The London Marathon isn’t like other marathons. Indeed to a large proportion of the non-running public, it’s the only marathon. Just getting a place is a mammoth task that requires either incredible luck, intense charity fundraising, or training hard enough to qualify via the “Good for Age”, championship, or I suppose elite (if you train really hard!) starts.
I had attempted to get a place every year since I started running, via the ballot, and every year I received my rejection magazine. Eventually I realised my best bet would be to work towards running a fast enough time to qualify for the GFA start. This therefore became one of my big long term running goals, if indeed I could ever run that fast. While it wasn’t my only motivator, improving enough to get a place at London became a big impetus to keep pushing.
With a bit of hard work and dedication I ran a qualifying time of 3:02:54 in Frankfurt 18 months ago, quite a bit sooner than I thought I would manage it. Unfortunately that was too late for a place at London in 2017, and by the time GFA entries opened for 2018, I had improved to 2:57:19 at Brighton. My place at London was safely secured, although ironically by this point it was no longer my local marathon as I’d relocated back to Worcester. Nonetheless, I was looking forward to my first marathon in the capital.
However, I then found out I had been selected for the “Big Marathon Challenge” in Men’s Running magazine, which meant I also had a place at Manchester Marathon. That became my “target” race for this spring, and I managed to smash my PB with a 2:45:06 run in near perfect conditions. While I wouldn’t have planned to run two marathons in two weeks, I didn’t want my place in London to go to waste. I therefore planned for it to be a victory lap of sorts, and I hoped to just get around and enjoy the atmosphere, while getting a feel for the course ready for a “proper” go next year.
After Manchester I recovered reasonably well, and after my standard week off I was happily back running. However, as usual my fitness had evaporated, with my heart rate sky high for a given effort level. This always happens though, and I knew to expect it, so I wasn’t worried. I had a loose goal of running sub-3 at London, which I felt was achievable given that I was running sub-3 pace during long runs at the end of 120 mile weeks. However, I didn’t know how the legs would hold up so that goal was not set in stone.
On Friday after a smooth journey I arrived in London and picked up my race number with amazing efficiency. I was in and out of the ExCel centre within 20 minutes, and would have been quicker if I hadn’t had to walk through the entire expo to exit. We settled in to our apartment right on the 15th mile of the course, which made it a perfect location to allow my parents to see me as many times as possible out on course, and enjoyed the balmy afternoon weather.
It was a weird experience approaching a marathon weekend with none of the worry about hitting targets or running a PB. However, while it was a much more relaxed build-up than normal I still tried to be fairly sensible on Saturday. I kept walking to a minimum and had a very boring plate of pasta with the plainest sauce I could find for dinner. It was then off early to bed for the best nights sleep I’ve ever had before a race. I was looking forward to running London for the first time, but was clearly very laid back about the whole thing.
I woke up before my alarm feeling fresh, so got up and had my usual breakfast of bagels and the devil’s semen (concentrated beetroot shots). Excitement levels definitely began to rise once I had my kit on, and seeing the TV cameras setting up as I wandered over to the DLR meant it all started to feel more real. After arriving in Greenwich I wandered up to the “Fast Good for Age” start, already feeling warm despite only being dressed in my vest and shorts. The forecast was for the hottest London marathon on record, so I arrived with multiple bottle of ice water to keep me cool, along with white cap, which seemed to work well.
I met a friend whose race number I’d picked up on the Friday, and we headed in to the start area which worryingly had very little shade on offer. After a quick toilet stop (which was timed perfectly as minutes later massive queues formed) we found some shade behind the changing tents, and before I knew it the time had come to head over to the start line. Unfortunately with about 10 minutes to go I found myself needing a wee, but thankfully the toilet queues were now gone so I decided to dash over and make use of the facilities.
I then lined up right at the back of the FGFA start, which was perfect really as I was keen not to head off fast especially given the weather. This didn’t quite work out as planned, because when I glanced down at my watch after the first 800 or so meters I found I was running at 6:17/mi – without thinking I had naturally slotted in to the pace from Manchester. This was clearly way too fast, so I gradually eased back. I went through the first mile in 6:36, a bit fast but the legs were feeling good and the effort felt well under control.
The miles then ticked by happily, a few slightly below sub-3 pace thanks to the downhills, but the legs were feeling good and the effort felt under marathon effort, as I would hope given I was running 30 seconds per mile slower than Manchester. I deliberately didn’t have my heart rate data visible on my watch, however looking back the heart rate in these opening miles was already at HM levels, and getting up to 10K levels, so clearly the heat and loss of fitness was impacting me, even if I didn’t feel it at the time.
