A Marathon Retrospective

Last week, an exhausted Mr. Topp posted some photos and some thank yous, after a hard-run marathon. I said there were no words. Well, it’s been over a week now, and I can do words again.

So let’s see if I can describe a London Marathon Experience.

Getting there

Easily the worst part of the day was trying to get to the start line. I’m lucky, in that I planned to get there early.

Step 1: Don’t leave on time
Go over the checklist of everything you need, even though it was all laid out the night before. Triple-check that checklist. Doubt the quality of the checklist. Write a new one. Compare the two. Triple check the new checklist. Pee for the thousandth time.

Congratulations, you have left the house late. Don’t worry, you planned to get there early.

Step 2: It’s Sunday morning, stupid
Get to the tube station. Get to the platform. Wait for the train.

Wait for the train.

Wait for the train.

Welcome to Sunday. That’s twelve minutes, on top of how late you already were.

Step 3: Catch the train
I’m at Victoria station. It’s crowded. I’m drinking coffee, and need to pee.

But I hold it, because I don’t know when the next train is – the train I wanted left thirty minutes ago. Once I’m on the train, I only need 12 minutes to get to Blackheath. I’ll be fine.

Step 4: ‘A body on the tracks
A voice comes over the speaker. We are delayed due to a body on the tracks.

I am late. Not late-late – the race hasn’t started. But I intended to already be there, in plenty of time. And we are sitting here. The twelve minute train journey is now nearing forty minutes … and we start moving backwards.

My decision not to pee at the station is not looking too bright. A fellow passenger points out that I have an empty coffee cup, if I need it. I’m worried I might need it.

Step 5: Actually get us to our destination
This was meant to be the easiest part of the day, but instead it turned out to be the most difficult and most stressful bit. I was lucky/clever to plan to get to the start line over 90 minutes before the race began. My own tardiness and a forty minute train delay still put me there with about thirty minutes to spare (and more than forty minutes to spare before I would actually cross the start line).

I still feel lucky to have made it – if the train had been forced to return to Victoria, I wouldn’t have had time to get to the start line by an alternative route. I should have aimed for the first train out (which I had incorrectly deemed to be unnecessary).

The Start

There wasn’t a whole lot of time to explore and soak in the atmosphere at the start line — I had to use the toilet, strip off my warm-ups, get my bag to the folks who would transport it to the finish line, have one last sip of water, and get myself into the starting queue.

Luckily, things were well organised, the little bit of time I had was enough, and I soon found myself in the starting pen for slow people.

Standing in the pen and shuffling towards the start line was as dull as it sounds, but once I crossed the start line things got awesome. In retrospect, I wish that I had pulled my phone out and taken some pictures here and there during the race. At the time, I was worried about getting going, and later about not breaking my rhythm … but it was awesome, with the crowds, giving high fives, and lots of fresh runners (many in fancy dress).

I started with the slow runners, but learned quickly that I am rare amongst marathon runners, in making a conservative estimate of my expected running time.

Me: I can run a half marathon in 1h45m – so if we double that I’m at 3h30m. But I’ll slow down, because it’s longer. So 4h. But I’m wearing a helmet and goggles, so 4h30m. Add in a slow, crowded start … let’s start with the ‘just under 5h group’.
Everybody else: I can run a half marathon in 2h30m. Double that is 5h. I can go faster than that. Let’s start with the ‘4h30m’ group.

I learned that either the helmet and goggles don’t slow me down, or that I’m faster than I thought I was. And I spend a good deal of the race – nearly every minute from stepping across the start line to crossing the finish line – passing others.

Which isn’t really a complaint. Passing people makes you feel like you’re doing well. If you find yourself running the marathon, there are worse things you can do than starting near the back. You also might want to wear a Go Pro on your back, to get photos of all the people you pass.

2k

Apparently low quality costume goggles aren’t given any anti-fogging treatment. They go on top of my head. I figure that I’ll throw them out at approximately the halfway point … but I don’t. Apparently they don’t bother me at all.

5k

I see my first (personal) cheerers! Yay! I am very shouty, because I’m still very fresh.

Bermondsey

I want to say that this is eight miles in. But it might be nine. It might be ten. It might be twelve.

I’m expecting to see Maggie and Karen here, cheering in the Shelter section – but they moved across the road, because Maggie couldn’t see over the barrier, and I miss them.

Miles 12 to 20

These eight miles are the worst part of the London Marathon. No question about it.

It starts when you pass Tower Bridge, and turn towards Canary Wharf. You are fully aware of where the finish line is. And you are turning in the opposite direction, to run away from it. You knew this was happen – you know the route – but there are twelve miles of hard running behind you already, it is almost noon, and the cool morning is turning into what feels like a very hot midday (particularly if you’re wearing a helmet).

But you were expecting this. You turn down the Highway. And have a full view of people who are running back in the other direction. How disheartening.

Again, the logical mind says this is okay. These are people who have a fifteen minute headstart, by being near the front at the start of the race, and they are hitting mile 20-ish in under two hours. These are either professional runners, or near-world-class amateurs. I’m okay with it. But … in the moment … fuck. How slow am I running?

It must have been worse for those behind me – the ones I saw when making that same run back, that had to see a forty-year old in a Biggles helmet. Sorry, guys.

At least we cross the halfway point here … but soon after, we were running through the Isle of Dogs. While the start and end of the marathon have throngs of people watching, the Isle of Dogs does not. As we build up into some significant distance, there are few people urging us on through the Isle of Dogs and back along the Highway.

Still, apparently I was still smiling:

Approaching Blackfrianrs

Potential disaster!

Some small muscle in my foot decides to be an asshole, and cramp up. I try to limp/run through it.

The foot muscle convinces my calf muscle to also be an asshole. I try to limp/run through it.

The foot and calf muscles poke at my knee to join their rebellion. I try to … fuck it. Let’s walk.

Two minutes, an energy gel, and a bottle of Lucozade later, I break into a jog. My muscles do not object too strenuously, and by the time I’ve reached Cleopatra’s Needle, I’m back up to running speed.

Embankment

My people!

Just before the 25 mile marker, is a Shelter cheer point. The road here is quite wide, and the ideal shortest route is on the opposite side. Which means that it’s quite easy to move across to it, soak in the cheers, and kiss Karen and Maggie who I have found on the race course!

This is a huge energy boost, and I cross the 25 mile point shortly thereafter, and run a pretty fast final mile, compared to the ten previous.

Finish line

Four hours, three minutes. Which is – amazingly enough – pretty much what I was expecting with just the slowdown from a half marathon distance to a full marathon distance. I wonder how I would have done if I’d not worn the helmet, and started the race with a faster group – maybe a 3h30 group. Would I have kept up with them? Or would I have gone out too fast?

I suppose we’ll never know, unless somebody convinces me to repeat this madness.

On a final note … my fundraising page is still open, and donations to Shelter are much appreciated.

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