On the 6th May Ian Bell and i took part in Berlin’s 25k with just over 14,000 others.It started in front of the Olympic stadium, We got to run through the Bradenburg Gate and the finish was an actual lap of the Olympic stadium which was amazing. It was extremely hot and the drink stations were every 5k which didn’t seem enough for the temperatures.
Once you had collected your medal you left the stadium and proceeded to beer stands people were taking up to 5 pints at a time. It was a very social occasion and a first for Ian and i to be drinking anything other than water!
On what felt like the hottest day of the year so far it was time to run my first 10k in orange. I was one of 16 Jags running the Kings Lynn GEAR and was made to feel very welcome even though I’m an unfamiliar face and still a bit of a newcomer.
I’d love to say I enjoyed it…well I did until 7km when a combination of heat and self doubt kicked in. The flat route itself was lovely with a mixture of paths through the park, roads and a narrow pathway along the water, hearing shouts of ‘go jags’ from marshals, spectators and fellow runners gave me the push I needed to get to the end. The occasional areas of shade and water stops were much appreciated, even if only to tip the water over our heads in an attempt to try and cool down!!!!
Well done to all my fellow runners and amazing achievement to those that got a PB in the heat. I’ll definitely be back next year for a PB
I wasn’t really looking forward to this race given the unseasonably hot Bank Holiday weather and the fact a lot of my friends had really struggled with GEAR the day before. On the other hand, a number of my GEAR friends had sent me messages along the lines of “How did you do 26 miles in that? I struggled with 6!” So I figured I would have to “man up” and get on with it. At least I’d get my money’s worth out of the all-day sunblock I’d bought for the marathon.
I had really enjoyed Breckland last year, the course is pretty much flat with a downhill finish from 7.5km, the route is on road but scenic and Thetford AC are a friendly club with a well-organised race. I had not only got my first sub-50 on this route, but my first sub-49 and I suppose I was disappointed that I would not be able to try for a new PB in the heat. Howard and I met up with Darren Matthewson and Lucy Walker, we have been running with them for years and recently encouraged them to join the Jags. We picked up our race numbers and relaxed in the sun outside Croxton Village Hall before the start of the race, conserving our energy as it was so hot. We met Paul Bloomfield and Caron Maidment, then had to laugh when Andy Mulligan bounced over like Tigger and suggested we all go for a warm-up run around the field. He was met with stunned silence.
The race started on the road outside the village hall and I had a quick chat with Claire Owen. I decided to take it easy for the first 2k where I knew there would be an incline, then settle into whatever pace felt comfortable in the heat and try for negative splits on the way back when I knew I’d be going downhill. I don’t usually take a drink on a 10k but the organisers had stressed that they were unable to provide water before 6km so I carried a bottle of water with an electrolyte tablet and sipped from it at every 1km. I ran the first 2km at 5.15min/km pace and increased to under 5min/km and I noticed Lucy had settled next to me to pace with me so that she wouldn’t go out too fast. We stopped to walk at the water station and I struggled to get going again but I needed a cold drink and to be able to pour a bit of the water over my head and neck.
After the water station we were then on the straight road back to the village and fortunately this was mainly in the shade of the trees. When we hit the downhill section from 7.5km I tried to pick up the pace but got stuck behind a group of runners while waiting for traffic to pass us on our side. Eventually I was able to overtake and as I hadn’t suffered any dizzy spells in the heat, I decided to sprint and managed a negative split in the last 1km, crossing the line in 50:19 – not bad in 27 degree heat!
Lucy sprinted home seconds behind me, we were the 18th and 19th ladies back out of 112 ladies, I placed 6th in my age group but Lucy came 1st in hers and won a lovely trophy! For £14 affiliated, this was a really lovely race with a nice medal and goody bag, sponsored by the local cinema. I have done this race twice now and would still go back – one of my favourites.
On the 29th April the postponed Mad March Hare took place on the Coltishall Jags home turf. This was my first official 10k race as a Jag and I was really looking forward to getting my 1st medal. The children’s race followed by the wheelchair race was a joy to watch whilst I was waiting for the main race to start, it certainly helped to take my mind of the Great British weather. The weather was not kind…the clouds were ominous, the wind was threatening and every so often it felt like the rain was really going to kick in but none of that mattered as thanks to the incredible support from the marshalls and the spectators (who must have been absolutely frozen!) I managed to get round and achieve a personal PB. Running round the flat course, I got to experience first hand just how friendly and encouraging our fellow running clubs are, I ended up running alongside two women from the Bungay Black Dogs who kept me going especially when the going got rough on the runway when we were running straight into a rather nasty head wind. After finishing the race… a visit to the cafe was a must.. it was lovely to see the cafe so busy, the volunteers running it did an amazing job all morning.. A cup of tea and a slice of homemade cake later, I left the race feeling I had really achieved something, hopeful for a slightly better PB as without that head wind, I feel I would have been quicker.. I have only been running for six months and when I first started.. never did I think I would run 10k! Well done to everybody involved.
