Race Report – London Marathon – Sunday April 23rd 2017


Part 1 – The Training

Training for the London Marathon built upon the structure laid down for the 2016 race, which I felt was highly successful, even if illness and some injury issues culminated in a sub-optimal race performance. As with that effort and efforts of recent years, there was no rigid plan laid out, just a few key sessions that I tried to perform every week.

January 17 Training

January was a month with base building in mind up to the Folksworth 15 on January 22nd.
not just for running but for cycling too – the Clumber Park Duathlon in March an event I was not training specifically for, but definitely had on my mind. Actually the only session missing from this month compared to later months was the lack of a marathon paced run. These are one of the two key run sessions in my weekly training – the other being the Long Run. These began in February starting with four miles at marathon pace or heart rate, depending on how I felt, and increasing week by week until I was running 8-9 miles at marathon pace in a run varying between 11-16 miles.

A difference from previous years is that the long run was long pretty much from the start of the year. Another feature of the long run was that it was always on the Saturday (I cycled on the Sunday) and it incorporated a parkrun at some point in the run at pace. I’d tinkered with this in 2015 and early 2016, but made it a regular event in late 2016 and decided to carry it through into my marathon training. The first long run in January had 8 miles, then parkrun and a three mile jog home.

February 17 Training

By the second week of February this had increased to 13 miles, then parkrun, then eight miles to finish. This was unusually early for what is usually my longest distance when marathon training. I trumped that a month later in March when I ran 14.5 miles, then parkrun in 18:02, and then eight miles to make up a 26.6 mile run. This is the first time in training I’ve ever run the marathon (Slightly more than, mirroring the likely finishing distance on my Garmin down in London on April 23rd) distance and moreover the time taken to run a marathon was 2:51! This gave me great confidence going forward as the run felt very comfortable – I could have gone much faster if needed. Following that effort I ran twice more in excess of twenty miles – an equally important run was the last twenty miler in early April, which was 10 miles, then the Grantham Cup (a hilly, off road 10K – where I finished 6th) and a four mile jog to conclude.

In total I ran 10 ‘Long Runs’ (Runs I marked as Long on my training log) totaling 200.5 miles at an average pace of 6:40. There were numerous runs of 12-16 miles that I didn’t classify as long runs as I had run longer elsewhere in the week. Suffice to say I really rate the long run with the fast parkrun thrown in at some point.

March 2017 Training

There were no two weeks that were identical in layout, but roughly a week’s training looked a little like this:

Monday: An easy paced run in the morning (typically 10k or 10 miles) with a spinning session in the evening. When the clocks went forward I jogged to and from the spinning session (10K).

Tuesday: Most weeks I spent an hour or perhaps two on the elliptical trainer, followed by 11 easy miles in the evening while my daughter was at Brownies. Once I did a long run in the morning. There was one intervals session in March (The one and only during my marathon training) and in April I began time trialing (cycling) again in the evening.

Wednesday: The morning was usually when I ran my marathon paced run – typically 10-12 miles. In the evening I was on my Turbo Trainer. Most efforts were easy and no more than an hour.

Thursday: Most evenings saw me take a marathon paced session for Grantham Running Club, where we’d run anything from 3-8 miles usually at between 7-7:30 pace. Overall distance for myself was anything between 11-15 miles. Quite a lot of weeks saw me on the Turbo Trainer in the morning.

Friday: Most Fridays in January and February either saw me on the elliptical trainer or on the Turbo Trainer. I ran once and in late March I did a 118 mile very hilly cycle ride in anticipation of the upcoming Fred Whitton bike ride. In March and April, Fridays frequently became a rest day.

Saturday: This was usually long run day – usually with a parkrun thrown in.

Sunday: Most Sundays up to the middle of March saw me take part in the Witham Wheelers Reliability rides, which began at 32 miles and peaked at 68. I made a point of running a 5k brick after the ride. Once these ended I ran on a Sunday.

April 2017 Training

The taper began two weeks out. I kept the intensity of effort fairly high but gradually reduced the volume. The Saturday before (eight days out) I headed to Beeston to run 11 miles with a quick parkrun after 3 miles. warm up. The Sunday was a little unusual as I went on the elliptical trainer for 2 hours 40 minutes – a kind of marathon simulation if you like, but relatively easy on the legs. This had the effort of making the legs quite sore for a few days, but I still put in a 90% intensity TT on the Tuesday and then a 10 mile run on the Wednesday with 5k at marathon HR. The 5k was 17:35 which proved to me at least that I was peaking at just the right moment.

Reverting to my old ways, I decided after that effort to take three days of complete rest, save the school runs and a fair amount of stretching and strength work. Mentally this was quite hard but I think my body enjoyed the rest! By Saturday I was chomping at the bit to get out running.

I raced three times before the marathon – the Folksworth 15 in January (7th, 1:28:23), the Newton’s Fraction Half Marathon (4th – 1:18:01) and the Grantham Cup 10K (6th 40:34) There was also the Clumber Park Standard Distance Duathlon where I finished third in my Age Group, qualifying for the 2017 European Duathlon Championships.

Some things worth noting: I used the elliptical trainer a lot less than I did for training in 2016, but I did compensate somewhat by using the turbo training a fair amount compared to not at all during the marathon training of 2016.

Apart from a half-gas club pyramid session in early January and a more concerted 10×2 minutes effort in late March, there were no interval, rep, or hill sessions.

Injury wise I was very fortunate – I don’t recall having to miss nor compromise a session due to injury, whereas in 2016 I spent a good deal of the time battling niggles. However, while I didn’t suffer injury, I was plagued with colds mostly brought home by my daughter who began nursery. I reckon there was only a week in total up to around mid February where I wasn’t either suffering from a cold or feeling run down from having had a cold. This was shown starkly on the bike and elliptical trainer, where power was measurably down on previous years, and running, where I felt I was unable to maintain pace when the HR climbed high. I knew that the fitness was there though, as on the days when I was illness free, the expected watts and pace was present and correct.

There was also a suspicion at times that I was over training, which is one of the main reasons why I opted to tone down the volume of elliptical trainer sessions in particular. This meant that perhaps more than ever the emphasis was on quality rather than quantity, although there was still a fair amount of quantity and not a lot of rest days in the build up.

Part 2 – To The Start

The conclusion to my taper was three days of rest. I stretched, massaged, tried to do as little as possible. Many things remained constant to previous marathons – pasta on the Thursday and Friday; pizza the night before. I had contemplated doing the old school carb depletion but thought better of it in the end having read about how horrible it can be and no definitive consensus on whether it works. I headed to bed shortly after ten pm with a 5 am wake up call to look forward to. My wife, suffering a heavy cold along with my two daughters, generously offered to sleep in another bedroom to minimise the chance of infection and so I didn’t have to hear her coughing through the night. This martyr like behaviour paid dividends as mercifully I was asleep within minutes and I slept well – perhaps a little too well.

I woke wondering what on earth I was doing waking at 5 am before coming to my senses and remembering I had a marathon to run. I made those first tentative steps out of bed (I’m getting old, I always creak a little these days on waking up). All was well except a little tightness in the right hip – tightness I’d not been aware of in the whole of my marathon training. I put it down to having perhaps slept in a slightly odd position and tried not to think too much of it.

I made myself a strong coffee and changed into my Skins A400 compression shorts and 2XU calf sleeves. Since the bitterly cold Newton’s Fraction Half Marathon, where my quads especially suffered, I’d invested in some quality compression half tights. I first wore them for my 26.6 mile training run and loved the feeling they gave – very similar to the brick runs I often do in my cycling shorts. I find the compression in the quads somehow makes me run faster or at least give the impression of running faster. I’ve worn them numerous times and despite learning a painful lesson that some kind of wicking underwear is strongly advised on warm days – I chafed where no man wants to chafe – they have now become my turn to shorts for hard training sessions and races, so much so I have invested in four (heavily discounted) pairs of them.

I left Grantham by car with my wife and my eldest daughter at 5:45. I had planned originally to leave at 6 am but my wife looked at the train time table and noticed that the 7:20 or so train I thought I’d caught in previous years was now either a 7:03 or a 7:39 – much later than I thought it was. So I made good use of the near empty A1 to safely drive to Stevenage station with a few minutes to spare to catch the 7:03 to Kings Cross, bidding farewell to my wife who drove off to park the car.

Ticket bought I went down to platform 6 as the departures board suggested to catch the train. I noticed the platform was empty; platform 1 had a reasonable volume of nervous looking folk carrying the same Marathon baggage bags I had, so I assumed there had been a platform change. So I ran up the platform stairs, over the concourse and down to platform 1 where I heard the tannoy announcement, something along the lines of ‘Arriving now on platform 1 is possibly the 7:03 to Kings Cross which will wait at the station until the driver finds out what he is meant to do.’ Cue audible groans from 90% of the platform who sensed the passage to central London was not going to be as smooth as hoped.

The train arrived and waited for a few minutes. Another announcement ‘we are really sorry but the 7:03 has been cancelled due to over running engineering works. We are really sorry if this is going to ruin your day.’ Cue more consternation followed by another message a minute or so later ‘This train is going to leave the platform, turn around and return to platform 6 where it will be the delayed 7:03’

Cue around 100 potential passengers and marathon runners bounding up and down the platform stairs to platform 6. The train duly pulls out and returns. We get on board. We are then told ‘The train on platform 6 will be the 7:39 to Kings Cross. A train shortly arriving on platform 1 will be the delayed 7:03 to Kings Cross. We are really really sorry if this is going to ruin your day’ repeated the clearly concerned station announcer, who likely knew that this is the only early Sunday morning at Stevenage train station which sees any more than a handful of passengers and now she had the onerous task of possibly announcing to hundreds of runners their marathon plans had been ruined because someone had screwed up not screwing back up the track in time.

