Finally, after 26 years of trying, I completed the London Marathon on Sunday. In an emotional roller coaster of a day with some terrific support from Olney Runners, I limped home thereby completing what I had set out to do in 1981. Despite having trained throughout 8 winters specifically for the event, this was the first occasion I had actually got to the start line but probably also the least prepared I have been. At 17 I could have taken each of the 26 miles in my steady stride, at 42 it would have to be yard by bloody yard.
The winter’s training has been haphazard at best. Insufficient time to work on speed and quality meant that the longer endurance runs became the cornerstone rather than complimentary to the training programme. With available training time also meant to be split between running and cycling and a longer than expected recovery in the autumn from IMUK, the base period was already suffering when I lined up at the Bedford Half in early December with my usual inflamed left calf muscle. A sprint finish later and I had seen off fellow clubman Greg in a respectable 1 hour 24 mins but I had also seen off another couple of weeks of training by aggravating my calf. Never mind, I’ll start in earnest after Christmas and now had another fellow clubman, Dave Pepper, whose name came out of the Olney Runners’ Christmas Draw and Dee Bethune, an habitual London marathoner, for training company.
The training continued to be haphazard and I never quite got into the programme. Some pleasant morning runs to work (12 miles through the famous Wychwood Stud where the Devil’s Horsemen’s horses took to chasing me across their fields, Emerson Valley, Furzton Lake, Teardrop Lakes and Loughton Lakes) were too infrequent. My usual 15 mile route became a long slog and I could never quite find the time in the day to add those quality sessions. I missed out on the Watford Half and embarked on the Marie Curie 15 miler as a test of stamina – only to be found wanting once again. A seventh place finish scant consolation for a hard morning’s work.
In between, I still managed the annual masochism that is the Big Cow Winter Duathlon Series. The revised course of 4.5km, 16km, 4km has meant a reversal of the cycle loop at which I had become reasonably adept. I didn’t enjoy the new direction. The slightly longer initial run caused many a raised heart rate and those final few extra uphill metres resulted in more stressful and therefore less efficient first transitions. Battling the opposite way on the bike was never comfortable and I always found an excus to go slow – the January ice made the Zipp too twitchy on the corners and the February wind stopped me in my tracks on the modst climb. However with a less than satisfactory 10th and 7th place behind me I produced a slightly more respectable 5th place in the final round to achieve a 3rd overall in the Vets.
This was getting me no closer to a London start and so once more I lined up at the Oakley 20, the scene of at least two of my previous pre marathon downfalls. With Ironman Austria colleague Toni the only Olney representitive (Dave having hobbled out of London contention the week before) , I shared the journey with Deb Self who was training for London for the first time. With a determined plan to this time take it steady, reach the finish line and under no circumstances speak to Imogen, the cause of so may of my failures, I made my way to the start. The plan came under immediate attack for there she stood, between the briefing point and the start line. I could not be so rude as to just walk by and, by mile 6 we were still chatting. By mile 8, Imogen was chatting and I was nodding, by mile 11 I was gasping as usual.
Although Im had also planned to ‘take it easy’, she was constantly being reminded that she was the second lady and so at 12 miles she apologised (there was no need, honestly!) and off she went to pick up the pace by 30 seconds a mile. At mile 17, deja vu, well almost, this time my right calf expired and I set myslf up for yet another round of expensive physios and an anxios three weeks to see if I would make the start line of the World’s greatest marathon.
To keep me amused I had to track down some support stockings to ease the tension in my calf muscles and improve the return of my running action. Deb O was more than happy to locate said hoisiery and then laugh when they were applied, but with a feeling of just wanting on get on with it I booked a hotel in what must have been the only room at the inn, a half mile from the start line. A busy working week detained me til Saturay afternoon and, as a stress reliever, I do not recommend a last gasp dash to the London Docklands to register, especially when the outside temperature was heading toward the 30s and the temperature inside my head was reaching boiling point. The hotel receptionist discovered what they taught me to say 20 years ago in the Paras when she tried to charge me more than the exorbitant rate I had already paid on line. No little lady, that is not how you try to endear yourself to me.
