Saturday, 3 May 2014

Bouncing back from the London Marathon

It has taken me a while to get round to blogging about my London Marathon run, mainly because it didn’t go according to plan and I didn’t want to publish a predominantly negative report. Three weeks on, and it’s much easier to take the positives out of what was a truly amazing experience.

Pre-race build up

So the night before, due to a mix up I won’t bore you with, I discovered I didn’t actually have a hotel room booked in London after all. This didn’t turn out to be a major problem, plan B simply involved getting up a bit earlier and driving to Redbridge Tube Station, from where I was able to hop onto the underground – and all went smoothly. I hooked up with Charlotte at London Bridge Station, and we travelled the last part together, which was a lovely way to begin the day.

There is no way I would have found myself so calm and relaxed at the Blue Start in Blackheath had it not been for Charlotte. Partly because she’s such good company, but mainly because she stopped me getting on the wrong train and ending up in Greenwich.

There is always an element of nervousness related to the unknown when you compete in a race for the first time. This Thursday I ran an off-road 6k race in Newmarket, but having done this event last year I knew exactly where to go, where to park, where the toilets were, what the course was like, etc – and I was able to concentrate fully on the race itself. For the marathon, I had been stressing somewhat about getting to the correct start point on time, the legendary queues for the toilets, etc – but in the end, everything went really well and I found myself with the same air of confidence that I’d had throughout training. Having bumped into some Colchester based friends on the tube, Nina and Paul, and Jean and Darren, we then managed to find another friend Chris at the start, and then a couple of fellow HRC runners – Mark and Dave – just before getting into our starting pens. Having given different finish time predictions when entering, Charlotte and I were in different pens, but we could both hear Mo being introduced to the crowd before the roar signifying the race had begun. Back in pen 6 we began a calm walk towards the start line, and only 6 minutes later I was off and running.

For the non-runners amongst you (just remind me why you would be reading this again?) there is a small chip which you attach to your shoe-laces that registers as you pass over a timing
mat placed at the start line. This is common to many races – certainly nearly all big events use this system – and another mat at the finish ensures you get an accurate race time, irrespective of how long it may take to reach the start line, clearly an issue in a race where 36000 runners have to file through the start. London is the first race I have ever done which also recorded times every 5km, with another mat at the halfway point too. This allows friends and family to follow your progress “live” via the internet, if they so wish, and also allows you to analyse your 5k “splits” afterwards, to see how well you paced yourself.

The first few miles

And so the first few miles went by, and it was immediately apparent to me this was going to be unlike any I had ever run before. I remember, in both the 20 mile races that I ran in training, those first 2 or 3 miles were psychologically hard because of the fear of how far there was left to go. This proved not to be a problem at London – I was far too busy   

a) enjoying the huge level of support, and trying to spot friends in the crowd  
b) looking forward to running past the various famous landmarks : Cutty Sark, Tower Bridge, etc
c)  trying to ensure I didn't trip over the people in front or get stood on by the people behind

Ultimately this congestion, which doesn’t ever really seem to dissipate, makes it hard to pace yourself evenly. Although in theory everyone else in your start pen should be running at a similar speed, in practice there appeared to be a massive variation in pace, most people appearing to be much slower than I wanted to be, and so for perhaps the whole of the first half of the race I found myself overtaking, weaving in and out of fellow competitors, and unable to settle into a decent rhythm. Consequently, whilst my pace was slower than I had intended, I think I expended a lot more energy in getting to halfway, and certainly felt a lot more tired, than my 1hr53 time suggests (more than a minute per mile slower than what I would consider to be a comfortable half marathon pace.)


I had decided on three targets at the suggestion of my friend Angela, who does the same – and smashed her Gold target and pb at Manchester the week before. You can read her blog here:

So Gold was 3hr40, Silver 3hr45, and Bronze a very straightforward (or so I thought) sub 4hr target. However, as my training progressed, I foolishly began to believe I could manage closer to 3hr30, which in fairness my two 20 mile race performances did suggest was feasible. 

