London Marathon 2014: unofficial race report from reluctant runner

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After working myself up into a bit of a tizz on Friday, it was a relief to have Saturday afternoon to carefully pack my bags, pin on my number (in the right position – that took a couple of goes), write a pre-marathon blog post, and generally get myself sorted out.

Scoffed a high volume of pasta for tea, but didn’t sleep particularly well so it was a relief when the alarm went off at 6am and could just get on with things. Quick dither about whether or not to wash my hair (obviously no one else would care but ‘Standards, Katharine’ I could hear someone saying, so did so, and then tried to quietly and quickly try it in the kitchen to avoid waking everyone else up). Beetled off to the railway station where, suddenly, there were loads of people with red plastic marathon bags (the first one I saw nervously puffing away on a fag (was that really a good idea??)), and a few other people wondering why the train was so full of people in Lycra. I’d queried going on so early – theoretically getting to Greenwich at 8.30 – but it was entirely sensible as the trains from Charing Cross were rammed, and the one we were on (I’d met up with a couple of local girls in Paddington) was delayed, and actually the venue is so massive it takes a while to orientate yourself.

Having finally found the red start (for charity slash slow runners it seemed) we finished our preps: for me plasters and sponge round my semi-healed blisters; vaseline around the edges of my brand new control knickers, suncream all over. Socks and shoes on, then remember calf supports, so off and then on again, by which time my companion (the other was speedy and had gone to the blue start) heard the tannoy announce that we only had 4 minutes to get our plastic duffel bags on the trailers, and so we had a mad dash to hand them in, which got the adrenaline going. Then there was a dither about loos, but the queue for the ladies was so long it appeared to have no end, so we got in place instead, and proceeded to continue to lurk about there for about 25 minutes after the starting gun had gone off. Thankfully there were also loos just before start, so I and a bunch of other people beetled off there BEFORE crossing the start line. VERY cunning, I thought.

Then, in summary, followed 13 miles of hot running south of the river; amazing drumming resonating under the A102; brief excitement when seeing family at Tower Bridge; running straight past a friend yelling my name (but so many people were shouting ‘Kate’ (et al) you gave up trying to spot someone you actually knew); a weird endless Kafka-esque period running hotly around Docklands and the East End (unnerving coming back down The Highway seeing the odd lone runner and the clearing up team (reminded me too closely of Junior 4 obstacle race when they were setting out the new one while I was still struggling with hopping along in a pillowcase)); then finally becoming overwhelmed by the noise and reading endless emotional stories on the back of people’s vests and putting my music on at about mile 18 which made the world of difference, and carried me through along the Embankment (amazing once you’d hit about 23 miles, and you knew that it’d then be 24, and then 25, and that’d the LAST ONE!); finishing in a sprint finish for the last 10 metres up to the finish line. Then I said to the guy next to me, ‘Is that it? Can we stop running now?’ and burst into tears, with some helper saying, ‘I know, it’s emotional, it doesn’t matter what time you do.’ I suppose he was looking at the clock that showed the starting gun had gone off about 5 and a half hours before when he made that comment, but NO IT DOES NOT MATTER, I had just run 26.2 miles.

In an ideal world I would have collapsed into the arms of a loved one and howled, but actually by the time I found them in the meeting place emotions were more in check and we were dealing with the practicalities of tired dusty children and closed tube entrances.

So, 48 hours on, thoughts on the run.

#1: I am, I admit, absolutely GUTTED I didn’t make it in less than 5 hours. My official time was 05:02:02. My pace in training had been suggesting about 04:40 would be good, but I’d hoped that that gave me enough buffer to make it under 5. So I’m currently tormented by thoughts such as:

  • If I hadn’t stopped to speak to the family I might have done it. But I read of someone whose children were distraught when she beetled on by, so that was pretty non negotiable.
  • If I hadn’t stopped twice to pop some paracetamol I might have done it. But the heat (my worst nightmare) was making my head throb even at about mile 5. It would have made the whole experience really unpleasant (as opposed to the walk in the park I found it…).
  • If I hadn’t taken a loo stop at about mile 25 I might have done it. It cost me about 7-8 minutes (about 6 minutes queuing, and then 2 minutes swaying slightly in a confined space searching for a tissue). But I felt I’d already tested my pelvic floor quite significantly and just wanted to try to minimise the risk of embarrassment downstream. THIS IS WHY PAULA RADCLIFFE WON IT AND I DID NOT.
  • If I’d actually got to grips with my frigging Garmin watch I’d have had a better idea of how I was doing. Most of the time during training I used my iPhone for music AND endomondo tracker, but it couldn’t do both for runs of over about 3 hours, so I’d invested ambitiously in this ridiculous gadget that is too big for my wrist (hence sweatband) and totally unintuitive to operate. Thinking I was on top of it, I pressed start when I crossed the line, but on the interface I was monitoring a) the time b) my average speed and c) something else not too helpful. What I should really have shown was a stopwatch, to encourage me to get my arse in gear – particularly around mile 25 when it seemed to go particularly slowly (but that was when we went through Blackfriars underpass so maybe that messed it up).

HOWEVER in the process of writing that last paragraph I have logged on to my Garmin data and all its sins are forgiven as it has quite cleverly measured my mile speeds AND my moving speeds. So I can see that paracetamol cost me 10 seconds, family about 50 seconds (really? I was jogging around as I talked…) and loo stop at least 5 minutes.

So can I hold myself up at being under 5 hours? Please??

#2: See how mad it makes you? It’s a bit like having a baby: totally obsessing for months leading up to it, a long period of physical effort, then exhilaration, adulation, and a bit of anticlimax. I keep telling people not to let me do it again. I shall channel my 5-hour angst into trying to do sub-2hr half marathons instead. Much more realistic, and tend to hurt less.

#3: The medal is really good and heavy and people are impressed. The t-shirt is one size fits all (and there were all: including fridges, a Womble, and a million bloody rhinos which I never seemed to be able to overtake, there was always another one on the horizon), and is recreational rather than running. Pretty hopeless, as I’d hoped to be able to wear it out locally on my next run to show all the people I see regularly that I was Officially a Runner (rather than a Pretender).

#4 The weather was my worst nightmare, ie v hot sun, but the sprinkly showers along the course were good and I was just v relieved I’d remembered sunglasses (and paracetamol).

#5 Music made such a different on the last stretch. Although there were loads of fantastic bands (drummers in tunnels were particularly amazing) with great songs you only caught a snatch of them as you ran by. I was worried that I would seem ungrateful to the crowds to have my headphones in, but as that is how I’ve been running for the last n years, I had them in from the start as a sort of comfort blanket, and only turned the music on further down the line. It put a spring in my step when I really needed it, and gave me a rhythm to run to. I could still hear everything going on outside but it just helped create a zone that made a difference when it was all just getting overwhelming. I’d already been in tears 3 times before we even started listening to the reasons why my companion was doing the run, and if you really started to read the backs of all the t-shirts, with photos of loved ones who’d clearly died in tragic circumstances, you’d turn into a gibbering wreck. In this context, it was a blessed relief to spend a mile or so running behind a Womble.

#6 The results. As per above I am obviously far more competitive about something I’ve got no natural inclination to do (ie move fast) than I expected. Virgin post a whole load of data online (frustratingly with splits in kms rather than miles), which aside from driving home that I took MORE THAN 5 HOURS, also helpfully point out that in the rankings I came in at 26,022. So instead of dwelling on this, I try to cling to the fact that I was still faster than 9,744 other people, ahead of 20% of male runners (I can believe this; towards the end I passed more and more fit looking blokes who were walking as if this was something they’d signed up to one night in the pub but wasn’t quite going to plan), and (and for me this is the killer stat, as I really tried to put some welly into the last bit), over the final 7.2k (so about 4.5 miles), only 3 other runners passed me, while I PASSED 1,404.

Thank you, and goodnight.

PS: if you’re actually looking for helpful tips on the marathon rather than my insane meanderings, I found the following useful:

PPS: didn’t (and never have) Hit the Wall. Though perhaps this is because I never actually Hit the Accelerator. Did however fuel up quite well, to the extent that the Lucozade gels started repeating on me and I thought I was going to throw up on the Highway.

PPPS: All of this is put further into context after someone dies: and with all the other runners and their families my thoughts are with the family of Robert Berry. It was an amazing day, and I hope he went peacefully, having enjoyed a great run and London looking at its finest. His JustGiving page is here.

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