LOCH NESS MONSTER CHALLENGE
Hell ‘n’ Back.
As my company sponsors the event they also sponsor one team to compete in it, so I was asked to be a member of the First Scotrail team. They paid all our expenses; hotel, meals, beer and wine. They also supplied a works pool car and rail travel to get us there and, of course, our entry fee of £70 each was taken care of. Shame they did not sponsor more events I say. Ha Ha. I had never met my team-mates before agreeing to do the event, but I was informed that they were keen cyclists more than runners. OK I thought, I will do my best to hold up the running end of the team if they can take care of the cycling. About a week before the event I was visiting our Glasgow office. I thought that this would be a good opportunity for me to call in and introduce myself as all three of them work out of the same office. On meeting them it was clear they were expecting me to be their number one team member. I have to say I had concerns that from the extra pounds these lads were carrying their fitness levels might not be up to the normal standard you take for granted as a club runner.
From the website I knew that my running leg was starting with a 3.5km hard climb followed by a steadier more undulating climb and then a big descent. I spoke about the event with my boss who had completed the leg for the team in the last 2 years but had dropped out this year to do the Glasgow ½. He told me he did a ½ marathon in 1:30 and I know his time for the 10 mile leg was 1:26. I concentrated my training on the 3.5km climb thinking that the rest would take care of itself if I had the strength and fitness for the big first climb. Hart Fell hill at the back of Moffat is 3.5 miles to the top. This was an ideal training route for my Loch Ness challenge run. I made a point of running it whenever I could. This was supplemented by running with Louise wearing a 20KG running vest again to add strength to the legs. For my cycling I knew my leg was pretty fast and flat. My house to Lockerbie railway Station is 9 miles so cycling to the station to catch my train to work and back again after work was the cornerstone of my cycle training. Not big miles I know by cycling standards but it did replicate the race route well.
On the Friday before the race I arranged to travel up on the train from Glasgow with two of the other team members, while John our 4th team member drove up in the company car with the bikes on board. Travelling on the train to Inverness gave the opportunity to talk to my two team members. We discussed what training we had done etc.
We met John at the hotel and tried to set the bike up as a best compromise for myself and William; the team member who would hand over the "baton" to me. William did not want the toe straps on as he wanted to pedal using his instep rather than the ball of his foot. I explained that he really needed the straps so he could pull and push on the pedals but he wanted to do it his way. I suggested he pulled the straps tight to keep them off the ground then pedal on the back of the pedal. That way, once he handed the bike to me I could undo them and use the straps for my leg.
Once we had sorted the bike as best we could we made our way into Inverness to register for the event. There were 3 pre-race briefings at 16:30, 18:30 and 20:30. It was compulsory to attend one of the briefings where you register for the event and handed your bikes over to the organisers so they could make sure they were in the right place the following day for the relevant legs. The briefing was the usual telling you want to expect, be careful not to fall over or off your bike or run too fast, etc. Two points that caught my attention were that you had to have a mobile phone on you and there were no watering points on any legs - you were expected to carry any water/sports drinks you might want on the leg. This was a slight problem as I had not brought anything to carry water with me while running. Oh well, I would improvise. After the briefing there was a free pasta meal for us carb’ up on, then we walked back to the hotel for another meal. Well it was free and we would need the carbs. After a couple of glasses of red wine - because that counts as fruit - it was early to bed. We had to be back in Inverness for 6:00am. The last bus left the start at 7:45am and the first runners started the event at 7:00am.
On the bus I tried to catch up on a bit of sleep because I didn’t sleep too well. To be honest I tend not to before any big event. My coach, once full, drove to our transition point. On the coach two seats down was a woman form Lochmaben.
At each transition point there was a marquee. Inside hot food was provided; porridge in the morning and pasta later in the day with tea, coffee, flapjacks, bananas, biscuits, water etc. All free. So that you could monitor your team’s progress there was an electronic screen that was relaying live updates. Outside the tent were two marshals with loudspeakers. The first one was about 100 yards from the transition changeover point and the second at the point. They would shout out the numbers of teams coming into the transition so you could make a swift slick handover of the electronic baton. The baton had to be pushed into a recorder to log your time before you handed it over to your teammate.
