I always enjoy watching the London Marathon. It brings back fond memories of when I took part in 1994. You have to remember when I say “fond memories” I think it’s a bit like giving birth, I have selective memory loss about the painful bits.
I had decided to take part off the back of a number of successful 10km runs around London. It typically took me an hour to run 10km, twice as slow as a top runner. On this basis I naively supposed that I would complete the London marathon within 5 hours. This time is important because, if you’re slower, you’re behind the marathon equivalent of the broom wagon which used to be and may still be a BA bus. So, as you pass through each of the markers, they’re packing everything up, the road is re-opened forcing you to run on the pavement and forage for water supplies among the piles of roadside rubbish. You see I speak from (bitter) experience. I was way slower than 5 hours.
While training for the marathon, I never managed more than a half-marathon. I wasn’t overly concerned as I knew I could just walk the rest of the way. I even used to joke about it because when you tell people you’re taking part, they always ask about your time. “Just the one day” I’d say. “I’m not envisaging an overnight stop!” Cue laughter. It may have been a joke but many a true word is spoken in jest.
My beloved and I stayed overnight on the Saturday in a hotel near Tower Bridge. I even shared a lift with the eventual winner, a Mexican runner the size and weight of my left leg who kindly advised me to run the second half faster than the first. Thank you for those pearls of wisdom, clearly this was where my strategy fell down.
Unlike last week-end’s marathon, it was a bitterly cold day. I wore my running kit under an old track suit that I planned to shed on my way round – I never did – plus a hat and gloves. Of course, the cold at the start meant I was constantly queuing for the portaloos. When I finally got underway, almost 45 minutes after the first fun-runner had crossed the start line, I started with what might politely be called a gentle trot. It was okay for the first seven miles or so. I found comfort in familiar sights that I’d passed when doing some of my 10km runs. I knew I was in trouble when runners dressed in rhino costumes – how do they run in those? – a Direct Line telephone and a chap running with a ladder easily went past me.
My beloved based himself at the hotel, given that he would have great views of the race going over the bridge and past the hotel twice. An old friend of mine joined him and wondered whether I might pop in and join them for coffee on my way round. Fortunately, the thought never crossed my mind because if I’d stopped for coffee, I’d never have started again. My beloved also bumped into BBC commentator Sue Barker who, on learning I was taking part, said she’d be sure to interview me. In the end she just ran out of time, and I never got my 15 secs of fame.
The best part of the marathon is the crowds and their unwavering support. I must have high-fived every kid I passed. I had to keep washing my sticky hands. The worst part of the run IMHO is when you head out to Canary Wharf and, if you look right, you can see thousands of runners streaming back the other way. One very enterprising kid offered to lend me his anorak for a tenner so I could cheat by nipping through the adjoining road and slipping back into the herd going the other way. I declined but gathered from his tone he’d had plenty of takers.
By 16 miles I was doing what might generously be called a brisk walk and had blisters on the inside of my heels. I’d been joined by another similarly afflicted runner and we kept one another going the rest of the way. Some wonderful lady around the 18 miles mark gave us carrot cake and hot tea – best cake ever! At this stage we were playing hunt the empty water bottle, there were NO snacks unless we popped into a shop and bought them and we had to use pub loos as the mobile ones had gone!
By the time we’d painfully hobbled over the cobbles at the Tower – yes the carpet had gone too – we had what might be termed a second wind. The end was in sight. We picked up the pace and finally crossed the finish line, I even managed to sprint across, just before the cut-off, accompanied by six Roman Legions carrying a non-runner on a bed. Now that’s the way to do a marathon!
I headed back to the hotel on the tube with my beloved and straight into a hot bath. My blisters were gi-normous. Just as well I’d not taken my trainers off to have them dressed. Again, I’d never have restarted. I had a couple of days hobbling around work in some comfortable shoes and no, not slippers, but otherwise was fine. My fellow runner said she’d never do another one but I said I would, though I never have.
(Header image: Huffington Post)