Posts Tagged With: London Marathon

Been there, done that, got the t-shirt. London Marathon 2018 done and dusted. #SpiritOfLondon

Digested read:  did it.

done it

Brace yourself.  It’s a long one.  Then again, if running a marathon is considered a test of endurance, I see no reason why reading about it shouldn’t also be a test of resolve.  You can always scroll down to be fair, whereas it’s a lot harder to fast forward on the roads of London, so be gracious before your judge me too harshly!  All the same maybe fuel yourself before settling down to read this, and make sure you stay hydrated, or you’ll be wobbly and light headed before you even reach the half way marker.  You have been warned.  If you choose to read on and then get bored or annoyed, then you are at the very least guilty of contributory negligence.  Much as if you go for a recovery run when your toenails are black, blistered and bruised and then find they all fall off.  You will get no sympathy or truck from me.  So we are clear about all that then?  Good.  I thank you.

So here I am, out the other side. Stormed it!  Sort of, I maybe wasn’t quite the storm the warrior claimed, but was tenacious enough to make it round.  Somewhat shell-shocked.  It’s so hard to process all that has happened over the last 48 hours, or whatever it is.  It feels unreal.  I think that must be why they give you a medal at the end, so you can remind yourself it all really happened. Unfortunately in my official photo you can’t see my medal as I was too disoriented to hold it up, don’t panic though, there are plenty of other photos so you can relive the experience with me whether you want to or not!

There are already a plethora of London Marathon accounts out there, it’s a cliché but it’s true nevertheless that each of the 40,000 or so of us at the start would have had our own unique experiences.  Don’t worry, if you meet any of the other runners they’ll tell you about their marathon run in their own words too.  Aren’t you lucky?  This is the thing about running marathons.  Apparently 1% of the population have run a marathon now, no idea where that figure comes from, but I daresay it’s no more made up than the Lehman Brothers accounts and considerably less likely to lead to catastrophic collapse in the global economy, so let’s just go with that.  1% of the population is actually quite a lot of people, and all but one of them will tell you about it at length whether or not you have the slightest interest in their, sorry ‘our‘ endeavour.  There is only one person in history who has run a marathon without telling anyone and even then her friends felt compelled to remark on this so you’d still have got to hear about it.  Arguably, in the future, one of the most compelling reasons to run a marathon – apart from to prove your womb won’t fall out on the way round – is to enable yourself to get a word in edge ways when you encounter other people who have.   I think the belief your womb will fall out if you run too far mainly applies to men, but whatever.  It’s a thought, can’t beat ’em, join em. That’s the way it goes.

ran and didnt tell

If for whatever reason you don’t want to run a marathon, but would like to get those who have to shut up about it, here follows in microscopic detail my memory of my marathon adventure such as it was.  Truthfully it’s all a bit of a blur, some of the details are foggy, the chronology will be all over the place, but that will only add authenticity if you choose to tell my story as your own.

First things first.  I’d set my alarm for 5.00 a.m..  In fact I got a text from Virgin London Marathon at 5.02 anyway, so clearly early starts are the order of the day.  I was sweating already in the humid hotel room. It reminded me of when I was working in Cambodia, you know it’s going to be hot, hot, hot.  No question. The text said:

Today’s forecast is for hot weather with possible wet conditions early on. Temperatures may rise to 23C.  Adapt your goal, slow down& listen to your body.  Drink when thirsty. Take only one bottle at water stations & remember to Drink, Douse, Drain, Drop.  Good luck & enjoy the #SpiritOfLondon

Two things.  The temperature actually got to 24.1C (75.3F) –  recorded in St James’s Park, the Met Office said.  Also, why oh why did they tell runners to drain their bottles?  That’s rhetorical by the way, I know it was to assist with recycling, but when I was scrabbling around in the gutter trying to find any water left anywhere I was inwardly cursing that directive.  More of that later.

I was up, had a shower. Not going to lie, pretty gutted at the temperatures in prospect, but also feeling fatalistic in a positive way (is that a contradiction in terms). I suppose I mean it was like waking up on exam day.   You are at the point it’s now or never, you can either rail against the world screaming futilely into the wind at the injustice of the extreme heat of the event after training in the extreme cold, snow and ice, or accept it is what it is, and you have to get on with it.  In a way, it was a relief. I  wasn’t really believing it, but I told myself this heat would remove all expectations on me running wise, at least if it was a ‘record-breaking marathon’ because of this I’d get to be a record breaking marathoner by association, and anyway que sera sera.

I had a shower, and my first big triumph of the morning was – and I make no apologies for too much information because any fellow runner will know how much this can soothe both body and soul – a successful and significant poo!  Don’t be shy people, there are whole articles dedicated to perfecting this art of ;how to poop before a race’. Please note, I do however apologise for the use of the word ‘poop’ in the headline for the article, but that’s American journalism for you.  Hurrah, that was my first pre race angst vanquished.  They say don’t make any sudden changes to your diet in the run up to event days, but a big pasta meal recommended for carb loading the night before was to me exactly that. I knew I’d need the energy stores, but I’d been worried it would just sit there, like I’d swallowed a rock, weighing me down.  Instead, result! This was a good omen.

I put on my running kit straight away.  I went for vest only – on the top I mean, obvs I wore leggings and trainers and socks and runderwear knickers and an industrial sports bra as well – but before donning any garment, I squelched almost a whole tube of factor 50, once only application, water-resistant sunscreen everywhere that might be exposed. Arms, neck, arm pits, face, nose, ears, everywhere.  My skin hasn’t seen the sun all year, and is so white it might even reflect sunlight back to the sky and reverse global warming, but I wasn’t taking the risk.   I also put body glide on my inner arms, and legs – though I’ve never previously rubbed there but I thought I may as well.  I’ve also got another anti-chafing product, lanacane which I think is amazing, but it is expensive and I seem to get through loads of it, but I used that under my boobs because I know from bitter experience that needs special attention. I filled my two water bottles on my ultimate direction running belt with water and dissolved electrolytes in them.  THANK GOODNESS!  Other runners were going to rely just on the water on course, but I’d decided I’d drink the water en route, and then in the later stages drink my electrolyte laden water to stop me cramping or getting dehydration related salt imbalance.  I put in far more naked bars than I could possibly consume, and added in as an after thought some straight glucose tablets – again these turned out to be a life safer.

Down to breakfast.  The hotel was serving from 5.30, I’d imagined it would be a reduced offering for runners, but in fact a full buffet was out. That was hard.  Normally the opportunist in me would have made merry and cavorted with abandon amongst the hash browns, scrambled eggs and croissants.  However, I was disciplined, I stuck to my game plan of just a cup of horrible coffee – it wasn’t my plan that the coffee would be horrible, it just was – and some porridge. The porridge was not good.  It was nothing like the porridge I make myself.  It was mostly milk, with the odd porridge oat floating in it as a possible choking hazard.  I would have had it much thicker and packed with seeds and things.  I was worried I wouldn’t have had quite enough fuel, so I broke with my plan and had a banana as well.  I figured it would be a good 5 hours before I even crossed the start line, so probably not too high risk, though I have suffered before eating bananas too close to or mid event at the Round Sheffield Run.  On a more positive note, I was quickly joined by other runners.  One was from Denmark I think, and a veteran marathoner.  Another first time marathoner who has been a poster girl for the British Heart Foundation as she has a pace maker and spent many, many months in hospital having multiple surgeries, so the BBC are following her round.  Then there was another runner, more of my ilk. Got a ballot place and knew she had to do it, so here she was.  We were a mixed bunch, but excitedly chatting together about the day ahead. Another runner joined us…. with two tags on her shoes!  Immediate panic, why had she got two tags? Were we supposed to have two tags too? Turns out she was an elite runner taking part in some championship or other, she even had a striped back to her number.  I was too relieved that I was properly equipped to notice her name or number, but her physique suggested a professional, or near enough, athlete was walking amongst us.

We scampered to our respective hotel rooms for final teeth cleaning and trainer donning, and more poo stops, poo two from me, could things get any better in terms of pre race protocols?  I drank loads of water and put a litre or so in one to take with me to the start.  I do drink loads anyway, especially when I was sweating this much at 7.00 a.m..

A coach was going from the hotel to the start.  Some preferred to go planned routes via tube, but I wanted to make as few decisions as possible and stay off my feet so opted for that.   I waited outside with my other new best friends in our marathon gear, feeling somewhat self-conscious about both my upper arms and Geronimo, but also sort of enjoying the unlikely continuum of runners we collectively represented.  The sun was bright, and there was a breeze, it felt almost tropical.  It was a gorgeous morning, just not one you’d want before say having to run a marathon.  We got someone to take a photo. The first photo was into direct sunlight, so we got another facing the other way, just because.  Aren’t we lovely?

The coach pulled up just after 7.00 a.m. and set off promptly at 7.15.  Our elite runner was asking earlier whether we trusted the coach to come. Apparently a friend of hers at the Boston marathon got a package coach and it got lost en route to the start, for hours.  Not sure if the runner even made the off.  I had complete confidence in the organisation of the London marathon though, because this was before Watergate, and anyway, there was so long before start I figured even if it broke down there’s still be time to clamber on a tube and get to Blackheath.

The coach trip was quite exciting. Coach trips, whilst they always make me feel a bit queasy also have that sense of anticipation as you are being transported to a new destination.  Even more so when you are surrounded by other awesome runners.  I was feeling a bit nervy, but mainly just wanted to get there. It was amazing being driven through the streets of London, extraordinary landmarks all around.  At one point someone pointed out the start and parts of the route – oh my, it looked a long, long way.  The charity runners were comparing details of post race arrangements.  Both of the two I was near said their hospitality finished at 5.00 p.m, when realistically, particularly considering they might not even cross the start until 11.00 they would probably still be out on course. One had queried the wisdom of this, being a new runner and recognising her goal was to get round before cut off and was told that the hospitality was for friends and family too. ‘But I expect my friends and family to be out on course supporting me not quaffing free coffee at the charity’s expense‘ was her point.  I thought it was interesting that they did finish so early, particularly with charity places where you might expect people who were/are not natural runners, but passionately wish to support a cause for personal reasons to be well represented amongst their marathoners.  Some runners had also had to raise huge sums, those in ear shot had achieved this, but I’d have found that hugely pressurised.  I only found out recently that apparently charities pay a significant premium for their race places, and risk losing a lot of money if they misjudge who their share their places with – it is hard not to see an element of cynicism in how that plays out…  that discussion though is for another time.

We were deposited at Blackheath about an hour or so later.  Just as we got to the common I espied a whole load of the rhino fancy dress costumes all laid out on the side of the road. They are HUGE.  We disgorged from the coach, and immediately were amongst throngs of runners, streaming across wet grass towards the respective starts. If you are thinking of doing London and worried about the logistics of finding your way around don’t be. There were huge signs up everywhere indicating the respective start areas for red, blue and elite.

this is real

The grass was soaking wet with dew, and I remembered belatedly vaguely that Martin Yelling had advised having plastic bags to put over your trainers at the start so you don’t get wet feet from the off. To be honest, the sun was so strong it was pretty clear we’d dry up soon anyway.  There was also quite a breeze.  Perfect for eating ice creams in the shade sort of weather! I joined the migration pack of runners to the blue start, my eyes popping out on stalks at the spectacle all around.

Finally, I made it under the blue inflatable arch into the collecting ring. It reminded me very much of a festival, albeit a rather healthy lifestyle one.  There was lots of space, and music playing.  A huge screen relayed messages of support to runners, and some coverage of the marathon from different areas of the course.  There were loads of toilet cubicles, the famous female urinals, that didn’t have queues but I didn’t fancy using for the first time pre event.  There were instructions in our goody bags from the expo but frankly they’d left me none the wiser, and I didn’t fancy embarking on my marathon adventure with both me and Geronimo doused in my own pee.  Also, I wasn’t entirely trusting my digestive tract at this point in time either, and let’s not entertain the idea of that calamity before set off.

It was HOT. There was no shade. I have never been more grateful for an impulse buy of my cap, and the addition of my tomtom sunglasses.  I got them as a freebie at a Vitality 10k at Chatsworth earlier in the year.  They might not be flattering, but they are effective, they sit proud of your face so you don’t get rubbing and sweat on your cheeks and air can circulate.  Plus they are slightly turned down at the ends so wont fall off.  I’d never run in either before, but both were completely brilliant on the day – apart from not being especially photogenic, but then neither was I, so who cares.  I scanned my kit bag and decided I didn’t really need any of it other than sunblock and water so deposited it at the baggage drop so as not to have to worry about that again.  The baggage drop people were great, asking me to check I’d not left critical things and posing indulgently for photos.  The guy on the lorry was attached by a hook and wire to the vehicle, it wasn’t clear if this was to stop him escaping for the purpose of my health and safety and for the protection of the general public, or to stop him falling for the purpose of his own health and safety. He didn’t look like a wild axe murder, but I understand most wild axe murderers never do. Good bye kit bag.

I went for a wander around.  It was so tempting to just go exploring, and I did for a bit, then thought that was probably unwise as it was so hot and it was all time on my legs and it would be 2 hours before I crossed the start.  Even so, it was extraordinary soaking it all up.  A few people asked for selfies with Geronimo which was cool.  There were hardly any people in fancy dress that I saw at that stage, though chilled groups hung out on reflective sheets.  Any scrap of shade be it by a toilet or bin was crowded with runners desperately trying to avoid the sun.

I was a bit worried that I’d not quite reached all my bits that were susceptible to sunburn.  I didn’t really want to ask another runner, I don’t know quite why, people were friendly, but it was all overwhelming. Instead I drank my water and headed to the first aid station.  They were functional rather than welcoming, but the woman I asked did help.  To be fair she was distracted by her walkie-talkie.  Gist of the conversation as that a runner had fallen somewhere outside the elite start pen and was asking for first aid assistance.  However the person concerned was saying they still intended to run.  The senior first aider was insisting that if they wanted to run, then they needed to present in person at the first aid tent which was only 200 or so metres away if that. I  could sort of see her point.  If the person concerned couldn’t manage that, they clearly weren’t going to manage 26.2 miles were they?

I found a patch of shade and got chatting to loads of people really.  Experienced marathoners shared top tips, with others we just traded nervous energy.  I was hoping I’d see a familiar face, or at least a running club top that I recognised from Sheffield.  In fact, the only close encounter I had, was whilst I was in the loo queue.  A welcome shout and embrace from a friendly Dark Peak Runner – I can’t tell you how heartening that was.  Plus he is a seriously awesome runner, the London marathon is amazing like that, that people like me who try hard but are never going to set the world alight with our athletic prowess can participate alongside hardcore runners like he.  So thank you my friend, best hug of the day.  Actually, maybe second best, the hug at the end just after the finish line from a kindred from way back was better, but that’s a high standard to have to meet!

dark peak hero

In the waiting area there were heaps of official photographers taking snaps.  They were less in evidence on the course, but I had a fair few shots taken at this point, in all of which I look flabby and rather posed, which is probably an accurate representation of my outward manifestation unfortunately.

801492_273868355_Medium

Then the big screen started showing the various starts.  In the pre event information we’d been warned that it could take up to 45 minutes to cross the start, but even so the loo queues were now absolutely monumental.  I decided to join one.  10 o’clock came and went, but I was in pen 8, the final one.  The good news was that this gave me the confidence to hang on in the queue whilst others abandoned it wrestling with twin worries of full bladders and blind panic.  The less good news was by the time I’d relieved myself I was literally at the very back of the starters.  This did cause me some problems as although I’d be the first to acknowledge I’m slow, I was behind people who weren’t planning on running at all, and that did hamper me increasingly round the route, although I suppose you get the morale boost of over-taking many, it is hard work to do so.  I did an extra half mile at least just weaving around en route.

loo queue

It was clear nothing was moving anywhere, so I sat about a bit, then went to see what the fuss was and discovered the lung costumes.  These were extraordinary creations, light weight they ought to have been perfect for running in, except that unfortunately there was quite a strong breeze which would be a nightmare.  There was one man and the other turned out to be being worn by Katie Price, so there was a little media flurry around her.  I looked on with another runner who was hilarious and who I subsequently ran with for part of the course, if by ‘running with’ you mean ‘we took it in turns to over take each other’.  She gave a running commentary on the shenanigans, as Katie Price was crawling about on the ground apparently trying to put on her timing tag which was a not insignificant challenge wearing a fancy dress lung.  Earlier in the day, one of the people on the coach said that when they went to pick up their number Katie Price was next to them at the same cubicle.  She was at the wrong stand but couldn’t seem to grasp this and in the end the steward gave up trying to redirect her to the correct desk and instead went off to retrieve her pack for her. I’m torn, because I do rather enjoy that anecdote as reinforcing a certain stereotype and I do believe it to be true – it’s not something you’d make up.  On the other hand I can identify with the runners fog that descends at the expo and sometimes the dismissal of Katie Price’s achievements has a smack of misogyny.  Fair play to her, trying to run a marathon in a lung, I’m not a fan of hers especially, but that’s stepping up to a challenge, and she has completed marathons before, so it wouldn’t be fair to assume it is just a vanity project for her – though is suspect some of her endeavours may be.

Finally, about 10.45, it looked like our pen was about to be moved forwards.  I was so far at the back of the line up I wasn’t even in the pen.  The plus side of this was that I avoided the claustrophobia of being rammed up against other runners for a motionless 45 minutes, and instead had been able to amble about gawping at lung costumes and fraternising with other runners.  The down side was that this was a great many runners I’d need to pass later on.  Oh well, que sera.

The start line is weird.  We were sort of marched through the seven, now empty, pens ahead of us.  It was then I began to feel quite emotional, this was suddenly actually about to happen.  The various red-jacketed marshals who’d been staffing baggage lorries and directing runners were now free of their duties so lined the railings clapping us towards the start.  So much good will, it’s bizarre objectively, I mean on one level it is just a run which is ultimately futile, after all, we now know for sure that whilst a 5km run might add 30 minutes to your life it remains a net loss given that it can take 40 minutes to achieve by the time you’ve faffed about.  However, on another level it is this incredible coming together for a shared purpose, and people willing each other to achieve.  You know what, the London Marathon is basically one enormous parkrun on acid.  Maybe a parkrun celebrating its birthday, but essentially that.   We passed pens where you could discard clothing – thin pickings this year, nobody was wearing extra layers to keep warm at the start this year.  Worth knowing if you are running another year though. The clothing gets picked through by charities who wash and reuse where possible.

The anticipation was really building.  I struck up conversations with other runners, including a marathon veteran fancy dresser. His advice, pick a side and stay close to the crowd, smile and engage with them and you’ll get their support.  If you see someone in more spectacular fancy dress or with a more emotive back story, put space between you.  Again, and again the advice was ‘just enjoy it, soak it all up’.

Finally the start was in sight you could hear the commentary.  Oh.  My.  Gawd!

nearly across the start (2)

Oh, and those balloons I saw earlier – they were marking the start! Who knew?

hot air balloons at start

You my dear reader will know I make it a rule never to commence running until I have a foot on the starting mat, but the excitement was tangible. When the arch of the start came into view many around me broke into a full on sprint.  You can really see why the repeated advice is ‘don’t go off too fast!’ it’s oh so tempting.  Finally my foot was on the timing mat.  It was unreal.  ‘I’ve done it, I’ve done it, I’ve crossed the start of the London marathon!’ up until the heat wave, I was always quietly confident that if I made it to this point of the marathon, I’d make it to the end.  I was so excited, but also a bit apprehensive ‘please don’t let me blow it, please don’t let me blow it‘, I was thinking to myself.  On the right was the grandstand, probably packed with the great and the good but I didn’t really care about that, on my left was the band of the horse guards!  Stupidly, even though I’d seen them on the large screen TV I had absolutely no idea they were playing at the start. Astonishingly, as I’m not particularly into pomp and ceremony, I found that really moving.  There is a sense of being part of a significant national occasion, yeah, yeah as a bit part, but even so, it was a remarkable wave of emotion.  Then there was a bank of photographers, snapping us marathon runners (get me, marathon runner now) as we passed.  I wanted to freeze frame the moment on the back of my eye, I’ve never experienced anything quite like it, and after all that waiting around, despite the heat, it was fantastic to actually be running the streets of London.   I can’t find a single shot with the horse guards playing, all the photos are facing towards the grandstand, still, here are the wheelchairs screaming out the starting hatch.  Impressive.

start line

Edit – found one picture in an article ‘running on empty’ which includes lots of dispiriting shots of collapsed runners, but also one of the bank behind the mass start lead runners.  It gives you the gist…

start band

There was support right from the start, so many images, so much enthusiasm. It’s hard as I sort of wanted to take each and every moment in, but also wanted to keep moving, get properly underway and put some miles behind me.  I was very aware it was already nearly 11.00 o’clock, the heat was going to get increasingly oppressive and I didn’t know how I was going to cope with that.  I was however thinking of friends of mine who didn’t make the start, or had missed out on the ballot, and sort of locked down a promise to myself that I would do my darndest to get around this, and be sensible about listening to my body to give myself the best chance of doing so.

