The Short Version
Went to London, ran a marathon, came home. It was Good.
Long Version – Not Kidding!
My journey to the start line began way back in October 2015, when I managed to run a Good For Age time at the Yorkshire Marathon. My elation at having achieved the time, albeit by just 25 seconds, was soon dampened when Martyn Hewitt confidently announced that the race organisers would be making the qualifying times for 2017 places faster as they were getting too many guaranteed entries. Fast forward to June 2016 and I learnt what comes out of Mr Hewitt’s mouth can be taken with a pinch of salt!
As race day got closer I decided to put a page up on this site to list the Kippax Harriers running the race along with their numbers so that fellow Harriers at home and in London would find it easier to follow us on the course. I was amazed to discover that our little club had 14 runners in the race this year. Many of our runners also raised thousands of pounds for well deserving charities. Makes you proud to be a Harrier!
Those of you who know me will know that my training for this race didn’t exactly go as planned. Injury pretty much ruined any meaningful training until the end of February. Still eight weeks injury free should be sufficient to get enough miles in my legs to make it to the end of the race.
My race weekend plan consisted getting the train down to London with some of my support crew (2*kids) on the Saturday Morning, meeting another member of the support crew (wife) at Kings Cross before dropping the bags off at the hotel and going to collect my race number from the expo at the ExCeL. Note to self, “if I get to do this again next year, take the Friday off work and avoid the expo on a Saturday!” Going to the expo on the Saturday will ensure that you end up doing exactly what they tell you NOT to do the day before a marathon. That is spending most of the day on your feet.
The short version is, the trains are packed, the platforms are packed, the expo is packed and there are queues for everything.
So it’s to the hotel with my race number and timing chip in hand. At check-in we find out we have been upgraded to a room that includes access to the executive lounge. This means we get free nibbles and cake (great) and free drinks including alcohol (even better), only I’m supposed to be running a marathon in the morning and I have yet to find any publication (and I’ve tried) that advocates “having a skinful” as good preparation the night before the run.
With a last longing look at the free booze, I head back to the room to relax for a bit and get an early night.
Unusually I slept reasonably well, and woke at 6am feeling rested. The hotel had a number of runners staying and kindly put breakfast on early so we had a chance to digest it rather than throwing it back up at mile 5. The dining area looked like it was full of people who had come straight from a runners world photo shoot.
The clock says 8am and it’s time to head off. A short walk has me at Canary Wharf station where I can catch a train to Greenwich, followed by another from Greenwich to Maze Hill. The platform is quite busy and everyone seems full of nervous excitement, the train rolls in and the doors open. But it is so full no one can squeeze on. The doors close, and the train moves off. On the platform we all wonder how we are going to get to the start if this carries on. However, any fears are misplaced as the next train soon rolls into the station and the doors open to reveal a totally empty train. Bizarre.
The rest of the journey goes smoothly and as I get off the second train at Maze Hill, I receive a text message from Martyn Hewitt asking if I’d like a coffee getting in at the start area. Nice one Martyn. A walk up Maze Hill, a flash of my running number and I’m in the Green starting area.
The sun has come out and the wind is just a gentle breeze, making conditions great for just sitting on the grass waiting for the start time to approach. Truth is, there isn’t too much sitting on the grass, more it’s constantly jumping up to join the toilet queue again for “one last wee”. Martyn decides he doesn’t want to wear his skin shorts anymore, so I use my jumper to do a towel impression to shield at least one side of his nakedness from the world (apologies I couldn’t do anything about the back side). It’s 09:35 and time to load our bags onto the baggage trucks, followed by “one last wee” before finding our starting pens.
I was in pen 3 and found myself next to Batman & Robin in the batmobile, a Horse and Jockey and a Bishop and a Monk. Oh and a lady who just “squatted” and once finished, wandered away leaving a puddle. Nice!
The countdown to 10:00 is completed and we are off.
As you would expect in a race of this size, space on the course was at a premium so you pretty much moved along at the same pace as everyone else. A bit like being caught in the current. After about 800 yards we merged with runners from the blue start and continued on for about a mile through residential streets. Even this early and well outside the center of London the supporters were out in force offering encouragement to the runners. You also had to keep an eye on the floor as there were plenty of speed bumps to trip you up. To try and minimize this risk, marshals had been strategically placed to continuously shout “HUMP!” I bet it wasn’t long before they got fed up of that.
I continued on with the “flow” and to be fair, the pace was a little quicker than I really wanted to go. However, this early in the race, it all felt quite easy so I was content to just go with it. Just short of 3 miles and we merged with the runners from the red start. Miles 4, 5 and 6 were a bit of a none event as we ran along a main road back towards Greenwich. The highlight of this section been the drummers under a flyover. The flyover really amplifying the noise and making the hairs stand up on the back of your neck. Have a look for yourself here Here.
