Sunday, 26 April 2009

Week 16 - the perfect day

After 16 weeks and over 500 training miles, the big day finally arrived and it didn't disappoint. In fact, it exceeded all my expectations and I'm not exaggerating when I say it was probably the greatest experience of my life so far. To run 26 miles around the historic capital in glorious sunshine with 35,000 fellow runners and millions of Londoners shouting encouragement and cheering your name is something I will never forget. As one runner said to me after the finish, "it's like playing at Wembley stadium", which just about summed it up.

I started to get an idea of the sheer scale of the event and how well organised it is when we went to register at the Excel Arena on Friday afternoon. The rows of registration points resembled airport check-in desks where I was quickly processed and received my race number (41,388) and micro-chip timing device to attach to my trainers. We then went into the main hall which had stalls of every running gear manufacturer and sports nutrition company I'd ever heard of (and quite a few I hadn't).

After I'd had a good look round and filled up on free energy bar samples, I stocked up on carb gels and purchased a belt to carry them during the race which would prove to be a wise investment. On the way out I received a goody bag whose contents can only be described as random (can of London Pride, jar of cranberry sauce, lip balm!?) and was highly amused when my Dad managed to blag one and the attendant wished him good luck on Sunday to which he replied, "Thank you. I'll need it!"

We then drove down to my Mum's cousin's in Tunbridge Wells who had kindly offered to put us up for the weekend and even kinder, treated us to a gorgeous meal at their local Thai restaurant. Having read that I needed to eat an extra 100g of carbs per 10kg of body weight (about 800g for me) in the two days preceding the marathon to increase the amount of energy stored in the muscles (the process is called carb-loading), I ate as much rice and noodles as possible.

On Saturday morning I went for my last training jog before arranging to meet my old Uni house mate Toddy who had managed to wangle two free tickets for the Premier League clash between Fulham and Stoke. The weather was glorious again and although the quality of the game and home support was pretty underwhelming (not that I'm a bitter Leeds fan or anything) it was an enjoyable experience and nice to catch up with an old friend. I then went back to base to load up on pasta and get an early night before the big race.

After much deliberation over the train timetable, we decided that the 6.50 am train from High Broom (the local station) to London Bridge was the safest option for getting me to the start line in plenty of time which meant a 5.30 am start to get ready and eat my porridge and crumpets. The ticket machine at the station was out-of-order which was a stroke of luck as I got chatting to another runner on the train who said that they let runners travel free on the day of the race. The train gradually filled up with more and more runners until we reached London Bridge where I changed for Greenwich and followed the precession up to Greenwich Park to the red start area.

The weather was already glorious and I was regretting not packing any sun cream as I milled around the waiting area, enjoying my last energy bar and free Lucozade whilst soaking up the atmosphere. At 9.10 we we're directed to our start pens and luckily I was in number four which was quite near the front (there were nine pens in total with runners as far as the horizon as you looked down the hill) and at 9.30 we were ushered forward in preparation for the 9.45 start.

We got away really smoothly and I passed under the start clock about two minutes after the official start but set my watch and distance monitor to get an accurate measurement. After a bit of traffic at the start I settled into my target rhythm of five minute per km and for the first ten or twelve miles I just enjoyed the carnival atmosphere and the crowds of people who cheered and shouted support from the pavement.

With music systems pumping out from every pub, people hanging out of windows or stood on rooftops to get the best vantage point, every community came out to show their support and enjoy the day. From brass bands to steel bands playing, kids high-fiving runners and giving out sweets along the pavement and smiling spectators reading the name on your vest and shouting encouragement, it was a truly amazing experience that I will never forget.

I felt pretty comfortable during the middle of the race and kept stocking up on carbs with a gel every half an hour plus Lucozade and water from the frequent drink stations as we crossed Tower Bridge for the first time, again lined with thousands of cheering spectators. I was now on the look out for my Mum and Dad who were going to try and catch me at around mile 15 and 19 at Canary Wharf. I kept the pace going but was starting to think I had missed them when I came round the corner for the exit of Canary Wharf and there they were at the MS Society cheering point all going crazy. It gave me a massive boost and I was quite emotional but pulled myself together and began to focus on the final part of the race.
My legs were getting pretty heavy at this point but my energy levels were good so I thought the quicker you can run these last seven miles, the sooner you will be at the finish line and the better your time will be. Again, the support from the crowd was amazing so I gritted my teeth and pushed as hard as I could. These were the painful miles I had trained for and I was determined not to pull up and register as fast a time as possible. With three miles to go I could see I was under my 3:30 target so I kept pushing and after what felt like an eternity, I turned the final corner into the Mall and saw the clock at 3:19 so I accelerated for the line.

After handing in my time-chip and receiving my medal I felt shattered and disorientated. I made my way to the meeting area and someone from the MS Society team kindly walked me down to MS Society runners reception which was in a grand building overlooking the park. I had a much-welcome massage and met up with my Mum and Dad who had really enjoyed the race and sat down for a much needed drink and sandwich. We then walked (or hobbled) across London with the marathon still in full swing to get the train to Dartford and collect the car for the journey back to Leeds.

We got back about 9 and I enjoyed a pizza and glass of wine whilst looking on the London Marathon website for my official time of 3:17.43 which I am really please with for my first marathon. They also have your split times and pace graph on their which showed that I ran the first half in 1:40 and the second in 1:37, only a minute slower than my half-marathon time from last September. I suppose the next target will be getting to the three hour mark but I need a good rest before then!

There are so many people I need to thank I will publish a separate post later in the week along with a final fund-raising total when hopefully my legs will have recovered too!

20th - 26th April
Mon: Rest
Tues: AM: gym 1 hrs
Wed: AM: gym 1.5 hrs (6 km steady)
Thurs: AM: gym 1.5 hrs (6 km steady)
Fri: Rest
Sat: 20 minutes steady warm up (4 km)
Sun: Marathon Day! 3 hours 17 minutes and 48 seconds (42 km)
Weekly total: 58 km - final total: 855 km

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