If you’d have asked me yesterday if I wanted to come to a halt at 34.6k, I’d have said absolutely not.
As it turned out, this gave me the most memorable and uplifting marathon experience I have been fortunate enough to experience.
The last 6 weeks leading up to London have seen niggles (trigger point on my left calf, then tweaky left hamstring) meaning broken training, unfinished sessions and running as well as I could, for as far as I could. Even last week saw me stop doing strides on the Thursday as I could feel my left hamstring tugging tight. By Friday I had decided I was going to completely relax about the finish time, instead focus on enjoying the day and the marathon experience. I would go out at 2:48 pace and hold on for as long as possible. I was sure I had 32k in me (I planned my marathon in 4 segments, on pace to 16k / relax to 32k / focus to 37k and push for the end).
As it turned out the first 16k were good, I absolutely loved the beginning of the race. The atmosphere was awesome, loads of people celebrating London at its very best. Thousands out running. I found myself in time with a guy called Bric, we had a brief chat and realised we could run together and set off to hit halfway in 84 minutes. This made things easier and I settled into a groove with Bric. Halfway came and went and the going felt tougher, so I let Bric go and slowed – hitting 24k my stomach decided it was unhappy, slightly nauseous and needing the toilet it was the first “I want to stop”. However I thought it was better to not take the risk, relax and carry on. This paid off and whilst I was slowing a little – was still on time for a 2:51/2:52 finish, nailing roughly 20 minute 5k’s. Seeing Jenny at 15 miles was great. Planning exactly where she was helped. Alison had videoed me and it was comforting post race to see me enjoying myself (even if slightly hunched, decent footstrike). Getting to 32k felt like a big achievement, tiredness was definitely creeping in – both mental and physical – and then it happened. Looking back now I’m not sure how much pain was there, but at the time the combination of a whole left leg twinge / seizing up and my brain having enough led to an immediate halt. Not like “Ooh, that hurts shall we stop,” no this was “STOP NOW NO MORE,” so I did. As I did a lad behind me came alongside, Gordon, another runner from Fulham AC (A la Bric) and asked if I was OK – he’d had a moment and had to stop as well. After 100m or so he suggested we run, asking if I fancied it. I was happy to as stopping when I had was what I needed then, moving faster what I needed now. We ran on for 800m or so and Gordon wanted to walk. We both stopped, he asked if I minded, I wasn’t going anywhere without Gordon. This guy had walked with me, got me running again and looked after me. I said that we were going to finish this together, walking / running / however long it took we were in it together. And that was set, off we walked / ran (4 walk / run elements to the last 7.4k). It was brilliant. Walking along the Embankment in beautiful autumnal weather allowed us to absorb the atmosphere of this special day, as competitors, part of this massive celebration of humanity. The regular support of “You’ve got this” to us both was superb and for me quite funny as I was thinking, “I know we’ve got this, as we’re supporting one another and we’ll do it”.
Getting to the end, Gordon grabbed my hand, I raised our hands aloft and we ran over the line together. I managed an astounding 2:59’47, which was furthest from my mind when I stopped. The time almost irrelevant in the face of how it was achieved. Writing this it still feels unreal, my memory of all the marathons I’ve done is pretty hazy, but the last 7.4k in my mind are clearer than almost every memory I have of every other marathon. I wouldn’t change what happened to me at 34.7k for anything. Without that I wouldn’t have had that incredible human experience, which is really what the marathon is about. Yes I do want to run something faster than 2:50 – will I, who knows. I’ll try, I’ll train but if I don’t that is OK, as I know the marathon is far bigger and more important than ego driven time. What I will always seek is to help others, encourage and support. This is what we all need to remember.