With little more than two months to go until race day, my training for the London marathon is now beginning to get serious.
Things are going remarkably well. My long run is now up to 18 miles at a pace of around 8 minute 30 seconds a mile. Somehow, I’m ahead of where I expected by now in terms of long runs.
The dilemma is whether to carry on with the long runs every weekend or whether to start a ‘mini taper’ under which I do shorter, more frequent runs for a week or two. Friends of mine who run are divided on this.
Some say to keep increasing the distance, saying it doesn’t matter if I do too many long runs, while others caution against wear and tear to knees and muscles that long runs can cause.
So I’m not sure what to do – and any tips will be welcomed.
One thing’s for certain, the long runs certainly take it on me. After Saturday morning’s 18 miler I felt ruined for the weekend, and spent most of Saturday afternoon dozing.
As I enter the last couple of months the temptation to ease off may also be a bit strong and I’ve got to make sure I continue running three or four times a week.
An Inside Housing story last week about the impact of legal aid cuts on Shelter has provided a reminder of the importance of the cause I am running for. The charity does valuable work in providing specialist advisors but has taken a battering because of cuts. It is not surprising that senior sector figures are pledging to support Shelter at this difficult time.
To make a donation to my Shelter marathon pledge, visit http://www.justgiving.com/Carl-and-Lucy
Concerns about transport chaos gave way to more joyous scenes in London over the weekend , as local newspapers and Facebook pages published the usual pictures of children sledging and snowmen.
For those of us marathon training though the snowy and icy weather provides a few problems.
My London marathon training, which I am doing to raise money for the homelessness charity Shelter, has been going (surprisingly) well. I’ve been doing three or four runs a week, and have been building up my long runs, to just under 16 miles. I’ve started experimenting with sickly energy gels which make you want to gag but are often a distraction to look forward to when struggling.
However, the icy and snowy weather at the weekend prevented any running, unless I was willing to risk breaking a few bones.
Oddly, rather than feel that it’s good to have a weekend off, I’ve felt my legs aching for some exercise all weekend and have felt very restless.
This leads me to the question of what to do this week.
I like running around parks and along canal towpaths and have always found indoor running on treadmills to be the height of tedium, while public gyms are frankly just weird places.
But as the weather is unlikely to get better soon, I forced myself yesterday to sign up for a gym induction. I’m prepared for a few boring treadmill runs this week surrounded by sweaty strangers, while impatiently waiting for the snow and ice to clear.
Visit my fundraising page at http://www.justgiving.com/Carl-and-Lucy
Running the marathon has caused me to do any number of unexpected things over the last few months. Getting up at five in the morning, turning down a Friday night pint, buying yoghurts… The list of unnatural experiences goes on and on.
But of all the things I’ve endured, standing next to my news editor, Nick Duxbury, dressed as a genie in a lamp - with an unfortunately positioned spout to boot – for the duration of a photo shoot that felt like it took longer than the closing stages of the last Lord of the Rings film, was by far the worst.
It was all for a good cause of course. Nick and I joined fellow runners Sandra Maguire from Genesis Housing and Midland Heart’s John Taylor in a sun-kissed Green Park a couple of weeks ago for our feature on the hardships of marathon training and to promote the work done by HACT, for which we are plodding 26.2 miles around east London later this month.
Nick’s daring green and red ensemble, currently lying in a heap in a forgotten corner of the Inside Housing offices, was supplied by Gentoo, which sponsored him to the impressive tune of £300. Personally I’d have added an extra zero to that figure if anyone asked me to wear the thing, but that’s just me…
For my part, all I can offer my sponsors is a kind word and the chance to feel good about themselves.
Given which, it’s time for me to thank… Lovell, Pinnacle PSG, South Yorkshire Housing Association, Trowers & Hamlins, TLT, Circle, Orbit, Drivers Jonas Deloitte, Awics and, most of all, Apollo. Your generosity is appreciated by me and everyone at HACT.
Oh, and the running? Yeah, it’s going fine, thanks for asking. But I can’t wait to get my life back.
Six short weeks to go until the big day and my running pals are dropping like flies.
Nick Duxbury, my fellow Inside Housing runner, has a problem with his interosseous membrane (otherwise known as ‘knee knack’), while my friend Anjay, who is running for Notting Hill Housing Association, is on the long road to recovery from a similar ailment.
