My lead up to the 2012 Virgin London Marathon had been perfect up to three weeks ago, having felt as though I’d put the right sessions in, got my long run up to 22 miles and felt good racing over 10k and half marathon distances. However picking up a virus and some niggles in my legs during those final three weeks made me feel a little apprehensive about achieving my target time or even running the race.
I decided to go for it anyway and was fairly confident that, once started, I’d complete the 26.2 miles. Lining up so close behind world record holder Patrick Makau and reigning London Marathon Champ Emmanuel Mutai was a little dangerous, as it can be so easy to go off with the pack and go through the first couple of miles far quicker than your race pace. OK, I was not going to keep up with the super elites, but there are often club runners who you can easily be dragged along with and I really didn't want to go off too fast.
I stopped myself from joining a group that looked to be targeting 2:18ish and early on tried to settle into my target 5:20 miling pace as best as possible. At 4 miles, the course turned straight in to the wind, just as Dean Lacy came through and formed a small group along with Ian Leitch and myself. Dean seemed to be happy to take the brunt of the wind and looked very comfortable, while I was finding it a little difficult and even debated dropping off the back of the group. However I stuck with it, thinking that running in isolation would in fact be far harder.
The crowds through east London were amazing. At about 6 miles, there was an amazing drumming group under one of the bridges where the sound reverberated around and gave me an extra kick at least temporarily, and from the Cutty Sark to Canada Water the road was lined with people practically the whole way, all cheering and supporting. And at this point, I still felt relatively fresh, so could really appreciate everybody’s enthusiasm.
From 4 to 7 miles, we were clocking 5:25 miles, but the pace was upped for mile 8 with a 5:14. At this point I had the choice of going with the group, or running more comfortably and dropping back to a 5:25 pace. I think that through my experience of knowing how painful the final miles of a marathon can be having going out too quick, I chose the latter.
I was now in the rhythm of chipping away each mile and was happy running without feeling pressured to run in a group. I began to run my own race, follow my own watch, and I was now not going to let myself be pulled along at a speed I did not feel comfortable with.
From miles 12 to 19, I began to move through the field, despite my pace gradually dropping from 5:25 to 5:35 miling. I wasn’t overly concerned about this as I continued to feel relatively strong and the main thing was to get to 20 miles feeling good. This year, I made a couple of adjusts to my fuelling strategy during the race: I limited my fluid intake and choose not to take on gels. While gels may replace electrolytes and provide a temporary boost in sugar levels, personally I feel the benefits are relatively small and I find they do not settle in my stomach well. Besides, I’d never taken anything like this during my long training runs in the build up, so why try something new in the main race when your body is not used to?
At 20 miles the course passes from the buzz and mass cheering at Canary Wharf to the relatively quiet Poplar High Street. Running in isolation, hitting the wind and general fatigue, this marks the start of what I found was the toughest part of the race. Richie Gardiner and Erwin McRae of Belgrave were about 30 metres ahead of me and I told myself, at best, to catch them and, at worst, not to let them get any further away from me over the closing stages. I had to settle for the latter as I felt myself gradually becoming more and more depleted of energy running along the Embankment, but I made sure that the gap never got more than 30 metres.
At 25.5 miles the course goes past Big Ben and turns on to Birdcage Walk. Just at this point, I saw my family cheering and gave my sister a massive high-5! Not the most serious thing to do during a marathon, but it at least temporarily distracted me from the pain and gave me a bit of a boost for the home straight.
With the signposts saying 800m to go…600m…400m…200m, it was a case of hanging on as best as possible. I know a sub 2:23 was never going to be on the cards, but with a push I’d hit sub-2:24, and so I pulled out the stops and crossed the line in 2:23:52
I was massively pleased with the time and felt as though I’d run sensibly and this was probably the best result I could have asked for. I know there is still a better time in me, but I feel that with each marathon I run, I understand more about the preparation, pacing, nutrition and just the shear punishment your body has to cope with. The month of May will be time for some proper rest before getting back on it and hopefully hitting a half marathon later in the year.