London Marathon 2015

Posted on April 29, 2015. Filed under: marathon, virgin london marathon |

Leaving Big Ben behind to sink into Westminster tube station en route to the Expo I answered my own question. Would a second London Marathon be as good as the first? Hell yeah, it would. It’s not as simple as to say it is just about the landmarks, but all the sights and sounds and smells and organisation. Most of all, though, it is about the fantastically generous, loud, engaging, challenging, obnoxious, supportive crowd that you could possibly imagine. As the Weegies say “People Make Glasgow”, so too without a doubt Londoners Make The London Marathon.

The crowd is an assault on the senses. In 2012 I was offered stella in addition to jelly babies and orange segments (they must love oranges in the Isle of Dogs). This year I can add bananas, some sandwiches, a hotdog, champagne and a huge spliff to the list of provisions. As great as the crowd are the runners are even more weird and wonderful. I saw a T-Rex, three rhinos, an ostrich, a man in a nude morph suit, the stiletto lady (who had a face at mile 21 that suggested she was not loving the London Marathon experience), a jangly morris dancer, a bobsleigh team, a pink lady apple and a bollock. There is so much to take in I will have forgotten more than I list.

I was certain, like when I ran it in 2012, that I smiled every single step of the way. But the race photos show a different story – something of a crumpled grimace that can be freely translated as a tired smile.

But what sticks in my mind and was the theme of my marathon was the music. It rocked. Every. Single. Step. Of. The. Way. The thunder of drummers under a bridge, the ska band at Cutty Sark, the brass bands, the steel bands, the windows open booming reggae, the pipe band, the oompah band and the Black Eyed Peas Boom Boom Pow kept me smiling through the sights that should remain unseen in Blackfriars Tunnel.

For years now (and as I think should always be the case to respect an enthusiastic crowd) I have run without headphones. When I train for Ironman I tend to have Eminem relentlessly tapping out a staccato beat in my head – “Till the roof comes off, till the lights go out, Till my legs give out, can’t shut my mouth. Till the smoke clears out and my high burns out. I’ma rip this shit till my bones collapse”. But I hadn’t done the mileage I would have wanted and my head was empty. A blank canvas. This post may now turn Hornbyesque; but as my London Marathon was characterised by 26.2 miles of ear worms it seems only fair to share.

Miles 0 to 9

London calling, yes, I was there, too
An’ you know what they said? Well, some of it was true!
London calling at the top of the dial
After all this, won’t you give me a smile?

The worst thing about the London marathon is the travel.  It feels like you are always on a tube heading to some far flung part of  London with a red carrier bag strung over your shoulder.  For a 10:10am start I got on the train at Charing X at 08:20.  I got a seat.  Then about 5,000 stared at me like they wanted to sit on my knee.  No way, Jose.  The train was a murmur of chatter, a faint smell of deep heat and a less faint smell of nervous farts.  No-one was even pretending.

Blackheath was cold.  It looked very different in the drizzle and low fog than it did in the sun three years ago.  I was there at 09:05 and I just wandered aimlessly.  The Lucozade people gave me their two new flavours – I never caught their names but I shall assume they were called tropical dog sick and guava seed monkey shit.  Truly awful stuff.

After three surprisingly well hydrated pee stops I was cajoled by the tannoy man to the starting pens in my makeshift warm weather gear.  Knowing I wasn’t fit for it I decided to stay out of the way and went several pens back.  Several pens further away from the urinals.  And then I decided I need another pee.  Tactically I got myself a bit ahead of the 4:45 pacer, well placed to make the traditional break for the banking, give all the locals out watching a Sunday morning golden shower in the stiff breeze, and still cross the line with the pacers.  The first call of “well done, you’re nearly there” was about 100 metres before the start line.  The first selfie sticks were on the start line.  Twats.

The first 9 miles were unremarkable.  The Clash in my head.  Spectators already well jollied up on champagne and bloody marys.  And if you need your memory jogged where you are – Oh, there goes a T-Rex!  For the first 9 miles I struggled to stay behind the pacer – it just seemed too slow but I knew I would be lucky if I could hold on.  The miles ticked by, heart rate right in the wee pocket I wanted it in.  I high 5’d a million kids.  Relentless forward progress.