I should probably feel blessed that, touch wood, I have remained injury free. But how am I supposed to entertain myself as I grind through the hard miles?
As with most things in life, music is the obvious answer.
But picking one’s training soundtrack is a thorny issue. The emotional pull of a piece of music can, as I have discovered, have an extraordinary effect on a runner. It can take you from imagining that you could run forever, possibly keeping pace with a youthful Steve Cram while you’re at it, to feeling like your feet are weighed down by overfed wildebeest, driving a tractor in the opposite direction.
Recently, feeling in a particularly Motown mood after a morning at home listening to the Four Tops, I opted for a bit of Diana Ross as my musical accompaniment for a 6 miler around the park. The mistake, I later learnt, was to set my iPod to shuffle. Because, while ‘Ain’t No Mountain High Enough’ is the kind of uplifting anthem that can take 20 minutes off your marathon time, ‘Endless Love’ – the queen of soul’s dubious duet with Lionel Richie – did indeed feel endless.
So far, The Stone Roses have been my fallback option for inspirational running music. Most of the their debut album – with the possible exception of ‘Elizabeth My Dear’ – conjures images of me bursting across the finish line, inches ahead of a posse of pursuing Ethiopians and Kenyans, after a Kelly Holmes-esque come-from-behind sprint over the final half mile.
But, the reality is that I’m going to be on the go for a good four hours on race day. And even clocking in at a mammoth eight minutes long, that equates to thirty or so back-to-back repeat plays of ‘I Am The Resurrection’. Even the most hardcore Madchester devotee might find the inspiration waning after a while.
In the name of experimentation, I set my entire library on random and assessed the results: The Las’ ‘There She Goes’, obviously brilliant; Chuck Berry’s ‘Too Much Monkey Business’, surprisingly effective; Bach’s cello suite? Well, masterpieces they may be, but it’s easy to understand why the producers of Rocky overlooked poor old J.S when they were picking their soundtrack.
I’m now at something of a loss. So, I’ll throw it out there. Anyone with any good suggestions for training tuneage, let me know.
Talking of training, it’s starting to get tough. I did my first 16-miler last weekend, which included my first experience of the joy of energy gels – not pleasant in case you’re wondering – but failed to repeat the trick yesterday, pleading exhaustion. I settled for a couple of shorter ones, conning myself into believing that variety was what was needed. Yeah, right.
The fundraising also continues apace. Nick and I are both approaching halfway in our efforts to raise £2,000 for housing charity HACT.
If you want to sponsor either of us, all contributions are more than welcome. The charity does extraordinary work helping disadvantaged people meet their housing needs and should be supported by everyone with an interest in the sector.
Please dig deep.
Bad news folks. I have chondromalacia patellae, otherwise known as Iliotibial band syndrome, or patello-femoral pain.
This is not an obscure genital infection. A quick Google search explains that this is perhaps best known as Runners’ knee: ‘a softening or wearing away and cracking of the cartilage under the kneecap, resulting in pain and inflammation. The cartilage becomes like sandpaper…’
There is a silver lining here somewhere. First of all it is vaguely common ailment; apparently around one in four runners suffer from it (the weaker un-sporty ones, probably).
Second, it is at least evidence that I have been doing enough training to have bagged a legitimate running injury. Yep, that’s right: since I last blogged I have been busy.
My efforts in earnest began on Christmas morning. I don’t think I have ever felt smugger than slipping out the door in the drizzle and busting a gut to get to the top of the downs behind my house and then coming home in time to open my stocking on the day of national gluttony.
I committed myself to running every day until New Years Eve. And I did. Most days I ran a four mile loop with my army friend who was armed with a precision sat nav watch that measured our exact pace at any given time. Richard, known, not without irony to some of his friends as Dangerous Percy, or ‘Danger’ is also running the marathon. He is far fitter than me and pushed me into running whatever the weather. One day he made me run four miles in 31 minutes.
That was a milestone and felt a bit like progress.
Another day I drove to Dorset and ran from Studland Bay round past Old Harry’s Rock to Swanage and back. In the pouring rain. And I loved it. To be honest, it’s not that hard when you’re bored in the countryside.
When I got back to London things were harder. Much harder. The smugness I had enjoyed was gone – I needed a way to get it back.
At first I tried to run back from work four nights a week - a four and a half mile journey from Canary Wharf north along the canal past Victoria Park and the west towards Dalston – and then a longer run on Saturday.