On the day, my plan was to run at 8m30 pace for the first 10 miles, then see if I could push to 8min pace for the next 10, and then push harder still for the last 6.2 miles. The big unknown was how much time I would lose in the crowds at the start, and I made the decision not to try and make up any lost time, but simply to accept it as something I couldn’t do anything about.

Consequently, looking at the stats, the first half really wasn’t too bad. It was pretty clear to me as I approached Tower Bridge that the 3hr30 wasn’t going to happen, but I still hadn’t ruled out Gold, or at least Silver, although as already stated, I already felt far more tired than I should have by that stage. My mile splits up to mile 15 were all below 9min miles, so comfortably within 4 hour pace, as follows:

Mile 1:   8m40
Mile 2:   8m46
Mile 3:   8m23
Mile 4:   8m22
Mile 5:   8m35
Mile 6:   8m46
Mile 7:   8m47
Mile 8:   8m27
Mile 9:   8m42
Mile 10: 8m42
Mile 11: 8m24
Mile 12: 8m40
Mile 13: 8m41
Mile 14: 8m46
Mile 15: 8m47

I think the heat on the day played a big part in what happened next – which was that, far from pushing on in the second half, I began to struggle simply to keep the same pace up, and at about mile 16 I could feel myself getting close to cramping up, meaning I made the decision to abandon Gold and Silver, and merely try to complete in under 4 hours.

Cramping up

When you sweat you lose vital salts from your body, and unfortunately on a hot day the natural tendency to drink more speeds up this process. The way to combat this is to take on board gels/sports drinks to replace these lost electrolytes. I think I probably should have had my first gel earlier than mile 10 – but I also think I just have to accept I am not good at running in hot weather, having had very similar experiences at Edinburgh Marathon last year and at the Grunty Fen Half Marathon too. 

By mile 18 I was cramping badly, and had to begin alternating between walking and running since the pain was too much. There’s not much you can do once the muscle cramps set in, and the horrible realisation, as I passed mile 20 in exactly 3 hours, that I wouldn’t even beat my Bronze target, left me thoroughly fed up and miserable. All I needed was to do the last 6.2 miles in an hour, fully 15 minutes more than I would normally need for a comfortable 10km, and the frustration was that I didn’t feel exhausted, I wasn’t out of breath, and I just desperately wanted to be able to run properly again and at least get under 4 hours. But alternating between running and walking as I was, I couldn't even manage 10min miles. I did actually stop to ask the St John’ Ambulance guys for some help around mile 22, but in all honesty their response - “it’s only 4 miles to go mate,” - whilst not exactly helpful, was really all they could say.

Mile 16:  9m36
Mile 17:  9m07
Mile 18:  9m17
Mile 19:  10m56
Mile 20:  10m38
Mile 21:  10m02
Mile 22:  12m55
Mile 23:  13m44
Mile 24:  9m46
Mile 25:  14m19
Mile 26:  12m11

The signage along the way helped keep spirits high

Fantastic Support

Of course, realising things were going so badly meant that I can’t honestly say I enjoyed the race, certainly not the second half – and I also became slightly disorientated towards the end: I had some friends from the Commando Runners who had come to cheer us on, and it took me ages to register who it was screaming “IAN!!” in my face (sorry Laura) let alone to focus on who else was there in the group (about 8 friends were there supporting us all.)

Similarly there was a group of Haverhill Running Club supporters who called out my name towards the end, and I couldn’t work out who they were at all. But it was nice that so many friends came out to support us all, and the atmosphere throughout the race was totally unlike anything I have ever experienced before. On reflection, whilst the hot weather didn't help us runners, I am so glad the supporters had a nice day and could enjoy watching the event.

The Finish Line

Pretty sure this was a lie
Beforehand, I had visions of charging down the finishing straight at The Mall, dipping under my target and punching the air in delight. Having first stopped my watch of course. The reality was somewhat different. I can’t honestly say I enjoyed crossing the line, given that I was merely shuffling at this stage.
When they put my medal around my neck, it fell behind the running number I had pinned to my vest, and I didn’t feel inclined to get it out and have a look – nor did I go and have my official finisher photo taken. I merely collected my bag and headed for the meeting point to wait for Charlotte. She was wasn’t far behind, recording an impressive 4hr40 for her first ever marathon, despite her ongoing knee injury and having a bad stitch at around mile 22 that she managed to get through to finish strongly. She was rightly proud of her achievement, and seeing her and her family at the end helped snap me out of my grumpiness.  We then met up with a few more club runners who had all run well, and had kind words for me that further improved my mood.