With Stirling Marathon organizers deciding to incorporate a Marathon and a Half Marathon to run for the first time on the same day finishing together, the three Jaguars who went up there including myself obviously never imagined how the finish would unfold. With myself and Rod Bye doing the Full Marathon starting at 8-30am (nice start time!) and Jackie Bye doing the Half starting 1 hr later at 9-30am start. The morning could not have been better weather at a fresh 5 degrees at 8am with only a mild breeze and broken cloud but sunny spells. The start of the Marathon was on the Main A84 Road with a backdrop of Stirling Castle! running though Doune, Dunblane and almost touching distance of the Wallace Monument not to forget the outstanding Scenery along the way. With Jackie standing on the sidelines waving me and Rod off in readiness for her own Challenge myself ad Rod set off Knowing the first 5 Miles were flat before the 7 Mile Hill challenge having driven the full course the previous day. With that on my mind before Mile one Rod had already pulled a gap from me, because of the Main Road the field opened up into a nice comfortable personal pace by the first Mile where i have found many previous big Prestige Races have restricted me for many Miles! As with all Marathons you carry your own remedies which you feel will personally get you through this challenge and at Mile 3 one of my gels fell from my belt and i had the split decision do i turn and collect looking backwards at it laying on the floor soon to be trampled by a marauding stampede of feet i thought bye bye gel ! For the next few Miles up to the hill my thoughts were lets keep this steady pace going and by mile 4 was steadily into a nice rhythm with many other runners it was at this point i caught the 3-30 pacer and thought Jesus i’m doing 7-30’s hes too fast but slowly drifted by him and a train of runners in behind. 5 MILES here we go stick in there i thought only to find each mile came and went on the climbs nicely and noticed with the Hill training i had put in slowly passing fellow runners. At Mile 8-9 i now had Rod ahead and slowly closing towards each other, also thinking to myself Jackie has now started!, at mile 9 was glad to be reunited with Rod and we ran almost together for next two and a half miles again passing odd runner here and there. By Mile 12 i realized Rod was no longer besides me and i was back in my own private battle again this time from Mile 13 down hill at speed i felt with a group of about 7 runners, myself and Rod both knew that we had Stirling University grounds to run around at Mile 16 and a roller-coaster type terrain to get through knowing it was reasonably flat until withing 2 miles of the end after coming out. For me it couldn’t have worked better i was running now besides two guys who were saying they were still on for a 3 hr 15 finish, i briefly commented i was trying to beat my 3-34 pb but at this stage it did not compute i was way inside this time! At Mile 18 we came to a roundabout just after passing Wallace Monument and turned left to go around a right handed almost 4 mile square course and it was here we were joined by the tail end of the Half Marathon runners and as my pace was close to 7-30’s was going past a lot of runners, almost at times having to shout runner behind on the narrow parts as 4 abreast filled the lanes. At Mile 21 i felt my first worrying niggle which was a similar feeling to Wymondham 20 only 4 weeks earlier of cramping left hand foot! Within about quarter a mile of slightly slower pace it had passed. At this point in all my previous Marathons i have always cramped somewhere and had to walk some and now thoughts of this started to plague my mind along with i wonder how Rods doing? Next 2 miles i just dug in and then at 23 my right hand calf muscle started going tight again dropping pace slightly rode the storm and then from 24 Miles realized i could actually do sub 3-15 GFA qualification for London Marathon! only to be caught out by hills in last mile and forgetting the 0.2 and extra bit you run in a Race. Just 50m from the finish i heard and saw Jackie bellowing at me come on Mel! That pushed me to the finish line looking at the clock it saying 3-17 something and still not sinking in! i collapsed over finish line only for British Red Cross to take me to recovery tent and overlook my recovery, it was at this point unknown to me Rod was finishing in 3-18-23 achieving a Pb, Diamond Standard and GFA Qualification for next years London Marathon (subject to time qualification). When out into holding pen area and chatting with Jackie she was only just outside her pb, but achieving also a Diamond Standard and brilliant 1-52-20. My final time was 3-16-51 which was a pb by 18 minutes! All three of us agreed that it was a superb event thoroughly recommended for all.