So we all got out of the train on platform 6 and bounded up the stairs to platform 1 where indeed a train was waiting. I got on the train and phoned my wife, who was just buying tickets, to make it down to platform 1 so she could catch the same train as I. Just as she came down she overheard another message which informed us passengers that the train on platform 1, which was to be the delayed 7:03, was now going to be the 7:39 and the train that was the 7:03 on platform 1, was cancelled, but then left to go to platform 6 to become the resurrected 7:03, only to become the 7:39, had, once again, become the delayed 7:03.

With some now literally in tears at the ridiculousness of the situation (Well one was in tears and that was because she was meant to be catching a plane to Canada) we all, once again, hot footed it off the train, up the stairs from platform 1, across the concourse, down the stairs to platform 6. A confirmation from the station guard that this would be the delayed 7:03 while the station announcer now just repeatedly apologised for ruining our day.

At around 7:25 the delayed 7:03 to Kings Cross did finally get on its way. The driver apologised 2 or 3 more times for the frankly shambolic situation and promised to try and make up as much time as possible. He kept to his word – in the end we arrived at Kings Cross at about the time I’d expected to arrive had I caught the 7:20 I imagined existed, but didn’t.

Of more concern was that my right hip, around the hip flexor, was now aching quite a bit and beginning to cramp up. I became increasingly agitated. My wife gave me optimistic vibes – such as better the cramp happens now rather than during the race. But I was not a happy bunny. As we disembarked the train we said again our farewells and I headed to the Northern Line, to catch a couple of trains to get to Charing Cross.

Exiting the station at Charing Cross there is a lengthy walk from the underground station to the mainline station. As I approached the main station itself my right hip almost locked up completely and I was reduced to a slow, limping, painful, shuffle. What on earth was going on? An almost injury free build up and now rendered almost useless by nothing more than getting a good night’s sleep!

It turned out I was a little earlier than last year, the train I caught was nearly empty when I got on, still limping heavily. One runner on the train commented ‘That doesn’t look good!’ I simply replied ‘NO IT IS NOT!‘ and with my tone he thought better than to offer any more commentary on the situation as I sat head mostly in my hands save for the two or three times I banged it against the back of the chair in front of me. The only saving grace is that no-one was particularly inclined to sit next to me as I went through a maelstrom of mental torment.

I literally began to message my wife informing her that I wouldn’t be able to start the marathon, when I pulled my self together somewhat and thought it would probably be best if I at least tried to make it to the start the marathon before deciding whether I could compete. The train journey seemed to last an interminably long time. Finally we arrived at around 9 am and I left with hundreds of others to make it to the start. Last year I was full of excitement at the prospect of my first Championship start, this year I almost wanted to be anywhere else, convinced that I would be one of the 200 or so who doesn’t manage to complete the London Marathon – possibly one of the very few who makes it to the start tent, but goes no further.

There was a glimour of hope when the pain in the hip appeared to ease somewhat as I walked across Blackheath to the Championship start. At the Championship entrance I went through the protocol of showing my race number and the club t-shirt I’d planned on using. I’d bought along a vest just in case the official insisted that a vest be worn, as per the strict definition of the rules. He seemed purely preoccupied with whether the manufacturer’s logo was not too large, and as it isn’t I was fine.

I headed straight to the changing tent, grabbed a bottle of water and made a small patch my own. With only around 40 minutes to the start and with threats already being made that the baggage lorry would leave imminently, I swiftly got changed, opting to wear the Hoka One One Clifton 2 I had mothballed since last wearing them at the Folksworth 15 back in January, then put in a deep piraformis stretch. I noticed a few friends who were also on the Championship start but my mood was dark and I was in no mood for small talk. Instead I grabbed the three gels I planned on using, tucked them in my handy back pocket on my Skins shorts, put a hole in the black bin bag I’d brought to keep me warm, left the tent to put my bag on the lorry and queued for the loos. While queuing I performed all manner of hip flexor, hip, quad and hamstring stretches. By the time my time had come to enter the Portaloo of relief, there was less than 20 minutes to the start.

There was 15 to go when I exited the slightly heavier portable toilet and made by way to the start via a short jog up and down the strip of road reserved for Championship starters. To my relief I noted that I could run relatively pain free and with no noticeable change in gait. I kept the warm up to the minimum and joined the other runners, just behind the elites at the start line. In a last attempt to rectify the hip I performed a Psoas massage (or what I considered to be the Psoas) on my stomach. This was very tender – I surmised I had found the likely cause of the problem. It appeared to give instant relief so as the final countdown began I was a little calmer and a touch more optimistic. I fully expected to hit trouble at some point, but, at least I may be able to get some miles in the bag before I did.

With seconds to go, I discarded the bin bag and took stock that weather conditions could hardly be better, light cloud that threatened sunshine (Justifying the sunglasses), the temperature around 10C and barely any wind. It wasn’t meant to get that much warmer, although the sun was expected to make more of an appearance. As the clock struck 10 and the horn was sounded by our Royal guests, I was ready to race.

Part 3 – The Marathon

As in previous marathons, no matter how worked up I got myself before the start of the race (And this year surely set some kind of record) once I crossed the start line an almost serene sense of calmness came over me, borne largely from a sense of relief that within around half a minute of running, I noticed that the right hip was neither hurting nor causing me any kind of obvious bio-mechanical disruption.

On the same start in 2016 it took me a good few minutes before the congestion eased enough for me to get into unhindered running. This year there was no such problem, indeed within a couple of minutes I was having to curb my enthusiasm to avoid getting up to full speed too early – the plan being to use the tried and tested routine of 150 bpm max for the first mile, 155 bpm max for mile two, 160 bpm for mile three then 165 bpm from miles 4-20 before letting the HR climb as high as it could muster for the final 10km.  A few seconds before the official opening mile marker, the Garmin clocked the first mile at 6:28. 13 seconds faster than my opening mile in 2016 and almost certainly my fastest opening mile in a marathon. The HR was a few beats higher than planned but I think, such was my relief in even being able to run, I didn’t concern myself over a few beats discrepancy.

The slightly high HR continued for the second mile, albeit at 159 bpm average, well under my marathon max of 165 bpm. By now I was settled into my running, enjoying the already dense and enthusiastic crowd support, but doing my best not to get carried away by it. Mile 2 was clocked in 6:10, 11 seconds up on 2016.

The third mile on the London Marathon course is mostly downhill and as a result usually one of the fastest of the marathon. Coming down the long gradual downhill I felt a touch of tightness in my right IT band, quite low down near the knee. I had no doubt it was related to the tight hip before the start. It concerned me greatly but hoped that once we hit the roundabout at the end of the hill, the discomfort would ease off. Thankfully it did and the IT band would not grumble for the remainder of the race.

Something to take my mind off the IT band was the fact I’d caught up with a female runner wearing a vest adorned with Chrissie on the back. I eyed her up and down and soon realised by the cyclists’ calf muscles it was Ironman legend Chrissie Wellington. I was expecting the crowd to be shouting her name vociferously given she was probably at the time one of the leading celebrity runners, but very few seemed to recognise her. Indeed far more attention was given to the fancy dressed Viking sticking resolutely to her shoulder. I sat behind the pair of them for a few minutes as I passed passed through the third mile in 5:55 (5:58 in 2016) and through the official 5k split in 19:16, before sensing their pace was just a  bit slow for me and I pressed on. Chrissie would go on to finish in 2:49:01, the Viking I’m not sure about but he is mentioned by character in Athletics Weekly, so he likely continued to do pretty well.

At mile 5 of the marathon.
Picture c/o Robert McArdle.

The run from Woolwich to Greenwich was where it all began to fall apart last year, the early onset of cramps, or myofascial pain as I’ve been instructed to call it, slowly rendering me a walking, miserable mess by 21 miles. I was very concerned I was going to go the same way given the hip scare and the IT band discomfort, but for now I was running pain free, running quite quickly and it was feeling very comfortable. Mile 4 was 5:58, (5:57 in 2016), mile 5 was 6:06 (6:07 in 2016). The HR average for mile 4 was 159, pleasingly much lower than the maximum I give myself of 165 bpm. I did though notice near the end of the mile that my HR was showing well over 170 and at one point registering 183, which would be the highest I’ve seen it since a very hard 5k a couple of years ago. These weird readings continued in miles 5 and 6 – my theoretical max of 188 was all but reached in mile five and the sixth saw my heart go into overdrive – 210 BPM! It’s never been anywhere near that high and I assumed that either I was picking up someone else’s HR or something was amiss with the strap.

At mile 5 of the marathon.
Picture c/o Robert McArdle.

It was annoying in one sense as I do like to run my marathons to HR. However I had established a pace and a perceived effort for at least one mile at (slightly less than) target HR, so could instead fall back on trying to stick to that pace and effort for the rest of the race. Somewhat old-school, it felt strangely liberating. I sporadically looked at my HR during the race. Sometimes it would look half realistic, then I’d look again and it would show something crazy like 215 BPM, It did this for the rest of the race. I assumed the strap had broken, but I’ve worn it a number of times since and had no issues – so I’ve no idea what caused this to happen.

Back to the race. Mile 6 was 6:04 (6:10 in 2016), the discrepancy in my Garmin mile splits and the real mile markers was up to 25 seconds. From past experience I knew this was going to happen and would grow over the course of the marathon. It’s not a big deal, just something to factor in when trying to calculate your likely finishing time on the fly. I passed the official 10k approaching the right turn at Greenwich in 38:19 – 19:03 for the second 5k. I was loving the enthusiasm of the crowds. Strangely though, as we passed the Cutty Sark and Greenwich itself, the crowds, although vast in quantity, were perhaps some of the quietest on the course. This suited me as it’s usually an area where it’s impossible to avoid an adrenaline surge.

