Posts Tagged With: Shelter

Where the wind blows… looping the loops in the cause of the Dig Deep recce, stoataly gorgeous!

Digested read: familiar route this time out, back to 12.12 territory, gusty out, lost my glasses to the wind, but found a striped caterpillar and met a family of stoats.  Also, whilst contemplating that 30 miles seems an awfully long way, met a trio of people running 190 miles (not all in one day though).  Perspective people, but bow down and worship them  all the same, or at least lend them a towel and shove then under the hand drier in the toilets to help them dry off a bit before sending them on their way.  Windy out though, hold onto your hat.

It’s good to know that even in the second half century of life, in which I am now firmly situated, there are still surprising new experiences to encounter out and about. Specifically, yesterday, that is on Saturday, the wind was wooshing and gusting so strongly at the top of Higger Tor, that it literally scooped my spectacles off my face and hurled them onto a rock!  No really, it did!  I had no idea the wind could do that.  This is why recces are important, I have learned that I don’t only need to hold onto my hat whilst hiking up the hills on the Dig Deep route, I may have to invest in a spectacle chain.  And I thought I’d nailed the kit list by investing in a compass.  Still, there you go, it’s good to be reminded there is always something new to discover or learn, if we are but open to doing so.

strava

This particular excursion was fairly routine in terms of the route it covered, but remarkable in how it was executed.  I say this dear reader, because for the first time EVER, I was the person most in the know about the road not taken before by my recce companion for the morning.  The story is this. Bouncing back from the devastating news that my ultra buddies are still willing to be my recce buddies but are not now planning on doing the Dig Deep/ Peak Trail 30 I have widened my net in terms of recruiting others to take part in the Dig Deep running weekend.  The upshot was, another in my running circle has now signed up for the 12.12, but never done the route, despite often walking from Fiddlers Elbow/ Burbage bridge car park.  No worries, I dear reader would be able to show her the way.  Get me, leading the way, this is an absolute first.  Well, I reccied it enough last year, and although it isn’t especially a priority for me to recce again for the ultra, it’s a lovely route and it would be good to be reminded of the terrain where it overlaps with the 30 mile path.

The consequence was, another Saturday morning rendezvous – again no Sheffield Hallam parkrun, though I have missed my parkrun fix.  I figured I’d get it on Sunday at Graves junior parkrun instead.  However, this morning the gales were soooooooooooooo very savage that the run director had to make the very sensible call to cancel at the last minute.  I was off setting the course up at the time when another volunteer came to break the news.  A big tree branch had fallen off on the path just where we all gather round for the run director’s briefing, where children run past three times (it’s a two lap course and then back through the funnel) and where many spectators sit or stand cheering on the scampering, sprinting and ambling parkrun participants.  If that tree had fallen a few minutes later when parkrunners were gathered it would have been catastrophic.  We saturated volunteers assembled round the fallen branch, remarking at how very dangerous it would have been to carry on with the event in such circumstances as we piled our directional arrows back in the wheelie bin and squeezed out our sodden hi-viz before squishing it back in the event standard issue chequered laundry bag … ‘The problem is‘, we all agreed, ‘there is a whole line of trees along this path if this tree is structurally unsound, there is little doubt that all the others will be too.  Any one of these trees might shed its branches at any moment Doesn’t bear thinking about what might have happened if that landed on a group of children!’  We gazed upwards, realising simultaneously, that maybe standing right in the line of branch drop was possibly not the best choice of location for post event pack up chit chat whilst the gale blew around us.  We shifted pretty sharpish, not wanting to think about what might happen if branches should land on us either, a lot of squishing basically.  Here is the tree branch by way of illustration:
graves junior branch

It was still good to see my volunteering comrades though, and I also took the opportunity to walk through the animal park to say hello to the animals before leaving.   They didn’t return the favour, peering out from the sanctuary of their shelters as I stood in torrential rain, holding onto my hat.  The pigs were still lying down.  Only the deer greeted me, but that was because their breakfast was late, they were shouting for room service, and pacing as they caught sight of one of the animal keepers making his way towards them, belatedly I presume, with a bucket.

I’d lingered to help pack away stuff, and then 9.00 a.m. having come and gone, seeing no point in hanging around unnecessarily risking trench foot, or indeed drowning or being blown away entirely I clambered back into the car, being sure to saturate the entire interior with the run off from my coat and hat, and drove off, leaving the solitary bedraggled figure of the RD standing in the deserted car park ready to turn back any late arrivals if necessary, like a captain going down with their ship.  That’s commitment for you.

Anyway, why are you asking me about junior parkrun?  That’s not the point of this post at all, this post is all about looping the loops for the 12.12.  Starting at Lady Cannings, or more specifically, the lay-by opposite the Norfolk Arms, which was our rendezvous point.  I was early, of course, hate being late.  Which gave me the opportunity to eye up the cattle penned near the lay-by.  I do declare these are the infamous Limb Valley cattle, but they were looking chilled and innocuous munching on their silage yesterday morning.

