The Virgin London Marathon 2012

Posted on June 9, 2012. Filed under: escape from alcatraz, ironman, joggers nipple, man flu, race report, race review, rome marathon, run, shakey, virgin london marathon, vlm, vlm 2012 |

I’m going to give the game away right at the start of this post rather than make you read all the way through the self indulgent nonsense if you can’t be bothered (just skip to the end, think about how much time I’ve saved you, click the link and make a donation to the Make a Wish Foundation in recognition of my sensitivity!). I survived, completed, and loved every second of the London Marathon.

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So it was, with 48 hours to go I headed to the expo at the Excel centre with very little in my stomach and not a vast volume of carbs loaded in to my system. I ate a small corner of a Clif Bar, drank some coconut water (not as good as it sounds but better than it could have been) and bought a t-shirt at the Expo and officially declared myself fit to run. For anyone that really doesn’t understand why I was so desperate to run this as it would be my third marathon anyway I probably can’t explain it. The quote from the great Olympian Emile Zapotek seems a pretty good explanation to me…..

“if you want to run, run a mile. If you want to experience a different life, run a marathon”.

It’s true, once you have run one you can’t unknow what you know, and most people go back for more. Me included! Oh, and I don’t often quote other folks but I’ve got some good quotes so I am darned well going to use them!

Anyway to cut a long story short I quickly built up my tolerance from a completely empty stomach through pasta, onto Thai via Indian and accompanied by beer, wine and the odd G&T. It turns out that stress testing of my system for athletic endeavours became an obsession. And so it was that my long term training partner, untrained monkey, and professional simpleton Shakey and I made plans to meet up at the crack of dawn to head to the start line (I love her dearly but if you think that is harsh – read on, slack jawed and mesmerised by her lack of common sense!)

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By complete coincidence our pad in Canary Wharf was right on the race route and about 5mins walk from the station that would take us to our respective start lines. It was a bit like the film “28 days later” on the streets as the only people out at that glorious hour were shuffling along, drinking energy drinks with giant red plastic bags over their shoulders. It was quickly becoming clear that the promised overcast day and rain was not to be and my extra baselayer (always required in the rain to avoid any nip problems) and trot induced dehydration were unlikely to be the greatest weapons in my arsenal (no pun intended) as the day went on.

Shakey and I had a hug as she got off the train at Greenwich and I continued on to Blackheath. You end up in a bit of a bubble that only marathoners understand so we both ended up bonding with complete strangers and texting each other while we waited. Her – “the guy next to me has spaghetti in a box, it looks really good”; me – “I just peed next to the guy in the bowler hat that lunches on Tower Bridge”.

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I have got up really early one Sunday a year and watched the London Marathon for as long as I can remember – probably since the first one in 1981 so you can imagine how excited I was to watch the elite ladies start live right in front of me while the tv transmission it was live on the giant telly behind me. Wow.

I should have explained that the other reason that I really wanted to toe the start line this year and not defer my entry with the other sick boys until next year was that this is Olympic year. I didn’t know why but it felt an important year to run the London Marathon and I knew it would feel a bit special. It did.

Anyway, I dumped my warm clothes and bag on a lorry and wrapped myself in a foil blanket and waited in the pens for the start. It never ceases to amaze me the lengths that people will go to to get another couple of metres closer to the start line. These crazy monkeys clamber over railings and pretty much bar dive into the crowd despite having 40,000 people and 26.2miles between them and the finish line. There is a reason that people use the expression “it’s a marathon not a sprint” and there is absolutely no sane reason to start hurdling before the gun goes on a marathon!

When the gun actually went I thought that it would be dead slow for miles until 40,000 runners squeezed through all the narrow lanes at the start. In reality I never had to alter my pace at all (possibly because I am dead slow) with one exception. As the race hit the first portaloos at a mere 400m in the whole seething morass of humanity stopped dead in its tracks until the desperate and panicky were relieved!

I got a shock at the start when about 10 seconds after I crossed the line somebody cheered my name. I just about snapped my neck trying to work out who it was that was shouting for me, and then I heard it again from in front, and then again from the side and only then did I realise that it was because my name was on my Make a Wish t-shirt. I never bored from start to finish hearing people cheer my name and if you ever contemplate running London I can strongly recommend the warmth, support (and occasional abuse) that you get from the most amazing crowd.

There are apparently 1 million supporters come out on to the street to watch the marathon and they absolutely make the race. I smiled from the second that I crossed the line and through all the pain and discomfort buoyed by the most fantastic spectators. When it started to get really busy about three miles in, where the two starts converge to great banter and panto booing, I started high 5ing and it felt like I high fived all 1million. Sometimes you got a bonus squeeze, sometimes you came away with a jelly baby in your hand and sometimes, like I did just before Cutty Sark, you high 5 the St Johns volunteers who weren’t looking for a high 5, but were holding out iceberg size lumps of Vaseline, with a greasy splatter. Yuk.

I made unexpectedly spectacular process and saw Pam, Roar, Bert, Maddo and Al at the Cutty Sark and then about two minutes later saw Viv, Neil and Gemma who had managed to drag their asses out of bed. The promise I had made myself was that I would run to Tower Bridge and from there on I would allow myself the odd walk for the last 13 miles. And that was the plan I stuck with.