I took my first of three gels at seven miles and with it the only the second water bottle of the race thus far. In every marathon since 2005 I’ve taken six gels, this year I decided to go with three, at 7, 14, and 20 miles. The reasoning was twofold – most of my long training runs are done without breakfast beforehand, let alone sustenance while running itself. Therefore I reckoned that six gels may be a bit excessive. Moreover I wondered if some of the gastro distress suffered in recent marathons may have been partly down to having to cope with digesting too many gels and the water that is needed to go with it. For the remainder of the race I pretty much stuck to taking on water at the mile where I’d taken a gel and the water station a mile later. With the weather not being particularly warm, this tactic seemed to work well. I was reasonably dehyrated at the finish, but not in a state that affected my performance.

The third 5km chunk of the race was fairly uneventful although I do remember a section with a small incline around a supermarket featuring some of the loudest crowds of the race as I coincidentally passed a runner who was walking dressed as a bricklayer. He had no number and clearly had never been running from the start of the race. Indeed en route during the race I must of seen a handful of runners who didn’t look as though they had been at the start line or spectators who appeared to be undressing in a manner that suggested they were about to take part in the race. I guess there is little that can be done to stop this. I found it more amusing than anything, a welcome distraction from worrying about how far there was to go. For the record, miles 7, 8 and 9 were 5:59, 6:03 and 6:03 (6:02, 6:08, 6:07 in 2016). I went through 15k in 19:01 – this would be the fastest proper 5k split of the race (I’ll explain why it might not be the fastest in a bit…).

The tenth mile is one of the quieter miles in terms of crowd support, but this year there was really no such thing as a quiet part of the course. It was where I caught up and eventually passed Joe Spraggins, who turned out to be the fastest of the numerous fancy dressed runners, finishing in 2:42:24. His attire was hardly restrictive however, dressed in little more than a pair of Speedos, a swim hat, goggles and snorkel. He certainly caught the attention of the crowd, who all knew his name thanks to Joe being scrawled on his bare chest!

The tenth mile split was in 6:09 (6:02 in 2016), 1:01:00 exactly on my watch for ten miles. I hadn’t yet clocked any indication as to what my final time may be, especially as the Garmin was around 40 seconds out on the official distance. More worryingly bang on 10 miles the right hip that had caused so much distress before the start of the race, now decided it was the right time to give some quite painful distress signals. Rather than massage the hip itself, I decided to prod firmly the same bit of tummy that I had done on the start line, which mercifully appeared to give some relief. I don’t know if what I was doing actually made any difference, but the pains seemed to subside whenever I did prod myself. So this I continued to do, with increasing regularity, for the remainder of the race.

Mentally that was a low point in the race. I knew that my wife, daughter, brother and his fiance, had planned to try and spectate somewhere around the 11 mile point. I gave serious consideration to dropping out when I spotted them, to save them the bother of trying to see me further along the course. Luckily at the moment when they saw me and I saw them, giving a quick wave as I passed, I wasn’t in pain so that thought quickly left my mind and it was back to hoping and waiting that the wheels wouldn’t fall off the wagon. Just after passing the family I caught long time former training partner and club mate Stuart Hopkins, who was hoping for a time similar to mine – as he has done at each of the last five or six marathons we have run in together. Sweating somewhat (he’d suffered a cold before the race) I felt cool in comparison as I greeted him on passing with the somewhat negative comment I’m waiting for my hip to give up on me as he wished me well for the rest of the race.

At mile 11(?) of the marathon. Picture c/o Andy Atter(?)

Pained or not, the hip wasn’t slowing me for mile 11 saw me speed up to 5:56 (6:03 in 2016) and mile 12 was a 6:04 (6:07 in 2016). I was still for the most part feeling comfortable as we turned right and took on the legendary Tower Bridge. Like Greenwich, this most famous of spectator vantage points didn’t seem to be quite as densely populated or as vociferous in it’s support than in previous years. I’m guessing that spectators are making use of the excellent official spectators guide to visit previously less well populated areas that are just as good if all you want to do is pick out your loved one.

The fourth 5k at 20km was 19:06, As we went over the other side of the bridge we soon passed 13 miles – 6:02 compared to 6:12 in 2016. For the first time I looked left at the bottom of the bridge and spotted the unmissable sight of the Tower of London, which I had managed to miss on each of my ten or so visits to the London Marathon. Barely any time had passed before another significant time check came – halfway. My watch read 1:20:30 as I hit the chip mats. This was pretty much spot on for what I could have hoped for – it gave me a sporting chance of a sub 2:40 with a negative split run, or a very good chance of a new PB – my best being 2:43:41 set at Chester in 2015.

The 14th mile is the section where one side of the road is heading out to the Isle of Dogs, the other side is heading back towards the finish at 21 miles. It’s where I usually get to see some of the lead ladies and this year was no exception, although Mary Keitany was long gone by the time I arrived. Given the opportunity to see runners twice it is now one of the the most popular places to spectate – with crowds five or six deep for the entire mile or so stretch. Two who always get there early to grab prime real estate on the 21 mile side of the road are Kenilworth Runners legends Pauline and Tom Dable. Although I’m no longer a member of that Green Army, they spotted my GRC club colours and shouted me on with enthusiasm that couldn’t help but spur me on. Pumped with adrenaline mile 14 was a 5:59, exactly the same split as in 2016 but feeling much more comfortable as I took on my second Powergel washed down with a good helping of water.

One reason for feeling more comfortable is that the 15th mile for, I think, 4 of my last 5 marathons, has been the spot where I’ve had to call in to one of the roadside portaloos for an emergency pit stop. I’m happy to report that this year, aside from the odd exhale of extra exhaust fumes there was no gastronomic distress. Whether this was down to the reduced gel intake or the switch to granola bars from soft cereal bars, I’m not sure, but I’m not complaining either way. This meant that mile 15 was comfortably faster than in 2016 – 5:54 compared to 7:20. That fastest mile of the race meant that 20 – 25 km was (if my maths is correct) the fastest of the race in 18:54.

Just into the sixteenth mile is where we head into an underpass for the first time in the race, bearing right and into the Isle of Dogs. It’s where the Garmin can go haywire (It did indeed lose satellite reception) and where the legs have failed me on numerous occasions in the past. Thankfully on both accounts I had a positive outcome – the Garmin lost no more accuracy than it already had (it was now up to around a minute out) and my legs, although still with hip aching, were feeling good, bouncy, and very comfortable, certainly better than in 2016, where the pace was comparable, but I felt terrible.

Mile 16 was a 6:04 (6:03 in 2016). Miles 17-19 – around the Isle of Dogs and Canary Wharf – used to be one of the loneliest points of the course. Nowadays the crowds are immense, intense, and with the sounds of the screams and cheers reverberating around the closely packed skyscraper walls, quite overwhelming at times. Holding it all together, blessing every minute where I didn’t come to a screeching halt, mile 17 was a 6:03, mile 18 was 6:07, and mile 19 was 6:04, compared to 6:03, 6:12, and 5:56 in 2016. It should be said though these splits should be taken with a little pinch of salt as GPS accuracy is, putting it mildly, not the best around this part of the world – the GPS trail on Google maps showing a very jagged path rather than the smooth, controlled lines I was able to hold.

One runner who could not say the same as we passed through Canary Wharf was a poor chap ahead who had begun staggering violently from one side of the road to the other, and as I closed in was clearly in some kind of delirious state, frothing profusely at the mouth and seemingly not in control of his body. One runner went into offer assistance – a noble act indeed – but one I decided that today wasn’t the right choice for me considering a PB was in the making. Instead I alerted marshals just a little way up the road that there was a runner in distress. As I turned round a few seconds later and saw the hi-viz angels running towards the afflicted runner, I felt comfortable that he was in safer hands than I would be able to offer.

With that drama out of the way I pressed on, leaving Canary Wharf. I went through 30km in 1:54:24, the 5k split being 19:07. Shortly after this split, with continued development work taking place there is a rather contrived section of the course in place where we climb up a ramp, past a hotel, I think, then down onto the A1261 looping out and back on a road closed to traffic and spectators. It was here two years ago I blew up and it was here last year where I began to really suffer. Thankfully this year, although the right hip was nagging, I passed through the 20th mile in 2:01:15, without slowing, even perhaps speeding up as the Garmin clocked a 5:56 (6:11 in 2016).

The old saying that I hold dear is a marathon is a 20 mile jog with a 10k race tagged on at the end. Part one of this had been successfully accomplished. Despite passing through 20 miles over a minute faster than I’d ever run before, I’d felt as though almost all those miles were done with little perceived effort. As I sank down my third and final Powergel I was looking forward to putting on the afterburners for the final 10K, hopefully cranking up the pace to a glorious sub-2:40 finish.

Alas, almost literally a matter of meters past 20 miles, both quads gave the ominous feelings of deep fatigue. I didn’t feel as if my pace was slowing much, but the effort to maintain the same pace was now a whole lot harder. It also felt like at any moment the legs would quit on me, as they did in 2016 in the the 21st mile, when I slowed dramatically to run a 6:56 mile. Mile 21 was a 6:11. Mile 22 was hard, but it was a case of digging in and taking heart that while I was struggling, I was passing plenty of runners who were suffering like I was last year and the year before that.