The first mile went past quickly, I decided I’d try to take a photo at each mile marker, to help me recall the event.  It honestly is such a blur.  This is an official photo of the mass starters at the one mile mark – it was a little less crowded when I went through!  Even now, looking back at these photos, I find it really hard to believe I was actually there.  It’s so bizarre.  At the risk of increasing the levels of irritation at my account you are probably already suffering, I can honestly confirm taking part in London seems to me to be a unique experience.  It makes it hard to process and recall, the memories are there, but elusive, trying to shape them is like trying to pick up mercury with a fork, although possibly less hazardous.  Mercury is dangerous stuff.  Stay safe people, stay safe.

first mile mark

Even though I’d consciously been slow, my first mile was a lot faster than I intended.  I felt tickety boo, yep, swept up in the occasion no doubt, but strong, hydrated, my sun hat was doing its job, my sunglasses remaining in situ, I just decided to slow a bit and try to find the trot, trot, plod, plod rhythm that I finally discovered on my last few long runs and stick to it as long as I could.  What I laughingly refer to as my training plan was, well, let’s say ‘idiosyncratic’, but oh my, I’m glad that I prioritized my long runs over everything else, if I hadn’t I would never have worked out spontaneously what that steady pace was and been able to recognise it.  The heat was building, but I knew my legs and lungs could do the distance, everything else was going to be race day management.  Not easy in unknown conditions, but not impossible either.  I tried to remember all the advice I’ve been given about coping with the first few miles of the marathon.  Pacing, all about pacing.

Mile two.

Trot, trot, feeling fine.  This was through the residential outskirts of London.  There was little shade, and it was quite quiet compared with the crowds later on, but there was still support and encouragement from marshals.  One called out when there was a little trio of portaloos for any desperate for a pit stop.  I was still a bit shell-shocked, I was aware of other runners, but it wasn’t especially chatty at this point, people were sort of trying to slot into their pace I suppose.

One particular highlight though were the humping volunteers.  I think they were a scout troop, equipped with warning signs they worked in pairs standing either side of the road at every speed hump just shouting out ‘hump’ constantly, to warn oncoming runners of the hazard. This struck me at the time as quite comical, honestly, road runners are delicate flowers!  Many miles later on though I stomped down too hard after an unseen bump and really felt it, I wished the designated humping marshals were present then!

humping marshals

Mile three.

Mile three stood out because another runner took my camera off me to take some action shots of me running.  He threatened offered to do a video but I talked him down from that rash move.  Not only because I suspect had I actually watched any footage subsequently, that would definitely have brought me face to face with an unedited version of my aesthetic awfulness whilst in running motion that would mean I’d never run again, but also because it would have drained my camera battery. I’d need some power for the finishing flourish!  The photos aren’t great, but they are authentic. At the end of mile three was the first water station.  This delivered early promise, lots of water, and volunteers holding it out.  I had drunk a good litre just in the waiting area at the start (bottles were available there and I’d taken extra with me) so I felt OK, but drank anyway.  The bottles being given out were quite dinky 250 ml ones I think.

Mile 4

I was excited going into the fourth mile.  It was at this stage in the course the blue start and red start merged, so you get a sense again of how enormous the event is.  Also, I knew at the end of this mile, all being well, I had a reasonable chance of seeing my first familiar faces en route.  And, I hadn’t yet keeled over and died, and that was one parkrun down already!  Things were looking good.  The supporting crowds were more in evidence and I was enjoying the different signs spectators were displaying.  I hijacked one ‘go Lucy’ as my own, I think that was fair game, and loved the creativity on show.

Not the most salubrious of surroundings, and quite exposed to the ever hotter sun, but still a good atmosphere.  My watch was bleeping slightly ahead of each mile marker, which was great, because it meant I knew to look out for my personal cheer squad.  My Erstwhile Flatmate and her dearly beloved daughter and sign maker extraordinaire, who had so handily relocated to London just last week, to find their new house right on the London route.  I looked about and THEY WERE THERE!  What’s more, they had a personal sign just for me!  It even had a likeness of Geronimo on it.  This was completely brilliant.  If ever you support a runner at a marathon, or indeed any race, I can promise you, you will bestow a joy you can’t imagine on your runner of choice.  It was fantastic to see familiar cheering faces.  It also made the experience seem real for the first time. Like and external validation that I was really doing this.  Plus, once hugs were exchanged and photos taken, it meant the tracking app was doing its stuff and so there was a reasonable chance I might even see others amongst the crowd as I went round  – though I did set my expectations pretty low about that, I thought better to be pleasantly surprised if I did see people rather than carry the burden of crushing disappointment if I didn’t.  It’s harder than you might think to sport people when running and no doubt for spectators to espy their runners too.

MIle 4 vision of loveliness

Buoyed up by the sight of my personal cheer team, I rushed on through the mile four arch with a new spring in my step, feeling hot, but positive.

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Into mile 5.

This is the point where things settled down.  I was amongst similarly paced runners.  There was a bit of gentle leap-frogging of other participants as we passed and repassed each other.  I had a bit of a chat with a guy in an old British military uniform who was running the whole thing with a back pack containing loud speakers blasting out various uplifting military tunes like the dam busters theme.  He was friendly.  Asked if I’d practised in my fancy dress – I had – he hadn’t. His view was it was going to chafe on the day whatever, so why put yourself through that discomfort twice.  One guy was holding a structure with an old-fashioned honky horn attached,  offering ‘free honks’ which I took advantage of.  We had another water station – the amount of discarded bottles was a bit terrifying.  I wasn’t desperate, but was a bit perplexed that there didn’t seem to be any water available.  Some volunteers seemed to be picking through the debris looking for bottles with some water left in.  I had a momentary wave of anxiety.  It seemed a bit off that a water station would have been drunk dry already, but I pushed that to the back of my mind. This is the London marathon, they’ll be on it. I’m not even thirsty yet and anyway there’s water every mile they said, so just rock on. It was somewhere around the mile 5 arch I took advantage of some portaloos with no queue for a quick pee, that was my only pit stop and a good call.

Mile 6

For me, this was one of the best miles of the day.  It wasn’t yet too hot, support was building and I felt strong and was actively enjoying myself.  I started to soak it all up a bit more, there was Dave the Samaritan’s phone box, one of my new buddies from the hotel breezed by looking strong.  Point of information, she’d nipped into Toni & Guy the day before somewhere in London to get her hair plaited up so it was out of the way for the marathon. They’d done it for free as she was a charity runner AND she got an upgrade on the train from Manchester.  She must have a particularly winning way about her, I got no such privileges, but I did still soak up a lot of spirit of London good will.

Best bit of this section FREE ICE LOLLIES.  Obviously when you are drilled with the warning ‘don’t do anything new on race day’ that can’t possibly apply to taking sweets from strangers or mean you would run on by a line of women waving cooling ice lollies in your eye line.  I took full advantage of that and walked for a bit. Some people high up in flats alongside the route started screaming at ‘giraffe woman’ and I waved back, we went under some sort of flyover and there was a full steel band playing in the shade, it noisy beats echoing round the concrete cavern.  I found a woman with a giraffe and requested a selfie – she looked bemused.  Maybe she doesn’t quite buy into the giraffe kindred thing?  I was feeling the heat now, well it was moving into hottest part of the day, noon ish or so if I’d hit the 10k mark, it takes me a bit over an hour to run 10k and I’d crossed the start about 10.50 a.m. I thought.  There was a rhino-suited runner keeping on putting one foot in front of another though, no idea how he was coping.  Everywhere there were high-fiving crowds, people shouting your name and punching the air screaming how amazing and awesome we all were.  Imagine the most enthusiastic junior parkrun marshals ever, cloned, multiplied and ten deep on either side of the road the whole way round.  Well the enthusiasm levels and joyfulness were akin to that.  Others in the crowds picnicked by the road side, toasting your efforts as you passed or just simply soaking up the sun and the spectacle from outside their houses.

mile 6 done.

Into mile 7.

This was a corker!  Lots of highlights.  Unexpectedly I saw – or more accurately was seen by – a full on Smiley Support team.  Complete with massively enthusiastic(ish) off spring and bespoke Smiley Paces support signage.  Again, completely brilliant, more so for being unexpected. I’d known they were down supporting another speedier runner from Steel City Striders, but because I was going to be so far behind them I honestly had zero expectation they’d still be hanging around to cheer me on afterwards.  It was just great, a real lift.  Then I unexpectedly arrived at the Cutty Sark.  I was trying to remember what this meant in terms of breaking down the distance.  Martin Yelling in one of his pep talks, described using the London landmarks to break down the run.  It is a truly amazing sight, the glorious sunshine that was making running hard, did create a spectacular backdrop to the shape of the ship.  This wasn’t a  massively congested area for spectators either, I think it would be a good place to spot runners from the comfort of a balcony bar.

A little later on another fabulous treat in the form of one of my London Marathon Superstars support-group. Armed with an encouraging smile and lots of haribos she gave me a hug and a shove, and soon I was off again.  ‘This is brilliant!’

Mile 8

At this point, things started to unravel a bit, I reached another water station that had no water.  I’ve really tried to ‘park’ my fury at this, because my experience of London was at least half the water stations had nothing left by the time I reached them.  I can cope with the idea that this was because of unprecedented heat, and that the logistics meant it wasn’t possible to restock quickly enough to cater for all runners. What does enrage me though it the official statement that declared they were aware of water running out at stations 8 – 10 as if they were the only one’s affected.  NOT SO!  I struggled to get water almost the whole way round.  I found only one snuck in reference on the telegraph news page that stated ‘They later said: “We have supplied additional water from our contingency stocks to water stations 16, 17, 18, 19, 20 and 23.”  My recollection is water was missing before mile 8 as well.  Not good.  Some comments on twitter in response to the London Marathon tweet on the day support my contention I was not alone in finding the route a desert at times.  Soooooo disappointing.  No idea how karaoke man – at the risk of stating the obvious, a guy who sang enthusiastic karaoke all the way round – survived with his vocal chords in tact!

I sort of did a mental calculation, I wasn’t dehydrated yet, I was carrying some water albeit with electrolytes in it that I’d intended to have later on in the course, but it meant it wasn’t game over.  I asked at the water stations if there was water ahead, but the response was vague.  To be fair, these stations were staffed by volunteers who didn’t have any overview of what was happening. I actually felt a bit sorry for them, there must have been thousands of thirsty runners behind me, and it was getting even hotter, particularly with glare back up from the road.

There were more sights and sounds to distract me from the water issue. The Wolverhampton bobsleigh team, two minnie mouse women from Sheffield who later got 15 minutes of fame helping a fellow runner across the finish who’d fractured her leg.

Then there was the first of the walk through showers.  These are actually quite discretely located by the side of the road, so you can choose whether or not to avail yourself of them.  I did.

A bit further on, the fire station had set up much more impressive cooling showers.  If you are really shallow, you might have imagined these cooling heroes would look like this:

fire fighter

The reality is way hotter people.  It was fantastic to see them out in force, soaking it all up, and giving runners and spectators alike a welcome soaking.  Rainbows and everything,  Fantastic.  It was joyful too, like when you see kids running through fountains in public spaces.  We don’t always get a chance to do that once over the age of 10!  I might have swallowed a bit of London Thames water though, I wasn’t quite so enamoured of that!

So, some definite highs.  However, then I got to a third water station with no water.  I could feel myself panicking.

Mile 9

I was starting to think that might be it now for the rest of the course.  Also, the more consecutive water stations there were without water, the more the following one was likely to be fallen on. These blooming water stations were less oases in a desert and more mirages.  A guy in a van had 6 water bottles wrapped up, I joined the queue in time to get one – only for another runner to snatch it away!  I was quite shocked.   What followed though was a moment of clarity.  I was determined to this thing.  I did have some agency here, I still had the water I was carrying, and I didn’t want to be one of those people who blamed others or circumstance for not getting round. This was not game over, but I did need to think.  I also needed to eat, but I couldn’t because I was getting too thirsty and dry mouthed to cope with any naked bars.  I sort of mentally went through my options and decided to work my way out of this. I’d done the Sheffield half marathon dehydrated, that was horrible too, but I did it.  I’d also done that awful 17 miler feeling sick and hungry early on in training.  This was where the mental challenge came in.  My legs and lungs could do this, I just had to work out how.  I stopped, decided to walk and drink my electrolyte laden water.  I couldn’t manage my naked bars, but I had some of my glucose tablets instead, and that revived me.  I made a very conscious decision that I was going to finish this, or at the very least, wasn’t going to give up with anticipatory defeat before I really could no longer put one foot in front of another.

It was galling to see so many emptied bottles.  There was not a drop left in any of them. Some children had cottoned on to what was happening and were scrabbling about trying to find traces and pour them all together to create sips of water to hand out.  however, I think the advice early on to drink, douse, drain and drop meant very few bottles had any liquid left in them.  I saw the official record attempt for armour power walking.  I told myself I was OK, it wasn’t game over yet, I’d just need to be resourceful.  Spirit of London and all that.  See what happens.

Mile 10 and 11

Still no water.  Four consecutive stations.  I began to despair if there was ever going to be water again.  I begged a sip from a first aid station, but they literally just gave me enough to wet my mouth.  Outside a pub a guy was standing with a circular tray of cups of water so I had that, and then a little later on a woman beside the road had brought a jug out.  Her children I think, had scavenged some discarded cups from somewhere and was filling them up as best she could, I tried not to think about how dirty they were I was just grateful for the liquid. Then another runner ahead of me was holding a bottle out.  ‘Are you seriously offering that?’ I asked. He was, he’d been into a shop to buy some, this was sparkling water but I didn’t care, I drank about half and then passed it on to another desperate runner.  It’s a tough one, I am sorry I wasted time and energy on this marathon of all marathons searching for water.  However, the fact it wasn’t there did bring out the best in people, it gave me more interactions with spectators and runners, and added perhaps to making this a very memorable event.  I think had I ended up as a DNF because of it I’d be taking a different line, and I was actually quite scared at points.  Maybe it’s good to be reminded that we should value clean water as a scarce and precious resource, it’s so easy to take it for granted, even though I have witnessed first hand how hard it is for communities who don’t have this ‘luxury’ in Cambodia and elsewhere.  At the end of the day this run is/was an indulgence, and lack of water is exceptional not a daily struggle in the UK.

Mile 12

 

Mile 12- 13 including tower bridge

I can’t quite remember when we finally got water again, I think it was somewhere along mile 13.  I do know I was so desperate for it I just gulped it down, but stocks didn’t look that plentiful.  It was galling that the massive Buxton water cheer point didn’t even have supplies!  Even so, at some point, I must have got water because I remember being relieved, and able to enjoy the next bit which coming towards the half way point was a highlight.  Tower Bridge!

This was an emotional moment, realising I’d made the half way near as dammit.  Plus, it’s so iconic.  You channel across the bridge and try to take it all in. It is architecturally stunning ,and it’s such a privilege to cross it as a pedestrian.  I wasn’t alone in stopping to take photos I’m sure!

I went over, and then remembered it isn’t quite the half way point after all.  Also, if you look to your left, you can see on the other side of the road, the faster runners streaming along towards the homeward stretch as you pass then going out, as they are heading back.  That is psychologically tough I suppose.  However, the plus side is that it’s quite fun watching other runners.  Alarmingly though, many of them looked absolutely terrible, stumbling about and collapsing by the wayside.  I’d seen a few fallen runners going round, but not with the density as was apparent now. It does seem that the ‘stronger’ runners who push themselves more, collapse more suddenly and more heavily, and it is quite distressing to observe.

However, the course lay out meant that spectators had two opportunities to spot any runners they were looking out for. This led to a highlight of the day for me.  No offence to my own supporters, but the prize for the loudest roar of support I hear all day goes to the East End Road Runners, who went into an ecstatic frenzy of shouting and purple pompom waving at the sight of one of their compatriots even though he was on the opposite side of the road at the time.  It was epic!  I couldn’t not stop to take a shot of them all in action, it might not be the best of photos, but it was an inspirational moment along the course.  That’s why I had to stop and snap it…

Go yogi go east end road runners

and you know what?  They snapped right back!  Go them.  Go us!  Mutual awesomeness all around!

east end runner celebrity sighting

Then through the 13 mile archway and on to mile 14, taking in the half way mark at last.  I have a strange logic when running.  Once I get to the half way point of any run, I feel like well, with every step I’ve got less far to go than I’ve already run, so I know I’ll be fine. This is illogical of course, you still have another half marathon to go, but it gave me a lift to get to this point.

Mile 14 and beyond.

It gets a bit vague here, which you are probably quite relieved about.  Things that do stand out in my mind though were NO BLOODY WATER.  Again, empty water stations for mile after mile.  Some had given up any pretence of having ever had water and were completely abandoned.  It was demoralising.  I was pretty sure I’d make it now, but it was going to be really tough, and again I consciously slowed.

One thing though, I don’t know if it was because it was hot, or because of the lack of water, or because it always happens at marathons, but from about the half way point, I found because I started so far back, almost everyone around me was walking for the last third of the marathon or so.  This mean that I had to constantly over take people, and as I was in a minority in wanting to keep trotting on, albeit slowly, it was hard to stay motivated and physically tiring to weave through the crowd.  It hadn’t been such an issue in the early stages, but it became an issue later on.  Next time (laughs and coughs to self) I’d try and start in a pen a bit further forward so I was alongside others aiming to keep on running.  Easier said than done though…

Sights worthy of note included:  well lubricated-latex gloved St John’s Ambulance staff all along the route.  They weren’t offering impromptu manual prostate tests to runners as part of a public health campaign despite appearances to the contrary. Rather, they were  proffering Vaseline to any runner in need.  They were everywhere.  It ceased to be remarkable after the first few miles!

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Mile 15 – into the tunnels

I am on record as someone who lurves running in tunnels.  So these were fab.  There were two subterranean sections on the course.  It was such a relief to enter the cool of being underground.  The next day a runner a bit faster than me said that when she went into this underground world it was like entering a post-apocalyptic world.  People taking advantage of the shade suddenly were collapsing with exhaustion against the cool concrete walls.  Like the battered survivors from a zombie attack of victims of an air raid who’d struggled to the tunnels for shelter, but had no notion of whether or not they would survive the night, or indeed, what horrors might be unfolding above them unseen.  One of the unexpected bonuses of being a slower runner, was that by the time I got to this point, most of the carcasses had been removed, so it was less disquieting to pass through.  Normally I like to run through tunnels as fast as I can, but on this occasion I thought discretion was the better part of valour, and walked through to try to cool off.

 

Mile 16 – emerging the tunnels

Mile 17 – Grenfell Tower firefighters

I found myself alongside the Grenfell Tower Fire Fighters running pretty much in full kit I was with them for quite a while.  That was moving. Whilst at many other points on the route fancy dress wearers were rewarded with whoops, and shouts and encouraging name calling, for large stretches these firefighters  were flanked by a standing ovation as the crowds applauded them every step of the way.  It was an extraordinary spectacle. They were really nice guys actually, constantly asking other runners if they were all right. With hindsight, I wish I’d engaged with them a bit more. What they have seen and had to deal with is beyond imagining.  From a selfish perspective though, it was hard running alongside them, because whatever effort I put in seemed insignificant by comparison, you are always going to come off worst if you compare yourself to a superhero.  I enjoyed watching how the crowd engaged with them for a while, and then when they paused at one of the fire stations I peeled ahead of them.

It must have been beyond extraordinary to watch them cross the line together at the end though.

grenfell finish

End of mile 17 – supporters en route

I was tiring again by the end of mile 17.  I must have had water again by now, but I felt exhausted by the heat, and erratic hydration had really messed up my fuelling as well as my drinking.  I started to walk.  To be fair, I ran considerably more of the marathon than I expected.  Very slowly it’s true, but it gave me some confidence that I can indeed run a lot further than my innate tendency to stop would have you believe.  Even during the event I found myself questioning how different a run it might have been if the water had been available when promised and the temperatures even fractionally more benign.  I don’t think though that I’m entirely sold on road marathons, but I do have a curiosity about what else might be achievable for me, if I committed to the correct preparation…  At breakfast one of my hotel buddies was instantly my friend when she ‘fessed up to putting on weight during marathon training – I honestly thought it was just me!  And no, it isn’t muscle, my waist bands say otherwise.  The irony of having to wait until after the marathon to get fit is not lost on me, I just didn’t see how dieting for weight loss would fit with trying to carb up in the final few weeks of marathon training.  First world problems I know….  However, I do think if I lost a bit of weight, now I know I can do the distance, I could probably improve my times a bit, I’ll never be exactly speedy, but I do think I’m capable of a faster finish time for a marathon that the one that was achieveable at London on this day.

walking onwards

and then, just as I was thinking how nice it would be to see some smiley support right now, look what appeared as a vision of loveliness in front of me.   To be fair, the photos make it look as if Geronimo saw then first.  It was great!