When I tried this before Christmas it was an erratic, arduous, affair that would culminate in me arriving home ravenous, tired and sweaty. Huge 10.30pm suppers were making it hard for me to sleep, and I was resenting the process. After a long press day, the last thing you want to do is don the lycra and hit the pavement in the cold rain and darkness.
Now, I was finding it more of a routine having upped my runs from three times a week to every night. But it was only when I forced myself to start running in to work instead of out that it all started to make sense again. Morning running is the key to smugness and frees up the evenings.
And since New Year I have been holding myself back on weekend nights out so that I am not too hungover to do bigger runs in the morning. What a new world that has opened up. Apart from the fact that I am remembering what a Saturday morning feels like, I have been able to rack up 10 mile runs (usually just laps of Victoria Park) and then return to the house before any of my friends have even considered stirring (albeit at 1pm).
It’s just when you begin reveling in the resulting smugness and start asking yourself why you didn’t do this years ago that you suddenly realise why not. It’s not actually good for you – bad even. Our cotton wool wrapped bodies are not ready or used to the violence and repetitive trauma of running on tarmac everyday. Walking up or down stairs is now painful. My knees click furiously if I dare so much as bend them. Strangely my knees actually hurt less when I run than when I walk. Added to this, now even my right ankle/calf is hurting
I tried to blame my new running shoes and returned to the treadmill for yet another video analysis, the woman in Runners Need informed that I have weak quads.
‘Weak quads’. Whatever.
Well, at first I dismissed this idea as a bitter retailer resenting the fact I was trying to return a product and decided to try and ‘run it off’.
Let’s call it a ‘magic sponge’ mentality. After a few weeks of trying, I can confirm that the magic sponge mentality is bull and I definitely need to do something about my knees that doesn’t involve expensive consultations with physiotherapists who will, in all likelihood, tell me to run less – which given how far away from being marathon fit I am is simply not an option.
It turns out the morose sales woman is right: I so have weak quads. The remedy is time in the gym doing a series of exercises that I would be pretty embarrassed to do in any gym – but especially our work gym which happens to be populated by muscle bound, overly helpful, protein guzzling antipodeans. They must never know about my weak quads.
Today I made my first trip to the gym in a long time. I used to go in order to do beach weights. There was no real strategy, it was just a case of lifting as much as I could in half and hour so that I looked okay naked. This time, my motivation was not aesthetics, but performance.
First of all I did some pull-ups just so every one knew I meant business. Then I did some leg weights until my quads burned. This was legitimate gym activity. Next, I approached the bench press.
There was a queue of bigger people in singlets clutching energy drinks and protein shakes. This is was the worst case scenario. After 10 minutes, it was my turn and they all watched as I proceeded to begin squats with the bench press bar on my shoulders (with no weights on the end).
I looked pathetic – and I felt pathetic. My weak quads felt like they were about to pop. And now, with the lactic acid finally leaving my legs I sit here typing in the knowledge that pain and embarrassment is my new medicine.
Anyway, that’s the long update story short.
However, going forward I won’t bore you with my fast fading smugness or the anal details of my training plan.
No. Instead I will be writing less, but more frequently so that I can focus instead on the bizarre world I have entered; one where competitive couples run together in silent loathing, roller bladers are universally acknowledged as scum, cyclists frequently nearly kill you, some shorts are too short, and the chafing – oh the chafing.
All I ask, as I place plasters over nipples and cup myself sadly, is that you make this worth it and donate anything you can spare to a fantastic cause.
Two weeks into the New Year and my marathon training has hit its first serious snag.
You see, the clever GPS app on my ‘you get what you pay for’ nowhere-near-as-good-as-an-iPhone mobile seems to have been a little generous to me.
Having been encouraged by the times I’d posted on some of my trundles around Victoria Park, I came into the post Christmas period feeling uncharacteristically good about my running. Sure, I was limping for five days after attempting to crack the 10-mile barrier but I’d been doing regular stints of 7 or 8 miles and was preparing to up my game.
So when I hooked up with marathon buddy Anjay on Tuesday night for a jog down to the Olympic stadium and back, I was dismayed to find that his on-board computer thingy (to give it its technical name) said we had done more than a quarter of a mile less than mine did.
In the spirit of scientific discovery, we synchronised watches and hit the road again before sunrise on Thursday. Maybe, I thought hopefully, Anjay had just taken the inside line on every turn; maybe he’d taken a short cut at some point, while I was busy blinking or tying a shoelace?