Clocking another 6:11 (It was 6:50 in 2016), the 23rd mile was the hardest of the race. It’s the mile where you have the runners on the other side of the road just starting the second half of the race to the deafening support of thousands of spectators packing both sides of the large road. On the way out the road felt perfectly flat; now the tiniest undulations felt like monster climbs to negotiate. I battled on, praying that I could keep going, bemused at the sight ahead of a giant banana apparently running at 2:41 pace. I passed him, keeping an eye out for Tom and Pauline, who I spotted, but who missed me. I wasn’t aware of them, but apparently I’d missed my family shouting my name a couple of miles back. It’s hardly surprising given the cacophony all around me – there’d been numerous shouts of Go On Matt! or Matthew! which I’d turned to acknowledge, only to realise it was for a Matt or Matthew behind me. So perhaps one of those shouts was for me and I mistakenly ignored it.

I made it through Mile 23 – it was the slowest mile thus far at 6:22, but compared to the 7:27 in 2016 it was a very successful six minutes of running. I knew that what lay ahead was perhaps the most dangerous bit of road for my failing legs – the curved descent just past Tower Hill station down onto Lower Thames Street. If there was ever a stretch of road that would overpower the quads into a painful submission it would be here – it was at this spot in 2016 that I succumbed to the inevitable – stopping, before being annoyingly urged by the crowd to keep on going, which I did, albeit very slowly.

As I began gingerly descending, fully concentrated on not succumbing to cramp, I heard over my left shoulder the loudest shouts of Go on Matt! I think I’ve ever heard. The crowds were dense and it was hard to make out all the faces, but I spotted the unmistakable figures of friends and long time work colleagues James Moy and James ‘Beaver’ Bearne. I gave them the proverbial thumbs up and carried on. Moysee certainly was making his marathon spectating debut. They were there primarily to cheer home another F1 friend Will Buxton, who was expecting to take over 5 hours to finish his first ever marathon. That they had made the effort to leave the pub to watch me pass renewed my vigour and determination to battle hard to the finish.

I made it down to the bottom of the ramp in one piece, passing through the 35km marker in 2:13:49 clocking a 19:26 5k. It’s not long after here you head under the dreaded long and lonely underpass where nothing exists except other suffering runners. It was here I decided that I’d take a bit of risk by attempting to push on through the discomfort. My rationale at the time was I reckoned that I if I could get another quick mile or two in the bag, even if I slowed horribly and clocked an 8 or 9 minute mile at the finish, I would still bag a sub 2:45 performance.

Exiting the underpass, spurred on by the crowds and loud music up the drag and onto the embankment, I drove on. Mile 24 I clocked at 6:07, and mile 25 approaching Big Ben at 6:16. They weren’t the fastest miles of the race but the fact I’d reversed the trend of slowing miles gave me a tremendous morale boost, especially as I had etched on my mind the same miles in 2016 took an agonising 8:59 and 8:26. I went through 40km in 2:33:24. The 35k to 40k split was the slowest of the race in 19:35, but I sensed that the bad patch I’d gone through was long gone, and with nearly 12 minutes in hand to run just over 2km, one of the key objectives of a sub-2:45 clocking was looking very likely.

Turning right onto Birdcage Walk I apparently missed my family cheering me once again. By now, although heavily fatigued, the adrenaline was pumping and I began a very long mile and a bit sprint to the finish. The rather excellent personalised stats on Runpix show that on the final 7.2k I passed 84 runners and was passed by just two. This is the dream runners dream of when racing a marathon, finishing strong, picking off runners and feeding off that to drive yourself on not necessarily faster and faster, but not getting slower and slower.

I passed the 800 meters to go banner and picked up the effort once more. There is no 26 mile marker on the course but my watch had clocked it some time earlier (it ended up registering 26.57 miles) as a 6:04 mile (It was 7:47 in 2016). Turning right passing Buckingham Palace it was a welcome sight to see the cones that they have out for the elite finishers still in place. Ushered into the middle lane I turned right into the Mall and saw the official clocking reading something like 2:41:00. Already running hard I summoned every last ounce of energy for the mother of all sprint finishers, According to the Strava segment I ran the last 385 yards in 56 seconds, which is 5:20 pace. I’d run the last 0.6 mile on my Garmin at 5:44 pace.

As I crossed the line I looked to the sky and thanked the running gods for seeing me to the finish line in one piece. I’d broken 2:42 on the official clock, and I knew that my chip time would be a few seconds faster. It was. My official time, already posted on the brilliant London Marathon app for all those who followed me to see, was 2:41:42! A new PB by as near as dammit two minutes! I pumped my fists and whooped in elation – something of a rarity for one who is usually fairly composed at the finish.

It was a good job I had my sunglasses on for I recall I got a little too emotional at the finish, not exactly blubbing away, but certainly the eyes got a little moist. The culmination of months, years of training, the stress at the start and the uncertainty whether I’d make it to the finish was a little overwhelming. Then reality kicked in. The legs, fueled on adrenaline to surge me nearly pain free to the finish, found themselves bereft of adrenaline and began to really hurt! Last year I found this pain utterly dejecting, this year I nothing was going to spoil my delight as I gratefully received my goodie bag and medal, posing for official photographs that I had no intention of purchasing as they are stupidly expensive.

Part 4 – The Aftermath

The first familiar face to greet me after the race was fellow club mate Rob McArdle. After the congratulations and very concise post race review, he took a post race picture to replace the one I wouldn’t purchase, and we spent a few minutes charting the progress of other GRC runners. Not long after leaving him and wearily collecting my kit bag, Stuart caught me up. He had run 2:50, not what he’d hoped for but highly commendable given his restricted preparations for the race. We chatted about the race, training, duathlons, as we wandered slowly and painfully to the K-L repatriation area, where I was enthusiastically greeted by my daughter, then my wife – who knew that this would be a more congenial afternoon than 12 months earlier.

Me at the end of the marathon.
Picture c/o Robert McArdle.

Changing trainers proved nearly impossible, I had to call upon the services of my wife to assist. I didn’t bother with much else other than putting on my tracksuit bottoms. This meant that as we left the marathon building my medal and race number were on full view. This wasn’t a deliberate attempt to garner attention, but it is incredible how many people, even hours after the race would congratulate me on my efforts. It’s days like these when you are reminded that 99.9% of the world are good, decent folk – a shame then that it was sadly necessary for the security at the finish to be evidently ridiculously high – possibly one of most locked down places on the planet at that moment.

My daughter and I at the end of the marathon.

In previous years I have hung around the Covent Garden area after the race for a celebration / wake. This year I was calling on the local knowledge of my brother who, after we finally got on a tube train after some confusion at Charing Cross, took us to a pub in Chalk Farm, near where he and his fiance used to live. It was a bit of a trek and my weary legs didn’t thank him at first, but from the sight and smells of the giant roast dinners put in front of us it was well worth the walk. I though, as usual after a marathon, couldn’t stomach the thought of food, and was happy to have just a few chips from my daughters’ plate. I did patake in a welcome pint or two of cider as I caught up with the exploits of all the others I knew taking part in the marathon and replied to the numerous congratulatory messages on Facebook and Strava.

Post race marathon medal and pint of cider.

After the meal we walked down to Camden Town, taking in some stunning views of London en route at Primrose Hill – we could see most of the sights I had passed during the marathon a few hours earlier. A walk through Camden Town itself was a nostalgia trip from twenty years or more ago when I was a near weekly visitor to its market. The walk from Camden to Kings Cross nearly killed me and my daughter but in the long run I think the 3-4 miles walk did wonders to help ease the pain in the legs.

Enjoying Primrose Hill.

At Kings Cross we bid farewell to my brother and fiance and got on the first train to Stevenage, before my wife drove us home back to Grantham. Too tired to consider cooking and eating alone after my better half had basically eaten a whole chicken for lunch, I ordered a large Indian takeaway, my first in many many months. It tasted bloody good as we sat down to watch the recorded live coverage of the race. I made it to around 22 miles of the ladies race before I resigned myself to not being able to stay awake and headed to bed. All in all a most memorable day, a highly successful one. One that won’t be forgotten.


Official Results and Splits
Garmin Mile Splits
RunPixStats 1
RunPixStats 2Virgin Mon


Race Report – London Marathon – Sunday April 24th 2016

Once upon a time, not so long ago, I would have killed for a time like that…

The taper is always my least favourite part of training. Doubts creep in, the body sometimes repulses the idea of suddenly dropping the volume its been accustomed to in the past 4-6 months. This, I found out today when reading over lunch, is why some don’t bother with a taper. I think, next time, I may do the same.

The 2016 London Marathon taper did not go well. The Chinese GP meant I was tired and virtually jet-lagged. My final long run was a disaster with my weird cramp afflicting me after just three miles of running and crippling me to a halt after seven miles. I ran twice subsequently without a repeat of the episode, but the legs didn’t feel great. The last two sessions on the elliptical trainer especially felt really bad, a cadence of 8-10 rpm less than what I’d easily managed a week earlier felt too much like hard work.

Then on Thursday evening – Prince died. Those who follow me on Facebook will know what the Purple One meant to me. I’ll spare you of the emotions I’ve felt over the past week, suffice to say I took the news fairly badly, a bottle plus of wine later and not getting to sleep until nearly 3 am meant I felt dreadful most of Friday and not a whole lot better on Saturday.

Added to that my eldest daughter came home from school midweek with a cold. Over dinner she decided to cough all over my face. Twice. By Saturday I could feel the onset of a cold trying to envelop my body. I tried my best to dismiss it, put it down to the moderate pollen count, but the tickle in the throat and the slightly heavy legs were a tell tale sign that I was not quite 100%. Ironically this was confirmed with just how easy it was for me to fall asleep on Saturday night. Normally the night before a big race I’d be tossing and turning until the early hours, especially if I decided to get an early night (9:30 pm). This time however I was sound asleep by ten, not stirring until the alarm clock chimed at 4:30 am.

I checked my phone to confirm it was indeed that early. It was. I was informed that Gwenda Williams had taken six of my Strava segments, none of which by legal means. Somewhat oddly I insisted on firing up the PC to flag each and every one of her poorly veiled bike rides pretending to be runs, before downing an espresso, grabbing my bags and heading out the front door.

