Run Don’t Run Race Report #2 – Virgin Money London Marathon 2014

It’s grey and cold in London today and it’s making me look fondly back to last Sunday when it was warm and sunny and I was out and about enjoying myself. And running 27 and a bit miles from Blackheath to the Mall (yes, I know marathons are 26.2 miles, read on).

It felt like a much longer journey to get to the start line of the 2014 Virgin Money London Marathon. This included:

  • a decision never to do another marathon again after an unpleasant debut 26.2 (forgetting I’d already entered the London 2013 ballot)
  • “failing” to get a ballot place but then being swept up by peer group pressure and gaining a 2013 place through a running club ballot
  • overdoing it in the January 2013 snow, developing a stress fracture and pulling out of that year’s marathon
  • the dubious honour of being able to defer my place to 2014 as a “sick and injured” runner
  • the ups and downs of a 16 week training programme including a couple of pbs, a 10 week parkrun streak (including a shameful 5k after a very big Friday night out involving several cold drinks and throwing of shapes) and relentless niggles and injuries
  • the expense (but also indulgence) of 5 sessions of sports massage and osteopathy (to think, 5 years ago I refused to let anybody I didn’t know do anything resembling massage because I’m ticklish and thought I would collapse into hysterics)

There was a great sense of camaraderie when we lined up in the huge start pens up on Blackheath with hot-air balloons nodding at us in the breeze but once we set off it was the people of London who got us through the mile after mile after mile. There were crowds lining the whole route, initially stood outside their houses, some in pyjamas, but from Greenwich onwards we were treated to the same volume of crowds and tunnels of noise that Mo and co had run through earlier. There were bands and DJs too and I think it was Deptford where I heard Pharrell’s “Happy”. It sounded so authentic, I thought it was a DJ but I did literally “laugh out loud” when I discovered it was a live band with a singer, probably twice the age of Pharrell who looked like he’d spent the last 30 years in the pub.

My paranoia about my stroppy left hip ruining my big day proved unfounded although I could have done without the sudden jabbing pain in my right knee after a mere three miles (I ignored it and it went away). There were other niggles that built up and faded away over the course (note to self: if there is a next time, do those strengthening exercises and stretch more religiously, so boring but you know it makes sense). The heat was another potential spoiler but although I remember it being sunny, I don’t ever remember feeling too hot. However it might be a factor to bear in mind if I want to one day go faster (and I think one day I probably can).

I thought I could possibly do this race in under four hours but had six targets to spur me on:

1. To get to the start line (believe me, there were times as close as 3 weeks before that I thought I might not make it).
2. To finish.
3. To run the whole thing (I used to have a golden rule never to walk during a race, which I’m ashamed to admit I broke towards the end of my 2012 marathon).
4. To beat my debut marathon time (4:28.57).
5. To beat my wife’s marathon time (set in 2004).
6. To go below 4 hours.

It was good to tick one target off as early as 10 o’clock in the morning and I felt on course to achieve all six after three miles, slowing down or speeding up to make sure that I reached every mile marker in 9:09 minutes. However, at the Cutty Sark, the road narrowed, the volume of runners increased and my legs started to slack off. From then onwards I started to watch the likelihood of achieving targets 5. and 6. slip away, trying to balance up the need to go faster with the impact this might have on targets 2. to 4. Eventually I stopped paying too much attention to my Garmin and just soaked up the occasion.

Delirious at Mile 20

Delirious at Mile 20

One of the bonuses of London 2014 was that I think this time I avoided The Wall. Seeing those familiar faces at my running club’s water station at mile 20 at gave me a boost but this also marked the point at which walls typically start to appear. Although the option of lying down for a couple of hours would have been very welcome, the legs kept going, especially after the wild scenes at Run Dem Crew’s 21 mile spot which is just like midnight in a night club on New Year’s Eve which goes on for hours.

The Embankment is often described as the “home straits” for marathon runners but I know it doesn’t end until you get to Big Ben. Running along it last Sunday, Big Ben was temporarily Small Ben or the Embankment is way longer than I’d previously imagined. It went on forever, and I wanted to argue back “No I’m not!” to all the people screaming “Keep going! You’re almost there!”. In fact the Embankment was so long, my Garmin told me I’d actually done 26.2 miles when I finally reached Parliament Square and I still had two thirds of St James Park to run around.

And then, after what I hoped looked like a sprint finish, but was probably more like a drunk man stumbling after a night bus, it was all over. And I couldn’t stand up. I kept trying to but my head started swirling around and I had to grab on to the nearest fence. 10 minutes later I still couldn’t stand up without feeling like I was going to faint. Eventually I had to be escorted to the medical tent where I had my pulse and blood pressure checked along with lots of questions about how much water I’d drunk and my medical history (thank you so much St John’s Ambulance, you are now my heroes). Finally I got my act together and was discharged to find my family (including the reigning house marathon record holder) and go for a long anticipated pint of beer.

