youve ever considered doing a Marathon then remember its
the training thats the hard bit. There will be no crowds to
cheer you on when youre running in the pouring rain late at
night, or on frosty mornings when youd rather be in bed. If
you miss a few sessions youll suffer from guilt, your brain
never lets you forget. Sprains and blisters are almost a certainty.
But the odd personal best, the odd run that makes you feel like
the healthiest person on earth are the things that keep you going.
But why would anyone want to run the London Marathon? Thats
a good question and one Ill come back to. This was what it
was like for me.
A week before the
marathon and Im eating pasta twice a day in an attempt to carbo-load.
Part of this involves the consumption of energy bars and isotonic drinks.
These are horribly synthetic (thats saying something from a man
who regards Pot Noodles as a tasty snack). I dont think they contain
anything organic at all, just a concoction of beneficial chemicals crammed
together like Astronaut food.
Booze, now thats
a bit of a tricky one. Serious runners would completely rule this out
weeks before a marathon, but I cant see the need for such abstention.
I base this on the fact that my best ever race, a half marathon, was
run the day after a stinking hangover. My theory is that excessive drinking
provides lots of calories, i.e. energy. Hangovers are spent mainly on
the sofa recovering and therefore expending very little of this energy
whilst re-hydrating thoroughly. So the next day you get the benefit
of all those calories to help run really fast. This isnt a scientifically
proven theory and I would strongly advise against trying it. A slight
miscalculation and youll risk being very sick. I dont expect
that would leave you with many stored up calories.
The day before
the race came. I ate pasta salad for breakfast and spaghetti carbonara
for lunch. Shortly afterwards, myself and fellow runner Dave, topped
up our energy levels with pork pies and chocolate éclairs. This
was prior to spaghetti bolognese for tea. Id really recommend
doing a marathon if youre the sort of person who would love an
excuse to eat like a horse for a few days.
22nd April, race
day. 8.30am. We arrived at Blackheath via the train. It was crowded
but we managed to find seats vital for energy conservation. At
this beautiful park we watched hot air balloons and a parachute display
by the London Fire Brigade. Actually, we never saw any parachutists
but according to the commentator they were out there somewhere. I hoped
that they hadnt been blown off course to some less green and spacious
part of the capital.
I dumped my tracksuit
gear with the baggage transport service. Dave was kitted out in charity
shop stuff so was able to keep warm right up until the last minute then
could just discard these clothes in the park. Smart move.
I needed one final
toilet stop. My urine colour was clear, indicating that I was well hydrated.
Sorry, thats more information than you wanted but its important
for a marathon. I was a bit worried about getting runners trots.
A few days ago some friends had told me about a previous winner whod
finished with shit dribbling down the back of her legs. I had just noticed
that Imodium sponsored the kit bags.
We got into the
massive queue for the start. Dave looked anything but ready to run a
marathon as he was still wearing his charity shop corduroys. I advised
him to get rid of them before starting, as it could prove tricky in
the stampede. He proceeded to demonstrate how easy his trouser-discarding
operation would be. It was in fact impossible without sitting down,
so Dave removed his cords immediately.
9.30am. The gun
fired and everybody cheered
but nobody moved. Within seconds we
started to walk. After about two minutes the pace had quickened to a
slow jog but we still couldnt see the start. One guy was lying
on the ground clutching his knee. Everybody stopped to help but couldnt
really do anything. We finally crossed the start line after four and
a half minutes.
Around the course
were brass bands, reggae sound-systems, local radio roadshows, pub cover
bands, pearly kings and queens and karaoke acts. People offered the
runners sweets and oranges. Pubs were heaving and every house with any
kind of balcony or roof garden was full with onlookers. New Zealanders
and Aussies were out in force with their barbecues and flags. Near the
Cutty Sark a soldier broke ranks to stop and kiss his wife. The atmosphere
was brilliant and at that stage I was really enjoying it.
At around 11.15am
I saw Tower Bridge coming into view as a local radio DJ played Guns
n Roses. Despite this, I still enjoyed the moment. Id managed
to quicken my pace to 7-7.30 minute miles now that the runners were
thinning out. I was feeling so comfortable at this point that I started
thinking that this was going to be easy and would have to try ultra-marathons
(52.4 miles) for a real challenge.
I passed the halfway
point at 1h50m and amazingly still felt good. Not until we approached
the Isle of Dogs did I feel the first signs of fatigue. As we passed
Billingsgate Market I got a really bad stitch; I could remember reading
about this in Runners World. You either had to breathe in or out
through clenched teeth, so I tried both and eventually the pain subsided.
Checked my watch here and noticed that Id run an 8.30 minute mile.
The 3h45m pacer overtook me so I tried to keep up. But my legs were
aching and it felt like one of my toenails was pointing up at 90 degrees.
The pacer quickly disappeared ahead.
I passed my mum
on the return to Tower Bridge and waved to her. Next was the carpeted
bit that covers the cobbled roads around the Tower. This may look really
daft when you see it on TV but when youve just run 22 miles you
realise why they do this. Even with the carpet you feel every little
pull and tug that the uneven ground exerts on your legs.
I saw some friends
at 23M and waved for a photo. It helps when people are there to spur
you on. My mile times were now ten minutes plus. I looked at my watch
frequently, working out how much of each mile there was left to run,
every one now seemed as long as three. Passing the 25M marker was a
relief. Less than one mile to go, that would take five minutes if I
could sprint. Someone shouted: Come on Heart Runner! (Thats
what it said on my T-shirt). Finally I turned into Birdcage Walk and
looked for the finish. Saw the time was 3h50m, I wanted to make it before
3h51m so attempted a feeble sprint. Made it by three seconds.
I was given a medal
and had to wait in the queue for an official photo. I received a space
blanket, sandwich and water. I just wanted to sit with the foil
blanket around me and eat my sandwich but couldnt. I had to collect
my kit bag then search for the meeting area to find my friends. This
involved finding the tree with the your surnames initial on, quite
a mission when youre knackered. When I found them they helped
me find a space on the grass. I sat down, wrapped up warm and ate the
best tasting cheese and tomato sandwich ever. Id done it. And
I felt very pleased.
reason for running the London Marathon. You get to achieve something.
How often do you get the chance to do that? Personally there are loads
of things in my life that Id like to achieve, but doing so is
usually a matter of overcoming things that are outside of my control.
If you want to do a marathon then the only person stopping you is yourself.
Another reason people want to run it is for the carnival atmosphere.
The founders of the London Marathon had a list of very charitable aims
but one in particular stands out: to have fun and provide some
happiness and sense of achievement in a troubled world. They wanted
to emulate the New York Marathon, which had been described as the greatest
folk festival in the world. Of the friends I met up with afterwards
at least six of them expressed an interest in taking part next time.
Seeing as most, like me, werent dedicated runners then thats
a pretty good sign that the marathon is reaching the status of a great
festival - that captures the imagination and also raises millions for
© Jim Johnson
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