It was then on towards the Cutty Sark and this is where things really took off. The support was immense, a constant noise and people shouting encouragement. It is really hard to keep a huge grin off your face as you pass.
7 Miles now complete and I still feel okay, still a little faster than I would like, however, this time I only have myself to blame. The crowds have thinned a bit now allowing you space to run at your own pace. The only time this isn’t the case is at the aid stations. There are twin hazards of runners just cutting straight across you to get to the water, and discarded water bottles in the middle of the road.
We are almost at Surrey Quays now which is the first point at which I might be able to catch a glimpse of supporting friends and family. Mile 8 and 9 passed and I still hadn’t seen them. The crowds were just too big to pick out familiar faces. I was later informed that my daughter had just managed to see the back of my head as I went past. I bet that was worth the wait 😉
At about 9.5 miles I was passed by a tall fella with “Andy” printed on his back. I recognized him as our very own Andy Hill. I sped up briefly for a quick chat to see how he was getting on before realizing there was no way I was keeping this pace up and bid him a good race and dropped back to just “slightly” too quick.
Another couple of miles ticked off and I’m still feeling okay, not great, but okay. The twelve mile marker goes by and there is a bit of a lull in the number of supporters on the road side. We turn right and I realise why. Tower Bridge is up ahead and it looks and sounds like every man and his dog is on it, cheering you on. The wall of noise just hits you and is guaranteed to bring a smile to your face and put a spring in your step. Everyone I’ve spoken to who has run this race has mentioned Tower Bridge as one of the highlights. I can confirm, they are not wrong.
After Tower Bridge there is a right turn and half way is in sight. There is now a 2.5 mile stretch of road where runners will be running in both directions. Those having completed 13 miles can see those going the other way having completed 22. It is here I see the mens elite runners just glide by. They are only 9 miles ahead, maybe I can catch them?
After giving up any hopes of winning the thing, it’s onto the Isle of Dogs and Canary Wharf. There is still plenty of support on the roads but at mile 16 my right knee starts to hurt and I find myself slowing down and each step gets heavier. I was aware that family and friends were going to be around the 18 mile marker, so I dug deep and picked the pace up a bit so I’d at least look strong going past them. Again though, the crowds were 4 or 5 deep and I was worried I wasn’t going to see them again. Then I heard Helen shouting as only Helen can and managed a wave and a smile as I went past.
Just after mile 19 I see a guy up ahead looking very unsteady on his legs weaving from side to side. As I got closer I realized it was Andy Hill from club. I asked him if he was okay and only received a blank stare back. I put a steadying arm around him and guided him to the side of the course. Another runner stopped and asked if we were okay and then ran ahead to send a marshal to help us. Sorry, I didn’t get your name, but thanks for stopping and helping out. We made it to a marshal station and sat Andy down so they could commence operation rehydration. Andy was now muttering that there was no way he wasn’t going to finish. As we know he was true to his word and it was amazing that he could carry on and complete another 7 miles after been in that state. Well done Andy!
My rest was over (thanks Andy) and I had 7 more miles to do myself. Both knees were now hurting and I was really slowing.
Miles 21 – 23 is along the other side of the road where I’d already seen the elite men showing just how it’s done. I’d been running now for around 3 hours now and was almost broken. My running style had become almost a shuffle to try and reduce the impact on my knees.
The sun was out and I was thinking how nice it would be to be in a beer garden and all I had to do was carry on putting one foot in front of the other and that’s where I’d end up. The 3 miles to the Mall are a bit of a blur. The two lasting memories I have are the crowds lining both sides of the street and the guy who must have ignored the sign seen earlier on the course, which said “don’t trust a fart after mile 22”. I’m glad at this point he was running quite a bit faster than me so the sight and smell soon disappeared up the road.
So it’s finally around St James’s Park and onto the Mall, 400 meters further and I’ve crossed the line in 3:34:12. Overall I’m really happy with the time. Yes, I should have started slower and Yes, I should know better by now.
An army of marshals direct runners onwards to collect a medal and goody bags, then its on to the baggage trucks to collect my belongings. You can really tell they’ve done this before as the organization is excellent.
Now to find that pub to meet family and friends and bask in their adoration J
Bring on 2018!
On a slightly serious note, I’d really like to say a huge thank you to family and friends who came down to London to support and to all the volunteers, marshals, St Johns Ambulance, musicians along the course and all the spectators who offered their support to all runners.
Apologies if I’ve missed anyone off.
Written By Mark George