During the winter I get plenty of opportunity to take part in Belton House parkrun. I very often run it as part of a long run, so rarely get to run it full gas – at best it’s half marathon HR. I wasn’t expecting to take part in Belton House parkrun #111 as it was a Grand Prix Saturday, but Friday afternoon practice at Baku made me aware that the timetable was a little different from regular European races, meaning I had a crucial extra hour in the morning, meaning I could take get in a quick parkrun before hot footing it back home to begin work.
The weather could not be much different from six days earlier at the London Marathon – light rain, a light to steady breeze and temperatures maxing out at around 7C. It could have been near perfect for Marathon running: in around ten years I may get over the injustice of the unseasonably warm weather we were subjected to for 26.2 miles. In near full winter gear I made the very late decision to add a t-shirt to the thermal top I was already wearing – chance would have it it was the 2018 London Marathon finishers’ t-shirt I’d put in the top of my running drawer.
The shortest distance to run to parkrun for me is just over two miles, I decided to loop a bit longer making it nearer four by the time I lined up the start. More than plenty who were there, but compared to some of my long runs over the winter, where I had 15 or more miles already clocked up, I felt like I’d barely run at all.
Running with music pumping into my headphones, like I regularly do, I changed from a Prince playlist (Fantastic, but trying to smash a 5:30 mile to Do Me Baby is kind of tricky!) to my running/spinning playlist, reserved for events where some pumping tunes are required to help keep a good tempo. I kept the earphones out to hear the pre-run briefing before hitting play as the short countdown commenced and we were on our way.
I often find myself outside the top 15 for the opening km or so of parkrun, but the legs must have felt reasonable (Or the field was a little lethargic) as I was soon into third place, already miles behind the rapidly improving junior runner William Tucker, but closer than usual to the regular man being pulled along by dog combo, who often starts quick before fading a touch.
Neither were of much concern to me – I genuinely care little what position I am in a parkrun as it’s not a race. What was concerning me was that the Tiny Tempah track that had began my parkrun had been abruptly replaced by something quite awful which I had to pause for fear of corrupting my mind. I later found to be Michael Buble, accidentally put on by my wife back at home using Spotify on Alexa. To correct this heinous mistake would have meant getting my phone out which, while running comfortably below six minute miles, was not practicable. So I had to make do with the relative sound of silence.
Persistent rain meant the gravel track out to the Lion Gates was a bit of a splash fest, although it has been worse. The same could be said for the rest of the grass 2.5km loop, which was wet, but not as slippy and muddy as it has been this winter. Leaving the gravel path and onto the grass, Chris Limmer came onto my shoulder. He is training for a 100 mile race this Saturday, but his diet of long runs seems to be paying dividends for his 5K pace, as he has had some good runs in recent weeks.
His presence must have seen me pick up the pace for we soon caught and passed man with dog as we ran alongside the golf course. Along the ‘back straight’ where the mole hills make running a bit of a nightmare. Chris pulled past me. Tucking into his slipstream I had visions of this being New Years Eve v2, where Greg Southern and I paced each other around to my course PB of 17:00.
Letting Chris take the pace for a minute or so I pulled back past him and just increased the pace slightly. Unfortunately for the benefit of a quicker time, Chris was just unable to stick to my tail and I eased slowly ahead. We had clocked 5:38 for the first mile, but heading off the gravel path on the second lap back towards the golf course, Garmin flashed a 5:25 mile.
On a good day I’d be able to maintain that pace for the rest of the parkrun. At that moment I just began to feel the marathon in my legs and also in my mind and I just had to let the pace slip a touch. It wasn’t a killer final mile but it was certainly a bit of an effort to get to the finish. 5:38 was the third mile split with barely any sprint finish to speak of. William finished first in a cracking course PB of 17:01, I came home second in 17:27, with Chris third in 17:41.
