A100: 7 weeks to go

NB You have not missed a week. I realised the ‘weeks to go’ referred to the start of my week, not the end when this is being published so we’re down to 7 now! (I never was very good at maths.)

This week has made me appreciate just how tough it is running in hot and humid climates. Fair to play to anyone who’s done Ironman Kona in Honolulu especially!

MONDAY (7 miles)
Went out with the plan of doing an hour, increasing the pace every 20 mins. After half an hour I was really struggling with the heat (25 degrees at 7.30am) and very nearly called it a day when I passed our condo with only 38 minutes on the clock. Struggled on and although I stopped for a dry heave at the roadside, rallied and managed to pick up the pace for the last mile. It was a good reminder that bad patches do pass – I’m sure I’ll have to remember this a lot during Autumn 100.

TUESDAY (3.5 miles)
Moved into a hotel yesterday and it has a gym. Took the opportunity to do some upper body and core strength work before a hilly 30 minutes on the treadmill. I’m not a fan of treadmills but it was blessedly cool which was a delight. Also banged my head on a low-hanging TV screen which was less of a delight. How I still haven’t realised I’m 6’2″ after all these years is a mystery.

WEDNESDAY (5.4 miles)
Braved the outside world this morning and attempted some fartlek. Soon found this wasn’t happening as the heat got a bit much and in the end just about managed 45 minutes. Had a good long stretch afterwards.

THURSDAY (0 miles)
Stretches, balance drills, lunges and some plank variations before breakfast. Breakfast was more fun.

FRIDAY (7.8 miles)
Set off slowly with the hope of finishing stronger and to an extent achieved this. Running in the heat has made me realise how important judging effort rather than pace is. Sometimes you have to accept that you can’t go as fast as you want and that’s okay.

SATURDAY (0 miles)
Flew from Hawaii to San Francisco.

SUNDAY (5.8 miles)
Took advantage of a late checkout and did some mile reps along the San Francisco Bay trail.

Mile 1: 8:55

Mile 2: 6:52

2 mins rest

Mile 3: 6:29

2 mins rest

Mile 4: 6:22

2 mins rest

Mile 5: 6:47

Mile 6: 8:56

Finally getting some speed back which is a relief. However, my form was definitely failing in the last mile rep so I still have plenty of work to do on the quality of form. More running drills and focus on technique required. It’s not much fun and I hardly know anyone who works on their form, but I firmly believe I will benefit from it if I can keep it up regularly.

Weekly total: 29.7 miles 



Not a huge week by any means but pleased to keep the running going while I’ve been away.

*FAT BOY ALERT*



Managed to put on 4 pounds in two weeks, which shows how well I’ve been living while on holiday (and also how middle-aged I am). Having said that, I’m running a mile considerably quicker now than I was a few weeks ago, so maybe it doesn’t matter? Either way, I’ll be hoping to shed some weight before race day. To be carrying any more weight than is necessary is not ideal.
Looking forward to getting back to some increased mileage weeks as the race gets ever closer.

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A100: 9 weeks to go


Finding a balance between enjoying the holiday and feeling like I’m still keeping fit isn’t easy but I’ve kept myself ticking over this week.


Monday (5.4 miles)

Jogged down to the Embarcadero (the piers in San Francisco) before 10 minutes out and 10 minutes back, as hard as I could maintain a decent 5k pace. Managed 6:57, 7:02 and 6:57 for the three miles which I was fairly happy with. Another mile or so back to the hotel and I was ready for breakfast.


Tuesday (14.8 miles)

With jetlag still a bit of an issue I made the most of the time awake and headed out to the Golden Gate Bridge. Running across an entirely fog enshrouded bridge was a slightly unnerving experience and as soon as I reached the Marin County sign and headland I headed back. The plan was to pick up the pace on the return leg but to start with I was struggling. Then I was passed by a girl either doing intervals or just much faster than me (probably both) and I had a ready-made pacemaker. I managed a negative split and collapsed in a heap back at the hotel.