While the focus of Coltishall Jaguars RC’s attention was on a little event going on in London, five hardy Jags travelled to Thetford to take part in the Breckland Marathon and Half Marathon staged to raise funds for the British Trust for Ornithology.
Although a low key affair the atmosphere was no less vibrant as the runners collected their numbers and made their preparations, going through their individual pre-race rituals for the challenge that lay ahead.
As predicted it was unseasonably warm with temperatures due to reach 22C but this didn’t deter the runners as they toed the line for the 9am start.
Both the marathon and half marathon competitors started together and followed the same route as they left the town hugging the bank of the Little Ouse River before heading off on trails through Thetford Forest. At the second checkpoint, St Helens Country Park (6.7 miles), the half marathon competitors turned after grabbing some much needed refreshments and retracing their steps back to the finish at the BTO HQ.
The marathon runners carried on from this point moving further into Thetford Forest before they rejoined the Little Ouse River path just after the 3rd checkpoint (approx 10 miles). This would prove to be the toughest section of the course on the undulating path that made for difficult running as it twisted and turned to follow the course of the river.
The half way point for the marathon runners was at Brandon and they were greeted by cheers from marshals and well wishers as they emerged from the path to get their fill of water, squash, gels, jaffa cakes and jelly babies before they began their return leg.
The weather forecast didn’t disappoint and the heat started to take its toll on the runners as the race progressed, many of whom had to take unscheduled walk breaks to cope with conditions. All competitors arrived safely home if a little worse for wear.
Scott Shrubsall, Julian Smith and Nicola Lambert-John tackled the half marathon distance and took 6th, 7th and 8th place respectively but crossed the line together and were given the same, very respectable, time of 1:54.
Nicola was 2nd lady home and received a silver medal for her efforts.
Thomas Lincoln-Kemp and Paul Emery took on the full marathon distance. Thomas finished in a time of 4:08 for 7th place. Paul Emery, competing in his first marathon, finished in a time of 4:19 for 12th place.
The half marathon was won by Johnny Hodges in a time of 1:28
Top spot in the marathon was taken by Romas Bleda in a time of 3:34
Imagine, you’re in Greece in August, it’s midday and you think I know lets go and run a marathon….That’s what it felt like as 10 Coltishall jaguars lined up in their pens on 22nd April 2018 as finally the Queen blew the Klaxon to set us off. The sun brought out the crowds and the pavements were full of spectators from start to finish cheering on all the runners, offering jelly babies and spraying them with water pistols.
There was music along the way. Drumming bands, rock bands, brass bands, impromptu DJs and a granny getting down to some grime in Charlton.
Family and friends were their to support along the route, and many of the jags had travelled down to support us all as well. Each and everyone of you are sent a big thank you. The noise at times from the crowds was deafening but lifted your spirits everytime it roared and someone shouted your name.
There were some truly spectacular results that day. Vicky Tovell achieved a PB, New age group record and a GFA time. Ruth Gainsford and Vikki Harper achieved a bronze with Ruth scoring a New age group record also. Vanessa Clements knocked a huge chunk of time off to achieve a new personal best and as far as we’re concerned Keith Brighty ran his first marathon as a Jag. Congratulations also to Emma Wilcock, David Platten, Sarah Letzer and Nick Richards who achieved their dream of running the London Marathon. (first but not the last?)
The conditions were difficult, many runners found it hard and were pushed to levels of endurance that they didn’t think they could possibly handle. Record numbers of people finished the marathon and whether they were elite athletes, club athletes, charity runners, Jeffers or walkers they each deserved that shiny peice of bling around their necks.
Unfortunately Matt Campbell lost his life running the marathon and so our amazing club finished his race by running his last 3.7 miles. What a glorious sight a sea of orange that night and a further £198.46 donated to his charity Brathay Trust
Would we do it again … To right and there’s written evidence to prove this Sarah Letzer and I’m keeping it in a very safe place.
