Tuesday, April 24

London Marathon

Since arriving back at the hotel post-race, I’ve been giving some thought to what happened out on the course and possible explanations; I’ve yet to discover a satisfactory answer. In an attempt then to help place the pieces together (and it’s a long one), here is my chronological account of what transpired on race day. I still haven’t come to a conclusion as to “why” events unfolded the way the did, that will require much more time, but for now… the good, the bad and the lovely.

The Start My pre-race routine was nothing special, and as such perfect. Rumon and I were up early for an easy 10′ jaunt, taking us over Tower Bridge and back, with a few “easy” strides. At 5:00 the city was absolutly buzzing, I remember asking Rumon whether anyone really slept around here. After a light breakfast, I opted for some cereal (out of the norm), I had a shower, stretched a tad and then we made our way down to the coach. Due to the traffic, 40,000+ trying to reach the same place on a select road, the journey to Backheath left me, and I think it’s safe to say the entire coach load of athletes, fretful and anxious. Finally though, arriving at the heath was magical and left me flabbergasted. We were perched atop an enormous hill; there wasn’t a cloud in the sky, the air was still and the sun already warm. The only analogy I can think of was used in a recent Harry Potter book, where Rowling described the scene at the World Quidditch Championship. The stimulation, anticipation and excitement was both contagious and frightening. Rumon & I were drawn toward a collection of five massive hot-air balloons that were positioned over the start. We checked in at the Competitive corral and then relaxed inside a tent before making our final preparations. At about 9:35 we lined up and were slowly ushered toward the start, less then six feet behind the greatest men’s field ever assembled for a marathon. After a few introductions and listening to the climax of Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana (which did wonders for the nerves thanks) we were off…

Miles 1-4 (5:57, 5:49, 5:48, 5:48) I’ve never run a race before and been surrounded by so many people; the gamut was diverse, world class athletes and youngster wanting to open in a 1600m PB. I concentrated on keeping me footing and settleing into a comfortable pace (I decided to aim for a 5:57-6:02 mi/pace, a 2h36 to 2h38 marathon). I was happy then to see the first mile slip by in 5:57 but remember thinking the effort level was higher then I would’ve imagined. I tried to recall some race pace efforts I’d done with Jim and what they had felt like in an attempt to reassure myself. My pace picked up through miles 2-4 but I wasn’t surprised as coming off Blackheath we had to descend down a significant but steady hill. Bruce had mentioned beforehand that the start would be quick and not to get too alarmed. The conditions were already frighteningly reminiscent of last year’s Ottawa Marathon and I wanted to make sure I hydrated early on, not digging myself a hole. The first aid station was at 3k where I grabbed some water, drinking a fair portion of the bottle (I could already feel the sun on my back). At miles 1 & 3 our blue stream was joined by the red and green runners but whether because I was further ahead or focused on my own race I don’t recall noticing anything.

Miles 5-8 (5:49, 6:08, 5:59, 6:00) Heading down Woolwich Road we ran along a veritable wall of noise that was utterly deafening. It seemed every spectator had either a whistle, noise maker or were just content to scream. Both children and adults stuck there hands out hoping to slap palms as you passed. Between miles four and five I remember my stomach feeling unsettled, particularly after having some Lucozade at mile five. I was concerned that I’d taken too much liquid, the last thing I wanted was a bloated stomach and so decided to forego aid stations for the next few miles until my stomach calmed. I was surprised and angered to see mile five as quick as it was and made a concerted effort to shift gears, by mile six settling into a comfortable rhythm. I split 10k in 36:37 which was about 20″ faster then my goal time but again, given the hill I wasn’t too concerned. Had my first Gu at mile 7, with a small amount of water. My stomach still hadn’t fully settled but I was more concerned about not having enough energy to see me through the day…

Miles 9-12 (6:06, 6:08, 6:11, 6:17) Just before mile nine we arrived at the London Docklands area with no let up in the crowds. With the sun on my back and the overwhelming encouragement from the crowds to atmosphere was carnival-like. Unfortunately for me, it was during these miles that I realized the day wasn’t going according to plan, it was here that my pace times started to slip and my reality shifted a sideways. Thinking back I can’t recall any defining moment, but as I split 20k in 1:14:51 I decided to ignore the splits from here on in and rather concentrate on running within myself, hoping to find a pace that would see me through the day with minimal harm. I was on damage control.

