I feel like I should start with a massive apology; it has taken me so long to write up my London Marathon experience that the ballot results for next years has now been announced and I’m really sorry for that. I’ll explain why it has taken so long in the next post but for the meantime here is what went down at the 2019 London Marathon…
On the morning of the London Marathon I unravelled my socks from one another only for grains of sand to cascade out, with a wry smile I thought of the ridiculousness of what I was about to try. Only a few people a year attempt the London Marathon only two weeks after returning from the Marathon des Sables, with good reason. I was about to put my body through more strain and pain so soon after the most physically and emotionally challenging week of my entire life with no understanding of what it might do to me.
The few people I had spoken to who had done the double in previous years had actually set personal bests in the marathon but these were elite athletes who had recovered like elite athletes. I had spent the two weeks in-between eating anything I could touch and getting heavily reacquainted my sofa.
As I made my way nervously to the start my body still felt incredibly weary from the ordeal of running 230KM across the Sahara and mentally I was struggling with life back in reality. I had only run two 10K training runs since returning; the first was painful and I felt incredibly exhausted, having to take multiple breaks for walking. The second was the complete polar opposite; I felt at ease and when I returned and saw I had run exactly at sub four hour pace. I couldn’t help but dream.
I knew I had to temper those dreams though because of everything I had put my body through so in a vain attempt to reason the unreasonable I created three likely scenarios in my head, with the second hopefully the most likely:
1. Set a new PB.
2. Just get around.
3. Have to quit.
But following, my twelfth nervous wee and munching on the last of my cliff bar I made my way to the sub four hour pacing area, a finishing time 27 minutes faster than my current PB. I never normally follow pacers, I tend to find that the runners are too compact as they all try and keep with the pacer and listen to his/her words of wisdom. Running in a pack throws me off mentally as I get very British about being annoyed at every single runner in my presence but I had not done any marathon training as everything was focussed on Marathon des Sables so I had no idea on pacing for this race.
Luckily I had two of my Brooks team mates in the four hour pacing area. Paul who most of you will know as the pacing perfectionist Pick up the Pace Paul, who was the offical pacer and Charlie aka What Charlie Ran Next who was also aiming for a sub four hour time. I decided there and then that I would go at the sub four pace and simply just wait until my body decided enough was enough. I knew it would eventually happen but when?
Little did I know then that sticking with Charlie would be one of the best running decision I’ve ever made as not only did I laugh my way around the London Marathon but I made an incredible friend in those miles shared.
We made our shuffling way to the startline and I finally had to take of my waterproof poncho that had been sheltering me from some of the rain and the high winds. I ripped it off like the Incredible Hulk in an attempt to psych myself up but I think it just ended up looking like I was struggling to undress myself, less superhero more toddler having a tantrum. From the off we decided we would run ahead of the group running at sub four hour pace. It would give us some free air to run in and would drive us on to avoid getting caught by Paul and the stampede.
My body struggled to warm up into running, at the time I put it down to the cold rainy conditions but now, looking back, I know it was the start of my injury. The tiniest of quakes warning of the traumatic tsunami to come.
The first few miles of the London Marathon are unlike most marathons, I’m sure anyone who has run a few will agree with me. The atmosphere of the runners laughing and joking is so unique as the nervous pent up energy final begins to be unleashed. Charlie and I decided to add to the hilarity (well we thought it was funny anyway) by trying to start Mexican Waves every time we went over a speed bump and shouting “huuuuuuuuump”. There are more than a few speed bumps in the first few miles of the race and I actually got a stitch from laughing so much. I don’t know if everyone found it as funny as the two of us did but through the merriment the first half of the marathon flew by.
However, coming over London Bridge, I knew that the sub four hour time was slipping like the sand of the Sahara from my grasp. I was still on pace but my legs felt like they were gaining weight with every step. That despite the swell of sound eurpting from the phenomnal crowds I was really begining to struggle. I fell back behind Charlie and Paul could clearly tell I was struggling and with a few well placed words I had the energy to push on and rejoin Charlie again.
The London Marathon couldn’t have been any further away from the Marathon des Sables and the sheer juxtaposition was abraisve. The bombarding and relentless wall of sound from the jostling throngs of people both on the course and the crowds sat awkwardly against the peaceful loneliness of the Sahara. It was a real assult on my senses and it began to wear me down. By mile 18 the joy was draining from me, I told Charlie to carry on without me and I eased my pace right back. I knew that I could still get a PB if I continued to push but a sub four time was now gone. I slowed down and put my head down for the first time in the race. The next five miles were a real struggle as I kept trying to get my body back to running at pace but I would stutter to a stop pretty quickly.
In the final two miles I managed to get into some sort of rhythm again as I pushed myself out of the relative comfort zone. I wanted to finish feeling utterly spent but was struggling for motivation to keep going as I knew I was on for a strong PB with 15 minutes to spare so why push harder? So I turned my mind to each time I had crossed this finish line before.
The London Marathon has done a lot for my realtionship with my capital city. It has been the backdrop to many emotionally scaring days in my life. I am actually in London while I write this and by complete accident I am sat in the same coffeeshop I sat in 7 years ago and decided I had to leave London, which is still the best decision I ever made. Running the London Marathon for the past four years has added marvellous moments to rebalance the scales of times I’ve had in this city. It was my first ever marathon, the start of this ridiculous adventure, the second year I finished arm in arm carrying Mark who was with me during Marathon des Sables because of this race, the third year where I struggled beyond expectations and learnt the hard way that I needed to take my training seriously which helped me fully enjoy Marathon des Sables pain-free a year later. I’ve made life long friends during the race, created and cemented my love of distance running and added moments of pure joy to my life.
The marathon changed the way I looked at London but also how I looked my self forever. That was the thought that swirled through my exhausted mind as I pushed on towards the finish line with dogged determination (as you can see in the grimacing face below).
I finished in a time of 4:14, 14 minutes faster than I had ever run a marathon, not bad I thought as my body suddenly decided that I needed to be stationary and on the ground. I sat on the floor with my medal in my hand and looked at it in disbelief. Sure my body was now in shut down but I had gone from the blistering heat of Marathon des Sables to the crowded cacophony of London Marathon and surpassed myself in both. What could I conquer next I naively thought to myself, not knowing what was to come.