But the same happened again. Despite matching my friend stride for stride, Mr iPhone read 5.71 miles, while Mr Not-Quite-An-iPhone gave a confidence-boosting (but, more importantly, entirely inaccurate) reading of 5.97 miles.
Yes, I know, it’s not much. But that 4 per cent gap could mean the difference between breasting the tape on the Mall to the general acclaim of friends and family or running out of steam, like a red-faced beached whale, somewhere along the Embankment.
And what if my phone has just gone completely haywire, like Hal in 2001? What if the 50 miles it tells me I’ve clocked up since the start of December – the figure I’ve been touting around as evidence that I am, despite all predictions, taking this training business seriously – has just been plucked out of thin air?
Perhaps it’s time to harness my inner luddite and leave the technology at home. Next time, like Theseus, I’m just going to take out the longest ball of thread known to man and pray that I don’t come across any kittens on the way.
In better news, Nick and I have started piling on the sponsorship pressure and made some significant dents in our targets
We are running on behalf of housing charity HACT and, with the generous help of the sector, we hope to go way beyond the £2,000 minimum we have pledged to raise. It’s a great cause and all donations are gratefully received. You’ll even get a tweet from us for your troubles, so dig deep if you can afford it.
It’s midnight on 30 November. And, as I have done on this date for the past few years, I’ve just done a little jig of delight.
Why? Because the hateful spectacle that is Movember is finally behind us.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against people donating money to the fight against prostate cancer. I am, after all, not a monster.
No, what really grinds my gears is the idea that I should give money to grown men for the ability to produce facial hair. To a hardened cynic like me, it’s symbolic of the something for nothing culture that has allowed the likes of Kim Kardashian and the cast of Made in Chelsea to become more famous than Tim Berners-Lee (look him up).
If you want a challenge, I say, do something difficult. That’s why I, along with my fellow masochist on the Inside Housing news desk Nick Duxbury, am running the London Marathon next April in aid of housing charity HACT.
I accept that to some people – Paula Radcliffe, Eddie Izzard, Forrest Gump – running a marathon is no great shakes. But, presumably, all those people enjoy running.
I don’t enjoy running. In fact, it’s fair to say that I hate running. For one, it’s almost mind-numbingly boring. Secondly, I look like an idiot when I try doing it. And, above all, doing it for an extended period of time takes a degree of dedication, discipline and single-mindedness that is beyond the grasp of a humble hack such as me.
So it was that, a couple of weekends ago, I reluctantly pulled on my Sergio Tacchini trackie bottoms, set Eye of the Tiger to play on an endless loop on my iPod and set off on a miserable trudge up and down the Regents Canal, wistfully eyeing my favourite watering holes on the way.
Suffice to say, I am not a bright-eyed convert to the latter day church of physical perfection.
But don’t get me wrong; I’m trying to embrace my new lycra-clad self. I have even joined a Saturday morning running club, along with my mate Anjay - an architect who’s running for Notting Hill Housing Trust – and I’ve worked out that, if you add up all my training runs so far, I’m nearly at full marathon distance. And it’s only taken the best part of a month.
So, having cracked the running part of this gig (Come on Paula – it’s really not that hard), all I’ve got to do now is raise a bit of cash.
That’s where you, dear reader, come in…
HACT was set up to help improve the lives of those in marginalised communities. It is a charity whose raison d’etre is at the heart of what our sector should be about. They do incredible work up and down the country, which Nick and I will be highlighting in our weekly blogs. For readers of Inside Housing, there can surely be no worthier cause.
If you don’t want to sponsor me or Nick (we may have written something nasty about you in the past – sorry), there are 10 hardier souls who will be battling the wind and rain over the next 5 months to line up in Greenwich Park next April for HACT.
And, I can only hope, not a single novelty tache between them.
Following on from last year’s fundraising success, two more Inside Housing hacks are taking up the marathon mantle for 2012
‘You probably also need tights’.
‘Do I really, though?’
And that is how I became a man in tights.
Not just tights, though - quick-dry Nike running tights. I emerged from Runners Need in Liverpool Street £150 quid poorer but feeling like I have taken the first and hardest step towards running the London Marathon. Finally, after a lot of big talk, I had put my money where my mouth is and committed myself to running 26 miles - ideally in less than four and a half hours.
