I’m going to restrict this blog mainly to race day itself because my car parking issues either side of the weekend are a story in themselves as was my experiences with Fraser on Saturday both re-learning how to use the Tube & joining the longest queue of my life for bag drop & race registration.
That said a huge thanks to Fraser for his support (a blog on this may indeed follow once I can find more time) & also to all the helpers working at the Excel on Saturday despite some slightly confused moments at our (meaning fellow runners & I) initial arrival.
Now race day itself:-
It was not a great nights sleep but at least I got more than 3 hours giving me plenty of time for Bathroom visits waiting to hear from my troublesome bowels before I set off on my hour or so journey from Covent Garden to the Grenwich start line.
A little earlier than planned I walked out of the hotel into a gloomily dark London at 6:50 & made my way to the Covent Garden tube station where after some consultation on the radio by the attendant my cheek of ‘us runners get a free ride today’ I was duly let through to a lonely lift. This little delay caused me to miss the train which closed it’s doors as I strolled onto the platform, next train 12 minutes ‘relax Paul, plenty of time’. Three stations later I entered the Jubilee platform, train waiting, doors open, jump on or check East or West, I checked, the doors closed, I’d missed the correct train, 8 minutes to wait but I had played it better to be safe than sorry.
A second change at the Canary Wharf station went as hoped, I was now among many other runners & feeling less alone, this said Fraser’s teachings from the day before had calmed my Tube nerves & it had gone almost like clockwork. Jumping off at Grenwich I decided to take a long walk to the start at Blackheath rather than trust my bus/train options, this worked well so shortly after 8:00 am I arrived at my Blue starting paddock bang on time munching on the first of two banana’s & slurping on my half litre of Electrolyte. Earlier back at the hotel I had eaten a round of Chicken & stuffing sandwiches bought from a nearby Tesco Express the night before, not my normal pre-race routine but the hotel didn’t do breakfast until 7:00 am which was too late for me.
There now followed a long cold wait until my start time of 9:40 in ‘wave 3’. There were 17 waves in our blue start & presumably the same number in the red start so many had a longer wait than that even if they had stuck to their designated arrival times. This all related to the dreaded Covid (as did the queue’s of the day before), tell me is it just me but….. still if this nonsense allowed us to race then it was a small sacrifice to pay for allowing things to be almost normal (I like all runners needed negative Lateral Flow Tests to be here).
The race start was slightly anti-climatic with me not even realising at what point I’d crossed the start line. I awoke from my stupor, started the watch & began running freely. Running at a decent lick for the first K (4:32) I then overheard a conversation between two other runners, one said ‘I studied the course a lot last night, first 3 miles (5K to me) is all downhill’. This well earned knowledge gathered by legal eavesdropping allowed me to speed up a bit ‘knowing that my target early splits of 4:45 per K were a tad conservative ‘go on Paul, go for it & see what you can hang onto when you inevitably tire in the second half’. My form felt good & with Tim Watson having procured a North Wales Cancer Appeal vest with ‘Paul’ emblazoned across the front I was getting an awful lot of shouts of encouragement from a fabulous crowd, ‘this is what I’d signed up for!’ As a 14 year old I’d watched the first ever London from a sofa cheering the likes of Bernie Clifton & that Saville f….. on, 41 years later here I was doing my own thing, hard to believe really.
The Cutty Sark came & went as a bit of a disappointment (TV makes for better viewing here), the K’s ticked by regularly (lowest a 4:19, highest a 4:52) before I knew it I was running onto Tower Bridge & searching in vain for Fraser as he searched in vain for me. I was now at halfway in a little over 1 Hour 37 Minutes on for 3:15 but knowing that to try & hold for a 3:20 would be tough but maybe possible? My pre-race goals of sub 3:30 a must, sub 3:20 a glory were looking thankfully realistic.
Even turning East after Tower Bridge towards Canary Wharf & away from the finish failed to dampen my spirits this was feeling good. The ‘come on Paul’s’ & the like continued & I even heard a few ‘he’s looking really good’ confident that these were directed at me (well the way my legs were moving at least). Along this stretch I saw a proper runner, possible race leader I wrongly presumed, coming back the other way, here was true grace & strength I clapped & shouted support, it is simply amazing how fast the elites go & it’s only in recent years that I have truly understood this. At this point I was still overtaking many & being passed by the few.
