THE VIRGIN LONDON MARATHON 2015
[Extract from my diary 26th April 2015]
Well, now at least I know how the next chapter goes… The Virgin London Marathon 2015 was a tale of two halves for me. Lots of lessons learned, so here goes:
I woke up feeling refreshed after a good night’s sleep. I felt unburdened and not particularly apprehensive or tense – I’d spent so many weeks and months in the build up to this, that the day itself came as a bit of a relief! The weather held off from the reports we’d seen. There was no monsoon, although it was grey, drizzly and cold. Me and Gav headed to the tube station and the walk up to the blue and green start areas seemed to go on forever. With only fifteen minutes to go before the baggage buses left, we headed to our different zones. Gav was subdued and needed to get his head together to deal with his injury concerns – his marathon would end at 10 miles, but I’d be oblivious to that until after my marathon ordeal was over.
At the green start, I quickly sorted out my bag for the luggage buses. With only the gear I would run in plus an old T-shirt to bin on the start line, I was pretty cold. I found a corner to stand and huddle. A kind young lad smiled and offered me his mum’s jacket to wear whilst we were waiting around. His mum and girlfriend were on the other side of the fencing. Grateful for the kind gesture, I hung her jacket around my shoulders. We had a brief chat, obviously both filled with pre-race nerves. It was his first marathon and he was hoping for under 4 hours. “It’s one to tell the grandkids in years to come” he chirped “I don’t plan on making a habit of this! It’s on my list of things to do, and once it’s ticked off, I’ll be happy“. His unpretentious, matter-of-fact goal was refreshing in a world which can otherwise seem to be consumed with times, PBs and outcomes. He just wanted to say that once, in 2015, he had run the London Marathon. I admired him for that. With only 10 mins to the start of the race, I handed his mum her waterproof jacket back over the fence (the same one which had shielded me whilst I had a cheeky wee in the corner of the field a few minutes beforehand – graciously, the family had tried to spare my blushes whilst my pre-race nerves pressed on my bladder for the fifteenth time..)
I headed to the start. Making a bee-line for the 3:15 pacer, I positioned myself in amongst the others where it was warm with body heat. A few other conversations and pleasantries were nervously exchanged. It always intrigues me what others are hoping to do, or what kind of running background they have. One guy clocked my 3:15 pacing band and asked “is that what you’re going for? Crikey. You’ll be way ahead of me“. I said that I’d like to get somewhere around that time, as I’d done 3:16 at Yorkshire Mara in October, and I could only give it a go. What’s the worst that could happen?
So, with my Garmin finally all synced up with the satellites having located my exact position on planet earth, there was nothing left to do other that wait for the gun to go off, and run. Surprisingly, I hadn’t seen any other runners I knew in the green waiting area, although I guess I had been sheltering in a corner, hiding under a kind woman’s mac. I’d decided to go with the 3:15 pacer and see what happened. But, I know myself too well. The first mile was a scrappy, messy bustle as people jiggled to find some space, hopping on and off curbs, quick-stepping around those who would otherwise get trampled, apologising to those whose arms caught the brunt of my elbows.
Once the first mile or so was out of the way, I found my rhythm – and it was fast. I knew it was fast. I felt fresh-legged, light, ready to run. I wasn’t carrying any tension in my legs, and I was running free. It felt good. A few miles underway, and I was already ahead of the 3:15 pacer. I didn’t overthink it – whilst I felt to be bouncing along, happy with my pace and not pushing too hard, I figured my time would come for struggle but I committed myself to “run in the moment” and enjoy how it felt right here, right now. I saw a runner ahead of me from my club, I knew she would be going for a similar time to myself. Without hesitation, and not even considering steadying my pace, I put my hand on her shoulder as I passed her, and we exchanged a warm smile. She would come back to take me much later on, but for now I was oblivious to what may lie ahead. She looked comfortable, maybe going 20 secs per mile steadier than me. I ran on. No sooner had I gone past her than I saw another girl I know who was also gunning for a time around 3:15. In my ignorant bliss, I continued to crack out 7 min miles, and 2 sub-7s. Up to the halfway point, this felt to be something I could manage to sustain with relative ease.
And then… At the half marathon point I started to think “crikey there’s still a hell of a long way to go here“. For the first time during the race, the distance scared me. Mine and Gav’s training had consisted of plenty of half-marathon races, and of course a few longer training runs, but arguably I was in better shape for a decent 13.1 mile race than I was prepared for a 26.2 mile one. What I should have learnt from Trimpell 20 a few weeks beforehand was all about the pacing. There too, I’d set off far too fast and had suffered for the rest of the race, clinging on for dear life for most of the latter half. I had certainly felt better for the first half of London, but should have remembered the pacing lesson from Trimpell. So, I was about to start the gradual decline into grim hanging-on territory which I’d have to deal with for the best part of 70 subsequent minutes. I’d passed the 10k point in 44 mins, the half marathon timing mats in 1:34, and 20 miles in 2:24 (faster than my best ever Trimpell 20 time of 2:29). I was on track for a 3:10 marathon, but it wasn’t to be.
Accepting that I’m not superhuman, and these decisions will come and bite me on the backside, it became clear that my fast early pace came at a cost: My legs were tiring. Feeling heavy. I was losing energy. Water and gels helped, but at the same time, my hips and muscles were shot. My pace was down to just under 7:30s, and people were coming past me. “Just keep running your own race, Rach. What they do is of no concern to you” I told myself. “Get your head down, and just keep running.” I needed a few stops over the next 7 miles or so. For a drink, a gel, a breath, a word with myself. Something I could cling on to which would help get me through the miles still ahead. It seemed like a monumental task. How could I face those miles, which seemed to be slipping right through my fingers.
All I could do was hang on. Both the girls I knew and the 3:15 pacers had overtaken me by 22 miles, and they looked far more comfortable than I felt. It was damage limitation now. One foot in front of the other, counting the miles down. It lasted forever. I thought about my time from last year’s London 3:22. What if I couldn’t even make that? How would I feel to come in slower than I did last year? Would I be ok with a sub-3:30 as opposed to the possible 3:10 I’d raced for 20 miles, and which had been within my grasp? Pulling out was not an option. I couldn’t even consider stopping, but I was so desperate to pull over and make it all end. A glimpse of a way out, and my weary body would have gladly packed in. One step, another step, another step, and so it went on. The mile markers appeared further and further away. 25 miles. How long would I have to endure the torture of the last 1.2 miles? Would I walk in? Crawl over the line? One step. Just think about one step and then another. I glanced at my watch obsessively, working out best and worst-case scenarios. Then the Mall appeared. 800m to go. That’s only two laps of the track. Painfully slowly, then 600m… Time had slowed to become a cruel reminder of the marathon distance and its impact. It takes no hostages.
I kept going, wiling my feet to cross the mats when I could stop the clock. The time was 3:17:17. Quite unbelievably, I was only 45 seconds outside my PB time, and I had no idea how I’d managed to hang on for so long, after playing Russian roulette with my early fast pace. Tears flowed as the sheer relief washed over me. Finally, it was over, I could stop running. I had done a good time, one which I really shouldn’t have been able to hang on to with my pacing mistakes. Now, like a homing pigeon I headed for the baggage buses. What had happened to my Gav?