The crowds were incredible, and far beyond anything I’ve ever experienced before. After years of seeing it on TV, running around Cutty Sark with the huge cheers from the crowds was an incredible experience. It was also odd to be surrounded by so many other runners – as I’ve gotten faster over the past few years, I’ve gradually become used to having fewer people around me during races, but today it was very different. While it never felt over-congested, I was definitely having to pay more attention to what was going on around me.
A little after Greenwich, in miles 8-11, my pace slowed a touch, getting closer to 7:00/mi than 6:50/mi. The legs were still feeling fine though, and the effort still felt ok, so with time in hand from the opening miles I didn’t panic. However during mile 12 disaster struck when I stepped on a stray Lucozade bottle and slightly rolled my ankle. I immediately felt a sharp pain and hopped to a stop. I continued walking, with a definite hobble, and feared my first London was over before even the half way point.
The pain gradually eased though, and continued to relax as I sped in to a gentle jog. I was worried about causing damage and keenly aware that I had future goals that were much more important than finishing this run. However, the ankle was now feeling largely ok so I decided to carry on and see how things developed. Unfortunately with the walking and jogging I was now well off sub-3 pace, and given the heat and the potentially damaged ankle any drive to push on evaporated. Today was now just about getting around and enjoying it.
I was soon approaching Tower Bridge, another iconic part of the London Marathon, and the buzz of crossing it with yet more huge crowds cheering everyone on was fantastic. These crowds continued as we made our way out towards the Isle of Dogs, and it was almost overwhelming at times. Despite the support, by this stage my legs were starting to tire, no doubt with the impact of Manchester still in them. With my sub-3 goal firmly out of the window now, my motivation was low. Doubts started to creep in, and I began to think about pulling out when I got to mile 15, which was right by where I was staying for the weekend.
Indeed mile 15 was a point where my parents had planned to spectate, and if I had seen them at that point I think there is a good chance I would have pulled out. However, due to the crowds and road crossings they had decided to stay near mile 18, after making their way back over to the Isle of Dogs from Greenwich, so were nowhere to be found. While I was slightly worried about what might have happened to them, I figured I would push on and hopefully see them when we came past this area for a second time.
By now the effects of the heat were becoming visible, with people starting to walk and a few sitting at the side of the road being attended to by medical staff. I was still feeling okay generally – by dumping plenty of water over me and my trusty cap I was staying relatively comfortable. The effort was well under control, but my legs were tiring and my motivation ebbing ever lower. At some point around here I took my first walking break at a water station, which I knew wasn’t a great sign as once you’ve stopped once, stopping again (and again) becomes that much easier.
Nonetheless I made my way around the Isle of Dogs and despite the walking breaks was still managing around 7:30/mi – my pace when I wasn’t walking was still reasonable. Eventually I found my parents near Canary Wharf, and for the first time ever in any race I stopped to chat to them. I again seriously considered dropping out, and it was very tempting given our apartment was a few hundred meters up the road. However, I now had less than eight miles to go, so I resolved to push on and finish what I’d started.
The final miles were a combination of walking and running as I slowly made my way west towards the finish. It was a weird mixture of emotions – my legs were tiring and I really couldn’t wait to reach the finish, but at the same time I was really enjoying taking in the sights and the amazing crowds. I remember passing mile 22 right around 2:45, and wondering how on earth two weeks earlier I’d been 4.2 miles ahead of this point. When I reached Embankment station I knew there wasn’t far to go, so resolved to crack on and not walk for the remaining mile and a bit.
My parents had managed to get over to Westminster since I last saw them at Canary Wharf, so hearing my mum cheer me on was a great final boost. I loved running down Birdcage Walk and seeing the signs indicating 1200m, 800m, 400m to go. And then finally I rounded the corner on to the mall and saw the finish line. It wasn’t in the circumstances I imagined first crossing the London Marathon finish, but it was a fantastic mixture of joy and relief as I passed under the big finish gantries. 3:19:25.
My legs felt utterly knackered as I made my way through the finish area towards Whitehall, even worse than after Manchester! I headed over to the Red Lion to reunite with my folks, as well as meet up with a few running friends, and enjoy a few of the free beer tokens I had grabbed at the expo. It was great fun to catchup with how everyone’s race went, and finally have a chance to enjoy the sunshine rather than curse it.
