When I was asked if I could note some thoughts on my recent London Marathon experience (what do you mean, I haven’t mentioned it?), I initially struggled to think what would be of interest to people who would read them. But upon reflection maybe, just maybe, someone will sit there and think “I can do this”, or even, “I CAN do this”.
I’m a classic example of, “if I can, you can”. Maybe that sounds like a cliché. But sometimes clichés exist because there’s some truth in them. So let me reflect and share my last nine months with you, your promise is to stay awake.
I had one eye on running “something big” last August whilst on holiday in the North York Moors. Prior to this break, I had spent a couple of months plodding around but not particularly enjoying running. We stayed at a wonderful cottage in the isolated hamlet called Greatfryupdale. With a name like that I knew I would like it. This was where I ran a bit harder. In fact quite a bit harder. As you leave the farm cottage there are two options, both up hill.
The first route offers a 25% climb. Conquer that and you are rewarded with a short 33% section. Not for the short a pace or short of breath. I kept at it, and after two weeks away returned home thinking I’d “found” my running legs again. I wasn’t a new runner, however my last London Marathon was in 2005 and 11 years had taken their toll. I was pleased with some of these on holiday, the area was beautiful and running away from the norm really helped.
I kept up a rough schedule as autumn unfolded and then out of the blue a chance arose to run London 2016 to help a colleague fundraise. I took the view that six months training would be tough but ultimately doable, 26 weeks is ages…..
The first challenge facing became apparent after a couple of months when I was struggling to run over an hour. The holiday spirit had left and I was back in a routine of more or less the same routes. Something need to happen, and often I’ve read that new kit can refresh a mind-set. So I bought a new watch that was also a GPS heart rate monitor all singing all dancing. This was the watch to get me to London was my reasoning.
I continued training over Christmas including Christmas Day and New Year’s Day. These dark mornings continued to test my ambition, so I bought a shiny new head-light, more new kit to keep me on the right road. Anybody who read my short piece in the last issue of this magazine will know that I am capable of not keeping on the right road! My week’s holiday in February on the Isle of Skye was exceptionally beautifully and running there was amazing. But February was now awfully close to April 24th, London Marathon date and I needed to push on.
A Half-marathon was entered for March, the Silverstone half which offered a flat course. Perfect, I thought. But I really needed to up my mileage. I did 9 miles and 11 miles in the two weeks before Silverstone. I felt fine but my trainers were beginning to niggle. The increase in distance had led to blisters on the balls of my feet. I was just about masking this with thick plasters, not ideal. I bought some new trainers but you can’t debut these in a 13 miler without wearing them for a few weeks. I would have to endure.
Silverstone was not a good experience, it was too warm for me once the sun broke through right at the noon start time. I found the course boring, which surprised me. The novelty of running around a Formula One track soon wore off, as did my plasters. I plodded home in what I consider a very long time, feet aching and sore and confidence reduced to a minimum level. The last two miles were awful and everyone around me was walking, so I couldn’t latch on to another runner to pace me home. My thought was now “If I really struggled with 13 miles what was I going to like running 26.2”, and it was only five weeks away. This was my lowest ebb and I was unsure how I would recover.
However three things changed my thinking. Firstly I checked my diary on the day after the half and saw I’d miscounted the number of weeks until the big one, it was six not five. Hmm, maybe, just maybe this extra week would help. Secondly, who cares what Silverstone was like? My aim was to run 26.2 miles on 24th April, not 13.1 miles on 13th March, everything before London was a rehearsal, so relax. I also bought some new running shoes that immediately felt like the best slippers money can buy!
One week later I did 15 miles using energy gels and I felt fine. The next week I ran 17.5 and felt in control. There was a sense of achievement in doing these to distances after my disappointment at Silverstone. I was back to “maybe, just maybe”. One thing that really helped was the encouraging weekly telephone calls from Julie at Climb. My Tuesday’s became the day I was able to talk about how things were going and receive some much needed cheerleading.
