A Flea in Gabby’s Ear

The London marathon is done and dusted for another year.  The good news is that I finished the race.  My time was rubbish, but by the time I reached the Mall I didn’t care, I was just glad to get it done.

As ever, it was a fun-filled weekend. My partner and I thought it would be a smashing idea to travel down to London on Friday afternoon,  get to the expo early, pick up my race-pack and number and then kick back and relax until Sunday.

All seemed to be going swimmingly – of course the Expo was busy -but nothing resembling the suffocating crush that I experienced on the Saturday afternoon last year.  I picked up the number, purchased some gels and new socks and even had a little chat with Martin Yelling.

We were staying in an apartment in Greenwich, just a few stops on the DLR away from the ExCel. We had to change DLR trains a couple of times and whilst standing at Canary Wharf I looked at my partner and with my heart plunging into my boots exclaimed “I have left my race number on the train”.

I couldn’t believe it. What sort of complete plonker leaves his London Marathon race number on a train? The train we had left had whizzed out of the station a few minutes earlier.  I wasn’t even sure if I had left it on that train or the previous one going towards Bank.  I was in a flat panic.

We wandered vainly up and down the platforms hoping to accost a member of staff.  There were no staff.  Eventually a conductor on a train realised that I was in some kind of distress and told me to press the big green button on the platform and to speak to the Controller.

The Controller was calm and helpful “Don’t worry sir, I’ll put out an immediate request across the network to search all trains, stay where you are.”  We waited for what felt like an eternity, however she advised that nothing had been found.  Our final hope was that the overnight cleaners would pick it up and hand it in to Lost Property.

I started trying research whether it is possible to get a replacement number.  The website was not at all helpful, the ‘helpline’ even less so (just a series of recorded announcements with no chance to speak to a human outside office hours).  It would have been futile in any event – I later found out that they won’t issue replacement numbers under any circumstances.

I felt sick and very annoyed at my stupidity.  I couldn’t put it out of my mind and I think that I must have been miserable company for most of the evening.

We met up with a friend in Greenwich for a drink and a meal.  At about 9:30pm she glanced at her mobile phone and exclaimed that there were several posts on Twitter and Instagram from runners about someone having found a London Marathon race number and wanting to get it back to the rightful owner.  It was my number. Oh joy beyond measure!

I was so relieved that I could barely operate my mobile phone properly to make contact with the person who had picked up my number.

It transpired that a fellow runner called Helen from West London had picked up my number.  I made plans to head over to collect it on Saturday morning from her house.  I was one massively relieved boy!

Helen, if you read this, I am eternally grateful.  Thank you. The running community once again proved just how selfless and considerate runners are.

After collecting my racepack for a second time, we headed over to the cinema at the O2 to watch “Skid Row Marathon“.  It is a superb documentary about Californian Judge Craig Mitchell who started a running club to help people struggling with homelessness or drug dependency in Los Angeles.  I’m a hard-hearted, world-weary dour Yorkshireman, but even I felt my bottom lip quivering a few times.  There are showings all over the country on May 9th – go and see it, it is wonderful.

After the film, Martin Yelling led a Q&A session with the film-makers, Judge Mitchell himself and the leader of the UK Running Charity.  Judge Mitchell is a very impressive human being – measured, charismatic and a man who makes things happen.

***

Marathon Day

Unusually for me, I slept quite well the night before a marathon.  After a home-cooked breakfast of porridge, I met my team mate Daz.  He was staying in the same apartments and was going to run his maiden marathon from the Championship start.  He had realistic hopes of a sub 2:45, but as everyone knows the marathon is a capricious  beast.

As we walked towards Greenwich Park before 9 a.m., it already felt unseasonably warm.  I bade Daz good luck and then went into the Good For Age pen in front of the main Red Start.  After dropping my bag, I had 30 minutes to sit out of the sun in a tent and think about the challenge ahead.

This was never a PB target race, I was running it mainly to improve my seeding for Comrades in June, and for the experience.

I’ve run quite a few marathons, some of them in high temperatures, and I know that I don’t cope well with heat, even when well acclimatised.  This time, I was going to have to run after months training in a harsh Northern winter.  I knew that a fast time was simply impossible for me to achieve.  In good running conditions, I felt confident that I could go sub 3 again – I’d logged six 20 mile+ training runs and had run my second fastest ever 10K only three weeks ago.  However, I had no idea what I could run in this heat.

I made a decision to use my heart rate as a guide.  Frank Horwill wrote that marathon pace should be between 80% and 88% of maximum heart rate.  The best guide for maximum heart rate is not 220 – one’s age; much better to use 214 minus (age x 0.8).

For me, that marathon pace range is 138-152 with a midpoint of 145.  Therefore, given the heat, I decided to run to a target heart rate of 145.  I didn’t really care what speed that would produce, I would get whatever I got.

At just after 10 a.m., the Queen started the race from Windsor Castle and we were off.