Wednesday (0 miles)

Woke up in Maui, one of the Hawaiian islands, after an exhausting evening flight. Did some yoga to work out some kinks. Flying is no good for my flexibility.


Thursday (0 miles)

Did some snorkelling. That was about the extent of my exercise today.


Friday (0 miles)

Started the day with some body weight exercises to get the limbs and heart moving before heading out for what was meant to be a scenic 5-mile coastal hike. However, the trail was next to non-existent and when it passed through a nudist beach and we were enthusiastically approached and then followed by a naked man, we decided to cut our losses and leave sharpish.


Saturday (5.5 miles)

With parkrun yet to reach Hawai’i, I decided on some quarter-mile reps along the coast road. With numerous undulations and little in the way of a footpath it was a challenging run. And even before 8am it was fairly warm and humid so I was pleased with my effort.


Sunday (0 miles)

More snorkelling and saw a turtle! Very exciting. Bit of an upper body workout with all the swimming. Let’s call it another rest day.



Weekly total: 25.8 miles 

Not a bad week considering, with some good quality making up somewhat for a lack of quantity. Realistically, next week will be similar. On the plus side, I have no injuries and I’m unlikely to overtrain!

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A100: 10 weeks to go

I’m training for the Autumn 100, my second attempt at a 100-miler. After a long run on Sunday and a higher mileage week, this week was focused on easier runs and fewer miles.

Monday (0 miles)

The usual start to the week with some early morning yoga. I rarely want to do it but always feel better after.
Tuesday (4.7 miles)

I’d planned to get up early and do a few miles before breakfast but my heart wasn’t in it. Literally. When I’ve done more or more intense running, I sometimes wake up with increased heart rate, which apparently is a sign of overtraining. I took the hint and waited until lunchtime for my easy run. This time I found the Rotherhithe tunnel and ran through it as part of a 5-mile loop near work. Tip: unless you’re being chased by zombies, never, ever run through the Rotherhithe tunnel. I could feel the vehicle fumes sticking to my lungs as I ran and spent the afternoon coughing. Filthy.

Wednesday (4.1 miles)

I had a few local errands to run and so that’s what I did, literally ran from one to the next. Slightly shocked at how few cyclists in the area were wearing helmets. Maybe it was National Idiot Day. Strangely sore knee afterwards but probably just a reaction from Sunday’s long run.

Thursday (6.3 miles)

Having consulted with Podium Princess Cat (who had casually won a trail marathon the previous weekend), we postponed track until today. Amelia also joined us for 10 x 400m. Somewhat surprisingly, I found leading rather than following easier to focus on form (keeping my head still this week – I can’t do more than one thing at once), and felt pretty good throughout. I managed to improve my lap time to 1:15, which according to Strava is my second best time. Still no idea what my best time is. Managed to fit in some foam rolling in the evening, focusing on my left calf which had turned into a block of concrete during the day.

Friday (5.9 miles)

Another early start to meet a few fellow Fulham Running Club runners at 6:45 for an easy jog across Putney Bridge, along the Thames Path to Hammersmith Bridge and back to Fulham. Except the ladies are clearly a bit quicker than me with their average pace close to my marathon pace. I could have slowed down and run on my own but that would have defeated the object of a group run. Still, it was good to see some familiar faces and meet some new people on a beautiful morning by the Thames. Sunny, cool, perfect.

Saturday (0 miles)

An enforced but also much needed rest day began with some yoga before breakfast. I’m aware all this early morning activity is making me sound a bit virtuous but really it’s a combination of time available and absolutely required maintenance to keep my old body in some sort of reasonable shape. Barely a day goes by that I don’t wish I was doing all this training as a 23-year-old instead of a 43-year-old. Hey ho. Out of curiosity, I also weighed myself. 11st 4lb. Today I fly to San Francisco for a few days before moving onto Maui. I wonder if I’ll be able to do enough exercise on this holiday to a) keep my training on track and b) keep my weight at least stable while I’m away enjoying myself. I know, it’s a tough gig. But I enjoy a challenge. I also enjoy a beer and a burger…

Sunday (5.7 miles)

San Francisco is all hills. So it seemed silly not to incorporate some hill reps into my jetlag-early pre-breakfast run. Absolutely love running here, even when the weather isn’t amazing. And the grid system means you can’t really get lost. Already looking forward to going out again tomorrow.