My first experience of London was a very mixed one. After working so hard to get my place here, it was something of an anticlimax. I suppose after the massive high of running 2:45 in Manchester it was always likely to be a bit of a comedown, despite the incredible atmosphere and crowds. When the weather conditions conspired to make it tough to even run around at a slower pace, it unfortunately became less the victory lap I had hoped, and more of a long, arguably pointless, slog.
That said, I don’t for a second regret running Manchester – I would never have ran 2:45 at London given the conditions. I also don’t regret running London, even if I did at times while I was out on the course! I certainly don’t plan to do two marathons in two weeks ever again, but I’m glad I accepted the challenge and didn’t just defer my place. Overall, while it was tough work, I really enjoyed the crowds and the sights, and at least I can say I was there on the hottest London Marathon on record.
On reflection I think I was perhaps guilty of underestimating the challenge. 26.2 miles is a long way regardless, but two weeks after an all-out race effort, and in the warmest ever conditions, it was always going to be tough. I’m not sure I would or could have changed anything, as after Manchester I needed the physical and mental break I took. I simply wasn’t ready to put in another big effort. However, perhaps given the weather I should have been a bit more conservative with my initial pace. Pretty much everyone suffered in the final half though, so at least I wasn’t alone.
Regardless, it was great to experience London without the usual pressures of a marathon, and it means I’m now better prepared for a proper go at it this time next year. Hopefully, my second London will be a very different experience. We’ll find out in just over a years time…
|1||6:36 min/mi||151||-7 ft|
|2||6:45 min/mi||186||0 ft|
|3||6:39 min/mi||187||-58 ft|
|4||6:33 min/mi||189||-53 ft|
|5||6:50 min/mi||192||-11 ft|
|6||6:51 min/mi||192||10 ft|
|7||6:46 min/mi||193||2 ft|
|8||6:51 min/mi||192||1 ft|
|9||6:59 min/mi||192||0 ft|
|10||6:59 min/mi||191||-7 ft|
|11||6:52 min/mi||191||1 ft|
|12||7:27 min/mi||188||12 ft|
|13||7:08 min/mi||191||18 ft|
|14||7:07 min/mi||189||-4 ft|
|15||7:16 min/mi||187||-8 ft|
|16||7:48 min/mi||187||-7 ft|
|17||7:34 min/mi||185||6 ft|
|18||7:22 min/mi||186||5 ft|
|19||10:50 min/mi||181||23 ft|
|20||8:30 min/mi||178||-22 ft|
|21||7:25 min/mi||184||12 ft|
|22||9:17 min/mi||176||0 ft|
|23||8:46 min/mi||175||12 ft|
|24||9:43 min/mi||172||-25 ft|
|25||8:43 min/mi||172||0 ft|
|26||7:22 min/mi||186||-1 ft|
|0.3||7:11 min/mi||191||8 ft|
|Total||3:19:25||26.2 mi||7:36 min/mi||184|
|1||6:36||1.00 mi||6:36 min/mi||151|
|2||6:51||1.01 mi||6:45 min/mi||186|
|3||6:37||1.00 mi||6:37 min/mi||187|
|4||6:41||1.02 mi||6:34 min/mi||189|
|5||6:42||0.98 mi||6:48 min/mi||192|
|6||7:01||1.03 mi||6:50 min/mi||192|
|7||6:49||1.00 mi||6:47 min/mi||193|
|8||6:57||1.02 mi||6:48 min/mi||193|
|9||7:00||1.00 mi||7:01 min/mi||192|
|10||7:02||1.01 mi||6:57 min/mi||191|
|11||6:55||1.01 mi||6:52 min/mi||191|
|12||7:29||1.01 mi||7:26 min/mi||188|
|13||7:01||0.98 mi||7:09 min/mi||191|
|14||14:39||2.03 mi||7:12 min/mi||188|
|15||7:31||0.96 mi||7:49 min/mi||187|
|16||7:44||1.02 mi||7:33 min/mi||184|
|17||7:22||1.00 mi||7:21 min/mi||187|
|18||10:16||0.92 mi||11:09 min/mi||181|
|19||8:36||1.01 mi||8:29 min/mi||177|
|20||7:32||1.02 mi||7:24 min/mi||184|
|21||9:19||1.00 mi||9:17 min/mi||176|
|22||8:45||1.00 mi||8:45 min/mi||176|
|23||9:34||0.97 mi||9:48 min/mi||172|
|24||8:40||1.00 mi||8:42 min/mi||172|
|25||9:20||1.28 mi||7:18 min/mi||187|