Unsurprisingly, hundreds streamed past me in the congested nervous early miles.  I settled into my target heart rate and ticked off the miles to the Cutty Sark in 6:45 – 6:55, comfortable sub 3 pace.

I was looking forward to meeting my supporters in Rotherhithe at the 10 mile mark, where I could collect an extra gel and my cap if I wanted it (stupidly I’d eschewed wearing it from the start).  I still felt good when I met them, making the 10 mile point in a hair under 70 minutes. I yanked the cap on my head and carried on.

I was careful to drink at most aid stations, and poured water over my head neck and arms to try to keep cool.  I constantly monitored my heart rate, I was slowing, but only by a few seconds a mile, it still felt easy.

Tower Bridge was as cacophonous as ever, I took the incline up the bridge very steadily. I was starting to feel quite warm.

I reached the halfway point in just under 1:32.  Already many of my fellow runners were either walking or had slowed to a shuffle.  This is a part of the course where the race seems to just calm down a little.  It felt like a good time for a review of my situation.

Frankly, it wasn’t going that well.  At my target heart rate of 145 or even two or three beats higher, my pace had deteriorated to 7:10. Worse than that my legs felt devoid of any bounce and I knew I would only get slower.  I decided to look after myself, to just slow down and focus on getting to the end without absolutely ruining myself.

By Canary Wharf, with 8 miles to run, it had become a grind; no longer racing, my legs were simply a tired and inefficient means of transport to get me to the end of the ordeal.

My least favourite part of the route is the long stretch along the A13 Limehouse link back towards the City, it felt never ending.  I felt great sympathy for the thousands still streaming past on the other side of the road, still around the half way mark after more than two and a half hours of running. They were in for a very long day out in the sun.

On the embankment, my pace had dropped to 8+ minute miles.  I didn’t stop running at all, unlike many who had succumbed to walking.  At last, I reached the turn at the Palace of Westminster and was running the final mile.  Quite suddenly, I was aware that I was really struggling. I was doing the survival shuffle,  I felt a little light headed and I was mightily relieved that the torment was almost over.

I’m sure all marathon runners dream of gliding in to the Mall and sprinting those last two hundred metres to the finish line.  I was actually captured on the BBC coverage just before I finished.

Presenter Gabby Logan was doing a piece to camera and I emerged from her right ear, shambling and rolling like a Friday night drunk at chucking out time.  I’m the dude in the white cap just before the shot changes:

I finished in 3:18:38 – twenty three minutes slower than last year.  I staggered through the line and collected my medal and goody-bag.  I didn’t feel at all well, so I decided to flop my head over a barrier and hopefully recover a little.  It didn’t make any difference, I felt dizzy and sick. I looked down the long line of baggage lorries and knew that there was no way that I would be able to walk to the end of those and collect my bag.

I have been in the same position before, after Comrades in 2015. I was still thinking fairly lucidly and I thought the best thing would be to let the medics assist me.  A few marshalls had already approached me and suggested that I get some help.

I was put in a wheelchair and rolled into the medical tent. It was carnage in there with runners flaked out all over the place. Eventually they found me a canvas bed to lay on and a couple of lovely nurses attended to me. I drank some water and the nurse rooted into my goody-beg and made me eat some salty potato snacks. After a few minutes I came round.

They kept asking me questions:

“How old are you”?  …”51″

“Do you know where you are”?… “Yes, I’m in the medical tent at the end of the London Marathon”

“Can I have your phone number”?…”Oh, I am so sorry love, but I am already attached

At that point the nurses realised that I was fine to be released and I shuffled off to reclaim my bag and meet up with my supporters and teammates.

Although I love my running club, Valley Striders,  at the London Marathon, I dislike the fact that our name means that we meet at the ‘V’ tree  in the meeting area after the sterile finish zone. It must be more than a half a mile walk from the end. Its enough to make you want to join Aardvark Harriers.

We swapped war stories at the end and shuffled off to the pub to re-hydrate. Some of my teammates had still done great performances despite the heat, though most had found the conditions very tough like me.

Poor Daz struggled in his first marathon. How unlucky to get such a freak heatwave like that for your first marathon. He’ll be back much quicker on a better day.

So now my thoughts turn to Comrades in just over six weeks. I’ve got a few concerns, I don’t feel particularly fit and have niggly injuries to my left foot and right ankle. I feel as if I am running by managing problems rather than going out and training properly.

My 3:18 at London has earned a place in the ‘B’ pen at Comrades, which is fine – I’ll still be through the start in a minute or two.  Having run it twice before, I am nervous and very respectful. I will be running the first half very easily and adopting a rigid run-walk strategy from the start, even though that will mean walking before I want to and walking when everyone else is running.  Seconds spent walking during the first half earn minutes at the end.

Comrades 2018 -6 weeks

11 stone 3.0 lbs

11 miles, longest run 3.1 miles. Roundhay parkrun : 19:16 (6th)

RunBritain Handicap 2.5 (UK M50 rank 160)

Aerobic efficiency (marathon) 947 heartbeats per mile

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