Weekly total: 26.8 miles

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A100: 11 weeks to go

I’m training for the Autumn 100, my second attempt at a 100-miler.  This week didn’t quite go to plan, as you’ll see from the daily details below. But that’s all part of the fun. Being flexible, making things work and trying not to get injured.

MONDAY (0 miles)
Rest day. Got around to the upper body workout first thing, mainly press-ups and a few weights, with a bit of core thrown in for good measure. Also did some foam rolling in the evening. It’s no fun but I do think it helps my calves which are basically like concrete.

TUESDAY (6.3 miles)
At Barn Elms track at 6:30am for 400m reps with Cat. She is always winning races so I did my best to keep up. Managed to once out of 10 laps before my lack of -pre-run breakfast caught up with me and my energy was all used up. Current PB of 1:18 to beat next time. 400s are actually quite fun, I’ve decided. Which probably means I’m not going hard enough…

WEDNESDAY (7.8 miles)
Ran in to work. Fairly steady with a bit of pace to finish. Almost found the perfect route that’s a blend of scenic and not too pedestriany.


THURSDAY (0 miles)
Did some yoga in the morning. My plan to run home was scuppered by my inability to prepare. As I was expecting a delivery, I’d decided to work from home on Friday – and now I had no way to run home and get my laptop back. Idiot.

FRIDAY (6.8 miles)
Another early morning and alternate miles, one easy, one hard. My mile times for this are not currently satisfactory (6:51 vs my all-time PB from two years ago of 5:53) but that’s why I’m doing the track work. I won’t be running anything like this pace in the Autumn 100 but running fast improves form and makes running slower easier. Or rather, it should make my easy pace a bit faster.

SATURDAY (0 miles) The original plan for a short run before visiting the family in Sussex was superseded by some maintenance at the chiropractor. I’ve been seeing mine for years and as he’s a sports injury specialist, he understands that what I’m doing is ‘normal’. Joints and muscles loosened and I was feeling much better about Sunday’s long run. Also went a for a swim in the sea. Well, I splashed about a bit. It was hardly a workout. But yeah, let’s call it cross-training.

SUNDAY (21.5 miles)
Fed up with the usual routes, I got the first train to Walton and ran to the river and then along the Thames Path back to Fulham. Possibly went a bit fast for a long easy run but either way, the heat and fatigue caught up with me near the end and I pulled the plug a bit early. Very pleased that a) there is still a while to get fitter and b) it’s not going to be as hot on race day. I assume. Although given the rate of global warming, who knows?


Weekly total: 42.6 miles

A reasonable week, although I’m feeling less confident now than I did before the long run. The idea of running five times that distance (albeit a lot slower) is a bit worrying. Luckily, I don’t have a two-week holiday starting next week to interrupt this training block. Wait. Oh yes, I do…

 

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A100: 12 weeks to go

In 12 weeks, I would like to be finishing the Autumn 100, right about now, at around 7.30am on Sunday 16 October. The Autumn 100 is a one hundred mile continuous footrace on the trails of the Ridgeway and the Thames Path. I know both of these trails well, having completed the 87-mile Ridgeway Challenge in 2014, and 95 miles of the Thames Path 100 in 2015. Yes, I had to drop out five miles before the end. You can read all about that experience here.

