London Marathon 2017

So that’s it all done and dusted, the London Marathon 2017.

First of all, the facts. I finished in 6hrs 47 mins, a PB of some 23 minutes. You’d think that’d please me. It does but not as much as it should.

But behind tIMG_6202hose facts there’s a story to tell, a tale I will develop in what is going to be a very long post. So, sit down, strap in, fix yourself a drink and read on …

Waking up on the morning of the race I didn’t experience any of the nerves or sense of dread that I normally suffer from before a long run. In fact, I was quite relaxed, I had slept well during the night and my mindset was one of let’s just get ready and do this.

I got to the start hassle free, via Old Street and Cannon Street and the bonus of a seat on the early Deep Heat Express to Greenwich.

However, once I got to Greenwich I had to make a beeline for the loos, something that was to become something of a theme for the day.

DSC_6221 (002)Thankfully the crowds weren’t too bad at the time so I was able to get in and out again fairly sharpish. I’ll not go into specifics but let’s just say Imodium was to become my best friend.

I spent the next while going for a dander around the park, speaking to a couple of people from Asthma UK and also a girl from the Diabetes UK forum.

After that it was back to the loo again, albeit after a long, long queue this time. By this stage I feared this might cause me issues later in the day.

That sorted, I made my way to the starting pens. I was allocated pen 9 but after finding it I just kept walking forward and ended up in pen 8 by the start of the race.

I was Blue Start last year, Red Start this year. I was quite happy about that. Red is the classic start you see in all the pictures with the 1000s and 1000s of runners all bunched together. I was glad I got to experience that.

Onto the race itself, it all began much as I expected. I deliberately kept to a low pace and, as we approached the three mile mark all was going well. There were a couple of hills I hadn’t bargained on but other than that there was nothing to report, I enjoyed soaking up the atmosphere and dealing with the slightly surreal feeling that I was running the London Marathon. Again!!!!

FullSizeRender 68I haven’t even been running for two years yet this was my second marathon. Bizarre.

At every 5k checkpoint there was a succession of mats laid out across the road, they are slightly elevated and normally they’re not an issue. Unfortunately I landed just on the edge of the final mat at the first checkpoint, twisting my right ankle slightly.

I didn’t think too much of it at the time, I thought I’d just run it off after a mile or so. Unfortunately I didn’t and I could feel it getting progressively more uncomfortable the longer I went on. It wasn’t really painful as such although I did have to slow down every time I felt it hurt a little.

The first real landmark of note on the marathon route is the Cutty Sark which comes at around 6-7 miles in. The crowds around here are really unbelievable, standing ten deep, and it’s an amazing feeling to have their support. It really spurs you on and, for a while, I was able to forget about my ankle as I was swept along with the atmosphere.

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Michelle before our Memory Lane run

Next up for me was nine miles. Not a remarkable part of the course by any means but it was at that point I had to text ahead to my daughter to let her know I was on my way.

I had won a competition through one of the race sponsors, Buxton Water, to have someone run a small part of the course with me as part of their ‘Memory Lane’ promotion, at mile 12 just before the turn for Tower Bridge.

I picked my daughter Michelle and as per the instructions I had to confirm when I had covered nine miles so that she could get in position.

It pleased me to get to the 12 mile mark at exactly the time I had predicted, it was a good indicator of how well my race was going, ankle problems notwithstanding.

I’ll admit now that seeing the entrance to the Memory Lane was quite a spine-chilling moment, knowing she was there waiting and that she was about to share a small part of the experience with me.

It felt amazing to be ushered into the cordoned off area of the road specifically set aside for this. I felt like a celebrity and it was so so good that the crowds were still quite noisy at this stage.

After hugging Michelle and restocking my running belt with the gels she had waiting for me I heard the opening bars of Arcade Fire’s “Wake Up”‘ the song I had chosen as our soundtrack for the run. Goosebumps.

As we set off she told me to look to the left and there was her boyfriend, Hamish, holding a banner which made me laugh. Then, much to my surprise, Michelle took my hand as we ran. It made this old man very happy, very proud and very emotional.

My friend Dawn was standing close to the end and recorded the whole thing which was amazing. It’ll be something that will stay with me forever.

After hugging everyone a couple of times – it was so great to see them – it was time to set off on my merry way again. I was on such a high at this point, albeit a gibbering wreck.

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My Diabetes UK buddies from 2016

Then I turned the corner to go up the little slope towards Tower Bridge, and on the right hand side spotted the Diabetes UK cheering point and all my buddies from last year. I got the most amazing reception from them, absolutely superb, I felt like a celebrity even though I wasn’t running for them this year.

I think I might just have floated over Tower Bridge. I don’t recall much about crossing it last year so I wanted to make a conscious effort to take in as much as possible this time. As with Cutty Sark the crowds were sensational, and as I was running I looked from side to side to soak as much of it up as possible. It was everything that the hype suggests it is.

IMG_6192This little period of time made me forget about my ankle which had really started to niggle and it returned once I was over the bridge and past the halfway point. However, a much greater issue arose around the 14-mile mark as the course turned onto Narrow Street.

