London Marathon 2018 – hottest on record.
‘Isn’t it funny how some people look like they’re just shuffling along?’ I distinctly heard a woman in the crowd say, distinctly about me.
It was surprising how many individual comments that did pop out from the wall of noise. In my four previous marathons the biggest field has been about 300 runners with a handful of spectators gently hand-clapping here and there, so lining up with over 41,000 others on a course where every inch of barrier was thick with crowds was always going to be a different experience. I’d never had a huge urge to run London, put off by tales of it taking 40 minutes to get across the start line, queues for loos and no space to run your own pace, but seeing as I’d scraped a Championship place by running sub-3:15 at Montauban last year it seemed rude not to use it.
My build-up had been far from ideal, having depleted myself and trashed my knee by completing a 24-hour trail race in February. I knew I was jeopardising my marathon by running it but I thought I’d be able to recover reasonably in 2 weeks and then have a solid 8-week training block using the cracking plan written for me by Kristian Morgan. I actually couldn’t run again until the end of March, which gave me 4-ish weeks that had to include a bit of a taper. I had cross-trained on my bike, the stair master and by ski touring so I felt really fit but not run-fit and my leg turnover was sluggish. I kept the faith though, fairly sure that I could make it round and determined not to miss the shared experience with my brother, who was running his second marathon. I entered back-to-back 10k, half-marathon and 10k races to wake my body up a bit and they went unbelievably well, but I was on a knife-edge with my dodgy knee and I was lacking long runs. I know endurance isn’t my biggest concern though! The races gave me the confidence to set my ‘A’ goal as a sub-3:10, my ‘B’ goal as a PB (sub-3:14) and my ‘C’ goal as a new club record of sub-3:21. I picked up a 3:10 pace band at the expo and it made me feel physically sick looking at the audacious splits -basically 2x my best ever half-marathon, back-to-back.
It was surreal being on the Championship start, watching Sir Mo and the eventual winner Eliud Kipchoge warming up and listening to runners discussing their target times of 2:30. There was still a queue for the loo, just amongst faster people. I got mobbed at the start, as I had anticipated, by the fast ‘Good for Age’ runners who started just behind us. I couldn’t run at 4’30/7’15 pace because it was chaos and I just had to run at the speed of the people around me, which was a bit hotter than I’d have liked, but actually felt ok. I had thought that being at the pointier end of the race would buy me some space, but absolutely not. I couldn’t get near the blue racing line and I missed the first two water stations from just being stuck in a swiftly moving mass. It was pretty scary and I was terrified of tripping other people up. It got even worse when we merged with the runners from the red start. The kilometres were clocking up quickly though and I was at 7k in what seemed like no time.
I made my way over to the gutter so as not to miss any more water stops, which meant running through a perilous sea of discarded plastic bottles, but I felt happier tucked over to the side. The showers were useless -just a light spume -so I stopped going off line to seek them out. I was chucking all my spare water over my head and did get one effective dousing from a fireman’s hose. I noticed that I was burning though sugar and started taking gels (Torq and Gu Roctane) very 25 minutes instead of to my 30-minute schedule. I got down a few salt tabs but they turned to mush in my plastic baggie so it became increasingly difficult and I would pay for this later on.
I was absolutely on target pace, with my watch showing an average of 4’27 per km (7’11 miles). I was so focussed I didn’t even see the Cutty Sark. Or Big Ben. Trouble was, I was running a greater distance than a marathon with not being able to follow the blue line and all my weaving about. Doesn’t matter what it says on your watch, it’s the course markers and official timings that count. I didn’t realise that I wasn’t going to run 3:10 until I was into the last 3 kms and I double-checked my pace band against the clock.
Having felt really positive, relaxed and confident throughout the race, it all suddenly started to fall apart. I was shocked to be suddenly off-target and the leg cramps that had been threatening since halfway really kicked in. I was tying up, which has never happened to me before, and every footfall came with the threat of a possible collapse. I was willing my body to send any remaining electrotype reserves to my feet and calves, which felt like they belonged to someone else entirely. Even at the 600-metres to go marker I wasn’t certain that I’d make the finish. Everything was numb and wobbly.
I’m obviously pleased to get a new PB, but I’m also frustrated because I know there was more in there. Strava calculated my best marathon time during the race as 3:07 and I think I was possibly in that kind of shape, had the conditions been kinder and had I not put in those darn extra 900 metres.
There were people in a lot worse shape than me though -there was carnage everywhere from about mile 20 onwards. Some of the best club runners in the country hobbling along, keeling over, lying down in the tunnels, trying to stretch out cramping legs. The medics were doing a brilliant job but they were a bit overwhelmed. I do think it might have been an idea to provide an electrolyte drink on course. There was water or Lucozade, but nothing with any salts. In French marathons they always have water with a little bit of glucose and table salt on offer, which is a very simple thing but one that can completely revive a depleted runner.
Tim had a bit of a stinker, after suffering from a virus for the past 3 weeks. He showed huge sticking power to jog it in nearly 3/4 hour slower than he’d hoped for. He hasn’t reached his potential yet so we’ll have to enter another one next year. Striders Scott and Ian also fell a bit short of their targets due to the heat, but I think we all enjoyed the experience.
Thank you to Angus, Felix, Tali, Mum, Richard, Dad, Jan, Ruth, Andy, Sally, Roly, Eleanor, Vicki, Jana, Becky, Jason and everyone else who was there cheering me on on the day. Thank you equally to those of you who supported me from afar.