London Marathon 2016

Ah, the London marathon. I’ve been watching it on TV since I can remember. Toshihiko Seko. Ingrid Kristiansen. Charlie Spedding. Steve Jones. Paula Radcliffe.

Speaking of whom, these are her mile splits for her world record breaking marathon time from 2005.

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I can’t run a single mile at even the slowest of those paces. Not that I’m much of a runner but still. Amazing.

So I know the race. It’s very hard to get a place though. For the 39,000 places in this year’s race there were 250,000 applications. I’ve failed to get in via the ballot for the past three years and charity places require more than a grand (often more) and I think I’ve drained my friends and family in that regard. Good for age – based on a certain qualifying time – has thus far been out of my reach so that left a club place.

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Clubs of up to 99 members get a solitary place. I mentioned this to Fulham Running Club’s secretary. We secured a place. A name was drawn out of a hat – and that name, miraculously, was mine. “Wear the club vest and write a race report” were the terms I was given. And here it is. Me waffling on interminably about how I got to the start line.

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The start line

I was in the blue start, pen 4. I had no real idea what this meant, except that fellow FRC runners Ilsuk and Andy were also starting near me.

It was cool and breezy with the threat of rain but otherwise ideal conditions for a marathon. We met up, chatted about our race plans (Ilsuk – go out hard and hang on; Andy – see what happened in his first run longer than 25k; and me – run an even-paced race, sub-3:34 if possible).

The hooter went off, I shed my binliner and we shuffled forwards. Within 90 seconds of the elites setting off, we were over the start line too. There was a slow mile while people found space to run – and went around the person already walking! – and then we found a steady pace.

Despite there being more than 39,000 runners this year, a record number, the London Marathon is impeccably organised. Your predicted finish time discerns your start pen, so unless you’ve lied, you’re going to be running near people of a similar pace. So within a couple of miles running was comfortable. Unless you’re in massive fancy dress you don’t need all that much room.

Speaking of which, I saw a Snow White, a Wonder Woman and a 1960s Batman in those early miles and it was somehow reassuring to see them, just like they’re always showing on the telly. And then I saw an elf I actually knew! Triathlete and ultra runner Sarah was easing her way along the route and soon to meet up with Alex and Mike for what would turn out to be a casual 3:27 finish. Fastest marathon as an elf perhaps?

Landmarks ahoy

TV commentators often refer to the iconic landmarks as a way for runners to break up the race: Cutty Sark at 6 miles, Tower Bridge at 12 being the first two. And while this makes sense, it also masks the fact that frankly, there isn’t much else to see in between. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of supporters along the way, but it isn’t all that scenic.

Cutty Sark was fun albeit brief and then Andy and I carried towards our first known cheer point at Bermondsey. He was moving well and was happy to see his gang, while mine hadn’t made it. I suspected either travel issues or too tasty a brunch delaying them. Both were acceptable.

I used to live less than half a mile from Tower Bridge and yet for some inexplicable reason (mainly hangovers) had never gone to watch. I silently chided my former self for not cheering the good folk on but slowed down to take in the wave of goodwill and noise as I crossed. Apparently someone shouted my name (sorry Matt!) but it’s a morass of faces and the fact that I picked out anyone from the crowd during the race still seems a bit miraculous.

When we turned the corner, I noticed I was a bit behind my ambitious pre-race halfway target of 1:46 by a few minutes and although a PB wasn’t that important or ever likely, I still had a little slump in mood. Especially when I spotted Kenenisa Bekele running on the other side of the road, at about mile 23. Another 10 miles just to get there felt awfully difficult in my current state. So I did what I always do when I’m not feeling great and ate.

Within a mile I was feeling better and getting into a good rhythm. Andy and I were taking turns grabbing water bottles to share and it was all going smoothly. Then, at around mile 16 I looked round and Andy wasn’t right next to me, as he had been all race. I carried on for a bit then looked again but it didn’t look like he was going to cbe able to stay with me. He’d said from the start that I should run my own race but now it felt like a betrayal of sorts.

Still, that’s clearly the kind of guy I am because off I went without another glance back. When you get a burst of energy, you’ve got use it. For a few miles I actually felt really good and was just wondering where the hell I was after Canary Wharf when the 20-mile sign at Poplar hove into view. Having handed out water here for the London Fire Brigade in 2013 I kept an eye out for familiar faces but didn’t see anyone.

Just two parkruns to go

By now fatigue was starting to set in and it was a bit of a shock to hear my full name being shouted out by support team Ivan. I looked across to see him and my girlfriend Cate waving at me. I waved back but didn’t think to cut across the flow of runners and say hello up close and personal. I regret it now but at the time it seemed silly to stop.

On I went, and seemingly every few minutes from then on I would see a face I knew or heard a voice I recognised shouting for me and even if only fleetingly, it’s amazing how much those encouragements help propel you forward. Fulham runners, random strangers, Ealing Eagles and finally the ‘official’ Fulham cheer point. I spotted the black and white striped flag and made my way over to high five half a dozen supporters which was a huge highlight of my day.

With just a few miles left I tried to up the pace but a combination of narrow roads, human traffic and my own fatigue prevented this. I was at least keeping going steadily though. My 5k times from 30-35k and 35-40k were 25:55 and 25:56. By no means an electric pace but at this stage maintaining speed is atypical, as the stats below reveal.

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Suddenly I was into the last mile and passing Buckingham Palace (no sign of the Queen) on my left, there was just enough juice in the tank for a ‘sprint’ finish.

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First half – 1:49:44
Second half – 1:48:32
Finish time – 3:38:06

A marginal negative split, four minutes slower than my PB, but a good solid race, paced as well as I could have hoped, and finishing strong. Ish.

More surprisingly though, was just how much I enjoyed the experience. I’m used to races with few if any supporters and relatively few other runners – during the Ridgeway Challenge I ran for an hour in the middle of the night and didn’t see another soul. This was more people than I’ve ever seen in the space of four hours. Okay, so I could have done with a bit more space while running but the crowds were amazing. So thank you once again Fulham Running Club for this opportunity. Having been unsure if I really wanted to run it at one point, I might just try and get a place next year too…

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