I didn’t have long to recover for I had a couple of miles to run to get home so I could begin work. I was able to correct the Spotify issue and had the pumped up running tracks to help me home. The final run stats came in at 9.5 miles at 6:19 average, with the parkrun the fastest at Belton House since January 2017. So much for taking it easy after the marathon! In all seriousness, hopefully it bodes well for a good summer of racing. I think I am in fairly good shape and if I can avoid injury and illness some good things are possible.
The rescheduled Keyworth Turkey Trot, back in the middle of February, had come in the early weeks of marathon training and was a positive indicator that, despite a couple of months of injury, I was heading in the right direction towards another stab at my marathon PB of 2:41:42, set at London in 2017. Little did I know at the time that this race, treated partly as a training effort, would be the last time I raced until London itself.
My marathon training was a subtle remix of what worked back in 2017: mostly easy paced (Zone 2) runs with a weekly long run, usually on a Saturday incorporating a parkrun, run at tempo pace, somewhere in the middle, a medium long midweek run and a run with some marathon HR miles thrown in. In 2017 these were nearly always during the week, this year it transpired that more than planned were at the weekend as part of a long run.
I was also cycling, partly because I was training hopefully for a Duathlon in March and partly because I simply enjoy cycling. A harsh winter meant that I did less of the Sunday morning Reliability Rides than in previous years and spent more time on the turbo trainer thanks mainly to finally being on board with Zwift and thoroughly enjoying the virtual racing and training world that offers. A big difference compared to 2017 and 2016 especially is that I spent a lot less time on the elliptical trainer. This is for a couple of reasons – a lot of the elliptical trainer sessions were replaced with Zwift and I also put in more running miles than in previous years. Indeed, the three largest mileage weeks, 79, 83 and 86 miles, were probably the largest mileage weeks since March 2014 when I put in my only 100 mile week.
The long runs were run pretty quick – in February and March they averaged 6:37 pace. This was partly due to having parkruns thrown in most of them run in around 18 minutes, The bad weather disrupting plans meant I put in more long runs than normal, when I would have otherwise been cycling or racing. Some very cold sub-zero conditions at the back end of February saw back to back long runs: 20.5 miles at 6:26 average then the next day 22 miles at 6:46 average.
I tapered for the Newton’s Fraction Half Marathon in early March only to have the Beast from the East scupper the plans of a fast half effort as the race was postponed. Conditions were good to run on the day though and I put in 20 miles at 6:20 average on the Fraction course + extras. The following week I ran the course again, this time throwing in an 18:27 parkrun and some extras, totalling 27 miles in 2:59. My 24 mile time was 2:39:10 – which I expected I was capable of come marathon day.
That was more or less the peak of my marathon training for work and night shifts and more bad work and illness began to see some of the hard work unravel. With the Fraction postponed until the autumn I looked to the weekend of the 18th and 19th March to focus on a race. My first choice was the Clumber Park Duathlon but I delayed entering too long and it sold out. I then thought about the Coventry Half Marathon, the Lincoln 10K or the Holdenby Duathlon, eventually opting for the latter. As it happened the latter was the first to be postponed due to the Beast from the Easy II on the Friday. I took my frustrations out on an easy paced 10 mile run at 6:20 average. Saturday morning I joined some fellow Duathletes who were equally frustrated that morning’s Clumber Park Duathlon had been postponed, when arguably it shouldn’t have. We used the strong wind as good strength training on a 12 mile run at 6:36 pace.
Then on Sunday morning the snow came and the Lincoln 10K was postponed and the Coventry Half Marathon was cancelled altogether. It was back to the Fraction Course for a sometimes slippy 20 miles at 6:44 pace. All these runs at solid pace was good training, perhaps ideal for the marathon, but I was really craving the opportunity to race, but by then it was too late as the weekends where there were races I was working and the weekends I was working there were no local races.
I had to make do with a poor effort at Boston parkrun on Easter Saturday, where I finished first but the effort was deliberately restrained with a long run planned on the Sunday, and a ten mile run just a couple of days after the Beast from the East disappeared, which was planned to be marathon HR, but ended up being much lower than that, yet saw me average 5:59 for the 10.2 miles – the fastest I’d ever run ten miles or more in training.
