Ready As I'm Going to Be

The last week I only had time for two more four mile runs.  Each time there was a fair amount of pain in the foot to start off with but then it eased off and the rest of it felt much better.  My foot had healed in the last month but not as much as I would have liked.  I had long abandoned any hope of having a pain free day, but it was a bit of a concern just how much it still hurt.  With no significant runs done in a long time, I had no idea how it would go over marathon distance.  I had some last minute misgivings about going through with it but I felt like deferring would let too many people down.  Happily, I didn't get a cold or sick in any other way like a lot of people do in the final days.  Maybe this was because I already had something to worry about.  I went to the expo on the Wednesday evening.  I only stuck around long enough to grab my number and drink a couple of the free samples of beer.  I was a bit sad that I had gone there on my own and not made the most of it.  With so much going on, I hadn’t managed to get too excited about the event.  Having learned a lesson from my previous marathons, I didn’t go overboard with the eating during the final days.  The Saturday evening meal was nothing too rich, just pasta, tuna, cheese and tomato sauce.  I slept OK because I didn’t quite appreciate what was coming.

Very early on Sunday morning I joined the big group of fellow Eagles for the coach to Blackheath.  Naturally, my foot was hurting a bit more than it had been.  It wasn’t until I got to the start area that the enormity of what I was about to do properly started to sink in.  I run a lot, but 26 miles still seems a ridiculously long distance to me.  Thankfully there was ample toilet provision and fast queues, because you can never go enough.  I still wanted to go even after I had ducked out of the starting pen with only minutes left.  The nerves and the adrenaline was unbearable.  As we set off, I let the crowd of runners sweep me along and my injury was soon forgotten.  The first few miles of it could rightfully be described as carnage.  In no other race have I been so pressed in by bodies.  Just when it thinned out, we merged with the streams of runners from the other starts and the chaos escalated.  I saw someone dressed as a giraffe take another guy out because he couldn’t see properly.  I like to have my personal space when I’m running and I think being crowded in makes me run faster because I just want to get around people.  A couple of miles in I was firmly on three hour pace and it seemed impossible for me to go any slower.  My plan of trying a steady 7:30 or 8:00 pace to start off with had gone out the window.  I felt good though and it seemed like I might do well at this in spite of everything. 

At this point I should probably mention that I was wearing a tutu and had my name written on my vest in bright pink letters.  The latter was Brenda’s idea.  The purpose of this was to stand out for the people that knew me, but this did backfire somewhat because it meant that everyone noticed me.  With so many people shouting my name I ended up missing those that mattered.  The encouragement, which was complementary for the most part, was amazing and I it felt good to finally find out why the London Marathon is so rewarding.

I got a huge buzz going over Tower Bridge and soon after I hit the halfway point in an hour and 31 minutes.  It was my fastest half marathon of the year.  Unfortunately, I then had to run another half.  Within the next few miles my troublesome left calf started to twinge and threaten to cramp up.  I had no choice but to slow up in the hope that it would behave itself at a gentler pace.  A few miles later, my right calf started playing up as well.  The section around the docklands passed slowly.  Every mile took longer and became more of a challenge, and the only thing that kept me going was the knowledge that every painful step was taking me closer to the finish.  This was turning into last year’s Manchester Marathon all over again.  That time I went to the loo and found I couldn’t start running again.  This time I once again gave in to my bladder and hoped the same thing wouldn’t happen again.  It slowed me down but I kept running, and I managed to continue to do so for a few miles at least, counting down the distance to the magic mile 23.

I couldn’t sustain it though.  When I reached the City, the calves completely seized up and I had no choice but to stop and stretch them.  Not even the crescendo of crowd support could keep me going anymore.  Mile 23 and the Eagles cheer squad came finally, and I couldn’t miss it with all the signs before it.  I had to put on a brave face and run past the outstretched hands as best I could, although, as the photo shows, my face told the story all too well.  I had to stop and stretch again as soon as got past, and from then on each attempt to run was increasingly futile.  My calves just weren’t having it: walking was bad enough but running was out of the question.  So for my second consecutive marathon I was hobbling to the finish line.  I was having a good time though.  The crowd was cheering my name constantly and that put a smile on my face.  At about mile 24, my tutu got the attention of a BBC crew and I found myself being interviewed about it by Colin Jackson.  My mind was so elsewhere that it didn’t immediately sink in that I was on live television.

From then on I could only walk as fast as I could manage, the final roads becoming a blur as the emotion of it all welled up within me.  I ran the last few yards the best I could with calves that didn’t work and the relief at finishing was enormous.  My time was 3:34:53, something close to the time I was expecting although not at the even pace that I had planned.  It might have been worse if I had done the first half slower; I don’t know.  I had an extra unexpected challenge of having to walk a surprisingly long way along the rest of the Mall, but then a lie down on the grass and a beer made me feel a bit better.

I’m really glad to have had the opportunity to run it this year.  It was the right thing to go ahead with it even with my injury.  I would like to thank the Eagles for giving me the place and everyone that gave their support.  Thanks most of all to Brenda for sticking by me, even through the times of emotional as well as physical hardship. 

Thankfully, I didn’t do any serious damage to my foot, but it is going to take a while longer to heal and I won’t be able to do as much running as I did previously.  I said right at the start that this might be my last marathon.  Now, I am not quite so sure.  I would certainly jump at the chance of running London again.  There is always the chance that the next one may go better.