Inside Housing’s business reporter Gavriel Hollander and myself will be joining 10 other housing professionals (see below) who are going to be giving up sleep, beer and any semblance of comfort so they can beast themselves over the finish line and raise lots of cash for the Housing Action Charitable Trust.
The cause is undoubtedly a worthy one. HACT’s mission statement is as follows: ‘HACT helps housing providers to improve the wellbeing of people in poor and marginalised communities.’ Most people in housing have probably come across the amazing work HACT do - but for those that haven’t yet, in this blog, Gav and myself will attempt to unpick some examples of the kind of projects the charity undertakes. We will also introduce you to other runners, and update you on our journey as we attempt to train our way from being out of shape, desk-bound, microwave meal munching housing hacks to trim, eagle-eyed marathon runners.
In short, whether it is through hearing about how your money could be spent, or through reading grim stories about our runs home in the darkness, ice and rain, we hope to provide you with enough reasons to dig deep into your pockets and sponsor us. I am also in grave need of your help and pointers as I don’t really have a clue what I am doing - as illustrated by my recent spending splurge.
In retrospect, of course, going into a shop and buying a lot of shiny new things - however expensive they might be - is not going to even register on the scale of ‘hardest steps’ I am likely to take over the next six months. But I got quite a buzz out of making that all-important first financial commitment.
I don’t do much in the way of exercise these days. But I would consider myself averagely fit. While I am no stranger to the occasional jog to keep myself ticking over, there is no part of me that has ever wanted to do run a regular basis - let alone a marathon.
But presenting my debit card to the man in Runners Need, I felt like I could be entering into a new world; one where, for the first time in my life, I might be looked on as an athlete of sorts; one in which every day I attempt to better myself; one in which I can buy a whole new set of magazines, books and performance enhancing products. There’s all the new jargon to pick up, new heroes to emulate, and ‘like-minded people’ I can run with/past exchanging a nod of understanding that we populate the same spiritual plain. In short this could be a new obsession - and until I had the gear then, frankly, I would just be another bloke doggedly hauling himself round the park in the rain.
Having spent an hour having my running ‘technique’ analysed on a treadmill and then trying on around eight different pairs of running trainers in an effort to match a pair to my flat, over-pronate feet, I felt inspired to begin my training. The new world embraced me with both arms: had I considered my programme? Perhaps a personal trainer to ensure I reach my full potential? What supplements do I use? Do I have a digital watch, fluorescents or, at the very least, a breathable thermal top and, obviously, a pair of tights. No I didn’t - but I soon would.
It was enough to make me want to leave the shop, don my trainers (and tights) and set off for lap of east London right there and then. However, the retail process was quite tiring. And I was quite hung over. And it was getting dark. And it was a bit drizzly outside which meant I could slip and fall… So I went home and watched the X-factor. And then went out to the pub. And then woke up hung over again.
This was going to be harder than I had thought - and actually training is only one half of the equation; I also have to raise £2,000 by April…
Eventually, when the Sunday sunlight was disappearing and I had no more excuses not to run, I resolved to test out my new gear. I started pounding the pavement from Haggerston overland in Hackney, down the canal toward Victoria Park. My new shoes, I had been told, should be like a slipper - and running in it should be a new and liberating experience that could revolutionise my running. Well, it wasn’t quite like that. Maybe I went too far, or maybe my housemate, Justin, who accompanied me set to great a pace, but by the time I returned from my five mile debut panting and sweating I had a blister. My £40 trainers have never so much as rubbed in the three faithful years I have owned them. Yet my brand spanking new £110 Asics - which are ugly as sin - give me a blister on the first run? Surely I have I been ‘had’.
I am extremely happy with the tights, though.
Please, please sponsor myself or Gav. Movember is now over and we are both targeting £2,000 - a figure that we hope to exceed with the help of the rest of the housing sector. Every pound counts, and every donation will receive a grateful tweet - and especially generous donors will also get a mention in this blog.
Andrew Grant, Head of Commercial Operations (North), Viridian Housing
Adam Jones, Midland Heart
John Taylor Midland Heart
Paul Bridge, Chief Executive, Homes for Harringey
Joanne Barber, North Star Housing Group
Joy Goodman , North Star Housing Group
Nick Atkin, Chief Executive, Halton Housing
Sandra Rodney, Resident involment officer, Genesis Housing Association
Sandra Maguire, Property Manager, Genesis Housing Association
Seventy-two hours after the 2010 London marathon began and I can just about walk down the stairs normally again - the time seems right for some serious post-match analysis.