All the signs were there that I was in good shape but I lacked the validation of a race to prove it and that was difficult mentally to cope with. It didn’t help that just a few days after the Easter Sunday long run (a cold and windy 23 miles in the Fens at 6:40 average) I suffered the double whammy of a slight recurrence of the left hip flexor pains (which I was able to more or less fix with some additional glute excercises) and, more troublingly, a heavy cold and chest infection which I carried through the entire duration of the taper period and had not completely recovered from come race day. This meant I ran less miles than planned and mostly at a far lower intensity than hoped. I substituted some of the running with cycling, but even then it was a mixed bag, with some days feeling good; others the heart rate sky high and pace way down on what I’d expect.
The days leading up to the Marathon threw in another spanner – one I predicted could and probably would happen back when Beast from the East occurred. For most in Britain it was a blessing after the longest, harshest winter in living memory. For London Marathon runners it raised alarm bells aplenty and potentially threw months of hard work down the toilet: the forecasters very confidently predicted a very warm London Marathon!
The predicted temperatures – early to mid twenties Celsius – would be difficult to cope with even if we’d had months to acclimatise, such as we might if the marathon were in early September and we’d had a warm summer of running behind us. Indeed things may have been a little more palatable if we’d had a period of spring like weather in the weeks before London. As it was, until a week before London I believe I had run in nothing more than around 12C. I think I’d run once in a t-shirt and the vast majority of runs were cold enough to be consistently wearing a thermal base layer and running tights as a minimum.
The Saturday before London, with a bit of sun on my back, I went for my final run (13 miles). It may have been around 15C but with a cold breeze and the cold very much in my body still it hardly felt like a balmy run. On Monday monring, as things began to look a bit desperate, I rode on Zwift with all doors shut, the heating on and fans switched off. Alas the room barely crept above 18C…. The evening’s run was sunny, but felt chilly. Of some concern was the wheezing noises I was making when running as the chest infection still held a vice like grip on my lungs. Tuesday’s morning’s 10K was cold enough for long sleeved tops and gloves and I was wearing all but full thermals for that evening’s bike time trial.
Then, suddenly, it all changed. I awoke Wednesday and temperatures were predicted to reach around 21C. This was my last planned run day – 10 miles with 3 miles at marathon HR. I delayed the run as late as I could – midday, to try and get as much of the sun and warmth as possible. It was not an unbearable run, but the miles at pace were significantly slower and at a higher HR ( around 10 beats higher) than they were when temperatures were around 8C. They were though around the pace that I was looking to run for a sub 2:40 attempt. What was more concerning though was the final three miles of the run, where I shut it down and attempted to run as easily as possible i.e. with a low heart rate, proved virtually impossible, with the HR constantly creeping up and up while the pace was gradually dropping and dropping. This is a fairly normal phenomenon of running in the heat. It was also, I believe, indicative of the cold and chest infection still being in the body – this clearly evident at the end of the run where I went through the routine five minute coughing fit. This though was progress at least, a few days earlier and I was having these coughing fits during the run itself.
Before a marathon I often have three days of complete rest – it seems to work physically and mentally better than the much practiced option of reducing the mileage to a 5K the day before. The paranoia around picking up an injury is too much for me to cope with! However the Thursday before London was a scorcher! I sensed this could be too good an opportunity to miss to run in some real heat. Because I had a massage at lunchtime I was unable to run at the hottest part of the day but even at 6:30pm it was still in excess of 24C, albeit without the heat of the sun. I went for a 5 mile jog with GRC with just a minute or two at marathon pace to conclude my preparation. It didn’t feel uncomfortable but, once again, the HR was really high. The legs also felt really tired and generally I didn’t feel as if I was physically ready to attack a marathon. Just to complete the doom and gloom, the pollen count was rising and my eyes were itching…
By Saturday morning it was clear that, although there was a weather system coming in that would cool temperatures for much of the country, London on the Sunday of the marathon would remain hot. I looked back in my training log at when I ran London in 2007, the hottest London Marathon to date. On that warm, sunny day, with 500ml bottles compared to the smaller 330ml days we would be given this year, I ran the race to HR as normal and took on water every two miles until 14 miles then some water every mile until the finish, making sure I’d pour the undrunk contents over my head, which was covered with a cap. It seemed to work – my PB at the time was 2:57 and I managed to just break 3 hours on the day. The caveat though was that back in the day when I was an F1 jet setter, by the time the London Marathon had come around, I’d already spent time in and run at rather warmer locations, namely Melbourne, Kuala Lumpur, and Bahrain. Two hours running in the heat and humidity of KL made London almost like child’s play in comparison, as did a run in Bahrain which was a mere 42 Celsius. Without the benefit of tropical and desert preparation this time around, all I could do was run the race at an inevitably slower pace than planned and hope for the best.
