London Marathon Race Report 2012 by Catherine Wilding

Such a perfect Day

After days of torrential downpours, the skies cleared and the morning broke to brilliant sunshine in a cloudless blue sky.  There was a chill in the air and the temperature was around 7 degrees.   It was a perfect day on the streets of London for anyone running or indeed watching the London Marathon.

Kenya had declared the race their official Olympic trial.  There was never any doubt that the Kenyan’s were going to dominate both the men’s and women’s races.  If you were a betting man, you would have had your money on a Kenyan.  But with past winners, defending champions and world record holders in the field, there was no clear choice for winner.

A race within a race

To add to the excitement the British were also battling it out. With five women contending for the one remaining spot for the Olympic Marathon and in the Men’s race four men aiming to run inside the Olympic qualifying time of 2.12.  Scott Overall was the only man to have already earned selection for the British team, after running an impressive debut marathon in Berlin in 2011 in a time of 2.10. He was toeing the start line here in London in a bid to pace his fellow Brits to a sub 2.12 finish and a place on the team.  On the women’s side, Paula Radcliffe and Mara Yamauchi had already been selected.  Jo Pavey was a contender for the final spot but had chosen not to run in London having clocked 2.28.24 in London last year.  A dramatic sub-plot to the main race was about to unfold.

Even before the gun went off, it was shaping up to be a spectacular day.

The Elite Women

At 9am the women set off at a conservative pace. The early miles unfolded in a way that suggested they were sticking to their race plan.  The front group dominated by the African runners were being lead by the pacemakers and with no clear leader emerging they seemed to be working together.  A little further back and the British women were also sticking together lead by their designated pacemaker.  Louise Damen was heading the pack at 10k, by which stage Liz Yelling had already dropped back.  A veteran by comparison and with two Olympics behind her it appeared Liz’s third and final bid at the Olympics was already slipping away.  However, another veteran, the 42 year old reigning Olympic champion, Constantina Dita was here  just to run a qualifying time in a bid to defend her Olympic title in August.

At the half way mark the leading pack of ten runners were maintaining a consistent pace and still working together.  With a half split of just under 1.11, it didn’t look like the Kenyan’s were on course to break records.

A Fast Pace

Meanwhile the men’s race was already under way and unsurprisingly had set off at a blistering pace with a first mile of 4.41. Following the pacemakers was a pack of thirteen men including the World record holder Patrick Makau;  three time London Marathon winner Martin Lel; last years winner, Emmanuel Mutai  and his five Kenyan countrymen all in contention for Olympic selection.  At the 5K mark with a pace of 14.37 we were potentially looking at a new World Record.  29.36 was the eye-watering pace at 10K but didn’t seem to be quick enough for Makau who was pushing the pacemakers. By mile 10 however we lost Makau who dropped off the course with a hamstring injury.

It was Wilson Kipsang’s turn to surge forward with a half way split of 62.12 as the rest of the pack struggled to keep up. At the 25k mark there were three men in contention and both a course record and world record was still on the cards.

A new Kenyan Record on the Mall

Back in the women’s race, the defending champion Mary Keitany had already broken away from the pack in the closing few miles with a 4.59 mile.  She was heading towards the finish line and with another London title in sight was looking confident and at ease with a virtually effortless running style. With her last two miles in 5.02 and 5.03 she had completed the second half just over 3 minutes quicker than the first to cross the line in 2.18.37.  Her time being the third ever fastest for a woman and breaking the Kenyan record previously set by the great Catherine Ndereba.

With 800m to go Edna Kiplagat gave a quick glance over her shoulder to ensure that second place was in the bag.  She also broke the 2.20 mark running 2.19.50.  Just behind her in third place was Priscilla Jeptoo to make it a Kenyan-only podium with all three earning selection for the Olympic team.

Battle of the Brits

The excitement was still unfolding in the women’s race as Louise Damen had dropped back and Claire Hallisey was leading the British women with Freya Murray just a few steps behind.  Hallisey strode confidently into the Mall to finish in 2.27.44 and 11th place knocking almost two minutes off her personal best and earning herself a place in the 2012 Olympics.  Just behind her in an incredibly impressive debut of 2.28.10 was Freya Murray.  A relatively disappointing 2.31.37 was the time on the clock for Louise Damen.

Kipsang Surges Ahead

Back in the men’s race and Kipsang had surged ahead just after the 20 mile mark opening up a gap.  The only question now was whether he was on course for a new record.  As he took the right hand turn into Parliament Square and along Birdcage walk there was no-one else in sight.  It was a clear win. Only narrowly missing out on the course record by four seconds, he crossed the line in 2.04.44 .   There was a closer fight for second and third place.  Having hung on until the final miles Kirui started to fade and Martin Lel outsprinted Kebede to finish in second place more than two minutes behind Kipsang.  Kebede took third.

