Marathon #2 : London Marathon 2009
26th April 2009, London, UK
Finish Time = 3:59:06
It’s the 29th April 2009, 3 days ago I completed the Flora London Marathon 2009 while raising £1,509 for Dan’s Fund For Burns.
This time I ran, this time I wasn’t injured and this time I managed to complete my ultimate goal of running a marathon in under 4 hours… just.
The build-up during the week had been horrible and I had been getting very nervous. I’d had problems sleeping and also some strange marathon dreams. It took me a while to get to sleep that night, and I think I slept – I must have, but it just didn’t really feel like it. I didn’t get that sensation you have of waking up from your sleep, so it felt like I’d just been lying there the whole night and morning had come, but it didn’t feel very long so I must have slept. After breakfast I made my way to Greenwich Park and as I approached the enormity of the event struck me once more. The sight in that park is amazing. People, helicopters, inflatables, all sorts.When I got to the Red Start it was all completely familiar and it really didn’t feel that long ago that I was last there, but what different circumstances they were! The day was looking like it was going to be sunny. I lined up in my zone and tried to warm up a bit. After 10 minutes the race had started and everyone cheered. We shuffled forwards and a girl started talking to me. It was her second marathon, she’d done one previously and managed 4:01, so she was going for under 4 this time. As we got near to the start line we wished each other luck and we were on our way.
It was a great feeling to be running the London Marathon and without any injury this time. It was much more crowded than I remember, probably because last year everyone was having to overtake me, where as this time I was the one trying to get around other people. I kept having to zigzag everywhere and speed up to get past people that were holding up my pace. This really knocked my pace out, and instead of sticking to the 8:30 minute miles I’d planned, I was clocking up low 8’s. I didn’t really mind because I had always thought in the back of my mind that when it came to race day I’d try for faster than 8:30 minute miles. Of course everyone tells you not to go off too fast, but I thought if I get some quick miles in during the beginning when I’m fresh, it wouldn’t matter so much if I slowed down in the subsequent miles. Sounds okay in theory.
The miles went by pretty quickly and all went well. A lot of the course seemed surprisingly familiar, it’s funny how you don’t remember things but when you see them again you do. I saw my Uncle and cousins at their marshalling spot, giving them some high fives as I ran past and my Uncle ran along side me for a few seconds asking how I was and how it was going. I hit 10k in a time of 51 minutes, I was wearing a pace band for a 3 hour 45 finish time and I was consistently about 2 minutes ahead of schedule. Excellent I thought, time to spare! The miles carried on and the sun was out. It was hot, but I was enjoying it. I remember thinking to myself that these marathon days are quite possibly the best days in the world ever. The support was absolutely fantastic, not an inch of roadside was unattended and people are constantly shouted and cheering. As I hit mile 12 I saw some of my friends in the crowd, and I gave them high fives as I ran past. It wasn’t long before I’d see my family so I was looking forward to that too. Crossing Tower Bridge I made a conscious effort to keep my head up, soak up the atmosphere and look around me as I ran. I was aware that it would be all too easy to just concentrate on the running and not actually take in the day as it should be. I didn’t want to lose the fun element of it just because I was chasing a time this year.
A little while later I spotted my family, they all cheered and I smiled, waved, pointed and cheered back. It was a huge boost to see everyone and I carried onwards with renewed spirit. I knew I’d see them again later, and I also knew from last year that that journey is a lot longer than you imagine. I hit the half-way point at 1 hour 51 minutes, a pretty good time for me in a half-marathon alone, and so a great one as part of a full marathon. I carried on and by mile 16 I started to feel the first signs that it was getting harder. I’d slowed down to a low 9’s pace for the first time and was feeling weary. I was quite annoyed with myself as I knew I had another 10 miles to go yet, so I certainly didn’t want to start feeling it getting difficult by this early stage. By mile 18 I hadn’t managed to pick it up and it was getting worse, I was really starting to struggle. My pace was still slow and my overall average was creeping up. I was feeling a bit sick from all the Lucozade, water and energy gels. By mile 20 I was struggling even more and was frequently having to stop running to walk. My pace was in the 10’s and my time was slipping away. I kept putting water in my hair to try and cool off, and rather than smiling and thanking runners that were calling out my name I’d just put a thumbs up to them and keep running. I knew I’d see my family again soon so this kept me going. It seemed to take forever, but finally I got there, 10 minutes behind schedule.
When I saw them they shouted and put their hands out for high-fives. Instead I grabbed their hands and stopped to talk. They told me to keep going and not to give up and I told them I didn’t know how much longer I could keep going and that I didn’t think I’d be able to do it in under 4 hours. They said it didn’t matter and to just finish. My body was shaking but I didn’t know why. To me it felt like I was stood there with them for a good 5 minutes, but watching a video of it, it was only 30 seconds.
I ran off and continued on, walking occasionally then trying to force myself to jog again, only to start walking a bit later. My body felt like it was dying, I had no energy left and everything hurt. At one point someone shouted “Paul! Have a drink of water!” I had so little awareness by this point that I hadn’t even realised I was walking by a water station. The guy must have seen my vacant look and knew I needed some hydration. I was trying everything I could to force myself to keep running but it was so so hard. I thought to myself that I am never going to do this again, I’m never putting myself through this. I couldn’t believe I’d already signed up to do the Edinburgh Marathon in 5 weeks time, what an idiot… unbelievable.