This was the start of my tough period last year, both physically with cramp and mentally as doubts began to creep in as to whether I could finish or not, and whilst I didn’t experience the same this time around I did start to need to visit the facilities for the third time.

buckhouseI joined a queue for a bank of toilets but, after a few minutes, there was no movement (excuse the pun!) so one of the marshals told us there were many more toilets a mile or so further along so I resumed running again – but when I got to them the queue also didn’t seem to making much progress so, after another wait for a couple of minutes, I decided to carry on, trying to resist for as long as I could.

That lasted until 17 miles when I spotted a single cubicle with a queue of around just ten people at it. Brilliant, I thought, this queue won’t take long. I don’t know what some of the people in front of me did in there but it took 25 minutes before it was my turn. What a waste (ahem!) and it totally buggered up my finishing time.

It was so frustrating and annoying to stand there and watch all these runners going past, people I had passed a lot earlier in the day.

I kept moving while I was waiting otherwise I’d have seized up which was just as well because as soon as I had completed my business I set off like the hammers of hell to make up for lost ground.

Canary Wharf was the next major point of note on the course and, as with last year, the crowds were great here too, very noisy and with some great bands to keep morale up.

After that came my nemesis from 2016 – the out and back section along Aspen Way. This almost broke me last year. My legs seized up then, I don’t recall any other runners around me and I needed the help of a couple of marshals to get me going again.

Not so this year. My legs felt good, there were plenty of people around me and I was determined not to let it beat me. I got that monkey off my back.

Onto the halfway point between mile 20 and 21. I knew Dawn had made her way there to join up with the Asthma UK cheerpoint so knowing she was there gave me that extra impetus to keep going. As I approached I heard this almighty racket in the distance and as I turned the corner I could see the charity colours and the band beside them. It was a real party atmosphere!

It was so great to see Dawn again. I guessed she had been worrying. She had been tracking me so was wondering why I had stopped for so long earlier on, so it was good to explain to her, have a quick chat and get a few hugs in the process!

Just five miles or so left … I took a bit of a breather around mile 22/23 before I was recognised by Katy, a girl from Diabetes UK who was struggling with her calves so I spent a little time with her, trying to encourage and reassure her. I’d never met her before, so it was so nice to be spotted and very sweet of her to post on Facebook afterwards about how much I had helped her.

All that remained now was the Embankment and those last couple of miles. The end was nigh! You know that once you see the London Eye in the distance that you’ve almost done it.

There was a real sense of celebration running those last couple of miles, noticeably moreso that last year. Maybe it’s because I was quicker, maybe it was because of the much better weather but I enjoyed the Embankment much more this time.

Big Ben then came into view and I spotted the Diabetes UK cheering point again and, as with Tower Bridge, they gave me the most raucous of welcomes. In fact, so great was the welcome and the hugs that they almost lifted me over the barrier! Thanks Vicky, Louise, Cuffers, Fitzy, Sam and whoever else was there. You were amazing!

Then came Birdcage Walk, the final kilometre. Due to the reception at Big Ben and the chants of “Mar-tin! Mar-tin! Mar-tin!” from the #TeamDUK folks I again felt as if I was floating up the road.

Turning onto the Mall I knew Dawn, Hamish and Michelle were waiting there so I tried to spot them in the crowd but, somehow I totally missed them. Oops. I wouldn’t have stopped at this stage anyway because I could see the finish line and I was focused on getting there.

The relief on crossing the line was palpable. It had been a long, hard race not helped by my ankle, my absurdly long toilet break and the sheer heat of the day. But I had done it, and in a better time than last year.

Crossing the line and getting my medal was special. I felt a little emotional so I asked the lady putting the medal around my neck for a hug and she obliged. Thanks Julie!

As I said at the start, my official time was 6:47 but my Strava time was 6:18 which is probably a much more accurate reflection of my run. It was still a little slower than I’d have liked but given the problems with my ankle for most of the day I have to be pleased with how I got on.

Afterwards it was great to see my little band of supporters again for more hugs. We then made our way to the Asthma UK afterparty whereupon entering I was treated like a hero, with a huge round of applause as I walked in before being taken away for a very welcome massage and then some food.

A special word for all my Asthma UK teammates too. I met a few briefly in the start area, including the famous Puffina (aka Dana!) and also chatted to some out on the course and briefly afterwards. The support was great, the pats on the back as they passed me were encouraging and I hope I reciprocated.

When it came to chucking out time from the charity party Michelle, Hamish, Dawn and I headed back to the Old Street area (where we were staying) for a celebratory drink and something to eat. The tube journey there was so good. Complete strangers were offering me their seats, congratulating me and having a quick chat about the day. It was also good to get – and return – many “well done’s” from other runners. You can say what you want about London, but on days like this the place really comes together.

Will I do it again? I said straight afterwards never again, but I also said that last year and look how that turned out 😉

For now, though, some rest.

If you’ve enjoyed following my progress could I be so bold as to ask you if you’d consider making a donation to my chosen London Marathon charity – Asthma UK? No amount is too small, and all donations are received with such heartfelt thanks. My fundraising page can be found here. Thank-you so much.

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