Sunday morning arrived and I had made it to the Start Line without ruling myself out of the marathon! As I had a charity place, I travelled to the Red Start in Greenwich park and said goodbye to my family who were not allowed in the runners enclosure. I was told that Greenwich park on marathon day is like Glastonbury. Greenwich park on marathon day is not like Glastonbury, it is a big field with a big screen, there is free water, hot drinks and Lucozade sports and all there is to do is queue up over and over again for the portaloos. When I arrived there were huge queues for a small row of portaloos but I heard a marshal telling runners there were more loos at the bottom of the field. After a bit of a walk I founds loads and loads of portaloos with no queues! Result! I sipped on water, Lucozade, ate snacks, visited the portaloos (it passes the time), marvelled at the people wearing elaborate fancy dress in the heat and caught the start of the ladies elite race on the big screen.
I then topped up my Factor 50 all-day suncream and visited the huge row of neatly lined up and numbered baggage lorries and handed over my official kitbag. Apparently these lorries are then driven under police escort to the Finish Line on The Mall in central London.
After handing over my kitbag, there was nothing left to do but go to my race pen. I had been placed in Pen 6 out of 8. I’m not a sub-3 marathon runner but I’m not exactly slow either, so was wondering why I was so far back, but then heard people complaining they had been placed further back or forward than other people with faster or slower times so it didn’t make sense. I did wonder if the pen allocations had been done by age grading instead.
At 10am we heard the Queen remotely start the race from Windsor Castle (wrapped up in her coat, hat and gloves in 22 degree heat, bless her) the klaxon sounded and … we all stood there. The waves were started every 5 minutes and it was 10.32am before I crossed the Start Line. The first thing I noticed was people diving into bushes to answer the call of nature – they obviously didn’t know about the secret stash of portaloos at the bottom of the park.
After the initial rush of excitement where I had waved to the BBC cameras and seen myself on a huge screen thinking “I’m actually doing it! I’m running THE London Marathon!” I realised the start of the London Marathon was actually a bit of an anti-climax. The first few miles are through a residential area and although there are people lining the route, they’re really just spectators looking for their one loved one or people standing outside their houses just watching. There’s little atmosphere, shall we say.
After 3 miles (where I noticed there was no water; what happened to water every mile, VLM?) us Red Start Charity runners merged with the Green Good For Age Runners and Blue Ballot place runners who had followed a different route. The course then became more congested but the atmosphere then picked up. I had to stop at 7km and lost 2 minutes due to too much water and Lucozade and loo queuing but was soon on my way. I was overtaken by a 4:30 pacer and raced to overtake him purely because I had seen how dense the Brighton pacing groups were and didn’t want to get stuck behind one.
We then ran up an incline and with that and having chased the pacer, I felt a little dizzy – it really was getting hot! I was going to follow my Tarpley 20 plan of running 5 miles at 6:00min/km pace then increasing my pace if I felt I could. I realised that if the heat was making me feel dizzy before noon, that I was going to have to forget my race plan and just manage a much slower, consistent pace to get through the marathon. I reminded myself that it was the London Marathon, it was an event, not a race and it was the chance of a lifetime. I wanted to run past Buckingham Palace and cross the Finish Line, I wanted that medal and I did not want to record my first ever DNF.
At around 5 miles we ran under an underpass where there was the most incredible drumming band and I felt the first bit of emotion at running London. We carried on through more residential streets where there was sporadic crowd support, although we did see one man who had set up a speaker, music and microphone and decided to make himself into a DJ for them morning, shouting encouragement to us – I loved him!
I had decided to have my gels every 9k and was pleased not to be feeling tired before the first one. I was also taking water bottles and the occasional Lucozade Sport bottle whenever I needed them and carried them rather than dumping them as I needed to regularly sip fluid in the heat. Both my massage therapist and a fellow marathon runner had recommended electrolyte tablets and I had some in a small bag and put one in every water bottle. I truly believe that these got me round as they really were a pick-me-up. I continued using the tablets in my water for a few days after the marathon and definitely felt the effects quickly each time.
We started running into Central London and round the Cutty Sark which was amazing! I saw a TV camera pan round and remembered that my family and friends would be watching back home so gave a wave.
The crowd support really had ramped up from the Cutty Sark onwards and as we continued, I spotted a huge orange flag in the distance. As I got closer to the flag I could see the words “COLTISHALL JAGUARS” ! I ran over waving like crazy and had a big hug with Claire Hicks (sorry if I was sweaty) with lots of cheering then carried on – it gave me such a lift!
As I carried on running I found that the crowds thinned out again and the route became quieter. I know so many people want to do this marathon with all their hearts and I feel bad saying this but ….quite frankly, some parts of the route are just dull! The London Landmarks Half Marathon had a carnival atmosphere all the way round but the London Marathon entertainment and support was quite sporadic. I do appreciate that 26.2 miles is a lot of route to fill though!