I made a very late decision to catch an earlier train from Stevenage to Kings Cross than first planned. It’s possible the 7:38 would have been fine, but the night before doubts crept in and I insisted to my passenger, Scott, that the 7:03 would have to be the train we caught. And so it was we were on the A1 heading south at 5:30 am, the roads blissfully traffic free. Scott sat beside me, taking part in his first London Marathon, barely having slept a wink the night before. In the back my eldest daughter and my wife.

We arrived at Stevenage in plenty of time, just as well as the ticket machine proved to be very reluctant to produce any ticket at all. We were joined at the station by fellow Grantham Running Club members Paul and Helen, who were also taking part in the London Marathon and had also plumped for the drive to Stevenage and catch the 7:03 to Kings Cross option.


The Marathon 4 at the home station of Lewis Hamilton.
The Marathon 4 at the home station of Lewis Hamilton (when he was a child).

We were soon on the train and before we knew it we were at Kings Cross. I bid farewell to my wife and daughter who enjoyed coffee and croissants at the station cafe. I was a couple of tube journeys away from Charing Cross. Last year the train to Blackheath was rammed beyond comprehension. This year, thanks to being 40 minutes earlier, we had a choice of empty seats. It soon filled, but this was far more civilised.

It should be pointed out at some point that all the talk before the marathon was the weather and the threat of snow on race day. This was no Daily Express sensationalist crap that failed to materialise. Yes, the snow failed to materialise, but it snowed at Liege Baston Liege, it snowed at the Zurich Marathon, and it snowed in London a day or two after the London Marathon. As it was the forecasters were a little out in their prediction, conditions were a little wet first thing, but then mostly cloudy, a little breezy, and temperatures of around 8-10C – perfect for marathon running.

At Blackheath and at the Blue Start I wished Scott and Helen the best of luck as I embarked on the Championship start, which turned out to be a rather small, somewhat underwhelming, enclave within the Blue Start. Arriving over an hour before the start I had plenty of time to arrange a me in front of the Championship start photo. It has taken nearly 20 years of training to reach this start, it may be the only time I make it here. So I was going to get a (not that great photo).

I finally made it!
I finally made it!

After showing my number and confirming that my Kenilworth Runners T-Shirt met with the regulations I had an hour or so to kill before the start of the race. This was made much easier when I stumbled upon my good running friend Stuart Hopkins. Our running and sporting paths have followed very closely together – we last raced just a few months ago at the Chester Marathon, where I passed him at 19 miles en route to my 2:43 PB. Stuart has PBs at all distances just a bit quicker than mine but we have been fairly evenly matched over the years.

By the time we’d caught up on all the happenings of the past few months it was time to get a wriggle on, get in the queue for the toilets (Disappointingly we weren’t assigned one each…) and get the baggage bag on to the lorry. As an acknowledgement of our running talents it had been decreed there would be a road open for us to warm up on. However, it turned out this stretch of road was somewhat smaller than in previous years. You therefore had the rather amusing sight of hundreds of runners trying to run in an area no larger than a small playground. It meant that running was reduced to a jail yard shuffle. I wasn’t that fussed, I’ve never warmed up before a marathon and I wasn’t about to waste my energies now.

The championship starters begin their race just behind the elites. Disappointingly we were around 10 meters behind them. Moreover Stuart and I joined the start a little late, so we were quite near the back, back with the majority of the female championship runners, some of whom were only looking to run around 3:15. This meant potentially we could have a more congested start than when I competed from the Fast Good For Age start. I really wasn’t that bothered though, for a fast start is never in my plans at a marathon.

I was very calm when the gun fired for the start of the race. I’d tried my hardest to not get worked up and that had paid off handsomely. I now had to make sure I wasn’t too laid back and not be able to get into my running. The early miles worked out near perfectly. I like to run the first mile at a maximum of 150 BPM, the second mile at 155 BPM max, then the third at 160 BPM max, before running miles 4-20 at a maximum of 165 BPM. I had little difficulty keeping the heart rate down, as has often been the case. The first mile was 6:43, compared with 6:40 at Chester, 6:23 in the second mile (6:22 at Chester) and 5:56 in the significantly downhill third mile, compared with 6:15 at Chester. I felt comfortable and restrained.

With the crowd support in full voice as usual and the throngs of equally able runners around me, it was not difficult to maintain the pace and pleasingly the heart rate was the lowest it has ever been at the kind of pace I was running in a race, typically 2-3 beats lower than at Chester and well under the 165 threshold. The fourth mile was 5:57, but then I slowed a bit in miles 5 and 6 with 6:08 and 6:11. I ran the first 5k in 19:51, the second 5k in 19:12.

Miles 7-9 were much the same as the comfortable, restrained running continued – 6:04, 6:10; 6:04 for a third 5k of 19:14. I saw my wife at just over 9 miles – a fleeting glimpse. She would have seen me looking happy. It was the last time, metaphorically speaking, I had a smile on my face.

At nine and a half miles I started to get the familiar cramp feeling in my left quad that I suffered on that fateful last long run a week or so earlier. It didn’t manifest itself immediately into full blown cramp, but I knew from the five or six runs over the past 15 months where I have suffered this weird cramp (weird, because it typically happens very early during a run) that it would eventually take control of not just the left leg but the right leg too.

I also knew that, as at the Maverick trail race I won last summer, where I got the cramp at just two miles into the fifteen mile race, I could potentially run a good distance at relatively undiminished pace with a moderate amount of discomfort before the pain would become intolerable. So I tried my best to ignore the discomfort and run as well as possible for as long as possible.

Mile ten was another 6:04, mile 11 6:03 and mile 12 6:07. This wasn’t 2:36 pace but it was possibly a sub 2:40 if I could run a negative split in the second half. As we crossed Tower Bridge and were blown away, once again, by the sheer ferocity of the crowd support, my confidence took a knock as the discomfort intensified on descent from the bridge. Mile 13 was 6:14, the slowest since the second mile and I passed halfway in 1:21:39 having actually just run the fastest five km of the race (19:10). My mental maths worked out that basically if I matched my first half I would match my PB to virtually the second.

This actually didn’t inspire me that much. The main motivator in my training was the lure of possibly breaking 2:40. It now appeared that, barring a miracle and the weird cramp leaving me the best I could hope for was a marginal PB, the likelihood a performance a little way short. Mile 14 gave me brief room for hope. Inspired by the lead women runners on the opposite side of the road. I ran a 5:58 and still felt comfortable. Three gels down, three to go. Maybe I could still do this.

Mile 15 bordered on the surreal. At no point in the run did I really feel the need to visit a portaloo. By mile 15 there was small feelings, shall we say, but I could have comfortably held it all in for safe disposal after the race. Running down the appropriately named Narrow Street I had a flashback to the ill-fated 2011 marathon where, having just made it back from China / Vietnam / Moscow in time for the race thanks to the Icelandic ash cloud, I made an urgent visit to the portaloos in the 15th mile en route to a 2:55 clocking. Before I could snap myself out of it I found myself barging through the unsuspecting spectators and sitting in what could have been the very same portable toilet I found myself in five years earlier.

And there I sat. For quite a few moments doing nothing in particular. This was frankly ridiculous. I pulled myself together and made sure my trip to the WC wasn’t fruitless. I lost a minute or so before the shorts were back where they should be and I was on my way. The crap may have left the body but the cramp sadly hadn’t. The left quad still aching away.

That fifteenth mile was 7:22 including the stop, mile 16 showed I was still running well with a 6:02, followed by a 6:06 and a 6:11 as we headed into the Docklands. Mile 19 on the Garmin is listed as a 5:57 but I have my doubts as I could feel myself slowing and we passed Canary Wharf, which is always known to wreak havoc with anything relying on a GPS signal. To my surprise I chanced upon my wife, daughter, brother and his fiance cheering me in a prime spot at aforementioned Canary Wharf. This put a smile on my face and a small spring in my step. Sadly it wasn’t to last.

It was just after this point I caught and passed Stuart. Amazingly I believe it was almost the exact same duration into the marathon at Chester I passed him. He has been struggling in the past weeks with a hamstring injury and was clearly slowing. At Chester I had no doubts I would finish ahead of him. Here I wasn’t so sure.

Mile 20 was 6:11 but by now the left quad was awash with cramp and the right leg was beginning to suffer too. I mentally gave up at almost exactly the same point as I did last year – the temporary bit they’ve put in on the A6121 where you double back on yourself somewhat awkwardly. It’s wholly bereft of spectators. This year they put on a mobile disco to offer encouragement but, for me, it was not enough. I slowed, mile 21 was 6:57. Sub 2:45 dreams were over.

I think had I not have run 2:43 last year I would have doubled my efforts, tried to ignore the cramp, and battled through to a heroic 2:47 or so. Because I have now broken 2:45 and my only motivation was to try and break 2:40, now that was clearly not possible I switched off, slowed down and went into damage limitation mode. I thought of the upcoming World Duathlon Championships, the Summer Solstice 10k I want to run, the half marathons in the Autumn. What was the point in killing myself now for a time that would be five minutes outside my best? I set my sights on running sub-3 and dismissing the 2016 London Marathon as just a bad day in the office.

Mile 22 was 6:52, but that was the last respectable mile. By mile 23 I was having to stop and walk on occasion as the pain in the left quad especially was bad – as bad as it was on that last long run. The problem at London is that the spectators simply don’t let you stop and walk. They scream and shout, willing you to being running again. Last year I took the pressure off myself, expected fully to hit the wall and embraced the crowd when I did, almost enjoying the experience. This year I hated it. I hated the London Marathon and wondered why on earth I was doing it.