15 minutes after being unable to stand up....

15 minutes after being unable to stand up….


Although I couldn’t fault the London Marathon, for now, I could barely walk and had no desire to do another. Ever again. By the next day I was double checking on the deadlines for the 2015 ballot. The whole occasion had fully rewarded all the time, emotion and effort I’d invested. I had achieved the first four of my targets and think I know what to do if I want to reach the remaining two. I think one day I will be back!

Run Don’t Run 2014 London Marathon Freebie Guide

If you thought the only reward you got after all those early morning starts, Sunday long runs, visits to physiotherapists/sports masseuses/osteopaths/podiatrists and generally wearing out your shoes was the chance to slog around London with 35000 other people then think again. For this week and probably this week only, a Virgin Money London Marathon race number or finisher’s medal pretty much gives you the keys to the city (well, access to lots of free stuff). Most of these offers were harvested off Twitter so it might be wise to double check terms and conditions beforehand.

Free Travel

Transport for London are offering free travel on the Tube, bus, London Overground, tram and Docklands Light Railway for all runners in the big day, from early morning until 5pm. To qualify, show your race number.

Those coming from further afield are entitled to free travel on any Chiltern Railways services on Sunday, 13 April. To get the free travel runners just have to present their official Marathon tabard or race number to ticket inspectors.

Free Services for Runners

If you need a bit of last minute intervention to get you to the start and finish line, Runners Need are offering free Kinesiology Taping for marathon runners courtesy of @SixPhysio @TheOnlyWayIs_UP on Friday 11th April between 11am and 2pm at their Strype Street store (E1 7LQ) near Liverpool Street station. Holborn and Southwark Street branches are also offering this service (contact stores for details).

Over 70s running the marathon qualify for up to 3 months free membership at the Jubilee Hall gym in Covent Garden. The gym has the latest Life Fitness Engage series treadmills as well as almost 100 other pieces of cardiovascular and strength training equipment to keep runners in the groove.

Free Food

MEAT liquor are offering a free burger to medal holders on race day plus 50% off for official volunteers. MEAT liquor is at 74 Wellbeck Street, London W1G 0BA

Meanwhile Gourmet Burger Kitchen in Jubilee Place, Canary Wharf are offering a free burger to all London Marathon 2014 medal wearers, valid April 13-15th. They’re also throwing a mini bottle of Prosecco. Supporters eating with you will also get a complimentary bottle of Prosecco when they order a main from the menu.

From 7th April runners with a Marathon number can have a free meal at the Mayfair Pizza Company The offer runs until Friday 12th April and Mayfair Pizza Company is at 4 Lancashire Court, New Bond Street.

For other marathon free food fests, the Daily Telegraph has these and a few other places for the likes of Peruvian style breakfasts, macaroni cheese, grills and post-race cocktails.

Free Sightseeing

The Shard are offering the first 100 medal holders turning up from 13th to 17th April free entry to London’s highest viewing platform. They’re also offering a 20% discount for friends, family, and supporters who accompany a medal holder. Offer details and terms and conditions are here.

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Runner Paranoia

20140308-114102.jpgI tend to worry too much about a lot of things that don’t really matter. Whenever I’m planning for some work related event at which I will either get the credit or the blame, I usually prepare myself to get the blame when in actual fact things tend to work out well. This then clears the decks for me to start worrying about something else!

I like to think that running provides me with lots of time to forget about the things That are bothering me and have to admit that when I’m out on a long run with my mind wandering, I can generate all I kinds of new solutions to the things I worry about. However, just recently I’ve found myself worrying about things that wouldn’t be an issue if I’d stuck to my guns and remained the non-runner I’d been for most of my life:

1. Injury worries

I’m currently training for the London Marathon, having deferred my place from last year because I had a stress fracture. And now I worry I’m injured again. It’s not a stress fracture, it’s an ache at the top of my leg. I’ve tried stretching, ibuprofen and sports massage. I finally went to see the chiropractor who suggested I should pull out of last year’s marathon. She felt that this year’s injury was not terminal and with a few tweaks I could carry on getting marathon-ready. I did carry on, have done two half marathons at good times including a personal best but I still expect my left leg to drop off at any moment (it still hurts). I think about this more frequently than your average man thinks about sex. I need to deal with it!

2. Fundraising worries

These result from 1. I decided to raise money from my marathon efforts for a charity called CALM. Ironically, one of the reasons this charity exists is because a lot of men don’t deal very well with things they worry about. What I’m worried about here is that I will need to pull out of the marathon because of 1. And then I will need to explain this to the people who have already handed money over. This is stopping me from plugging my fundraising efforts and raising as much as I could. I need to deal with it!