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This was to be a walk recce – I still cling to the belief I will eventually do some run recces at some point, but this was not the day.  I was in possession of new shoes for one thing.  I feel a bit guilty because I got them on the internet, but the thing is, whilst I do try to be loyal to local running shops, I really wanted last year’s model as I’ve loved my inov-8 parkclaw, even though they’ve not worn all that well, giving at one of the seams – and do not want to risk ‘new improved’ versions.  It drives me mad with running shoes, you find a pair you really like and then the manufacturers tweak them and the new versions don’t fit anymore.  So anyway, wiggle it was, and they came and it made me realise wow, I should have replaced my old shoes a while back. These have much better tread and much better cushioning. However, they do also feel strange, and I admit, I picked up a few weird twinges that I am sure from having slightly different contours on my feet at the end of the excursion. Still, glad I have replaced them in time to break them in a bit.

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The idiosyncratic lacing is to take account of my bunions.  Sad but true.

My recce companion did have some very nice altra trail shoes though, tempting, looked like a nice comfy wide fit … maybe a running shop visit is in order at some future point too…

The shoes also matched my hat, which I won in a competition over a decade ago by writing my name and address on a postcard.  Actually, it must have been more like two decades ago now I come to think of it, as it was pre internet days, can you even remember such a time?  Doesn’t time fly…  I thought to hold onto my hat on Higger Tor, it was these very glasses that were flung off by the wind:

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Waiting for my stomping companion I wandered up to look at the new fence down the Limb.  Wow, that went up quick after the crowd sourcing campaign.  I did contribute so was interested to see what it looks like.  It’s way more substantial than I expected,  really wide and it looks like they are putting down a compacted gravel track, which I hadn’t expected.  I was a bit taken aback, as it’s lost its off-roadiness, but to be fair, it was a quagmire in winter, and if a job’s worth doing…  I am definitely relieved it is from henceforth a cattle free zone, and it’s a generous width, no more playing chicken as you venture down that footpath in future.  Good job.

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So we met up, nipped into the Norfolk arms for a precautionary pee.  We used their loos, we didn’t just pee on the carpet or anything, then off we went.  On the subject of peeing, it had been pissing down with rain earlier on, a welcome relief for the ground after weeks of sun-scorched drought.  Off we strode.  Up through Lady Cannings, dodging bikes, actually, that’s not fair, the bikes dodged us.  I’ve always found the mountain bikers there pretty courteous, though their antics terrify me.  I saw a reality helicopter heroes thing that showed a biker  with a dislocated shoulder being attended to by mountain rescue ‘in woodland on the outskirts of Sheffield’ and I’m sure it was Lady Cannings.  They have put in some pretty impressive off-road obstacle run routes for cyclists to use, I always assumed it was part of the outdoor city initiative to improve facilities for these off road enthusiasts, but, now I come to think about it,  maybe it was to concentrate all the cycling accidents into an easy access area to make life easier for the emergency services.  They are up there all the time apparently, they should have their own kiosk really.

 

Despite the rain, it was still pretty sticky hot.  And the landscape still looks dry.  I found it hard going just trudging up the hill through the trees.  I really do need to up my game fitness wise, but today was just about showing my new buddy a new route.

We emerged from the woods to the expansive view of heather.  I love that moment when you step out from the trees and ‘suddenly’ the landscape opens up in front of you.  I know now that there are plenty more spectacular views in the peaks, some of which we took in on this route, but I still remember that giddy feeling when I first moved to Sheffield and exploring ‘discovered’ how close to the heather the city was.  Love it.

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The only thing that slightly burst our bubble, was that as we were walking a couple of people with a golden retriever dog were walking towards us, we exchanged companionable nods.  Then, after we’d passed each other, and there was a good 50 metres distance between us, and we were walking way, the dog came charging back towards us and then barked ferociously at our heels for a while, until its owner was able to call it back.  It was odd, because I didn’t think golden retrievers are particularly aggressive generally, and it wasn’t at all clear what might have provoked him.  Weirdly, at woodrun in Ecclesall woods a couple of weeks ago there was a similar golden retriever out with a pack with a professional dog walker.  It too ran at us barking, was put on a lead by the apologetic dog walker and led off.  Once it was a 100 metres or so away from us, the walker let it off the lead again, and it came charging back to chase us and bark again.  I wonder if it was the same dog.  I was not impressed. Dog owners, I don’t care that ‘he won’t hurt you‘ I don’t want an unknown dog – or indeed any dog –  to run at me barking when I’m just mooching about.  And yes, I know it’s not the dog’s fault, might not even be the current owners if the dog is a rescue, but if the dog is in your charge, please keep it under control.  And don’t hang bags of dog poo in trees either whilst I’m on the subject.  Rant over.  (Not suggesting this particular dog owner or dog walker did by the way, but others certainly do).  Why can’t all dogs be like Tilly. She’s perfect.  Other dogs, not so much.  I’d rather be stalked by a mountain lion, at least that takes you out of the ordinary and generates more anecdotes.  If it did take you out, I’m hoping  you wouldn’t know and it would be a very much more interesting demise than a slow decline into old age and penury.  I don’t think we have cougars in the peaks though, then again, I didn’t expect the wildlife encounters that came later in our foray out, so who knows…

tilly rocking windswept look

I was quite surprised how purple the heather was, it seems to have started to emerge after the rain, it was all closed up just a couple of days ago.  Now it is promising a sea of purple imminently – hope it doesn’t mean it vanishes  just as rapidly.  Nothing beats the August heather landscape, I’d love it to be in full bloom for Dig Deep itself.  We headed alongside the plantation, towards the track I call the roman road, because I’m sure it must be, though actually it’s Houndkirk Road if you want to be navigationally accurate, and obviously I now do, what with my newfound orienteering accessories.