Still though I carried on. Mile 23 – 7:30. Mile 24 was really bad – 8:56. Mile 25 a little better at 8:25, but that included a spell of not moving at all, a few steps run backwards in a desperate attempt to cure the cramp – as it partially did a week earlier.

Thinking back now, bizarrely it may have. Either that or a conscious attempt to increase the cadence and reduce the stride length. The intense discomfort In the left leg subsided a little and I was able to shuffle the remainder of the way to the finish line, even mustering a little sprint finish near the end. In the meantime I had been re-passed by Stuart, passed too by GRC club mate Chris Limmer who was running strongly to a 2:53 clocking, and spotted the wife and family once again, who had managed to get from Canary Wharf to bag a prime spot right next to Big Ben!

As for me, well at 23 miles I figured I had 33 minutes to run the last 3.2 miles. I reckoned that was possible and so indeed it turned out to be – stopping the clock at 2:54:50. There was no fist pump, no smile, almost no emotion at all as I collected my medal and goody bag other than disappointment mixed with resignation and even a little optimism.

As I told, somewhat hastily as is usually the case, anyone who cared to listen that this was the last marathon I’d ever run, I also reflected that aside from the marathon itself, the training for the marathon has possibly left me in the best shape I’ve ever been in. I was second at the Newton’s Fraction Half Marathon in my fastest ever spring HM time. I’d qualified for the World Duathlon Championships at my first attempt, and up until 20 miles I was running comfortably the fastest I’d ever done at the London Marathon.

2:54:50 would have been a time I’d died for ten or so years ago. When I first broke 3 hours I never thought I’d get down to 2:43 with the real possibility of going faster yet. The very fact I’m so disappointed by a 2:54 clocking shows how far I’ve come.

With my daughter at our personalised repatriation area.

I’m always touched when the London Marathon gives me my own repatriation area (K-L…) Sadly it is the furthest possible distance from the finish line. My wife was suitably restrained in her congratulations, she knows me well enough to know that today was not one to be celebrated. As for my daughter, well she was thrilled at the thought of a packet of popcorn and a Nutri-grain nestled in my goody bag. She turned down the Beef Jerky (any takers please do call me…).

We headed to Covent Garden for a post race meal and drink – I just had two large black coffees. Last year after the race I could barely move for cramp for hours after the race. This year two hours after the finish the legs felt almost fine – confirming my suspicions that this was no ordinary cramp. That was almost more frustrating than had I fully smacked into the regular marathon wall.

It wasn’t long before we were on the train back to the car and driving the car back home. The champagne stayed in the fridge, a glass of Baron St Jean rose (Suspiciously pleasant for £2.99 a bottle at Aldi) my reward for my efforts.

The next morning I woke and put in an hour on elliptical trainer. I was stiff, but frustratingly it was still better than Thursday’s efforts. I spun in the evening, by now the throat sore. The next day I was in the throws of a full blown cold. I almost certainly had the cold virus in the body during the marathon. More fuel to the fire that misfortune afflicted my marathon dreams.

The 2016 London Marathon summed up exactly why I prefer the marathon training to the race itself. I love the hard work required to run a good marathon, I dislike the reality that during a marathon you spend the entire race running with a ticking time bomb hoping it doesn’t go off, knowing full well that, despite all your best efforts, there is often little you can do to stop it if it decides to detonate – sending its painful acid through unsuspecting muscles in your body, rendering you powerless and pathetic.

It detonated for me at London 2016. I was wounded, maybe scarred permanently, but hopeful I’ll bounce back stronger and really do forget the painful memories that were the concluding miles of the greatest race in the world. Don’t let the past 3000 words put you off. It really is a fantastic race, the overwhelming crowd support an affirmation that the vast majority of human beings are wonderful people, and that it is the one race that all runners should indeed take part in – at least once.


Race Report – Newton’s Fraction Half Marathon – Grantham – Sunday 13 March 2016.

Those who have read the weekly training log for the week will know there was a real dilemma over whether to race the Fraction or take part in the Witham Wheelers Reliability Ride. I guess the title gives the decision away, but it wasn’t a clear cut decision.

I woke at 7am and headed downstairs to have a coffee and breakfast as I do when I ride. I had a full bowl of cereal, something I wouldn’t do normally when racing, and headed upstairs to get changed into my cycling gear. As I climbed up the stairs I did a set of eccentric calf raises and drops. Since the massage on Thursday I’ve been doing 100+ of them daily as I was trying to do some of the things I’ve done over the past six months that may have helped ease the pain in the calf and help me run. Through Friday and a lot of Saturday when I was doing them I was getting an intense burning sensation running up from the calf, up the hamstring and into the glute. This to me gave an indication that there was some nerve irritation going on, as I was getting no similar sensation in the other calf.

After parkrun on the Saturday I massaged the right hip and glute with a hockey ball as suggested by my massage guru David. Previous to his massage on Thursday this produced little in the way of relief or sensation, but today, probably as a result of the tear inducing work he performed on Thursday night, I was able to get a real sensation of things moving, shifting, releasing, unsticking. That evening when I did the calf raises and drops there was less of a burning sensation than before.

That set of raises and drops on the Sunday morning produced nothing but a deep stretch – just as they should. No burning, no pain. Wondering whether this would translate into a positive feeling when running, I quickly ditched the cycling clothes, grabbed some shorts and a running top, pulled on my trainers (making sure the Garmin was on and satellites locked….) and headed outside for a quick impromptu jog up and down the road. To my surprise there was little or no discomfort in the calf. I did another couple of minutes running. Still nothing. I did another minute or so to make it a mile, picking up the pace to something close to race pace. Zilch. By now it was too late to ride with the Wheelers. There was no pain. It was written in the stars. I was going to race!

Being a 10:30 start and it being a mere couple of miles from home, I now had an hour or so to kill. I spent the time wisely, stretching and some gentle massage. Plenty of positive vibes coming from the calf and hip. I left the house at 9:20 to allow myself an hour before the race. The venue – the Meres Leisure Center – is where I use the gym so it is like a second home. There was to be no stress before the race. Familiar faces as I collected my race number, some surprise from those who I’d told I definitely wasn’t racing.

It would have been easy to have got too relaxed, so I headed away from HQ and did my warm up alone to focus on the race. A mile and a bit of easy running. A slight ache in the calf, but very slight. I trusted the compression socks and placebo tape would hold everything in place when the going got tough. Spotting the queue for the toilets at the track were long, I took advantage of my gym pass to use the deserted ones in the leisure center. I arrived back at the track for a hasty Grantham Running Club team photograph (I would be wearing their top over the Kenilworth Runners T-Shirt in an attempt to show allegiance to both my running clubs), said my farewells to the family, who had come to cheer me on, then went for one more toilet break just to calm the nerves.

Some of the GRC runners before the start of the race. Picture c/o Gordon Geach.
Some of the GRC runners before the start of the race. Picture c/o Gordon Geach.

I arrived at the start with two minutes to spare – perfect timing. I took my place near the front of the field and waited for the countdown, which were ten of the longest seconds ever counted down.

The start of the race. Picture c/o Gordon Geach
The start of the race. Picture c/o Gordon Geach

The horn sounded and we were off. Full of adrenaline at my home race I went off a little too enthusiastically and found myself leading briefly as we left the stadium. I glanced at my watch and realised I’d set off at sub five minute mile pace. I’m not Aaron Scott so I reduced my effort and allowed the pre-race favourite, Adam Holland, to take the lead. He was joined by James Skinner, a runner I wasn’t familiar with. As we turned left and headed towards Barrowby I sat a comfortable third. The legs, quads especially, began to feel a touch heavy. I lamented that spin / elliptical trainer session I did at the Meres a couple of days earlier. Thankfully after a mile or so the heaviness lifted and I felt full of running, although a little anxious that the watch clocked the first mile at 5:30 pace, more 5-10k sustainable pace than a half marathon.


Adam Holland leading the race. Picture c/o Paul Davidson
Adam Holland leading the race. Picture c/o Paul Davidson

I charged through Barrowby and towards the canal path in third place. The crowds were not exactly huge, more a smattering, but many knew who I was and were cheering me on in person. I cannot express how much of a boost this was. I was the local boy in third place, running for club and town.

Adam Holland leading into Barrowby. Picture c.o Graham Jones.
Adam Holland leading into Barrowby. Picture c.o Graham Jones.

I was running alone, with the leaders drifting ahead. For a minute or two I began to lose concentration, the race appearing as though it would be a typical time trial affair, with wide gaps between finishers near the front of the field. This was reflected in the second mile split – 5:49, although this was mostly uphill.

Heading into Barrowby. Picture c.o Graham Jones.
Heading into Barrowby. Picture c.o Graham Jones.

As we came down the drop at The Drift and onto the Canal Path I was caught and passed by Robert Windard and another runner. Robert was looking strong, especially on the downhill sections.

Robert Windard and others chasing me down. Picture c/o Graham Jones.
Robert Windard and others chasing me down. Picture c/o Graham Jones.

Oftentimes I would let other runners pull ahead and run my own race, often to heart rate. However today, as I glanced at my heart rate and saw it was in the right zone for a HM, I made a concerted effort to pick up the pace and stick on to the heels of Robert. Once there things magically felt easier, we had another Robert – Robert Scothern join us (This reminds me of the Not The 9 O’Clock News Skit about a car factory full of Bobs). I rarely get to run quick in a group, this was my chance, and it felt great! What was even greater was that the lead vehicle, replaced by a lead bike on the canal path, rather than disappear slowly into the distance as I had expected, was appearing to ever so slightly move closer to us.