After running through more streets, some quite narrow which made the route even more congested, I turned a corner and suddenly Tower Bridge was looming up at me! This was amazing as I thought Tower Bridge was halfway but it’s actually at 20km. I felt the emotion well up again as I ran over the bridge because the crowds and charity cheer stations were incredible! I ran past Colin Jackson looking for someone to interview (clearly I wasn’t interesting enough – ha ha!) and then off the bridge to more crowd support. I soon spotted another familiar flag – “BUNGAY BLACK DOGS RUNNING CLUB” and slowed down to wave to friends who shouted loads of support.
After turning the corner to more charity cheer stations, I spotted the familiar flags and black, blue and white balloons for Heads Together. I ran past waving and beaming as the volunteers were all whooping, blowing whistles and clapping bang sticks for me, then suddenly I realised that three of the volunteers were my children! I had told Howard and children to go sightseeing and see me at the end of the race because I didn’t want any of us having the disappointment of missing each other. Unbeknown to me, my husband had arranged to go to the cheer station knowing I would spot it and the children were given all manner of t-shirts and freebies. Being on the cheer station gave my children the opportunity to be in the front row for a World Major Elite Marathon race and my daughter realised her dream of seeing Mo Farah run in real life.
The next major part of the marathon was through Canary Wharf where there was great crowd support and entertainment although the route was narrow. I was still maintaining 6:00min/km but my pace dropped a lot when I could not get past people and it made my splits average out at about 6:20 – 40 to 60 seconds more per km than I had planned. The heat of the day was really setting in and I could feel my shoulders prickling despite the all-day sunblock. I was glad I had decided to wear a cap for the first time – I’m not usually a fan of the cap.
As the run progressed towards the 20 to 22 mile marks, the course became frustratingly congested as more and more people were slowing down and slowing to walk. I found that a lot of runners had no spatial awareness, they would plod straight down the middle (not on the blue line) with elbows out, there were couples running with no awareness of the room they were taking up and don’t get me started on the rows of 4 or more! The “Jeffers” were great, you could spot them by their power walking and the fact they resolutely kept to the left but the people who had random walk breaks would stop dead in front of you without checking and walk through the middle of the route rather than pulling to the side. This was also the first event I have done where I have noticed that headphone wearers are oblivious to what is going on around them. I had been advised by so many people not to weave around people in order not to increase my distance but I had no choice. I gained an extra 0.7km on my distance but I overtook 11514 runners over the course of the marathon, well over a quarter of the 40055 finishers and only 13 people overtook me in the 2nd half of the race – 1 per mile!
Another issue was lack of space around the water stations for runners to pass the people who had slowed to walk with water. The Marathon organisers had advised people to drain their bottles and throw them to the sides of the road but many were in the road causing a hazard. By draining the Lucozade bottles, the road became as sticky as a nightclub dancefloor! The compostable cups being trialled became a wet sludge and I had to slow down at these water stations for fear of slipping over. The organisation was fantastic though, I didn’t see the water stations run out of stock and I have heard much worse stories about lack of water in races.
I realised that the reason so many runners were slowing or stopping to walk was because they had “Hit The Wall” – the point where first time marathon runners reach the point they achieved in training and their head tells them “you haven’t run further than this before, you can’t do it.” I truly believe that running is 10% physical and 90% mental and I believe in having a positive mindset towards running. My friend who had run Brighton the week before had told me “There is no wall, the crowds carry you to the end” and I remembered this as I passed 22 miles – the furthest I had ever run. I thought of people’s running mantras and even started singling The Proclaimers in my head. “I would run 13.1 miles and I would run 13.1 more, just to be the marathon runner who runs 26.2 miles and gets that London Medal” – all together now!
My friend was right, the crowds really did carry me from 22 miles onwards and I saw Howard and the children again; my eldest son said “Oh Mum you’re so close!” It is so lovely when your children are proud of you.
Shortly I spotted an inflatable Canary in the crowd. I knew the Jags took canaries to marathons as they’re a Norwich City Football Club icon but I didn’t recognise the man in the hat and sunglasses until he shouted “Go Vikki!” and I recognised his voice. I realised the man with the Canary was Mel! It’s true, runners look so different in normal clothes! This really cheered me up so I gave Mel a whoop and a wave and carried on.