In previous years I’ve driven down from Grantham on the morning to Stevenage train station and used public transport to make it to the start at Blackheath. After the debacle in 2017 with over-running engineering works I decided that I didn’t want to risk a repeat of that stress and so decided to go old skool and do what I did when I lived in Coventry, namely drive as far down to the event as possible before walking the remainder, with my wife driving the car to North London for collection after the race. This meant a slightly earlier depart (5:15 am) but for the most part this worked really well – arriving at Greenwich shortly after 7 am. Only in the very last stages did things go awry – a wrong turn or two and before we knew it we were unwittingly on a buses only road, getting mightily stressed, frustrated… and lost.
Eventually, after what seemed an eternity but was in reality around 10 minutes, I found the road I’d planned to be on all along and bid farewell to my wife. I’ll never be sure if it was the car journey or that stressful incident but, to my despair, within moments of walking towards the start I felt both hips began to seize up in a manner alarmingly reminiscent to twelve months earlier, when the right hip all but locked en route to the start. I knew that the best thing to do was not to panic but try and make my way as calmly as possible to the start where I could begin to work to alleviate the issue.
I was in the Championship start ten shortly after 8am, by no means the first to arrive, but significantly earlier than in previous years when I’ve arrived at 9:15 am to a packed tent and a rushed start. I grabbed myself some space and began not only to prepare clothing etc. for the race but do some stretches that I hoped would ease of the tight, sore hips. An hour later and it appeared I had worked some magic. They didn’t feel 100% but a very brief jog after dropping off my kit bag demonstrated they were okay to run.
In that time I made sure I was well hydrated, drinking a litre of electrolyte, consuming my banana and customary pre-race Lidl Snickers. With the sky blue and temperatures already feeling like they were just shy of 20C, I decided to pass on the warm up jog and queue instead one last time for the toilets. All done and dusted I was ready to join the start at 9:50, ten minutes before the start of the race.
As we were slowly shepherded towards the start line behind the Elite men, there was some initial concern from the Championship starters that it seemed the masses were going to be allowed to start alongside the supposedly quicker runners. Tempers were just beginning to spill over when the masses were held back and we were allowed to fill the road at the start. The panic over, I took my customary position to the right hand side of the road (Not sure why I do this, but I do), and took advantage, as did many others, for one last pit stop against the sponsor hoardings. I just managed to do this before the National Anthem played. With the queen looking down on us via the big screen, I’m sure I could have been banged up for treason had I committed the offence of urinating mid-anthem.
Once the Queen had pressed the big red button from the luxury and splendour of Windsor Castle and we endured the unnecessary heart beat countdown, we were set off on our way. Under 20 seconds after the elites were set off I was too past the start line and on my way. And within a minute of running I knew it was going to be a game of survival.
The way I run marathons is quite simple – I observe a maximum HR of 165 bpm until 20 miles then as allow it to go as high as I can muster. The first three miles I gradually raise the HR, the first mile should have a maximum of 150 bpm, the second 155 bpm and the third 160 bpm before settling down to sit somewhere between 160 and 165 bpm.