Mile 0: Things did not get off to a good start with a terrible night’s sleep, punctured by anxiety dreams about forgetting my trainers, or finding I’m wearing a posh dress watch rather than my sports watch, so have no idea how fast I’m running. As soon as I got out of bed at 6am though, the day started to improve. My lovely flatmate had left a bunch of birthday flowers on the kitchen table for me, and as I opened my cards over a bowl of porridge the nerves slowly turned to excitement.
By the time Caroline and I reached the start (after a trouble-free journey - another thing I was stressing about) excitement had almost totally taken over and I couldn’t wait to get going.
The London marathon attracts inspiring stories, but I found myself lining up for the start next to what must be one of the most incredible. Roy, 81, was running his 51st marathon and this was his 20th time in London. He’d raised £180,000 for charity over the years, he told me, having only started marathon running aged 60. That’s an average of 2.4 marathons a year. I couldn’t have asked for a better last-minute motivational chat.
Mile 1: So many people! Starting from pen 7, of 9, it took 15 minutes to cross the line and then it was impossible to run at my target pace.
At the 1 mile marker I was already 20 seconds down on my 9:09 minute-mile goal. I told myself I could catch it up later on and not to waste too much energy weaving through the crowds. In hindsight, the steady going early on was probably a very good thing indeed.
Mile 2: I’d been told this was mainly downhill, so was happy to see a long slope stretching out ahead and tried to pick up some speed. Hang on a minute though, what’s this equally long climb coming out the other side all about? I wasn’t warned about this. Humph.
Miles 3 to 5: As the red starters merged with the blues and greens the sheer scale of the event hit me. The atmosphere was incredible and the early crowds were doing themselves proud. I was still going much slower than I wanted, unable to settle at my own pace amid the volume of runners. But I was cheered by passing the 10 minute-mile pacer, only to come across the 11 minute-mile pacer just down the road.
Mile 6: The first hour was done almost without me noticing and I was feeling good. I took my first drink at 6 miles and got a slight stitch
- a problem I’d experienced in training and was worried about for the day. So I reined myself in slightly, decided not to worry about my split times and just to concentrate on staying calm and on finishing - 20 miles still to go.
Miles 7 and 8: Steady, but starting to really look forward to seeing my family and friends at…
Mile 9: I saw them before they saw me, thanks to the fantastic bright pink flags they’d made the night before. What a genius idea. They were perched on a ledge behind the 20-deep rank of spectators, so I couldn’t hear anything they were saying, but knew they’d seen me. The lift was incredible and for about 500 metres I felt like I could probably sprint the rest of the way.
Mile 10: I knew the plan was for my support crew to cross from the 9 mile mark over to 11, so there wasn’t long before I’d seen them again.
I passed the time by checking out my fellow runners - lo and behold there was Princess Beatrice in her caterpillar, led by Holly and Sam Branson. I had to cut across a grass verge to avoid getting caught up in the 34-strong group as it negotiated a particularly sharp corner.
And note to the tabloids: Bea is definitely no chubster!
Mile 11: Passed in a blur of loveliness as I saw one group of supporters, was joined on the course for a brief jog by another friend, and then saw a third cheering posse.
Mile 12: More support, but this time they missed me. Work-mate Sarah was busy preparing herself a burger from the BBQ, while close by, on the other side of the street, ex-work-mate Philippa stared expectantly into the masses as I passed her.
Mile 13: With the excitement of seeing my supporters and then crossing Tower Bridge behind me, I started to really tire for the first time and was disappointed with my halfway time of 2.08. I knew I could comfortably run half marathons much quicker than that and felt that the sheer number of people had really held me back. With nothing to be done though, I had to concentrate on staying strong and tried to relax by dropping my shoulders and shaking my legs out a little.
Miles 14 to 17: Things started to get tougher. Crowd numbers dwindled around the Isle of Dogs and the quads began to burn. I’ve noticed in training that different parts of the body hurt at different points during a run. To begin with it is the calves and ankles as they scream from the shock of an initial pounding. Then, as they get used to the idea, the stomach often complains after an hour of swishing around. As that settles, a sharp pain often develops in my tense shoulder blades.
But from around 15 miles onwards, it’s the leg muscles that take centre stage. ‘Hello,’ it’s as if they say, ‘what have you lot got to complain about? It’s us that’s taking the real strain, and we’re going to cause the overwhelming pain from now until this nonsense stops.’
