I thought I would wait a few days before writing up this entry to get a more rounded perspective of what actually happened on Sunday. My initial feelings on the day were not what I had thought they would be. To be honest, I was a little disappointed in the experience. But, like I say, with a bit of time to reflect and put some other factors into their rightful place, this will probably change.
I could start by taking in the fact that I was about to take part in one of the most iconic public participated sporting events in the world. Now that should elevate it a bit.
I did not have the best night’s sleep on Saturday night, in fact I was awake by about 1:30am and wrestling as best I could to suppress any negative thoughts by forcing memories in of all the hard work I had put in and how I will just squeak in front of Mo at the finish line later today. I must have managed to win that battle as my alarm clock brought me into consciousness at 5am.
After small porridge and a second, third and fourth inspection of my kit bag later, I was ready to disembark to the train station to board the Striders bus at 6:30am. The journey was incident free apart from the state of the toilet, which I assume was being utilised to the full by numerous nervous patrons. I will try and keep this blog entry above the waist, but you might as well share the full experience with me. We arrived at Greenwich Park at 7:45am and all dispersed to our designated starting areas. Fellow Striders, John and Rose joined me at the red start, which was home to all the charity placements.
Despite the early arrival, the time soon went by with the preparation of another instant porridge and the first of many visits to the toilets, the queues of which were never as bad as implicated on numerous forums. The kit bag drop off was quite a strict operation and everything needed to be in by 9:30am, when they would be closed up and whisked off to the finish line awaiting their repatriation later that day. My blood ran cold as I walked away from the drop off realising I still had my favourite hoody on, derrr! Fortunately, despite the light-hearted ‘rules is rules’ quip they did re-acquainting my top with my kit bag, phew!
Although the sun was out, it wasn’t hot yet as a gentle breeze was coming in from the Northeast. In my secondary, disposable kit bag I had a bin liner which I had carefully fashioned into an article of clothing the night before so it would take off some of the chill. As well as a countdown to the start, the big screens were displaying some of the peculiar sights around the starting lines as dinosaurs, telephones and large fruit alike were sipping their final drinks and alighting as best they could in their cumbersome outfits.
There are three starts of which I think our one, the red start, is probably the largest and we could all view down the tree lined entrance to Greenwich Park as the starting gun sounded. However, it was close to 22 minutes before I actually got to the start itself. Time for some last minute stretching, removal of disposable clothing and encouraging words to fellow runners in the vicinity. The mass gradual shuffle to the start progressed through the gates to Greenwich Park, then a left turn up Charlton Way towards the large arching starting line, over the red chip sensors, Garmin’s on, and that was it! The London Marathon 2014 for me had started.
Mile 1 to Mile 8
Right from the outset there were people lining the streets and cheering the runners on, a few pubs had arranged early opening times or perhaps it was late closing times. Music was filling the air at various intervals either from pubs or just some people who wanted to let rip with their hi-fi’s knowing they wouldn’t incur the wrath of their neighbours on this day. One family were hanging out of a third floor window, shouting and ringing bells, while back on the pavements children were holding out their hands for high fives to encourage the runners along. It was during the first couple of miles I could have just balled my eyes out. I have no idea why, it could be that suddenly all those eight months of training were now being put on the line and the day I had been looking forward to was now actually hear. This feeling subsided after a few miles and I was happy to save any dramatic emotional outburst until the end.
I was conscious not to go out too fast, I was also advised not to waste energy weaving in and out of human traffic for the first 3-4 miles, when the field would open out a bit more and I could then get into a more suitable pace. As it turned out the first few miles I was at a 10 minute mile pace which was just perfect.
The red, blue and green starts merged at around the three mile mark and coincided with the first water stop. I made the decision to start taking Shot Bloks now and continue having one every mile washed down with a glug of water from a fresh bottle of water. This is my first long run for a while where I haven’t wanted to wee straight away, so those numerous visits to the toilets earlier were paying off. Most of the toilets for the first half of the race were accompanied by some lengthy queues, although there were opportunities to nip into the odd bush en route.
