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

Lore of Running

I’ve read many a training book through both my sports studies when younger and to satiate my endurance sports passion as I’ve got older. All too frequently I start with great hope, that I’m on the cusp of newfound training enlightenment, of finding hitherto undiscovered secrets to improved performance, of methods that will revolutionise my thinking around how to train and how to slice seconds  or – dare I think it! – minutes from my PBs. And all too frequently the promise gradually dissolves as I read, until I finish the book with the far lesser satisfaction of mere knowledge consolidation. This isn’t because I know all there is to know! – far from it – but rather because most writers, in their desire to be thorough, struggle with presenting ideas originally. Ultimately their book ends up reading like most other training books on the shelves of all good book stores.

Lore of Running is a different story. Tim Noakes is a physiologist and pathologist, a health professor and a doctor of exercise science. He is a leading light on the subject of athletic performance and an undisputed expert in his field. What immediately strikes you about Lore is the sheer depth of research – quite literally a life’s work – that has gone into this book. Admittedly, being the best part of 1000 pages, it is a daunting prospect to read. But the weight of the text serves to support the feeling of trust in what you are reading. Noakes manages to turn fairly dry physiological and biochemical theory into a compellingly readable study of how exactly the human body works. Part 1 provides the best descriptions of muscle function, oxygen transport, running economy, energy systems and running performance I’ve found. This sets the scene for subsequent analyses in Part 2 on training basics, overtraining, mental training and a fascinating section on insights into elite athletes’ methods. Part 3 takes you from training to racing, covering distances from 10K to ultra distance events; Part 4 looks at running health and staying injury free.

I was first recommended this book by my friend Ewan – a sub-3hr marathon runner, who frequently quoted Noakes’ views when discussing our own training. Since reading it I regularly catch myself expounding Noakes’ principles as if my own, such is the impact it’s had on me. I’ve implemented many of his ideas into my own programs and I would recommend this for anyone who shares an interest in the science of training. As the Runner’s World cover quote suggests, it is geared towards those who take training seriously; but that doesn’t mean you have to be an elite athlete to find this book fascinating and an invaluable training aid. To borrow a few lines from George Sheehan – writer of the foreword in the fourth edition – this book “puts into words our own thoughts as yet unexpressed and leads us to insights not yet discovered. We all have within us the drive toward excellence. …Noakes…blazes a path for us all.”