This relaxed opening to a marathon means it’s not uncommon to see me going backwards through the field for the first mile or so before order is established and I tend to start picking off positions, hopefully all the way through to the finish. A minute into my run and I glanced at my watch. The HR read 153 BPM – already too high! I then looked at my average pace thus far – it was around 7:10! For the next three or four minutes, try as I could to get the HR below 150 BPM, short of stopping altogether, it seemed impossible. All the while literally hundreds and hundreds of runners passed me, the sub 3 pacer and the masses that clung with him, went storming past me.
I knew now was not the time to panic and abandon tried and tested plans. I made a small adjustment to the strategy, a bit of a risk, but one I was willing to take to avoid being swallowed up by what felt like the majority of the field. I allowed the first mile to average under 155 BPM, the second mile 160 BPM, and the third and subsequent miles 165 BPM. A small difference, one that may have consequences come the end of the race, but one that allowed me to run at something closer to the pace I expected while still keeping a reign on the early race exuberance that counts against so many runners in the closing stages of a marathon.
I went through mile one in 6:57 on the watch, under the banner a good 10 seconds slower than that. With the luxury of a few extra heart beats of juice mile two saw the pace increase to 6:31. The average HR was 160 BPM which indicates that no matter how hard I tried to keep the HR down, it was a battle that was very hard to beat. The second mile also saw the other key strategy played out – seek shade at all possible times, even if that meant running a slightly sub-optimal line. I found an opportunity during one of the extremely rare quieter spells of the course to run on the pavement, all but hugging a brick wall that offered near total protection from the sun. Psychologically and physically I felt as though I was gaining advantage over those who ran in the full glare of the sun.
Mile two was 6:31, the third mile saw the HR limit raised to 165 BPM, but as it was mainly downhill I only averaged 162 BPM, clocking 6:06 and 20:29 for the official 5K split. For comparison, in 2017, in near ideal conditions and with similar fitness levels, I clocked 19:16 for the opening 5K. I was resigned to this being largely a pointless marathon. Too hot to run a PB yet keen enough to attempt a good race to fully enjoy the frankly insanely loud crowd support, who were enjoying the great weather for spectating by coming out in numbers seemingly unprecedented even for London.
Shortly after two miles I passed the first of the water stations. The plan was simple and as advised by the race doctor – take one or two sips of water, except when I took on a gel (which I did at 7, 14, and 21 miles) when it would be half a 330ml bottle, then pour (or douse as is apparently now officially called) the rest over me – mostly over the head, but some on the wrists and arms and – in the later stages of the race especially – into the face in an attempt to try and keep the core temperature down. I pretty much did this at every one of the water stations which came at mile intervals. The only exception was the first of two stations, at around 9 miles I think, which trialled compostable cups, half filled with water and utterly useless – I grabbed two, dropped them, took a third to find once I’d taken a small sip of water there was basically none left to douse with. Thankfully at the second cup stop they had put on some additional water bottles which I gleefully grabbed having been left bitterly disappointed by the sparse content of the cups. I skipped the Lucozade bottles – bitter experience of throwing up the contents shortly after ingestion while racing meant I gave them a wide berth, even if they looked very tempting in the closing stages.
Mile 4 on the Garmin was the quickest of the race at 6:05 before I slowed to 6:13 for mile 5. Miles 6 to 17 were pretty constant, the quickest 6:11 and the slowest 6:20. The heart rate was quite interesting for once I peaked at around 164 BPM for miles 5-7 it dropped to 162 BPM for mile 8 and never got as high again. Indeed at mile 19 the average dropped to 158 BPM, although the perceived effort at this stage was probably the highest of the race – I was going through one of several bad patches at this stage. I think I’ve read theories into why this might happen – something to do with the body sending blood to the skin to cool it and so the larger muscles get less blood or something like that. There is also the possibility that by mile 9, with the temperature creeping up to the low 20s Celsius, I was really beginning to feel the heat and the central governor was already limiting my effort, aware that to keep pushing would end in an unpleasant manner. I was mindful of how hard the closing miles felt back in 2007 and I was determined to give myself the best opportunity to not suffer like that again.
