Posted by: jamescoyle | May 9, 2010

My Virgin London Marathon

After 16 weeks of hard training the big day finally arrived. The two week taper period been been full of anxiety about my left knee which had been giving me a few problems since my last long run. It had been given total rest for 10 before the race so I hoped it would be ok. Other than that, training had gone to plan and I was as prepared as it was possible to be – i was carbed up, well rested and ready to roll.

We made our way across London and got to Greenwich about 45 minutes before the start. Just as we got there it started to rain. This was pretty surprising – the forecasts all week had been talking about a potential heatwave – but to be honest, it was a real relief, I had been a bit worried about how I would cope with high temperatures – most of my training had been in the snow!

I was going to start with three other runners – my flatmate Kev, my best mate Rob (both also running for WellChild) and Paul (running for British Heart Foundation). We were all aiming for similar times so we thought we would stay together as long as we could. It was good to have the others around – think it helped to keep the nerves at bay a little.

We made our way to our starting pen (4) and got ready to go. You could sense the tension in the crowds, there were plenty of worried faces along with the running veterans that looked like they were going for a 3 miler around the park. The race started, it only took four minutes to get to the start line and we were off. After four months of hard graft, it was time to finally take on the challenge of the marathon. It was only four miles further than I had gone in training – how hard could it be? I was about to find out.

What do I remember about the first five miles? Not much. Amazing support, some great banter when the two starts groups met at about three miles and started booing each other, but most importantly we got into a rythmn early, settled into a nice pace and my knee felt absolutely fine.

At about mile 6, Rob had his first problem. He clipped feet with a runner in front, fell and landed flat on his face. He was ok, a bit shaken but got straight back up and carried on running. So quickly in fact that he left all of his gels on the floor – something that really annoyed him off when he realised. He had trained using those gels and even though Lucozade were giving out gels at certain mile points, everyone knows you dont try new things on race day. (Rob also consumes more food when running than I have ever seen before. During our 22 mile training run he almost had a picnic at halfway).

We continued at a nice pace and ticked off the miles. I have read a lot of race reports from people that said they struggled to run at a consistent pace because of the crowds and were forced to stop-start and dodge slower runners. I must say, I didn’t find this an issue. Sure it was busy but i expected it to be and the pace of the runners around and in-front didn’t feel slow. I must have got lucky with my pen number. Also, as I told myself during training on a number of occassions, I am only going to worry about things that I have complete control over and can impact – anything else is a waste of energy.

Kev pushed on at about mile 9 and was in front of us somewhere, we would meet again. The remaining three continued on.

We made it to Tower Bridge (mile 12) – ahead of target and feeling strong. The crowds were quite unbelievable. 6/7 deep and incredibly loud and full of encouragement for everyone. It was a great moment crossing that famous landmark. I even saw my first familar face on the sidelines, my colleague Karla managed to push her way to the front and shouted over the crowds to cheer me on! It was certainly appreciated. With a slight surge we charged on.

Just after half way I saw my mum and brother and sister-in-law at about mile 13 – they managed to find themselves some bright pink Well Child t-shirts so were easy to spot. It was great to see them – i was grinning like a cheshire cat, something they couldn’t quite understand after 13 miles of running but things were going well and this was fun! (My half marathon time was under 1.50, so still going well)

We carried on ticking off those miles, and caught back up with Kev at about mile 16.  And ran with him through Canary Wharf where the noise from the support was again amazing. The tall buildings hold in the noise and a lot of the charities have support points around there so it was incredible. I felt strong, my left knee was beginning to ache but nothing that concerned me too much. I was just trying to tick off those miles at 8.25 pace and move on to the next one. One step at a time, one mile at a time I was getting closer to finishing and completing this race. Under 10 miles to go – I can do ten miles in my sleep. You are nearly there. Well, ten miles is a  long way as I was about to find out.