I gabbled on to them about lack of water and just generic nonsense.  They offered some, but actually I was rehydrated by now and although clearly in possession of runner’s fog, was doing OK.  Their hugs and sporting display of Sheffield running tops from Dark Peak and Smiley Paces running clubs gave me the necessary boost to power on.  My it was hot though.  Nearly there.  I told them I thought water situation was OK now…. it wasn’t.

Mile 18 – nope, can’t remember any salient details,  but into mile 19 and another bonus sighting of a London Marathon superstar, which was fantastic.  She was still brandishing haribos, and possibly snacking on them if the photo is anything to go by.  Well, there are plenty of terrible photos of me from today, it is in the interests of balance if I include unflattering snaps of other people too!

Very soon water stations were dry all over again.  I couldn’t believe it.  Not even staffed any more!  That was better than the false promises earlier on, also, the weather was beginning to cool, there was a breeze coming and it clouded over a bit.

Mile 20 – nearly home,  the highlight of this mile was most definitely getting a cheese sandwich.  That was somehow just what I wanted.  I was sick of my glucose tablets and sweet stuff.  Thanks to this woman for her foresight and generosity!  There were egg mayonnaise sandwiches too, but they were a much less appealing prospect.

Mile 21

Mile 22 – 23 -24

I do like it when spectators make an effort!  The crowds were thinning, but the air was cooling.  Those still watching roared appreciation at any acknowledgement.  I think I wasn’t alone in feeling my increasingly half-hearted loping didn’t really merit such appreciative adulation, but I was taking all on offer all the same.

I kept a watchful eye for the realbuzz team of virtual supporters who were near a garage after the 22.5 mark or thereabouts.  Didn’t see them, I was late though, unthinkable though it may seem, possibly the spectators got bored of standing around cheering before I was done with running.  I know.  Bizarre!

Under the bowels of canary wharf there was music being channelled through speakers and a moving light show with #spiritofLondon displayed on the walls.

Amazingly, my London marathon buddy was here too.  I feel I may have miscounted somehow, but anyway, she took a photo of me so she must have been here, I think it is framed deliberately as an act of vengeance for the photo I took of her earlier.  I think that’s fair!  We can have an understanding about it.

canary wharf

It was great to see her, but it was not all good news.  I was asking her about how she was getting on with tracking our other London Marathon superstars.   Turns out two of the four of us were safely back, I had the end in sight, but one of our number, my fellow smiley pacer, who had been really, really strong suddenly collapsed with a suspected hip stress fracture around the 40km mark, she was morphined and blue lit off to hospital.  I was stunned.  If you’d had to say in advance which of us would have the most realistic chance of getting round you’d have laughed at being asked to state the blindingly obvious in advance and pointed to her – possibly with a slightly apologetic glance in my direction which I’d return with a look of acceptance and understanding.  It was really a no-brainer.  This news shook me a bit, it just shows, even with the best of preparation, training and fitness you need to have luck on your side.  It seemed unfair if I got round when she hadn’t. I also had a moment of thinking hang on, I’ve not finished yet, and had to compose myself a bit to remind myself I was most unlikely to do a face plant into the river at this stage, and even if I did, surely at this stage only an alien abduction should stop me crawling home.  Smiley supporters at home though watched the tracker with horror as I crept up on the other Smiley and eventually over took her.  What was going on?

Mile 25 on

Pleasingly, I did know I had one more supporter to look out for.  Last year I volunteered on a Shelter cheerstation on the embankment and made a new buddy who would be there again this year and had promised to look out for me even though I’d be a long time coming round.

I romped on.  I’d slightly forgotten where the cheerstation was, and vanity meant I really wanted to be actually running when spotted, so I did run, slowly, but consistently, until eventually to my absolute delight she was there!  Hurrah!  So exciting.  It might not have been much of a run, but it was my run, and forward motion at least.

When I’d been imagining running this thing, I’d visualised this moment.  I knew, well, thought I knew, that once I was here, nothing was going to stop me finishing.  It really wasn’t far.  I couldn’t believe it.  I actually felt fine.  It hadn’t been brilliant with Watergate and all, but the #spiritoflondon part, that was cool.  The next stand out moment was int he final stages, the crowd was pretty thin now, but there was a family leaning against a low wall, and the woman shouted across ‘giraffe lady!  We’ve been tracking you!’  How bizarre, I went across and gave high fives and romped on.

Finally, the endgame. The bit you imagine from the telly.  Oh my gawd.  It felt surreal.  Because I was slow, it wasn’t crowded, and the way it’s set up it suddenly quietens. Although it isn’t very far in distance this is a contemplative moment.  I was thinking of the people who hadn’t made the start, my fellow smiley who didn’t make the finish.  I was also wondering what would happen at the end.  I wasn’t completely confident there’d be anyone to meet me because London is chaotic and it’s a big ask for friends to wait in that heat and crowds for hours and hours because you will be wrecked and over-emotional from completely self-inflicted causes.  You could forgive non-running friends for querying ‘well if it’s going to upset you so much and make you ill with fatigue why don’t you just not do it them?‘  Fortunately, my friends are better than that, running or otherwise.

There had been hardly any official photographers along the route – well not that I saw anyway, but there were lots scattered in the end stages.  It remains to be seen what their photos are like.  I did some high-five sweeps on the way in and tried to enjoy the moment whilst simultaneously knowing the euphoria of completion would all too soon become bemused anti-climax.  Blooming endorphins, they wear off fast!  The great advantage of being a slower runner, is that by the time I’d got to this part of the course the crowds had been well trained to proffer up high fives almost instinctively as you come through. Consequently it looks like I have an adoring fan base – and it felt a bit like that too – even though it is just yet another example of the #spiritoflondon and perhaps the kindness of strangers.  Go all of us!

I finally crossed the line.  It was weird, beyond the finish arch I couldn’t see anyone doing finish photos so I sort of shuffled over.  Top Tip if you run.  Charge across arms outstretched you will be caught the other side and your photo will be so much the better for it than my shambling effort.  I think I peaked too soon.

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You have to keep walking before you get your medal.  That’s nice, the marshals giving medals out also dispense hugs and take photos.  Multi-tasking!

got the medal

I then posed for an official finish photo – which I might add in later depending on how mortifying I find it to be once seen.

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and then made a dazed trek towards the baggage area and had snippets of chat with others, I’d run with.   One guy said he’d been trying to catch me for miles as he didn’t want to be beaten by the giraffe ‘but fair play to you, couldn’t catch you‘.  This pleased me.  I also coincided with the East End Road Runner with his personal purple cheer squad and told him I’d try to get him the photos I’d taken en route over to him somehow.  he was most gracious.  Everyone I meet running is fantastic, it must bring out the best in people, or maybe only lovely people do it, hard to know which is cause and which is effect.

One of the baggage marshals wanted a photo with Geronimo and me because her daughter loves giraffes, that was nice.  You can’t get lost, signs direct you towards the meet and greet area.  It’s like airports.  You think it’s going to be daunting to navigate because the area is so huge, but ultimately you just traipse along behind everyone else, and if in doubt there were huge signs telling you were to go, and loads of helpful staff to point you the right way and offer reassurance and tell you how awesome you are.  That last bit is nothing like my experience of air travel by the way. Staff at airports routinely subject you to ridicule, discomfort and humiliation, and I’ve never once been given a medal let alone an upgrade, just so you know.

I headed down to the meet and greet.  The advice for main pack runners is to agree to meet at a less popular letter x or z or something, but I just went for L as I thought, rightly, by the time I made it to the rendezvous point most people would have dispersed.  As I was investigating my goody bag and digging liquids out of my kit pack another runner appeared alongside.  Her daughter also loves giraffes, though her daughter was a grown up. So we paused and nattered and I gave her top tips about how to source a giraffe just like Geronimo and we took photos together and then, I heard a scream from the sidelines.  Oh my gawd.  My kindred.  A former work colleague from years back with whom I bonded in adversity was at the side.  She’d come all the way from Leicester to cheer me round.  We’d not seen each other en route, but she found me at the end.  We had an emotional and shell-shocked reunion. It was a bit bizarre, because 18 years ago when we worked together she was the athlete and gym bunny, I did cycle as transport and that was about it.  Again, of the two of us, she was the one who was most likely to do the marathon.  A massive fan of athletics she has a real interest in the sport and the elite women runners in particular.  It was just the hug I needed.  Also, because she is very sporty, she was one of the very few people who wouldn’t recoil at my sweaty, salty and increasingly stinky state. That’s true friendship for you people, right there!

It worked out well, because it also meant we got to spend some time catching up before we got to the rendezvous where other friends joined us.  I say ‘catching up’ but obviously what I really mean is I gabbled some sort of narcissistic self-serving gibberish all about me, and my marathon, and what I’d done in a high-speed monologue, and showed an alarming disregard for her experiences of the day.  Oh well, hopefully forgivable in the circumstances.  She also brought me exactly what I’d requested, a huge family pack of McCoy crinkle cut salt and vinegar crisps, which I pretty much inhaled, in between talking at her.

Whilst we waited at the letter L the woman and family who had earlier shouted ‘giraffe lady’ joined us.  By coincidence the person they were there to support was meeting them at the same letter.  She explained I was approximately the same speed as their runner, and the children were enjoying looking out for my giraffe – they’d actually seen me four times on the way round using the tracker.  That was so strange, it never occurred to me that random people would track me, it was nice though.  More photos.   I was even asked if I would like some prosecco, which I would have, very much, but decided against as it would have been a really terrible idea to follow through with!

After a bit, we were joined by my cheer squad from mile 4.  They were brilliant, bringing sign and logistical certainty with them.  More photos, obviously, but they decided after all not to be photographed wearing medals as ‘it just doesn’t feel right‘ OK then. Check out the graphics on that sign though people, quality work.  On closer inspection, I can’t help noticing it looks as if Geronimo dumped me before the finish arch.  Then again, to be fair, she did strictly speaking cross the line before me, though I obviously prefer to see our achievement as a team effort…

house moving cheer squad london marathon 2018

and then, just when I thought it was impossible to feel any more supported, my London marathon superstar buddy turned up exactly as promised for post race debrief.

and finally with BFF marathon running buddy

I felt truly blessed.  I think what made it special was feeling like the whole city wanted you to succeed in this endeavour and would do whatever it took to help to get you round.  Then, at the end, my friends turned out for me, just when I needed them most, and that’s awesome too.  We are not as alone in the world as sometimes it seems.  Eventually my kindred and my marathon superstar buddies went off to catch their respective trains whilst my erstwhile flatmate and daughter escorted me back to the hotel which was much appreciated and much needed. I just couldn’t think straight, and it was so nice not to have to try to work out where the nearest tube was, or worry about rummaging in my bag to find my room key.   They even whipped out a spare oyster card for me, anticipating I’d not have thought of that.  Reader, I didn’t need one!  One of the coolest things about marathon day as a participant, is that on the sight of your number the barriers at tube stations part for you as if by magic.  Smiling underground staff give you the thumbs up and wave you through as if you are a goddarn celebrity!  It’s pretty awesome. This system worked fine.  One runner who no longer had his number on was a bit worried about being turned away, but was able to blag it with his finish medal.  On arrival at Gloucester Street I had a momentary panic it wouldn’t work as I didn’t immediately spot a staff member around.  I had visions of being made to walk right back to the embankment and being made to start all over again – but it was fine, a laughing official waved me through. Phew.

Once at the hotel, in the highest act of friendship of all, they left me so I could collapse under a shower and go to bed which is all I was fit for.  The hotel had left this in my room though:

Bravo

It was very tempting, but again I resisted, indulging instead in electrolyte laden water, whilst gazing at my medal (which was rather heavy to be honest) in stunned disbelief.  I also browsed through the results to check out which of my fellow runners had made it to the end. Shout out to Cathy Bishop – we didn’t meet, but yay, saw you did it!  We rock.

What the hell happened today?  Nope, can’t really make sense that at all.  Strava tells me this happened:

London marathon strava route

and if you want more detail, there are loads of course maps in sections and as a whole picture on the spectator info section of the London Marathon website here.

Some final thoughts:

Hot runners?  I certainly was, I am a bit disappointed my hot running photo didn’t quite turn out like Sophie Raworth’s at the marathon des sables. I tell myself that even though begrudgingly I concede she ran a tad further than me, she did have the advantage of knowing in advance that she’d have to battle with the heat on the way round.  If I’d been able to do some training somewhere hot so I could acclimatised I’m sure I’d have romped round looking similarly effortless.  (Cough), can you tell which is me?

Oh, in case you care, here is the link to the 2018 results so you can endlessly search random people and see how they fared at the Virgin Money London Marathon 2018 . To save time the Radio Times has helpfully put together a guide to celebrity finishers.  Though in my world, all of us who put in the training – whether or not we made the start line let alone the end, are London Marathon Superstars!

There were loads of marriage proposals en route too, so that’s getting old hat now – no wonder one had to propose wearing a dinosaur suit to up the ante a bit again!  I saw him en route, brave man, as if running a marathon and running a marathon in a dinosaur suit weren’t quite stressful enough eh?  Oh she said yes by the way.

Oh, and there were a shed load of people who still made their Guinness World Record attempts, for the fastest marathon in whatever get up – which is extra impressive in the heat – though, alas I fear even more wouldn’t have done what they set out to achieve.  The stilts one is particularly hard to imagine – how did they get any water at water stations I wonder. Did they have a winch system?  The BBC article about the world record breakers had some fab pics of the Guinness ones, but remember dear reader, all of us who ran on Sunday are record-breaking marathoners, because we took part in the hottest London Marathon on record. Thus, I stake my claim to being not just a marathoner (go me) but a record-breaking one at that.  Yay!

_100991540_michellefrostfastestmarathononstilts

I can truthfully report that running the London Marathon is indeed an amazing experience, the crowds do carry you round. The other runners are extraordinary, and it is all emotional. Everything you have heard about the event is true.  You should wear your name on your vest, you will come to rely on the kindness of strangers, and you will see and hear things you never dreamt of.  The problem is it is so outside ‘normality’ it feels surreal. I swear, now I’m back home were it not for the comforting presence of the medal to stare at I’d think I’d imagined the whole thing.  It’s so unlikely a thing for me to have done, and so outside my other running experiences. I feel very lucky to have had the chance to do it, and slightly shell-shocked that I actually did.

So today, two days later, I can report that I feel surprisingly ‘fine’.  Zero chafing, one minor blister on my little toe, which I always get on a run longer than a half marathon for some reason, and isn’t that bad anyway. I’m a bit stiff, but by no means crippled, though I’m not planning on running for a while and venturing downstairs is not done with the graceful seamless progress and lightness of foot I might wish.  I just really hope my bannisters are pretty securely fixed.   My main aftermath was the next day feeling really wobbly and faint, in fact I did have an anxious moment on the train ride home when I thought I might pass out. I’m sure that’s to do with getting so dehydrated yesterday.  I had electrolytes and just went to bed when I got in and now I feel tired, rather than wiped out.  Also, just for the record, my womb didn’t fall out, not even once, or not that I noticed anyway, so that’s good.

Accepted wisdom about when to run again after a marathon suggests I’m in the clear for doing nothing for about a week, so that’s my plan.  Bit of walking and I’d like to get to parkrun on Saturday, though if I’m being completely honest, that’s partly so I can accidentally on purpose wear my marathon finishers t-shirt  in a ‘oh this old thing, no idea I’d put that on‘ sort of way.   Of course my parkrunning buddies will see straight through me, but you know what.  I don’t care!  I’ll never have just completed my first marathon again though will I? So that will have to be my moment.  I’d wear the medal too if I thought I’d get away with it… maybe at junior parkrun, I might need it as proof if I’m trying to blag a marathon wristband from the RD!  Besides, ultimately, what is the point of running a marathon, if not to bestow temporary bragging rights at least.  I will feel sheepish in the presence of those who ran in half the time it took me to get round, and mindful in the company of those who either did not start or did not finish, but I’m proud of my achievement all the same. Yes, I had some luck on the day, but I did put the training in too, so I like to think I gave that luck the best chance it could to deliver on the day.

So there you go, I ran a marathon and wrote all about it so you don’t have to. But you know what, I really think you should.

Go on. I’m the most unlikley marathon runner in the world, it might be more achieveable than you think, but you do have to watch out for those curve balls.  Luck plays a part for sure, but it’s true what they say if you put in the miles in training it is apparently not impossible, but the mental challenge is very real.

Ballot opens next week.  Just saying….

For all my London Marathon related posts see here

Flor all my marathon training related posts see here

I bought a photo bundle in advance.  I did get loads of photos, most of which are excruciating, but they are still good to have.  You get a load of gallery images too, which is fun, or not, depending on whether or not you have participated in the event yourself, or just been made to endure it by someone you previously thought to be your loved one, but have now gone off quite a lot because actually, them talking about shoe choices, long run challenges and nutrition angst is really boring unless  you are either planning on running a marathon yourself, or have already done so.  Sorry about that*.

 

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*not really though

Post script:

So now we know there was one fatality at the London marathon 2018.  A young man, it seems so desperately sad.  Matt Campbell collapsed at the 22.6 mile mark, and now there is a movement to finish his missing 3.7 miles as a sort of tribute to him, and to donate to his charity of choice as well.  He was only 29 for pities sake.  You have to respect the marathon distance.  Fatalities are actually pretty rare, though I suppose as the first one was Pheidippides himself, the original marathon runner, the warning is there.  News like this brings you up short (pun unintended).  Why him?  Why anyone? What a waste.  #finishformatt

Matt Campbell finish for matt

Whilst not suggesting the two situations are equivalent, we Smiley Paces people are going to run to finish our fellow Smiley’s marathon as well, by turning out in force at Sheffield parkruns, and likewise donating to the charity she was supporting by getting sponsorship for her run.  These are small gestures, but a way to offer some solidarity to those who DNF.

It seems that whatever your level of prior fitness or preparation, you can’t really take a challenge of this distance for granted.  You need to train, you need to prepare, you need to listen to your body and you need to be lucky too.  Or failing that, at the very least not unlucky on the day.  Events can certainly unfold in  unexpected and unwanted ways, that’s what makes the challenge worth taking on…  His death is truly sad, all those who DNF I’m gutted for them, would it put me off tackling another one, honestly, not really.  I can think of worse ways to go…

 

Categories: marathon, motivation, race, road, running, running clubs, teamwork | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 20 Comments

What was I thinking? The road to London marathon 2018. Expo and the challenge hots up….

Digested read:  I’m in London, it’s Saturday night, tomorrow is the London marathon and the past couple of days have been an emotional roller coaster.  I’m scared of the heat, I’m overwhelmed with the challenge ahead, but I’m grateful for the support that’s got me to this place, grateful for the opportunity and although I really doubt myself right now, I’m also determined to give this my very best shot.  Tomorrow tea time will come whether I get round or not.  It’s just one foot in front of the other after all, how hard can it be?  Eek.

London bound.  Geronimo decided to stick with the daisies.

DSCF2020

The day before the morning after.  I’m writing this on marathon eve, Saturday 21st April 2018.  This time tomorrow I’ll know it I thought I could and did …. or not.  Eek

I am going to write this post, but I haven’t decided yet whether or not to actually publish it, as it may just be an indulgent pity party which you dear reader, do not deserve to be subjected to.  On the other hand, the reading  of this is not compulsory.  Also, I suppose it’s just possible that all I’m experiencing is completely normal self-doubting angst, the apex of maranoia, that many marathoners forget all about after the event and so those of us going through it imagine we are the only ones hitting this level of anguish and despair.  I will say one thing though, however events unfold, I’m still glad to have made it to this point, and I would be devastated if now something were to happen that meant I couldn’t run. As has been said before, by me very often after events and experiences that were less than joyful contemporaneously, ‘I’m not sure I enjoyed myself, but I’d have been dead pissed off to have missed it.’ Maybe this pre-performance angst is just part of the whole London marathon circus.  It happens hot weather has given me a particular focus on which to hang my many and multitudinous anxieties, but if we didn’t have the predicted heat wave and warnings of ‘the hottest London Marathon on record’ then I’d probably find something else to worry about.  Sock choice, or unflattering photos, or wetting myself with excitement or crapping myself through fear.  I still have all those worries for the record, it’s just they are way down the list of things that make me want to curl up in a foetal position and sob.  Right now it’s the heat.  Oh my gawd, this London heat.  Aaaargh.

Still, not all bad.  I’ve always aspired to looking hot whilst running, maybe tomorrow will be my moment?  I live in hope.