The mile markers were taking so long to get to each time but eventually I made it to mile 25. After passing through the archway I once more started to walk. I could see by my time that I was either just going to do it in under 4 hours or just miss out on it. If I kept walking I would miss out. I thought to myself that if I finish in 04:00 or 04:01 then so be it. I’ve put absolutely everything I could into this race, I couldn’t have done more. So if that’s the time it’s going to be then that’s what it will be.
But then my fighting side reconsidered. I thought to myself if that’s what I’m going to say, then I do need to have put in everything I could. If I miss it by seconds I could think back to this moment and think “If only I’d run instead of walking at that point”. I also thought to myself that I’m never going to push myself this hard in a marathon again, so if this is going to be the only time then I have to make it count. I started running again, keeping a close eye on my time. I could tell that I would need to run from now to the finish non-stop and couldn’t afford to walk.
It was really hard as after a while my mind and body was telling me once again to take a walking break. I pushed on ignoring this, and it hurt, it hurt a lot. When I hit about 25.5 miles I picked up the pace and was actually running fast. I could see the time slipping away. I hit 26 miles and saw the sign saying “385 yards to go”. I didn’t know how long this would take so I still wasn’t sure if I’d make it. I didn’t have long left on my watch and so I increased my pace to low 8’s. This was really tough and at one point I just didn’t know how I would keep my legs going, I felt utterly gone, like I wouldn’t be surprised if I just blacked out. I saw 800m to go… 600m to go… 400m to go… 200m to go… I still didn’t know if I’d make it as I didn’t know how long these distances would take to cover. I rounded the corner by Buckingham Palace and saw the famous finishing gates. My watch was on 03:58 and I STILL didn’t know how long it’d take to reach the finish line. I sprinted with everything I possibly had left. It was only when I got within a few meters of finishing that I realised I was going to do it!
I crossed the line with 03:59:06 on my watch.. AMAZING. As I stopped running all I could do was let out a little cry of pain as a bad stitch in my side suddenly became apparent. I leaned up against a fence by a paramedic, almost hoping he’d take care of me, to see if I was ok or wave a magic wand to fix me. He didn’t do or say anything though. I realised I needed water, so I picked myself back up and made my way onto the platform to get my chip cut off. Inside I was over the moon but I was still all too consumed with the pain and exhaustion to think about it. I think it wasn’t until I walked down the platform and had the medal put around my neck, and after the woman said “Well done” that I had my first smile in many many miles. I was looking forward to seeing everyone at the meet and greet, especially as they’d have assumed from what I said that last time I saw them, that I would have finished in over 4 hours and I’d be able to surprise them.
As I headed towards the meet and greet area I saw everyone coming towards me. We all had some hugs and I found out from my sister that they already knew my time as they had been sent it by text! So the text message service ruined being able to surprise everyone that I had just made it, oh well.
It was a brilliant day, I couldn’t have asked for anything more. I achieved my ultimate goal of running the London Marathon in under 4 hours and had the support of loved ones too. It becomes so much more important than you’d think to have them along the course, it helps you separate the run into manageable stages when you know you’ll see them, and having people you care about sharing the experience with you is invaluable.
After I had finished the race I had said to everyone that I never, ever wanted to do that again. And I couldn’t quite believe that I had signed up to another marathon in just 5 weeks time. But I’ve found that’s always the way, that’s always the initial reaction after putting yourself through something like that. But I also know that inevitably I will want to run another, and another.
There’s a quote I like:
“You have to forget your last marathon before you try another. Your mind can’t know what’s coming.”
Hitting the wall at 18 / 20 miles both scares and fascinates me. It’s a terrible, horrible feeling and one that’s hard to put into words. There aren’t going to be situations in normal life where you’re ever really entirely out of glycogen – the energy source that fuels your body. There can be days in life when you can feel tired, or feel like you don’t have energy but in actual fact you do have some. Whereas hitting “the wall” strips everything away leaving you with nothing and I think then it shows you who you really are. Are you someone that crumbles and gives up, losing all hope, or someone who resigns to walking the rest of the way, or do you dig down deep somewhere and somehow carry on when you can’t even begin to see the end in sight? I think it builds up character and ultimately leaves you mentally stronger. The last 6 miles of a marathon are entirely a mental battle, that’s for sure. And I think that’s another fascinating part of marathon running – it’s such a journey that you go through. Physically, emotionally, mentally you have to be so strong in each area to make it. I read a quote from a running coach that said;
“I tell our runners to divide the race into thirds. Run the first part with your head, the middle part with your personality, and the last part with your heart.”
When I’m not running a marathon I want to be back out there, experiencing the thrills of the journey, the cheers of the crowd, the challenge of the distance and testing my will power against the miles. But when I’m actually in those last 6 miles I hate it, I don’t want to be running anymore and just want to quit and go home. I wonder why I do it. It’s a strange feeling wanting to put yourself through that again to see how close to the limit you can push yourself but I suppose that’s what brings every repeated marathon runner back to the event. The desire to put yourself through the hardest thing you’ve ever done, it isn’t something everyone can understand.
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