So almost 3 months after I started this blog, it was finally here. Sunday 13th April, Marathon day.
If I was some whiny little asshole with no realistic career ambition, being interviewed on a reality TV show, just before I was being spat out back into real life with nothing but a 20 second showreel to my name, I’d tell you about how much of a ‘journey’ its been.
Thankfully I’m not.
I’m just a normal chap, that decided to share with anyone that fancied following my blog, what it was like to train for and run a marathon whilst at the same time sharing why I felt the need to take on such a challenge.
I blogged about the day before the marathon in my last post, when I was itching to get started. It was more of stressful day than I had planned, with some last minute balloon issues(!) and the tension was getting to me. Mrs PavementTherapy got snapped at, and overall mood in the household was less than perfect as we got to bed.
Next morning I got up after a mediocre sleep and started the preparation. The well rehearsed breakfast, the painkillers, the anti-inflammatories and the final foam roller session on the stubborn ITB. Last’s nights tension was forgotten.
I weighed myself to see what my racing weight was. 12st 4lbs. Not ideal.
Due to my stop-start training, I’d not really lost any weight like I had on the previous marathon attempt.
Unlike my previous marathon, this was a solo flight, and that meant getting to the start line an hour before kick off with only my thoughts for company. 3 months ago, just my thoughts for company was a fairly miserable prospect, but not so now.
My #Run4Dexter hashtag was paying dividends, as I sat in Greenwich park amongst the thousands of eager and not so eager runners, reading a steady stream of inspirational tweets, & some texts, I was feeling better and better about the struggle ahead of me.
The weather, as it was in 2009, was a spectator’s dream. Blue skies, Sunny and as Steve Cram told us while we warmed up “reaching 18 degrees later“. I had already applied factor 50 to my UV-shy Scottish scalp in anticipation.
As we lined up I felt butterflies, but even they were welcome. They were nerves of excitement rather than trepidation.
I knew that the first of my support crew was not going to be till 7 miles, so I didn’t need to concentrate so much on the crowds.
In my last blog I spoke of the huge crowds at London’s marathon, but even by it’s own lofty standards, this was something special. A combination of the sudden fantastic weather and Mo Farah’s 1st ever marathon attempt had brought out some extra fans. Now even the smaller streets and supposed quieter bits of the course were rammed. I was already thinking of what the ‘busy’ sections must be like if miles 1-4 were this well supported.
As we neared 7 miles, I started to scan for the big blue ‘G’ balloon, and sure enough I saw it about 80 metres before I had reached it.
I can’t thank Hattie enough for the idea of giving my supporters balloons for me to spot them, rather than them try and spot me in the massed ranks of runners. It worked an absolute treat, with me spotting every one of them throughout the course.
The choice of blue was an entirely arbitrary one by my wife, but I loved the symbolic connection with this blog. I was a very ‘blue G’ when I wrote my first post in January, but here I was now hunting down these floating reminders around London and each sighting gave me a massive lift when it came into view.
I had a rough idea of where to expect them: 12 miles, 14, 17, 19, 21 & maybe 23 before finally passing my Wife and the SANDS charity team in Birdcage walk before the final corner. In the end some of the team managed to move around and see me more than once, and the unexpected sightings were an even bigger boost. There were also some folk that I didn’t know were coming to support me, so seeing them was a little spiritual carb gel.
With my injury being caused by friction, I knew it wouldn’t matter if i ran slower, it would still occur, so I decided my race plan was to head off at my natural pace (about 8min 30s per mile) and keep this up till halfway if I could. The further I could travel before I had to slow down & walk, the better. Halfway came and went & and I felt good. Canary Wharf was full of G balloons, so they got me through the mid section. I did have to stop to get a stone out of my shoe, and then I walked when I got to the next water station to take on fluid but soon as I seen a blue ‘G’ I was back into my pace again.
As with my other marathon, miles 20 to 23 were the toughest, mentally & physically.
In the gym, if I have 3 sets of an exercise to do, the first set is ok. It’s new, you are fresh and you feel ok. The final set is tough but you know it’s the final one so you push on through, knowing you’ve got a break afterwards. The middle set for me is the killer. You’ve done one already so you aren’t fresh and you know what’s coming. But you also know there’s one after this so you can’t just give it everything you’ve got.
Miles 20-23 are my middle set in the marathon. I even got a stitch at almost the exact same place as I did in 2009. When it happened then, my good mate and running partner got me through it and to be fair probably was the reason I posted a time of 4:19:05 and not over 4 hours 30. This time it was just me.
Just me and the thousands of folk lining the streets, & the people giving out water, all going crazy shouting encouragement.