Watching the screen it was not looking good for our team. Our second-fittest member, the keen cyclis,t had completed his 10km trail run in 1:07 sec., leaving us in 193rd place out of 215 teams (one had retired. Our next two team members struggled also. I was handed the baton with us lying in 203rd place. Oh well, the only way is up - literally for me in this case as it was 3.5km climb for the start of my event. It was now raining pretty heavily too. Because I had nowhere to carry my drink, I drank half just before the start and put the half- empty bottle inside my compression top over which I wore my ADAC vest. I made a note to get my drink out at the halfway stage. It stopped there pretty well apart from on the downhills, but I had drumk it all before the big descent.
The climb was pretty hard. I used the Hill runner’s tactics of powerwalking the really steep bits to save energy for the flatter parts of the course and the downhill. I was only picking up the odd straggler at this point; I think I overtook 4 or 5 runners on the big climb. The trail path was quite wide on the climb. At about the halfway point on the course I started to run into, almost literally, bigger numbers of runners. The course was now a single track running through the trees; still climbing though. I was coming up behind runners fast. A quick shout of "coming though" or "excuse me" was enough for most to let me through, but the ones with a Walkman stuck in their ears were oblivious to me behind them. I soon realised that these needed a loud shout to get them to realise I was there and out of there little world of "Eye of the Tiger" or whatever inspirational tune they were plugged into.
The woodland path broke out onto a forest track; here you would have had a great view if it was not for the low cloud below us over Loch Ness. The Track was the normal stone track like the ones at Black Esk. I was flying downhill now, picking off little groups and single runners all the time. The width of the track made overtaking easier. I was now watching my time.
Before the event the other team members had said that they had a real good runner in the team two years ago - a former county cross-country champion - and he had completed the run in 1:15min. Also Liz McColgan, the Olympian, had run for them in the first year and finished the course in 1:12. I was pushing hard to try and go sub 1:12. Being at the back of the pack was good fun, getting to overtake lots of other runners, watching the gaps close between those in front of you drags you on and on. I find that in most cases when running other events, you find yourself with runners running at around your pace and you don’t get to overtake that many people.
The downhill had a number of sharp bends in it. Running around these as fast as you could on wet stones was challenging but by now the rain had stopped. Then a warning sign "Transition ahead", round another blind bend and bang straight into the middle of the Transition area. A quick fumble for my electronic baton, dib it into the slot to record my time and hand it over to my teammate for his first cycling leg. I had just managed to go 1:13 - good but not quite Olympian standard; I had pulled our team up to 148th place.
I staggered into the tent to get a drink and feed to build my strength for my next leg. After this the call went out for us to make our way to the coaches that would ferry us to the next transition point. I was pretty shattered; I think I had been pressing harder than I realised. I had a rest in the coach as it took us to the next changeover point. The marquee was set up just the same as the other legs but there were rows of bikes set up outside. I admired some of the carbon fibre cycles which no doubt cost more than I had paid for my car. I was so tired I lay on the grass as I knew I had a couple of hours to spend before my teammate came in. After a short while the rain returned so I made my way back to the tent for shelter. A woman came in with a grazed leg and holding her arm. She had had a fall off the bike. First aid attended then an ambulance took her away.
Watching the screen I could see our best cyclist had held our position but the other lads were dropping places. I got myself ready as I knew by the amount of bikes left my teammate should be in soon. The call on the loud speaker went out – "team 65, team 65 coming in now". It was game on. I grabbed the baton off my teammate and took the bike. I went to put my feet into the straps, but none were there - he had removed them. I was not happy. I set off pedalling. This was my first competitive cycle and I tried to remember all the advice I had been given from everybody I knew that was a keen cyclist. Keep the cadence up, keep low on the bars. I was soon pulling in places. There was a big downhill on the way into Inverness then, with a sharp right turn round a traffic island, I flew down and round as fast as my legs would go. I passed more cyclists. There was one point where you had to cross the river on a footbridge. There were marshals there to make sure you dismounted. I ran across the bridge with the bike - my legs were like jelly. Back on the bike and a last mile blast into the stadium down the back straight of the track, over the finish line to a skidding holt in 31.57. My team mates were waiting for me to congratulate me - I had pulled us back up to 148th place. They were chuffed. We had finished 12 positions higher than last year. It turned out that my cycle ride time had been in the top 10% of times for the leg, just the same as my run. Well at least I was consistent. I was worried that my cycling would have let the team down.
You had to feel for one team, the person doing the same leg as me had checked out of their hotel at 2:00am on the Saturday morning with instructions left with the receptionist to tell their teammates that they had pulled out. Talk about letting your mates down.