You turn out of Canary Wharf and are faced with a couple of slightly boring miles, where the crowds thin out a bit (but there was no point anywhere in the race where people weren’t standing and cheering). The weather was warming up, and my main concern was making sure i took on the right nutrition. During the race I had 2 packs of Shot Blocks, 2 lucozade gels, bottles of lucozade at every station they were provided and about 2 litres of water (i think). In previous triathlon events I have cramped up during the run, so shot blocks were used as they contain a certain amount of sodium. I hoped this would help during those difficult miles from 22 to finish.

We carried on and ran back towards Tower Bridge. It was hot now but the pace hadn’t slowed too much. I saw some more familar faces and did plenty of waving to people I saw. I was still smiling! At 22 i felt ok (notice it can only be described as ok now) – four miles, anyone can do that. I was slightly in front of Kev now but Rob and Paul had pushed on in front of me. Both experienced marathon runners – they were running well.

(I’m in pink above – at about 22.5 miles – I was looking for Kev)

About 5 minutes after this picture I hit the wall. A lot of runners talk about the wall and it impacts people in different ways. Mine came at 23.5 miles on the slight incline going up towards Embankment. My legs felt like lead and my pace dropped dramatically. I took on more sugar (thank you people handing out sweets on the side of the road!) but I just could not go any faster. My breathing was fine, my heart rate was under control, but my legs were just not listening to me anymore. I told myself to concentrate on the next step, “just keep ploddin”. I was back with Kev now and it was good to have him with me when it got really tough. I was oddly looking forward to this part of the race. I knew it was going to hurt, but that was the challenge. I was determined to keep going and push through this. I was not going to walk a step, I couldn’t. I was running for something too important and I am too stubborn. Those final miles were what this was all about.

The last two miles were hard, the hardest athletic thing I’ve ever done. But it was amazing. The crowds were phenomenal and really helped and we plodded on together. We were slow but we were moving. We were in pain but we were loving it.  The miles were slow, the slowest I’ve ever run but they passed as I knew they would. We run up to Buckingham Palace and turned that last corner with 385 yards to go and the cramp came into both of my legs. Calfs and hamstrings – incredibly painful and ever so slightly dehabilitating! I ran those 385 yards with two straight legs – I looked absurd and I was slowing Kev up – but I wasnt going to walk, not now. So i ran like that to the finish.

We crossed at 3.46.02. The last few miles were very slow but overall i was delighted. My first marathon done pretty much on target.

What a day.  I was proud of London – the support was touching and the crowds generous. I was proud of my friends – they raced hard and all finished with great times. I was proud of the money we raised for Well Child (nearly 5k between myself, Kev and Rob). I was also a little bit proud of myself – the hours and hours of training had all been worth it.

Thank you everyone for your support (you know who you are) – you got me through those last two miles.

Will I do it again? You bet. Signed up for next year’s ballot already.

I have pasted my split times below – so you can see exactly how things worked out and see that wall for yourself. (that last 2k took me 12 minutes!)

START TIME  09:49:05
5K   00:25:36
10K  00:51:24
15K  01:17:12
20K  01:42:57
HALF  01:48:24
25K  02:08:22
30K  02:34:36
35K  03:02:11
40K  03:32:00
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Responses

  1. Great post, James!

    I’ve been following you on Twitter (@sparetomato) and you ran a phenomenal time, I was some 45 minutes behind you.

    Reading your post brought it all back to me – it was a fantastic day, and although I didn’t appreciate the rain at the start, the atmosphere was incredible.

    I hit the wall at 18, which was horrible, but hitting it that early meant that I came out earlier and I loved that bit along the Embankment.

    I’m also in the Ballot next year, so hopefully see you there 🙂

  2. Hi Andy,

    Thanks very much. Glad you enjoyed the post and congrats on your achievement. It was fun to write – am sure there was plenty more I could have added!

    You are right, the support was amazing and it is difficult to explain to people how much it helped.

    Fingers crossed for the ballot!


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