I battled on knowing one of my favourite parts of the course was close. The tunnel underpass on Upper Thames Street. After the heat of the glaring sun, you go into a cool tunnel and the noise of the crowd dies down. For about 45 seconds it stays like this, then you emerge blinking into the sun and the cheering becomes deafening. It’s closest I’ll ever get to running out onto a pitch in a cup final and it’s no wonder players miss that feeling when they retire. I get goosebumps just typing it.
This point also coincides with the beginning of the final set. You’ve past 23 miles and you know now that it’s over even though you are still running. It’s like workout nirvana again. Don’t get me wrong, I’m in a world of pain now at this point. Where previously I was taking 2 sips from water bottles then tossing them, I’m now guzzling down the whole lot. No breath is deep enough. I’m in a steam room, on a treadmill in a Gruffalo onesie and The Voice has returned for a final fight to the death. He’s swapped my trainers for concrete blocks but it doesn’t matter.
I can see Big Ben.
This part of the route is a masterstroke. You can’t miss the most famous clock tower in the UK (Europe/World?) and it’s the signal that everything is gonna be alright.
It’s the fighter plane appearing at the end of Saving Private Ryan, when Tom Hanks is ready to accept his fate.
As I passed Big Ben and yet another blue balloon I started to think about my time. I can hand on heart say that I checked my pacing in the first 7 miles, to make sure I wasn’t going too quick, and my overall time at halfway but then I never looked at the time elapsed field again. I’d been told to forget any chance of a good time so why worry about it?
Here I was at 25 miles and the knee had held up amazingly. I didn’t have much in the tank but I told myself, when I see the last ‘G’ balloon held by my wife on birdcage walk, I’ll check the time. If I’m close to something memorable, I’ll give a quick wave and try speed up, if not I’ll enjoy the last section.
As the balloon came into sight I looked down. 3:57:44. I had just over 2 mins to do that last 800m if I wanted sub 4 hours. Only world record pace!
If I’d have been told in January I’d be in this situation I’d have been gutted. So close to sub 4 hours? “surely that’s got to annoy you?” has been a common question since I finished. But I couldn’t disagree more. With how things have gone the past 2 months, 4 hours was a pipe dream. At one point just finishing was looking, unlikely. Seeing that ‘3’ as the first digit was unbelievable. I posed as I ran past the SANDS charity area, and then pulled out the photo of Dexter I had attached to the inside of my race number and savoured that last stretch of The Mall that I used to visualise in my training runs. I crossed the line in 4 hours 0 mins and 48 seconds, holding the photo up as I crossed.
Too many emotions to describe as you cross the line, but it’s another goose bump moment as I type.
I have no idea how I managed to keep up my pace so consistently for the whole course. Neither did my physio when I told him the time I got!
I reckon the following ingredients mixed to produce an elixir of positive energy that carried me round:
- The support of my close friends/family and their ‘G’ balloons. An incredible effort all round.
- The support of thousands of random people cheering me on, getting me running again when I stopped to walk for a few yards. Londoners, on marathon day you rock!
- The knowledge that a number of people had pledged £6,700+ towards SANDS in a show of faith for my marathon attempt. A ridiculous amount of money.
- Eoin Fennessy on my race number, he was a more accomplished runner than me judging by his Dublin marathon time and he nudged me along. Between the two of us we had 2 fully functioning ACL’s so we combined well.
- The guy in Westcombe Park singing “Altogether Now” by The farm, on a karaoke machine on his balcony as we ran past. He ad-libbed “because we’re ALL together today“. Brilliant.
- The fireman in Bermondsey, spraying us with a hose as we passed by to cool us down.
- The hundreds of kids all along the course who high fived me as I passed.
- The preacher in Woolwich complimenting our smiles as we ran past.
I could go on and on and on.
For such a physically demanding event, it was as enjoyable a 4 hours I’ve spent in a long time. When I finished in 2009 I said it was great but I probably wouldn’t do it again. Now in 2014, injury permitting I’d happily do it again. If it was on again next week I’d be up for it.
I can’t recommend it enough.
Which leads me onto the most common thing I hear when I mention my marathon attempt. “I could never do that. I struggle to run a mile”
Nonsense! Almost anyone can do it. If you struggle to run a mile now, then don’t. Run half a mile. then a week later do it again then try 3/4 of a mile. You’ll soon find that a mile isn’t a struggle and that’s how it starts. Slowly building up over time. As they say “It’s a marathon, not a sprint”
I’ve already had someone tell me they are inspired to try for a marathon, having run a half last year and followed my attempt. There’s got to be a few more of you out there who are tempted now…? The ballot for London 2015 opens here on 22nd April. Go On!
As for me, I’m giving my legs, body & brain a well earned rest before I think about my next challenge, but I can’t imagine anything that will compare to this one.
P.S. On the morning after the marathon I weighed 11st 12lbs. Considering post marathon celebrations included several beers and a curry (and a protein bar) that’s quite a difference to my 12st 4lbs starting weight.