 

turn right at the footpath, through the gate, up the stony path til you get to the next gate, and look out for… the white heather!  Yep, my little patch is still there, saw it last year, and I wondered if it would still be there, so happy it is.  It brings me joy whenever I see it.  I feel lucky!  So lucky… etc (feel free to sing along dear reader, it’s my adaptation from the west side story song list, don’t be shy, singing is good for the soul, though not always for your neighbours/house mates stress levels to be fair, but don’t let that stand in your way).  It’s not open yet, but is full of promise, on the cusp of blooming, can’t wait to go and inspect it again.  I clearly need to get out more.

 

Burst through the gate, onto Houndkirk moor, and as you descend the path – which had been quite washed away in parts from the overnight storm – you start to see Higger Tor, Carl Wark and even Stanedge over the horizon as Burbage Edge reveals itself to your right.  It was and is a gorgeous route, we saw no-one at this stage in the day, it really feels like you have the whole place to yourself.

 

Down to the lower path so you can admire the climbers on Burbage Edge.  There were a few more people around now.

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We got to Burbage Bridge and then headed onwards and upwards towards Higger Tor.  This is where the wind started to really pick up.  It was already ‘breezy’, but as we got higher the wind seemed to rip the oxygen out of your lungs, and it was almost comical.  We couldn’t communicate, only press on, leaning into the elemental forces that would have flung anyone less earth-bound than me off the hill altogether. I knew carrying extra ballast round my midriff would come in  handy one day!

Of course my photos don’t do it justice, but the ground had a sort of surreal quality.  The torrential rain had washed off the top service revealing layers of white and black sand, it was very strange, and rather beautiful, but you couldn’t fail to see the erosive power of the rain, great swathes of peat were piled up where they had been scoured off the hill overnight and settled lower down.

 

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We got to the top of Higger Tor, where I was all prepared for my usual quest to find the best route off.  There isn’t one, well if there is, it must be like at Hogwarts, it perpetually moves, as you never find the same path twice.  I went to the edge to peer over, to see the path we were aiming for and great gusts of wind were like a punch in the stomach.  I guess it was like being literally winded. I’d never thought about that before, that being caught in the full force of a wind does make it impossible to breathe, I wonder if that is where the phrase has come from.  I’ve been winded a few times from falling off horses, it’s horrible, this time though, it was bizarre. You could lean into the wind if the inclination took you and it carried your full weight. I did a bit, and then lost my nerve as it dawned on me that if the gust changed direction I’d basically just belly flop off the edge which was not the descent I had in mind when I set out earlier in the day.  As I write this account it occurs to me that what with the leaning over the edge of a precipice held aloft only by the wind on the Saturday and standing under trees of dubious structural integrity on the Sunday I am a strong contender for the Darwin Awards at some future point.  I don’t mind being a joint winner if appropriate – I wasn’t alone standing under the tree canopy earlier on today after all, but it would be nice to get recognition for something.

As I was playing in the wind, leaning over the edge, and hanging onto my hat, it suddenly gusted and snatched my glasses off my face and hurled them on the ground.  It was so strange.  A first in my varied life.  Who knew the wind could do that?  Well, we all know now.

We eventually found a way to scramble down.  I went down largely on my bottom, as I’m a bit of a scaredy cat descending at the best of times, and joking about the precipitous descent and gale force winds made it more challenging that usual.  The wind didn’t drop all that much until we got into the shade of Carl Wark.  Here we met some walkers coming up the other way, who proclaimed the path to be ‘boggy’ it was a bit, but nothing like as bad as I’ve seen it in the past, just a localised little bog section at one point.  It’s straightforward, and then we ended up at the little stone bridge, which looks like it should have trolls under it, but they’ve always been out when I’ve called to date.

 

Just a simple matter of retracing our steps back really, but there was still excitement to come.  First bit of excitement, a fine striped caterpillar:

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but then subsequently, as we were back on the compacted gravel track, my buddy spotted something crossing the path out of the corner of her eye.  We both paused and retraced our steps to see if we could find a clue of what we’d seen. OH!  MY! GAWD!  I glimpsed it two.  Actually I glimpsed it three.  Stoats.  Pretty sure it was a family of stoats.  She’d seen one run down the bank, I saw three on the opposite site of the road.  I’ve since checked on google so it must be true – and you do get stoats on the moor.  They predate the rare birds which is a shame, but I was just massively excited to see a family of them.  I presume it was a family, as I think they are solitary creatures otherwise.  But actually, I don’t really know.  I don’t even know for sure they were stoats not weasels, which is silly really as everyone knows that they can be told apart because weasels are weasily distinguishable whereas stoats are stoatally different.  Stoats have black tips on their tails, but we couldn’t see them.  They were like little dark brown cucumbers, darting about.  Very exciting.  What with that and nearly losing my glasses and my new shoes and everything it was a more eventful outing than anticipated.  It’s always stepping out, always a micro adventure awaiting!  This is what it looked like where they were, so this is a photo where either a stoat family or a weasel family have passed by.  Gripping isn’t it?

