Thursday, 21 April 2011

Virgin London Marathon

It’s been 3 weeks since I did the 100k and I’ve just completed my 8th London Marathon. What an experience. It doesn’t matter how many times you do it, the atmosphere and crowd support is phenomenal and I absolutely love it!

We travelled down to the capital on Saturday morning, courtesy of the County Staff Club in Stafford, heading straight for the Excel and race registration. For me, this is where the excitement starts – picking up your number and race day details, it really starts to sink in what you are here for. This year it was exceptionally special for me as I finally got to meet one of my sporting heroines – yes indeed, it was Paula Radcliffe, and along with many others on the day, I was honoured to have my photo taken with her and to have her autograph. Paula has been an inspiration to many, myself included, and it put me in a positive frame of mind for the remainder of the weekend.

Sunday morning dawned and we were up early for a 6am breakfast. The race wasn’t due to start until 9.45am, but due to road closures, we needed to leave by 6.45am. There was a good crowd of us waiting for the coach outside the hotel, including the loveable Linsey who also runs for Trentham. This was Linsey’s first ever marathon and understandably she was a little nervous, yet she has such a fun loving take on life and her attitude was to just get round and enjoy it. She’d already done the hard work of fundraising for St Ann’s Hospice in Manchester, and incredibly has raised in excess of £1000 – amazing!

The journey to Blackheath was trouble free, and by half seven,  we had found the blue start and were sat chilling out on the curb, waiting for some familiar faces to arrive. 

Half an hour or so later, Ryan from Trentham appeared and after a quick photo, we went our separate ways to prepare for our race. It was then that I also bumped into the lovely Emma Gooderham from Malvern Joggers. I’d ran with Emma on the GB 100km Team back in 2008, but she too has been plagued with injury recently, so it was lovely to see that she too is getting back to fitness and taking on another marathon (she finished London on Sunday in an excellent 2.53 showing that maybe things are going in the right direction again at last!)

I was starting from the Championship Start again this year, and having found the “special” area for the UKA Championship Athletes, I saw loads of familiar faces – Louise Blizzard and Brian Cole (two other 100km internationals),Emily Gelder – the current British 100km Champion - two locals in the form of Amy Cope and Ben Gamble, and Amy Green who I had first met at the Snowdonia Marathon back in 2006.

Andy as ever had come down to London with me to offer his support once again, and after the customary hug and pep talk, it was time to get serious and focus on the run.

I’d come to London with no real expectations, although I knew I should be capable of running anything between 2.58 and 3.03. Having been just 3 weeks since the 100km and not really done a great deal in the weeks since, I had no idea whether the legs would hold out or not.  I’d discussed with Norman what pace I should do and had agreed 6.45 with the premise that if it felt too hard, I eased back.

Two years ago I had stood on the same start line and I hated it. I’d had a foot injury for months and I knew it wasn’t right, plus it was the first year that the Championship ladies had to start with the men and I was so used to having my own space in London. I ended up dropping out at 19 miles in absolute agony with my foot – my first DNF in over 20 odd years of running.

This year was different. I felt more positive, didn’t actually mind the company this time round, and was actually quite excited. Been my 25th marathon (excluding any ultras I’ve done), I had nothing to prove to either myself or anybody else, and there was absolutely no pressure on me to race for a PB.

Richard Branson started us off – some 30,000+ runners – and it wasn’t too long before I settled into a rhythm. The first mile was surprisingly bang on target with a 6.45 split, and I was amazed that I hadn’ t got caught up in the fast frantic running that usually accompanies the start of a race, particularly with the crowds of spectators already gathering making it all too easy to get carried away.

The next few miles were pretty much the same, mile splits ranging from 6.38 to 6.47, I was feeling comfortable and was fairly confident that I could perhaps dip under the 3 hours. Things were already starting to warm up as the sun broke through, and I found that I was taking on far more water that at the start.

I went through 10 miles in just under 68 minutes, and although the heat was starting to take effect, I was still feeling pretty good. I missed the 11 mile marker, but when I saw the 12 mile one ahead, I was convinced that the markers were slightly out. Shortly afterwards came Tower Bridge, and what a magnificent sight! Thousands of spectators lined the course, and with wearing the Trentham vest, I got lots of support including a few “Up the Potters!” (Stoke City were playing at Wembley that afternoon in the FA Cup semis, so loads of Stokies were down there).  I was still knocking out an average pace of 6.45, and yet having crossed Tower Bridge and passing the half way point, the clock read 1.29.30 which really threw me in terms of my pace.

By now the sun really was shining and it was starting to take its toll on the people around me. I noticed some people walking, others were stretching legs out at the side of the road trying to get rid of the cramps, and others that had been running strongly were now starting to slow.

It was really weird doing a marathon in terms of counting down the miles, particularly when I got to half way and thought “only 13 more to go” – I’m so used to thinking “only another 49 to go!” that it really did seem a short run. Saying that though, I still don’t things for granted, and I found myself starting to tire at about 16/17 miles. My pace had now dropped to around about 7 minute miling, and I could see the sub 3 slowly slipping away. Thankfully the crowds kept me going and I certainly didn’t feel the urge to walk, and I managed to keep things going, albeit more slowly.

Eventually I went through 23 miles, and with the London Eye and Big Ben in the distance, I found I was picking up the pace again and started to pass a few people. The crowd were truly amazing and the noise was deafening coming along the Embankment and into Birdcage Walk, and at last, I made that final right turn into The Mall and saw the finish line.
I crossed the line in 3.03.06 – chip time 3.03 exactly – a similar time to marathon splits in my ultras, so if nothing else, it shows consistency. I was so relieved to have finished this year, and even though I didn’t get under the 3 hours, I was more than happy with my run and it’s a good indication of how I’ve recovered from the 100km.

This may well be my last London Marathon for a few years now, depending on whether we do eventually move to Canada where more challenges will await me. But for now, I’m going to savour the experience of the London Marathon, the superb organisation, the fantastic support of the crowds, the camaraderie and support from all the other runners, and most of all, knowing that I can still run a decent marathon and actually enjoy it.

Finally, for Trentham, yet again it was a great day, with many first timers getting around the course in very respectable times. For me, the greatest praise has to go to Linsey. She finished in a little over 6 hours, despite admitting to not having ran further than 13 miles in training, and having struggled with a very sore knee from about 20 miles onwards. Well done Linsey – you did BRILL! - and as I’ve said umpteen times, marathons are addictive, and you WILL do another one – guaranteed.

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