I’ve often likened the marathon to a (rather unexciting) fuel economy run, where you spend most of the race running within yourself, all the while hoping you don’t blow up for reasons you cannot fathom. The 2018 London Marathon was like that except you now had to also try and cool components that were overheating and likely to fail at any moment. This, unfortunately, made the 2018 London Marathon one of the least enjoyable races I’ve taken part in. It was a game of survival for a T-Shirt and a medal. At times I wondered why I was even bothering to continue. But continue I did, and the further the race went on the better I appeared to be doing, compared to those around me at least.
I went through 10K in 39:57, the second 5K in 19:29. Not quite as quick as the 19:03 of 2017 but not too bad considering. 10K to 15K was 19:36, 15K to 20K 19:40. Slowing slightly but essentially even paced. I went though halfway in 1:23:20. On a cool day I’d give myself a fighting chance of a sub 2:45. Given the conditions, I set myself the tentative goal of trying to break 2:50. By now I had long stopped being passed by runners and was slowly but surely picking off others one by one. Almost unnoticed too the constant flow of runners had begun to form gaps. Although it really didn’t twig at the time, this was a sign that I was moving closer to the front of the field, relatively speaking, and that I must have passed a whole load of runners following the first mile when all I could see in front of me was a river of multicoloured vests and T-shirts (and a smattering of fancy dress costumes).
Leaving the section between 13-14 miles where you have runners at 21-22 miles in the other direction and we were onto Narrow Lane. I breathed a sigh of relief when I was able to pass the Portaloos at around 15 miles where down the years I have, more often than not, had to stop to use the facilities. The stomach didn’t exactly feel great, there were some mild cramps which I put down to the gels consumed and the higher than normal volume of water consumed, although with a dehydration headache beginning to consume me, clearly not as much as would be optimal to maintain full hydration. Each time I passed a Portaloo I felt the urge to stop but I resisted until the end of the race, thankfully without any unpleasant consequences.
20-25K was covered in 19:36. By now my Garmin was around a third of a mile over estimating the distance, as is quite normal at London. I often find the Garmin goes a bit crazy when we head under the roundabout underpass, spending around a minute outside of GPS coverage. The result this year around was that I went through the 16 mile banner almost exactly as the Garmin registered 16 miles. This was very handy! I had to disregard the 7:14 mile the watch showed, I hadn’t really slowed at all, just as I doubt I’d ran 6:05 the mile before.
Moving on from that excitement, the 5K between 25-30K, or miles 17 to 20 approximately, were the hardest of the race as we wound our way around the docks and Canary Wharf. While the crowd support was fantastic as ever and some of the buildings provided welcome shade, there were pockets of wind that almost stopped us in our tracks and a general feeling of weariness was taking over the body as well as some ominous cramping sensations in the quads. The 25-30K was not the slowest at 19:55, but it felt the hardest.
Some welcome relief came not long after in the form of a work colleague and friend James ‘Beaver‘ Bearne, who had come down to enjoy the day and to cheer on another friend’s sister, who had chosen a bad day to take part in her first ever marathon. I was aware of several friends and club mates who were dotted around the course. I’d spotted my wife and daughter at mile 9, just as I passed them, and club mate Paul Rushworth not long after. Thereafter the cumulative noise and volume of spectators and the shouts of ‘Come on Matt!’ aimed mostly at Matts other than myself, meant I had apparently missed quite a lot of people who were cheering specifically me on. Not Beaver though. At 20.5 miles just as we turned onto the road where runners come in the opposite direction at halfway, the loudest shout of ‘Come on Matt!!’ I’ve ever heard came right in my direction. Fully enthused by his command I pressed on, knowing that there was less than 10K left to run. The run from 30-35KM was the slowest of the race, after the opening 5K at 20:04. It should be noted though, that as well as being very warm, this was also run mostly into a headwind which, although hardly strong, was just firm enough to make it noticeably harder work than had it been behind us.