 

Onwards and upwards. Back across Houndkirk

 

and back to Houndkirk road, walking onwards until Lady Canning’s plantation came back into view

 

and then suddenly we were back at the Norfolk Arms.  So we went in for coffee – well rude not to. And were just in time to dodge the rain.

In one of life’s pleasing but unexpected coincidences, as we were leaving I bumped into another running buddy, looking somewhat bedraggled to be fair, after being caught in a soaking of torrential rain. She and her comrades are at the half way point of a mega run over several days, they are covering the Peak District Boundary Walk, which sounds gorgeous, but they’ve had the hottest and most humid weather imaginable, followed by storms of near biblical proportions, so I’m not sure they picked the best climate window in which to undertake it.  It’s 190 miles, so not for the faint hearted.  And judging from the hollow laughs that rang out when I asked them how they’d found their guide-book it was ‘good in parts’.  Still, respect.  What a great idea for a project.  Runners I salute you.

peak district boundary walk book

So there you go, another fine morning’s yomping through the Peak district.  For those of you who are interested in such details, Strava tells me we covered around 8.6 miles and 1208 ft.  I am trying not to think how much harder it will be to cover 30 miles and 1388 metres.  Instead I will think of the feed stations.  They are supposed to be really good.  Spinach and feta cheese filo pastry anyone?

Whatever it takes to motivate you dear reader, whatever it takes.

So there you go, work in progress, but still one foot in front of the other, and that dear reader, is how the very longest of journeys starts.  Fact.

🙂

For all my Dig Deep Series related posts, click here, and scroll down for older entries, or don’t, it’s up to you

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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.

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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!

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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

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.

PAY-2017-London-Marathon

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

It’s not a parkrun apparently. Lessons from the Virgin London Marathon expo 2017

Digested read.  I went to the London Marathon expo. There were lots of talks and stands.  It was great.  I learned a lot.  Specifically, the London marathon is not quite like a parkrun.  Being in London for the build up to the big day is a) exciting and b) recommended.

How exciting!  Off to London today, not to see the Queen, which is an opportunity I could take or leave to be honest, but way more exciting than that.  Off to London to get to the London Marathon expo.  Yay.  What insights and adventures awaited me I had little idea, but I can report it did not disappoint.

Some of the excitement began on the coach trip from Sheffield.  In fact it was retrospectively uneventful.  However, I’d got on ‘the fright seat’ at the front.  I like this seat as you get a great view, but the downside is that great view an expose you to scary driving that is bad for the nerves.  One driver on this trip, the guy who took over at Chesterfield, had a habit of giving a running commentary of everything that was going on in his head.  I genuinely have no idea if he realised he was saying everything out loud, but it was a bit disconcerting.  Like when Gollum starts rambling in the Lord of the Rings, it’s unsettling because you don’t really know what’s going on.  Anyway, this driver, was perfectly friendly, professional and competent, but even so, his repeated commands to himself to ‘just concentrate’ and ‘need to concentrate’ and ‘stay awake now’ didn’t build confidence.  Likewise his low whistles of horror at the exploits of other road users focused the mind.  It wasn’t the most restful of voyages!

The drive was OK though.  Once we got to London itself I started to feel a growing sense of anticipation. It’s ages sine I’ve got a coach to the city, you go right past famous landmarks, Swiss Cottage Pub, Hyde Park (I think) wonderful buildings, impressive statues.  I eyed up my other travelers hoping to spot ‘fellow marathoners’ but it wasn’t that easy to tell.   Alighting at Victoria (is there any other context that we use the word ‘alight’ I wonder?).  It’s a short hike from the coach station to the tube, it’s only about 7 minutes but not well signed.  Then short ride to Gloucester Street and I found my hotel.  It is waaaaaaaaaaaay posher than any I’ve ever stayed in before, and even though I wasn’t quite posh enough for it, and did feel a bit intimidated, I got over that and made it in.  I was greeted warmly as someone who had booked in on the ‘marathon package’ I had, so I didn’t go into a lengthy explanation about having to defer.   However, I did wonder if the receptionist – who has presumably be trained to betray no judgement or emotion on her face at all in such situations – was doubting my performance potential as an athlete capable of completing the challenge in two days time.  To be fair, she had a point.  No words were exchanged.  I made my way to my third floor room at the back of the hotel. I’d requested a quiet one overlooking the garden at the rear, and that’s what I got.  Fancy complimentary toiletries too.  Yay.  Classy.