So, I have some unfinished business, both with the Thames Path (although not that last bit in Oxford, just yet) and with the 100-mile distance. In many ways I am an archetypal ultrarunner. Male, middle-aged, trying to stay vaguely fit while seeing what adventures are still out there. I am never going to win a race but I’m determined to give it my best shot. And while 12 weeks isn’t perhaps the typical training block for a 100-miler, it’s probably more than enough to record what I’ve done each week and how I’m feeling about the forthcoming challenge.

MONDAY (0 miles)
Rest day. Had planned to do an upper body workout but realised when I woke up that I hadn’t quite finished cleaning the oven from the night before so did that. Which was an upper body workout of sorts anyway.

TUESDAY (8.9 miles)
Ran home from work which is Tower Bridge to Fulham via god knows where but it was longer than expected. Managed to pick up the pace for the last few miles.

WEDNESDAY (9.7 miles)
Meant to do an easy 4 or 5 miles at lunch time. Took a wrong turn, then another, then found myself in a wood. Signage was hopeless. Finally got back on track and the police had closed Tower Bridge. Finished knackered and absolutely starving.

THURSDAY (0 miles)
Decided I wasn’t going to do myself justice at track so did some yoga. Nice way to start the week first thing in the morning.

FRIDAY (5.7 miles)
Got up at 6am to run to Barn Elms track and did 400, 800, 1200, 800, 400 in the puddles. Felt good but my pace is not there at all. Have paid for 10 sessions (£30 – bargain!) so will be going most weeks until the race to help improve that.

SATURDAY (4.6 miles)
Skipped parkrun in favour of a much-needed lie-in and did a couple of very mediocre mile reps. Did overtake a girl who was walking though so that was something. Also did some foam rolling as my calves are a bit of a shambles. Must remember to do my quads as well.

SUNDAY (9.9 miles)
Went up Wimbledon Common for some hill reps with Andrew, for whom I’m doing a training plan for his first marathon. He is annoyingly quick but a good bloke so I forgave him as I chased him up the trail gasping for oxygen. Also managed not to get lost. Miracle.

 

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Weekly total: 38.9 miles

Overall, a decent week. If I can figure out the logistics, I’ll do a 20-miler next week. Feeling excited and optimistic about the race. Also a bit worried about my old body falling apart (again) at some point during it but let’s not dwell on that for now.

 

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North Downs Way 50

IMG_5073
I found the perfect prescription 
And I don’t care if its poison or medicine 
Too much is never quite enough 

I’m having a craving, I want all of your stuff

 

A year ago I was a little bit broken, both mentally and physically, from having to drop out of the Thames Path 100. I’d got a muscle injury and made the painful decision to drop at mile 95 rather than do any more damage. A few weeks later it was the North Downs Way 50 so I offered my services to Centurion as a volunteer. Having been treated so well by the aid station crew near Oxford I wanted to give a bit back to the community. I had a brilliant albeit knackering day as Centurion legend Nici Griffin’s “admin bitch” (my phrase) and as a result got a place in the 2016 race.

Even though I’d been lucky enough to get a spot at the London marathon, training had been geared toward this race. This resulted in less speed work, more hills, and three recce runs which meant I knew 90% of the route. This would have been 95% if I hadn’t got lost on one run but I was confident I knew where I was going. I wasn’t sure running London three weeks before was the best preparation but I hadn’t gone for broke so hopefully I had enough left to do myself justice.

I’ve got a heart in pretty good shape 

So come on let’s see how much of ya that I can take

 

Getting to Farnham (the start of the race) from Fulham on public transport for 7.30am was harder than I imagined but somehow managed to get there an hour early. Aside from the sleep I missed, this wasn’t such a bad thing, as it gave me plenty of time to catch up with a few old friends, make some new ones (Paul, Cat who was crewing for her dad Keith, doing his first 50, EmmaSusie and Shaun, and Jeff), and have a chat with the two female race favourites, Jess Gray (who I interviewed for Ultra magazine last year) and Holly Rush, another Twitter friend.

IMG_5068

Me, Ilsuk and Seanie. Ilsuk a bit hungover. Or possibly still drunk.