In conclusion it was a great event well organised, I would like to have a go at another duathlon at some point, but I am not sure I would do the Loch Ness again unless somebody else is picking up the bill.
In this photo you can see my drinks bottle stuffed down the front of my shirt.Kev
Creag Dhubh Hill Race
If you fancy an entertaining afternoon out next year try the Creag Dhubh hill race at the Newtonmore highland games. The hill race was just one of the athletic events which also included sprints, middle distance, highland dancing throwing events and the highlight tossing the caber! Piping also featured highly as did the parade of the local clan, resplendent in traditional gear with the traditional hunting dog.
A good field of 98 runners entered the fell race, climbing the fence surrounding the shinty field, crossing the river then a steep climb up the local corbet. On return my final lap of the track my 300meters happened to coincide with the men’s 400m over the same route – I ran inside the track - perhaps cheating a wee bit but avoiding being run down by the men!
Dan Watson, after defection to Tayside runners vest is clearly on form coming 29th, John on return from injury was 45th, and I trotted in 75th.
LONDON MARATHON - 25th April 2010
GORDON’S LONDON MARATHON EXPERIENCE
It all started with me watching the London marathon quite a number of years ago. I remember asking myself ,could I run that distance? No way! was my immediate thought, I’ve only ran as far as half marathon distance, I could never run 26.2 miles.
Then the day after the 2009 marathon I was looking on the marathon website. They were taking entries via the ballot system for the 2010 race which was now going to be organised by Virgin. I had nothing to lose so I thought I would give it a go.
I would describe myself as a runner who is very self critical. After races fellow runners would ask me if I was happy with my run, to which I would normally reply “Aye no bad” but really in my head I would be saying to myself “There’s room for improvement there”
Over the summer months when competing in the club championship all I aim to do is try and improve my times I had ran from the previous years.
In October I received an envelope in the post, stamped on it in bold red letters. The Virgin London Marathon. It contained an acceptance form. I stared at the form then thought, DO I LAUGH OR CRY ? Because it then dawned on me all the training I would have to put in especially over the cold winter evenings not to mention days.
Kevin managed to secure the club entry so we decided we would train for this daunting task together trying to get in as many races & runs in as possible .We both started to build the mileage up steadily, by the end of February I was going into uncharted territory “Can my legs carry me 20miles I wondered? Only one way to find out so off I set apprehensively. At the halfway mark I was feeling fine ,mile 15 fine, then when approaching mile 17 my legs started to feel heavy, but I managed to struggle back home .
Then in the third week of March whilst out running with Kevin I suffered an injury to my calf ,(just stiffness in calf area where it felt very tight , most runner’s would get this injury at some point) anyway when I got home I showered ,had something to eat then I struggled to get out of the chair & when I tried to climb the stairs it seemed like a long way to the top. I tried to run the following night at our training night, a 10k through the streets thinking “it’ll be ok I’ll be able to run the injury off, so I strapped my calf & set off with Mark ,Nils,Kev & Igg but I only got as far as 300mtrs & had to turn & walk back to the starting point.
By now many thoughts were going through my mind, how serious is the injury ? when will it heal? & how long will I be out ?But the biggest thought was, will I be able to run London? I was advised not to run for 2 weeks .It was a disaster for me as my training was just starting to come right, my only thought to console myself was that I was generally a quick healer. After about a week the pain had gone & I was itching o to get my shoes on and just run especially with the light nights & warmer weather here, but I was trying to be disciplined and feared coming back to quickly . Then I got the go ahead to start running, the advise given was run/walk for two miles, rest for a day then run /walk 2 miles ,then start & build my milage up gradually. AYE RIGHT, my first night out with Kev we ran 5 miles then the next night I did 13 miles, I took a gamble running those miles because it may have turned out differently .
Kev & I started on our next long run (20miles), Kevin was running very strongly and his training was certainly paying dividends, he was leaving me well behind and I felt guilty because he had to stop every now & again to let me catch up. We drank our fluids and fed on gels ,at mile 15 I wanted to phone home & get Helen to come & take me home , I felt dead on my feet. But Kevin was having none of it ,he told me to keep going & take each mile at a time. He truly is a great running partner & friend who gives you inspiration to carry on when the going gets tough.
Each morning would consist of me getting on the weigh scales only to find I weighed the same as the morning before , It was so frustrating, I informed Helen that the scales are “GOING OUT THE WINDOW” I also suggested changing the batteries, Trying to lose that vital pound or three around the waist area proved very difficult.
