Just as they had done for the Olympics in 2012, Londoners came out in their thousands to support the London Marathon athletes – in my 7 previous starts I have never seen anything like it as between 750,000 and a million crowded onto London’s pavements. The presence of double Olympic champion Mo Farah swelled the numbers considerably, as did the warm, sunny conditions. The noise in places was almost deafening as the crowds encouraged the runners – how on earth so many runners can shut out the unique atmosphere and listen to music during the race almost beggars belief.
It was a bit hot for running, temperatures were 11°C at the start to 17°C by mid afternoon, but they are the in-the-shade temperatures and, other than around Canary Wharf, there really isn’t much shade and with little breeze it felt much warmer. With most of the training having been done during the winter when it is possible to ‘get away’ with poor re-hydration on runs, Sunday’s heat will have come as a shock to some. I was somewhat taken aback by how many runners were ‘skipping’ the water stations at each mile along the course, and as a result not that surprised to see how many needing attention from the 1,200 St John Ambulance Volunteers in the final 10 kilometres or so. Sadly, there was a death too, as a runner collapsed at the finish line, which rather puts everyone else’s race into some perspective.
As for my race …..
0 to 5 km (Blackheath to Woolwich) 25:23
I was in ‘pen 2’ from the Blue Start on the ‘Heath, the widest and quickest of the three, and after a lot of waiting around at the start, I was running at just under my 3:40 target pace almost from the first 100 metres. I was probably bit too far forward at the start and had to keep resisting the temptation to follow the pace of quicker runners. I saw a friend just after the ‘Sun in the Sands’ but then ignored the crowds for this part of the race as concentration is crucial as runners weave in an out.
5 to 10 km (Woolwich to Greenwich) 25:40
I was in the groove, the pace seemed easy and sustainable but unlike one or two others resisted the temptation to speed up – a man dressed as a clown seemed to sprint past me just after the first drinks station I used in Charlton (more of him later).
10 to 15 km (Greenwich to Rotherhithe) 25:46
The Cutty Sark looked glorious in the sun as I passed early in this section as my almost metronomic running continued. The family were there in our normal spectating spot just before 8 miles, so lots of personalised encouragement. I used my first gel at Surrey Quays and running still seemed easy –as it ought to at this point.
15 to 20km (Rotherhithe to Tower Bridge) 25:53
I usually seem to slow down on the slightly upward Salter Road (named after Alfred Salter) but today it seemed easy as the crowds at the side of the road seemed set to make a party of the day – a couple of barbecues were already well underway and there was a big group of Sheffield United supporters watching before making the trip to Wembley later in the day. A big band was playing Weather Report’s ‘Birdland’ as I turned the corner into Jamaica Road and I had to resist the temptation to increase my speed to match the beat.
20-25 km (Tower Bridge to Westferry) 25:54
The half way point was passed at 01:48:17, close to my target, although a feeling of slight tightness in my right lateral collateral ligament, noticed first in Bermondsey, had become worryingly obvious. A couple of hundred metres after the mid-point the official cars and TV motorcycles started to appear coming the other way along The Highway, nearing their 22 mile point. I hoped to see a glimpse of the white of Mo’s vest, but it was clear that his marathon debut was not going to be a winning one – it was the orange vest of the eventual winner, Wilson Kipsang, and runner up, Stanley Biwott, that appeared first, with the Mexican wave of a cheer for Mo appearing around 90 seconds later.
25-30 km (Westferry to Canary Wharf) 26:45
Along the eastern side of the Isle of Dogs, the course narrows considerably as the right hand lane is cordoned off for emergency vehicle usage. For a couple of miles the pace dropped the route was blocked by those who had gone off far too quickly and were paying the price by walking or jogging slowly – the clown seen in Charlton was one of these. I lost nearly a minute along here and while I was still feeling full of energy, the pain on the outside of my knee wasn’t going away.
30-35 km (Canary Wharf to The Highway) 29:02
Soon after Canary Wharf the pain in my leg got much worse, I knew I had to do something about it – I tried a number of different stride lengths and paces to try to ameliorate the pain. I settled on a slightly shorter stride than normal and slowed down to around 9 minute mile pace. I saw the family at Limehouse and didn’t feel too bad at that stage. The Highway seemed to go on forever though, and my quads started to fill with lactic acid – I knew that the final 7 kilometres weren’t going to be pleasant.
35-40 km (The Highway to Westminster) 30:20
My legs started screaming at me with the lactic acid on the light slope down to Lower Thames Street from Tower Hill; some St John Ambulance volunteers darted across the road to treat someone who had collapsed and I had to slam on the brakes to avoid a collision. It seem to take an eternity to get going again and I knew then that if I stopped I would be walking the rest of the way, and would probably be struggling with that.
I tried all the psychological tricks I knew – it’s only 5 km to the finish, that should be easy – but my body wasn’t being fooled, I was in real pain – the miles that were speeding by an hour ago were going past at a snail like pace. I was hunched up with pain. People could see I was struggling and shouted out loads of encouragement – but all I wanted was to get it over with in silence, there was no chance of that….
40 km to the finish, 42.2 km (Westminster to The Mall) 13:40
The turn into Parliament Square couldn’t come quickly enough, my right leg was in agony, the left calf was giving off all of the danger signs of an imminent strain, but I knew by now that if I stopped I would never start again. Every step was hell , I kept expecting to see the 800 metres to go sign, but it was reluctant to appear, and when that was passed it seemed like an eternity before the first glimpse of Buckingham Palace to come into sight. That meant 200 metres to go and my body seemed to breathe a sigh of relief and while there was no finishing straight sprint, The Mall seemed relatively easy.
Finish Time 03:48:23
I could barely walk down The Mall to get my bag; I was supporting myself on the temporary fencing like a drunken old man all the way down. By the end of The Mall though the pain subsided a little and I could walk unaided again, albeit extremely slowly, and I was now the proud owner of a rather pleasant engraving of London looking westwards from Tower Bridge.