Virgin Money 35th London Marathon 2015

The London Marathon is one of the most popular events you could ever hope to enter. By some miracle I was lucky enough to be one of the ones that got a ballot place for this years event, and got the confirmation of this just weeks before I was due to run the Leicester Marathon – my first ever marathon. This meant I was fortunate as I could run just for the fun of it, or decide what charity I wanted to use my place to raise money for. For a long time I was stuck between WWF, Mind and Cancer Research – all of which are great charities and do really important work. Although I’m keen to support the conservation of wildlife; in the end I decided to go with Cancer Research UK and was able to raise £650 for them (£747.50 with gift aid). If you’d like to sponsor me, you can do this on the Virgin Money Giving fundraising page (until June 2015).

If you’re not interested in the training I’d recommend scrolling down to either the Expo day, or the Marathon day.

Training

As I’ve mentioned in earlier blog posts, during the training for this marathon I did the Brass Monkey 10K in January, and then the Silverstone Half and Lincoln 10K in consecutive weeks of March. Whereas last time I used a beginners Marathon training plan from Bupa, this time I used a 16 week one that was automatically generated by MyAsics.com. Unlike the previous plan this one didn’t have much variation in terms of the type of run as there were no intervals, but the days and the lengths of the runs did vary a lot, and there were clear cut-back weeks as well. The major downside to this plan was the frequency of the fast paced runs. I’d been told that usually they should form a very small percentage of training, but with this plan they accounted for about 25-50% each week.

Around the halfway mark for training my knee started to feel uncomfortable again, though I didn’t have to cut back as the discomfort went away. Also, at the half way mark I started to question my training plan – the weeks that followed had a cut back week every other week and seemed quite light on miles. For example, after a 14 mile run the following week’s LSR would be an 8.5 mile run, followed by a 17 mile run the week after and an 8.5 mile the week after that. This pattern was pretty much the same up to the 22 mile run before tapering would begin. Instead, I replaced the first of these 8.5 mile LSRs with a 15 mile run and decided that each week I’d continue increasing the distance based upon how my legs felt.

That first altered run, the 15 miler was hard work in 24mph winds, but I managed to maintain an average pace of 10 seconds per mile faster than my planned pace for the marathon. The following week I then set a new personal best for a Half Marathon during a fairly pleasant 18 mile run, but the last 2 miles were incredibly hard work. This was then followed the week after by setting another PB during the Silverstone Half – improving my previous PB by over 4 minutes and setting a new 10K PB in the process. The following week I then replaced that PB again at the Lincoln 10K and also set a new 5K at the same time. At this point I just had two long runs left to go before tapering and the journey to the City of London.

The final two increases in distance were mixed – the 19 mile run felt like extremely hard work in windy weather, and I wondered if I could actually do 26.2 miles, but the 22 mile run the week after was further and faster than the equivalent run when training for my first marathon and that restored my hope that I would be able to do London. The three weeks of tapering then began. Three weeks of cutting down on miles and trying to not go too fast, all whilst trying to avoid anyone who had a cold .

For the last two weeks I was on the verge of getting both a cough and a cold, with a dry throat and running nose. There were even days where I felt my calves were too tight, or the area around/above my knee felt like I’d pulled the muscles. In the end though I can only assume that this was all in my head – though it felt real. #Maranoia is real!

In my mind I was constantly trying to decide what pace to attempt – my original plan was for 07:50min/mile, though having managed around 07:00min/mile for Silverstone I couldn’t help but wonder if I should try a 07:20 or 07:30min/mile pace instead.

The support from Cancer Research was brilliant too – they sent a waterproof jacket from Ted Baker along with details for a pre-race pasta party and a post-race event, and even called me 10 days before the race to wish me luck. This was then followed up by an SMS two days before to again wish me luck (though it seems they sent this a day early!).

As is recommended before any race, the night before heading down to London I laid out everything I needed for the weekend – for my time in London in general, and for the race itself. Looking at what I was taking it didn’t seem much, but then, I’m used to travelling with the minimal amount I can manage.