I passed my first costumed individual, a Rhino! It looked a cumbersome outfit with the head below the head of the runner and of course it being a sunny day, it would be hot in there. You have to either admire or question the sanity of anyone who is prepared to do this for charity. The next loon up was a guy with his own Karaoke machine strapped to his waist. Sporting a microphone in his hand he belted out his repertoire to the admiring crowd as he ran passed. A group of us joined in on a rendition of Madness’s ‘It Must Be Love’ until our host was distracted my some well-wishers and so we left him behind to conduct his own musical marathon. It was shortly after this that the Guinness record seeking, 32 piece marching band all dressed in orange and playing their way around the streets of London came into view. They were trying to regain their record off a German band that took it off them last year.
Continuing the musical theme was a guy with a short black skirt, carrying a vacuum cleaner singing “I Want To Break Free’. This may have been amusing to members of the cheering crowd, but a bit tiring when you hear it for the umpteenth time, so a good incentive to up the pace and allow me to ‘break free’ from his poorly delivered tones.
In my mind, one of the biggest motivating sounds you can hear are the sound of drums (remember the kid with his drum kit in Milton Keynes a few weeks ago). As we dropped down into an underpass there was a troupe of Taiko Drummers pumping out a formidable and inspiring running rhythm. I would have loved to had stayed longer to soak up the beat but there was a more pressing event going on that needed my attention.
I spotted Neil in his Parkinson’s running top ahead of me and soon caught him up to give us both the opportunity to have some company for the rest of the race. By this time we were heading back towards Greenwich and around the Cutty Sark where there was now a bigger concentration of supporters all pitching up near the numerous pubs and now basking in the warmer sunshine. Some were setup for the day with bottles of wine corked and bbqs incinerating whatever innocent meat that had been put their way.
I was looking forward to seeing Sue, Tess and Doe at the first BHF cheering point in Surrey Quays. I could see the BHF flags in the distance so pushed my chest out and put on my best smile that was soon wiped off my face as I passed a sparsely supported stretch of pavement with only a smattering of red t-shirts on show. Fortunately the error was that I was not looking on the correct side of the road as many other spectators had made their way onto the course, obscuring the throng of Heart Runners supporters. I clocked Sue and Tess, checked behind me so I could conduct an emergency U-turn and ran over to embrace them with the best sweaty hug I could muster. No sooner than uttering ‘hello’, it was time to say ‘see you in ten miles’ and get back to this running lark.
Mile 9 to Mile 20
Neil and I were both becoming more accustomed to having our name encouragingly shouted out as we progressed through South London. However, behind us, we heard ‘Come on Karl’, ‘You can do it Karl’, ‘Looking good Karl’. What was so bloody special about Karl? Well, I will tell you what was so special about Karl, he was dressed as a pumpkin and looked a right burke. But he was getting all the support he needed to pass us and disappear into the distance.
It is a well-known fact that Rhinos are an endangered species and I can understand why, as most of the population were running the London Marathon today. I must have passed 10 or 15 during the course. The more common camel on the other hand were in shorter supply, the only one on view had the unusual ability to run with its back legs next to it’s front.
Just after mile 12 we turned off Tooley Street to be greeted with stunning view of Tower Bridge. I don’t think I have ever seen it looking so spectacular, so to enter North London through such a landmark was a highlight of the day. Half way across the man with a 70lb fridge on his back came into view, apparently when he got to the end, he went back to Greenwich and did it again. It struck me that if it had taken 12 miles to catch up with him, then I was a long way back at the starting line and I was still moving at an inadequate pace. The Garmin was showing I had dropped to over an 11 minute mile pace which wasn’t what I wanted, but there was an inner voice formulating some new guidelines for me and in view of the weather and traffic it made sense to concentrate on getting around without incident.
There were a number of runner related hazards over the course that could easy scupper the journey to the end. Discarded bottles were the first obvious threat, despite the common sense approach of throwing them off to the edges of the road, the more socially ignorant would just drop them by their feet. Increased vigilance was necessary, especially immediately after any water or Lucozade stations. The same could be said of discarded and lost gels, one did stick to my trainer and I foolishly try to remove it in a hopping along, peeling off sort of motion.
The sudden recognition of a friend or relative is a lovely thing, it spurs on the spirit and makes you feel like a million dollars. However, if you are just behind said person, then the sudden change of direction or flinging up of arms can result in the slamming on of the brakes or ducking a smack in the face.
