With exactly 11 weeks to go, I revisited my diary from last year’s Virgin London Marathon adventure. On the back of the Dubai marathon only two weeks ago, I can barely bring myself to contemplate going through it all again… but how can I not?
Here’s my story of the journey down…it’s all coming back to me now.
The London Marathon 2015
24th April 2015 – the journey down
I’m on the train down to London with my Gav. We’re listening to other runners on the train talking about “The Marathon”. A couple of women in front of us are mid-chatter “…Yeah, I hear Paula is running with us regular runners this time. We may see her!” Me and Gav chuckle to ourselves at the conversation. She’s hardly likely to be overtaken by Barbara in a tutu or the Running Rhino. I’m standing up next to a guy who’s waiting for loo – it’s his first marathon. Small talk reveals we’ve both been fixated on the weather report for the last week. “It’s supposed to be a monsoon isn’t it…” “Have you done it before?” …”Nope – it’s my first time… I ran a 23 miler last week which seemed to go ok…” I daren’t mention the word ‘taper’.
Fortunately, the loo becomes free.
We arrive at the expo – it’s swarming with people. Some – unsurprisingly – look like experienced, fully-fledged marathon runners. There is a ‘cool’ stereotype: well-worn trainers and the running equivalent of ‘shabby chic’ “What? These old things? Nah I’ve just thrown them on…” Those head-to-toe in fully branded, last year’s VLM merchandise with all but “HEY, LOOK AT ME! I’M RUNNING THE MARATHON, DON’T YOU KNOW” tattooed across their foreheads are trying too hard. They somehow can’t quite carry it off. It’s the others who fascinate me. What’s their story? Have they been running all of their lives? Has running saved them too? How confident are they, and are they likely to run past me on Sunday? I’ve learned from experience that you never can tell.
I see a man and his partner getting onto our tube. He’s clearly running – he has the shabby chic ‘well-worn’ trainers. She isn’t – she’s wearing a flowery dress. Ridiculously presumptuous – she could be planning on kicking the course record for her age group for all I know. However, I am confident enough in my presumption.
It’s standing room only on the tube. I lean over and make my offer of polite conversation: “Are you all set for Sunday, then?” I’m genuinely interested in whether or not he is running, and how he is feeling. He seems surprised that I have spoken, and even more surprised that I ‘telepathically’ know he is running the marathon (it really doesn’t take a genius). He replies that he is, and we quickly establish that neither of us are novices. We bond over this. “Yeah – I’ve done it before” I tell him. He has no idea of my 15 year journey to carve myself into any semblance of a runner. Why would he? I can’t help myself: “You going for a time?” Quietly, he replies he’s aiming for 3:25. “Oh I may well see you then” I retort. He looks surprised, and makes some utterances about my being a “speedy one”. My ego thinks it’s appropriate to throw in my Yorkshire marathon time from last October “Well, I’m hoping for around the same kind of time.. I did 3:16 at Yorkshire marathon last year (I still wonder if it was actually me who ran that time, or if I dreamt it). “Oh really. Wow” he says. I suddenly wonder if I sound like a complete cock.”Yeah but I’m not sure if I’m in the same form for this one – anything can happen on the day, can’t it?” I try to bring myself firmly back to reality before daring to believe that I may be capable of such a time again. My fragile ego is back in its box.
The expo is a dichotomy between inspiration, possibility and excitement on the one hand; propaganda, hype and commercialism on the other. You take from it what you will, but it’s easy to become sucked in. Money is burned like litmus paper. “Try our new Beetroot Bar – it delivers nitrates to parts that other vegetables can’t reach“… “Our high-carb energy bar has 3 different types of carbs, whereas most energy bars only have 2…” We are all susceptible to the hype, the promises, the possibility of anything which could conceivably make us wannabe Paula Radcliffes and Mo Farahs run that millisecond faster. Coconut water; fancy strips of support tape to make pretty patterns down either thigh; springier trainers with more bounce for your buck; a hi-tech watch which can tell you your heart rate, run cadence, and when you need the toilet – both under water and in arctic conditions.
The running attire is endless. New “performance-enhancing” socks, a state-of-the-art vest made from the latest breathable mesh material which is miraculously capable of regulating your core temperature, and was tested by NASA in a lunar module. The socks look very much like regular socks, the vest looks scarily like a normal vest, and the watch looks smart, but you’d fall over messing about with its many gadgets whilst on the move.
Finally, having succumbed to my own limited toleration of the one-stop-marathon-shop, I pick up my annual London Marathon Bear for Tilly, apologise to the man at the checkout for contributing to the madness, and headed for the nearest glimpse of fresh air.