Once again I’d be going alone to a marathon, but my hope was that either on Expo day, or the day of the actual London Marathon I’d get to meet up with some of the other runners from #UKRunChat. This was my best chance to make my marathon experience different.

Expo Day

With the London Marathon you have to register in the days that lead up to it and in this case this is done at an expo where different companies are set up with stalls. Out of the available days for registering my only option was the Saturday due to work so in the morning I got up early, after a restless night, and took the train to London St. Pancreas. Before heading to the local train station I started with a large breakfast of crunchy nut cornflakes and an almond croissant with apricot jam to start the last day of carb-loading.

I hadn’t realised I’d booked the ticket for the express train so got to London quicker that I would usually, but it still took about an hour to get from Kings Cross over to Custom House for ExCel. I’m glad I arrived early as at 10am the registration booths were so quiet that it took me only a couple of minutes to pick up my number and enter the expo. As you do so they scan your barcode and give you your IPICO tag. There was also the Abbot World Marathon Majors trophy there and a wall listing competitors from each year.

London Marathon registration at ExCel

The first thing you see in the expo is the massive presence from Adidas – they had a #boostLondon with artwork and an area for you to write messages. This is also your first chance to get a photo with your race number – a useful way to show your friends your race number, and also good marketing for Adidas. This was followed by their store, which was pretty big!

adidas #BoostLondon

I wandered around the expo for a couple of hours, and because of how quiet it was I got the majority of it done in less than 2 hours. There was the 26.to stand where they got me to fill in their message board of why I’m running it, and then did a short interview for social media. I also made sure I checked out the runDisney stand to see what details there were of the Disneyland Paris Half Marathon for next year. By the time I was done looking at the stands and buying a few bits I sat and watched a talk about what to expect on Marathon day for a while, but had to leave before the end due to other plans. Before I left though I also had a photo taken for the London Marathon yearbook, and had two printed so I could keep one copy for myself.

By the time I left I’d got only a couple of minutes to get to the Pepenero restaurant not far from ExCel, for the Cancer Research pasta party. To try and make up time I decided to walk briskly and managed to arrive only 15 minutes late. I went for Spaghetti Bolognese and listened to the other people at the table talk about their Marathon training and experiences. Before leaving I met up with @SezSaysStuff and her husband and we walked back to the Expo to meet up with some more #ukrunchat people – @FrankieSaysRun and @iRunJoe. After a while of sitting around I headed over Canada Water to check into my hotel, assisted by the ever helpful Frankie.

#TeamBlue

Heading back to the expo we met up with more #ukrunchat runners and then hung around talking until the expo ended. At this point we then took the tube over into central London to eat at the Prezzo on The Strand. I went for more pasta in the form of Lasagna, and it was a great evening, getting to talk to more people that I’d previously only known on Twitter.

Just after 20:00 I headed back to the hotel, and fortunately found my way back pretty easily and spent the remainder of the evening getting ready for the big day.

vlm

Marathon Day

On the morning of the 35th London Marathon I was awake before my alarm went off. I’d been awake a lot during the night as it happens, and my legs still felt a little tired from how many hours I’d been walking and standing the day before. Over the next hour I went for a simple breakfast of Crunchy nut cornflakes and a cup of tea, put on my running kit, and once checked out of the hotel I was on my way to Blackheath for the blue start.

As I was relatively early, whilst it was busy, it wasn’t as busy as it could have been and most likely was later. I shown my race number to get free transport on the underground to Waterloo and South Eastern from there. It was a bit of a damp walk to the start, and once walking across the grass I could feel the water soaking through to my socks. Although I didn’t think about it again later, I did wonder at that point if having damp feet would make my feet sore later.

Once in the blue starting area one thing I noticed early on was that the changing rooms, segregated into male and female gazebos weren’t actually being used this way. There were some females in the male gazebo, and I could see on passing some males had gone into the female gazebo. They weren’t even being used as changing rooms either, people were going in to stand around out the cold (or sit in some cases). I had been tempted to change into a base layer but at that point decided I wouldn’t bother and took my kit back to the luggage truck.