Kit check and registration went like clockwork as we waited for 8am to come round. James Elson did the funniest race briefing I’ve ever heard (you had to be there) and soon enough we were at the trailhead waiting for the off. With similar sub-10 hour thoughts in our heads, Ilsuk, Sean and I had a vague plan to run together and see how it went.

IMG_4890

Actually, I had quite a specific plan. I’d been looking at previous results (especially Sean from last year as I figured we were a similar pace) and one thing was abundantly clear. Runners take a lot longer on the second half than on the first. Now, this might seem obvious even to people who don’t run ultras, but on the North Downs Way 50, it is particularly the case. The flattish first half invites a speedy start and then the very lumpy second half tends to kick your butt. Above all else I wanted to be running for as long as possible, walking nothing but the steepest of hills. So my plan was to get to Box Hill (24 miles) in around 4 hours feeling not too bad and then do whatever it took to dip under a 10-hour finish. Or better still, beat my 2014 SDW50 time of 9:48.

The hooter went and we were off.

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Did everyone spot the Fairy Tree?

IMG_4895

No sign of N.W.A. Disappointing.

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Jazz hands! Seanie asleep in the background. (Photo: Stuart March)

The first half was a nice easy jaunt through Surrey, chatting with people, being surprised by familiar faces (hello Susie, Sophie, Cat, Claire and Dan!) and sampling the new (to me at least) maple bacon flavoured Gu gel.
falling

Susie catches me off balance

And of course, there was Allan Rumbles’ legendary bacon barge where this surreal sight greeted us.

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“Aren’t you a little short for a stormtrooper?”

Ultra magazine‘s Andy Nuttall was marking down people’s race numbers at Newlands Corner and it was great to catch up. Well, say hello. I wasn’t allowing myself any more than a few minutes at any checkpoint. They are time thieves!

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Coming into Newlands Corner. Photo by Stuart March.

After about 20 miles, I started feeling a bit weary and had to remind myself that this is normal. Even though it wasn’t halfway, running for several hours is tiring, and that during ultras you have good and bad patches. The key is just to keep going. Somehow, without planning it, the phrase “be relentless” popped into my head became my mantra for the day.
Sean and I trotted into the checkpoint just before Box Hill and it wasn’t a moment too soon as I was absolutely ravenous. I wolfed down a few sandwiches and filled my hands with food for the walk up the steps. I was feeling in decent shape.
Mile: 24
Time: 4:07

Rank: 87

 

The steps are ridiculously steep but I’ve done them so many times now that I knew it wasn’t long before I’d be at the top and running again. Familiarity breeds contentment sometimes. It’s still a bit of an effort though.

I’m feeling all of your side effects 
From the body buzz to the loss of breath 
I’ve got a thumpin’ up inside my chest 

You got me lookin’ like a hot mess

 

The stretch to the next checkpoint at Reigate Hill is a tough one at times but I was hoping my conservative start to the race would pay off and I could begin to pick up a few places. In the middle of this section I suddenly heard my name being called and coming towards us were friends Marina and Rhianon who were out for a training run and to support those racing.

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All of the smiles with Marina and Rhianon

It was a real boost to see some more friendly faces and this pushed me on to Reigate with Seanie where we caught up with Ilsuk. I had a quick catch up with Mark Thornberry, fresh from his Thames Path 100 triumph, inhaled a few slices of watermelon (mmm, watermelon) and set off for Caterham, seven miles east.

Mile: 31
Time: 5:44

Rank: 74

 

I’ve got an appetite I’m over indulgent 
Yeah if I know myself I’m just getting started
I’m screamin’, I’m shoutin’, I’m yellin’ I want it 

You’re the big thing and I’m fanatic

 

Shortly after this checkpoint was a section I’d missed on my recce run. The beauty of getting lost on a recce though is that you see new sights on race day and thanks to the excellent marking by Centurion I had no trouble finding my way. After going under the M25 we reached the series of never-ending uphill fields and it was either that or the heat which prompted Seanie to have a break so I pushed on, visualising the finish line and hoping to see Ilsuk again before then.

