How did it go? Are you happy? Did you enjoy it?
Three questions you’d think there’d be an easy answer to when the ‘it’ in question is that you ran the London marathon a few days ago.
I know how it went, technically. The other two are a bit harder to get my head round.
So, how did it go?
Something I’ve learned over the last few years is that there is a difference between running a marathon and racing a marathon. However, I learned on Sunday (or re-learned) that although there’s a difference, that doesn’t mean that running a marathon isn’t its own achievement.
Initially I’d been planning to race this one; sub-4 hours, go hard or go home. I rashly set my stall out along these lines before I was far enough into the plan to know if it was realistic. It wasn’t, and I adjusted my expectations accordingly, but this left me in a weird position on Sunday morning. I was excited about the day as an event, all the fun of number pick-up, the excruciatingly early coach from the Green, seeing the EHM crew at their water station in the blue start, all that jazz. But I was more interested in everyone else’s goals than mine, because for the first time my goal was not going to include getting a PB.
My PB is 4:10, and I’d grabbed a 4:10 pace band at the expo even though I knew my plan was to run 9:30’s til halfway and then see how long I could hold it before I needed to slow down a bit. And that’s exactly what I did - bar a couple of bottleneck miles at places like the Cutty Sark, I stuck to the plan. It was tough but manageable til about 20 miles, and then it was just a case of grinding out the distance.
I finished in 4:16:41 and having expected it would be somewhere between 4:15 and 4:20 I was happy enough with that. But something about being a bit outside PB after a tough but manageable run felt sort of...unremarkable.
I know, right? Ungrateful cow, you just ran the London marathon! Have an emotion!
All I can say is in terms of just what the clock said, that was how I felt at the time. I feel differently about it now though, and the change in point of view came from an unlikely source; maths.
Are you happy?
I really dislike maths. I’m ok with day to day arithmetic and I’m good with budgets, but one of the few arguments Mr. Duff and I ever have is over the existence of the complex number i. He thinks it exists and I think it’s nonsense.
This is because I like maths to be quantifiable, not theoretical. My favourite type of maths is stats.
When you get your official result from the London marathon people they send you a few stats. I was in the top 46% or so overall, and in the top 32% ish for women, and in the F18-39 category. So far, so predictable.
The golden stat, the one that has given me a totally different perspective on my time, is the one where they tell you how many people you passed vs how many people passed you over the first and second halves of the race. Here’s mine:
During the second half of the race I do remember thinking that although I was slowing, I was still passing plenty of people. The fact it was over ten times more than passed me is, frankly, astonishing to me and I have to admit it’s nice to know I managed to keep pushing on like that. It certainly didn’t feel like I was at the time.
According to the Ralph Dadswell Guide to Your Marathon Split (thanks Ralph!) I ran just 4 and a half minutes slower in the second half, a huge improvement on Richmond’s 9 minute positive split that I was so annoyed about.
Factoring that in as well as the short stops I took to tighten my laces, get hugs around the course from Lisa and Pammy, Mark and Mr. Duff and to thoroughly milk Mile 23 for all it was worth I’m pretty bloody chuffed with 4:16. And it was a 30 minute course PB, which felt as amazing on the day as it still does now.
Did you enjoy it?
I decided before the race not to wear the vest I have with my name on it. This time last year I was struggling with anxiety and I was worried that huge crowds of people shouting my name, especially if I was struggling, would be too much for me. Even though it meant that hearing people around me get personal cheers during the earlier stages made it feel a little like I was in a little bubble of my own race, on balance I’m glad I chose the nameless vest. This one was about representing the club, and particularly in the second half lots of the crowd cheered me with a ‘go on Ealing’ or ‘go on Eagle’ which was brilliant. I suspect they were runners from our neighbouring London clubs or that we run in leagues with because they’d recognised the front of my vest. It meant an awful lot to be recognised as a member of our special flock and I tried to acknowledge them all back.
And so we come to Mile 23. The trouble with London is that because the Eagles cheer point is three miles before the finish line there’s a feeling that this marathon is really only 23-and-a-bit miles long, because that’s where you’re aiming for. The last bit is just running to pick your bag up.
As I mentioned, I milked it!
I’d been a bit nervous about the new Mr Eagle being on the pavement as there’s a glint of the sinister in his beady eye, but as I got closer he lifted his head and it was Christina in there! I couldn’t have been happier to see my good friend and running buddy and gave Mr Eagle extra hugs before I ran through the high five gauntlet and away. That felt amazing. The last few weeks I’d started feeling the old anxiety rising again at times and I hadn’t been sure how the race would go at all but here I was, I’d made it to Mile 23 with my brain mainly on an even keel and my friends willing me on to the finish.
I spent the final 5k with my head up taking it in and thinking about all the happy things about the day; managing to meet a friend from home, Tess, at the start and being sure she’d make it too. Learning just how many people can’t pronounce ‘ambulance’ when a very elaborate 4-person costume had overtaken me early on. Everyone bonding over how much Lucozade stations stink. Seeing Harry storming past just after 35k, checking my watch and realising he was on for a storming sub-3 time and being proud all over again of our club and its members. Getting bear hugs from Lisa and Mark, unexpectedly seeing Becky and Dan, and then seeing Mr. Duff at exactly the same mileage he’d stopped to see me at Boston two weeks before (not sure either of us pictured this as what romantic days out would look like when we got married!). The ever-fabulous Run Dem Crew cheer spot at 21 which I’d been looking forward to the whole way.
And then there was the final turn and the finish line and having kept it together all day I nearly cried when I realised that the glorious older ladies doling out the medals were looking for people’s names on their vests, so they could say a personal well done to each and every runner as they carefully placed them around our necks - what a lovely thing to do. As I was a nameless Eagle I got a ‘very well done you, wonderful’ which could have come right out of my mother’s mouth, a firm handshake from a girl I crossed the line with and a hug from an emotional stranger who immediately disappeared again into the crowd.
I took a picture for a first timer and told him he was amazing. I heard more than one person say they were never going to do that again and joked with them to wait and see how they felt in the morning. I thanked the baggage truck crew for their impeccable service.
And I limped off towards the pub, an unnamed Eagle heading to meet up with all the other Eagles whose friendship and belief that I can and should run marathons is the reason why I have now completed 5 of them.
This one was for you, team. Thanks a billion.