The advice I’d been given was to join the queue for the loos as early as you can and once used to rejoin the queue straight after. However as I was there early there was no queue! So instead of rejoining a non-existent queue I wandered around for a bit, queued, and then wandered around some more. Eventually I found I was getting so cold I was physically shaking, so I joined other people sitting around in the changing tents. Whilst there a German guy noticed I was really cold and kindly gave me an extra technical tee to wear that he’d got spare. This did help quite a bit and helped me to last until it was time to join the start pen. Thanks random German guy – was appreciated!

VMLM 2015 Route

When the London Marathon started, as you’d expect it took several minutes to reach the start. As it’s timed based on chip time though this doesn’t really matter so there is no real rush to cross the line. It did however take some time before the crowds started moving any faster than a 09:30min/mile pace which was worrying me that after 2 miles of this, those in the 03:30 pen may not be intended to run an 03:30 and that it could hurt my chances of that. By mile three it had eased enough for me to get closer to my target pace, though amusing I saw the 03:30 and 03:45 pacers were about 3 metres apart at this point!

The next time I saw a pacer was around mile 8 or 9, and it was another 03:45 pacer, but this time in an area where those running were on target for a 03:20 marathon! It was also by this time that most people seemed to have settled into a steady pace and there was a lot fewer instances where tripping over other people seemed a possibility. I was already surprised by this point about how much support there was – so many people had cheered my name. I try not to be a vain or egotistical person, but hearing groups of people screaming your name is a goosebumps moment. The majority of the Cancer Research UK cheer points also cheered as I passed, and later in the race this was something that I think really did help.

I think it was around mile 10 where the support did suddenly drop off – the crowds had thinned and a lot of the people spectating were just standing around talking to each other. I thought maybe that would be it for support until a lot later in the race, but I was was pleasantly surprised as it soon changed as we approached Tower Bridge. Although I’ve been to London a few times I’ve never properly seen Tower Bridge or crossed it, and I think that was one of the highlights of the race for me – the support as you cross the famous landmark, and nearing the halfway point. I know even that early in the race that between miles 10-12 my resolve did falter a little, and it was the thought of how close I was to Tower Bridge that had kept me going.

Tower Bridge isn’t exactly the half way mark though, it’s around the corner and a little further down the road – at a point where you can see the route looping back on itself. For this stretch, between miles 13 and around 14 I was quite distracted as at first I saw the police bike go down the opposite lane, and then a camera vehicle along with a large number of elite Kenyan runners, who I presume (but couldn’t tell) were being led by Wilson Kipsang. This was another of my highlights for the race – to see at such a close distance the elite marathon runners that would soon be finishing this 35th London Marathon. At around mile 15 the road dipped a little as we ran through a dark tunnel, or at least the transition lenses in my glasses made it look dark! There was some music playing in this tunnel and screens so you could see your self running, though all I was thinking of at this point was that it was time to eat the fifth jelly baby.

My next thought was of #ukrunchat – I knew their cheer point would be at mile 21, and that it might be possible to see them from the other side of the road, but alas I couldn’t spot them. The route continued on around the Isle of Dogs an around this time I saw fellow #ukrunchat runner @tigger_aka but as it looked like she was in the zone I didn’t really want to interrupt her.

Time passed, and it felt like the miles were taking long to cover. I knew I was coming up to the dreaded 18 mile marker, the point where my last (i.e. my first) marathon had gone wrong. I had to convince myself that as I’ve run passed that without walking in training I should be able to do the same in a race. Again after passing mile 18 my thoughts returned to #ukrunchat and I wanted to make sure I was still running at the point when I pass them. At mile 19 I saw a runner collapse and another runner tried to help him, but instead he told her to keep on going and that’d he be okay. It seems he didn’t want to affect someone else’s race time.