Mile 18: I’d started to obsesses ever so slightly about when I’d next see some people I knew, so was really happy to reach mile 18, where my friends and family were planning to be. When there was no sign of them I tried not to be too despondent. At least the Hact folk gave me a loud cheer - much needed after what had felt like 7 lonely miles.
Mile 19: Oh joy, the familiar surrounds of Canary Wharf and the most fantastic crowds yet. Huge big up to my friend Hannah, who, on seeing me turn into North Colonnade, used her entire lung capacity to scream ‘Happy Birthday’. The crowd around her cottoned on and soon 30 or so people were shouting birthday wishes.
Mile 20: This was my lowest point. Exiting the incredible atmosphere of Canary Wharf, the streets were almost deserted and I felt broken. A glance at my watch confirmed that the hallowed sub 4-hour goal was impossible. From somewhere I managed to pick up the pace just a tiny bit, still hoping to break 4:15. That lasted for all of 100 metres before I conceded that, screw the time, just finishing now had to be my main priority.
Miles 21 and 22: Hard, hard, hard. Cheered only by watching the poor folk still at 14 miles on the other side of the street. Some fantastic costumes were on display by those bringing up the rear, including the two men in full-on suits, complete with bowler hats, umbrellas and picnic table. Respect.
Mile 23: Elation! The support crew were back and their numbers had swelled. Another huge boost and by this point, with just three miles to go, I knew I would finish.
Miles 24, 25 and 26: The final stretch passed in a blur of incredible crowd support, disbelief that I’d come this far and relief that it was nearly over. I spent much of this time running next to a giant London Pride bottle, which was very popular with the supporters, so I happily soaked up some of its glory. Passing under the ‘Only 385 yards to go’
banner I finally relaxed and even managed a bit of a sprint finish (for sprint read limping hop at a very slightly quicker pace) to bag a time of 4:24:03. And I didn’t walk once!
The aftermath: The very sore legs, which felt like they might collapse beneath me at any moment, lasted for 48 hours. The real sense of achievement, however, is only just beginning to dawn and will, I feel sure, last for a lot longer. From about halfway onwards, the words ‘never again’ rang in my ears. How quickly we forget though. I’m eager to be back pounding the streets, and to one day run the quicker time that I know is in me. Dublin marathon this October, anyone?
See what I said about having to run another one if I ran over 4 hours in yesterday’s London marathon? I take it all back.
Despite finishing in 4:08, four whole minutes slower than my previous marathon time, I was in no doubt as I crossed the finish line: never again.
But what an experience! The first 16 miles of my race went to plan – sort of. The idea was to get time in the bank by starting out at 3:45 pace. Only I found myself running 8.2 minute miles – 3:40 pace - and feeling confident that I would still cross the line under 4 hours despite inevitably slowing in the second half.
It was on the Isle of Dogs that it hit me: I’d failed to respect the distance and gone out way too fast. My thighs were beginning to burn, and I started to slow. By mile 20 – the home strait – I was convinced I couldn’t finish. I had plenty of puff, but by now my thighs were on fire. My legs just didn’t want to move. I started walking here and there before pushing off again. I knew now that my goal was probably out of reach, but there was a pay off: I was soaking in every last drop of the atmosphere.
From the little kids putting their hands out for high-fives from the runners, the spectators urging me on with offers of jelly beans, to the fellow runner who heard my family calling my name and pointed me in their direction when I’d given up hope of seeing them – this was an experience to cherish.
In my darkest moments, where walking the rest of the course or dropping out seemed the only option, two things kept me going: running for Hact and (pure selfishness) the promise of a finisher’s medal. There was no way I was going to miss out on that badboy. And how I grinned when I finally had it round my neck!
I certainly don’t regret the all or nothing approach. I gave it everything I had and I learned that 26.2 miles is a distance which takes no prisoners. It’s a lesson I’d bear in mind if I ever ran another one. Which, of course, I won’t.
Check out Home Run later this week for Leonie’s marathon experience, and see Friday’s Inside Housing for a full run-down of Team Hact’s times.
Leonie’s run rate
Miles since 1 Jan: 402.2
Caroline’s run rate
Miles since 1 Jan: 431.2
Money they’ve raised for Hact so far: £3,276.20 – and it’s not too late to donate