I dumped my stuff, opened and closed every draw and cupboard in the room and ate the complimentary biscuits before heading straight out again to get to the expo.  For this journey the tube was heaving, noisy and overwhelming. It was sensory overload, and I felt really dehydrated. Wouldn’t fancy having to do this the day before a marathon, it’s quite exhausting, well I found it to be anyway.  It was mid afternoon on Friday, and as I boarded the tube to get to the Excel arena, there was an ever-growing mass of runners making the same trek.  By the time I got off the tube at the arena, the platform was heaving.  Those of us just getting off were disoriented and blinking uncertainly in the daylight unsure where to go.  On the other side, runners who’d already finished at the expo were being herded down the platform to get them out. They were clutching their standard issue see-through London marathon kit-bags and wearing slightly anxious smiles.   A few were laden with last-minute emergency purchases or possibly impulse buys.  Some had little entourages of friends and family with them.  Definitely this marathon malarkey was becoming real!  Eek.  And I wasn’t even running it!

Those of us disembarking were urged to keep on moving through without even scanning our Oyster cards, I did wonder if that might be a mistake, but they didn’t want anyone pausing on the way through.  Maybe as you have to go back the same way as you arrive it sorts itself out.  I have no idea.  Anyway, for anyone worried about navigating, it was very easy to find. You just head over the bridge to the main arena, there  are loads of signs and anyway, you simply follow the migrating herd.  However, even though I wasn’t worried about getting lost, I was astounded at just how huge this cavernous arena is.  It’s enormous!  Should have worn my TomTom, you walk miles and miles to get to the main Marathon expo.  En route, I realised to my consternation and regret that I had apparently missed out on the  StoneShow. That’s the thing about London, so many opportunities.  You appreciate the scale of this space though when you consider the Marathon Expo, which had to cope with over 40,000 runners and their associates, was just one small part of this massive events venue.  Overwhelming. Truthfully, yes. On the plus side though, there are lots of loos, and signs and refreshments available – though, perhaps inevitably, the options were expensive.  I wish I’d brought loads more water with me.  I balk at £2 for a small bottle of water, but was increasingly desperate, and succumbed eventually.  I’d rather pay £2 than damage my kidneys at the end of the day.

Eventually, I made it to the Expo Hall.  The organisation was incredibly slick.  Yes the crowds are huge, but as it’s one way through the expo and the signage is pretty good you can’t miss the key things you need to do.  So first off you are met with a huge wall of signed booths from where you can get your number.  There was a help desk too, and a separate area signed for overseas runners to register.  It was dark, and vast.  The best analogy I can think of is to imagine yourself in one of the massive space ships that you see in sci-fi films, that carry whole colonies of people to populate new planets post Armageddon on earth.  There is the same sense of no natural light, and a mass of people in a very hard-edged synthetic space.  Not threatening, but definitely strange and alien.

So once you’ve got your number, you move through into the exhibition hall.  To do so you have to go through one of a number of narrow entrances (like at a tube station), at each of which was sat someone issuing timing tags.  This way, a runner would have to work quite hard to miss getting their tag, though I daresay some must.    You are then spat into the exhibition itself.  I don’t know what I was expecting exactly.  I suppose I was hoping for freebies and bargains. Honestly, I didn’t see much of that.  What you do see though, are trade stands from just about every organisation linked to running you can possibly imagine.  You could definitely pick up any forgotten items hear from specialist gels to compression shots.  Shoe companies were showing off newly launched products.   Whether or not they had event offers I’m not sure. Personally I wouldn’t buy running shoes at this kind of event.  I prefer to support, and get objective advice from, my local independent running shops. Frontrunner and Accelerate in Sheffield have both given me excellent help and support in the past, and have a wider range of products to draw on than these single brand outlets.  I’d burn with shame if seen by them to be wearing trainers or other gear sourced elsewhere.  It’s the independent shops and local running clubs that have helped get me going running wise, I don’t want to have my head turned by the glitz of an expo that will disappear like a vanishing magic kingdom in a puff of smoke come the end of the weekend.  Where would I go for advice if I don’t support the grass roots people who know the ropes and routes of running in South Yorkshire?  Even so, no harm in looking eh?  I wandered through the strange parallel universe eyes a-pop.  I didn’t buy any London Marathon souvenir clothing, it would have felt wrong as I’m not running but it was fun checking out all the sights on offer.

As well as all the sports gear stands, there were some running related organisations with pitches.  I found the Trail Running Association, who I’ve not heard of before, and said a bit too loudly to them (given the context) ‘I hate running on roads‘.  Fortunately others at the expo were too preoccupied with their own marathon challenges to take time out to lynch me for such speaking such sacrilege, so that was good.  Other stands were promoting international marathons and some at home too.  It is tempting, you get swept up in it all even though I  can barely manage 10k at the moment myself, and even that isn’t pretty.  It’s the atmosphere and buzz of it all, and affirmation of seeing runners everywhere.  Ten a penny in this venue marathoners.

