How Not to Run a Marathon

Here is my story of my London Marathon experience, some highs, lots of lows and plenty of lessons learned.

In the build up to the London Marathon I heard so many people say what an amazing experience it is, what a wonderful day you’ll have an amazing sense of achievement at the end. While I’m sure that is true for 99.9% of people, I can honestly say I’m yet to feel any of them.

I entered the marathon in the ballot, not expecting a place but when the letter arrived I was equally surprised and petrified. Each time I had trained for a marathon, I’d been injured so maybe a little apprehensive about having to do the training….turns out I was right to be, but more on that later.

The county cross country season was about to start so I was concentrating on getting involved in that and hopefully scoring a point for the team. But when I got the acceptance letter my thoughts straight away turned to the marathon. In a little over 6 months I’d have to complete 26.2 miles. I started slowly and increased my miles and before I knew it I was running 10, 12, 14 miles on a Sunday. A good base for the winter training. Cross country was every other weekend and on the alternative weekend I picked up the miles. Until mid November, where one weekend I ran 16 miles and felt quite good but by adding a few more runs in the week, I might have over done it. By the time I’d got to Saturday my right leg and hip were hurting. I went to see the physio and his advice was to lay off running for a few weeks. This went on for a few months, each time I saw him the same advice. It turned out the injury was a stress fracture, something I’ve never had before. I started running again late January so to have even made the start line was a bit of an achievement.

In the following few months leading up to the marathon I felt OK, injury was a little sore and I think I’d lost a lot of fitness but I put in some miles. Slowly to start with, 3, 4, 5 miles then jumped up a little when I felt OK. Till eventually I ran 20 miles. As my training was delayed, I only gave myself 2 weeks taper. Which seemed enough, the last weekend before the marathon I ran about 10 miles and felt OK.

As limited as it was, I felt my training was the best I could have done in the circumstances and to have reached 20 miles gave me lots of confidence.

Race day; well, the lead up to race day. Talking to a 2:35 runner, he carb loaded a lot more than me. But I found, and this is just me, I was far too nervous to eat loads, I even struggled with having a big breakfast. However I’m not sure that was the reason for the bad run.

Everything else was in place, kit, transport, fuel.

The only other thing playing on my mind was the weather. Now anyone that knows me would know my worst times and running experiences have been in the hot weather. Give me a 2° February morning anytime. And when looking at the weather forecast, this didn’t look good, 20 degrees plus was not my ideal running conditions.

And so it proved; Race day came and the Mercury was late teens when I got up. I had my breakfast and walked in the garden. The sun already beating down on my neck.

I made the short drive to Mark’s house who kindly drove a couple of us to the start. Which was great having someone there who knew where they were going.

The walk from the car to the start area seemed like 30°, I was sweating even before the start line. We found a spot in a tent in the shade and prepared with the pre-race rituals….running shoes, checking gels and applying vaseline in the right places. And of course, a couple of trips to the gents.

Stepping out of that tent seemed like getting off a plane in Spain, the sun was even hotter now. We made our way to the start line and wished every body good luck….including a lady who was meant to be in pen 6 but was in my pen 2.

I’ve done a fair number of races and it still makes me chuckle seeing the runners have a last minute pee, both male and female and the London marathon was no exception. But if you’ve gotta go then you’ve gotta go.

Waiting in the start area, it became apparent just how hot it was, I was nervous, of course, but I could feel I was sweating already. It was 10am yet I felt the need for shade already.

As the start time arrived we set off and I remember trying to look out for a TV camera to no avail.

About mile 4 we merged with the other starting line and the thought crossed my mind that I still had 22 miles to go. I was starting to get quite warm by now. We went through Charlton, a place I know well as that’s where I’ve been before to cheer others on.

The next big landmark was the Cutty Sark and my only memory of that was the sheer volume of the crowd. To me, a little off putting, especially as my training runs I’d pass about 10 people maximum. Next I remember seeing some friends, Matt, Bart, Bunts and Ollie. By this time I was so hot I was taking on lots of water, I was only 8 miles in and that is quite unusual for me.

At about 11 miles I remember being tripped by a rather impatient runner, I feel in to another runner and barrier but possibly from adrenaline I didn’t feel any pain. I did however get a bloody nose, which I’m not sure if that was due to the fall or just the heat of the day.

The silly things that you remember, I tried to get as much blood off my face as possible when approaching Tower Bridge as I knew there was a photographer the other side. I wasn’t that successful as you can still see blood on my chin and face in the photo.