The journey to London began yesterday. I’d always planned to go down to the Expo on Friday to avoid the madness of a Saturday in London the day before an event as daunting as my first (and at this rate last and only) marathon.  I got to the station really early, time for a coffee and a read of the Metro which managed to panic me further.  Don’t even think of running in fancy dress and have you heard how hot it’ll be on Sunday the paper told me:

Happily, a quartet of us heading down for the Marathon travelled on the same train from Sheffield. Two supporters me and a fellow Smiley, but one who can run really fast unlike me who is the other end of the running continuum.  Me and my fellow marathoner (do you have any idea how strange it feels to be saying that phrase!) sat next to each other, and basically simultaneously broadcast marathon anxieties at each other the whole way down to London St Pancras. It was immensely reassuring. Even though she is a ‘proper’ athlete, she like me,  was also consumed with anxieties over everything from how to deal with the weather to how to source a bespoke breakfast and how to hydrate.  She isn’t used to drinking on runs and hasn’t been in the habit of carrying water, so that’s a biggy, I’m worried about absolutely everything, but mainly the sun. I  get nauseous and heat stroke really quickly in direct sunlight and heat.  I swear I must be from vampire stock.  I never venture out in the heat of the day.  It was basically great to spend time with someone who couldn’t escape, but also, genuinely could engage with the whole maranoia chit chat.

Top tip for anyone around people building up to a marathon, sometimes we just need to off load and voice our concerns.  We aren’t seeking reassurance or even advice (though confusingly sometimes we are just to keep you on your toes), we just want to get it out of our systems and also just articulating things can help you process strategies or just put worries in perspective.  In the presence of another empathetic angsty marathon runner no concern can be too trivial to merit many hours of earnest consideration.  Having said that, many of my Smiley comrades; parkrun people; monday mobster buddies and other runners aplenty have given bucket loads of advice, support, and inspiration, for which many thanks.  A special place in heaven must be reserved for the Smiley who responded to my panicky Facebook message on Friday morning about where Smiley Vests chafe most for people of my body shape – I’m currently thinking the unthinkable, wearing my vest without a t-shirt underneath despite being hugely self-conscious about exposing myself in that way, but I’m moving into unknown territory there.  Kit change and risk of sunburn versus risk of over-heating from too many layers.  It’s an indecisive person’s NIGHTMARE I tell you, add in running novice and it’s no wonder I feel I’m about to implode.  I’d be having a meltdown even without this heat.  The other pre-departure angst was centred around constantly packing and unpacking my stuff to check I’d not forgotten anything.  Then worrying that in the act of checking my passport and registration form and running shoes and giraffe were all ready to go, I’d taken them out and forgot to put them back.  STRESS!

It was remarkable in the circumstances I made it onto the train at all, but I did. We all did.  Me and my fellow marathoner (get me, it’s quite fun saying that actually, though it might ring a bit hollow subsequently if I’m a DNF) chit chatting away.  Sitting opposite us were two women who were lovingly colouring in a sign for some friends they were going to be cheering round on London. We didn’t particularly interact with them at first because we were too self-absorbed.  But couldn’t not join in when they realised a slight issue with their sign:

They spelt Sheffield wrong!  Hilarious, disappointingly, they chose to rectify this, and managed to fit in a sort of squashed L alongside a refashioned E, but it was a great moment.  Plus, I feel we have new friends now, I’m going to try and spot them on the way round and claim their support for me too. I  mean ‘Lisa’ is basically a misspelling of ‘Lucy’ after all is it not?  No harm in me claiming that.  I’m going to need all the support I can get and sometimes it pays to be direct and just ask for the help you need!

We arrived at  London, waved goodbye to our supporters, who were staying elsewhere and amongst other things running Bushy parkrun for a fiftieth event celebration on Saturday (today) – see how colour co-ordinated they are, how lovely!

parkrun celebrations marathon supporters

We wannabe marathoners (yep, coming more easily now) headed to the tube and joined the Piccadilly line, I headed off to check in to my hotel, whilst she went straight to the Expo.   I have no idea how Londoners cope with the underground. Whilst it is undoubtedly an incredibly efficient way to get about, it is sensory overload down there.  Super heated air, weird hot winds rushing through the tunnels, and the scream of trains compound the claustrophobia of being squashed up alongside sooooooooooo many people. On the other hand, I do enjoy how cosmopolitan it is, the multitude of nationalities, the range of types from hippies through to goths, school children in uniforms and besuited city executives all packed in the little cylindrical cans.  You can tell the city natives, as they have perfected the art of ignoring their travel companions and gazing into space.  Yet within that, there is clearly an underground etiquette, a woman with a pushchair got on and silently the carriage occupants rearranged themselves to accommodate her and her charge in an extraordinary display of collective spatial awareness.

One episode spun me out a bit though.  A youngish couple got on, doubled up in giggles over a shared joke. The woman had the most extravagant long fake silver nails I’ve ever seen – I don’t know how you could function with them, she was also sporting enormous silver hooped earrings with considerable style.  Her companion had stowed a ginormous spliff behind his ear. It was a creation of considerable skill, lovingly crafted into an even, seamless conical form, with the dry green leaves visible beneath the thin paper of the joint.  As is the way on public transport, everyone ignored this, and they were a lovely cheery pair.  But then, just after my marathon friend disembarked to go to the Expo, the woman lit up the joint and I went into complete panic mode. I’m not great in tubes, it’s like flying for me,  I don’t worry about either traveling on the underground or getting on a plane in advance, but when I’m actually in them, it seems an affront to nature to try and navigate the earth in this way.  Really claustrophobic.  I vividly remember the Kings Cross Station fire for some reason – I think that was what led to the smoking ban on the tubes, a fire started under a wooden escalator and 31 people died, horrible.  Therefore, in a completely spontaneous act, but a shocking breach of London tube-travel conventions I intervened!  ‘Please don’t!’ I cried out, my voice activating before my brain so at first I didn’t even realise it was me speaking! I added, rather pathetically ‘you’ll set the alarms off, I don’t want to be stuck down here!‘  Yes, I’m embarrassed, but I’m also default British, there’s a certain standard to be maintained.  Nobody is bothered by the illegality of the spliff, but to smoke in a non-smoking carriage!  Outrageous! The woman, who in my estimation was way too young to remember a time when smoking was the norm on the underground by many a decade was actually very sweet.  ‘It’s allright my lovely’ she said ‘there are no alarms, the train won’t stop‘ she laughed and they  tumbled out of the tube at the next station, no doubt puffing their way cheerily along the platform.  Even so, I was relieved.  It’s one thing to die from heat stroke half way round the London Marathon in a glorious but futile attempt to tick it off my bucket list, but I really didn’t fancy being burned to death in the hell of a London tube.

Just another couple of stops and then to my hotel.  My room wasn’t ready, so I just dumped my bags, refilled my water bottle and back into the horror of the tube.  Gawd, sooooo hot, I was exhausted and sticky with sweat and grime by the time I made it to the DLR overground exchange of Canning Town and boarded the crush of the DLR train heading to the Expo.  On the plus side, can I give a special shout out to the driver of the train that deposited us at Prince Regent about 3.27 p.m.  He was hilarious.  We got a running commentary en route, about the weather; how hot it would be; what fun we’d have he was great!  Plus, when we got to the first stop Custom House for the West Entrance, he advised it was a half mile walk from there to the Expo, but up to you folks – the train was so crushed, many opted to alight and do the walk to loosen up the legs, but a few of us stayed on for Prince Regent.  Our driver congratulated us for making a good call.  We’d be at the Expo way ahead of them.  Result.  It was grand, it created atmosphere and helped this whole adventure start to feel real.

Getting off at Prince Regent it is a long walk to get to the expo. I went last year 2017, and I was so glad I did, the layout and talks were seemingly identical, so it made it easy to find may way around. Even so, I was starting to really feel a rising sense of panic.  Even just travelling to the Excel arena had completely drained me, I was feeling stiff, tired, headachey and anything but springy and ‘ooh, wouldn’t it be grand to run a marathon in 25 degree heat in two days time’.  Even though many people have warned me about this pre-event panic, and doubting yourself, and worrying about losing fitness the reality of it is quite devastating and debilitating.  Looking about me there were loads of ‘proper’ runners, with athletic frames and focused expressions.  I looked sweaty, shiny, frumpy and fearful.  These are not desirable attributes on such occasions.   It was still very exciting though, and emotional too, couldn’t believe I’d made it at least to this point.  Even the ads were marathon themed!

Through the red archway:

the red archway london marathon expo 2018

Found the portal to my new identity as a marathon runner (hopefully):

portal to new me

There wasn’t even a queue.  And I was welcomed with winning smiles (I was really, the photo doesn’t do the duo justice) and handed my pack, which delivered both a number, a final instructions leaflet, a kit bag, and an overwhelming neurosis that I would lose all of these things at some point in the following 38 hours!  You pass through a little gate into the main exhibition, and as you do so there were lines of marathon makers who scan your envelope number and issue you with a shoe tag, which they place in your envelope so you can now worry about losing that as well.  I took a photo though.  This is real!  Bit too real.  Oh my gawd, why didn’t I train more, why didn’t I lose 3 stone during training; why did I tell everyone I was doing this; WHAT WAS I THINKING?!  Oh well, at least I have a magic number now.  Look!  Isn’t it a think of wonder.  Can’t believe I’ve got my hands on this. I’m so conflicted, this is amongst the scariest and most unlikely things I’ve ever done, but I know I am so, so lucky to have nabbed this opportunity.  I think a lot of my angst is to do with wanting to do the moment justice!

magic number 18590

In better news, I knew that my London Weekend running buddies were already here in force.  So I could at least hook up with some people I knew.  We met at a London Running Weekend in January and have been a Facebook self-help mutual support group ever since.  How anyone could possibly entertain the idea of running a marathon without a buddy group like that I can’t imagine.  I was soooooooooo happy to know they’d soon scoop me up.  On the way in to the expo you pass through lots of tempting London marathon themed clothing.  I wasn’t feeling confident enough about Sunday to buy any.  I was tempted, but it felt like tempting fate, as I don’t think you can wear London themed clothes if you don’t complete.  It’s weird though, as generally I’m not superstitious, but I am realistic. I  really struggle with heat, this is an eventuality that more than any other factor could literally wipe me out.  It was why I had to defer London last year, it was just impossible to train for the marathon whilst living and working in the heat of Cambodia.  I never imagined it would be an issue on marathon day, especially after hours and hours of training in ice and snow.  I didn’t buy any clothes, I did however buy a London marathon mug, after all I’m here now, however it ends.  Also, i like the mug, and you can never have too many really can you? It’s nice too. It has a rhino fancy dress costumed runner on it amongst others. I can’t be bothered to do a photo right now, but maybe I will later.

I texted my London marathoners current and deferred and established they were indeed in the Excel venue and currently watching the presentations, so I made my way to join them. En route I did buy a new, white running cap.  It is a risk, running in new kit, but I need something, and even I am realising my sun hat option might not be the best.  the new cap is exceedingly white, and, of course, deeply unflattering, but anything to keep the sun off is worth a punt at this point.  This was the other option, and I have to concede, it was probably worse:

hat option

By coincidence, I later found out my Graves marathon running friend made the same impulse buy, so hopefully we have both been wise in our choice.

I then ambled to the central area, following the sound of applause.  I was just in time to see Paula Radcliffe being interviewed.  That was great obviously, but I’m not sure her advice on what to do immediately after the marathon was entirely pertinent to my situation. Personally I’m not overly worried about factoring in all the press conferences nor prioritising getting into an ice bath, but good to know all the same.  Then Martin Yelling did his motivational chit-chat, 99% of us will finish.  The odds are in our favour, as long as we don’t do anything stupid and therefore die of either over or under hydration.  It’s curious, his optimism and positivity are indeed reassuring and inspiring, and I’m not generally that lucky to win a 1% chance of a lottery prize or whatever, then again, I got lucky with the stats on my side for this London Marathon ballot place, maybe that statistical anomaly will mean I stumble into the 1% DNF for Sunday.

The Expo experience for me was a bit mixed.  It was great to see my running buddies, it was exciting and terrifying to pick up my number and it was handy to get a running cap. On the other hand the mind games are really kicking in.  My training feels lamentable, I’ve done practically nothing the last two weeks – legitimate decision with niggles and a temperature, but as a consequence I feel lard arsed, lethargic and a complete fraud.  How on earth I shuffled round a half marathon a couple of weeks ago I can’t begin to imagine.

And the heat.  Oh my god the heat.  It was OK at the expo, but it was noisy and crowded and all a bit overwhelming.    Up until it got so hot I was quietly confident that as long as I made it to the start line of the marathon uninjured, I’d get around.  I know I’ve done the mileage and I’m tenacious, I might not get the best time, but it would be doable.  It would be an experience, I’d never considered being a DNF if I got to the start.  Now though, with this heat all bets are off.  I avoid the sun always, and feel nauseous even sitting inside in a sun spot.  If it is as hot as threatened I am really concerned I won’t make it round.  It wouldn’t be a mental battle, it would be a physical impossibility. I know how bad heat stroke can be and it comes on quickly.  There is absolutely nothing I can do about it, but it would break my heart if I don’t get round because of the temperature.  It’s made worse because as a slow runner I’ll be out for longer and I’m guaranteed to be caught up in the heat of the day.  My worse nightmare.

There are some perks, marathon support from my marathon BFF running buddy who has now sadly had to defer has now widened her remit to encompass the supply of popsicles en route.  Even if I know in my heart of heats the crowds are such I may not see her, the thought that she is out there someone with an icebox and an ice lolly just for me is massively supportive. Also, there was a last-minute email from virgin marathon today (Saturday) saying:

We have increased the number of shower units on the course to eight. They are located at Miles 7, 9, 13, 15, 17, 20, 22 and 23 – remember to run through these if you need to cool down. There will also be showers outside the London Fire Brigade stations at Miles 5, 7.5, 15 and 23. Remember that as your running clothing becomes wetter, you may experience chafing. Consider taping sensitive areas such as nipples and using petroleum jelly to help prevent chafing.

Is it wrong to be excited at the prospect of firefighters on hand to hose us down.  It isn’t clear whether they assist with taping sensitive areas or not, I’m guessing the latter would be more a St John’s ambulance remit.  St John’s staff will also supply hugs on request though if it all gets a bit much, which is very good news.  Whilst in ‘real life’ I’m not especially huggy, mid-race I’ll hug anyone, and it’s always best if they at least don’t recoil and you hit the jackpot if you get a marshal that will go with it!

We sat through some of the speakers and fraternised a bit with other people who were also there.  I felt intimidated by everyone else around me who looked even remotely equipped for Sunday by dint of wearing active wear or other ostentatious displays of sporting prowess.

Then, suddenly, I was just exhausted, teary and overwhelmed.  I was ready to go, but obviously, this was a historic occasion, I wasn’t willing to head off solo, firstly we had to get some compulsory cheesy ‘here we are at the London Marathon Expo’ photos.  Fortuitously, there were plenty of opportunities to do so with props like picture frames and huge medals to be purloined.  Unfortunately there were big queues we had to join to avail ourselves of these poses.  We queued, we conquered, here’s the proof:

Aren’t we lovely.

I was nervous about getting my number out of the envelope just in case I lost it or accidentally used it to wrap up discarded chewing gum in or something.  I remember from the Expo last year that the most common item of lost property is apparently kit bag with number in it. Can you imagine the horror of that. I think that would be worse than the other nightmare scenario I’ve imagined.  Arriving one minute past the cut off time for registrations 5.01pm.  It must happen to some people.  Indeed, I heard an account of a friend of a friend who worked at registration for the London marathon one year.  When the doors were shut apparently there really were runners outside pleading, crying and throwing tantrums, banging on the doors to get in to no avail.  Heartbreaking indeed, and  yet I can understand there has to be a cut off, horrific as it is. But that would be beyond terrible, to be turned away because of some unanticipated delay en route.  I shudder at the thought.  See, if there’s one thing worse than the apprehension of having to run a marathon the next day, it would be the horror of finding that you were no longer allowed to do what you’d trained for.  Be on time people.  Be on time!

Photos done, we traipsed to the tube together.  It was absolutely heaving, I made it back to my hotel about 7 ish, feeling overwhelmed, stressed and ludicrously tearful. I  have no idea where that came from.  I expected to feel excited at this point, nervous yes, but not like this, this was nihilistic doom laden despair.  After nearly a two-year build up, I was/ am fearing seeing this marathon moment slip through my fingers all because of the effing weather. It feels personal.  I suppose I was exhausted, but it suddenly all felt futile. Who was I trying to kid thinking I would ever be able to run a marathon.  it didn’t help that when I collected my left luggage from the concierge he accidentally rammed my case into my shins with such ferocity it broke the skin.  It bloomin’ hurt, I felt hot tears welling up at the pain, but choked them back, a bit too effectively – he didn’t even apologise, I’m not sure he quite realised what he’d done.  I hobbled off, thinking of the great irony of being the only person ever to miss the London marathon due to a suitcase related injury.  It did sort of put things in perspective again though, in that I had a fleeting moment of thinking I really wouldn’t be able to walk – like when you hit your funny bone and are completely crippled fora  few minutes – and i realised that however hot it is on Sunday I still want to be at the start!

In my hotel room I basically sweated and fretted.  I did lay my kit out and tie my tag to my shoe.

There were some social media related  perks.  Case in point.  I have a very fine friend and erstwhile flat mate of mine relocated to London literally on Tuesday this week.  She told me her new home is somewhere on the course, but as I’ve not had a chance to visit her there yet I was thinking it was pretty unlikely I’d be able to spot her en route as neither of us really know it.  However, she sent me updates indicating course setting up activity going on outside her new residence as she unpacked. The culmination of which was these two photos – from her kitchen window I think:

Is that not the most magnificent visual aid for spotting one of your supporters.  If only my other friends who intend to be out their cheering en route showed the same dedication in providing visual clues for me to spot on the way round.  This made me very, very happy.  It also made me quite determined to come and stay with her next year over London Marathon weekend so I can watch the whole thing from the comfort of her flat.  Wouldn’t that be amazing? Live action outside the window and TV coverage alongside plus no awkward loo queues and excellent catering made to individual preferences.  Note to self, try not to wipe snot on her during any mid race hug scenarios, don’t want her to shun me on future London visits.

To ease my nerves in the evening I treated myself to a night nurse capsule to help me sleep. I know I shouldn’t but I sleep so badly I thought I needed a break.

Then it was the next morning. This morning, Saturday morning.  Oh my life, I felt absolutely terrible, thumping headache, shivery like you get with heat stroke and my room was humid and horrible.  I didn’t know what to do, I had a shower and washed my hair to clear my head, then I went for breakfast, but everything was sort of ‘wrong’ somehow.  The baked beans were full of sugar, the orange juice wasn’t fresh, the coffee was rank, the scrambled eggs over cooked.  I just felt out of sorts, irritable, and again, tearful. I’m not an especially tearful person, I felt I was going mad.  I went across the road to get a paper, and decided just to try to drink lots and see if I could sleep off my headache by resting for a bit. I gave up any notion of a run.  I feel I should have tried, but I felt so bad I didn’t think I’d achieve anything beyond a further drop in confidence if I attempted to run and it went badly.

I felt foggy after a couple of hours lounging, but rejoining Facebook to about 50 missed messages from my London Marathon Superstars group was a revelation. It seemed all of us were having our own meltdowns manifested in our own individual ways.  From nearly leaving kit behind to panic over wrong shoe tags.  One of our number, the hardcore superhuman one, actually ran Brighton marathon last weekend as a warm up for London (as you do) and posted her kit with her shoe tag for London on one shoe and her Brighton one on the other. I completely panicked thinking at first maybe I should have had two tags too, but i only had one, oh my gawd, panic PANIC panic repeat – not only me, others also.  She reassured us, we laughed it was OK.  Upshot, it seems we were all quite emotionally fraught and fragile.  I’ve never felt like this before a running event. I only ever run for the experience and fun, and I’ve never considered the possibility of a dnf before.  It’s not nice, but maybe it’s not all that uncommon either.  For any runner tackling any unknown distance whether that’s a marathon or a 5k, it is the step into unknown territory, which is both the point and the source of terror.  I started to question whether I should have ‘come out’ and told people I’d be running.  I am tormented with visions of humiliation if I don’t finish, and the burden of letting down others who have supported me and urged me on.  Objectively I know this is ridiculous, it’s only a run, but I suppose the point is at this stage there is no objectivity left.