Adam Holland by now had been caught by James Skinner and they were running together. Adam is a phenomenal talent – especially as an ultra runner. He holds the record for the fastest ten marathons in ten consecutive days, the youngest runner to have raced 100 marathons (He has since raced 244), he holds a treadmill endurance world record, and last autumn he embarked on a 2000 mile continuous run in 20 days, during which he ran a 2:28 marathon at Chester (where I saw him running hours after on a main road as I was driving home!), and later took victories at the Bristol to Bath marathon and the Newcastle Town Moor Marathon.

James Skinner leading the race ahead of a relaxed Adam Holland. Picture c/o Gordon Geach
James Skinner leading the race, ahead of a relaxed Adam Holland. Picture c/o Gordon Geach

I’ve run with Adam at a few parkruns at Newark. I noticed two things about him. One he is the slowest looking quick runner you will ever see, his form is very deceptive as he barely appears to be trying. Second, I get the impression in a race type situation he will typically do just enough to win or finish highly. This may be an incorrect assessment but it appeared to be happening again at the Fraction, he was toying his opposition, waiting to pull well clear at any moment.

Still, as we ran along the three miles of canal path – very familiar to me on my training runs – he was still well in sight and a great rabbit to focus the mind and ignore the pace we were running. I don’t think I really looked at my watch much in that section other than to clock a 5k split and a 5 mile split, but miles 3, 4, and 5 were run in 5:28, 5:31, and 5:34. I passed 5k in 17:11 and 5 miles in 28:10 or so.

Behind Robert in 4th on the Canal Section. Picture by yourraceday.co.uk
Behind Robert in 4th on the Canal Section. Picture by yourraceday.co.uk

It was just as we were leaving the canal section and into Woolsthorpe where the right calf began to ache. It was the typical gentle ache, not enough to slow me, but enough to make me wonder if at any moment it would develop into something rapidly race ending. I rehearsed what I was going to say to the guys I was racing with if and when it did happen, something like that’s it boys, I’m done, go get ’em! 

Leaving the Canal Path, the right calf giving cause for concern. Picture c/o Gordon Geach.
Leaving the Canal Path, the right calf giving cause for concern. Picture c/o Gordon Geach.

We had a short section of flat before the first of two big hills on the course at Woolsthorpe. The race by now was clearly developing into a highly tactical affair, developments were likely on this half mile plus climb which Strava states averages 6% but is signposted at 12% average. The climb began as we passed six miles, the sixth mile showing little slowing in pace with a 5:37. There was a drinks station where I failed no less than three times to grab a cup of water, to the mirth of Robert Scothern, who received an impromptu shower. On a different, warmer, day I would have been concerned about taking on no liquid. But conditions were perfect for racing at around 9C with early mist and fog gently clearing to reveal blue skies later in the race (Once we topped Woolsthorpe Hill, to be precise). I also normally take a gel during a half marathon but, probably as this is a training route for me, the thought never occurred to carry one. I didn’t seem to miss it.

I’ve had plenty of times to rehearse Woolsthorpe Hill. Right from the foot of the ascent I took to the front of the pack and eased gently ahead of the two Bobs I was running with. I’ve climbed the hill quicker but today I had to pace it carefully, one because I didn’t want to push the heart rate too high, two because my calf was giving worrying aches when I tried to lengthen the stride on the steeper sections, and three my guts were beginning to churn a little with the increased effort – a legacy of the roast dinner the night before no doubt.

I noticed ahead of me the lead vehicle was definitely getting closer. James had pulled a little clear of Adam who appeared to be labouring a touch, but I appeared to be marginally the fastest of the lead five climbing the hill. I reached the summit in third and pushed on without delay. The Lincoln Bob (Robert Windard) was chasing me as we gently drifted clear of RAF Bob (Robert Scothern). I heard a shout out from Grantham running legend Chris Armstrong, who was a very fine runner back in the 1980s and I recalled the clip he posted of his victory at the 1986 Kinloss to Lossiemouth Half MarathonI didn’t much fancy being greeted at the finish by bagpipes but I was inspired by the thought of perhaps finishing in the top three. We were halfway through the race, I was third, and, barring injury, there was a chance I could stay there.

The run down from Woolsthorpe Hill to Denton is all downhill, mostly gradual with a fairly steep descent to finish. Adam had retaken the lead of the race but wasn’t really extending the gap – the lead vehicle sometimes coming very close to us as it struggled with some traffic. There was more support from friends – this time on bike and I was beginning to feel very racy. I was fully switched from chasing a time mode to how best to tactically race mode.

The first decision was to let Lincoln Bob catch me and to let him take the pace – we were running into a very slight breeze and I wanted to conserve as much energy as possible. As we dropped into Denton he pulled five seconds or so clear as I couldn’t live with his downhill prowess. He used this skill to catch second placed James. As we turned left in Denton onto the Casthorpe Road I was cheered on in name by some of the council guys in charge of closing the roads. The sense of not letting them down spurred me on. I made a concerted effort to close the gap to James and Bob who were running side by side. On the slight rise out of Denton I managed it and for then next two miles sat firmly in their slipstream.

Miles 7, 8, 9 and 10 were covered in 6:15 (Woolsthorpe Hill included, so 5:33 with Strava Gap incorporated), 5:34, 5:33, and 5:38 – my watch showing ten miles covered in what would be a PB time of 56:44. Adam had not pulled into the distance but I reckoned he had enough of a gap to comfortably take the win.

My strategy was to implement local knowledge and try to break the two I was running with on the second and hardest of the two climbs in the race – Casthorpe Hill – before putting in a flat out last two miles towards the finish back at the Meres. It was a plan I had rehearsed at the culmination of a long 20 mile plus run a few weeks earlier with some considerable success, a pair of Strava segments my reward.

Strava again lists the climb at half a mile long and with a 6% average gradient. In reality it is, in its entirety, a little bit longer, and although may average 6%, the steepest section in the last part of the climb averages 12% with a short section of 14%. I let the pair drift a few yards ahead as we dropped briefly before the start of the climb, recuperating myself for the upcoming effort. There is a long gentle drag uphill where I pulled alongside them, dropped back, then pushed on again, harder and with more determination.

The attack had almost the desired effect and an unintended beneficial consequence. Lincoln Bob couldn’t quite live with the pace as we pitter-pattered up the steepest section of the hill, covered in rain water still cascading down from the surrounding fields after the recent heavy rainfall. James remained on my heels, resolutely unwilling to be broken (Following the race it turned out that he had finished third at the race in 2015 – so was well aware of Casthorpe Hill). We nearly, very nearly, caught Adam. I reckon the gap was down to around 8-10 seconds at the top of the climb.

The lead vehicle at the top of Casthorpe Hill. Me and James just behind it and Adam. Picture c/o Graham Jones.
The lead vehicle at the top of Casthorpe Hill. Me and James just behind it and Adam. Picture c/o Graham Jones.

At the top of the climb James pulled alongside me and we ran together briefly before he edged ahead and Lincoln Bob remained in the wings just behind ready to pass if I faltered at any moment. I had plans to attack immediately at the top of the hill and give it full gas, as I had done on my long run a few weeks earlier. However the cumulative efforts of the race and the subtle, but noticeable headwind we had in the final miles meant the attack never quite materialised (I ran 6:29 (hill included, 5:32 with Strava GAP), 5:33, and 5:41 for miles 11-13, around 10-15 seconds slower per mile than on my training run). As we ran through Barrowby I was pretty regularly being cheered on in person or by come on Grantham! by local supporters and that was enough to keep the desire to ease up and settle for a comfortable fourth at bay.

Me and James Skinner heading towards the finish at Barrowby. Picture c/o Graham Jones.
Me and James Skinner heading towards the finish at Barrowby. Picture c/o Graham Jones.

This year alone I must have run down from Barrowby to the Meres Leisure Center ten times or more yet, weirdly, this last section of the race appeared to be the least familiar. Maybe it was because I am usually running very comfortably along this stretch, but right now, all I wanted to do was stop. The legs were heavy, the calf more than a little achy, the tanks beginning to run empty. James pulled around 5 seconds clear as we approached the Meres, Lincoln Bob a little more behind, Adam still strangely close to us in the lead.

Approaching the finish at the Stadium. Picture c/o Gordon Geach.
Approaching the finish at the Stadium. Picture c/o Gordon Geach.
Approaching the finish at the Stadium. Picture c/o Gordon Geach.
Approaching the finish at the Stadium. Picture c/o Gordon Geach.

As we entered the stadium a lady who had helped volunteered at parkrun the day before shouted Go on Matt, you can catch him! I didn’t believe I could but was alarmed when I looked around to see that the gap to fourth had shrunk from over five seconds to less than a couple! I was determined to finish in the top three. My strategy as we entered the final 300 meters of the race was to attack for second in the hope that if Robert passed us both, at least I would still be third.

As we hit the back straight I picked up the pace. I could hear the shouts of encouragement from the spectators gathered at the finish line. They spurred me on. The gap to James and I melted. At the top of the bend I decided not to wait and went for all out for the sprint finish, the aim being to catch James unawares and leave him unable to close any gap. It appeared to work as I passed him and eked out a small gap. However, at the start of the home straight, with only around 80 meters remaining, the early sprint took its toll and I began to tire badly. I looked around anxiously, as Mo Farah does at the end of a race, and swore that James and Robert were catching me fast. Willed on by the support at the finish and sheer bloody mindedness not to lose my recently gained second place, I did what Mo does – gritted my teeth and kicked and kicked again – hard all the way to and just past the finish line – not forgetting of course to stop my watch at the finish line (Old habits die very hard).

