It’s normally agreed that the question “How did it go?” does not put you on oath to give a full and honest answer. You assume that no one really wants to hear the finer details and minor horrors of a race that didn’t go to plan. Or perhaps they do, if only to be sure they’re not alone in having their body go from friend to foe in the blink of an eye.
We all know that’s exactly what can happen in marathons, especially when someone’s turned the heating up and the twisting streets of London are hotter than Satan’s naughty bits. We all knew it was going to be hot. VMLM sent us text messages saying so, and advised us not run dressed as a rhino. The BBC said it would be hot too. Even non-runners (we now call them Muggles) who don’t know the first thing about running marathons felt obliged to tell us it would be hot. “It’ll be hot,” they said. And they were right – it was.
Despite all this I wasn’t overly concerned. Though as I sat on the Eagles’ coach, eating a bowl of porridge that had slowly turned into cement, there was some slight trepidation as we neared Blackheath. Blimey I thought; a year later than planned but I’ve got to do it now.
I got down from the coach, repaired a few potholes with the leftover porridge, and headed over for the group photo. After this we slowly separated and headed to our respective start areas. I went to blue, which at least had the benefit of being a cooling colour. Others went to the red start, a colour more closely associated with hell, and quite possibly a more accurate premonition.
I spent much of my time in the blue start in the wonderful company of Suzanne Grant and Stephen Ralston (who assured me he wasn’t David Powlson, but who can be sure). Anyway, as Suzanne, Dave and I sat on cardboard mats that were kindly supplied by the EHM volunteers, there was little talk of the heat. It was if you like, the calm before the storm – except there was no bloody storm.
After the obligatory last-minute toilet visits we headed to the starting pens. I positioned myself close to the 3:45 pacers. This was my target time, and as it was generally considered to be ‘slightly conservative’ I thought I might still be in with a chance despite the weather. How wrong I was. It turns out that 3:45 was less ‘mildly conservative’ and more ‘Monster Raving Looney’. Still, you live and you learn. It’s the last time I’ll be voting ‘mildly conservative’.
I finally set off at 10:22 and the first few miles felt OK, but things soon changed. By mile five I was a minute behind target. This was partly down to some bottlenecking. It was surprisingly busy in the first few miles and I frequently found myself up against an impassable wall of slower runners and walkers. This may have been down to the heat because people were slowing down early – deliberately or otherwise.
By mile ten my wrist pace band was a constant reminder of the ever-increasing gap between my target time and where I was. I’d have torn the bloody thing off, but I’d taped it on so well it would have required a pair of scissors to remove it. And as any teacher will tell you – you mustn’t run with scissors.
By mile 13 I was genuinely concerned about not being able to finish. I thought this must be what it feels like to run a marathon without any training. Except that I had trained. I had trained bloody hard and the training had gone very well. Six runs over 20 miles and they’d all gone like clockwork. Yet here I was at mile 13, sinking like the Nutty Professor on a see-saw.
The trouble was of course that I (like everyone else) had trained through the winter in near arctic conditions, and was now running in what felt like sub-Saharan conditions. Let me tell you, it does not work.
I know that it was back at about mile six that one of the lenses felt out of my sunglasses. Strangely, this is something I failed to notice until, well – after the finish at Horse Guards Parade. And so I ran most of the marathon looking like some partially sighted guy who’d become separated from his guide. This may account for why the roars of encouragement often sounded somewhat on the compassionate side.
And so I plodded on, the visor on my cap shielding my good eye from the sun, and possibly accounting for why I hadn’t noticed the missing lens. Though by this point my brain was so focused on putting one foot in front of the other, that if my shorts had fallen off I doubt I’d have notice them either. That certainly would have generated some decent crowd sympathy – and quite possibly a BBC interview.
As each mile went past I knew those tracking me could see I’d slowed down dramatically, and may be concerned. There was little I could do about that except keep going, but eventually I had to walk for bit. Naturally I wasn’t happy about this, but I clearly wasn’t alone – I’ve never seen so many walkers in a marathon.
Somehow – don’t ask me how, because I genuinely don’t know – I made it to mile 23. This gave me an adrenaline boost and chance to let people know I was OK. Perhaps I should have slowed down because it went by in a quick blur. I was desperately looking for Rachel, plus my sister and niece. Familiar faces went by but not these three. I stated to panic and thought I’d missed them, but then at the end of the row, they were there!
Suddenly I had more energy and with about three miles to go I thought I could dig deep and finish a little stronger. Alas by the time I came out of the nearby tunnel I was wrecked again and slowed right down.
Eventually the mile markers became kilometre markers, and mercifully meter markers. That final kilometre was the hardest kilometre I have ever run. I crossed the finish line and couldn’t quite believe it was over. My time was 04:20:33. That’s 35 minutes behind my target time.
Am I disappointed? No, not in the least. Whilst it would have been nice to run in more favourable conditions and see if I could make 03:45, I think we all did the best we could in brutal conditions. And besides I only had one good eye.
Later in the Wellington pub there was much talk of the harsh conditions. It wasn’t all doom and gloom though. I had an interesting conversation with Kieran Santry, Emily Schmidt and few others about pre-race toilet strategy. The main focus was around when and how many times one goes for a poo before a race. The average seemed to be two number twos per person, which I suppose is easy to remember.
I must say Mr Santry was well informed on the subject and if you’re ever in need of pre-race toilet training (so-to-speak) than you’re strongly advised to consult with him. When it comes to talking shite, Santry’s your man.
Finally, I got home for a much-needed early night. As I was crawling into bed I noticed a blister on my left foot. Like the missing lens earlier, I had completely failed to notice it before. I didn’t even notice it when showering in the gym. Still, it was my first ever running-related blister so I suppose I wasn’t expecting it. Nonetheless, I had a quick check to see there was nothing else I’d missed. I’m pleased to report there wasn’t. All toes and other vital appendages were thankfully still attached.
And talking of reporting, that brings us to the end of my race day report, and this year’s blogs. It was hard, at times it was hell, but thanks to the Eagles it was always amazing.
And if I ever do it again I promise to run for the RNIB…