So at this precise moment, I’m sat in my hotel room, I’ve eaten a bowl of pasta and I’m fretting about whether that was wise, I may have over-indulged and now I’m worried I’ve actually inadvertently altered my centre of gravity as a consequence – will that mess up my running gait?  But you know what, I think I do realise that these are just thoughts, it will be a challenge of mind over body, the heat will slow everyone down.  Much as I fear embarrassment and shame if I don’t complete, the far greater benefit of having told people I’d be here is the support I’ve garnered.  So many messages of support I feel overwhelmed.  Granted that may not carry me round the course quite as literally as I may have liked, but it certainly helps.  I’m so grateful for all of them.  Thanks to each and everyone of you who has given encouragement, solidarity, advice or simply shown interest in my progress along the way.  I still want to do this.  The heat will slow everyone down, and there has been so much coverage about the heat I think everyone’s expectations will have shifted downwards.  It’s still going to be an amazing adventure.  Plus, at least one friend has pointed out I have to do this, so that in future she can refer to me in conversations as ‘my friend the London marathon runner‘ and my that prospect makes me chuckle.  My EWFM and daughter have promised to have photos taken wearing my finish medal if I get round and update their profile pages to make it look like they ran round too, just to see what the reaction is. That would be grand to see too.  Worst case scenario, I get to keep the London marathon trainer tag as a key ring.  That’s a start.

This time tomorrow we’ll know what a difference a day makes.  I’ll cross the start line and from thereon in we shall see if I make it out the other side. There will be tears, there may be incontinence, but there will also be glorious adventures, memories and shared stories.  Oh my gawd, despite everything I do not underestimate how very lucky I am to be here.  It will be amazing, possibly type 2 fun, but an extraordinary experience to be part of. Also, I can’t be that crap a runner can I, because they’ve put me in pen 8, the last pen, the only explanation for this being that the overwhelming majority of the other participants need a bit of a head start.  That Mo Farah must be extra slow, why else would they make him line up at the front if it wasn’t to give him a bit of an advantage over me.  I still respect him though, very smiley, I like that in a fellow runner.

It’s just one foot in front of another.  That is all!

Right now, I’m going to set several alarms for the morning,  have a shower, go mad have a night nurse and head down by 8.30 I reckon.   I’ll dream of crossing that finish to a ticker tape parade and fireworks over head.  If positive visualisation can get me round, it’s a done deal!

Thanks to everyone who has helped me on my way.  Whatever happens it’s been an extraordinary adventure, and you know what, just so we are clear about this, to the voices in my head that say I cannot withstand this storm of maranioa, running and heat I  hear you, and yet I say

I am the storm!*

Go me.

Image result for be the storm

*though I might be whispering it a wee bit tentatively ….

 

Categories: marathon, motivation, race, road, running | Tags: , , , , , | 7 Comments

London Marathon 2018 – the final countdown.

Digested read: Hottest marathon on record?  Kill me now, I’ve moved beyond maranoia now into complete panic.  Trouble is, only one cure, getting to the end of the route on Sunday.  Aaaaargh.

This is getting serious now.

It’s no longer maranoia that we can chuckle about conspiratorially, sort of masochistically relishing the range of symptoms that are common amongst runners facing their first (maybe even any) marathon, that are part of whole marathon experience and help make it real.  What I’m now is experiencing full on panic!  In addition to the standard marathon angst of being fearful that I’ve not trained enough; conjuring up random niggles; and the growing realisation that I have no innate athleticism gifted to me by my genetic inheritance I have added, super sized angst from the addition to the mix of the likely DLR strike over the marathon weekend and a forecast of a sudden heat wave on the Sunday which I’m completely unprepared for.

It looks likely that the Docklands Light Railway (DLR) planned strike action by the RMT union will affect services over a four-day period from 04:00 on Friday 20 April until 03:59 on Tuesday 24 April.   As this line services the ExCel centre where the London Marathon expo is held, and every runner needs to visit, this is going to impact plenty of people.  Even so, regarding the DLR strike, I’m actually (at the moment, could all change when I get there) reasonably philosophical about this.  Workers do have the right to strike, and I’ve been on strike myself, so it would be inconsistent of me to object to others doing the same.  Of course they have more leverage over the London marathon weekend, so who can blame them for upping the ante then.  Funny how it’s always workers who get the blame for going ahead with a disruptive strike rather than employers for not addressing issues that have led to any dispute in a timely fashion.   The DLR strike I can’t do anything about.  It matters, because it will make getting to the Expo centre to register for the marathon a complete pain.  However, in this instance there are tens of thousands of other runners in the same situation.  Logically therefore, there must be some contingency plans in place.   Indeed there is some talk of extra buses and some limited information on alternative routes.  I wasn’t too impressed though with the advice:

We advise runners to register for the race at ExCeL before strike action takes effect where possible. The Expo is open from 11:00-20:00 on Wednesday 18 April and 10:00-20:00 on Thursday 19 April.

Not all that helpful if you don’t live in London and/ or have any kind of occupation or daily responsibilities.  I get their point, but really?  Bottom line, I can’t do anything about this beyond allowing time to find an alternative route and trusting the London public transport system to provide a solution.  I’m glad though, that I’d already planned to go up Friday afternoon, as that does give me some extra lee way.  So I’m conflicted.  I say I’m philosophical about all of this… but actually, worrying about the logistics has left me crapping myself, which is not helpful for maintaining either electrolyte balance or dignity pre the event.

Not to worry, I am distracted from focusing exclusively on the transport challenges, by self-defeating trauma over the weather forecast for next Sunday.  Pretty much all my training has been dogged by ice, snow and blooming freezing conditions.  I’ve been in a constant battle to avoid hypothermia, and only in the last couple of weeks have I been able to run even without a jacket.  Now, it seems likely that on Sunday, the weather forecast is not just in double figures, which I’ve not seen all year, but could even hit 25 degrees (depending on which weather forecast your believe). That’s crazy!  It’s actually dipped down a little just now to a ‘mere’ 21 degrees on the BBC website, but even that is going to feel really, really tough. I’m rubbish in the heat at the best of times, but with zero opportunity to acclimatize, it’s not going to be pretty.

weather forecast

The problem is, that mantra ‘don’t do anything different on marathon day‘ is really, really important, and yet… if it’s really going to be 15 degrees hotter than I’m used to, and with sunshine, maybe I do need to think about electrolytes? Gels and sports drinks might be the ‘obvious’ answer, but I can’t tolerate those and haven’t used them in training.  Obviously I’ve sweated a bit, but I think the highest temperature run I’ve done to date would be significantly under 10 degrees.  Plus, running in the heat will slow me down, so I could well be out there for even longer than anticipated based on my training to date?  What about a hat and sunglasses?  I hate running with a hat, but that could be my best defence against the sun’s rays, similarly sun glasses, I can’t imagine running in them.  Aaaargh.  Whilst it is beyond my control to order the elements to deliver up better meteorological options, at least along the route, there are some precautionary measures I could take, but they all represent changes to kit, nutrition, hydration and pace, all things you really shouldn’t do pre a marathon and definitely not as a hat trick of variables to mess with all at once.  Also, if it was within my power to control the elements and conjure up rain or clouds at will, then it is arguable I ought to harness those powers for the greater good.  Some people, granted maybe non-runners on the whole – might argue that controlling the elements to reverse climate change or relieve drought might be a higher purpose.  Tough call though, faced with the forecast for London.  I like to think I’d do the right thing, but, having to choose between perfect weather for my first and only marathon or reverse climate change and save the world in perpetuity, well, let’s just agree it’s lucky I don’t have to choose!

Not to worry, there is plenty of advice on-line Runners’ World issued an article ‘what hot temperatures do to your running and how to cope‘.  I’m sure it was a well-intentioned article, but it did nothing to reassure me.  The key points seem to be to give yourself a week to ten days to acclimatize, and you will cope best if you weigh about 7 stone (spoiler alert, not applicable to me dear reader) and/or have high surface area to body mass ratio.  Don’t be solidly built basically, bit late to do owt about that either.  It also provided grades of awfulness of conditions, starting with anything about 10 degrees C as impacting negatively on performance, over 20 degrees, might as well lie down and die on the spot is the general gist I think.  I am not feeling confident at all.

820-02248140

This post by Ben Parkes has a few more practical suggestions relating to running London in a heat wave.  There are some showers en route.  Note to self, find a place to stash dove shower lotion to make the most of these on the day.

I’ve done a few things in anticipation to try to help me to cope.  I’m going to put electrolytes in my water bottles that I carry, so if desperate I can use that. I  can’t tolerate gels or sports drinks, so daren’t risk suddenly switching to them. I’m also going to try to identify and carry some sort of salty snack – nuts maybe, as I think that would be OK. I’ve got a sun reflecting cap I bought to wear when I was working in Cambodia.  Honestly, I never really got on with it, plus it’s deeply unflattering, but it is a running cap, and it’s light so could be a practical option.  I’ve also bought sun block, as that’s an easy thing to sort, though of course I have to worry about sweat causing it to run into my eyes and blinding me en route.  Oooh the angst, it’s unbelievable what I can find to stress about.

However, shallow as it is to take comfort in such things, I do console myself with the thought that at least I’m not running in a rhino costume.  Or a the back-end of a camel.  Or giant ostrich costume, or carrying the angel of the north.  All of which just goes to show that a) I don’t know what the green dinosaur/gruffalo thing is and b) there is always someone worse off than yourself.

Geronimo is officially my running buddy, we are in it together, at least as a giraffe she, unlike me, should have some genetic adaptations to cope with the heat.  Also, if I do fall to the pavement, she will cushion my fall.  Also, it may yet be that the salty tears streaking down my face at the pain and horror of the heat might actually help, providing a cooling effect as they evaporate, and allowing me to lick them off my face in order to re-ingest the salt.  Thinking about it, I wonder if that’s an acceptable alternative to carrying electrolytes? Just gathering up the tears of fellow runners in a vial under the pretext of offering them comfort, and using them to replenish my lost salts instead?  I’m feeling more hopeful now.   Perhaps there are some proactive steps I can take after all!  We’ll fly round, just like at the Sheffield half, only for twice as long and with worse race photos at the end of it.  That’s not so bad.  As long as I make it round in time for the bling, that’s doable…

I’m also not feeling well.  Sore throat, which has properly transitioned to shivers and sleepless nights.  The only comfort I take is that I’ve still got a couple of days to go.  Lovely Martin Yelling, who has been doing fortnightly marathon training pep talks has kept saying that this last week wont make too much – indeed any – difference in terms of fitness, so I probably gain more from rest and allowing my body to recover than from forcing myself out to try to ‘keep things ticking over’.  I’ve lost hope that any part of my body will tick over properly ever again anyway.  Right now, as of this moment, I couldn’t spring up to answer the front door, let alone spring round a marathon route.   Even so, I tell myself that once I’m at the start, I’ll have to get to the end to pick up my stuff so might as well just put one foot in front of the other and get on with it.  To be on the safe side I’ve googled ‘running marathon feeling ill’ and basically got loads of people saying they got round and it was horrible but that way no regrets.

Personally, given that I can’t defer again anyway, whatever the weather, however rough I feel, I can not, and will not let this opportunity pass me by.  I am so grateful for this chance, and mindful of other talented runners who either missed out on the ballot, or, arguably worse, got knocked out in training by injury or illness.   It’s hard to say why, ultimately it is only a run, and an inherently pointless activity.  The thing is though I’ve watched this event on the telly for years and years thinking how amazing it would be to run London but with the sub-text ‘but I could never do that.’  Contrary to popular belief, I am not completely delusional, I know I am an unlikely candidate to get round a marathon.  Nevertheless, I’ve trained, I’ll try, and if I can do this, it matters not whether the result is pretty, what matters is that it will be a minor victory for the underdog.  If I can do this, then maybe it shows me and others too, that we can all do more than we think.  We wont know what unless we plunge out of our comfort zone and give it our best shot, you only know your limits when you’ve tested them. There is no getting away from the symbolism of completing a marathon, it’s supposed to be testing, that’s sort of the whole point…. I  suppose  I was just kind of hoping the test would not involve running in heat like an ant trying to flee from the focused rays of a magnifying glass. That seems a little harsh.  But hey, there’d be no point if it was easy would there?  And think of the anecdotes?  All will be well, or not.  But we get to find out really soon now.  Aaargh.

I need to keep it in perspective.  To help me rationalise this, I made a little list to try to see my situation objectively.  You should try it, it really helps, basically, I reckon the only things I really need to stress about are the following:

Angst (all variants); Boiling hot weather; Chafing (everywhere); Dehydration; Electrolytes (take/dont take; Fancy dress fails; General malaise; Hydration (over/under); Injury (pre/ during and post even); Just everything really; Knee niggles – why is it doing that wobbly thing NOW also KIT what to wear; Looking stupid if I don’t make it round (or looking stupid anyway) and/or Leaving Geronimo behind somewhere; Missing my supporters (if any) en route; Niggles; Over emotional (becoming); Precautionary pee opportunities; Queues (for loos/ start/ registration); Running; Sunburn, Strike, Socks choice, Shoe lace tightness and Sore throat; Temperature; Trainers, Timing device and Tomtom malfunctioning, Travel plans; Underwear (see chafing); Virgin London Marathon (being required to run it); Water stations – Where are they? Watch – will battery last; Xcel arena – how to get there; Yes, basically everything – Zikes, not quite what I was looking for in putting things in perspective!

The only real comfort is that this day is coming round ready or not.  It will be what it will be, and being part of the adventure is going to be amazing.  That part, I’m confident about.

I’ve been trying to distract myself by checking out other marathon stories.  Mercifully this has been a feel good week marathon wise – unless you are talking about the Callum Hawkins at the commonwealth games which we wont.  Apart from to say they were running in 30 degrees and it was a lot more humid but even so, seven out of the 24 runners did not complete the marathon.  We need to treat the heat with respect at least!  We wont look at this picture either, bad for morale:

Callum Hawkins commonwealth games

Instead, let’s talk about the Boston marathon.  There is much to celebrate there.  First off, let’s have a whoop whoop for the runner-up.  Sarah Sellers, who, despite working full-time as a nurse romped in to second place in only her second ever marathon.  Now, I’m not saying that I’ll definitely do another marathon after London, but food for thought people, food for thought.

whoop whoop for sarah sellers

In a possibly even more pleasing result (I know, hard to imagine) the first place man was none other than Yuki Kawauchi, known to some from marathon talks, but shamefully not to me.

Yuki kawauchi

The important thing here, is that this man who will henceforth become a living legend in his own time because, get this

Yuki warmed up for the Boston Marathon by running in his home race, the Kuki half marathon, dressed as a panda. He had previously set an unofficial world record in the same race for 13.1miles in a three piece suit. In his panda costume, he ran 1hr 10min 03sec, finishing second, and beating his brother Yoshiki

70 minutes for a half marathon.  In a panda suit.  Genius.  Faster than front runners at Sheffield half, just goes to show, fancy dress really helps you put a wiggle on, just saying.

panda suit yuki kawauchi

I think race organisers are cottoning on to the fancy dress speed premium. That’s why one marathon at least has made it compulsory.  Dear reader, I bring you the marathon du medocFancy dress, and 23 wine and food stops along the way, according to this Guardian article so it must be true.  The theme for 2018 is amusement park apparently, so ferris wheels and carousels at the ready everyone.  Still time to enter, it’s September each year.  It may no longer be a well-kept secret, but it does sound a hoot!  There;s a little video about it here.  Ooh, you know you want to people…

And you know what?  Reading these accounts puts the joyousness of it all back centre stage.  It’s going to be a great adventure.  Everyone taking part, in whatever capacity, running, supporting, spectating, working will have their own micro adventure on the day. There is still something joyful and optimistic about 40,000 people, or thereabouts, launching themselves onto the streets of London, to stream past so many iconic landmarks and find out first hand what a marathon means to them.  I still can’t quite believe I’ll be one amongst the masses too!

My biggest challenge is no longer will my legs and lungs hold out, but how will I manage with the heat.  And the sun, I can’t bear being out in the sun, I think I’m part vampire somewhere along the genealogical line.  I suppose that’s where the mental preparation comes in – or not.  I’ll have to remember what I did to keep going on the long runs when it was cold and horrible, or I felt faint and queasy but dug deep and did it anyway.  To be fair, often it was because there just wasn’t another option.  I can find that mindset on Sunday too.    Also, a fellow London marathoner, who sounds like she’s in the know, tells me that nice London people will give out ice pops en route!  Maybe things are looking up…  Plus, if it’s hot, then it’s going to be a slow one for everyone, at least I’m used to running slowly.  I came across a blog from someone who collapsed at London in heat at mile 17, he shares his lessons from that experience, the main one being, just finish safely.  That’s a good point well made!

So now, I just need to check and lay out my kit, again.  And keep on fretting, because despite all advice to the contrary, I’m increasingly thinking that this is an unavoidable part of the marathon preparation process.

Oh, and two more things. There is an app available now, so people can track your lamentable progress on the day from the comfort of under a sun hat in their own gardens, and also an automatic Facebook page alert.  I’ve signed up for this.  It sends ‘real time’ messages, posting automatically on my Facebook page when I cross the start, half way point and the finish line.  This seemed like a good idea at the time, but now I’m fearful my facebook friends will assume the technology has broken as the sloth like nature of my progress is flashed up for all to see.  Oh well.  I can only do what I can do.  We shall see…

Probably be harder being Mo to be fair, he really has got some pressure on his shoulders.  Setting out to break the British Record on Sunday, in all that heat, that’s real pressure.

lovely farah

Mind you, he doesn’t have to do it carrying a giraffe does he?  Not comparing like with like are we.  Just saying…  I’ll still be too star struck to speak if I see him.  Not that that’s very likely at the start to be fair, but maybe at the expo….

The course map is here by the way.  Eek.  And if you want to know the route from the ground, check out this video time-lapse of the London Marathon Course from the lead car.  I’ve just watched it.  Gulp. Seems an awfully long way, but on the plus side, you get to run through some tunnels!  I’d forgotten about them, and I love running through tunnels.

You know what, with them predicting the hottest London marathon on record I’m truly scared, but I’m also pretty determined to do this.  I’m afraid of course, but you know how it goes

But what if I fall?

Oh, but my darling, what if you fly?

Might be hope over experience, but I want to see if I can fly.  Even if I’m a bit earth-bound, I’m relying on the gusts of good will from the London crowds to give me a bit of an uplift!  I’ve heard it often enough that this will carry you round, I was just hoping for being carried a little bit more literally than I now understand is on offer.  Oh well.

Ready or not.

Bring it on!

At least I’m not wearing the rhino suit.  With apologies to those who are!

 

 

Categories: marathon | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

London Marathon 2017: recovery, aftermath and debrief

Digested read.  Phew, that was tough…. I’d do it all again in a heartbeat though!  🙂

good luck walking

To be fair, even the most elite of athletes is likely to pick up a few niggles after a marathon.  Kenenisa Bekele himself got cramped up with a hamstring injury as a result of a shoe wardrobe malfunction.  Not sure his Nike sponsors will be high fiving him for his feedback on their new shoes though, but it shows, it can happen to the best of us.  In the circumstances, I’m grateful that I can report that I myself have got off relatively lightly in terms of physical meltdown post the London Marathon.  I’ve really just got a mightily stiff neck from all that craning over the barriers to try to espy Sheffield runners from amongst the tide of participants whilst spectating at yesterday’s London marathon.  It was worth it, but it was quite a physical challenge.  Cheering on all those 40,000 runners is tough you know, but worth it.  Spectating a marathon is not for the faint-hearted Just saying.

The thing is, the extraordinary thing is, that in inverse proportion to the physical challenge of running is the emotional high!  The more broken you feel, the more glorious the endorphins that come later.  Or would that make it direct proportion.  Worse makes you feel better, but then both are high. Whatever…  Yeah, yeah, I get that those who actually ran it might have had a tad trickier time of it on the physical side the next day, but then again they also get all that positive affirmation of 26.2 mile long of people cheering their name.  It’s pretty much exactly the same as a spectator I reckon. I strained and shouted and clapped for eight hours solid, of course it took  a physical toll!  But you know what?  It was wondrous.  Frankly, if you are ever feeling down about all that is wrong in the world, go watch a marathon – or a parkrun if you are pushed for time.  It will restore your faith that there is good in the world.

just watch a marathon

I’m not going to lie though.  I found it preeeeeeeeeetty cool this morning. I spent some of it walking through London, ‘the morning after the day before’ exchanging knowing empathetic looks and nods with ‘fellow athletes’ with whom I’d shared the big day.  You can recognise each other immediately.  The shuffling gate is one clue and the wearing of a completers finish medal another.  Or, as in my case, the ostentatious-though-trying-to-look-nonchalant carrying of an Official Marathon Kit Bag of the type you ONLY get as a competitor.  You know, the one you are issued with to all you gear in at the start, which gets magically transported to the finish to greet you at the other end.   I actually picked this up for a friend, so I suppose strictly speaking not really actually mind.  But surely gaining a bit of glory by association is acceptable?  If I was a member of Swansea Harriers I’d have made a point of going for a run in my club vest today for similar reasons.  Point is,  my Smiley buddy is off away today, so I said I’d take some bits and bobs back to Sheffield for her so she doesn’t have to drag it all off on holiday with her.

