It was April 2014, I’d ran my debut marathon just 7 days earlier in Manchester but I knew then, just as I know now, that the London marathon is the pinnacle of distance running so I wasn’t going to turn down the chance to run the greatest marathon on earth. Predictably that day was a struggle, my legs gave up on me quite early on but I pushed to the finish line and knew I’d been a part of one of the best races in history. From that day forwards I vowed to run the London marathon every single year that I could and four years on I was back in the capital for my fifth successive appearance.
The following year I recorded a time of 2:46:12 which still remains my personal best to date. In 2016 I was training for Ironman so had done less running than normal and last year I had a PB attempt in Paris two weeks previous still in my legs but this year I was going into London firmly fixed on running my fastest ever 26.2 miles
It had been a very cold winter with 20% of my preparation done in snowy conditions but despite this my training had gone very well. I’d done everything on my plan and I was feeling good. I had ran my second fastest ever half marathon in the build up so I knew I was in good shape.
After the coldest few months I’d experienced in my lifetime three days before race day the sun made an appearance. There was talk of a ‘mini heatwave’ and then the news that the forecast was predicting it to be the hottest London marathon in its 38 year history with temperatures reaching 23 degrees. This certainly wasn’t ideal but nothing could be done about it so I remained positive.
Sunday soon came around. I had hoped the 10am race start would at least give an hour or so of cooler air before the sun came out but standing in the ‘fast good for age’ starting pen sweat was already dripping down my forehead as I watched Queen Elizabeth push the button on the big screen to get us underway.
My target was a PB but I really wanted sub 2:45 which is the Championship qualifying time so that is the pace I’d been training at. That required me to run 6:13 miles. As usual the first 1KM was very congested but I’ve ran this race enough times now to know not to panic as the spaces soon open up. Purposely avoiding too much weaving around people I clocked an opening mile of 6:16. I followed that up with a 6:08 which meant I was now well into my stride and by mile three I’d hit my rhythm perfectly with a 6:13 split.
Already though I felt the heat was getting to me. Normally in the early stages of a marathon I’m having to constantly remind myself to hold back as the pace feels ridiculously easy. That wasn’t the case and the next couple of miles didn’t feel particularly hard but they certainly weren’t as comfortable as they should have been.
Thankfully there were water stations every mile. I was making sure to take some fluids in and I was also tipping plenty over my head in an attempt to keep my temperature down. As the miles went on and the sun beamed down stronger I found myself yearning for every drinks stop and was so grateful for each and every one of them.
I was finding it very tough going but I was still hitting my splits without too much strain. I decided I needed to get myself in a better frame of mind so I focused on my legs which were still feeling good (as you’d expect only a quarter of the way in). This really worked and suddenly made my whole body feel better. I told myself I needed to enjoy the race and I started to really take in the crowd and the atmosphere which is always second to none in London, this year more so than ever with the weather bringing out even more people onto the streets.
This feel good factor carried me though the next two miles in times of 6:04 and 6:06. I had also seen my Dad cheering me on which had given me a further boost. I couldn’t get carried away this early on though so brought the pace on mile right back to where it should be with a 6:12.
Unfortunately this feeling of running on air didn’t last long and by mile ten, which I always see as a significant marker, I was back to finding it more of a struggle than it should have been. I was now just focusing on getting to the milestone of the halfway point. I reached it in 1:22:12 so almost perfectly on target.
If beforehand someone had offered me that time at 13.1 miles I’d of taken it all day long but in the circumstances of this day I knew deep down that it was very unlikely I was going to be able to run that speed for that same distance again especially as I’d just clocked my slowest mile split so far of 6:19 and followed it up with exactly the same time again on mile 14.
It was time for a reality check and to reevaluate my goals. My options were 1. To keep pushing at this pace for as long as I possibility could which would almost certainly result in me going to pieces and the last quarter (or more) being absolute hell or 2. Come off the pace slightly, set a new target and try to enjoy it. Anyone that knows me will know that I would normally almost always go with option one but in this case, due to the extreme weather conditions, I went with option 2. This meant the new target naturally had to be sub 3 hours. It would mean I still had to push and couldn’t afford any stops or walking but I could run at a pace where I didn’t feel like I was going to collapse with heat exhaustion at an minute.
The next six miles averaged around 6:45 pace which was by no means easy with my thighs beginning to tighten up but getting to 20 miles was a big relief. All I really wanted now was the finish line.
The mile splits began to creep over 7 minutes but I wasn’t too concerned as my maths told me that I had room to manoeuvre. My energy had been sapped but I was determined to keep running and at 22 miles I got another boost when I saw my mum, sister and wife. I gave my wife a cheeky kiss on the lips as I passed her then focused on the last few miles.
Passing mile 23 and knowing all that I needed now was a 27 minute last 5KM allowed me to relax a bit more. I would like to say I cruised home but in truth it was more of a stagger but I made it stopping the clock at 2:57:31.
It wasn’t what I’d trained for or what I’d set out to do but neither had I trained to run in 25 degree heat. Sometimes you just have to accept what you’ve done on the day as good enough and move on. I know my time didn’t justify my true current fitness level but hopefully I can take that on to the next few challenges now. It was still a great pleasure to be a part of this historic event yet again and I hope I can continue my streak for years to come.