Blackheath to The Mall: 26.2 miles around London

London Marathon

6.30am: Fairfield Grove, Charlton Village. My alarm goes off to signal that the day of the London Marathon has arrived. 99 days of training and a day of rest has preceded this day and – despite a few pre-race nerves (and two surreal race-day calamity strewn dreams) – I’m buzzing with excitement. Memories of gorging on two main courses at an Italian restaurant in Greenwich with friends the night before quickly comes back, and forcing down yet more food is – frankly – the last thing I want to do. But two bowls of Dorset muesli with water (not milk), two bananas, a Lucozade energy bar and several pints of water are gobbled before 6.45am. I ensure my pre-race meal is finished 3 hours before the start time and stop drinking 2 hours before.

8.20am: Blackheath station. The packed train arrives and scores of runners jostle and bounce their way up to the Blue start in Greenwich Park. Feeling relaxed.

9.15am: Greenwich Park. Where the hell are my gels?! A moment of blind panic as I scrabble around in my bag for three gels taped together. Are they on the bedroom floor in Simon and Reena’s flat where I’d stayed? Can I call them? Is there time?

9.17am: Greenwich Park. Thank heavens for that. I’ve found the gels hiding in my bag, and calm pre-race thoughts can resume.

9.42am: Blue start. I down a small bottle of mineral water to aid hydration. This fluid will be used by the body well before it passes through, alleviating the risk of an unwanted toilet break.

9.45am: Blue start. The horn sounds and the 2009 London Marathon is under way. I’m pretty close to the front so it only takes 1 minute to cross the start line. Notwithstanding, it’s still tricky to run free due to the volume of runners and my first mile is 8.04 – behind pace. From mile 2 congestion eases and I settle into a comfortable 7.15 tempo.

10.08am: Mile 3. The route drops down from Charlton Park to Woolwich and I clock a 6.57. This is too quick; I must keep the adrenalin in check! The saying ‘if it feels too quick, it’s too quick; if it feels about right, it’s still too quick’ comes to mind. But the problem is that months of training has got you to this point, this precise day when you’re in peak condition and it’s the hardest thing to move down a gear. Despite notions of a 7.40 pace, 7.15s feel comfortable, smooth and – well – about right! The mind plays tricks on you, constantly re-assessing splits against target pace and likely finishing times. I guess this is where the elites develop the ability to create and execute a firm race strategy without deviation.

10.21am: Mile 5. Friends Jon, Moray, Simon and Reena cheer me on. Today is warmer than expected and grabbing sips of water at most stations is crucial. London is very well organised in this regard: long tables on both sides; lots of volunteers; it’s very easy for the runners.

10.36am: Mile 7. The crowd support through Greenwich is incredible, especially by the landmark Cutty Sark. At mile 7 I see my family for the first time, sporting flags and banners and smiling faces. This is a real adrenalin rush. As mile 8 approaches I suddenly find myself on the shoulder of Gordon Ramsay! “Go on Gordon” I say, with a thumb up. “Go on son”, he responds.

11.19am: Tower Bridge. Amazing feeling crossing this monument of London; really lives up to expectation. I go through the half way point in 1.35.46, definitely under target pace. It gives me a good cushion, but will I pay in the second half? I always do this and really shouldn’t; maybe one of these days I’ll execute a negative split. I pull back as the Wharf looms and aim for just under 7.40s to reserve energy for the last 6 miles.

12.03pm: Canary Wharf. It’s getting tough now. Passed someone receiving oxygen in Narrow Street and also saw a guy veer off course and stagger into the crowd – dehydration is a risk, but my experience from 30-degree Stockholm 07 helps me balance fluids and carb intake. Isle of Dogs is probably the most demoralising part of the race, but the sight of my family at the Wharf gives me the boost I need to push for home. 1 hour to go.

London Marathon 200912.36pm: St Paul’s. Feeling better now. The crowd support through Lower Thames Street is brilliant and I can smell The Mall in the distance!

12.53pm: Embankment. Hanging on to 8s to 8.15s through gritted teeth. I’m still on for a PB, but it’s going to be close on a sub 3.20. Houses of Parliament remains just out of reach.

1.03pm: The Mall. The last 800m are cruel, and the way the finish hides out of sight around two corners compounds the pain.

1.06pm: The Finish. Marathon number five is over! 3.19.23. Sheer relief. And the beer in The Clarence on Whitehall tastes wonderful.

I narrowly beat Chris Boardman by 5 seconds on the line! And the sight of Nell McAndrew in lycra at the finish line makes it all worthwhile. What a day, what a race. Of my friends: Ewan came in at 2h55 – awesome; “no more fast marathons” he says, but we’ll see! Matt finished in 3h58 despite only six weeks’ proper training for his first marathon; very well done. He’ll be joining me in September for the half iron.

Now, how do I break 3h15 and tee up a shot at ‘Boston Qualifying’ ?!

 

Pace graphSplit times

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Reading Half Marathon 2009

Reading

I told myself after completing Amsterdam in October 2008 that I would put my marathon running career on hold to focus on Ironman 2010. Running marathons – especially when sucked in by the promise of PBs – has the tendency to take over everything. The majority of 2008 was spent running 7 days-a-week, following Mike Gratton training plans for Paris and Amsterdam. I really wanted to get back on the bike, and to dive into the pool again after some sixteen years since doing any kind of swim training.

But then the letter appeared in my pigeon hole from the London Marathon: you have been allocated a place through the ballot. I’ve never run London before – how could I say no? A modified Gratton programme has followed, substituting the 1-hr steady and two 30min easy runs for a Saturday ride and twice weekly morning swims. The idea being to improve overall fitness, sharpen swim technique and get my bike legs back, whilst maintaining my preparation for London. There are no short cuts to a marathon; cutting back on sessions normally leads to loss of pace or – more likely – endurance. Or so logic suggests.

Yet here I am. March 29th: my first road race outing of the year in the form of the Reading Half, with training going better than any of my previous four training plans…and I fancy a PB. But then I would say that; it’s an addiction.

I’d had a cold the few days preceding the run, so my expectations were tempered; but from the gun I felt good. 12,000 runners lined up for the main race, so balking proved trying over the first two miles or so. And – despite thinking Reading was pancake flat – the steep hill after mile 2 threw me. Living in London, I don’t train much on hills: I should make more of an effort to do so, I told myself as I struggled to ease back into 7-minute mile pace. Granted there are plenty of downhill sections too, but for similar reasons I find this puts strain on my hamstrings.

Still, bar my customary mid-race sticky patch – this time at miles seven to eight – I was starting to feel strong, and the desire to show good form for my parents waiting at the 11-mile marker was the catalyst I needed. I knocked out a couple more 7s and felt buoyed by the fact I was passing people, whereas when I set my PB of 1h33 in Bristol I was hanging on for grim death by now. The Madejski stadium loomed into view, then toyed with us as the route veered away from the giant metal bowl, before swinging round a round-about back to the stadium entrance. I love stadium finishes, and with the clock ticking I burst into my best Linford Christie impression to cross the line (watching the video I lope more than sprint, but it’s the thought that counts right?!).

New PB: 1.32.38. Who says cutting back mileage is always going to lead to loss of pace or endurance? And I’m sure I can break the elusive 90-minute barrier next time out. But then I would say that; it’s an addiction!

Reading course profile