So let’s dissect the carnage of the London Marathon – selfishly for my benefit and hopefully to reach a conclusion about what the future potentially holds.
Granted this year hasn’t been perfect, however it has been a million times more perfect than the previous two – not having a knee op this year has been a pleasant change to tradition (although I got worryingly close again) and in general the build up to the first big day out of the year what reasonably well.
I missed one long run in the general build up and although I was cutting it fine with the original plan I was going with the conclusion that a trio of 20 mile training runs would suffice and mean that hopefully my knee wouldn’t be broken come the start line.
However that turned into a deuce of 19’s and a 15 miler (where I spectacularly melted in the heat) all completed on a pace to roughly get me to 20 miles in just under 3hrs and then leave the magic of the last 6 to race day.
The trip down was good, long and a bit boring but generally fine. The expo was smaller than I expected and I got in and out inside 10 minutes when I couldn’t find anyone I recognised and went to sit in the sunshine out the front, mindful of not wandering round aimlessly – after all I had a target to hit.
A target I thought was reasonable and achievable if I followed the plan, paced myself accordingly and held my mind together. The target was 3:59:59 – basically anything that started with a 3. I have only done one previous standalone marathon and that was Chester some 4 years ago where I hobbled over the line in 4:29 after little training and having never run further than 16 miles before.
So the goals were;
A – Go under 4 hrs
B – Beat previous PB of 4:29
C – Finish in one piece with no lasting damage
D – Enjoy it
Granted I didn’t think I could achieve D without A or B and C might and should probably have been A thinking about it.
Alphabet aside come the start line I was fit and healthy (by my standards) confident about what was going to happen, my pace for the first half, the timings of taking on gels etc. I remember sitting by the baggage drop lorry on the floor perfectly calm and relaxed – no mad dashing to the loo’s, no panic about what was to come, I was a little hungry (which has random) but other than that I felt perfect by my standards.
Maybe the confidence came from the Ironman thing of ‘it’s only a marathon’ bravado or I was over confident or just that I was happy I had made the start line after the countless hours of physio this year.
I am not welsh
The weather was spot on, the atmosphere great in my blue zone 5 start area and although crowded I had plenty of room. The pro’s went off and then the walk started till we got to the corner and entered the start straight past the seating grandstand. I stupidity figured that the crowd of runners would spread out after this point, but no – everyone seemed to do the opposite and it became almost overbearing when we past through narrower streets.
Having never run that close to others for such a consistent period I really struggled to not let it affect me. The crowds were also fairly consistently deep throughout apart from a short stretch at the start and I struggled to remain calm. The only feeling I can equate it to was that it was similar to panic attacks I sometime get during the start of a deep water triathlon start. The sensation of not being in control, of not liking what has going on around me and the sense of something going horribly wrong.
The inner demons were already out at this point as through 5 miles I was 25 seconds ish down on where I wanted to be. I reconciled this in my head by assuring myself I would just do another mile past 13 at that pace and thus make up that difference.
Legs felt good, head a little less so.
Through the next 5 miles it went ok ish – my pace dropped a little but I felt comfortable and although I knew I was going slightly slower than I had hoped I was still on track to get close to 4hrs and still didn’t have much room around me to run much faster anyway. I focused on just ticking off the miles and not really concentrating on what was happening at the sides or around me.
It was good to run past the landmarks you always see on TV such as the Cutty Sark and passing over Tower Bridge was admittedly pretty special but it was at that point that I knew things weren’t right.
I was struggling to hold 9 min miles, sweating massively (even for me) and only managed it twice thereafter, then I couldn’t hold 9:30 min miles and managed it 3 times before everything came to a head.
This was supposed to happen at 20 miles, these issues I knew were potentially coming but I had planned for them later, much later in the no man’s land of 20-26 miles where I had hoped the crowds would magically drag me along and I would somehow finish in a blaze of glory chasing down a sub 4 finish.
Not after 14 miles, not with so far to go. The demons came back (the old school feelings about being useless, being fat, not being up to it, not being prepared enough, delusions of grandeur etc. etc.) for the first time I admitted defeat to getting close to 4hrs and looking back now I probably gave up the will to attempt to get even in the same postcode as it.
3 miles later at 17 miles I just couldn’t keep running and thus begun the run / walk within which I managed increasingly less running and more walking through to mile 21 where I was then full on walking pace of 18 min miles.
My mind had gone at this point – if I known where I was, had my phone, some money or the ability to get back to the meeting place by pulling out I would have.
I would have taken the ignominy of not finishing over the humiliation of walking the rest.
Pacers charged by like regular steam trains with hordes of people hanging onto the back of the groups, pushing and scrambling to get past those cast to the sides or struggling. My rage at myself boiling over when pushed one too many times and pushing back verbally with a barrage of expletives that sweet innocent children offering jelly babies and orange segments shouldn’t have heard for at least another 10 years.
Head down, shoulders slumped, knees aching, feet on fire I plodded on.
The slow painful resentment of walking in an event yet again boiling inside me.
