A Glutton For Punishment

I know how hard this race is to get into for most people, I know how many are left disappointed the day the ballot results are announced and they receive the news via a magazine dropping on their door mats with the dreaded word ‘Sorry’ sprawled across the top, and I know how lucky I am to be there in our country’s capital city running what is quite possibilities the greatest road race in the world for the fourth consecutive year. In the past I’ve put my body on the line and missed the qualifying time by a mere 8 seconds and I’ve been unsuccessful in ballot twice.

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Those experiences have made me even more appreciative to get on the start line and I’m determined to one year actually enjoy the race rather than slog my way round feeling good for the first half then slowly dying a thousand deaths mile by mile wishing it would all be over with every slow and painful step. This is a marathon though after all. If they were easy everyone would do them and they wouldn’t be as special as they are. You wouldn’t get that glowing sense of achievement upon completing it even if you have struggled the majority of the way round. However many you do they don’t get any shorter. 26.2 miles is a long long way and I was to be reminded of that for the second time in as many weeks.

The plan had been to run a PB in Paris and just relish this one, soak up the incredible atmosphere and not set any expectations on myself. That didn’t quite happen though.

After a failed PB attempt two weeks earlier I knew it was very unlikely that my legs would be up for another shot so soon. They say a day a mile is the appropriate recovery time after a marathon so I was only half way through that but I decided I had nothing to lose so I would set out at PB pace and just see how long I could hold it for.

It started well, the pace felt comfortable and I was a lot more relaxed than I often am in races. I soaked up the atmosphere and unlike the previous two years I didn’t spend the first five miles trying to fight the feeling of needing a wee.

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The required pace was 6.15 per mile and expectedly this wasn’t a problem early on but how long it would last I didn’t know. It was just after mile 6 as I passed Cutty Sark that I could feel my thighs tightening for the first time but my pace didn’t drop. This was helped by seeing my Mum, Dad, Wife and club mates all there to support between miles 7 and 8.

By mile 10 I was beginning to struggle but still I managed to keep the pace consistent. I wasn’t feeling very good at all as I passed over Tower bridge but within a couple of minutes this changed.

As I approached the half way marker I spotted two friends. One passed me in the latter stages last year when I was really flagging and the other is a 2.30 marathoner. This gave me just the boost I needed and I picked up my speed to catch them. I got alongside David who said his legs had gone at mile 10 and then passed Paul who admittedly was in full fancy dress attempting a world record for fastest marathon dressed as a Viking (which he achieved). As I ran away from these two I was feeling great. It’s funny what a friendly face can do in a time of need and I actually had to slow myself down.

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It was this slight increase of speed couple with my ever tightening thighs however that meant it wasn’t long before I was struggling again and by the dreaded mile 16 I was almost done. This is the mile that has got me so many times before in marathons and I did begin to wonder if this had become more of a psychological problem than a physical one.

Determined not to let it beat me I picked up again on mile 17. I repeatedly said in my head “I’m not done yet” and managed to pull the pace back a little. I was still slightly quicker that my target at this point but it wasn’t long before I had to accept that I was actually done which was confirmed with a significant pace drop on mile 18.

The legs had taken all they could and in all honestly I was surprised they’d made it this far at this pace. Putting things into perspective I could only manage a slightly quicker speed than I’d been going for a parkrun the weekend before. I’d given all I had in Paris for a hugely draining first 20 miles and now it was just about getting to the finish line in a respectable time.

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I just wanted to make sure I made it in under 3 hours. I knew how horrible the last 10k of a marathon could be and I knew I was in for another torrid time but doing the maths after another slower mile I knew I couldn’t afford to take any breaks or do any walking even thought that’s all I felt like doing as I hit the final 5 miles.

I worked out that I needed to run 8 minute miles so that was exactly what I did. It was a pace my legs were able to just about manage at a point when my mind was wondering anywhere but the streets of London. I started to have spells of feeling slightly sick and a little dizzy. I recalled that this was supposed to be the more enjoyable of the two marathons I’d done and I wondered why I was doing this to myself again.

I could have quite easily jogged around this one with a ready made excuse and a smile on my face but that’s just not in my nature. I think I need to get to the finish line in pain knowing I’ve given all I have in order to get any sense of achievement. I always like to feel I’ve really done something to earn the medal they hang around my neck. I made it home in 2:57:51 which was enough to justify the effort I’d put in. I wasn’t exactly over the mood but I knew I was better off for the experience. That’s Chris 1-3 London marathon. All being well I’ll be back again next year to try to cut that deficit. I’m not done yet.

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