I've been trying to sign up
to the London marathon for a few years now without success. I know I could go
down the charity route, but I have a niggling unease with people asking me for
money to do things they already want to do. So I looked at the race calendar
late last year to see which was my closest marathon event to home and this one
came up. My wife was very disappointed that the date changed as it meant she
was working that weekend, but I figured I would only see her fleetingly two or
three times during the race, so I'm not sure how much fun it would have been
for her and our boys.
As it was my first marathon, I signed up to a training plan and kept very loosely to it. My longest run was 20 miles and that felt like my limit just a month before the big day. The information on the 1m2go website was very helpful and informative - I arrived 45 minutes before the race and just about found a space to park my car in the very full Sheen car park. There were two portaloos at the entrance which had a line of 20 people outside up until 15 minutes before the race when a helpful steward came along with a handful of 20p's allowing most of the queue to use the public toilets around the corner. I didn't want to take my leave just yet as I found the toilet queue the best place to make friends and hear people's stories about how far they'd come and how many marathons they'd run.
The staff manning the registration were very helpful, friendly, and knew what I needed before I asked - armed with safety pins, sun cream, and the all important Vaseline! I was under instruction that i needed to take my phone with me so that my family could track my movements so my running gear was pretty baggy but comfy. I noticed most other competitors worst tight lycra or other figure hugging outfits which would have made me sweat and chafe, but I did envy those with the iPhone arm strap! The pre-event warm-up was given very enthusiastically, but only those nearest the front joined in. I edged my way up there just in time to see a well-disguised Donald Trump give us some encouragement before we set off.
For the first couple of miles, I had lots of energy, and it took a lot of mental strength to remind myself that this was a ‘marathon not a sprint’ as I watched seemingly older and more unfit people sprint on ahead of me. I didn’t stop at the first water point, but appreciated that it was there, I took the opportunity to catch up to the group in front of me that had stopped momentarily. It was shortly after the second water break that my older sister found me. She had driven down from Cheltenham to support me, and cleverly brought her bike with her. I didn’t realise she was going to do this, so it was a nice surprise. I don’t think she thought about it beforehand, but she managed to cycle most of my last 20 miles by my side.
The first lap felt great, so great that I felt like upping my pace. I was waiting for some exhaustion or pain to kick in, but seeing as I felt so good, I thought I’d abandon my plans for just a sub-4hr marathon, and bang on for a 3:30. About half-way round the second lap, I started to get a twinge in my left knee. I think I just overstretched on the downhill towards Kingston gate, again trying to catch a group ahead of me. I knew it wouldn’t go away and would probably get worse until I finished.
My sister Louise tried to take my mind of running telling me about the christening she’d been to the day before, and about how my niece fell out of a tree, and about the other niece dropped by my brother as he ran to the first one! It really helped, but nothing could take my mind off hitting the wall around the 18 mile mark. Suddenly my legs felt like they’d been in a car crash, or slide-tackled by a rugby player, and I still had more than a lap to go. My pace dropped massively – that miles took more than 10 mins, and I took my time on the banana and water when I reached the next water stop.
When I was training, I hadn’t
taken on any food, gels, sweets, or even any water whilst running. I didn’t want to be too reliant on the water
stops, so each time I had just drank 2 pints of water beforehand and that had
been enough for me. Race day was hot
though – 20 degrees hot, and even though the outside course was sheltered by
the trees, it still felt very warm. So
despite my initial resistance, I took on at least one cup of water at each stop
and still felt slightly dehydrated at the end.
My wife had warned me with scare stories about people dying who had not
taking on enough water. I told her
another one about a guy a few years ago who took on too much water, diluting
his electrolytes and also died. I knew
that if I listened to my body, I’d be ok.
I didn’t think I’d have enough motivation to push myself through if I was running on empty – I could always just walk
back to the car and try again next year!
The final lap felt longer than the other two. About a third of the way through it, I wasn’t sure whether I could carry on running all the way. I just focussed on running the next step and seeing if I was still moving. When I stopped for drinks at the top of the hill after the Robin Hood gate, my body really didn’t want to get moving again. This was probably the lowest point for me. My sister noted afterwards that I was very quiet from this point on, and she kept turning the miles into percentages of the overall race to remind me I was close to the finish. The steep downhill to Kinston came as such a welcome surprise to me, suddenly being pulled forwards, it couldn’t have come at a better time. The home straight was on the horizon as mile 24 was complete.
It was at this point, for the first time since the first mile that I noticed a few people overtaking me. I am competitive and had been proud that I hadn’t been overtaken in my training runs, but I had to swallow that pride now. What mattered most to me was trying to finish the race, and secondly to finish it in under 4 hours. I noted the shirts the guys were wearing as they passed me – Stockholm marathon, 100 marathon club – theses guys weren’t amateurs like me. I tried to keep pace with them but it was a massive effort from me just to keep moving.
I had been doing a calculation in my head for the last 3 to 4 miles of what time I’d finish if I just stopped running and walked the rest of the way. Two guys from my work had done the London marathon – one in 6hours, the other in 8hours. At least I was going to beat those guys even if I walked the last lap. I remember my running a few marathons and always aiming at the 4 hour mark but never beating it, which I thought would be a decent target to aim at. There’s always the over-achieving mate who’s done a 3:29 that you dream of matching, but at 40 I think my best years are behind me and I’m realistically not going to be fitter than am I now.
Mile marker 25 was a great sight, I was tempted to start walking as I noted others doing the same. My sister reminded me of the time and my need to pick the pace up if I wanted to break that 4 hour mark. I’d remembered from the last lap that the 25 to 26 markers felt longer apart than any of the others, and the same was true this time. I did start to feel a small euphoria as I passed the Pembroke Lodge car park and remembered how close I was to the finish. I passed the ‘Stockholm marathon’ guy, and the ‘100 marathon club’ guy, and was right up with another tall guy who looked like an Olympic athlete as I heard the loudspeaker at the finish line in the distance.
The 100-marathon man and the tall Olympian suddenly picked up their pace too. My sister was goading me to go for a sprint finish. “The army guys always say that when you feel like you’re fninished, you’ve always got 40% more to give”. My legs were telling me I could finish this race and that was it. I didn’t even want to beat another guy, I was happy enough just to race myself. The cheers, which had been muted most of the way round, suddenly came as we rounded the last bend, and I allowed my legs finally to slow to walking as I saw the time was 3 hours 56. I was even tempted to stop at the food table just before the line, but I saw Vince Cable was waiting to give me the medal, so I duly sloped forward the last few years.
Finishing anything has never felt so pained before. I swore to those around me that I’d never do it again. I took an ice bath when I got home, and then napped the rest of the day. My legs burn with pain today as I walk down stairs, and I’m sure I must like an old man with rickets when I walk along the pavement. But writing this I find myself keen to do another one, just not too soon!
The Richmond Park Marathon has gone from strength to strength over the years, but without losing any of its engaging homegrown, "boutique" feel. As a club, we love it (we hate the hills, but those can't really be helped). Once again, Gareth and Ray have delivered something exceptional: flawlessly organised, friendly and terribly good fun.