3. Beetroot worries

I have learnt tolove tolerate the earthy taste of beetroot juice, the runner’s ambrosia. If you haven’t read the research then Google it now. But I sometimes forget about my beetroot addiction until I notice its unfortunate side effects. After the Reading Half Marathon last weekend, I think I traumatised a number of men I was sharing the urinal with as the Ribena coloured urine streamed past them in the Madejski Stadium toilets. When this was still happening later that evening I still had the words “internal bleeding” popping into my head until I’d managed to perform a reality check. I need to deal with it!

4. Parkrun volunteering worries

This is a new one. Today I volunteered at parkrun because I didn’t want to aggravate 1. and further jeopardise 2. It also meant I could avoid 3. for once and have a huge coffee before going out instead. I ended up scanning the barcodes as the runners finished, which allowed me to have flashbacks to my time as a checkout operator in Sainsbury’s all those years ago. That was until I realised they didn’t have scanners in Sainsbury’s when I worked there. It was that long ago. There were all kinds of glitches in today’s new role: a dodgy finishing token I had to watch out for and in no circumstances scan, people with barcodes which wouldn’t scan, people without barcodes, a moment when I scanned the finishing token before the runner’s barcode (a serious no-no). I am now worrying that some inadvertent error will mean I have ruined what felt like a really good start to the Saturdays of over 50 people. I will therefore not publish this blog until I see the results have been published. Once this has happened I will have dealt with it (until the next time)!

Tomorrow I aim run 19 miles and hope I make it home with two functioning legs. Beetroot juice will be involved and I wonder if the run will give me enough confidence to go all out to recruit more sponsors. I’m also hoping no disgruntled parkrunners spot me, jumping out of their cars to harangue me about their result or lack of it from today. Whatever happens, I definitely expect to generate more things to worry about, to fuel my Runner Paranoia.

How I didn’t run the 2013 London Marathon

Image Saturday felt so much like Marathon Eve last year. Bright sunshine, cool, generally taking it easy. Big bowl of pasta in the evening with, wait a minute, half a bottle of wine? And, what’s that, still up after midnight?

A night of unsettling dreams, early up on Sunday. That’s more like a typical race Sunday. Porridge made. But given to my daughter?

London Underground is full of fellow runners, numbers pinned on their vests. I spot an “alt runner”, tattooed, embarrassed to be wearing running shoes on public transport so keeps them in his bag, sporting Dr Martens instead.

It occurs to me, I’m wearing jeans, none of my clothes have wicking properties. Then the horrid realisation – I’m going to the London Marathon on 21st April as planned, but not to run. Instead I’m going to Mile 20 on Poplar High Street to hand out bottles of water to parched runners as they grapple with that wall/no wall moment.

Hydrating the runners is actually an enjoyable way to spend a few hours when at the back of your mind you keep thinking of the chorus of this song:

When not brandishing bottles of icy water to runners who are either bang on target or wondering where their ability to put one foot in front of the other evaporated to, the other popular activities on offer for us hydrators included:
– working out what fellow members of my long neglected running club look like with non-running clothes on
– comparing who has the most exotic, obscure injury diagnosis
– pretending the big blue Nestlé t-shirts are as good as, if not better than a finisher’s technical top image

We start to wonder if we’re ever going to get rid of the banks of water bottles that weigh down the long lines of tables on either side of the course. The specialists – the athletes in wheelchairs, the elite runners and the best of the club runners zip by without a second glance, but then the deluge begins.

The great mass starts to build up. Thousands of runners, shufflers, walkers, fund raisers like a slow but irrepressible leak, filling the temporary, meandering channel between Greenwich and The Mall. Soon there’s water being squirted everywhere, particularly as the fire brigade have created a makeshift shower from one of their high pressure hose.

I see what I like to think of my “peer group”, the people following the pied-piper-pacers 4:00:00 (optimistic peer group) or 4:30:00 (realistic peer group). A cocktail of loving-this-moment elation, grim determination and spaced out otherness. Some are looking strong and ready for the final 6 mile push. Some are starting to walk, possibly though the congestion of the water station or maybe because they were starting to feel cheated by all the advice they’d received telling them not to run too close to 26.2 miles in their training runs. Because right now, they couldn’t imagine running ever again.

And then I got tired. Holding your right arm out and shouting out the names of strangers for 4 hours is also hard work you know. So I walked away hoping to pass through this street briefly in a year’s time when, dodgy shin withstanding, I just might be receiving not giving when it comes to the gift of mid-marathon hydration.