Mile 21 came and went, and mile 22 arrived – somehow I managed to miss them! I felt guilty for not having waved to them,but before I knew it I started to feel like I needed to walk. My calves were getting tighter and I knew that as I passed mile 22 I was now into uncharted territory. I’ve never run beyond 22 miles without walking, so every step was something new. Around this time I had my third gulp of water – something I don’t often do when running.

It was tough, and I’m sure I was slowing down more so I moved towards the side out of the way of those that would likely want to pass me. I started to think that I’ll never run a marathon again, it’s not something I should be doing, but I knew I’d still have this years Robin Hood Marathon to run, and next year’s Brighton Marathon. There were lots of people cheering my name again, telling me to keep going. I wasn’t sure I could though. I was pretty sure I could finish, but I wasn’t sure I could run the remainder. Eventually I passed the mile marker for mile 24 and I started to walk. People were screaming at me that I was almost there and to keep going, but I couldn’t. After what felt like a couple of minutes, though in reality I have no idea how much time had passed I started to run again and started to get back up to pace. The problem though was then before I reached mile 25 I started to walk again – I could see it in the distance and I think this time I managed to walk for less time than before. I started off again and kept on running until getting level with the sign for “600 metres remaining”. This time it wasn’t just the crowds telling me to keep going, but fellow runners were too – insisting the finish was just around the corner.

After about 10 seconds of walking I decided that was enough to keep my legs going until the finish, once I’d passed the 400 metres remaining sign I started to pick up the pace a little, but instead of sprinting from the moment I passed the Queen Victoria fountain as I’d planned, I held back for quite a bit longer. Eventually I started to sprint towards the finish line, not as fast as I’d normally sprint, but enough to gain a few seconds.

At last. I’d finished the London Marathon and my first thought was that I was glad it was over. I was a little disappointed I’d not managed to get the sub-03:20 I’d have liked, but I did beat my original target of 03:30. The official result was that I finished in 03:26:23 – a 30 minute improvement over my previous PB. It appears I’d also managed to run 0.3 miles more than a marathon in that time! I placed 5,404 overall out of 43,751 in the “Clubs, Charity and Ballot” category which puts me in the top 12% of finishers for the race.

Virgin Money London Marathon 2015 finishers medal

When the lady at the end put the finishers medal over my neck I thanked her. I was exhausted, incredibly happy, but also feeling a little lost. Since finding out I’d got a ballot place for the marathon I had wondered what it’d be like to run in our nation’s capitol, and to sprint down The Mall to the finish. Everything I’d done over the past 16 weeks was for this – it hadn’t gone entirely to plan, but it was over. Done. Another dream had been realised.

Me after the London Marathon

I had no one meeting me at the finish so after getting the goodie bag I collected my kit bag and made my way to Charring Cross for the journey home. Although I’d felt alone and lost when I finished I was so appreciative of the support I’d had during the race, particularly at the points when I’d need it most. Now, walking through the streets of London I was being stopped by random people congratulating me, asking me my time, and wanting to see the medal. When I was in the tube I actually took the medal off briefly so that a lady and her young child could have a closer look at it.

Whatever people may say about the abruptness of Londoners I think today proved anything but that – the people of London are an amazing bunch, and I thank each and everyone of them that watched the race, and to those that congratulated me afterwards. It was an experience and atmosphere so different to the Leicester Marathon, and one I am now thinking would be nice to experience again. Next time I’ll have more lessons to learn from and hopefully in training my longer runs will have some more success.

The goodie bag turned out to be really good – it contained:

  • Virgin Money London Marathon finisher’s technical tee,
  • 3 bars of Cadbury’s Dairy Milk Lu,
  • Starburst,
  • A bottle of Buxton Water,
  • A bottle of Lucozade,
  • adidas deodorant,
  • Dried cranberries,
  • Eat natural crunchy nut bar,
  • Ginger snap biscuits,
  • and a few other odds and ends.

A massive thank you to everyone who donated to Cancer Research, and a massive well done to all those that raced today, I hope the majority of you enjoyed it. Thank you to all the marshals and other volunteers that got up before dawn to prepare for the day – it would not have been as amazing a day as it was without them.