26.2 miles is a long way, and it IS a great medal
Interestingly, the reaction from friends and work colleagues afterwards has been very different to that following other races I have done. London clearly resonates more with non-runners, with people seeming genuinely impressed that I have completed the London Marathon,
even though I have raced the same distance before and indeed further. Of course, non-runners will have no real interest in my time, and whether or not it’s decent, whereas I think a few people at running club are surprised I didn’t do better than 4hr19. However, I have had nothing but positive and encouraging comments from everyone at HRC – it really is a very friendly and supportive club, and I am always proud to wear the club vest. I also know I will get plenty of help and advice the next time I try. You can find out more about the club by visiting their new website, at


What next?

Although I posted “never again” on my facebook status later that day, in reality I knew it wouldn’t be long before I started thinking about trying another marathon. Much like Mo, I am unprepared to leave it like that. (Sadly, that’s about the only similarity between Mr Farah and I.) I had originally intended to compete with fellow club members in the Istanbul “Eurasia” Marathon this autumn, but I have now decided to put this back to 2015, preferring my next attempt to be more local, more low-key, and cheaper. All I want to do, if I can find a suitable race later on this year, is get round in under 4 hours – which I really ought to be able to do. Once I have managed this, I believe psychologically the distance will no longer worry me, and I can then work on getting my time down to something more commensurate with what I can manage in training.

Undeniably though, my forte is always likely to be the shorter distances, and since Marathon Day I have run three sub 20m30 parkuns, including equalling my Colchester course pb this morning with a time of 20m07. Last Thursday, Charlotte and I ran the Newmarket Heath 6k, a race along the gallops used by the race-horses when they train. It is hilly, off-road, and was a deliberate decision to take myself out of my comfort zone, and having left my Garmin at home, I ran purely on feel, and was pleased to keep up a decent (and I believe consistent) pace throughout, with a time of 22m45, which means I am very close to where I was this time last year, before illness and injury began to affect my times. I am running pretty much pain free at the moment and feeling very positive about my racing again. Charlotte smashed her time from last year by 30 seconds, and there is a lot more to come. Attending races with her makes them even more rewarding and enjoyable. 

Next up we have the Ashdon 10k, again off-road with some nasty hills, followed by the inaugural Haverhill 10k, and then back to London for the Bupa 10k, back racing Mo again. I believe Ashdon will be too hilly for me to trouble my pb, but I am feeling positive I may be able do so in Haverhill – the time to beat is 42m40. The Bupa 10k is more for fun – and will involve staying in London for the weekend to celebrate my 40th birthday. Yet another benefit of being a runner – I am looking forward to turning 40 since I move up to a new age category, and will be competing as one of the youngest in the 40-44 group, whereas up until now I have been at the uppermost limit of the 18-39s.

Although I am keen to improve as a 10k runner, my favourite and best distance will remain 5k, and my favourite events of the year are fast approaching – the Kevin Henry 5k Series. 5 local clubs each host their own event, 1 a month throughout the summer. Top 6 males home from each club score the bulk of the points, and my aim is to get my time down significantly over the next few months so that I might score for the club, and hopefully get under 19mins by the end of the year in the process.

If I can manage that, and somewhere along the line quietly complete a sub 4 hour marathon, then it will go down as having been a successful year, with hopefully more to come in 2015.


  1. I think being honest about your marathon will be something you will look back on and see how valuable it has been in identifying what you like and don't like in racing. Look here, Ian, at another running blog I follow and you will see that you are not alone in what happened and your reaction: - everything in our lives, good or bad, develops us in some way and it is clear from your post just how much better your running mind is getting race by race. Looking forward to seeing you at another race soon.

  2. That post has given me so much food for thought, Ian. Thank you. You write very honestly. Well done, it's a fantastic achievement.