Thankfully race morning was cool and I lined up 10 metres behind the celebreties, as close to the front without actually trampling on anybody. Sadly I joined the waiting ranks 45 minutes from the off, however I had food – a banana – drink, and a t shirt I could throw away with 5 mins to go. Dee came over to shout out good luck and I was joiend by Paul H- a former Para and now a guide runner for a blind Olympian marathon runner. I had no palns to stay up with them but on the off we all bade our farewells and wished each other luck.
Slight drizzle kept everyone cool through the first two or three miles and I was happy with my 6:50 pace and enjoying the early atmosphere. Miles 3 – 6 became a little more crowded as all the starts merged into one road and I watched as Elvis ran passed me looking very strong on his come back performance. I wasn’t too botherted as I thought I’d have him back before the encore. At mile 7 I met up with fellow vet Phil Redden and we chatted for the next few miles, our progress now being punctuated by the band of Olney Runners supporters who had come down to chear me on. I had feared missing them in the crowds but the shrill voices and OR banner made them instantly recognisable! They ran a back double to see me at 7 and 9 and I was basking in their support until mile 10 when I started to go backwards. Something was already wrong and I had yet to reach the midway point. Surely it was not a lack of energy, despite the difficult preceding week and I was taking a gel every 6 miles and carrying carbo drink to keep the glycogen high and drinking water at every opportunity.
At 11 my left calf muscle began to expire and Phil ran on. It’s that old medial head again and I awaited the next sighting of the OR crew so that I could pull out before I caused any more damage. Mile 13 appeared and with it the 7 minute mile pace maker came by. I had lost my early gains and no sign of the girls. I did however spy Imogen running the opposite way with the elite women and offered my usual support. Still no sign of OR so I decided to ‘get thee behind me’ 7 minute man and push on as best I could. Debs and Neil cheared me through the mid point – 1:28:30 – spot on for a sub 3.
From 13 to 18 I dug in and worked as hard as I have ever done in a race. My calf deteriorated and as I tried to alter my running action to compensate, my quads decided to join in with the complaint. The 7 min man was 10 yard ahead and I just had to keep him in sight to justify the misery. At 19 the girls returned and I briefly thought of quitting but with just 7 to go and still being on target (2:15:17 at 20 miles – a vet pb) there was no reason why I shouldn’t.
The crowds by now had become 20 deep and the noise was deafening in some places but I struggled to join in the fun as it was taking all my energy just to stay on the road. I had been looking forward to returning to the City and viewing the architecture of my childhood from this rather unusual perspective however by now I had tunnel vision and just needed now to finish. The 7 min mad was now out of sight and I had 10 minutes for the final two kms but even then I knew that the game was up. Having average 4 minute kms to date, now it took me nearly 6 and I felt myself falling backwards as dozens of runners streaked for the line. I missed the girls at 26 but by now I was rolling badly and had already satisfied that this would be an honourable finish, saluting the crowd and almost walking across the line in 3:01:38.
I met loads of people I knew after the race. Coaches collecting their prodiges and runners either delighted or disappointed in equal numbers. I rang the girls and they met me under the O tree from where we found a pub with one free stool which I quickly appropriated. All I fancied was a pint of Guinness which was duly provided and I sunk into my stool and appreciated the refreshment with much satisfaction. With the manners of a long distance runner I then took off both shoes and socks and treated my feet to Elite’s post competition freshment cream……bliss! As ever, the end of my formerly frost bitten toe came away and we suddenly found ourselves a little more space as people moved away!
Thanking the OR girls who had so diligently supported me, and now coming to terms with the satisfaction of completing London, I passed on my appreciation and noted that it must have been difficult to spot me in amongst the many thousands. The reply was as accurate as it was disappointing, “That was easy”, they responded in unison, “when Elvis came by we knew that you wouldn’t be too long. In fact, just behind the the guy in the big red heart…..and the chap in a dress………and St George towing the dragon!”
So the phoney season is over and it is now that the real racing begins. The British Duathlon Champs in Edinburgh is tomorrow and I have just finished cycling the bike course with Michelle Lee. I need a top 5 finish in my category to qualify for the Worlds which will be a tall order. Having watched Michelle today she will come in
the top 3 in the elite in this her first international as a duathlete – you heard it here first!