I’d crossed Tower Bridge and started to recognise some of the landmarks, this is where some of my training runs were so it was nice to be somewhere familiar.

I then saw Haydn, a friend from work shooting her support. A fellow marathon runner.

Unfortunately, my nose was still pouring blood so I made the decision to not worry about my time and get some tissues from the medical tent. I waited what seemed like 5 minutes while the medical staff looked through their packs. Annoyingly, all they had was some cotton wool and gauze, which was not much help in the slightest. Luckily a lady from the crowd pulled out some wet wipes, while not ideal, it was all I had. I’m so grateful to her support, I might have been there a while.

I tried to get running again but by now I was so hot and tired. I’d only run 14 miles, which may seem a lot but compared to my training runs it wasn’t really.

The next few miles were hard and it crossed my mind whether I should call it a day. But I wanted to finish, I wanted a medal at least. If I pulled out now, I wouldn’t get either.

I soon realised that any thought of a good time was gone. I’d been optimistic in my predicted time of 3:40, then with the heat, a revised time of 3:50-4hrs. Now, time was not an issue, I just wanted to get it done.

By now the heat was unbearable, although probably only 24° it felt like I was running in 34°. I stopped at every mile marker to pick up fresh water, sometimes two, one to drink and one to pour over me.

At about 18 miles I saw Matt, Bart,Bunts and Ollie again. This time I stopped to say hello. Like I said, time was no longer an issue. I remember thinking if I should stop here, I still had 8 miles to go. But again, something in me stopped me from quitting.

The last 8 miles was a walk and very slow jog. I stopped in a tunnel in Lower Thames Street just to get away from the crowd noise and the sun. It was lovely and shady so I stayed in there for a good five minutes.

On the final stretch I saw Nick and some Rebels, I must have looked broken.

I managed the last few miles, that just seemed to go on forever until I saw Big Ben and turned the corner to the finish….which again, seemed much longer than it actually is.

For the sake of any TV cameras I managed to overtake a few people in the last 20 metres, which was fortunate as it turned out I was on TV, my 15 milliseconds of fame.

I crossed the finish line in a bit of a daze, I remember feeling very light headed, sick and very very hot.

I had my photo taken, again, a lot harder than it sounds. I just wanted to crash. Then walked, read hobbled, to get my bag. Once thing people don’t tell you is how heavy the goodie bag is, I’ve just run 126 miles (well it seemed it) and now I’ve got to carry a bag full of drinks and snacks and fliers around trying to find my family.

I waited in my spot for my sister and Mark. I remember thinking I don’t want to sit down because I’m not sure I could get back up. The end of the race was nearly as hard as running it. I thought I’d be overjoyed and elated to be done and have a sense of achievement but all I could think about was how disappointed I was with my time and my run.

The journey home I tried to dissect what had gone wrong and try to ease the pain with reasons why I’d felt so bad. I’d finished the race yes, but nothing could take away the huge disappointment I felt in not doing myself justice. I’m not sure I’ll ever be rid of that feeling.

I arrived home to a heroes welcome, Alys and Lucas had drawn me a picture and I felt much happier for seeing them, although still grumpy.  I then watched myself crossing, well stumbling across the finish line on BBC.  Perfect timing, but not a pretty sight.  The weeks before the race I was watching my diet with the dream of having a big fat fish and chips afterwards, but when it was on the table my appetite had gone, could this day get any worse?

Now the race has finished and I’ve had time to reflect, it will go down as a very disappointing day.  I don’t feel I’ve done myself justice, my training indicated slightly better progress which may have given me false confidence.  I knew the race would be tough, but I really enjoyed my training runs of 18, 20 miles etc. and felt at the right pace, it was comfortable.  The last 13 miles of the race were the toughest both physically and mentally, I’ve run more than than 10 miles on many occasions but today I felt I could not put one foot in front of the other.  Something was not right on the day, whether it was the heat, the nerves of the build up of my first marathon, the lack of training miles or a combination of all three, but for it to happen on the one time I get to run the London Marathon was just bad luck.  I can run quicker than 4:20, I will run quicker than 4:20 but at the moment, that is my marathon PB.

As for the whole ‘London Marathon’ experience, it’s not for me.  Maybe this was because I didn’t have a good race but having crowds shouting at you to keep going when all you want to is rest/throw up/mop the blood from your face or having music pumped very loud on top of shouting crowds was not something I enjoyed.  Give me an empty country lane in deepest darkest Kent any day.

I am however, as my training buddy put it, I am now a member of the marathon club….just with unfinished business.