Marathon #4 : London Marathon 2010
25th April 2010, London, UK
Finish Time = 4:13:34
For several days after the London Marathon I kept asking myself – what went wrong with the race? I considered everything from diet to clothing to pace to fuelling. Everything I did should have been right. Ultimately my conclusion is that it was just not one of my days.
This had been the best year for me for fundraising. Kate’s documentary had aired on Channel 4 and the kind and generous members of the general public kept donating to my pages. In total I raised £5,938 including gift aid for Dans Fund for Burns and £1,406 including gift aid for The Katie Piper Foundation. It was set to be a huge day and I wanted to top off the amazing fundraising with a new Personal Best time.
I had made a point of getting good sleep throughout the week and the night before the marathon my sleep also wasn’t too bad considering. I got up in the morning, got ready and made my way up to London by train. I arrived in Greenwich and had to meet the film crew who were filming footage for Kate’s new documentary. They followed me as I walked up to the starting area, filming me as I walked. I felt like a celebrity. There were quite a few people looking too – probably trying to work out who I was. Unfortunately it started raining and ended up getting quite heavy. I was trying to focus on the run ahead, while answering interview questions with cold rain literally dripping down my face – not much fun. Eventually I reached the area the film crew couldn’t carry on to, so I answered some remaining questions and then went in to put my bag on the lorry. I was excited and very much looking forward to the race, I was confident it would be my best yet, and had my 3:45 pace band on.
I lined up in my start pen, crossed the line and set off. After running a half mile extra in the race last year I was determined not to zig-zag through people, wasting energy and covering extra distance. So I tried to keep disciplined if the crowds bunched up, although it was impossible not to do a certain amount of zig zagging as it was just so so crowded. After a couple of miles I managed to get used to the pace I needed to run at for a 3:45 finishing time. I did notice early on though that I wasn’t actually feeling that great – it wasn’t feeling as effortless as it should have done up to a certain point. I carried on and soon approached the familiar area where my Uncle and cousins all marshal, giving them high fives as I ran by. After a little further I hit the 10k mark and was bang on time for the 3:45, but I could definitely feel it a struggle to be keeping up the pace, even though it really shouldn’t have been by this stage. I wasn’t too happy. I can understand, and accept, struggling in the last quarter of the run but not that early on. I’d run half-marathons much quicker than the pace I was running at and felt completely fine the whole way through.
I pushed on, knowing my next milestone was seeing my friends further on down the course. I was disappointed really, I had been awaiting this day for so long. Every run I did was a build-up to this event, a day I described like Christmas; “coming once a year”. I love the day of the London Marathon, but that day I wasn’t loving it. It felt twice as hard as it should have done and it was proving to be much more effort to keep up the pace I wanted than I know it should have been for me. I really wanted to enjoy it, but I wasn’t happy. It was tough already. I remember looking at my watch at mile 10 and thinking that my legs felt like they’d run double the distance. They felt just like they did at the END of my last 21 mile run. Tight, painful and like they had been running for 3 hours. But I didn’t know why.
After reaching my friends who cheered me on I was soon coming to one of my favourite parts of the course – running over Tower Bridge and then seeing my family. It’s always an amazing stretch with people cheering from both sides and a glorious bridge to run over. Shortly after I saw my family and we all waved, thumbs-upped and cheered at each other.
It was a great feeling and so nice to have them all there, and Kate was able to come for the first time. My time had slipped down to a 3:50 finishing by this point but still on track for a PB. After a few last waves I carried on going into the stretch I knew was a long journey until I would see them again.
At around 17 miles my legs were getting really painful. I hadn’t hit the wall – I knew only too well what that felt like and it wasn’t that. Infact I didn’t hit the wall throughout the entire race, it was just my legs that were in tight pain. I did something I’ve seen plenty of other people do in a race but had never needed to do myself before. I stopped and stretched out my muscles. I did each of my calves and then set back off again. It actually felt pretty good. After another mile or so I had to stop again and stretched out my quads this time. After another mile I stretched out my ham strings. It helped temporarily for a bit but the pain would inevitably return. I kept having to walk as it was just becoming too painful to run – I had the fuel in the tank but I was just consumed by the pain in my legs to keep going. I wished that I had my iPod. Instead, I tried singing songs in my head that were in my running collection on my iPod. It didn’t really work. My average pace was slipping away rapidly, soon it was bang on what it would be to complete the course in under 4 hours. Then I saw it tick over to slower than last year. It was then I realised that not only was a record time out of the window, but I was actually going to be slower than the time I had done last year. This was pretty depressing. I knew I’d be seeing the family again soon, so I tried to set myself the challenge of not stopping to walk until I got to them.