On the week leading to the marathon I was asked if I was getting nervous ,my answer was “No”. Then on Friday morning we arrived at Lockerbie station where we met Dumfries harriers coach Steve Head, he too was going to London to run the marathon this was when I have to admit the nerves started to kick in , Steve has also been very helpful in my training with invaluable advise, he also invited me to attended training sessions with the Harriers at the Keswick centre which I really enjoyed.
After arriving at Euston station Helen & I made our way to the hotel to meet up with Kevin & Louise who had travelled down during the night. We made our way to the ExCel exhibition centre situated at the Royal Victoria Dock to register, by now you could smell the atmosphere of the marathon in the air. The registration area was very impressive, once registered we sat down to a pasta lunch then walked through the centre looking at the various stalls selling everything you would want for running a marathon .
I decided to run for the Breast Cancer Care charity because of family history. They had designated viewing points along the 26.2 mile course. We decided to do a recce of the viewing points on the Saturday so that Helen & Louise knew where they were going to go on race day, this turned out to be invaluable to them.
Kevin & I was up sharpish on Sunday morning for breakfast along with other runners. First up was the weetabix followed by a bowl of porridge “I now confess it was me who finished it off” My mind was totally focused on the race & gave my kit bag one final check before leaving the hotel .Good luck messages were feeding into my mobile at a constant rate. There was no turning back now.
My stomach began to churn (no not with the porridge). On the train to Blackheath we were packed in like sardines, but hey this was marathon day. At the start Joe’s rain dance began to take effect, Kev & I started to make our way to the blue start point (oh I wish it were the GREEN start ha ha ).
At the entry point security personnel asked to see my blue running number witch was attached to my running vest in my kit bag. “NO PROBLEM” I said so I began to search my kit bag, I dug deeper & deeper into my bag it was at that point I thought to myself. I Haven’t left it at the hotel HAVE I? My heart rate was going ten to the dozen. Where was it? Then I remembered it was an envelope. It was Helen’s idea to put it there the night before. After I showed security the number I glanced up at Kevin & I noticed he had this grin on his face he was so desperate to crack a joke about my vest but didn’t have the nerve. (DID YOU KEV).?
By now the rain was getting heavy when it was announced over the tannoy that the baggage lorries would be leaving the blue start in 20mins, we were both bursting on a pee but the queue seemed a mile long so in a panic (my fault Kev)I said to him that we better get changed as I like to prepare in good time, Once changed I handed my bag over for transport to the finish. Kevin’s baggage lorry & mine seemed to be as far apart as was possible. I looked for Kevin but couldn’t see him. I wanted to say to, him to have a good one. We never saw each other again until after the race.
At our allocated starting point pen No4 there seemed to be different abilities of runners because there were no marshalls and runners seemed to start where they liked ie runners from pens 5,6,7 were starting from pens 3 & 4. People wearing costumes were making there way farther up near the start .
As the race started it took me nearly 4mins to cross the start line witch wasn’t that bad. I travelled at a very slow shuffle to start with then switched to the edge of the road where I found it easier to pass slower paced runners. We were still tightly jammed and I was worried about being tripped up. It took me nearly 9 mins to complete my first mile , I was conscious about the pace I wanted to run at (7:25) so started to run up & down pavements to try & gain time but this seemed to prove fruitless due to the high volumes of runners.
By mile 6 I started to get a bit of running room, At 11.5 miles I saw Helen & Louise at the first viewing point, I was feeling really good & was gaining lost time but at the same time I knew I would eat into my energy reserves. Running over tower bridge was something else. That point will stay with me for ever. I can’t remember at what point but outside one of the many pubs they was playing YMCA by the village people & the runners in front looked so funny striding along doing the hand movements etc. in unison, it looked so funny .At 18.5 miles I remember running through Canary Wharf it was so hard not to look up at those amazing tall buildings.
I was wondering throughout the race how Kevin would be going & where he would be, Just hoped he was getting round injury free as I knew the distance would not be a problem to him.