Being so far back in the ranks, there were a lot of people walking quite early in the race and again socially unaware enough to walk three a breast or in the middle of the road. It is a shame that not all people develop a conscience about the existence of the other 36,000 people sharing the road with them today, but what can you do?
Tower Bridge was now behind us, we turn right towards Canary Wharf and run a mile and a half along The Highway and passed the half way arch, where the demoralizing site of runners, nine miles ahead, were coming the other way. I clocked a fellow Strider in this pack hitting an impressive stride with only four mile left to go, lucky bugger!
I looked out for one of Sue’s friend Louise as we entered Limehouse. This may well have been a subliminal distraction technique. The futile chance of seeing someone who in all probability was sitting with her feet up somewhere completely different, supping a cup of tea and watching the marathon on the TV was more likely. The gentle traffic calming ramps through Limehouse rudely refocused the concentration as my right foot scuffed uncomfortably against the modestly raised tarmac.
We descended into a large underpass that was filled with a familiar aroma. What is that? Oh yes a gents toilet! It would have been rude not to use the facilities. The only trouble was finding it. Guys, you know what I mean, a bit like when you go swimming!
We followed the road along the Thames, through the Isle of Dogs from mile 15 to 18. We entered Canary Wharf and the second BHF cheer point. I saw Sue and Doe this time at the back of the crowd, on a bank waving at me. It is one thing to be cheered on by the crowd, but there is a significant lift to see people you know and love jumping about and looking so animated for your benefit. The changes in my running posture were later illustrated by the photos Sue took of my approach to their position as I proudly strutted my stuff. This contrasted with the hunched form photographed a few hundred meters on one of the switchbacks leaving the wharf.
This was now new territory for me, I had only run 18.5 miles in training, so was it all going to become painful? Was there a wall approaching? Would I be in pieces over the next few miles having to rely on mental games to keep my body from crumbling? Nearly everyone has a ‘pain’ story to divulge at this stage of the race and my inexperience at this was going to be tested now.
I was doing all the right things. I had been chomping on Shot Bloks every mile and taking water at least every other mile and occasionally dropping an electrolyte tablet in to ensure I was in the best possible shape to get to Buckingham Palace and the finish. I wasn’t paying any attention to my Garmin any more as the fading chance of getting a desired 4:30 finish had diminished. What I hadn’t expected was a 4:58 pace runner to pass me at mile 20 and this was certainly not acceptable. I endeavored to pick up my stride to at least keep him in sight. Without thinking too much about the consequences, I lost my companion of 15 miles, Neil, and rather selfishly soldiered on to keep up with the bouncing flag disappearing into the crowds ahead.
It was at this point that I realised one of my Nip Guards had gone AWOL, but fortunately at this distance there was no end of volunteers with outstretched gloved hands offering shining globs of Vaseline for runners to apply to whatever part they feel has a necessity for lubrication. After some unceremonious applications to the chest area, a potential nip episode had been avoided.
Mile 21 to Mile 26.2
Just after mile 21 you reconnect with the two way stretch of The Highway and eyes left to view the runners still on mile 13 that were being shadowed by some large sweeper trucks devouring up all the discarded bottles and gel packs and if they don’t get a move on, probably themselves. The miles were passing slowly, but they were passing, and without any obvious physical distresses as yet!
Mile 22 felt quite significant, as it was only two miles before I get to see my personal fan club again along Victoria Embankment and then just another two miles then to the finish.
Unusually it was my quads that were the first to show signs of failure. I took the opportunity at the long underpass on Upper Thames Street to stop and stretch them out. The immediate relief was effective, if only for the next half a mile or so. Conveniently it was as you rejoin the world from cool subterranean relief that the crowds were probably at their most vocal. This may have been as the end was close, but it could be that most of them have had more time to sink a few alcoholic beverages as they’ve waited patiently in the sunshine.
The tree lined embankment offered protection from the sun and the added boost of ‘Go on Warnesy’, ‘Looking good Warnesy’ bellowing out by enthusiastic strangers was all I needed to push me to the end of this adventure.
The last BHF cheer point was looming in the distance near Charring Cross Station and I could Sue and Doe waving from afar. This time my chest was out as far as it would go and my fists were pumping, but I resist the urge to do some clever dance arrangement with my feet as that would have possibly been my last action of the day. However, it may have got me a spot on the Six O’clock News or at worst, You’ve Been Framed.