The only blip in the first 13 miles was at mile 8 when, with the words of the race director echoing in my ears, I decide not to pee in a neighbours garden and would queue for a portaloo. I was second in the queue and I watched literally hundreds of people dive behind the portaloos to sprinkle the wall. And then the lady in front of me went in and I waited. She never came out, in fact she may still be there. According to my watch I waited 5 and a half minutes until I headed for the wall and after I was done she was still in there. If she’d known she would be so long she should have brought a paper!

As I crossed Tower Bridge way ahead of schedule I knew I was starting to run out of puff and I started a conservative walk/run strategy walking slowly through each aid station. The half way point is also a really cruel for the mind where you head away from the finish pass runners with only three miles to go heading in the opposite direction. Anyway onwards and upwards out to the Isle of Dogs.

I saw the Sherpas just outside the apartment at mile 15 and then met the Runners World Mudchute team at mile 17. I was offered, gratefully accepted and downed an ice cold can of Stella Artois at this point. At this point, probably unrelated to the Stella, I was also starting to hurt really badly. It was hot, it was just after midday and the legs were starting to weary. It is times like this that Jacqueline Gareau, 1980 Boston Marathon champion can put it much better than I can “The body does not want you to do this. As you run, it tells you to stop but the mind must be strong. You always go too far for your body. You must handle the pain with strategy…It is not age; it is not diet. It is the will to succeed.”

The greatest pain that I suffered was the debilitating chub rub that struck me at this stage. On such a hot day with so much water going over your head all preventative lubrication becomes null and void and the thighs become more tender. Eventually I succumbed about 18miles after I had last high 5’d the St Johns boys and took there wares. Two days later my thighs still looked like mince.

Of the previous two marathons I did I never experienced the sensation of the second half starting at mile 20, but with so little training 6 miles felt like a whole marathon to me. I saw Viv and her crowd at Canary Wharf and then saw some sights on the run home. Just after the Isle of Dogs I saw three runners down, absolutely flat out and receiving medical attention presumably afflicted by the heat. At Mile End I saw a whole sofa, armchair and coffee table in the midst of the crowd with the owners well into a party. As we approached the Embankment the crowd moved in claustrophobically and the decibels raised significantly. If you walked the crowd chanted your name until you ran and then cheered manically. It was nearly 2pm and the crowd had been drinking since 10 so it was great fun.

I had planned to run in the last mile and a half and sprint up Birdcage Walk but I just didn’t have it in my body. I would run as far as my legs would take me and then stagger a few steps and then run again. As I ran past the Victoria Memorial and onto the Mall I was momentarily choked up but then MTFU’d to cross the line, receive my medal and join the ranks of the London Marathon finishers. To quote the unknown runner “At mile 20, I thought I was dead. At mile 22, I wished I was dead. At mile 24, I knew I was dead. At mile 26.2, I realized I had become too tough to kill.”

As I got my bag back and let all the important people know that I had finished safely. The finish was absolutely shambolic after you left the secure area and all of the mobile networks were congested. Word started to get to me that Shakey was in the medical tent after spraining her ankle at mile 22 but thatshe had finished. I tried to find her but it was just too confusing, my legs were starting to get disobedient and the adrenaline had worn off to allow me to properly experience the chub rub pain. After chaotic arrangements and the heavens opening, Shakey’s sherpas headed to the hospital and we headed back to the apartment.

You may have thought me harsh when commenting on Shakey earlier but here is why. The true story is that she sprained her ankle at mile 3 and didn’t know how to get back to the start so just kept running, like Forrest Gump but much dumber. At the end the ambulance man was alarmed that her leg looked like a giant donner skewer that he detained her for an X-ray along with the drunks at A&E. Rumours that the x-ray was on her head to see if there was any trace of a brain are inaccurate but not unkind. It was just a sprain – of the ankle, not the brain. Admittedly a bad one that stopped her from running for 6 weeks. Mainly because she ran on it for 23 miles. And thats why she is a muppet.

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So that was the London Marathon. Despite thinking 2 days before that I wouldn’t be able to do it I ultimately finished in 4:52 about 7 minutes slower than I had hoped for. It is truly the experience of a lifetime although it was a sobering thought that one runner didn’t go home afterwards. Apart from the phenomenal amount of money raised for charity the one solace her family will have is that she was probably having the time of her life when she was snatched away far too young.

This has been a long update and might be a bit hazy because I’ve left it a month. However, it’s now time to focus on the Escape. Remember I am doing this for charity and I desperately want to raise enough money to grant a wish for one family of a child with a life threatening illness. Please give as generously as you can I will continue to suffer vicariously for you!

link to my just giving page for the Make a Wish Foundation

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2 Responses to “The Virgin London Marathon 2012”

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Always an entertaining read my mental marathon running mate! You are clearly wasted counting beans…have you ever considered a change of career direction? Good luck with your escape!

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[…] there is a sense of adventure and conquest to the whole thing.  The following is attributed to Jacqueline Gareau, the 1980 Boston Marathon champion.  I think she knew a thing or two.  She probably also had bad […]

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