Soon after my downfall began, my watch & Canary Wharf’s high risers ganged up against my mind & gave me a 4:01 split, you kidding me! Now I knew I was slowing so my logic ‘Sat Nav signal being messed up’ was soon proven right by the next K split coming in at 1:19, even Usain Bolt couldn’t do that & if believed, I had just smashed Seb Coe’s long since gone but incredible 1,000 metre world record. I now had two problems, I knew I was slowing but had no idea how much but worse still I didn’t know how many K were left between me & the finish. ‘Come on Paul, you’ve got this’ came the shouts, ‘no I don’t think I have’ came my thoughts.
There was some light relief 10 minutes or so later by which time I was at least running back towards the finish ahead of me I saw a 32K marker, that meant 10K to go, I added to my watch, It’d need to read 44.8K for me to relax almost 3K more than I would have actually run but at least I was back under ‘control’ of sorts.
Those 10K were cruel ranging from 5:02 to 5:20 type of splits not exactly complete wheels coming off but the mental strain to keep running seemed interminable to comprehend. High fives from a few kids & one bloke who almost took my arm off were used to disrupt my pain but in truth it was the T shirt that did it, there was simply no way I was going to accept a cheer of ‘Come on Paul stop walking, you can run the rest’, pride came to a Paul & I ran forlornly but doggedly on.
At some time during all this I heard a loud shout from among the runners who were now heading to Canary Wharf only later that evening would I learn that it had indeed been Tim Watson, the Gazelle of the fells now shepherding his Cathryn towards their own finish.
I was now being passed by as many as I was passing, to see some clearly fit runners in significant walking distress released sympathy at how much more their pain must be than that of my own, barely imaginable. One thing that did stand out here was that the majority of those overtaking me were women not men. This is no major surprise as Men have a habit of over confidence in the first half of a Marathon whilst women go off at a more sustainable pace. Of course the argument is out on which facet leads to whom of the sexes achieves their optimum finishing time but I’m guessing that the girls enjoy the latter stages a lot more than many of the boys, I was a case in point.
‘Come on Paul, you’re nearly there’ finally I really was I turned onto the Mall, ‘is that it?’ 100 metres further & I had finished my first London Marathon having run every step of the way.
My time was 3:25:36 almost bang in the middle of my ‘reality’ & ‘hope’, yes I had slowed but had felt that my running form at least had stood up to the test. At the line this form exploded away, immediately I could hardly walk & wobbled my way tortuously to my kit bag pick up point. This just happened to be at the furthest collection point away from the Finish line, probably a good thing as it kept me moving rather than collapsing in a pathetic human heap.
From here after a far from quick removal of shoes & socks, replaced with open sandals I slowly hobbled away to my hotel some 2 kilometres away. Once there Dorina took my call, they had been tracking my progress forlornly hoping that I could claw back my decline & still hit sub 3:20. For me it wasn’t an issue, despite a poor training regime I had turned up, put up & could hold my head high (well at least when I wasn’t looking down at my cramping feet). Within the hour I had showered, was sat down at a favored Italian restaurant with a bottle of red & a ‘ohh, could you please bring me some salt with the tap water, it’s my feet you see’. Back at the hotel bar, another glass of red as I took up a table between two small groups where a male in each had clearly also been doing a little run, conversation sprang, I proffered ‘it was all going so well’ laughter erupted, clearly not only I had to renew a date with Canary Wharf.
We can all learn from such hardships by Wednesday night Tim, Cathryn, Me & Dorina had all entered the ballot for 2022, says it all about The London Marathon & the incredible support we’d been given although I may not have stressed the downside enough to my Angel?
The next day I escaped London early & drove down to Bournemouth to meet up with my Niece, Beth whom I’d not seen for 2 years, yes that C word again. On arrival I went for an 8K ‘recovery’ run along a blustery seafront before a meal with Beth in the evening, without my ‘guiding’ influence she is clearly developing into a very fine young woman.
After a 280 mile drive home the next day I refilled my anxious tank with diesel before doing the weekly shop. Today almost a week after I headed off to London another week has flown but I have yet another plan ‘Paul, if you are ever to threaten your Marathon pb of 3:10 you need to enter more Half Marathon’s as a basis for your training towards it’.
Finally, Tim, Cathryn & I were also running in aid of the North Wales Cancer Appeal which comes under the Umbrella of Awyr Las Betsi Cadewaller, if you would like to donate simply go to our Virgin Money Just Giving pages, all donations will be gratefully received.