I continued my ambling about.   A couple of displays had enormous course maps up with suggested viewing points which was handy.  Also though they brought home that, you know what, 26.2 miles is a very long way to run.   One of the maps was on the floor, so I was able to locate my personal cheer point. I’m volunteering with Shelter around the 25 mile mark.  I stood on it for a little while by way of practise.  I didn’t practice the clapping and cheering though, saving my voice and hands for the big day.  All of the charities with runners had their own stands too, so I went to say hi to the Shelter gang. They were friendly and welcoming so that was good.  They were also supportive of my intention to do a bit of moonlighting by shouting for other runners I know, as well as of course the Shelter team on Sunday.  That’s good.  Wouldn’t want to be drummed out of my lovely Smiley Paces club for dereliction of support duties.  It is a FACT that all Smiley Paces members put on a power surge if they hear a shout of ‘Go Smiley‘ when out running.  They don’t even have to be at an event, just espied whilst tackling the trails of Sheffield. It’s like an involuntary Pavlovian reflex, you hear the shout aside or behind and you start to sprint.  If someone standing at the finish is brandishing a raspberry pavlova that makes us run faster too, but it isn’t so practical an option whilst I’m standing somewhere on the Embankment.  Anyway, it means that clearly I am duty bound to do as much of that shouting as I can. Be it for Smileys, or be it for Shelter cometh the marathon hour cometh my supportive shrieking.  I’m so pleased to be volunteering.  I think I’d be have by now been consumed by my own seething petty jealousy at not being able to run otherwise. This way, I can still feel part of the occasion, and it’s the ultimate recce for London Marathon 2018 too!  That’s the theory anyway. You’ll have to wait  year to find out if it actually helps.

Circling the displays I found a random logo where you could write supportive messages to runners.  Despite the only limited crayon choices I had a go at scribing something for Sheffielders.  Not the most creative of graffiti art, but they do say it’s the thought that counts.  I was really hoping someone might discover it spontaneously, but in fact when I did rendezvous with my running Smiley buddy, I dragged her across to admire it.  She was suitably appreciative though, so that was heartening.  Next year I’m bringing my own pens and glitter and I’ll create something properly eye-catching.  Stickers even.  Now that would be an innovation.

Eventually, I’d had enough of traipsing round, so I decided to secure a spot in the central area where there were various videos been streamed and a series of talks taking place.  By happy coincidence, I was in time for the 4.30 sequence, too good an opportunity to miss.  I positioned myself towards near to the front next to an unassuming guy who was nonchalantly sitting with his marathon kit bag resting on the floor.   I suspected an experienced runner, the first time runners hung onto their issue numbers with white knuckled, unreleasable grips.  Quite right too.  Don’t want to lose that before Sunday!

Expo talks

I happened on the central area just as last year’s runner was being interviewed.  I only caught the end of it but Kenenisa Bekele just came across as incredibly nice and unbelievably unassuming.  What great people runners are on the whole.  As he stepped off the stage a huge crowd gathered in a queue to pose for selfies with him.  He good-naturedly obliged.  Running royalty indeed.

So then it was the talks.   You know what, they were brilliant, just brilliant.  Ironically, I suspect the runners actually participating on Sunday might not have had time to sit through this as they’d have been preoccupied with logistics of numbers and getting proper food etc, but for me, the advice was really good.  Also it was actually reassuring, I gained the impression that they have indeed put on this event for quite a while now, so it does (mostly) run like the proverbial well-oiled machine. What’s more it was encouraging and supportive in tone.  With useful top tips thrown in.

The first speaker was Geoff Wightman who was talking about the logistics of the day.  He was a good speaker and I learned loads.  I squirmed a bit through the warm up intros, when he was asking people who’d got lucky in the ballot to identify themselves.  ‘You people are so lucky, one in 10, just one in 10 got places that way.‘  Then those who were marathon first timers were asked to raise their hands also.  I sat there too scared to breathe, feeling just awful I’d had a ballot place I wasn’t using (though I will next year).  Then I worried about whether it was at best misleading and at worst outright deceit not to hold my hand up to ‘first time at a marathon’.  What if other people thought I must be an old hand, here to romp round my twentieth or something?  Maybe I should leap up and confess all before I was discovered?   I could explain about deferring and everything at the same time?   Don’t worry, I didn’t. Besides, most people were way too preoccupied with their own marathon fears, excitement and demons to notice.   Even if they weren’t maybe they’d look at me and feel inspired.  ‘Blimey, she’s done it and look at the state of her!  It must be possible!‘  That kind of thing.  That would be OK, I’m always happy to help.

Key points included that the marathon is not like a parkrun apparently! You can’t just rock up 3 minutes before and whizz off.  He explained the importance of getting to the correct starts, that kit bags have to be the marathon issue ones or they won’t be accepted, and that the lorries go at a particular time blah de blah.  Water is for drinking not pouring over your head – but there are showers on the way round!  Really? I had no idea, not sure you’d have time to wash your hair, but certainly you can run through for a cool down.

Participants were forwarned about female urinals (they are not for all) and reminded there are loos en route – the first set just one mile in, which is worth remembering.  Bring an old jumper or bin bag for the start that you can discard when you get moving.  Know that when the klaxon goes for the start… NOTHING will happen.  It takes a while for so many people to get moving.   Key landmarks were pointed out which are great markers of distance traveled en route for Sunday, but also, more importantly, helpful preparation for me too, as I was planning to attend the marathon-themed parkrun at Southwark the following day.  🙂  Runners were advised (scarily) that the most important piece of kit is their tag and their number.  Both are in the kit bags.  The kit bag is the most common item of lost property at the Expo!  That is both understandable given how frenetic the build up is, but also alarming.  If you are going yourself next year, hang onto that bag.  Trust no-one, relinquish it to no-one.  If you are a supporter, carry it at your peril.  That’s way more responsibility than I’d like.  I think the runner has to take ownership of that for themself.