As I’ve done many times before the final 10K was a case of trying to run as hard as possible while not stressing the legs too much to the point of cramping, which they were doing in a mild, controllable manner, every mile or so. Mentally it was a case of breaking the race down into 5K chunks, then mile segments, then half miles, then a couple of minutes at a time, using the support of the crowd now to keep you going, when in the early stages I tried to block them out to try and stop me from getting carried away and running too fast.
As we ran along the Embankment, passing Paul again and Helen (thanks for the picture!) I went through 40K, having covered the last 5k in 19:57. The underpass beforehand again saw my Garmin get confused – the pace had stayed constant and I hadn’t slowed to 6:49 and 7:01 miles. The gradual slowdown reversed, I let myself pick up the pace just a touch as we turned right at the scarcely recognisable Big Ben and headed towards the finish, safe in the knowledge that even if the legs cramped up I’d only likely lose a minute or so. Apparently, according to someone behind me at the finish, I put on quite a sprint at the end as I pulled well clear of him. I don’t recall it being that quick but what was noticeable was that in a race where everyone around me was finding the going tough (there are usually a fair few runners flying at the end of a race as they nail a negative split) I appeared to be finding it a little less tough than others.
The slow start had paid dividends and I finished the race with a mile significantly quicker than I started. It wasn’t as quick as I had hoped, but I survived the race intact and in a respectable time – 2:47:27. When the positions were worked out I wound up 329th overall, 51 places higher than in 2017 and my best ever finishing position at London. This was something at least to be proud of, pleased about, and some small justification for putting my body through this unnecessary distress of running in what turned out to be the hottest ever London Marathon, officially at least 23.2C and likely warmer in places with radiated heat from the roads and buildings.
The long post race walk from the finish via the baggage area and to the zone where I met up with the family was noticeably quieter, more subdued, than in previous years. It was full of weary men (I believe only three women finished ahead of me who began with the masses), very few of whom I assume achieved what they had hoped to through the months of training and, looking at some of the runners I follow on Strava, suffered far worse than I did in the closing stages due to the heat and, for the most part, going off too quickly for the conditions. I imagine many of them, as I did, thought there were far better ways to enjoy a very warm sunny Sunday in April than run 26.2 miles. But we all did and I am sure we will all do so again, many in twelve months time, when hopefully the weather gods are a little kinder to us and provide an opportunity to make amends the disappointment of 2018. Marathon running is an addictive business. You know it does you know good but you can’t help but come back for me.
Of course, tragically, there will be one runner who won’t be returning in 2019. For Matt, and the others I’ve had the great displeasure in being part of a race where tragedy has struck, my thoughts are forever with you and I hope that at the very least you succumbed doing something you loved to do. Which, despite all that I wrote above, I do pretty much every time I run. Like most events that cause pain and suffering, the worst of it has been blocked by the mind and I am beginning to look a little more fondly on the hottest London there has ever been and already looking forward to the next race, which is hopefully just around the corner in a week or so.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
Taper time! For me the worst period of marathon training. Nervously completing each session hoping not to get injured. Reducing volume when the body wants to keep on pushing. Two weeks to get through before the big day.
Monday 11th saw a pair of hour sessions on the elliptical trainer. I wasn’t really planning on beginning the taper until Thursday, which would be a natural time to begin it as I was working on the Chinese GP, which was another four days of early mornings and long days. The first hour I felt really strong, the second hour a little tired, but still feeling a lot of power in the legs.
That evening I took part in another spin session. Feeling strong again I went for a measured performance, which saw an average of 254 watts.
Tuesday morning and I was out for an eight mile easy paced run, which was unremarkable other than it being quite humid for an April morning. That lunchtime I got an unexpected email from the British Triathlon Federation informing me that I had, after all, qualified for the World Duathlon Championships in June! To be honest I’d totally forgotten I’d got a qualifying time and was on standby in the event of any drop outs. I’d even gone and booked a half term holiday the night before, which I was thankfully able to cancel without penalty.