Despite his second place finish, Lel was not selected for the Olympic team.  Such is the level of distance running in Africa, neither was Kebede selected for the Ethiopian team

Lee Merrien had the honour of being the first British man across the line in a personal best of 2.13.41.  Outside the 2.12 qualifying time for Olympic selection it was initially disappointing.  However Merrien was later selected on appeal.

Then came the rest

They may be no match for the Kenyan’s and the Ethiopians, but the serious amateurs in their club vests running impressively fast times are also worthy of applause.  It takes commitment, dedication and guts to even be in the same race as the professionals running 100+ miles a week.  With 800m to go and not long after Kipsang had passed the same spot, a Mornington Chasers vest stood out.  A smiling Simon Freeman managed a wave to the crowd [actually the wave was only to you Catherine! ed], on the home straight and confident of a new PB.  Much further back came the fun runners in their costumes making the London Marathon the colourful and fun race that encourages nearly 40,000 runners to take part every year.

London will be alive again come August with the World’s best runners over the 26.2 mile distance. Surely the African nations will be set to dominate again.

The London marathon 2012

As I stood on the start line of the London marathon this year, I couldn’t help feeling a pang of fear. Obviously there was the usual butterflies associated with the desire to do my best, the knowledge that pain was inevitable, the worry that maybe I should have done more or eaten less or worn different kit. But there was an added dimension this year. Twelve months ago, on a hot day, I had run the London in a disappointing 2:43. Disappointing because I had trained hard and thought I was in shape to improve on my 2:40 personal best. The heat and my inability to adjust to cope with that, along with a fairly quick first half, put paid to that. In the subsequent de-brief with my coach Nick Anderson from RunningWithUs we had agreed – me rather reluctantly – that I would not run an autumn marathon in 2011 and instead wait a year for my chance to redeem myself.

So here I was, on another sunny morning, after a year of training, hoping for the elusive personal best performance. Nervous only begins to describe it!

The race unfolds

© Enrique Casarrubios

The air temperature at the start was ideal: around 7˙C. However there was a breeze, blowing from the west and there wasn’t really a cloud in the sky. It was not going to be perfect so I knew I would have to deal with that, but I felt ready.

I edged closer to the front of the Championship start pen than I had the year before. No matter that the qualifying standards for the Championship start are pretty tough (sub-2:45 marathon or sub-75 minute half for the men), there were still people that I would have to pass, so I wanted the clearest run possible. We were walked up behind the elite men and after the elite field introductions, right on time at 9:45am, we were off!

I had been told by Nick that the first three miles were to be the warm-up. In fact, with a downhill start and a bucket-load of adrenaline, I passed each mile marker at target race pace – 6 min/mile. But it felt great – really easy and smooth and I soon feel in step with a group running at the same pace. The only downside to this is that I was shielded from the westerly wind which I would encounter in the last six or seven miles, so I wasn’t prepared for it when I faced it on my own. Still, I was loving racing and the feeling of gliding along.

By half way I was still feeling great. I had talked to Nick about pacing the race right and we had agreed that I would go through half way in 78-79 minutes. As I passed under the half way gantry the clock read 78:30. Perfect.

It’s getting hot in here…

The only issue at this stage was that it was warming up. I had consumed two of my four gels by that point and so I took out the two that were tucked in my arm-warmers and pulled my arm-warmers down to my wrists. But then I just had hot wrists. So the arm-warmers came off and down the front of my shorts. A mere 800m later and my new cod-piece was feeling very uncomfortable. So out they came and I tossed them to the side of the road about half a mile before we turned right into Wapping. I felt free again!

I had also decided that I needed to take on water. I think that one of the problems in 2011 was that I didn’t adjust my water intake sufficiently and so I was horribly dry by the time I was forced to stop and take a drink. This year I deliberately slowed through the water stations and made sure that when I took a bottle of water I drank three or four good mouthfuls. The rest went either over my head or more usually I squirted the back of my legs (ahhhh, bliss!)

Friends and crowds

I have heard it said that one runs the first half of a marathon with the head and the second half with the heart. I agree, that there is a switch where emotion becomes massively important. During the race I heard my name called out a few times. At mile 16 I saw my Mum and Dad. At mile 17 there was an advanced RunDemCrew party with Linda Byrne shouting encouragement. At that stage I still felt pretty good.

Just before the 21st mile, on a very sparsely populated section of the course, I saw Nick and his fianceé – and fellow coach – Phoebe. I was feeling good and just thinking about getting my head around the last 10km. Nick and I locked eyes and he repeated the instructions he’d given me before the race for this point. Relax, work hard and try to catch the vest in front. At that point I knew that I was going to succeed with my targets.

At mile 21 I passed the RunDemCrew‘s main cheering point. That was a massive boost as a huge group roared me on (you can read about what it felt like to see the ‘Crew here). Next stop, the Mornington Chasers.

The Chasers cheering…

My club, the Mornington Chasers, traditionally have a cheering point on the Highway, near mile 22 so they can see the runners just after half way and then again on the way back with 4 miles to go. On my route out to Canary Wharf I had, of course, seen the Chasers across the road and I noticed that the club flag was tied to a huge tree. I banked that bit of info for later.

