Tales of a Virgin Money London Marathon Virgin

From the pen of Henry, comes his tale of a first ever Marathon…

Having moaned, moped, grumbled and complained my way through the training for my first marathon, I was surprised to find myself looking forward to the race on Sunday. I’ve made no secret of my goal of sub 3hrs, and although this was always going to be a stretch, nothing in training had left me feeling it was impossible.

The early morning rain had stopped by the time we got to Blackheath, but it was still a chilly 4-5C, cloudy, and with an occasional gust of an icy northerly wind. Great for running but not ideal for spectators or standing around waiting for the start.

There are loads of toilets so queues weren’t bad at all. Just as well, because I made no less than 4 toilet visits before the start. I was rather bemused by the notices for female urinals. Obviously, I have no idea about such things, but I shall say this: I didn’t see anyone look desperate enough to use them.

Joining me in pen 2 of the Blue start was Craig Taylor from Portobello, who I’d met on the Jog Leaders course last year, and Bella David Lockhart. We made a procession round to join up behind the championship and elite starts and I spotted fellow London Marathon Golden Ticket winner Hamish. Friendly faces really helped settle the nerves, and after handshakes with these guys and a countdown from astronaut Tim Peake, we were off.

I’d expected streams of runners to go past me in the first mile or two, but the speed was dictated by the crowd who were only pushing each other, not the pace. I enjoyed a comfortable mile settling in, waving to Fiona and Danielle on the sidelines, and chatting to Hamish before he urged me to go on and I remembered I had a race to run. There was a bit of space on the pavement and I picked up the pace and caught up with Louise. Ever the coach, she checked I hadn’t done my usual and gone off too quickly. We then merged with the Green start runners alongside the 3hr pacer.

I was high-fiving the kids, and enjoying the local shouts of “Well done ‘Enry” thinking that I’d better enjoy this all now as I’ll not be feeling like it 15 to 20 miles down the road. London’s an extrovert’s paradise, and the crowd support is worth several minutes to someone like me who energises on people. Down the hill we went, steel bands playing and a public address blaring out “Welcome to Woolwich”. Time for the first gel and I’m running comfortably and feeling confident.

The next few miles, I’m trading places with the pace group and scrambling for water at the water stations. I see Al Maclachlan just up ahead at one point and am looking forward to one of his pearls of running wisdom, but when I look again he’s disappeared. Only later do I discover he went to checkout the portaloos. Runners vanishing in front of me becomes a recurring feature of this marathon. Maybe there’s something in the gels. Or the water. Probably just in my head.

I see Jason Steele from Giffnock North around 8 miles and I’m finding things a bit difficult. My garmin’s gone haywire and telling me I’m running slower than 8min miles one moment, then faster than 6 minute miles the next?!?! My handwritten paceband is illegible while running (they’d run out of 3hr bands at the expo). At least my heart rate is still in the zone.

I ask Jason: “What time are we on?” and “What pace are we at?”. Still sub 3 apparently, but far too early to be thinking about a finish time. I take a gel and it kicks in around 10 miles and I’m feeling a bit better.

At Tower Bridge the crowds are massive and I get a big boost. Craig from Portobello passes looking strong. I spot the race organisers photographers and wave my arms. It looks like my finishing pose, but we’re not quite halfway. There’s a shout of “C’mon Bella” and I look up to spy David Hulse behind the barrier. He’s been cheering on the Purple Posse at so many races lately I wonder if he’s angling for the job of official mascot.

It’s now half distance. The watch gives me an elapsed time of 1:29:58. I’m ignoring the watch’s pace now as it’s spouting more nonsense than Donald Trump. I take another gel. I’m feeling surprisingly good, but now I’ve got to work.

The three hour pace pack is getting a wee bit away from me. Jason has disappeared. I catch a Cambuslang vest who’s struggling – something about being tripped. Got to keep working. I keep taking on water regularly at the water stops and chat to David Marshall from Linlithgow. He’s running really well but suddenly disappears as we go through the link tunnel. The noise of the crowd is replaced by music echoing from PA by the tunnel walls. At least I don’t have to worry about my Garmin going haywire – that happened miles ago.

Out of the tunnel, and there’s not so many folk to high five now. I amuse myself by getting a reaction from the crowd by pointing to them and getting them to cheer. Fellow runners think I’m having far too much fun.

A guy in a kilt runs past. “I used to run for Bella when I was in Glasgow” he shouts. I want to ask how he manages to run so fast in a kilt but he’s gone.

Another gel and then I see the runners on the other side. Some are walking and looking miserable and I’m thinking they have a long walk to the finish.
Another cheer from David Hulse, three rows back from the barrier – jumping up and down and grinning like a Cheshire cat. I smile and run on.

I’m working quite hard now when David Marshall appears out of nowhere. A footwear malfunction, but he’s alright now. “Still comfy?” he’s asking. “Hmm so-so.” I reply. Still on for 3 hrs apparently. I’m not so sure, and less so as he bounds off up the road.

The crowd thins out and there’s Nick Anderson by the side of the road with some of his team checking their runners’ progress on an iPad. I give him a shout and he cheers me on.

20 miles done: half-way there. I nearly miss John Sandbach screaming from the sidelines. There’s Craig from Portobello again: “Let’s get it done!” I shout as I pass. I take my final caffeine gel.

I hadn’t noticed my pace slowing, as bizarrely, I’m passing people left and right and runners in front of me keep pulling up with cramp and fatigue. Can’t imagine how dreadful that would feel at this stage. I pass a guy on a stretcher and try and try not to think about it. There’s Oscar cheering me on – nearly missed him too.

I’m waiting to hit the wall. Better take a bit of lucozade just in case. And keep working.

25 miles and I’m by Cleopatra’s Needle. Fiona’s with friends from Stragglers running club at their cheering station, but I miss them and all their shouts. Focus now and keep on running.

I’m delighted to see the 1km to go marker. I’m dismayed by how far away the 800m marker is. I reach it and shout out “2 laps of track!”. It’s the longest 800m of my life. I manage a wee turn of pace in the last 50m to cross the line in 3:03:33. I’m surprised at how tired and emotional I am. How can this be? It’s not like I’ve just run a marathon or anything. Oh wait…

Two days later and I’m still happy. What a fabulous experience. I’m still not sure I’ll run another marathon. It was a gruelling 5 months preparation and I’m not ready to contemplate going through all that again at the moment.

But the support of the Club has been fantastic and I’m grateful for getting the chance to run the London marathon for Bella. Being able to draw on so much experience has been invaluable and the flexible training plan worked really well for me. So many of you had to put up with my complaining. Kev and Louise in particular stuck with me on long training runs where all I’d do was moan.

The Bella support on the course was fantastic too. Thanks for all your shouts – particularly the folks I didn’t manage to spot! Thank you all so much. I’m looking forward to seeing you at training soon.

Post Script – I managed to pass the following guys on the way to their Guinness World Record times.

  • Martin Hewlett, Fastest marathon dressed as an astronaut (male):3:06.26
  • Damian Thacker and Luke Symonds, Fastest marathon three-legged (male): 3:07.57
  • Charlie Long, Fastest marathon dressed as a bottle (male): 3:09.37

It’s ridiculous how fast you have to run to get one of these records now. Full list here:

Inspire you? Reminder that the ballot for 2017 opens on Monday 2nd May! Enter here: https://www.virginmoneylondonmarathon.com/en-gb/how-to-enter/ballot-entry/ – The club usually receives a couple of places (which is how Henry secured his entry), but you need to have entered and missed out on the main ballot to qualify!

The results from all 25 club members who took part available on an earlier post.

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