Fortuitously, (and I didn’t plan this) she spontaneously put all these said ‘bits and bobs’ into her marathon branded see-through bag. You know, the one only competitors get?  Oh my gawd.  How excited was I collecting it from the concierge at her hotel, and deciding I’d walk back to mine the long way round, just because.  Well, needed a bit of a walk before the long coach journey home, it was just a happy side-effect that the good people on the streets of London assumed it was my own.  Anyway, I can report that hoiking it around London was actually really good fun.  I felt like a minor celebrity, maybe the same experience you have if you wear a back stage pass at a big concert or something.  People might not actually recognise you, but they know you have been hobnobbing with the great, and should not therefore be overlooked.  Thus my  running comrades would recognise me by this acquisition uniquely available only to the marathon participants themselves.  Smiles of mutual recognition and congratulation were therefore freely exchanged.  I didn’t feel the need to explain to everyone I met that it wasn’t actually my bag, why spoil a beautiful moment?   Rather I just enjoyed that feeling of being part of an amazing club.  We had shared something extraordinary.  We had been spat out the other side, changed, renewed (in a broken sort of way) we had done the seemingly impossible.  Now we could do ANYTHING!

Bit of a shame my Smiley buddy missed out on this opportunity for continuing glory, but then again, I’m guessing she did get to wear a London Finishers’ medal for her onward journey.  Hopefully it will have got her an upgrade for the next leg of her travels.  If I had a London medal I’d wear it for weeks.  I met one Shelter runner at the post race reception.  He wasn’t wearing his because he’d got really bad sunburn on his neck going round and was in agony. That’s the kind of running injury it’s easy to forget to prepare for.  Personally, I think I’d have found a way to wear the medal anyway.  At the very least, I’d have found some flunky to follow me round, carrying my medal on a velvet cushion for me.  That might work… it would have to be a red velvet cushion to match Shelter’s branding, but possibly would need to choose a supplier wisely.  I don’t think ‘The Freemasons Collection’ would be quite the way to go.

COU-RougeSo back to exchanging knowing greetings.  The thing about the London Marathon is that it really is astonishing to see the variety of people who participate in the event and do well.  Whilst watching, you get to see the most unlikely looking physiques breeze by quite comfortably, whilst more conventionally looking athletes can crash and burn before your very eyes.  You must assume nothing.  Thus, even if only a couple of days before it would have seemed unlikely to the point of impossible that someone who looked liked me could start the London Marathon let alone complete it; anyone watching or taking part in the Sunday spectacular will now know otherwise.  Why not someone like me?  An extraordinary number of others defied expectations yesterday after all!  So it was, that strolling through London, marathon kit bag at my side, I perfected the art of sharing half smiles with the walking wounded. Skipping on by some pretty formidable looking but temporarily hobbling athletes who must have been inwardly wondering how on earth could someone like me look so fresh the next day, whilst they themselves had nothing left to give.  I know.  A complete mystery.  Some mystery in life is a good thing, let’s not disabuse them of this belief.  And for me, practise, maybe I’ll be swapping knowing glances for real a year from now.

You might (or might not) be pleased to know that the London Marathon Experience extends beyond the day of the event, not only because of the aches and pains, indeed mobility limiting serious injuries, but because of the rush of ‘human interest’ stories and obsessional posting of images and experiences of the day on-line. That’s fair enough. We all know the first rule of Marathon club I think?

first rule of marathon club

So, for the record, the following day I think there were four main stories doing the rounds.

  1. The Heart warming one – a finishing runner sacrifices own time to help fellow athlete in Brownlee Brother moment
  2. The inspirational moment – a club runner is first Brit over the line
  3. The taboo-busting celebration – in the form of the Head’s Together running team getting people talking about mental health
  4. The Welsh Tourist Board campaign ‘Visit Wales, land of the Swansea Harriers’ in the light of the above

So first things first. The feel-good viral moment was when a Swansea Harrier runner, sacrificed his own run time in the final few metres to get a fellow runner over the line.

Yep, it was pretty emotional – plus it’s a parkrun run director helping with the heave-ho to the finish for the record.

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This action wasn’t without its critics though. There is some talk of the Tories now cancelling next year’s marathon after the chilling sight of seeing a strong runner helping a weak one who really should just learn to pull his socks up and fend for himself.  I will admit, the footage does bring a tear to my eye 200 metres from the finish, with the roar of the crowd willing them over the line.  However, there were countless examples of this on the course.  People jumping the barriers at the 40km mark to walk or run a bit with their emotional runners.  However, I also saw a couple of absolutely broken runners, who were practically been carried round by their team mates.  They got an extra cheer.  It must feel a very, very long way round indeed at this point, but these guys presumably started together, they’d finish together.   That’s inspirational too.  It’s an emotional roller-coaster out there I tell you. Take tissues.

So to the second wave of viral stories.  It was, astonishingly, also a Swansea Harrier who also took the running punters by surprise as the unexpected first Brit over the line.  Or, as I saw it ‘a normal one‘ as I shouted out when I spotted him way ahead of the mass starters at the 40 km mark yesterday.  An extraordinary achievement.  What’s more, as if that claim to fame wasn’t enough, I understand from stalking their Facebook page that he is also the first Swansea Harrier to make it to LadBible.  Gosh.  He should retire from running now, nothing will ever top that.

josh brit

Other running clubs are available, and are equally awesome.  Well, maybe in somewhat more understated ways.

Thirdly, this year’s marathon became known as the mental health marathon, with the Head’s Together organisation as the nominated charity for the event, and the ‘young royals’ on board as mental health champions.  Generally I’m cynical about both the royals and charities.  Not that charities don’t do excellent work, but because I worry that responsibility for providing support gets relegated to charities when it should be a core public responsibility, if you rely on charities to do this work, then those in need are at the mercy of whether they are a popular and/or ‘worthy’ cause.  A return to Victorian notions of the deserving and undeserving poor makes me uncomfortable.  Nevertheless, it has to be said that the dialogue around mental health for this event has been really fantastic.  The two associated BBC documentaries ‘mind over marathon‘ following a group of ten first time marathoners who were training as part of their strategy for dealing with various mental health challenges were genuinely moving.  Here’s hoping the legacy continues.

mental health marathon

Fourthly – the Visit Wales campaign by the Welsh Tourist Board.  I made that one up.  But surely only a matter of time?

One fun activity for me after the marathon was going through my own photos and trying to pass them on to those pictured where possible.  This is a great procrastination activity, and also an abject lesson in the power of the internet.  It’s alarming easy to track people down if you can be bothered.  Note to self and my reader, we both need to check our social media privacy settings. Anyway, although my photos aren’t especially great alas, I figured everyone likes to see pictures of themselves running don’t they?  Besides, a blurry freebie than paying £25 a throw for the official ones.  Question.  Why are so many official photos taken as close-ups?  You could be running anywhere, personally I prefer the ones with a bit of crowd and sky line.  Then again close ups don’t favour me.  I’d feel differently if I was all streamlined and graceful when running.  I’m not.

Turns out, the reactions from recipients of these unsolicited blessings  I was so freely bestowing were mixed.  The WaterAid photographer was genuinely chuffed I’d got blurry action shots of him running his own marathon as he ducked and dived trying to photograph the actual charity runners.   Steel City Strider Runners turned out not to be unconditionally euphoric at being snapped potentially in their darkest of moments.  Yep, maybe I should have thought of that.  However, on the plus side, I learned that even though barely a runner acknowledged my shouts all day (seriously focused lot, Sheffield runners) turns out they did hear some of the screams of support and they did help sometimes ebbing morale.  Apparently it was good to hear a ‘Go Smiley‘ or ‘Go Strider‘ shout and know that someone, somewhere in that mass of people was cheering you and you alone.  It was not just a random vegetable or guy in speedos that had caught their eye.  I didn’t like to explain that I could see the temptation where the miscellaneous plant foods were concerned. Some of them were pretty enticing… How’s this for running eye candy?

FD corn on the cob

I rest my case.

Meanwhile, in the aftermath, the inspirational stories keep on coming.  Personally, I thought the best advice given to these runners was by the trainer who said something along the lines of ‘whatever that road throws at you, whatever dark place you end up in, you’ve encountered worse and come through’.  Worth remembering, for those of use who have battled with mental health issues of our own.

Hard to know what the runners must be feeling, in the immediate aftermath, and the following days.  Probably a pick’n’mix of emotions to be fair:

I did say it was an emotional and physical roller coaster.  Everyone does.  Entering for a ballot or charity place for a marathon is understandable, but definitely contributory negligence on the part of any event participant. You can’t say nobody warned you.

Oh, and as for photos?  They are everywhere, but the official ones are searchable for 2017 London Marathon here.  I  prefer the more informal ones that keep popping up…

The key point though is this.  A record-breaking number of participants, 39,487 runners crossed the finish line at the London Marathon 2017. That’s impressive.  That’s a lot of people.  Who else is going to be making up the numbers same time next year?  For my part, time I dug out those trainers.  After this weekend’s trials, I think I’ll start with a gentle recovery run…  It’s going to be a long haul.  Just getting to the start will feel like victory.

39487 finishers

Eek.

Categories: marathon, race, road | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

It’s not called a marathon for nothing! Supporting Shelter runners at the London Marathon 2017

Digested read.  Running a marathon may be hard, but supporting a marathon is also an endurance test.  Want to get a flavour of what that’s like.  Read on.  There follows a marathon account of my marathon spectacle by way of illustration. You’re welcome.

No need to guffaw at my expense.  I fully appreciate that self-evidently, for runners the London Marathon was indeed always going to be a marathon, because it actually is.  They know they will have to go and run 26.2 miles either voluntarily as a chosen challenge, or as a result of a bit too much brash bravado after one too many at the pub one night.  Whatever.  They are all guilty of contributory negligence as they find themselves at the start line for the London Marathon.  It’s going to be tough out there, but it will also be glorious.  They are all superstars for being there, just for getting to the start, and over 99% will finish.  They might be broken beyond repair at the end, but hey ho, those post-running endorphins will make  it all worthwhile…. hopefully.  So the story goes.  There will be (rightly) blogs aplenty about their stories, their metaphorical and literal journey from start to finish on the day.  This is of interest to me, but not what today’s post is about.  Oh no, rather this entry is going to be all about me.   Me and my experience as a volunteer on the sidelines of this iconic event.  Let me tell you, it was tough out there.  A marathon indeed!  Unless you’ve been there and done it yourself, you can have no idea of the emotional highs and lows 8 hours of spectating can put you through. That combined with the physical challenge of craning to see people, clapping and shouting can really take its toll.  With hindsight (always a great thing) I  perhaps should have put in a bit more training before hand, but it’s always so easy to be wise after an event. It was worth it though, to be part of the Shelter cheer team, but phew, it was surely a test of endurance too!

team shelter embankment

The upshot is that in my mind I totally earned this complimentary congratulatory bottle of ‘champagne’ that awaited me on my return to the hotel at the end of the day.  I don’t feel I got it under false pretences at all.  To be fair, it probably wasn’t all that complimentary anyway, not with the price I paid for a room in Kensington whilst swept up in the euphoria of the idea that I’d actually be running the marathon myself this weekend.  It was nice though.  I’m glad I didn’t fess up that I was a marathon deferrer coming anyway  and not an actual runner anymore when I checked in, having originally booked in on a ‘marathon package’ months back.

complimentary champagne awaits

So the story is that by an extraordinary fluke I did get a ballot place for the London Marathon 2017.  I couldn’t believe my luck!  However, circumstances conspired to make training nigh on impossible as I was working overseas in Cambodia at a critical time.  I did try, really I did, but eventually bowed to the inevitable and tearfully deferred my entry.  However, I’d already booked and paid for my (non-refundable) accommodation, so I figured I might as well go anyway to watch… and then I thought well why not volunteer?  Inspirational idea.  That way I’d still get to feel part of it.  Honestly, ending up volunteering for Shelter (the housing and homelessness charity) was a happy accident.  I do think Shelter do amazing work, and it is a charity I have contributed to over the years.  However, I found the volunteering opportunity just by googling, and it came up.  I wasn’t tested as to my limits in who I would be willing to associate with just for the glory of being associated with the London Marathon.  So that’s good.  I have subsequently discovered that loads of charities seek volunteer supporters on the day, so that’s a great option for anyone who wants to get involved.  Also London parkruns are involved in running the bagdrop and collections which sounds fun too.  Parkrunners get everywhere these days.  I’ve stolen this picture from a facebook post elsewhere, aren’t these parkrun ambassadors great?  Sigh, got to love parkrun in general and parkrun volunteers in particular.

volunteer parkrunners being aweseom at VLM baggage drop

Anyway, I figured I’d be up for some volunteering.  It didn’t sound too bad.  Basically just cheer along any Shelter runners, with opportunities to moonlight by cheering other runners as you wish.  (I’d be looking out for my Smiley buddies from my Sheffield Women’s running club Smiley Paces for sure!  Go Smilies!) It was about raising the profile of the charity by branding all in the vicinity with Shelter T-shirts and then giving their runners a psychological boost by cheering them as loudly as possible on their way round the course.  I’ve volunteered as a marshal at runs before, and usually when marshaling you have to multitask with directional pointing as well as cheering.  When you factor in high-fiving and clapping as well it can get pretty busy, but it’s always been manageable.  I wouldn’t be required to point here, so just focus on cheering and clapping.  It’d be fine.

I’ve had some more stressful volunteering moments, the inaugural Run for all Sheffield road 10k got quite challenging but the tententen trail one, also in Sheffield was a lot of fun.  Parkrun volunteering is the best though, especially junior parkrun.  Those mini runners are hilarious and inspiring and amazing all rolled into one.  Not unlike the folk that turned out to the London Marathon to be fair.  You have to be a bit careful because small children can give unexpectedly ferocious high-fives in relation to their body mass, but the pay-off is the adorability quotient of some, which has caught my usual hardened cynicism off guard on more than one occasion.  My personal favourite moment was recently when at Graves junior parkrun one of the participants I was clapping round stopped as I cheered her so she could explain to me that she was taking part in a run!  I suppose she picked up I was clearly interested, so it was only polite to tell me what it was all about.  How cute is that?  One of the photos that follow is from volunteering at Sheffield Hallam parkrun recently, the other from Graves junior parkrun if you are interested.  I only have a finite number of clothing options so the presence of a near identical outfit in both pictures may confuse you, leading you to believe it is the same event,  if you are the type to both a) care at all about where the photos were taken and b) notice it is the same outfit on ostentatious display in both, despite obvious differences in location.  As to which is which?  Clue, only Graves park has its own goat(s).  Cue ‘what’s got your goat’ punning opportunities, but I think I’ll save those for another time.

I did get stressed out by an escaping lamb on the track on Easter Sunday, but it was resolved.  To be fair, the run directors can’t cover every eventuality in their volunteer briefings.   Anyway, stop distracting me with all these parkrun questions –  I need to crack on with my London marathon witness testimony … The point being,  that given my previous volunteering experiences, I was pretty laid back about the skill requirements for my role as Shelter cheerer at the London Marathon.  ‘yep, I can do that‘ I figured.  Complacent.  Guilty as charged.

It was really exciting waking up on Sunday morning.  TV coverage had started of the build up to the marathon, and I couldn’t wait to get out and at it.  Whilst some commentators might now be a bit jaded about the whole thing (seen one marathon you’ve seen them all).  I’m not.   I saw the couple who’d just got married at the Cutty Sark on the telly, watched the wheel chair athletes whizz away and that was it, I was off and out the door myself, wanting to get to my cheer point at the embankment ahead of them.

Even the tube was fun. There was one runner at least in his gear on the train – though I did wonder if he might be cutting it fine to get to the start.  Loads of people were sporting charity tops, presumably there to support friends or family running for a chosen cause today.  I was spat out at the embankment, and immediately you could feel the buzz!  There were flags all the way along where various charities had marked their pitches for the day.  Apparently it’s a bit of  a free for all just after the roads are closed, charity mobs come out and bag spots, some securing better viewing areas than others.  There was only a scattering of spectators at first, but whole armies of support crew in high viz.  Volunteers handing out programmes, marshals, paramedics and St Johns Ambulance crew in abundance.  The sun was shining, the London skyline glorious.   Definitely the capital at its best.  I’ve only ever spent time in London for frenetic work trips previously, seeing it as a tourist was amazing.  Made me appreciate London in a way I haven’t previously.

There was already some sort of race underway when I arrived, which was initially a bit confusing.  I had a brief moment of wondering if this was some secret youth cohort of Steel City Striders, sporting green and gold tops as they were. But I don’t think the striders have got a women’s junior running group. Therefore, I suppose it must have just been some opportunistic PE teacher despatching their charges along the route so they wouldn’t have the bother of getting out the gym equipment during double games.  You can understand why. PE teachers are notoriously low status in many schools – or were in my day anyway.  Of course they’d rather be smoking out the back than dragging out the coconut matting so everyone can practise their forward rolls.  Quite a temptation to send everyone out for a run when all the roads are closed, who’d know?  Really?

steel city striders youth cohort

I had a bit of an explore, then sauntered over to the Shelter pitch.  I was pretty early, about 9.30 a.m. I think.  There weren’t any Shelter reps around, but no matter.  I busied myself making friends with a couple who were already there. They’d come to watch, and were seduced by the close proximity of the Shelter flags to some decent toilets.   I suggested they just stay put and don Shelter shirts when they materialised which they were happy enough to do.  More the merrier after all, I presume what Shelter was seeking was a long flash mob of red to catch the eyes of passing runners.

It was quite sociable chatting to my new friends.  We had quite a laugh.  They weren’t really running much now apparently, but regaled me with tales of races past.  My personal favourite of their many stories, was the guy’s account of experiencing serious nipple chafing during a half (or possibly full) marathon in his first long race.  In literally bleeding agony, he espied an amply proportioned older woman brandishing a huge tub of vaseline ahead of him at the sidelines of the road route.  Now normally one might be shy of soliciting lubricants off unknown members of the opposite sex, but in a marathon, anything goes!  On this occasion he ran towards her lifting his top as he approached brandishing his bloody tits, so signalling he was a man in need.  In response,  she obligingly slathered generous amounts of vaseline all over his chest with open palms.  Blood and vaseline mixed together he ran on, comforted.    I can only presume this all happened pre mobile phones, as otherwise surely such an act of human kindness would by now have gone viral, a Brownlee Brothers moment before that was even a thing.  And  an extra element of titillation from the naked chest bearing dimension!   I don’t have a picture of nipple chafing injuries that I wish to include.  You can find your own on the interweb if you must.  Really though, don’t have nightmares, protect yourself and just don’t go look. It’s not pretty.

So after a bit, Shelter staff arrived, and we negotiated the extra tops.

cheering buddies

Other volunteers gathered too, and the crowd began to congregate. It was fun, highly sociable.  The event began to build, first to appear were the wheelchair racers.  That was impressive but over really quickly. It reminded me a bit of spectating at the tour de yorkshire.  Over 3 hours hanging off a verge-side tree awaiting the pantaloon, or pelican or peloton or whatever it’s called, and then when it came it was gone in the blink of an eye.  It was still fun to be there, but not tremendously sustained fun to tell the truth.  How they steer those wheelchairs I have no idea, they go really fast.  Also, the body posture is really punishing for some, heads down, I wonder how much these athletes can see and hear as they power round.  Are they aware of what’s around them or is it all just one big blur?  Plus, they aren’t really very well positioned for high fiving.  I’d never have made it round the Sheffield Half without plenty of them!  Wouldn’t want to participate in any event where that wasn’t at least an option.  I suppose athletes of this calibre have internal motivation to drive them instead – extraordinary!

We were all hyped and ready to go so cheered and clapped anything passing really.  However – and this is a top tip here for marathon newbies – it’s so true you mustn’t start off too fast.  Supporting the marathon is a test of endurance, you need to pace yourself.  Initially, it was obvious we had all potentially peaked a bit soon, complaining of aching hands and sore voices before even the visually impaired runners were in sight.  (See what I did there).  It was OK, we had a bit of time to regroup, breathe and recommence our support strategy before the next load of runners came through.

Some adjacent spectators similarly suffering from clapping-induced RSI  were eyeing up our shelter inflatables.  You know, the ones you can bang in appreciation that you see at lots of sporting events?  I’ve always been a bit sniffy about them previously, but in fact they are a real boon to spectating.  They are labour-saving and volume creating.  I do worry a bit about the plastic waste they must generate, but have to admit they certainly do create atmosphere and colour too. Let’s hope those recently hyped plastic-eating caterpillars can really deliver.  We need something to tackle all that post event debris.  Anyway, I soon had them kitted out in Shelter regalia too.  We were an ever-growing red swarm indeed!