On the day, don’t panic. There are St John’s ambulance crews a-plenty and they have seen it all before.  Not only can they deal with cramp and blisters and patch you up to carry on. They can also give out supportive hugs as part of their job description.  Now that is good to know.  Most of us surely appreciate a hug on a long run.  I hugged every marshal en route of the Round Sheffield Run last year.  How excellent this is an accepted part of the medics remit for the London marathon.  They clearly know their runners on this route march.

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So yes, there were loads of helpful practical tips, and reassuring stuff about the logistics (you won’t get lost, you will get your kit bag back at the end), however, the key take away point was preparing for the finish.  You get a sign at 385 yards to go (that’s the 0.2 miles, I don’t know why it’s measured in yards) this is your opportunity to prepare for your finish photo.  Don’t get upstaged by an elaborate fancy dress participant, and make sure you wipe snot from your nose. Good top tips.  Remember people, no official photograph then the race didn’t happen. Try to prepare to get one shot at least that you’d be proud to have on public display!

Expo talk finish walk through

One let down, was the reality check that when you finish, you will gather up your goodie bag, and then head to the bag drop. As you approach, a volunteer will already be holding out your bag for you. This may be lovely, but don’t be too impressed. They have not in fact remembered you in your unique loveliness from the start, they have simply seen you approaching at a snail’s pace from afar, and had plenty of time to rummage around and get your pack.  Oh well, as long as you and your stuff are reunited that’s the important thing.

Then to horse guards, and there is a gathering area.  If arranging to meet others, the advice is to factor in say 20 minutes to cross the start line and maybe 15 minutes or so to get to the rendezvous. There are loads of flags with letters.  You can be unoriginal and choose the first letter of your first name say, but if you want to avoid a crowd then maybe X marks the spot.  Not likely to have too many Xmen and women running.   There may be a Zorro, but it’d be cool to hang out with men That’s the theory.  Also on a practical note, there is often no mobile phone coverage at this point, the sheer volume of people means you can’t rely on a signal. It’s back to the olden days when you just hang around hopefully, and trust that eventually you will indeed meet up. Well worth knowing that, forewarned could save a considerable amount of marathon meet-up related angst.

As well as the top tips, there was a bit of history too.  We were shown a picture of the mile 9 mark back in 2006 I think with no spectators at all, and then the same shot last year.  Fair to say interest has grown!  It is an extraordinary phenomenon indeed!

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There followed a nutrition talk, which was probably a bit too late in the day for most.  Key points though were just don’t do anything new, don’t be seduced by fancy gels on the course if you haven’t tried them before and remember you only need to carb load two days before. What’s more (and I didn’t like this message very much) you don’t even need to take in any extra calories apparently, simply change the proportion of carbs in your meal, so you are having more carb less fibrous veg say.  Disappointing.  No midnight pizza and pasta fests after all.  I’m sure she talked a lot of sense, I did get the message I need to pay more attention to how I fuel my own marathon.  I’ve only done half before, and got away with a lot.  However in a marathon you probably are going to drain reserves, replenishing that requires planning and forethought.  Curses, not my forte.  Don’t you think Anita Bean is a great name for a nutritionist by the way, even if she doesn’t recommend intravenous carrot cake the night before a bit race.

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So next, it was Runners’ World rep, talking about the pacing teams. There are a fair few pacers out there, and they have different coloured flags according to start, which is worth remembering if you see them en route, as before you hook up with them, you have to factor in that you don’t know what time they went over the chip mats.  What was interesting, or was to me anyway, is that these pacers just literally aim to do the same speed for every mile. Quite different from pacers in Sheffield events who have to factor in the killer hills.   Despite the big team of pacers they might still be hard to spot in such a massive field, so good to know they are out there, but if you want to find one, head to the back of your particular pen.

Note to self for next year, I probably do need to consciously start to think about pacing.  I don’t at all at the minute, just run how I feel.   At the Expo one stand had wrist bands with cumulative times for each mile according to target times.   Handy, and not difficult to do.  I was tempted to nonchalantly pick up a 2 hours 20 minutes one just because, but they’d all gone.  Anything over 5 hours 15 is regarded as walk/run apparently.  Beyond that I think you must be on your own.

The final speaker for the 4.30 talks was Martin Yelling himself.  I’ve watched a few of his live Facebook sessions, but haven’t otherwise heard him speak before.  Well, dear reader, I can report I thought he was a brilliant motivational speaker.  I’ve not particularly been aware from him before but he came across really well, realistic, helpful, encouraging, smart and funny.    I was really impressed.  I daresay none of his points are actually all that original but his presentation was great.

