I am increasingly of the opinion that to do something really well – I mean to the absolute best of your ability – you have to focus as much of your energy on it as possible. One hundred percent of your energy if you can. And I don’t just mean physical energy – although focussing that on your goal is essential – I also mean mental energy. Give everything to the challenge you set yourself and you have the best possible chance of achieving it.
Which is why I went into the London marathon this year with very low expectations for the time I was going to run. Freestak has replaced running as the thing that I think about as I am going to sleep and the thing I am thinking about the moment I wake up, as well as all the minutes in between. BF (Before Freestak) I would spend most of my time thinking about running – my running and how I could improve and see how good I could possibly be. Indeed work was a rather inconvenient distraction from the important business of running.
But all that has changed recently (although not entirely. More on that in a minute) and I went to London to see what it was like to run this iconic, world famous race for fun. I had a partner in this endeavour – Mat Chataway, a 2:41 marathon runner now in training for the Comrades Ultra marathon – and I had no expectations. So we decided to set off at 3:20 pace and enjoy the day.
Changing my focus from racing to running
I enjoy racing and I remember feeling as relaxed last year, aiming for a PB, as this year with no pressure on my shoulders. After all, running is for fun and given my background, the fact that I am running at all is a wonderful thing, so I don’t worry all that much about my times. It is great to run times that you are proud of, but my feeling is that you can only control so much and if you have trained properly, all you need to do is execute your plan as well as possible on the day.
So I strolled across Blackheath with two friends who were also running the marathon, taking in the sights and thinking that the weather looked beautiful.
After an hour and a half in the Championship start pen (what a privilege that is!) chatting to friends, we shuffled to the start line, clapped and cheered for the elite field as they were announced and then we were off!
The first 10 miles just ticked by. Mat and I were striding along together chatting about ultras and plans for the summer. We caught up with a fellow Mornington Chaser, Ian Girling, who was aiming to run sub-3 for the first time, and we fell into rhythm with him, grabbing drinks for him and trying to be helpful. We were ahead of our scheduled pace within a mile of starting!
Approaching half way the route really starts to get interesting. Tower Bridge was amazing – a sea of charity flags and cheering supporters. I had briefly glimpsed my own band of supported – Julie, Mum and Dad – at the Cutty Sark, but the crowds were incredible and they were unable to get to the barrier. Still I knew they were there and that was lovely.
The run down towards the Isle of Dogs and Canary Wharf was still massively enjoyable and I was finding people I knew who were running – Hi, Chris Watt! – and saying hello and checking how they were. The only issues I had were a growing blister on the top of my big toe on my left foot and the fact that at 3 hour pace, we (that is Mat, Ian and I) were getting caught up in the peleton of runners following the official 2:59 pacer.
The best was yet to come
Coming past Mudchute, I thought that I might see Julie and my parents. I was actually well ahead of the schedule that I had told them I would run, so they weren’t quite expecting me when I did arrive. Suddenly I heard Julie’s voice and looked back over my left shoulder to see her sprinting along the pavement to catch me. I was in such high spirits that I impulsively u-turned in the road and ran back towards her for a kiss. She was clasping a bunch of spare TORQ gels that she had brought with her and was yelling at me to not run in the wrong direction and waste time, but I was so happy to see her and I wanted a kiss. After a few seconds with her, I was off, kicking along to catch up with Mat and Ian.
After mile 20 I started getting excited about the RunDemCrew cheering point at mile 21. There were posters on lamp posts in the mile or so before the ‘Crew and I was desperate to find some space so I could take it all in. Obviously the difference between this year and last year – at that 21 mile point – was that I was about 18 minutes slower and there were a lot more runners around me. But the ‘Crew look out for their own and despite me not wearing the right kit (I have to wear a club vest in the Championship race) I threw up my hands in a ‘gun finger’ salute and the CheerDemCrew went crazy! Charlie set off a confetti cannon and there was just the most immense noise. Absolutely brilliant!
After the RDC tunnel of noise, I passed the Mornington Chasers at mile 22. This was a much tamer affair – actually how could it not be?!?! – and trundled on towards the finish.
Blackfriars underpass was as usual: a deathly silent, surreal place. I saw one of my training partners and at least a dozen other runners, heads bowed, walking through the underpass. By this stage I was feeling a bit tight in my hamstrings and glutes, but generally I was OK. I just kept motoring along.
The magic last three miles of the London marathon
The last three miles of the London marathon are magical. The crowds are amazing. The sights are incredible – the Millenium Eye, South Bank, Westminster Abbey, the Houses of Parliament. If you are still feeling OK at this point, it is the best end to the race in the world.
I was definitely feeling tired by this point. I had really not trained for this race and I was still knocking out 6’45” minutes per mile. But I was also grinning from ear to ear and happy to just run all the way. On Birdcage Walk I saw Catherine Wilding, a great friend and runners who has written a wonderful race report here, and gave her a wave.
And then the finish line.
It was a great experience. I love the London marathon – the crowds, the runners, the sights and the sounds. It was fun to run within myself and enjoy it rather than pushing as hard as possible for a PB. I must admit though, that my desire for a crack at my PB has not diminished. I’m not sure that I can balance two huge passions in my life – running and Freestak – in a way that will allow me to train hard enough to run as fast as I have in the past. But you never know…