I was lucky enough to run the Virgin Money London Marathon on Sunday April 24th. The experience was amazing, and it’s worth a detailed look at how the day (and the weekend) took shape.
I’d had concerns over muscle tightness which affected my training but this run was never about time as I was raising money for Myeloma UK in memory of my dad.
The expo opens several days in advance and by the time I got to London on Friday afternoon it seemed to be getting busy. Despite the stream of people heading in there was no wait at all to get my bib and final instructions. You then had to proceed to pick up the timing chip which gets attached to your shoe.
Then you walk into the merchandise area – as this is such a once in a lifetime experience (well, maybe it won’t be, but more on that later) I wanted to get some souvenirs. Walking on brings you to the vendor area.
I would imagine the expo is packed on Saturday, but it was well organised and therefore may not be too bad.
Getting to the start
I was staying at a hotel in Canary Wharf and I was a little worried about trains being overcrowded by the time I got there. I met a group of other runners in the hotel lobby and we walked together. It was before 8am so the train wasn’t too crowded. The race starts at 10am so we knew there was plenty of time. It was a little chilly so the concern was that we’d have to stand around in the cold for too long. The announcer on the train catered to the runners pointing out parts of the course visible from the DLR line and clearly indicating where we should get off. From there it was a matter of following the steady stream of runners to the park. There are different colour coded start lines, and the biggest is the Red Start which is where I was headed – everything was well signposted.
At the start area
I didn’t know what to expect at the start, but it was different from any other race I have been to. As it was still early it wasn’t crowded at all. It certainly got busier later, but there appeared to be plenty of portaloos, and urinal areas for both men and women (no idea how those were configured).
In the field was a big screen showing the starts of the other races, and showing entertainment as well as a local MC talking to people in the crowd.
After a while I wandered slowly to the bag lorries – it was starting to warm up so my extra layers I was planning to throw away got put in my bag instead. As I wandered past the end of that area, I spotted a bandstand with a TV crew set up. I was a bit too late as they were just wrapping up the broadcasts from that area, but just next to it was a tent serving tea and coffee, so I had a cup of tea.
The I headed to my start zone which was starting to fill up at around 9:30.
As I was running with my phone (which is rare), I decided to try the Garmin LiveTrack to broadcast my progress. I set up a new track, set it up to share with some key people via email, and to post to Facebook and connected my Fenix 3 to my phone. Then it was a matter of starting the activity on my watch when I crossed the start line.
Things started shuffling along and close to the line things started to move faster.
Maybe the tea before the start was a bad idea, but I needed to pee almost straight away. The first set of portaloos was not far in and, as there were urinals for the men behind them, I decided it could be a quick stop and I took advantage of that.
The first few miles are fairly quiet with not a huge amount to see except other runners, including those dressed up – here’s a selfie of me with SpongeBob behind me.
The first landmark is around mile 6 when you reach the Cutty Sark
I’d planned to see family around the mile 9 mark. Soon after 9 miles I started to look for landmarks (I’d been texted a photo to help me find them – it didn’t help) but thought I still had a way to go. But then I heard my name being called, looked around and spotted my sister – I was still running, and was already past, but luckily there was space, as it was on a corner, to safely double back for my first photo op.
By the time I reached Tower Bridge (the 20k point was on the bridge, and halfway soon after) I could tell my calf muscles were tight and I was mildly worried. I kept thinking that although my muscles had got tight in training, they’d never actually got to the point of full cramping, so I hoped that would be the case here.
I was hoping to see a family friend after the halfway point but after a while of scanning the crowds I was starting to think that I must have missed him, but suddenly there he was, so I stopped again.
I’d passed the halfway point in about 1:55 so it seemed reasonably that I would be able to manage around 4 hours, but, as I felt good, I decided to pick up the pace a little around mile 14 or 15. I’d had messages that the family were having a hard time to get to our second planned point (14.5 miles) and they weren’t going to be there in time (they probably could have if they weren’t as large a group, including 5 young kids and a pushchair). Just after that point I got a confusing text so I called my wife to find out what was actually going on. It turned out they were around the 21 mile mark so I pushed on. At this time the streets were narrower and my stops had obviously put me behind some runners who were either already slower, or starting to slow.
I was now slightly faster than I had been and I was struggling to find a way through the slower crowds having to move from side to side all over the road, and having to slow down where gaps were not available. So, advice for running here – don’t try to run your best race by taking it slower in the first half if you’re going to be slower than wherever there are a larger volume of runners – you just won’t be able to run consistent pacing.
Spotting the family at mile 21 was easier – perhaps because I had a better sense of exactly where they were.
When I was around the 15 mile mark I had also received a text from a friend letting me know they were just before the 22 mile mark so after this stop I was keeping an eye out – however I was keeping an eye out on my right (to my left were the runners who were around 14 miles heading out to Canary Wharf) so when I heard my name being shouted from the opposite side of the road I was caught by surprise. However, I was able to get across and stand in the middle of the road to briefly say hi (but no photo).
It was soon after that my right calf had a twinge. It wasn’t much but this is how it had started in my previous marathons – although to be fair, having this happen at mile 22 rather than mile 15 was actually quite encouraging.
Around mile 23 I passed a collapsed runner being attended to – it looked like they were preparing to use a defribrillator. It was an incredibly sad moment, and is only sadder now that I know he didn’t make it.
I pushed on, still feeling good, and still passing people. The worst twinge of my calf happened around mile 24, but it didn’t seize up so I was lucky. Others were clearly fatigued and struggling. Around mile 25 somebody stumbled right in front of me and I had to move nimbly out of the way to avoid tumbling over her. She was okay and got right up.
There’s not much to say about the finish that can’t be seen in the video below
When you have passed through the finish line, volunteers check you still have your timing chip, you collect a medal, and a goody bag – I didn’t really look in the bag until later – I picked out a drink and some snacks and went to get my own bag (all very well organised and quick). The bag contained some snacks, drinks, a finisher’s t-shirt, and a heatsheet (I saw people with them but at the time assumed I’d missed that pick up point, not thinking it would be in my bag – this was fine because I didn’t really need it and was able to put my own extra clothes on very quickly).
Then it was on to the meeting points in Horse Guards Parade where I met the Myeloma UK representative and waited for the family.
I would thoroughly recommend taking any opportunity you can to do this race. This was supposed to be my last marathon for many years, but knowing that I can take my time and enjoy myself like this, it is so tempting to do all over again.
Oh, and my second half was slightly faster than my first, so I was very happy with that.