The density of the crowds and the noise was off the scale, it was so intense I felt like asking them to shut up so I could concentrate. We passed lots more music including a band who were encouraging the crowd to sing “Don’t Look Back in Anger” by Oasis – that was amazing! I also noticed that more and more spectators were holding pints of beer and looking rather sozzled in the heat. In fact, during the last few miles, it wasn’t Heads Together, my achievement or thinking about my family and friends that got me through, it was the thought of how much I wanted a cold beer! There was no breeze all day, very little shade and the temperature went up to 24 degrees. I had trained in freezing to single figure temperatures and then on marathon day I got a scorcher!
Although I had a great final few miles, there were unfortunately nearly 800 runners who did not. A number of times I saw the St John’s Ambulance staff helping tearful, limping runners off the course or pushing them in wheelchairs. I saw runners on the sides of the roads with their socks and shoes removed being tended to by medics, even one girl on oxygen who looked unconscious.
These scenes reminded me that these runners had injured themselves or made themselves ill doing what I was doing – endurance distance running in sudden and extreme heat. I reminded myself constantly to slow down, take on fluid, use all my gels and to check around me to make sure my fellow runners were ok.
After the marathon I found out that runner Matt Campbell had fallen ill and later died, shortly after the point where I had seen my family and Mel. This really hit home. I have since felt so much gratitude for the friends and family who constantly sent me messages and Facebook tags in the run up to the marathon.
Sometime after 24 miles we ran into the Blackwall Tunnel which was surreal as the noise stopped and we could see #SpiritofLondon images being projected on the walls. As we emerged the noise was deafening and I kept looking for the 25 mile marker thinking “Why is this taking so long?
Eventually I saw a marker and was astounded to see it was the “1km to go!” I started beaming and sprinting. Smiling during a race gets you noticed and I had so many people shouting my name, one lady even shouted “Oh Vikki, you look beautiful!”. I find if you acknowledge people who shout to you with a smile, wave, thumb up or thank you, they will cheer you even more and it’s such a boost.
As I ran along the Embankment, I saw the London Eye to my left and Parliament up ahead. The countdown markers changed from 800m to 600m and then I saw Buckingham Palace and I really cried then. I have watched the London Marathon on television for so many years and the view of the runners coming past Buckingham Palace to the Finish Line is so iconic. I could not believe that I was actually a runner in that scene. I ran towards the Finish and picked the middle arch knowing that the Elite runners had probably gone through that one.
I had said that I hoped to finish between 4:00 and 4:30 and I completed my first marathon in 4:26. I was over the moon with this because due to the heat, the sheer amount of runners on the course and having to slow my planned pace, I had expected my time to be nearer 5:00.
A lovely volunteer placed my medal round my neck and after collecting my goody bag I was amazed at how slick the organisation was when I saw all the baggage lorries neatly lined up.
The aftermath of the marathon is chaos and I found my family who were a bit frazzled from getting around the course in the crowds. Luckily we had been invited to a reception by Heads Together which was in a lovely building and I was given a free massage, use of a “freshen-up” area, a hot meal and drinks and the best post-race goody bag I have ever seen! The volunteers were wonderful and I was given a huge round of cheering and applause on arrival and greeted by Lorraine Heggessey, CEO of The Royal Foundation.
I am really grateful for my place in the London Marathon and I did have a wonderful day. The weather could have been cooler and if the holding pens were more streamlined, I would have got a better pace. After speaking to other runners, I found out that a lot of people really struggled in the heat and that I had done very well to maintain my pace throughout the entire course. I didn’t know if I wanted to run another marathon; the training takes over your life, it’s a long way, takes a long time and you really need to be entertained in order to keep going. London did have some dull bits so I’m concerned that another city might not have as much support. Will I enter the ballot next week? Yep, already done it!
It’s taken me nine days to even contemplate writing about my 2018 London Marathon experience but today I am ready.
I was planning a dramatic and lengthy review of my entire experience taking in the twists and turns of the last 20 weeks of my life, the long lonely Sunday solo runs around the ring road, the alcohol-free Saturday nights, squeezing in runs between taking the kids to school and starting work but that’s what most marathon runners do anyway. It’s not particularly unique to me.
And in any case my friend Vikki has written a brilliant and lengthy blog about training for this year’s London Marathon which I simply cannot top. You can read it here. Vikki is one of those brilliant, positive people who just smashes everything and takes it all in her stride. She obliterated her fundraising target and trained hard while helping other runners better themselves in Couch to 5k groups as well as working full time and raising three kids. Vikki, I salute you.