By mile 20 my knees started to feel sore, I crossed mile 23 in exactly 3hrs. This is where it started to go pear shaped for me , by now my body was getting weaker. First I started to get cramp in my hamstrings, the pain was so intense I had to stop 3 times to try & rub some life back into them. The crowd’s were amazing they were encouraging every runner. When I stopped they were asking me if I was ok ,all I could do was just nod ,I was very conscious of the time & thought just over 3 miles to go. The pain was still shooting up my hamstrings, then I started to think of my family , I couldn’t let them see me like this. I started to walk ,then broke into a slow jog. I saw this guy pass me who had lost both his legs below his knees wearing prosthetic blades. I thought of the life he must have had so that encourage me to start running at a very slow pace to the finish. I cast an eye over to the crowds but they just looked a blur .At this point a lot of runners were passing me and that didn’t go down well with me. I was getting angry & frustrated with myself, “GET RUNNING” I kept saying to myself but my legs were having none of it.
KEVIN'S LONDON MARATHON EXPERIENCE
(report by Kevin)
Now I can truly call myself a runner.
This is my story to the "Road to Hell".
I sit here the day after writing and reflecting on the previous day’s event. Mentally I feel a sense of pride and achievement; physically my legs are sore, getting out of the chair takes real effort and going downstairs just hurts. Then there is that ‘washed out’ feeling you get after a really big race…but of course it was all worth it.
I guess I never quite felt I could call myself a runner until I had done the ‘big one’. If you speak to non-runners and say you can run a sub 40 minute 10km or your race pace is sub 6 minute miles it means nothing to them. Tell them you did the 3 Peaks Challenge (run up the highest mountains in England, Scotland and Wales one after another) and they look at you blank. They then ask "have you done a marathon?" to which you reply "Errr, not yet.".
Well, as I am not getting any younger I thought it was about time I tackled the 26.2 miles. While training in 2009 with Gordon he mentioned that he too was looking to do it. I suggested we might try and do it together and I think this was one of the best things we could have done; it gave me somebody to put the long miles in with, who was of similar ability and equally committed to the event. I owe him a big thank you.
I asked Caroline if I have the club entry for the 2010 London Marathon if no-one else wanted it. She kindly put me to the top of the list or may be nobody else was mad enough to want it.
Running in 2009 was a mixture of highs and lows for me. At the start of the year I was seeing good improvements with a PB in the half marathon and a better than expected finish in the Moffat Gala run held in July, but this last achievement came at a price. A pulled hamstring - an injury which I could not shake off, then Louise had an accident which left her with a broken back. All running went on hold and I was lucky to get out once a week. The upside was this gave the hamstring a chance to get a bit of enforced rest. Just before Louise’s accident she did her first race, a 10km trail race in aid of mesothelioma research. (she lost her father to Mesothelioma in June last year.) She asked if I would run for the same charity. I told her I would but I didn’t feel it would be fair for me to run just 10km for the sponsorship money, so I suggested I would do a marathon for people’s hard earned cash: no turning back now.
Louise got out of hospital just in time for Christmas 2009 after 8 weeks in the Dumfries and Galloway Royal Infirmary. The start of the New Year was my call to getting back into training. For once in my life I decided to try and do things properly. I was acutely aware that I needed to get though this without major injury, so I tried to warm up and cool down after runs, also to stretch. In addition I brought a roller to massage the legs after big runs. I followed a training regime from one of my running books and increased the mileage by a maximum of 10% a week. The training plan I picked was a routine that said it would get you round in a sub 3 ½ hours; my first envisioned target time. I kept a training log to monitor accurately what I was doing.
At the start of the year the weather was not conducive to good training but I tried to make the best of it. Wrapping up in warm clothing and putting on my fell shoes allowed me to run on the snow-covered lanes around Wamphray. I started running my little 5 mile course in the snow and ice 3 times a week at first. I was very slow to start with. I had put on 12lbs in weight due to a combination of reasons:- being ‘home alone’ since October, a few too many trips to the Moffat Toffee Shop for their ‘to die for’ white chocolate Champaign truffles, the holiday excess, and lack of training.
The first few club races showed how far I had slipped and I found myself being left behind by a lot of you, while 6 months before the positions would have been reversed. I didn’t mind too much; I knew my fitness would return in time and I hoped you enjoyed leaving me behind for a change and it spurred you on to run better.
As the weeks slipped by things were going well and I had built my weekly mileage up to 37 miles, then a set back!! In the last week of February I pulled my hamstring again on one of Joe’s training nights in Lockerbie (didn’t you just know he had to be involved! He must have hidden the Voodoo doll behind a tree and got it out while my back was turned. Ha Ha).