Sprinting for second place at the finish. Picture by yourraceday.co.uk
Sprinting for second place at the finish. Picture by yourraceday.co.uk
Sprinting for second place at the finish. Picture by yourraceday.co.uk
Sprinting for second place at the finish. Picture by yourraceday.co.uk
Sprinting for second place at the finish. Picture by yourraceday.co.ukSunday 13 March 2016.
Sprinting for second place at the finish. Picture by yourraceday.co.ukSunday 13 March 2016.
Sprinting for second place at the finish. Picture by yourraceday.co.uk
Sprinting for second place at the finish. Picture by yourraceday.co.uk

No one passed me. I was second!

Crossing the finish line. Picture c/o Penny Hodges.
Crossing the finish line. Picture c/o Penny Hodges.
(L to R): Matthew Kingston-Lee, James Skinner, Robert Windard – second, third, and fourth, at the finish. Picture c/o Penny Hodges.

As I crossed the line there was a broad smile and a small fist pump. Then as I stopped running, the euphoria mixed with a little bit of pain and I looked to the sky before sinking to my knees to catch my breath. Moments later I recomposed myself and was quick to congratulate those I had just beaten.

Genuinely more thrilling than the second position was the manner in which the race had panned out. I’d forgotten about times – it turned out I’d run 1:15:30, my third fastest ever, one second slower than my Power of 10 PB set at Nottingham in 2014 – and run a race full of tactics, changing of positions and uncertain in its conclusion literally until we had crossed the finish line. For the record, I was one second ahead of James and three seconds clear of Robert. Adam had finished fifteen seconds ahead of me, which meant the top four was covered by less than twenty seconds!

I spent a longer than usual amount of time chatting with the guys I’d just raced, including Adam, who was typically unassuming in his victory, totally unaware of his finishing time. I slowly walked to meet my family and then the large contingency of GRC, Belvoir Tri Club and Grantham Athletics Club members and supporters who had congregated at the finish. The number of people coming to congratulate me was heartwarming as was the pleasure of seeing many of my friends coming home with new Personal Bests.

Unfortunately I had to miss some of them as there was the small matter of receiving my prize for finishing second. Still a rare occurrence for myself, I smiled a little uneasily as a small ripple of applause erupted around the room as I collected my wares (A trophy, £60 voucher towards a pair of Brooks trainers and some seeds), proud to have my two daughters alongside me. A virtual tear welled up the next day when my eldest proudly told all she could at school and sports club that daddy had finished second in the running race.

Collecting my prizes. Picture c/o Gordon Geach.
Collecting my prizes. Picture c/o Gordon Geach.

Having had a couple of days to reflect, I don’t think I could have done anything differently on the day to change the result. Had I not the calf issue it is possible I may have attacked a little harder on the hills and perhaps closed and caught Adam. But I firmly believe he would have found a little extra to make sure he would have been the deserving winner.

I am more than delighted with my second position. I ran well in the face of a little adversity and uncertainty. Tactically I played all my cards correctly. I was spurred on by the local support of friends, family, and just locals who recognised the Grantham vest. All in all it’s right up there in my top three best races ever and I really hope the calf injury clears up so I can enjoy some more races like that again soon!


Race Report – English National Cross Country Championships, Donington Park, Saturday 27th February 2016.

I Hate Cross Country… But For Some Reason I Signed Up To The Nationals…

Many moons ago when I first joined the Kenilworth Runners committee they had a newsletter published every month or so as the idea that everything could be hosted on a website was still a little too radical for a few members. I was on the board as club administrator but actually did no administrating at all. All I did for the first year or so was write a few pieces for the newsletter.

One piece that caught the attention of a few members was a  piece called I Hate Cross Country… But I’m Willing To Give It Another Try. In a radical departure from the every race is awesome and brilliant theme that tends to infiltrate race reports, I dared to illicit my disdain for cross country racing. I hate racing in mud, racing on uneven ground, splashing through puddles and streams in the rain and cold. What’s more I am not very good at it. Runners I could beat my minutes on the road over 10k I’d struggle to keep up with as I sank awkwardly in mud, struggled to keep my balance, generally cursing the whole experience.

The only thing that kept me trying it again and again, running the Birmingham League primarily, was that it’s a rare opportunity in running to compete as a team, where the performance of each individual is more important for the good of the whole rather than the sole. It was the camaraderie that was appealing, albeit in a why am I doing this exactly? form.

I think the articles ran for three cross country seasons before the joke ran its course and they quietly disappeared. Then a couple of years ago I moved to Grantham. I returned once to take part in one Birmingham League race early in 2014 but took part in none since mostly due to injury then due to a general lack of enthusiasm, despite the amazing performances of the club to finish sixth overall in this year’s overall Division One standings. I’m not allowed to compete for Grantham Running Club in the Lincs League as I am second claim for them, as it is I am a little underwhelmed by that league. It is all done and dusted by the first week in December, just as most other leagues are getting started.

I’ve only once ran in the English National Cross Country Championships – better known as the Nationals, back at Stowe school in 2000, but I barely remember any details of it at all. They were hosted in Nottingham recently but work prevented me from taking part. When I heard they were taking place at Donington Park, an hour or so from home, I took the plunge in a wave of post New Year optimism and signed myself up for the 2016 edition.

I took preparations as seriously as I ever have – I purchased a pair of spikes for the first time in 10 years having preferred the whole shoe grip of my Walshes (But they are pretty knackered now). The days leading up to the race were challenging (Explained in my weekly training diary) as a return of the tight calf blues meant my last run on the Thursday was cut short. But with some painkillers, plenty of stretching and massage, the calf passed an early morning fitness test and just before midday I set off for Donington Park.

Motor racing tracks make for great venues for running races. They are generally designed to hold thousands of spectators so can easily accommodate for a few thousand runners and a couple of hundred hardy fans. Whilst we weren’t running on the track itself the organisers had devised an equally undulating course which I doubted would be as smooth and dry as the slick asphalt uses for the racing circuit.

It took a while to find the Kenilworth Runners tent, with well over 130 clubs taking part, all seemingly with tall flags, the purpose of tall flags for identification was a little redundant. With the passing of time the familiar faces at the club become fewer, but it wasn’t long before old friends were reacquainted and new faces were introduced.

There wasn’t too much time for chat however as the start of the men’s race was less than an hour away. I found the portaloos, plentiful in number but lacking in any toilet tissue. Fortunately I had packed for such an instance, thus avoiding an uncomfortable situation. Mindful that the calf was a real liability, the warm up was kept to a mile jog, more to test the ground and to see if the spikes fitted. They did and the calf felt okay.

There was barely time for a pre-race photograph and it was a bit of a shambles as some runners weren’t there, some weren’t ready or willing, and the one frame that Captain Phil allowed had my eyes closed, people looking in the wrong direction and generally unaware that a photo had been taken….

Me and members of Kenilworth Runners. at the English National Cross Country Championships.
Me and members of Kenilworth Runners at the English National Cross Country Championships.

With laces firmly tightened, eschewing the opportunity to gaffer tape them to my feet, all that remained was the short walk to the start. Once through the holding tent we jogged to our pen – there must have been over 300 pens stretched over a field a good 200-300 meters wide. It was an impressive site; the atmosphere was electric as we anticipated the start and the carnage that would undoubtedly ensue.

Bang on three o’clock the starting gun fired and the cavalry of a couple of thousand or so runners stampeded to the first turn. Despite setting off at a relatively rapid rate there were hundreds of runners in front of me, plenty more behind and to both sides. I expected a huge bottle neck as the course narrowed but, credit to the organisers, it wasn’t as bad as I feared and we only slowed briefly.

The first few minutes were a nervous affair as I struggled on the rutted terrain running through what I believed was a field of cabbages but was apparently turnips. My biggest fear was stumbling and falling, which would have meant potentially being trampled on by hundreds of unsuspecting runners. Thankfully I stayed on my feet and luckily I heard only one cry of ‘runner down’ around me in the opening minutes.

Before we had any climbs we had a steep descent and I was frankly rubbish as I nervously made my way down the hill while others dropped like stones past me. There was a moment of respite on an off-camber section before a second drop down and into the first climb. It was here we began to overtake some of the women who were finishing their race. I felt quite sorry that they were being swamped in such a manner. Surely it would have been better to start the men’s race a few minutes later to ensure the course was clear?

No one enjoys running uphill but it is part of running where I tend to be quite strong and so it was today. Runners who had past me on the descents I retook on the first climb and then more again on the second. All those runners and more then re-passed me as we hit the main section of the course that was boggy with sticky mud. I was slipping terribly and it was here I remembered just how much I hate cross country.

I was briefly running with fellow club mate Paul Andrew, but just as I was about to give up mentally to the mud, the ground firmed up again as we began the second lap and I pulled clear of him. With the runners a little more spread out than on the first lap I was able to pick my lines a little more carefully so as to try and avoid the worst of the ruts and the mud. This inevitably meant taking a mostly very wide line which added significantly to the final distance. The right calf chose this opportunity to begin to ache. It never really hindered me that much but was sore enough to not make me want to push too much.

So for the remaining two laps I stuck more or less at a half marathon effort in terms of heart rate and ploughed on as best I could. Mentally and physically the last half lap through the boggy mud was terrible and, as we came into a boggy finish straight, I put on perhaps the worst sprint finish I have ever mustered, powerless to stop a fair few runners from coming past me.

Still I survived the race tired, but more or less intact. The final position of 427th doesn’t sound that impressive but the quality of field was reasonably high and just a minute or so faster would have seen me a hundred positions better off. I wound up fourth of six counters for Kenilworth Runners, ahead of Paul Andrew, who managed to sprain his ankle and bang his head in the final yards, but behind behind the impressive young Paddy Roddy, mud lark Phil Gould and Kev Hope, who revealed afterwards that cross country is absolutely his favourite discipline.

That’s the last thing I’d call cross country and once again I declared at the end of the race that I hate cross country… but, give it a few months to mentally forget the experience, I will probably give it another try.



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.