Miles 13-16 (6:27, 6:49, 6:30, 7:12) Running over Tower Bridge I recalled the race directors words at the Elite/International Athlete Meeting, he has suggested that should we want/have to drop out, here would be a good place as we ran right alongside our hotel. I looked over at the hotel, searching for our room window and trying to decide whether I had the strength and conviction to carry on. This wasn’t fun anymore, but I thought of the countless miles I’d put in, the dark rainy nights, friends following the race back home and the support I’d received from loved ones… no, as much as I wanted to stop, to end the pain, dropping out wasn’t an option. I “walked” through the half in 1:19:11 and opened my second Gu; I was going to see this one through to the finish. I was dropping backwards through the crowds as we turned right off the bridge and skirted the edge of the Isle of Dog’s, an area known as Mudchute (the home of the biggest inner-city farm in Europe). I was oblivious to this though, at this point I’d broken down what was left into 12x 1 mile races, rewarding myself with a walk break at each aid station. It was hot.

Miles 17-20 (6:55, 6:55, 8:23, 8:40) By mile 18 my shin muscles were beginning to hurt and the idea of stopping every mile to walk through the aid stations wasn’t enough to keep me going; I therefore rewarded myself with walking through every mile marker “and” aid station. It was during these latter miles that I experienced for the first time the power of encouragement. I would make my destination and enjoy my reward, walking for only a few strides before someone would yell out, “you can go it 991“. There neighbour would join in and soon an entire section was hurling encouragement my way, “you can do it, come on, it’s not much further now“. this would build until over 100 people had singled you out in the crowd and bellowed support. I would inevitably shake my fist in the air, and then start running. The first time I did this I was almost subsequently knocked over by the roar that went up, by this point over 150+ people would clap and scream which I found very humbling and embarrassing (bringing a small tear to my eye). Why me, I’m only running, it’s not that difficult. Kids would cheer as if I was their favourite football player getting up after a hard tackle, it was really moving.

Miles 21-24 (8:25, 9:17, 9:47, 11:51) Reaching St Katharine’s Dock, the site of our hotel at mile 22, provided a glimpse of Tower Bridge again. Only this time, although even moving slower, I was sure I would finish despite the persistent left foot cramp that plagued me when I walked (it was one of those days, I was damned if I did, or I didn’t). I continued running past Billingsgate Market and into the City of London, continuing along the Embankment and past Cleopatra’s Needle. My last reprieve was passing the 24 mile marker at Upper Thames Street and running through a tunnel, here, I was in the shade and… could walk without guilt, it was a little piece of heaven.

Miles 25-Finish (11:37, 13:23, total 3:14:11) The sight of Parliament Square and Big Ben was an indication that the finish wasn’t far off. Still, as I mentioned in an earlier post, at this point I resigned myself to soaking up as much of the atmosphere I could. I recall wobbling, gobsmacked at the size and architecture of the clock tower… it’s HUGE. Anyhow, from the peanut gallery a lady yells, “Come on lovely, it says 1:10 now get going“, all I could do was smile! As I ran down Birdcage Walk the crowds went 5 deep and the noise was thunderous. It was hear that I felt a comforting hand on my back and turned to see Rumon look at me with a massive smile on his face, epic! It’s ironic that after 84 days of training, 26 miles of racing (and I use that term loosely) and three distinct roads, that two of those paths crossed in the final minutes of our journey. I wouldn’t have had it any other way given the circumstances, it was a picture perfect ending to a phenomenal journey. We continued onward laughing, in hysterics at some points as we recounted the days events. We reached Spur Rd at 26miles and hit London’s ceremonial avenue, The Mall, where we jogged toward the finishing line right in front of the royal residence of Buckingham Palace. With less then 200m to go I heard a yell from the crowd and turned to see a familiar face, like a freighter turning I curved around toward my uncle Paul, my cousin Ellena (Tweety) and her friend Jess… it was such a sight for sore eyes. After exchanging a few words, Rumon and I turned around and again made our way towards the end of an epic journey.


Ingo said...

What a report! Very moving! No matter what happened, I think you definitely don't want to forget this day - we don't only run to chase times and your journey answers so well the many questions of why run.

ian said...

This is an amazing report. Thanks so much for sharing it.

Eric said...

A great day and a great race report. Thanks, Michael! I hope you're recovering well.

Anonymous said...

Hey Mike,

Thanks you.

The words that you have written and the story that they tell bring back memories of days yet to come.

Looking forward to a nice outer loop of Thetis when you get back.


Anonymous said...