The pull was at the beginning of the week. I was doing my long runs at weekends, so I decided to stop running for the rest of the week and sacrifice all other runs that week to give me a chance of keeping the long and most important run (in my opinion) in the training plan. The training regime I was using recommended a quiet/rest week once every 6 so I would use this as my quite week. I did my Sunday long run that week with my leg well strapped up and with an amount of trepidation. Still, I did the 17 miles without major mishap. I started my mileage back at 30 miles for that week and started to add 10% a week again rather than just go straight back in at the mileage before I got injured.
I pushed the mileage back up to 49 miles a week before running into more injury trouble. I was getting pain from my IT band next to my left knee and pain in my right shin. It came to a head on 24th of March when, on an 11 mile mid week run on my own, I was in so much pain I found myself walking the last 2 miles home. Off-road the injuries didn’t cause many problems but on the tarmac, once I got to 8 miles, things started to hurt. I knew I was only a week and a half from my 3-week taper down to the event. I decided to keep on running with as much off-road in as I could and then hope that once I started to drop the mileage things would improve. It was a gamble but luckily I got away with it. A new PB at the Hightae 10km club race with just 2 and half weeks to go and I was feeling good. My taper down was 75% of my maximum mileage 3 weeks before the event, 50% 2 weeks before, then on the Sunday one week before I did a half marathon training run at my full marathon race pace. From that point I did as little as possible up to race day. My average weekly mileage worked out at around 35 miles. I hadn’t been able to stick 100% to my laid down training regime, but my training wasn’t far from it. I was a couple of pounds heavier than my best racing weight but I was nearly there.
On the Thursday before the race I started carb’ loading the same night Louise and I made our way to London on the sleeper train. We met Gordon and Helen at the hotel on Friday at dinner time and then made our way to register for the race at the Excel centre that afternoon.
Once we had received our race numbers and ‘kit bag’ we walked around the hall which was full of stalls selling everything you could ever want (and a lot that you wouldn’t want) for running. Some of the prices were good as well and it took a bit of determination to walk out of there with only one extra running tee-shirt. On the stage Paula Radcliff was being interviewed and Liz Yelling and her husband gave advice on running the marathon.
The Saturday was spent doing trial runs from the hotel to the race start and all the viewing points the girls were going to visit to see us running from on the big day. While finding the best way around the tube this it gave us a chance to take in a few of the London sights.
That night we had a evening meal of pasta and, following Andrew’s advice, we had 8 pints of Guinness as part of our carb’ loading…. No, no not really, we stuck to diet coke. Then it was early to bed.
The hotel restaurant opened for breakfast at 7 am. We were the first in and it was a good job as the big pot of porridge was nearly empty. Gordon and I had enough but some of the other runners that were not up quite as early were heard to utter "who has eaten all my porridge?" Oops!!! Didn’t the owners know there was a marathon on?
We walked to the railway station then and were packed into a train like sardines for the short journey to near the start line. Travel on the London underground and rail services was free for us marathon runners on the day of the race - all you needed to do was flash your race number.
As we walked from the railway station to the start it began to rain. This could be good, it had turned out not to be as hot as was first predicted but was still the hottest day I have run on this year. At the start enclosure you had to put all the clothes you wanted for immediately after the race, your recovery drinks and food, etc into the kit bag which the organisers supplied with your race number on. This was then put on a lorry and taken to the finish for you to collect once you made it there.
The only downside was we were wrongly told over the tannoy system that we only had 15 minutes to get our stuff in our bags and onto the Lorries. This wouldn’t have been too bad except it was raining heavily so my waterproof jacket had to go into the bag, leaving me to get wet. It was at this point that Gordon and I got separated in the crowd and we didn’t see each other again until after the finish.
After trying to find Gordon for a while without luck, I made my way down to my allocated start zone. We were in pen 4. When I got there I looked at the runners around me and started to have doubts. Looking at some of them I realised that these people did not look like sub 31/2 hour runners. I noticed that their race numbers indicated they should have been in zone 5 or even 6 and even the ones that did have the right zone number on may have, to put it politely, been a little optimistic with their predicted race time. There was only one thing to do - push towards the start line. Unfortunately, as is nature, everybody else, even those running in fancy dress as an RAF helicopter, want to be as near as the front as possible as well. Up to this point it had been raining but as the start horn went it stopped… oh well.
