming out of the tunnel a determination came over me to run, or at least jog all the way to the finish. There was no shortage of encouragement from the crowds, and even if the waves of runners pouring past me, thanks to the large sub 3:15 groups on course to hit their target, was a touch disconcerting, I managed to find a shuffle that enabled me to keep on running. So after the low point of mile 24 (Which I have at 9:39, but may be a bit quicker than that (Strava has it at 8:54), the 25th mile was tackled in a better 8:34.

It was at the 26th mile I had my moment of TV time I’ve secretly been wanting since I first ran the London Marathon back in 2015. Unbeknownst to me, once I’d turned the right hand corner at Big Ben and headed on, what was today, the interminably long drag down Birdcage walk, the BBC cameraman began a long sweeping pan focusing on one runner among the hundreds on the road, which happened to be me! I imagine the cameraman chose me because I was clearly the slowest of the bunch. He / she probably reckoned on me pulling up in cramp filled agony at any point in his pan – the veritable money shot for any film crew working in the last couple of miles of a marathon. Fortunately I managed to keep it all together and plodded successfully slowly out of camera shot. I just wish that I could have been captured in another year (Ideally 2008) when I was storming along at this exact spot at something close to sub six minute miles, but, alas, that’s how things often turn out to be.

My Moment of Fame!

The last mile was painful but I was determined to run to the finish. Mile 26 (on my Garmin) saw a slight increase in pace (8:18). The final 0.7 mile – or so it was on the Garmin, saw me slow to 8:47 as I battled the worst cramps of the run. There was no sprint to the finish as it came into view. Just an absolute will to make it to the finish without stopping and to make it inside 3:20 – a goal I set myself in the final three miles as form of incentive to keep going. This I managed, coming home on the official timing in 3:17:44.

Part 3 – Post Race

The medal was as gratefully received as any I’ve had. The long, slow, painful walk to repatriate myself with my kit bag was almost as bad as running the last six miles of the race. I was happy to stop for at least five official post race photos. My bag was in the very last truck on The Mall, it had been tied up so efficiently by one of the baggage handlers on Blackheath, I had to ask one at the Mall if she could undo it. It took her a good couple of minutes. After letting nearest and dearest know I was okay, I began the painful and difficult task of changing into warm clothing – once sat on the floor it was very difficult to get up!

I’d arranged to meet up with some members of Grantham Running Club at a pub in Covent Garden. Apparently it would have been quicker for me to walk there, as it was I took a slow, lengthy walk to Westminster tube station (Diversions in place), then at least two trains and a walk to the pub. We enjoyed an hour or so of marathon recollections, before beginning our journey back home, which was as smooth and uneventful as the journey down. Back home before seven to a reception of sorts from the wife and kids, who were both thrilled to have seen me on TV and desperate to try on the medal.

The hour or so in the car had taken its toll and the legs were super stiff. The next day was hard going, especially getting out of bed, but I managed to just about walk the 3.5 mile school run in the afternoon. Proof it was just the effects of cramp hurting the legs was demonstrated on Tuesday evening when I took part in the Witham Wheelers Ten Mile TT . Despite cold windy conditions, I managed to beat my previous best by 22 seconds! A four mile run on the treadmill on Wednesday saw no ill effects other than a bit of tiredness.

It may have not have been my quickest marathon, but the 2015 London Marathon will live long in the memory as one of the most enjoyable, not just because I got to enjoy the legendary atmosphere, but because I defied the odds and made it round reasonably quickly despite a build up that really shouldn’t have seen me run at all. And, more importantly and as long as something untoward occurs in the next week or two, I escaped without damage to the body.