With this new event on the horizon in mind, my planned debut on my new TT bike at the Witham Wheelers time trial took on a new importance, as I now had just six weeks or so to get used to the bike, adapt to the time trial position, and get up to speed.
The 10 mile TT was more an exercise in getting used to the bike. It clearly has potential for speed but I found it hard to maintain the aero tuck position for more than a minute at a time before the upper arms screamed enough! I’m not blessed with any upper body strength, it’s no disadvantage when running, but clearly i have to do some urgent work to address this. It’s planks and push ups for me for the foreseeable future!
The time 26:30 was not too bad considering the time spent in the upright position and the cadence being far higher than I found to be my optimum when time trialing last summer. It was fifty seconds outside my course best when I gave it full gas, almost collapsing at the end from the exertion. Today I was as fresh as a daisy and cycled home without duress.
Wednesday saw a ten and a half mile marathon paced run in the morning – six miles at marathon pace with the final mile at marathon heart rate. The legs took a while to warm up, but the pace wasn’t bad when they did, peppering six minutes per mile, with the marathon heart rate mile at 5:37. That afternoon I ran to the school to pick up my daughter; she paced me home on her scooter, hitting close to ten mph at times. That was cool!
Thursday I was working through the night. I had to take my daughter to school so again literally did the school run. I did that again in the afternoon, albeit with a diversion to the bike shop which made the run a ten km effort.
Friday was, as planned, a rest day with a 2 am wake up call and 11 hours of being sat behind the desk – with more hours later on in the afternoon.
I was hoping Saturday’s final long run would be an easy effort. It turned out to be something of a near disaster. I’d planned to run eleven miles, then changed at the last minute to make it 13. I set off okay, the pace dropping down to 6:40 or so by the third mile. I then began to feel an odd ache in the upper right hamstring, followed by some glute discomfort. Then that spread to the left quad and the left glute in the form of cramp. It receded a little after some stretching so I continued, hoping to run around 11 miles. At eight miles however the cramp in the left quad became a searing affair, and I was left virtually unable to walk. Still two miles from home, I, in desperation, began jogging backwards. This seemed to help the issue somewhat and I was able to jog slowly home.
It seems this issue of cramping is tiredness related and probably due to dehydration. As with the previous bouts of cramp the pain receded over the course of the day and was feeling good enough to consider running on the Sunday. However I decided discretion be the better part of valour and so, in gap in work, put 90 minutes on the elliptical trainer. I was tired, and the left quad still had some aches, but it was a strong session.
Monday morning and I decided to risk a 10k run. As it turned out things were fine save for the pretty high heart rate, which I am hoping was just down to tiredness. That evening I put in a very easy effort in the spin session, reducing the FTW so that periods in the red zone were actually fairly comfortable.
Tuesday was my last run in anger before the marathon. Three miles warm up, then 5k at marathon HR, then a mile at sub 2:40 pace and a final mile at sub 2:45 pace. The marathon HR 5k was covered in 18:02 which equates to 2:32 for the marathon. That I don’t think is sustainable, sub 2:40 pace felt very comfortable.
I had another crack at the TT in the evening with Witham Wheelers. The week of planks and push ups had a good effect as I was able to stay in the aero tuck position for the majority of the ride. I lowered the cadence but was mindful to avoid pushing the legs beyond any period of discomfort. I clocked 26:00, ninth on the night and just 20 seconds now outside my PB.
Wednesday morning saw an hour on the elliptical trainer, then a final four miles of running that saw me naturally progress down to 6:10 for the final mile as I warmed up and felt more comfortable. The last session before London was an hour on the trainer. As with Wednesday’s effort I didn’t push hard but the legs felt a little heavier than I would have liked. I’m hoping it’s of no concern and just still the effects of working the weekend on Chinese time. I do though have what is either a slight cold or hay fever (the pollen count is high), which may be effecting me slightly. I have no concern over that.
So – no more can be done other than some pre-race stretching. My main concern is definitely cramping, but if that can be avoided, I am hopeful of a strong run, hopefully another sub-2:45, maybe a PB, maybe something a little more special. Time will tell.