I know some people have strong feelings about people walking marathons or the run legs of ironmans – the completer vs the competitor syndrome. Some it appears set out to walk the vast majority of a large event, certainly London seemed to have a number of these (witnessed on the switch backs) and I have no problem with this if that is your plan.
Everyone has their own goals, their own agenda, battled their own demons to step up to the start line and their own plan to reach the finish. I would never berate anyone or belittle their achievement in facing personal battles.
But for me I absolutely hate it.
I hate the feeling, I hate the failure and I hate that I am not strong enough in both mind and body to push through things when everything goes tits up. At Outlaw I didn’t mind walking as I thought it would be the only way I would ever have the possibility of finishing a Ironman distance triathlon. It was what superhuman and superfit people did.
At Tenby I knew I would walk a large chunk due to my knees and I was fine with it (well not fine with when it started but generally fine), it was all about getting to the finish and closing the door on that chapter.
At Lakesman my guts (literally and figurerly) gave up and I could have kept going and walked the remaining 25k’s but I didn’t want to ‘just’ finish the event in 14+ hrs – I wanted to do what I set out to do and it was the same principle with London.
Knowing that I was going to be nowhere near the time I wanted, meant that there was no point pushing on wards with attempting to trot to the next drinks station or the next corner.
Sod it – who cares if I come in at 5 hrs or 6 hrs, both are way below where I wanted.
Both would be failures in my head.
With that in mind I just walked, I blanked out the noise, the supporters and all the razzmatazz bits that go with the event and just limped along in my own little pissed off, grumpy world.
Previously at Outlaw and Tenby I broke into a run towards the conclusion of the event and these are special memories (especially finishing with Sue and Zoe at Outlaw) but not this time. I resolved to walk every last step to the line, no breaking into a trot, no smiling for the cameras or looking happy. No pretending I had run it all or was content with my performance.
I just plodded down the last bit with the crowds seemingly ever increasing, the posh bit by the palace, the bit you recognise from the TV, plodded towards the red arches and then through one of them. I didn’t look at my time, didn’t look around me and didn’t smile for any camera’s.
I was given a medal, which I declined the nice lady putting round my neck and stuck it straight into my pocket (where it stayed till I was told to put it on at the service station on the way home for a group picture some 6 hrs later)
Spot the one not smiling
I took my shoes off and continued through the processing to get my various bags and then sat down by a fence, shaking.
Relived it was over, mind made up not to do anything so long again and full on plans killed for Outlaw and the Double Ironman or Equinox later in the year.
A big fat fucking failure.
I got changed and hobbled my way to the meeting point at the pub, through crowds of happy people smiling and joking in the post marathon glaze of glory.
I ordered a coke and then sat on the pavement outside alone on the strand and just sat there for 90 mins in a sort of daze. Not really talking to anyone and not really able to process my thoughts about the day’s events.
People regularly came up and asked if I was OK and offered words of encouragement, all of which fell on deaf ears to me.
I had finished a marathon, an iconic one at that, an event which I had worked hard to reach the start line but I hadn’t finished it in the manner I wanted.
In my head I had failed.
Maybe my target was unrealistic but the training I had done pointed to it being achievable, tough but achievable (Looking back if I had held the pace I had till mile 20 and then run the last 6 miles in the time it took me to do 14-20 I would have come in at 4:04 – that’s a big IF though)
Now I am left in a sort of post event daze.
What to do going forward. In the past after events it’s been quite easy to formulate a plan and dig up the resolve to go after something else;
After Tenby round 1; book Tenby round 2 and finish it
After Tenby round 2; book a flatter one (Lakesman) to beat my PB
After Lakesman; book Outlaw aim for PB and right the wrongs from Lakesman
After London;…………Who knows
During the long walk and later the long bus ride home I resolved that having done 2 marathons and 2 Ironmans, alongside 10 x 70.3’s and countless half marathons it is probably a good haul for someone who not so long ago was 22 stone.
I am still fairly chunky and that doesn’t seem to be changing, my knees are still fairly ropey and that won’t be changing anytime soon.
Seeing other people’s reaction to me finishing the event is heart-warming – I don’t agree with some of the comments I have got and think a lot of it is praise I certainly don’t deserve.
Seeing my daughters face when I came home was amazing and the fact that she has taken the medal into school today to show everyone does give me a twinge of pride. She doesn’t care if it didn’t go to plan – she just cares that I came home again, brought her a present and was fit enough to take her to gymnastics last night.
A feel like a gambler who is slightly addicted to things.
I always want to roll the dice again.
I always want to place a bet on the next event.
I always want to see.
I always think afterwards – it wasn’t so bad, why didn’t you push through it, next time you will don’t worry.
Next time you will achieve what you think is possible – next time you will run that sub 4hr marathon, next time you will go under 12hrs at an Ironman.
Do I think I have a (what I consider a) decent marathon in me? Yes but I don’t know if that’s just bravado talking or wishful thinking.
Do I want to put myself through it again?