Aside from a few twinges in my left shin, I was feeling quite good at this stage – better than I had during my much shorter training run, strangely – and while I wasn’t exactly breaking any land speed records, I was moving quickly enough to overtake a few people.

Coming into to Caterham aid station at mile 38 I saw Bryan and Susie again, who complained I was moving too fast for her to get a photo of me.

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Caterham, mile 38 (Photo by Andrew Muzika)

True or not, it was a great confidence boost, as was a similar compliment from Ben manning the aid station. I’d caught up with Ilsuk again, although he was soon off up and the trail and my chase was back on. I left Caterham at about 3pm, just ahead of 10-hour pace, according to climbers.net.

As good a guide as that was, I was confident of slowing down less than the average runner but who knew what the final 12 miles would hold? There were still a lot of hills to go and I wasn’t getting any less tired. Weird, huh?

I can’t keep still, I’m dripping with sweat 
I’m sucking my tongue and chewing my lip
And the loss of breath
The loss of breath
The loss of breath

The loss of breath

 

Every now and then runners’ crews would pop up and applaud as we went by. Even though I didn’t know them and they didn’t know me, it’s a real boost to the tired runner. That and the beautiful trails of the North Downs Way.

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Wild garlic as far as the eye could see

A few miles of fields and gates with Ilsuk in sight, I eventually caught up with him at the bottom of Botley Hill. He assured me that no one ran it (video of the race winner apparently floating up it I saw later disproved this theory) and I was happy to take his word for it. As we came into the final checkpoint, Twitter friend Nikki bravely gave me a hug and some words of encouragement. It was around 4pm which gave us about two hours to complete the last seven miles and beat my target. But I really wanted to get in under my South Downs Way 50 time of 9:48…

Gorgeous single track. Nasty tree roots. Dappled sunlight. Near vertical climbs. Chipper cyclists cheering. Field after field of grass and crops and cows. Those last few miles were a mixed bag but between us, Ilsuk and I kept going, chasing down the group of three ahead, being relentless and dreaming of that big blue Centurion finish gantry. Finally we left the North Downs Way, went down the road to Knockholt Pound and up the path to the finish where I grinned my way to the line to be met by Jon and Natasha Fielden, timekeepers extraordinaire.
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Finish line smiles with Ilsuk (Photo: Stuart March)

Mile: 50
Time: 9:34

Rank: 53

 

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Happy finishers! (Photo: Stuart March)

Hugs accepted, along with a finishing medal, I sat down and enjoyed the moment.

IMG_5074
I’m feeling all of your side effects 
From the body buzz to the loss of breath 
I’ve got a thumpin’ up inside my chest 
You got me lookin’ like a hot mess 

But I feel the fuckin’ best

 

And I really did. As if it wasn’t already obvious from the photos, I was most definitely in my happy place on this race. This is in part thanks to it going well, but mainly because it’s a brilliant event (all of the thanks to Centurion and its amazing army of volunteers) and I spent the day with and seeing friends, be they other runners, known and unknown crew members, supporters and everyone else involved. I’m also fairly certain smiling makes it hurt a bit less so I’ll be employing the same tactics at this October’s Autumn 100 where I will get that buckle.

Final stats (according to Suunto)

Distance run: 50.8 miles
Elevation gained: 5,561ft
Race time: 9:34:45
Average pace: 11:29/mile
Finish place: 53/213 (199 finishers)

You might be wondering about the lyrics interspersed throughout this race report. They’re taken from a song by Lenno featuring Dragonette called ‘The Best’. It seems to be about the feeling the writer gets about someone they’re in love with but to me they also fit perfectly with how I feel about running ultras, and specifically a hilly one like the NDW50. In case Finnish disco pop electronica is your thing, here’s the video.

 

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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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