We were a colourful crew craning over the barriers for the next load of runners to surge by for our amusement, merriment and indeed amazement.  I was a bit confused about what was happening – there are lots of different cohorts competing, and they all started at different times.  Fortunately my new friends had sussed out there were free programmes available if you just jumped one of the many bag wearing volunteers who were strolling around giving them out. The spectators guides are/were great.  They include maps, who to look out for, where to watch, and, crucially, what the approximate arrival times for the leaders of the various race categories would be.   I did manage to procure a programme, but to save me the arduous task of reading this myself I outsourced this particular task to one of my companion cheerers, who was periodically able to update me on who to expect to come surging by Cleopatra’s needle and so into our sightlines at any moment.

The VI guided runners were many indeed.  It was fascinating to watch them speed past.  Some were stride for stride with their guides, some used bungee cord to link together,  others seemed to be holding onto one another, lots of techniques were in evidence.  I have seen a few guided runners at parkrun and local trail running events round Sheffield.  Mostly the guides and runners I’ve seen seem to talk  to each other a lot ‘knees up’ or ‘keep left’ or whatever as they go round.  I don’t know how much you’d hear at the marathon with so much crowd noise.  I do know that we were near a sequence of three timing mats which crossed the road.  One guide raised his hand really high over this stretch, I wondered if it was to indicate the need for caution.  Or maybe the guide simply had cramp.  Who knows.  These elite VI runners are impressive, but later in the field came other non-elite VI runners, coping with the crowds of a mass start, that’s surely a new kind of awesome.  One guy ran the whole thing with a white cane. No idea how he would have navigated the crowds, but clearly successfully to this point at least.  We were standing bank on the 40km mark, so safe to say he must have pretty much perfected the technique by then!

The para-athletes having stormed through, in their wake were the elite women.  To my shame, I don’t really know what the score was here, I do know that the lead runner seemed to be essentially running solo.   She also didn’t look like she’d already run near enough 25 miles.  She was fair sprinting.  Maybe she was trying to shake off that annoying convoy of motorbikes that were apparently stalking her.  I’m sure when I’ve watched the marathon on the telly in previous years, whilst sat on the sofa eating donuts or whatever, there is usually a group of elite runners at the front. They are at least in sight of each other if not actually in a pack.  Not so for her, nor for the male lead who came behind.   It seems it is true what they say about the loneliness of the long distance runner.  Well I say that, I’ve never actually read the book or seen the film come to think of it, it could be about anything…  I’m just meaning that running a long way is always ultimately going to be a personal and lonely journey.  Less so if you are cavorting along in fancy dress with the mass start, but here, all eyes on you, wanting to win, wow, that’s mental fortitude right there!  Let me see what I can find in the way of photos.  A bit hit and miss but at least it shows I was there eh?  Think I got male lead but not the female.  Curses.  Nice shot of St Paul’s on the sky line though.  And a proper London Bus too.  Isn’t that grand?

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What this basically meant, is that we cheerers had been able to have our own warm up, putting in lots of practice by cheering the serious elite athletes  as preparation for the real reason we were there, which was to support the more fun to spectate (but just as serious to run) mass participation bit.  The elites are extraordinary, but for me at least, impossible to relate too.  It’s like watching another species to see them fly past.  How can the human body do that? However, for the record, even I noticed an anomaly at the front of the field.  ‘Look, that one’s a normal person’ I shouted out in my not-very- politically-correct way as what looked like a club runner romped by well at the front of the elite men’s group.  Later I discovered it was indeed ‘a normal person’ inasmuch as it was the unexpected first brit home and Swansea Harrier runner Josh Griffiths.  Wow, how proud his club must be of him.  I didn’t get a photo though, was too busy picking my jaw up off the road.

There were other distractions too. Due to operator error, early on in the proceedings I accidentally dropped my Shelter inflatable baton over the barricades.  Oops. I was in mortal fear that this would blow away and result in some freak skid instance, knocking out some elite athlete, who’d probably take out loads of other runners as s/he fell.  Those VI athletes would be at risk surely?  Not the kind of publicity Shelter had signed me up for when they asked us to do all we could to raise the profile of their organistion on social media during the event I’m guessing….  Fortunately/ unfortunately, other inflatable batons from other charities were also available, tumbling along in the wind, plus my particular one got scooped up by a marshal and removed from the scene.  Phew, the presence of lost inflatable batons on the courese may or may not be a lethal accident waiting to happen, but as long as I was apparently blameless in this, all would be well.

sleeping in the gutter

The next cause of excitement, albeit in an excruciating way, was that as the faster of the mass runners started to arrive, so too did the number of people who hit the proverbial wall in front of our very eyes, and went crashing down like nine pins.  It was really disturbing.  These runners were one minute racing and then next minute grey and collapsed.  The St John’s ambulance crew on hand at our spot was being pulled in all directions to attend to these people.   Sometimes rushing round unsure who to prioritise.  There was also the practical challenge of getting to runners if they were the opposite side of the road to that where the ambulance crews were sited.   By this point the runners were like a raging torrent, and so focused on moving forward that they were not necessarily aware of the need for a group of medics to cross their path.  It was nail-biting stuff.   The thing is, chances are it is ‘just’ extreme exhaustion, but some of the runners looked terrible.  Any one of them might be in their death throes, plenty of fit people have been known to have heart attacks at running events.  Then again, some that were ‘crippled’ did display phoenix like recoveries.  A bit of eccentric calf stretching sprawled out on the road and then they were up and good to go.  Gazelle like sprinting off once again. (Gazelle-ish, anyway).

There’s a lesson in their somewhere.  Personally I listen to my body a bit too well, the slightest twinge of protest and I’ll happily slow down and/or grind to a complete halt.  I have a theory that the stronger, faster runners are ‘better’ at pushing through pain in training in order to improve.  But, could it be they have learned to use mental strength to silence that inner voice when maybe sometimes they shouldn’t.   Ironically, they seemed more likely to come to grief than the long, slow travellers at the back of the field. In any event, it was heart breaking to see apparently strong athletes crumple just before the 25 mile mark.  If that’s what hitting a wall is, I don’t want that to happen to me.  Or anyone else for that matter.  Not worth it.  Just slow down and eat/drink something people, please!

Collapsed, little crowds of marshals and medics huddled round. Some were able to stagger to one side, and others were able to continue after a brief massage and roadside assistance.  Only roadside assistance was available, not relay, or at least the runners I saws hadn’t thought to pay for that upgrade ahead of the big day.   A few though, were trussed up in foil blankets like a carnist’s Sunday roast and wheeled off on little mini-wheelchair things, swaying around even in transit.  Whether or not they’d be allowed to rejoin the race after a stint in the recovery tents I have no idea, but it wasn’t looking good.  On the plus side, the way teams worked together to support the fallen was genuinely moving.  Whether that support extended to stopping the garmins of these runners I couldn’t tell.  I like to think if any of the helpers were runners themselves they would have done so.

So after the impressive bit, came the fun bit. We Shelter gang had got in the groove, and were now distracting ourselves with selfies and general whooping.  Although I did know a few people running, it was great to have the charity tops to look out for.  It gave a focus to the occasion.  You feel much more part of it.  There are so many charity runners out there I don’t know the extent to which participating raises the profile for any particular organisation, but it was good to meet like-minded others and in a small way support runners raising funds for a particularly worthy cause.  Homelessness is not glamorous, and it really can happen to anyone.  Since 1966 and Cathy Come Home, Shelter has been campaigning for affordable housing for all.  Progress has been made, and they plough on.  It doesn’t seem right to me that something as fundamental as supporting the homeless or housing vulnerable, is often left to the charity sector to pick up.  However, it’s good that Shelter do what they can for people in housing need.  Not surprising perhaps, but we cheerleaders all shared stories of how homelessness had impacted on either us directly or those we knew.  I fear in the current political and economic climate the housing situation is going to worsen still.  It may be the 21st century, but we need Shelter now more than ever.

Oh well.  In cheerier news, here are jolly support mob shots.  Surely a minion will put a smile on your face?

The next part of the day was focused on spotting Shelter runners.  This was waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay more stressful than I’d anticipated. You’d be astonished how hard it is to spot a particular runner in a mass of people, even when they are just a few feet away from you and even when we had fab team work. Loads of us scanning the crowd for the tell-tale red shirts.  We had some misses, and a few mis-identification.  I wonder if as many British Heart Foundation cheerers inadvertantly shouted at our Shelter runners as we did theirs!  There were a lot of red running tops out there, they aren’t as distinctive as you might think.  Even when we did see them and scream like the sky was falling in it was often to no avail, some runners were so in the zone they were seemingly oblivious to all around them.  Presumably just focused on not dying and continuing to put one foot in front of the other.  The few that did see us gave reactions which varied from euphoria, to shy smiles to ‘curses, why wasn’t I running when spotted’ type reactions.   One runner was on her mobile phone walking and talking for the whole extent of our banner.  What a missed opportunity to get some support!

It was rewarding though when they saw us and we saw them too. High fives and joyful cheers exchanged, runners sped away as if they really had been given an energy surge.    I didn’t know I had such power to motivate others within me.  Cool!  There were however some heart-breaking moments also.  The Macmillan team had a huge line of supporters, and were in great voice, but inexplicably there was one particular runner who saw them and waved and jumped around right in front of them, but they just didn’t see him.  It was awful.   That’s the thing about watching the marathon, it is such a roller coaster.  The pain, the agony, the ecstasy, the glory, the ‘what might have been’ all emotions in the raw are laid bare before you.  Running it may well be hard, but watching is not for the faint-hearted either!

I tried to snap a few Shelter runners as I passed, but it’s hard to get action shots I find:

Fortunately, the professional photographer at our cheer station captured the moments rather better than me, but hey ho, it’s the thought that counts I’m sure!  Here are some of his.  Or you can look at the Shelter facebook 2017 London marathon photos link for more.

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He wasn’t the only photographer earning his keep on the day.  We were near to a WaterAid UK cheer station. Their photographer was particularly proactive.  He must have run his own marathon on Sunday, most of it in reverse.  I don’t know how he was able to seek out his team so effectively, but he was on fire!  He was constantly scanning the stampede of runners to spot his targets, he’d then dart in amongst the throng – risking being trampled at any moment – or worse yet, getting his camera shoved.  He’d somehow alert his WaterAid runner where the cheer station was and sort of shoo them across to collect high fives, whilst simultaneously shooting off a load of shots and running backwards at speed.  I got quite fascinated by  this tour de force.  He must have got some amazing shots.  I ended up trying to get some of him in action too, which I didn’t really achieve, though it’s the thought that counts.  WaterAid also had a running camel,  which is helpful. Helpful because all those who think my running buddy Roger is a camel can see he is definitely a horse when you have an actual camel by way of comparison.  If you don’t know what I mean you’ll have to read up all about the Marathon themed Southwark parkun on Saturday, I can’t be bothered to go over it all again here.

By this point in the day hours had passed, and I was  hungry and thirsty and my neck was really hurting. The thing is though, Fear Of Missing Out, or more specifically, fear of missing a Sheffield runner in general or one of My Smiley Runners in particular, was pretty strong.  It is addictive being at the side lines.  You don’t want to lose your spot, and it doesn’t really feel right to sit down and start chomping down on a picnic lunch when weary runners are dragging themselves past you.  The only right thing to do is continue the endurance test yourself and hang on in there cheering yourself hoarse.  A random wise woman I met said to me once one day when we struck up a conversation in a park cafe ‘of course, the right thing to do is always the right thing to do.’  And you know what?  She’s absolutely right!

There was a tracking app available but as I’m the last person in the world without a   smart phone I was unable to make use of that technology.  A friend of mine on standby was unbeknownst to me texting me real-time updates, but I didn’t notice my phone messages until all but the last of the people I was looking out for had run past.  I did spot one Smiley, and screamed into her ear but she was too in the zone to notice.  Likewise I shouted out ‘Go Strider’ and ‘Go Dark Peak’ to other runners in familiar Sheffield kits,but in return got not so much as a sideways glance all day.  Incidentally, the two Dark Peak Fell runners I saw were going incredibly fast and strong, they are extraordinary runners, way ahead of the field.  Not just tackling ultra fell runs like mountain goats, but whizzing along tarmac like the great cartoon roadrunner himself.  Even without much in the way of response, it was brilliant fun when you did see someone you ‘knew’ even if only by association.   When we as a Shelter mob saw one of our own we went wild!  Who knew it could be so exciting?  However, it’s harder than you think to multi task at the side lines.  Cheering, clapping, trying to attract the attention of your designated runner etc, gets in the way of actually taking photos of them.  Probably just as well, as mine weren’t the best quality on the whole.  Still, everyone likes to see photos of themselves in action right?  It’s part of the post run debrief and reliving all the fun…  Type two fun is still fun, we all know that.

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So as I said at the start, this marathon malarkey is indeed a test of endurance.  I might have felt like my energy levels were becoming seriously depleted, but there was no thought of slacking off.  There were still so many more runners to look out for – the world record attempts to be ticked off for starters in our Marathon Bingo quest.  I’m sure there were loads more than I actually espied.  Some had helpful labels visible on them so you knew to give them an extra cheer.  Some choices of kit were more runner friendly than others.  I struggle to see how running the marathon carrying a tumble drier ever seemed like a brilliant plan, but hey ho, he was out there.  Mr Potato Head was pretty good, and then there were miscellaneous unidentified Official World Record attempt contenders.  Make of them what you will.  I never got to see the guy who was trying to run the whole thing in Wellington boots.  I don’t even want to think what that will do to his feet.  I’m very proud of the composition of my world record attempt at a tree running shot, even if it was inadvertent.  A veritable Birnam Wood on the move there methinks!

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As well as the world record attempts, there was a reasonable scattering of more modest fancy dress offerings.  Not that many though to be honest.  I’d expected loads, there are a fair few, but it’s still a minority of the participants, not too many duplicates either.  Just as well, can you imagine how annoying it would be to roll up as a sea urchin or whatever and find a whole rock pool’s worth hanging around at the start?  There were a fair few dinosaurs, but seemingly different species, plus there were some fine London landmarks too, complementing the London skyline.  You don’t see those traditional red phone boxes so much any more, great to see one at least running today!

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Then, as if that wasn’t more than enough excitement for one day, there were the mandatory naked men.  Well, part naked, fine torsos thrust forward and running strong.  This is all well and good in theory, but my fear is that all this exhibitionism will ultimately come to nothing.  Just as a run doesn’t count unless it is on strava, a race didn’t happen unless you make the official photos. Those who bravely – recklessly even – removed their tops, and with it their race numbers en route, will have no way of ever finding themselves in the official photos of the day which are searched by number.  Oh well.  Never mind, I expect it means they will be thrilled I have caught their moment of glory.  There was one notable exception to this by the way.  The global runderwear ambassador had it sussed, wearing his number as a sort of fig leaf arrangement to great effect.  Classy.  My regular reader knows we have our own runderwear ambassador at Sheffield Hallam parkrun, but dare I say I think this might be a more official rep.  (I’ve never seen our local ambassador running just in her bra and knickers.)   No wonder there is no chafing if the requirement is you wear only their pants whilst running.  I don’t recall that directive being on the operating instructions for their products – and I am an advocate and wearer of the pants myself.  Probably a blessing to the people of Sheffield to be fair…  Talking about chafing, I’m sure that heart monitor one guy is wearing is poorly positioned, it’s going to take more than an open palmed woman proffering copious amounts of vaseline to remedy that nipple chafing risk in my view…

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Then there was a scattering of bare footed runners.  Clearly however, for some running without trainers isn’t challenging enough, as one of these found a literal cross to bear and lugged timber round with him too.  Another was decked out as a mister man character… not just any Mr Man, oh no, but Mr Rush!  Genius.  There were some practical implications of the ‘no shoes’ choice though, as the VLM issue timing tag was intended to be worn on a trainer.  Mr Rush and JC has got around this with I think an ankle option, but one runner at the 40km mark, had to touch the ground three times to scan his timer as he passed over the official timer mats.   Not what you need after 25 miles running I’m guessing.

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Some people let their outfits or efforts speak for themselves.  Some were frankly showing off, but hey, you know what, some really impressed me.  Top contenders were any runner at all who took time to work the crowd on the way past (there were a few) and these two people.  The guy who leapt from timer mat to timer mat like he was taking flight, and the cool runner who appeared to be doing the whole thing whilst ‘effortlessly’ playing with his balls!  I know!  Eye catching indeed.

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Oh, and there was the  Morris Dancer.  Didn’t get a photo of him unfortunately, but when he came dancing and hanky waving down the embankment, the other side of the barrier was a whole team of Morris Men, mirroring his moves.  Hilarious.  Genius.  Inspiring.  You had to be there.  What team work too.

Ben Moss marathon morris man

And on the subject of team work, pushing a manual wheelchair round with its ‘just chilling’ occupant is no mean feat either, just saying:

Pushing on

It seems not everyone who had their assets on display did so intentionally.  So The Mirror reported.  I am not aware of any such corkers in my photo gallery.  Nor do I approve of such red top reporting.  Well, not in theory anyway, in practice of course I had a look, and as it’s in the public domain anyway, it would be hypocritical not to share….  Anyway, that’s not the only thing this guy had out to impress.  He was also second in his class so he had the last laugh for sure.

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Heads together headband spotting was also a thing. Well it was for me anyway, but then again, I’m well-known for making  my own entertainment in unlikely ways.  My favourite sightings were where it was used as part of fancy dress. The WaterAid camel and handler combo therefore especially pleased me.  Actually, not all that many runners wore them. That may have disappointed the organisers, but personally I wouldn’t embark on a 26.2 mile run with a new bit of kit, especially something as irritating as a headband.  Still, fair play to those that sported them, looking good!

headstart headbands

Nigh on 40,000 runners took part in the 2017 London Marathon, I forgot to count, and I was also really pleased I wasn’t volunteer time-keeper for the event, imagine how stressful that would be clicking times as hordes pass under the finish arch!  Bad enough at a parkrun! After about 3.30 p.m. the field started to open out, and more elaborate fancy dress options appeared.  I was in awe of the Save the Rhino team especially.  Those costumes are quite something. Also, and I know this is shallow and possibly harsh, whilst the costumes are great for raising the profile of this important cause, (and rhino conservation is most definitely a cause close to my heart) in fact – the truth is that the runners themselves are pretty anonymous whatever the A4 sheet with the name on may proclaim  Basically it could be anyone in there.   So Rhino Runners, for what it is worth. Respect!  Hope you all made it.  I’m sure you had to dig deep in those last few miles.

rhino run

Most of the other cheerers and supporters had started to peel away from about 2.30 / 3.00 but I had made a promise.  My  new best friend (who I’d met at the marathon-themed Southwark parkrun the day before) was running and expecting to be way at the back of the field.  I said I’d stay for her, but when to expect her?  What if I missed her?  Finally, I looked at my phone, and there it was, like a gift heaven-sent, a message from Cheetah Buddy, my Sheffield friend and now my own personal London Marathon Communications Manager. There were loads of texts giving estimated times for lots of runners I knew around the course.  Curses, why had I not looked at this earlier?  Still, not to worry, the faster runners were in less need of my shouting.  There was an ETA for the purple army marathon runner, and what’s more it worked!  I was there and I saw her, and she was looking strong.  How brilliant, what a great way to end my own marathon of spectating!  Even better, I screamed loudly enough to get a sunny smile and wave.  Finally, a runner saw me too!

Hunger, thirst, a stiff neck and a need to find a loo finally conspired to make me decide to take my leave at this point, it was gone 5.30 though so that was a solid eight hours I’d been at my post.   Great though, quite an adventure.  Walking along the course a short way was good, other supporters and motivational signs were there still offering encouragement to the final finishers.

poop signs

Another Shelter cheerer stalwart, who knew London rather better than me was also departing.  Together we wandered over to Horse Guards to see the finish.  It was bathed in sunshine, still quite a bit of activity, and you got some sense of the logistics.  There were meeting areas, some loos, and a fabulous photo backdrop.  Cheery (and exceptionally tall) police were on hand to give directions.   The one I asked was worried I’d just taken a photo of him blowing his nose.  I don’t think I did, not intentionally.  I’ll have a look:

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From here, we decided to seek out the Shelter post run support.  It was in a very grand building and up a great many stairs – though I think there was a lift for the runners which is just as well because I don’t think they’d have welcomed skipping up even so much as a kerbstone after what they’d just accomplished.  The reception was winding down, so although obviously runners were the priority they’d all had refreshments and we were welcome to assist in polishing off some rather fine sandwiches and some mediocre coffee.   For future reference, for runners there was hot food and massages, as well as lots of comfy seats and areas for photos.  It was pretty good.  It made me appreciate that if you did opt to run the marathon with a charity place there are definitely some benefits in terms of the support you get as part of the deal.  Plus, you’ll more than likely get some decent action photos of your big day.   I’d consider it for sure.  There is the awkward fund-raising bit, but weirdly I think I’d be more comfortable asking for sponsorship now I’ve seen the effort that goes into it all.  It’s quite something this challenge.  Not one to take on lightly.  I dare say some will question the grandeur of the surroundings given the cause, but I’m sure that’s factored into the day, nigh on half a million pounds was raised by the running team today, it’s fair enough they get a reception area afterwards.  Loads of other charities were sharing the space by the way.  Seems to be a post marathon thing.