As I came up to them I stopped and talked to them, giving Kate a hug. My time was out of the window so that didn’t really matter anymore. I wasn’t out of breath, I wasn’t out of energy, I wasn’t mentally exhausted or barely able to take in things like I was last year at that point. I just casually said to them that I didn’t know what had gone wrong. The time was much slower than I expected and my legs were in so much more pain than they should have been.
I gave them all a hug and set back off again and the last thing I heard was them all shouting “Go on Paul!!!” from behind me as I ran off. I smiled to myself and pushed on.
Pretty soon I was walking again, and every time I stopped from a run to a walk I would literally grimace in pain or shout out in sheer frustration. What was becoming difficult though is the crowds from that point on are huge and really supportive (loud!). So you slow down to walk and you have multiple people shouting things at your like “Come on Paul!! Don’t walk, come on – get going again” and you feel you have to start running again. When you do there’s massive cheers again and this cycle repeats. At one stage we entered a tunnel and loads of people were walking. I went into a walk and a guy in front of me said to another guy “These tunnels are good – they’re the only place you can walk without feeling guilty!”. It was so true.
As I came out of the tunnel I went to start running again after a long period of walking. Then something strange happened – something that’s never happened to me before in either a race or even a training run. I got cramp in my legs. It was horrible too – it was on the back of my leg behind my knee, like my muscle was being pinched, pulled and held outside of my leg. I couldn’t bend or straighten my leg so I quickly had to head over to the side of the road to try and stretch and massage it. After a while I tried to head on again but could only limp-walk. Suddenly even though I had around 4 miles to go it felt like it was a whole marathon ahead now I had this new problem. I didn’t actually know how I was even going to walk the rest of the way with this cramp. I tried jogging again and thankfully it seemed to go away, but then my left quad muscles started cramping instead. I tried rubbing it as I kept jogging and again, that seemed to get rid of it.
I carried on and eventually I could see The Houses of Parliament in front of me – I knew from past experience that signalled the end was close. I was so relieved as I just wanted the race to be over. After rounding the corner I started seeing the “800m” to go signs, and while I was aware of the photographers all around taking pictures, I wasn’t even interested in smiling for the camera – and not even naturally smiling. Shame.
I rounded the corner by Buckingham Palace and saw the finishing gates in front of me. I ran through and stopped my watch on 04:13. The last bit is always pretty tough because you force yourself to keep running once you start seeing the “800m to go” signs, so once you cross the line that catches back up with you. I was really glad to have finished my 4th marathon, a great achievement. But I was disappointed that my time was slower than my Edinburgh Marathon last year – at a time when I had previously run a Marathon just a month beforehand. It was really good to have my 4th marathon medal and I met up with my family at the finishing area. Although I didn’t enjoy the race I still had a great day because of having everyone there.
Reflecting back on things now I still don’t know why the race didn’t go according to plan, especially after completing a successful 21 mile run 4 weeks beforehand. But I’ve come to realise that I had it wrong mentally. I based my enjoyment of the day on achieving a personal best time, and when I didn’t get that I had no enjoyment. Maybe it took that for me to realise what these days are about, and it’s not just the time you finish in. It’s enjoying the run, enjoying the journey and having people around you that are supporting and loved ones cheering you one. I didn’t smile at one supporter that day (family aside) which is a shame as I used to thrive on the crowd support. I was taking myself too seriously, and forgetting one of my personal golden rules – if you can’t enjoy it, what’s the point?
I’m going to use this experience to get back to enjoying running. I became too focused on times and even on getting medals from races. I didn’t want to run far in training because it didn’t feel like there was any point if I didn’t get a medal from it. That’s totally wrong. The experience is the reward, and so I’m going to take my running back to basics – enjoy going on a training run through nature, across woodland and exploring new routes. If friends ask me if I want to join in a 10 mile run they’re doing one night, I won’t think “But I won’t even get a medal from that.” I now realise I’ll be getting something far better.
I’ll be back at London next year for sure, but I’ll be back for the experience. If I get a good time then great, but it’s not going to be my measure for success. I suppose it’s something people always ask you when they find out you ran a marathon – “What was your time?” which is one reason why it becomes such a big focus. No-one ever says “How much fun did you have?” I’ve managed to run a sub-4 hour marathon already, I’ve done that, so I don’t have to be faster and faster each time. And I shouldn’t be hard on myself with a time like 4 hours 13 either, as it’s still a great time.
I think I’ve learnt a lot from this race, I hadn’t ever really been disappointed with a race before and I think in being disappointed and not gaining what I wanted, I’ve actually gained an experience far more valuable than I could have imagined.
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