We shuffled towards the start. Once there it was possible to start a slow jog. For the first, I would guess, 5 or 6 miles, there followed a constant looking for gaps or, in desperation, making a gap with the shout of "excuse me" or "coming through". On the course there is a painted, dotted red line. If you follow this you will do exactly 26.2; start to divert away from it and your mileage will be more. The slower runners were, of course, glued to this line while those of us behind them were left to zigzag from one side of the road to another as you looked for gaps to push though. Most gaps were to be found on the outside of the bends and on the pavements leading you to be jumping up and down the kerbs. I guess in a shorter race this would have made little difference. At this point I picked up with a runner from Kilmarnock who, like me, was pushing though the crowd and after that, a guy from New Zealand. We had a chat and he came from the area I was in last time I was over there. By the time I reached the half way point I was on for my sub 3:15 finish with a few minutes to spare.
As I ran the course there were a few memories that stick out: The crowds were cheering you on for the total length of the course. I didn’t expect to have spectators all the way round with the kids ‘high 5ing’ as you ran past. Running over Tower Bridge, as you reach this point, the buildings are close and the noise from the crowd seems to bounce off them. You then round the corner and are on to the bridge. The steel band was playing so loud it was almost deafening and there were dancers on the side of the road. Through all this we ran the miles down. I guess at around 15 miles I started to slow - I was now missing my mile split times which I had on a band around my wrist. At each mile marker, when it was brought home that my place was slipping, I tried to get the old legs turning over a bit quicker but after a few hundred yards they fell back to their slower pace. At around 19.5 miles we ran past a pub with the drinkers cheering us on with pints in their hands and big speakers blasting out the Chris Rea song ‘This is the road to Hell’!!! I laugh out loud, "how appropriate" I thought. I kept pushing on as hard as I could; the hamstrings on both legs felt tight and heavy. I was conscious that I was getting passed now by people that had a bit more left and it was my turn to stick as close to that little red line as I could. One thing gave me a little heart, people were increasingly pulling up and walking to the side of the course. How many of these ‘threw in the towel’ there and then I don’t know. I guess a lot surely must have finished even though they seemed to be holding hamstrings and calves etc.
A strange thing happen at around 21/22 miles. We entered a subway and all of a sudden, in front of me, lots of people were pulling up and leaning against the wall right and left of the course red line. In my now befuddled mind I though "What is going on?" Then I realised - there were no crowds here. These people had been running on pride and now there was nobody watching they pulled up. I was determined this was not going to be me. I was going to run all the way; no walking. I might not do my target time but even if nobody could see me I wasn’t going to walk. When I came on to the embankment the crowds were now massive. It must have been around the 24 mile mark. I tried to get the legs turning over a bit quicker but they didn’t seem to want to know. I felt I was struggling now and thought Gordon might pass me any minute but, unknown to me, he was having his own battle. I hadn’t seen Louise or Helen as I had ran round, had they abandoned us and just gone to the pub? Of cause they hadn’t I had just not seen them in the crowd. I made it into the last mile. There were now markers at every 400 metres and even more crowds in the last run in. Now the legs started to respond a bit. I picked up the pace and started to pull one or two places back. Round the last corner and the finish was in sight. I pushed though to the finish over the line in 3:20:21. My legs wobbled and felt like jelly. I picked up my kit bag from the lorry and, as I did so, I noted a couple of unfortunates being taken away on stretchers. I slowly made my way to the meeting point. What a daft idea to have made it at the top of a flight of stairs!(OK it was mine doh) As I tried to hobble up Louise ran down to meet me. I must have looked a bit of a state. We then waited for Gordon. It was a sense of relief when he came safely into view.
My view of the event was, apart from keeping people in the right pen at the start, that it was very well organised. On the course, there were plenty of sports drinks, gels and almost limitless bottles of water and then there were showers to run though that, with a sharp intake of breath from the cold water, helped to keep you cool for a short while. The crowds…….oh, the crowds were great. I would say if you are a runner, do the London, if only once, because for most of us it will be the only time you will run in that atmosphere.
I finished 2967th out of 37,527 starters 51,000 entry forms went out but I guess over 13,000 did make the start line. I was just inside the first 8% of runners to finish, that don’t sound too bad even if I failed to do my target time, but the most important statistic of all is that once all the money is in I should have raised £500 to £600 for Bart’s Mesothelioma research.
I must thank Louise for putting up with my running for 5 days a week and her help with massaging my sore legs and pulled muscles. Thanks also to Gordon for being a great training partner, and to all the rest of you for your advice and encouragement.