I needed to reset my thinking after my Sunday 20 miler. This distance seemed a whole new ball game. The last two miles dragged on and on and it was only the fact that I ran along a canal at the end and overtook a canal boat that kept me going. There was NO way a vehicle travelling at 4 mph was going to beat me!
Three weeks to go, to long runs to do (not counting the looming big one). Fifteen miles suddenly felt within my grasp and the last training long run of 12 miles felt practically short and I took this as a good sign with one week to go. There would be some serious amounts of pasta eaten and some easy 2 or 3 mile runs in order to get me to Saturday.
The journey to London was fine and I tried to relax and not get immersed in doing too much, my only mission on Saturday was to pick up my number. This day ended with a pizza and a glass of red before retiring to bed after laying out kit, number, gels etc.
On race day I was up early, and took a strong coffee and some porridge. I then listened to some music until it was time to get ready. I met my colleague, Tony Gulliver, also running for Climb, in my hotel reception and we made our way to the DLR station near Tower Bridge. A reality check was already there, a sign saying 13 miles. So, when I saw this sign again, I would be halfway. Myself and Tony chatted about anything but the impending run on the way to Greenwich, where we met another two Climb runners, Tony Kocker and Steve Proctor.
Although we arrived in plenty of time the clock moved at a lightning pace and, after numerous last minute “calls of nature” we headed over to our relevant starting pens. Good luck handshakes were exchanged all round and then it all became very real. Although anybody can be in the park, only entrants could enter the starting pens. I tried to relax and take five minutes to think about how far I’d come to be ready for this; cold, dark, wet mornings, steep hills, and snow in Scotland. All this would be contained into the next few hours.
And then we were off, those nervous yet excitable first couple of miles which slowly move you out onto the course. Now this was very real, I was running the London Marathon, not going back, only forwards. The first shouts from the crowd started to be heard, “GO ON DAVE” was repeated over and over and before I knew it I was a 5 miles. So, 20% of the race completed, I was feeling fine. After the iconic Cutty Sark section the crowd thinned out and it became a steady paced run, feet seemed fine, legs were still working.
My mental strategy was to steadily chalk off the miles by relating the distance covered to what I knew I could do. Arriving at Tower Bridge I smiles as I saw the same sign I’d seen earlier, 13 miles. All I had to do now was run that distance again right? As you turn from the bridge you see runners on the other side of the road and I noticed a sign saying 22 miles. I tried to use this in terms of, it’s “just” nine miles to get to the 22 miles sign ,and then another four will get my to the finish line. I headed to Canary Wharf in the distance in decent spirits trying to remain focussed on my one mile at a time mind-set. At 19 miles I entered the Canary Wharf area and my legs began to fine a bit heavy, but on the whole I felt in control. The noise around this part of the course is immense and the “GO ON DAVE” shouts became constant.
Even though my pace slowed I was pleased to see the 22 miles sign. Now it was just two training runs of two miles, I hadn’t run any two mile training runs for months, they were easy, YOU CAN finish this run. The Embankment came into view with a sign reading 24 miles and all I needed to do was two more miles and see my family. Last but one mile was completed but I still hadn’t seen my cheerleaders, had I missed them? I was desperate for my daughters to see me running and I was concerned I wouldn’t have the chance.
Next there was a turn by the Big Ben clock tower and then on to Birdcage walk which would lead to Buckingham Palace and the final 385yeards. I was now into the last mile, and suddenly I saw three faces shouting with a homemade banner, at last it was my family. I edged to that side of the road and high-fived everyone who was there then pushed on. The next sight to greet me was the finish line and the grandstands. I saw Julie waving frantically at me as she moved to the front of the barriers which made me laugh. I then gave it the shortest sprint possible and crossed the finish line, I REALLY HAD DONE IT! I felt amazing, the sense of achievement pulsed through every ounce of my body. My medal was issued and then it was on to meet up with my long-suffering wife and girls.
The curry and pint I had that evening was the best ever although lowering myself into the bath took all night! London 2016 has changed my life from a running viewpoint, Four days after London I joined a local running club and I will keep at it. Climb have offered me a place in 2017, which I have accepted. I am definitely not one of the “never again” people, I can’t wait to do it again.