Miles 10 to 16

So how can you tell me you’re lonely,
And say for you that the sun don’t shine?
Let me take you by the hand and lead you through the streets of London
I’ll show you something to make you change your mind

For me, the few miles before and after Tower Bridge are the ones I find most attractive.  And the streets narrow and the crowd get very close and very supportive.  I knew Pam, Rory and Sharon had planned to be near Bermondsey so once I passed the tube station my eyes were peeled.  There was no chance I could have heard a thing.  And then, right there, I saw Roar above the crowd.  I’m not sure he wanted a kiss from sweaty man but he got one.  As I wasn’t feeling 100% I knew Pam would be worried so I had made sure I got there pretty much bang on 4:45 pace but I also knew I was going to hurt myself if I kept on it.  I relayed that message and hit the road again.

There are a few stretches of the London course that really define it and the half a mile before Tower Bridge and the half a mile after that are in that category.  You don’t so much hear the noise as feel it.  It rattles your teeth and blows through your hair. And then just before the half marathon the band on the back of the truck get you to wave your hands in the air and once again you momentarily depart the marathon and enter a party where everyone is drunk and everyone is welcome.

Just before you hit the Isle of Dogs the road narrows, the crowd are two or three deep on either side of runners that can only run about three or four abreast.  People stand on every conceivable surface from the pavement, to ledges, to bus stops, to walls to balconies.  Everywhere you look are beaming faces, having the time of their lives, willing you on.

And then you are in the tunnel.  Last time I did London that is where people went to pee, to check their chafing, to vom, to shit or to pass out.  This year it was full, and I really mean FULL of video screens.  There were no hiding places except the portaloos and their ever present queues.  We were looking hot.

The Isle of Dogs was busier than I remember it.  Everyone seemed to have brought out a wheelie bin full of orange segments.  Momentarily it felt like we were doing Tough Mudder as we slipped on tired legs on discarded peel.  People saw their families in the crowd, there were tears, big ugly tears.  And then they ran on.

Miles 17 to 26.2

I’m a big bad wolf and my name is Keith,
I’ll tell you my adventures 
I huffed and I puffed ’til I blew out my teeth
And had to get new dentures

I walked up the ramp to Canary Wharf.  A girl running beside me looked at me and shouted “C’mon YOU CAN DO IT”.  “I know but I’m saving energy”, said I as I overtook her running pace with my walk.

The first hundred metres or so of Canary Wharf gives you no preparation for the experience as you enter the main area where the charities line the streets.  I remember not so many years ago the commentators would always say it was a “bit dead” in Canary Wharf.  Not now.  In fact that was the only stretch where I found the crowd noise oppressive.  The cheering was off the scale and reverberated around the towers.  It literally felt like the percussion was squeezing the breath out of me.  On the last turn around the square I veered across to high 5 the whole Make a Wish team.

280450_192927758_MediumThe whole way I had “I’m a big bad wolf and my name is Keith” in my head.  But with Rory’s mispronounciations and soft r’s.  I needed to be at the finish line.  Soon.

Once we passed the Tower on the way back into Westminster it just felt great.  I knew I would finish uninjured.  I took the opportunity to look around and enjoy the sights.  Time after time I heard “Great smile, Dougie”; although my voice was pretty much gone every single time I responded “Thank you for coming out to watch”.

Big Ben. Westminster Abbey. Birdcage Walk. Victoria Monument. Buck House. London Marathon finish line.  Best. Sight. Ever.

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Plan A was to get to the Mall without getting injured.  There was no Plan B.  Mission accomplished.

And thank you London!

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9 Responses to “London Marathon 2015”

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Great post. Well done on completing your second London marathon. Hope all is well.

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Cheers Stuart, all good! This one was even more leisurely than last but a race worth doing even if you have to drag your are round!

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Bloody marvellous report! I felt like I was there from your descriptions. So glad it went well for you 🙂 Very well done! X

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Thanks Lee! It was very leisurely but I am now certain a leisurely marathon pace earns the medal even more than the speedsters!

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Definitely! Doesn’t matter if it was leisurely, you achieved your aim and sounds like you had a fabulous time doing it. Can’t ask for more than that 😊 So what’s next?!

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This is such an inspirational read, I did the marathon back in 13 and the crowd totally made the day. I’m thinking about entering in another european marathon, I’m just concerned that not having the London crowds may effect my performance? Well done for the marathon on Saturday. I was one of those standing at mile 19 at canary wharf. Normally we get a good spot with LOADS of room but you are right, there seems to be more and more people!

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Thanks for the kind comment and thanks for standing out in the freezing cold on Sunday!

I’ve done Rome and it is the perfect balance of stunning sights and great crowd at the start and finish!

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It was absolutely freezing! I just hoped all you runners were warm enough. Have you heard much about the berlin/crowds there? Potentially thinking about it and meant to be the fastest marathon..

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Fab achievement – well done! Loved the race review, particularly the Lucozade flavours 😉 I won’t be trying them.

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