Replete with sandwiches I decided it was time to head off.  Departing back to the station I saw the most inspirational sight of the whole day.  It was probably gone 6.30 by now, and the roads were being swept and cleared, barriers thrown on the back of lorries, and people in hi-viz trailing off on map.  In the distance I could see a solitary runner for (I think) Children with Cancer – couldn’t quite make out the top to be fair.  Anyway, I’m guessing he wont have made the cut off, but you know what, he was still going, on the pavement now, with almost deserted roads.  He was in the distance, and with just about a mile still to go, I heard some people sitting on a wall give him a cheer and got a blurry photo of him raising his hand in acknowledgement.

Yes, it might be a cliché, so what, some people talk of inspiration fatigue, I thought that was pretty goddarned amazing.

Charity runner, whoever you are, you were not invisible to me.  You are awesome, and yes, for me inspirational.  That’s quite some marathon you nailed there, medal or not!  There is awesomeness at both ends of this running challenge.  Believe it.

Heroic and inspirational indeed

And so it ends.

Same time next year?

Categories: marathon, motivation, road, running, running clubs, teamwork | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Southwark parkrun mainlining mood-setting magic and kicking off marathon mania. Yay!

Digested read.  Runners are awesome. The marathon weekend in London is lots of fun.  Parkrun is awesome.  Southwark parkrun laid on a marathon-themed event today.  Awesome plus fun plus awesome means it was great.  Thank you 🙂 Job done.  We’ve had today, who needs tomorrow?

marathon mood

This is the problem with pre-emptive strikes.  It’s honestly not that I want to be  a doom-monger, but I’m just a bit worried now, that tomorrow will be an anti-climax.  The thing is, Southwark parkrun today was epic beyond awesome!  With their special Southwark parkrun marathon-themed event they managed to recreate all the fun of participation at the London marathon without the annoying hardship of having to run a bit over 26 miles and get chaffing to boot.    Through their innovative and inclusive approach they provided all the cheers, camaraderie, landmarks – even a feed station with a complementary banana at the finish for goodness sake – under the literal and metaphorical parkrun banner, which means dear reader FOR FREE!  Gotta love parkrun.  It was such a good event, that as someone purely down to support the marathon runners this year, far from having an underlying sense of potentially missing out on the actual running part of the occasion tomorrow, I feel I’ve experienced all the excitement of having done so, and still made it back to the hotel in time for a decent brunch with the afternoon free for extra sight-seeing to boot.  It’s true they were not able to deliver on the medal front, but hey it’s still a credit towards your next milestone Tee (worth the wait I promise) and memories as they say, are priceless.  Thank you Southwark parkrun team, you gave such a welcome, I loved it.

It was all a bit of a blur at times though, it was so exciting, so that’s why some of the photos which follow are a bit hazy.  Think of it not as an indictment of my photography skills, more as a practical alternative to putting vaseline on the lens in pursuit of a flattering shot.  Vaseline is in short supply at present, I think there may have been a run on it what with the run round scheduled for tomorrow.   Whatever, make of it what you will.

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I even made a new best friend!  Endorphins can be like that I know, but really,  I felt like I discovered a kindred spirit and have the photos to prove it.  More of this later.

So first things first.  It did take some effort of will to get to Southwark.  Once I knew I’d had to defer my own London Marathon entry and decided to volunteer instead, I was looking out for a local parkrun to grace with my presence for the day before.  Thanks to the parkrun discussion group I got a tip-off that Southwark parkrun were going to be pulling out all the stops to put on a marathon themed event. This was a brilliant bit of insider info, as frankly I’d earlier ruled out going to Southwark as it is a three-lap route and I think of Southwark as being frankly very urban, so it wasn’t really on my radar.  However, any opportunity for a pop-up parkrun party and I’m in.  Especially as their lovely volunteer team even replied to my lowering-the-tone Facebook enquiry about the pre-run facilities.  I am (over) reliant on my precautionary pee, and figured forewarned is forearmed. Worry not dear reader, there may be nothing in Southwark park itself, but I was speedily advised there are a couple of options near at hand (Seven Hills leisure centre for one).  Astonishingly, I didn’t in the end avail myself of these, and coped OK.  Good to know I can, without tena lady sponsorship to boot!  So warm welcome, and lots of fun.  Decision made.

So, I was all set to go, and had worked out tube routes, and even squashed Roger into my luggage for the outing. What is a marathon themed event without fancy dress I figured?  Plus I had planned to do the marathon with him, it would be rude not to include him in this equivalent event.  This was my theory. The reality of donning my smiley vest and strapping on my horse (that came out a bit wrong, oh well) was a bit different.  In the silent isolation of my hotel room (and is a hotel posher than I am) my nerve failed me a bit.  It was the thought of having to walk along those long corridors with the risk of another ‘proper’ runner emerging from behind the rack of anonymous looking doors at any moment. Plus the thought of trying to be nonchalant walking the streets and negotiating the barriers at the tube.  Maybe this wasn’t after all up there with my top ten best ideas I’ve ever had. …. On the other hand, surely other people would make an effort, and it would be really stupid to have brought him all this way and then abandon him to the four walls of my hotel room at the final hour.  That would be shamefully disloyal.

I did peer out through my little eye-hole to check the corridor was clear first, and then stepped out.

The worst bit was leaving the hotel for sure.  Picking my way through the lobby, an over-attentive concierge smiled a good morning greeting ignoring the fact I was probably in direct contravention of their dress code in a way that I imagine a skilled butler would feign ignorance of inadvertently observed proof of infidelity in the presence of his employers. Quite a skill, it made me feel even more self-conscious.  My breach of etiquette was so extreme, it could not even be joyfully acknowledged.  Oh well, I made it out, I’ve done scarier things than this.  Once on the street it was weirdly completely fine.  Surprise surprise, this is London, they’ve seen way weirder, nobody cares.  I was genuinely ignored on the tube.  It was even fun, the stations that were so heaving yesterday were pretty deserted pre 8.00 a.m. on a Saturday morning (yes I was way too early to parkrun), and I could even take time to appreciate the architecture of the stations.  They have this futuristic alien film set feel, well, the one on the jubilee line did at least..

I was a bit vague about how to get to the actual park once I got to Canada Water.   However, with the wit of Jessica Fletcher, I used my initiative and espying some people in running gear ahead, trailed them at what I hoped was a respectable distance.  I was still feeling a bit shy about turning up in fancy dress and didn’t want to attach myself to other runners who might not embrace the opportunity to be associated with Roger and I.  Leaving the station, I continued my pursuit, other runners started to emerge from side streets and other station exits, and soon there was quite a merry trail of us following on behind the unwitting leaders.  We had to hope that they were indeed parkrunners, not bound elsewhere. I mean I could cope with ending up at a boutique coffee shop say, but I’d be less impressed if I accidentally had to do a British Military Fitness Bootcamp say.  I just don’t feel burpees and Roger are natural bedfellows.  Not that I’ve tried to be fair, but it’s an educated guess.

Eventually, I was swept up in the increasing mass of runners, and struck up a conversation with one – along the lines of – hope we are all following the right person, and the proverbial ice was broken and it was all fine.   Lots of tourists, plenty of people supporting or running the marathon tomorrow, a growing sense of excitement.  Phew.  It was going to be fine.  The only slight potential problem, was that having abdicated all sense of responsibility for navigation, and being highly suggestible, I didn’t want to abandon the herd and get lost.  I therefore walked on by the Seven Hills Leisure Centre and Peeing Point without making use of its facilities.  I figured we were ridiculously early, it would be OK to pop back later, and I’d rather find out where the start was first.

Well, dear reader, the park itself is unexpectedly large and glorious.  Mature trees, great signage, immaculately maintained with mowed areas and mini-wildernesses of bluebells and cow parsley in full flower.  I was really impressed.  It was nothing like I expected.  One of the great joys of parkrun tourism is that it takes you to places you might otherwise overlook.  Granted, the sun helped, but honestly, it was gorgeous, and,  it even has its own athletics track!  Who knew?

Now, parkrun is incredibly friendly, and you are guaranteed to have something in common with everyone there, obviously.  However, I was lurking a bit at the perimeter, acutely aware of being the only one in fancy dress, despite the increasing volume of people closing in on the rendezvous point like the cast of extras in Close Encounters drawn to the mysterious site where UFOs are to land.  It’s really quite hard to look nonchalant in such circumstances.  Fortunately, this is where my new best friend came in.  I think it was she who initiated first contact with a photo-op and well, it sort of grew from there, due to our mutual awesomeness I imagine.  She is, like me, gifted in the art of simultaneous broadcast, so we pretty rapidly downloaded each other’s stories and found common ground.  I felt vindicated in bringing Roger along too, whether or not some may espy him and regard it as an assisted run. They obviously haven’t been paying attention to his leg length, which does not work in my favour to be honest.  The thing is, we may have been in splendid isolation, but were it not for Roger, she might not have struck up in conversation with me and the world would be a duller place, so Roger is staying. He will continue to run with me in future, and one day, when I’m race fit, I might even be able to reduce the length of the added panel that allows me to accommodate him round my ample frame!  (I can but dream).

Key points, she totally gets fancy dress, and recently herself sported a giant daffodil at a Macmillan support run cavorted with grace as an escort to the final finisher. Respect.  She has a highly developed appreciation of running for fun, enjoying the moment kind of experience.  However, importantly tomorrow she is running for Pancreatic Cancer UK raising funds and awareness for a brutal and too often over-looked cancer with particularly grim stats linked to it. So big shout out for Pancreatic Cancer everyone!  Well, not to encourage it obviously, that would be ethically dubious, but for getting the information out there, and encouraging people to keep it on their radar.  There are lots of worthy causes represented tomorrow I know (I’m cheering Shelter, but I’m delighted that mental health has finally come onto the agenda with Heads Together as the official charity for the 2017 London marathon even if not everyone can carry off a blue headband with elegance and grace ) but nevertheless, I urge you to  have a shout out ready for any in this particular purple army should you see them along the way.   We do not have a finite number of cheers, the more we chorus, the more others join in and raise the volume!  Despite the photo below, don’t count on there being angels dancing attendance to help the charity runners round either.  I have a feeling that ultimately the London Marathon will be a personal journey for all who embark on it, but oh my, those crowds will surely be willing them round and no-one, but no-one should lack a multitude of cheerers to provide virtual wings when needed to help every runner dig ever deeper as the going gets tough.  It’ll be fine, it’s just one foot in front of the other at the end of the day…. (eek).  And just so you know (I didn’t) there is a cut off time for the London Marathon, this means that those who complete outside that time don’t get an official time (I do sort of get that) nor do they get a medal.  This latter point seems harsh to me, when people who are taking part are doing so in the face of enormous personal physical, practical or emotional challenges, surely a medal can be put aside for them and held by the relevant charity for issue on completion of the distance?  It’s not like they’re trying to get qualifying times for Boston or anything.  So, extra credit for any participants who embark on this challenge knowing they probably won’t make the cut off, especially as it is from the gun time start not chip time start which loses you a chunk of time too.  That really requires mental as well as physical fortitude and resolve. Respect.  I’m volunteering cheering for Shelter at mile 25 until three officially, but I’m going to try to stick it out as long as I can to cheer as many of the final few back as I can.  It might be a bit tiring standing around cheering and clapping but hey, compared to the effort of running 26 plus miles, that’s pretty small-scale hardship in the grand scheme of things surely?  I know when I’ve finished last at fell races (which has happened more than once) I’ve really appreciated being cheered in.  Payback time.

pancreatic cancer uk

We were distracted by the need to take lots of selfies, until we were interrupted by the first of two first-timer briefings. The Southwark parkrun course was explained, three laps is the main thing, and expect business, so many newbies perhaps a bit of confusion so might not be a PB day. Oh you want to know the course – well, it’s on their website, but to save you the arduous task of following the link the blah de blah follows:

We are a flat 3 lap course run entirely on tarmac.
The first section of the lap approaches the art gallery and then navigates around the children’s play area before circling the duck pond. The route then continues with a 300 meter straight under the canopy of large oak trees. The final third of the lap follows the perimeter of the park past a nursery school and a running track before re-joining the route back at the start line.

I just follow though, so really just blinked through the briefing in relation to that bit, and then I concentrated on practising counting to three, as it’s a lot harder than you might think to keep count when running laps.

More people gathered, there was another first timers briefing, and then the actual race briefing during which we learned exciting new things. Such as, present today was another celebrity, world record holder for fastest marathon runner in a spider man suit no less.  I’m impressed.  He was giving out finish tokens so we’d all get a moment of celebrity endorsement of our own at the finish.  We heard that runners and volunteers had gathered from all over the world and it was looking like a record turn out.   There were a couple of milestone runners, but also, and this especially pleased me, some absolute first timers to parkrun. What an introduction!

We also discovered that this parkrun has taken to setting up it’s very own cheer station along the route for the marathon and today was an opportunity to practise encouraging techniques.  Oh my, they so have it nailed!  I was especially taken with the morphing of the tail runner into a sweeper bus.   Clearly genius. Also, as it was recognised that this would be the day before a not insignificant run for some, walking along the bus route was positively encouraged for any who needed to save energy and legs for their big day.

I got distracted taking my blurry photos.  It’s a new camera I hope it is user error not machine error.  I’d rather I was crap than the camera to be honest.  I’ve already had to ask for a replacement battery as the one sent with it was a dud.. hmmm.  Oh well, who cares, more important things happening today.   Not least admiring the ever swelling crowd at the start. This was going to be epic!

As often happens when I am over-excited and distracted, I nearly missed the start.  All that companionable chit-chat and I was faffing as the countdown completed.  Didn’t matter, today was never going to be about whizzing round for me anyway.

We set off, at more of a lumbering trot than a gallop, but underway.  In fact, the pep talks from yesterdays expo, were pretty apt even here. You do get swept up, it would be easy to push off too fast just with shere joy at being there, even for me at Southwark parkrun I had a bit of an extra spring in my step, it’s amazing what a bit of collective mutual affirmation can do.  Life felt good, people are great, fancy dress and Roger’s company was a brilliant idea once again.  If it’s good enough for Spider man, it’s good enough for me!

Well, dear reader, the course did not disappoint.  Quite apart from the unexpected loveliness of the park with mature trees, blossom, its own lake resplendent with water fowl, there were hoards of enthusiastic marshals.  Not only were they very good at directional pointing and clapping (core skills for the role to be fair) they also had a fine selection of motivational signs and strategies.  Offers to stop your Garmin in the event of collapse (always a boon), power boosts (surprisingly effective) and even a dance station were available to the runners:

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Added in, were handy milestone markers and critical landmarks en route. This was way better value than the hop on /hop off buses which may be ubiquitous in these parts, but remain eye-wateringly expensive.

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It was all awesome.  I did stop and start quite a bit, because those photos won’t take themselves, but  today wasn’t about speed for me (who am I kidding, it never is) it was about taking it all in, loving and living the moment.  Having said that, my strava says otherwise.  I actually got a PR for fastest 1km EVER today.  Impressive I think.  Albeit it was because I kept it going whilst in the tube.  Had I but thought to book to spend some time on the London Eye later, the elevation would have been even more spectacular.  Memo to self for next time.

One thing though which was unique to this parkrun for me anyway, was because of the three loop model, you get extra shout outs when people lap you.  I can report that even here, miles away from our mother city, the Smiley Paces vest worked its magic.  I got some ‘Go Smiley’ shout outs.  How awesome is that.  It was worth squeezing into after all despite the less than flattering silhouette.  I also got some recognition from fellow Sheffielders who had also made this London pilgrimage.  It was just brilliant.  There were a couple of Sheffield half finishers T-shirts from different years.  In fact, I’m sure this parkrun was proof of that six degrees of separation thesis or whatever it is.  My new best friend used to share a house with (or work together or  something – on reflection, I was probably too self-absorbed to be listening properly, but why let the truth get in the way of a good story after all)  a Steel City Strider, and she’s an American living in Belfast, so there you go.  Spooky!

I also got some shout outs of camel woman.  Less brilliant. Especially now I know camel toe is a thing, which I didn’t until relatively recently.  As an aside, did you know in Cambodia you  can buy undergarments to replicate this look.  Why indeed? I don’t understand this world I really don’t.  All in all though, maybe I have to accept I need to do something about Roger’s forelock, it doesn’t do him any favours, and I do think it is lack of this that creates the animal identification confusion.  I wonder how he’d feel about hair extensions?  We shall see.  One for another time.

Even though I was slow, there were some speed merchants optimistically haring round, I would have thought the crowds would have worked against that, so many of us doing the course for the first time, but it was fun to watch them shoot past.  I’m not a fan of multi-lap routes, but one bonus is seeing the elite athletes in action, and on this route, on occasion you could even high-five other runners coming towards you.

The course completely disoriented me, but towards the end I ended up alongside a Southwark regular and we chatted for a bit. He was telling me more about their cheer station and how the parkrun has grown, also more about their very own superhero spiderman, of who they are rightly proud.  He also said that apparently a big group from Sheffield was down the other week en masse, celebrating a wedding I think.  I wasn’t sure who they were, but my money is on Graves parkrun, I just think from other parkruns people might identify themselves by running club allegiances rather than parkrun attendance, unless it was the Monday Mobsters.  Aaargh, I don’t know, I daresay I can find out, there are ways and means after all…  Ooh, and better yet, I got an extra selfie shot, this is what happens if you parasatise someone elses pacer.  Result.  Hope you have a great time on SUnday guys.  I’m sure you will continue as team awesome.  Just shows, everyone needs a trusty running buddy eh?

team awesome

We finished in a sprint towards the funnel to great cheers (not me in particular, everyone finishing got huge support) then into the finish funnel and our celebrity greeting.  Perhaps I should have felt a bit sheepish (in an equine-related way) me and Roger clip-clopping in to be faced with a ‘proper’ celebrity, spiderman.  Indeed, there he was, the world record holder for the fastest marathon in a sprayed on lycra spiderman suit.  I was impressed, obviously, but less so now I’ve discovered we in Sheffield have our own record-breaking ghillie suit runner.  It puts things in perspective.  Naturally I got a selfie though, spurred on by missed opportunity to get one yesterday with mankini marathon man.  I know, you had to be there – I’ll blog about that later, I’m behind, but talking about behinds, this was his. For the record, I did ask about where the number goes, but never got a satisfactory answer.

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I was emboldened by post running endorphins and also my new best friend’s ability to negotiate these with calm.  I offered to take one of her with him too, and because I have no idea how to operate a smart phone asked her to check I’d captured something useable. Well, my reader, you will be delighted to know that through happy accident and my near-terminal ineptitude I’d actually taken several hundred inadvertently, so capturing a really good one. This is apparently the secret of good photography, just shoot at everything and the occasional inspirationally pleasing shot will rise to the top.  Excellent!

I lingered a bit at the end, and it was fantastic to catch up with some Sheffield migrants.   So shout-outs to Graves parkrunner, yay; friend of fellow Smiley (Wingerworth Wobble RD, you know who you are) and those who donned half marathon tees.  Great to see the Steel City Spirit made it to Southwark.  More (blurred) selfies followed.  I even had a couple of shout outs by name, which was truly bizarre and unexpected.  Maybe my new best friend had given a tip-off elsewhere on the route to other runners, I was pretty distinctive to be fair.

By the time I came through the funnel, what with having to stop and take photos en route and everything, the volunteers had run out of finish tokens. By an extraordinarily smart bit of initiative, they were instead giving out raffle ticket numbers. You took these to the volunteer scanners, and one was on hand with a sheet of barcodes so they could scan the corresponding one, really clever.  The organisers were apologising for this, but really, they did an extraordinary job in the face of a tourist take-over, and mingling afterwards is part of the fun. Well it is on a sunny pre-marathon day at least, less so in horizontal hail to be fair, but that was not the case today!  I enjoyed the mingling, seeing some of the coveted cow buffs was a pleasing boon. They wear them like a (not very) secret sign to other 20+ tourists, sort of like a benign variant on the freemasons I think, well, I hope they’re benign, I guess from the outside there is no real way of knowing, we have to take these things on trust.  Turns out this group included run directors and parkrun ambassadors, all in all, quite a glitzy gathering at Southwark today it would seem!

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There was no formal prize for the raffle tickets, but it did entitle you to a fruit of your choice from the feed station, so I had a banana.  Great inn