The Houses of Parliament were up ahead and the London Eye was looking splendid with the River Thames glistening in the foreground. We took the right turn passed Big Ben and up to Birdcage Walk where mile makers were replaced with meters left banners. Not that that helped particularly, as 400 meters is a bloody long way when your legs feel like they have a months worth of food shopping strapped to them. The end of the tree line Walk opened out with a view of Buckingham Palace, not that I remember paying much attention to this as the finish line was the only tonic my eyes would accept at this point. I didn’t have a sprint finish in me and although the clock was displaying 5:16, I knew I had at least 22 minutes to take off from the start, so I was assured of a sub 5 hour finish. I tried to make myself presentable for the cameras, I adjusted my face to remove any distress and wiped off any unnecessary drool, a visual scan for any rouge lumps of Vaseline attached to my person and a quick check that my hair was not out of place as I headed for the line.
And that was it! 4 hours, 56 minutes and 29 seconds after leaving Greenwich Park and it was now over. There were no floods of tears! No vomiting! No dramatic leg failure or collapses! In fact none of the fears developed in my head over the last few weeks were evident.
As a continuation of this sadomasochistic experience, you are presented with a wooden ramp to scale to have your timing chip removed by an eager volunteer armed with some clippers. Coming down the ramp the other side was pure torture to an already failing body. The reward was to be adorned with a finishers medal and goody bag that would hopefully contain the ingredients to bring me back into the real world.
I was starting to feel a bit nauseous and after a quick visit to the loo and picking up my kit bag from the lorry, I propped myself up by a tree and half heartedly went through some stretches while routing through my belongings looking for something I could ingest that wouldn’t make me sick. After a few attempts at getting up and not feeling quite right I took advantage of being stationed next the St John’s Ambulance tent to get myself checked out. They were excellent, I was triaged and taken to a seat while being accessed further. The diagnosis was over hydration as I estimated I had taken in over 4.5 litres of water and only three of those 250ml bottles I had dropped in an electrolyte tablet. So I had diluted my essential salts and minerals, so I sipped on a diarolyte drink for 10 minutes until the nausea had passed.
Without exception, virtually everyone was congratulating the runners for finishing, it was a nice, positive place to be. The next nice place I wanted to be was the BHF party, unfortunately it was about half a mile away. I awkwardly hobbled over the road by Admiralty Arch and around the busy roundabout to Northumberland Road and down towards the Embankment. The entrance to the party was up a set of eight painful steps, at the top I was greeted by the same girl who I met at the Expo last week. She apologised that the party was in the bowels of the building, so 20 minutes later I finally got to sit down with Tess, Doe and Sue. I scoffed down a couple of chicken sandwiches and Doe worked her magic on my legs to release the muscle fibers to hopefully make the journey home a bit easier. It was just nice to sit down for a while and just start to reflect on how all of our days had panned out so far.
Emerging back into the daylight after another staircase marathon, we witnessed runners still coming along the Embankment looking tired and broken, but tantilisingly close to the end of their experiences. We said our goodbyes and went our separate ways home. Due to a travel drama this morning, Sue had to come in via the tube from Stanmore, so we had to ‘walk’ all the way back to Westminster tube. I slumped gently into a seat, after more stairs were negotiated and what seemed like hours waiting for a tube to thunder in to the station.
The tube left the city and snaked through the suburbs of London in the late afternoon sunshine. This idyllic peaceful journey was brought to it’s senses as the doors opened at Wembley Central and the contents of the stadium’s FA Cup semi-final between Sheffield United and Hull swarmed in to fill the carriage. We exchanged a quick roundup of our respective days with a disappointed united fan before the tube rolled to it’s conclusion at Stanmore.
My legs were arguing with the rest of me as we weaved through the crowds and local roads back to the car. It was tempting to just go to sleep in the car when we arrived back at home and face the consequences later. However, I peeled myself out of the car and heaved my way upstairs, I steamed in the shower for some time before getting straight into my jim jams and laying into a massive plate of bangers and mash while still trying to formulate my thoughts and feelings from this incredible day.
To be continued…