On the way back I spotted the tree from quite a long way away, but this is a dead straight section of road and I know that Tom Craggs, who had his hawk-eye on times for the Chasers running, also saw me quite a way out. I must admit, and I’ll take this opportunity to apologise, that I didn’t really see anyone except Tom. But there was another rush of noise, much like at the RunDemCrew station, which sent the hairs on my neck into a frenzy!

In 2011 I had passed this point, and many of the same people, in a bad state and quite a way behind schedule. This time I had good form, I felt great, I was on track and I loved seeing the flash of smiles and hands and the noise. Four miles left and I was going to do it.

The end is nigh

From Tower Hill the race did become a matter of battling the wind and trying as hard as possible to catch the person in front. I pushed as hard as I could, but the lack of a group to shelter from the wind with meant that I was working hard to keep 6 minute miles. Some of the people I passed looked crushed and I flew past them. Others, who were holding it together, proved impossible to catch. So I simply locked in the pace (thanks to Alex Kitromilides for that phrase), repeated my mantras and concentrated on not allowing the nausea I was feeling to develop into anything that would slow me down.

Past Westminster and along Bird Cage Walk, I just counted and counted. I saw Catherine Wilding on the right and flicked her a wave. But really all I could do was keep pushing. As I came onto the Mall I could see the clock and raced for every second I could get. Nothing registered in that final 300m. I crossed the line in 2:38:30, in 138th place, with a new personal best and bloody sore feet.

And that is really the story of my race. I was a little disappointed to run a positive split and ‘lose’ 90 seconds in the second half (78:30 1st half vs 80 minutes for the second half) but PB are rare as hens’ teeth and so I’m delighted that all the work paid off on the day and I managed to hang on into the wind in the last few miles. What I do know is that it was most definitely worth the training and I’ll be back for more!

Pre-marathon advice from Catherine Wilding

Catherine Wilding is a 2:49 marathon runner who started running in 2003 and ran her first marathon in 2005.  Two years later she was competing in the women’s elite race in London and toed the start line as part of the elite women’s field in New York, so she knows a thing or two about preparing for a marathon. She has very kindly taken the time to give some advice for  those looking forward to the Virgin London Marathon this weekend as well as all marathoners with a race just around the corner. If you have any comments or questions about Catherine’s advice please put them in the comments section and I’ll see if Catherine will answer them.

Marathon Day Tips

Sunday 22nd April is going to be the most exciting day of the year for you.  You can already congratulate yourself on a very big achievement:  Being fit and healthy and ready to toe the start line with a smile on your face.   However, you may now be starting to wonder what exactly awaits you on Sunday.

Your training will have prepared you physically for the 26.2 mile challenge.  For most of you it will have been a story of tiredness, aching muscles and mental anguish.  In the process, you will have built a huge amount of mental strength, having become accustomed to dragging yourself out of the door with little motivation and in all sorts of inclement weather. Whether you realise it or not, this dedication will give you the focus needed to get to the finish line.  The race isn’t done yet but the hard work is now behind you and you will be able to draw on this during the race.  The bit no-one tells you, is that the marathon itself is the easy part.

The marathon is as much an emotional challenge as it is a physical one. It will be a roller-coaster of a journey with nerves, excitement, exhilaration, pain, frustration, determination but finally a huge sense of achievement as you cross the finish line.   You have already begun that journey and the marathon itself is the last step on your journey.

What to do in the last few days

With just a few days to go, you should now be focusing on getting yourself mentally prepared.  You will have been given all sorts of advice on pace, preparation, nutrition and injury prevention but don’t underestimate the power of the mind.  You will run the first 20 miles of the race with your legs and the last 6.25 with your mind.   The body will start to tire as you run out of glycogen but as human beings we have the emotional and mental strength to push ourselves beyond what we think is possible.   Take some time in the next few days to visualise yourself running strongly along the Embankment and finally down the Mall towards the finish line. Remember how you felt on your best training run or during your best race and keep that feeling and that image in your mind. Have a mantra which you can repeat to yourself in those last few miles when your legs will be begging you to stop, but your mind will keep you going. Tell yourself you can do it and visualise yourself crossing the finish line.

Remember that even the most experienced runners get nervous before the start. There will be a lot of nervous energy and excitement on the morning of the race.  Revel in it. This will get your adrenalin going and ready for the race of your life.

Our friend Simon Freeman wrote a brilliant race report recently which resonated with me as a runner:

line up
check numbers… twice
grin nervously at fellow runners
gun
run… hard
get out of comfort zone
stay out of comfort zone
try to not get passed in last 200m
finish
mis-read clock
whoop for joy
realise actual time
still smile from ear-to-ear
start thinking about the next race…

Admittedly, Simon was reporting on a 3K race.  You have the challenge of running 42K on Sunday but I think the above summarises brilliantly what most of you will experience.

Finally, enjoy the excitement and exhilaration of the day – you are about to take part in one of the greatest and most iconic sporting events.