My London Marathon experience was really broken down into four sections: expectation, frustration, realisation and redemption.
The expectation came from a brilliant first 16 weeks in my 20 week training programme in which I hit every distance target with relative ease, building up the miles with the simplicity my two year old son Dexter shows building a tower of Duplo bricks. I got a 10 mile PB at Freethorpe in late January and on March 25 at the Wymondham 20, I got round in 2:52. If I got to that stage in London, I could drop down to 11 minute miles and still achieve my overall goal of running the London Marathon in under four hours.
With four weeks to go I got injured. It was a sore shin but 10 days of rest and a load of Voltarol later I resumed light running. With a fortnight to go I did my first Coltishall Jaguars training run of eight miles and then, a week before the marathon, recorded a 21:30 parkrun at Catton Park. I was ready.
I took the train down to London on the Saturday morning, went to the expo to get my number and timing chip and left within 10 minutes having circumnavigated the Clif Bar stand several times to stock up on free samples. I’m not a big fan of expos. I spent the afternoon and evening with my friend Steve and his family. He was also running and for the rest of the day we played with his kids, chatted about running, watched old marathon footage and ate pasta as well as drinking plenty of water and trying to keep out of the boiling sun. On the Sunday morning we walked from his house in Woolwich to the start, he went to his pen, I went to mine and I tried to relax and wait for the start.
It was already pretty warm and I tried to stay in the shade but it was getting hotter and hotter by the minute. I went for several wees, opting to use the urinals unlike the woman who chose to empty her bladder by squatting down right in front of me seconds before the start. “Sorry, that was disgusting,” she said as she readjusted her underwear.
She was right, but, as I was about to discover, she wasn’t the only thing to piss on my parade. I eventually started at 10:19am and felt great to finally get running. I will sum up the next five hours and 41 minutes of my life in just a paragraph, despite the fact that it felt like the longest and most miserable period of time I have ever endured.
I ran the first six miles at just under nine minutes a mile which was perfect. I was happy. Sweating a lot but happy. I got to the 14k marker (one third of a marathon) in exactly 1:20 so I was exactly on for a 4:00 finish. Then I realised my feet were blistering badly. Not on the toes or heels – those little nobbly blisters are always expected on a marathon, but on the upper half of the soles. Big proper blisters as big as an iPhone right on that big padded bit that hits the street for 26 miles. I spotted two St John’s Ambulance girls at the side of the road and got some plasters but that temporary fix didn’t really help. They were getting more painful over the next couple of miles and by Tower Bridge at the halfway point they were really starting to hurt. I was drinking plenty and staying well hydrated but realised I was now only running in short bursts and hadn’t actually run a complete mile for half an hour or so. It was around 12:45pm that I realised my marathon dream was frustratingly over. I was 14 miles in and had 12 miles to go. The only way to salvage an inkling of pride would be to walk the rest. I calculated at four miles an hour it would take me another three hours.
So that’s what I did.
It seems simple now but the only other option was to get on the coach sweeping up the other ailing runners and endure the most shameful bus tour of London on offer. I wasn’t going to do that.
I walked it out trying to nail 13 or 14 minute miles. The only one over 17 minutes was mile 25. A lot of those miles were undertaken with my pride in tatters. The thought that people were tracking my progress via the website back home made it even worse. “He’s walking it, what a failure,” I imagined them saying. Meanwhile, on the streets of London, people were shouting my name which was printed on my vest in clear black letters. “Go on Nick – start running, you can do it, stop walking…” I got fed up with their positivity and walked with my arm over my name. I hid my number when I saw a photographer so they wouldn’t be able to match my number to my photos. I had my eyes closed for much of those three hours too.
I was in so much pain towards the end that I could feel the skin on the bottom of my feet sliding around like an extra pair of socks. I dreaded to think what I would find lurking in my shoes when I finally finished. The last 800 metres were awful. All around me I watched my fellow London Marathoners, the class of 2018, enjoying their rite of passage moment. They were defying their aching bodies to sprint home with joyous grins on their faces, depositing lasting images in their memory banks. I was still walking but told myself I had to jog down the Mall. My body soon told me otherwise. I took the right turn in front of Buckingham Palace and broke into the feeblest jog I have ever produced for around five seconds. It felt like I only had stumps for feet. I walked the last 150 metres looking at the ground. I crossed the line, grabbed a medal and stood by a tree looking for a hug.