He used photos to illustrate key points.  For example the importance of paying attention to kit, showing a nicely relaxing well kitted out runner pre race and a collapsing mankini wearing runner who may have been having some fancy dress regrets post race.  Nicely memorable:

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As the mankini shot went up, the guy next to me suddenly came to life.  ‘That’s me!’ he exclaimed.  I didn’t know whether he was joking or not, and neither was I sure of what might be an appropriate response!  Martin (we are on first names now I feel) spotted him and gave him a wink and a thumbs up ‘sorry, couldn’t resist‘ he said to my neighbour. It was indeed his bare buttocks magnified on screen above!  It is a cause of immense personal regret that I didn’t insist on a selfie moment there and then. In fact I just took a surreptitious one of him as he walked away.  Is that inappropriate?  Probably, but, tenuous as it is, it might be my only claim to fame for the weekend, so in this post it goes!  I’m not sure if the buttock contours are identifiable through clothing, but you can draw your own conclusions.  Sorry I blew it people, I just bottled it. An opportunity that passed me by…

Expo celebrity spotting

I can’t cover everything in this talk, because a lot of it was how he presented rather than the intrinsic content.  I will report that at one point his children stormed the stage which was endearing rather than annoying.  It was not quite on a par with that serious TV news interview photo bombed by toddlers the other month, but it was fun to behold all the same.  He did emphasise that 99% of people who start will complete this marathon so ‘why not you?’  The main thing is not to start too fast.  Don’t get swept along. All the speakers emphasised this point.  Runners were also urged that if they fall victim to their own negative internal voice the secret is to look outwards.  Notice the crowds, even get inspiration from looking at the wrecks of other runners around you who are also struggling.  Remind yourself if they can still put one foot in front of another then so too can you…. and know that in all likelihood they are looking at you with exactly the same thought in mind.  Harsh, but true!

If that doesn’t work, regard your race number as your self-belief right there. You entered, you can do it.  And all that cheering by crowds lining the way?  That’s all for you right.  Just make sure you have your name on your shirt to guarantee some personalised support when the going gets tough… and it will.

So, upshot is, the talks were great, I learnt loads, and I do think it will help me to look back on all these pearls of wisdom next year.  I can’t believe it will be me one day.  It blooming better be.

Talks over, I went back to ambling about.  Taking in the stands.  I found freebie cherry juice shots, and guessed how many cherries were squeezed to fill a jar of juice in the hope of winning a month’s supply of whatever this juice stuff was.  I mean it was OK, but I don’t know what special benefits it is supposed to offer up.  I also had a beetroot shot.  Not sure about that, I like beetroot a lot, but as a food rather than juice.  It was a bit much super-concentrated, plus I had to make a mental note to myself to remember I’d had it.  Don’t want to wake up tomorrow morning and think after my first bathroom visit of the day I’ve got bowel cancer or something.  I always forget beetroot does that to me.  Others too probably to be fair, but I’m not in the habit of peering into the toilet bowls of others to check.

I was flagging by now, so took advantage of a stand that had some massage machines and just stayed there for ages, having a mechanical back rub.  It was pretty good actually, but not good enough that I wanted to fork out £150 to take one home with me.

I made my way to the exit area.  Here you pass by a goody bag pick up point for runners, and seemingly acres of space devoted to photo ops, selfies and booths where you could don a ‘heads together’ head band and record your ‘reason to run’ for posterity. There were even some slightly incongruous charity fundraising games. Table football, bowling, and a dance floor.  I didn’t engage.  I was in need of a sit down.  A lie down would have been better, but it wasn’t an option.

Just as I was thinking I’d had enough, I got a message to say my Smiley buddy and her squeeze were on their way.  Yay.  I caught up with them by circling back to the central talks area.  By now it was pretty late.  The exhibition was beginning to close down, but as people dispersed it all became a lot more manageable.   No more pushing past people, we could find the few places we particularly wanted.  Smiley Marathoner was in search of some very specific gels and cliff bloc shots (I think) and was able to get both.

We were only just in time for a goody bag (phew) and found the selfie, ostentatious posing area pretty much deserted.  We used our initiative to access the medal shots, which greatly perturbed a roaming security guy because ‘there’s tensile there‘  Not tinsel, that would have been way better.  I both do and don’t see his point.  We may have been in technical breach of barriers but we were hardly about to steal the crown jewels.  Got a photo, so that’s the main thing eh?  Even if it wasn’t the best.  Sorry fell flying Smiley, I’m still learning to use the camera.  It’s supposed to be just point and push, but it doesn’t like being inside in the dark much I think.

We were all about done and done in anyway.  As we had hotels near to one another we caught the train back and shared a supper at pizza express.  Being in central London, and having seen all we’d seen, I felt like we were in some parallel univesre.  Even the coach trip up seemed a lifetime ago.

So, dear reader, I can report that the London Marathon Expo is a grand thing indeed.  The whole marathon enterprise is an extraordinary adventure, and pretty intense even just as a supporter.  I’m torn between thinking gawd I can’t wait to do this myself, and wondering what am I thinking? I just hope this time next year I am  indeed at the start line, having done the training and taken the advice and being ready to give it my best shot!

By the end of the day my head was spinning and I was dehydrated and exhausted.  I’m so pleased I’ve got tomorrow to chill before the big day. Note to self.  I don’t care if it’s cripplingly expensive, pay for the extra night in the hotel next year too!

So that’s it.   Expo done.  Wasn’t that fun!

Now bring it on.

Categories: marathon, race, road, running | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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