The rest of the day was a blur. I took ages to get my bag and find Lorraine, Zachary and our good friend Karen. They’d seen me walking along the route with a mile or two to go but I’d sadly missed them in the crowds. I sat down on some grass and nearly threw up twice. I revealed my feet to the London public and saw two women look away in revulsion. Karen asked if I wanted the volunteers from St John’s Ambulance to take a look at them. I did. I was wheelchaired over to a tent, given a sick bowl and the podiatry team of volunteers popped some blisters, covered them in sterilising solution and bandaged them up like two mini war-torn soldiers. I later felt faint on the Tube and had to get off two stops from Liverpool Street and sit on the platform in a sweaty mess before eventually heading home on the train.
Back in Norwich that night, I had a bath with my dressed feet poking out of one end as I had to keep them dry and then poured myself a token beer. I had expected to return home with my chest puffed out like a frigate bird but the truth was I felt no achievement at all, just personally devastated that what should have been the best day of my running life had turned into the worst.
My expectation had turned to frustration. But realisation was on the way.
I felt miserable on the Monday but seeing my parents and little Dexter again cheered me up. He had stayed in Norwich with his grandparents while his favourite train track builder was enduring a life crisis 100 or so miles away. Zachary went to school with my medal around his neck and that made me feel good.
Then I heard about the tragic death of Matt Campbell and all my pathetic personal despondency was gone in an instant. I imagined how his race had started, how his Saturday night had been. He’d been at the expo at some point too. He may have been there on Saturday morning. I may have walked right past him. I saw the photo of him in Greenwich Park standing next to a pal running for Asthma UK who I was also raising funds for. I thought about how he’d felt going into those fateful last few miles and then, of all things, I thought about the bag he would have placed on the baggage truck on the Sunday morning that tragically he never collected in person.
Today, like thousands of other runners I ran my 3.7 miles to Finish for Matt and donated to charity, the Brathay Trust. So far his fundraising page has raised more than £330,000. Check the latest total here. It was the least I could do.
In the aftermath of my own London experience my feet started to get better through regular salt foot baths. I emailed the company that made the socks and they suggested it was probably the wrong choice to wear double layer anti-blister socks on such a hot day. They said my feet would have swollen up far quicker than normal and that moisture would have probably caused the bad blisters. I decided I probably need to wear a half size larger shoes, maybe also with a wider fitting.
I needed something to take my mind off the whole London Marathon experience and I turned my attention to redeeming myself at the Mad March Hare 10k last Sunday. Thankfully it had been postponed due to this shocking spring weather and so fell just perfectly for me. Seven days after my London horror show I had another race to run in. While London was hot, raucous, overblown, grand and prestigious, the Mad March Hare was the complete opposite. An empty airbase in cold blustery conditions was a marvelous antidote to London and, with well padded feet, some old socks and some trusted five-year-old running shoes, I lined up exactly a week since London and made it round the 10k distance in 46:43.
As soon as I got the next medal, the London experience was forgotten, but the best thing about Sunday and the week between these two different events was talking to my other running friends who reassured me that I’d done a good job by simply finishing it. Nine days on I am proud that I didn’t give up and I am pleased I took part in the hottest ever London Marathon. More importantly I am pleased that today, on World Asthma Day, I have the satisfaction of knowing that I have raised around £1,850 for a cause so dear to my heart.
Runners are made of tough stuff. I knew what when I was standing on the start line at Coltishall last Sunday with a temperature probably 18 degrees colder than London a week earlier. The London Marathon can be a dreadfully lonely experience despite the huge focus on it, the extensive media coverage and the ever increasing hype and pressure you feel and put on yourself as race day nears. Compared to the warmth you feel at a Norfolk 10K cheered on by friendly marshals where you can feel the love of your fellow running friends, I am sorry London, but it simply doesn’t match up.
My friends reminded me that so much can go wrong in a marathon and I took a great deal from that. I’ve got to know some proper tough, ballsy runners over the last couple of years, many of whom have been through the same thing as me in the past couple of weeks. These runners are proper hardcore, balancing family life and work with producing amazing endurance efforts so the likes of Steve, Craig, Neil, Barbara, Vikki, Annie, Rachel, Kim and Jacqui, I am in awe of your achievements. There are dozens of others – Phil, Bex, Karen, Julie, Julian, Clive, Angela to name just a few more. Thanks to you and all the others who helped me see the bigger picture in that it was just one run on one Sunday and it doesn’t really matter.
There will be more runs, more medals, more days in the sun and more chances of glory and redemption. For now, I am happy with that.