Firstly congratulations to all of you for your runs on Sunday, so many personal achievements, so many great efforts and so many wonderful memories. For some getting there was the hardest, for others just to take part was incredible and for all to finish was amazing!
I've had my share of training problems like most with a knee injury that just hasn't quite got itself right. But I'm no Hollywood who seems superhuman to have finished. I also have only had to deal with flooding rather than snow and ice (though the flooding was the ultimate cause of the injury so not altogether great).
I read the blogs over the last 6 months and for some I thought, how can you run 5 or 6 days a week? My plan was one that had to fit into my life with a young baby and was through myasics website. It paled against others as it only had me running twice a week but the runs were designed to be hit hard and fast with the time off in between for recovery. It worked for me but it made me realise that had I started this journey 10 or 15 years ago it would have been a lot easier!
Anyway..... to the day
I got up from the sounds of it later than most at 7am... I had laid out my kit and rechecked it so many times the night before but was quickly out of the hotel door after a quick bowl of instant porridge and a goodbye to my wife who would be making her way out later.
The underground and DLR was full of runners with red bags all heading to Greenwich and when we got there we took over the streets as we made our way as one towards Blackheath and up the hill past the Royal Observatory. It was beautifully sunny and I thought a perfect day to go for a run. The condition made for an amazing team photo as most of the JDRF charity runners lined up with the city in the background. I did wonder round for a while looking out for any RB's on the backs of vests but was disappointed not to find any. So even though I found myself wondering around the start area on my own I was ok with that as I could get my race head on and start sorting out my warm up and preparations. The hour before the start seemed to go really fast and I was soon finding my spot in Pen number 2 with 25 minutes to go. I couldn't believe how close I was to the front and when I turned around I saw around 35000 runners behind me.... that was quite a sight!
The 30 second silence for Boston was emotional and I cheered loudly along with everyone when that was over determined to make this the best race ever!
We all walked forward and joined behind the good for age runners with the start line in my sight as I watched the clock count towards 10:00. Then we were off, a slow walk that quickened to a little light jog as I crossed the line just over a minute later. As we started through the park and through the residential streets the runners were elbow to elbow and with no room in either direction I went with the flow. At first I found this too slow and with every opportunity slipped past the person in front to try and make a little space. The first 5km flew past and then the next 5km and I checked my Garmin for the first time realising that I was running too quickly.
The first 6 miles had all gone by at 6:20 pace! I thought about slowing down but felt comfortable and was just behind the sub 3 hour pace maker who should have been running at 6:52 pace so I felt ok. I couldn't believe how many people were shouting my name amongst the many and it drove me on. Annoyingly I had to duck into one of the many early loos to make a pit stop having timed my pre race hydration badly at mile 8 which cost me about 45 seconds (lesson 1 learnt!)
I got going again and was feeling a lot better, my pace was consistent with everyone around me and we quickly went past 9, 10 and 11 miles. The Cutty Sark was awesome and I waved at every camera that I could see. Before I knew it we were at Tower Bridge so I called my wife to let her know I was approaching. The bridge was amazing and crammed with so many people. However, for me, it was getting to the end of 13 miles and seeing the first JDRF supporter zone with my wife screaming out 'GO DAVE' that gave me the biggest thrill.
By then I was really starting to find the conditions tough. The pace combined with the heat and unrelenting sun was taking its toll and I had slowed down to 7:20 pace after my early quick start (lesson 2 learnt!). I was beginning to look forward to the next shower area and started to try to find areas of shade along the route.
We headed into the Isle of Dogs and here at least a part of the route I had run in training a couple of months back. However, at mile 16 my knee twinged and I feared it blowing out on me again. I know that I slowed my pace but wasn't sure by how much and for some reason completely ignored my Garmin (lesson 3 learnt!).
I began to see people run past me but I also noticed others starting to pull up or stop to stretch as the sun took its toll. Afterwards I was able to see on my Garmin that my 19th mile was run at 9:20 pace.... meaning I had slowed my pace by around 2 minutes a mile and 3 minutes slower than my starting pace. I still cannot fathom out what happened as the next mile I was back up to 7:40 pace. I'm pretty sure I lost the mental battle somewhere along mile 19 for a bit fearing my knee wasn't going to hold and that slowed me down but at 20 miles I started to look forward to seeing my wife again and told myself it was just 10Km to the finish.
By this point I was roasting hot and even though there were showers every few miles I ended up having to douse myself with water at every water station to try and cool down. I know they asked runners not to do this but I was finding it really tough to keep going and needed to try anything to keep pushing on.
My wife was there at another JDRF supporter zone around 22.5 miles in. It was on the other side of the road to the first zone but it took her 45 minutes to get round due to the crowds. I wasn't quite so energetic as I passed her but her cheers helped spur me on as I headed into the city centre. The noise and the crowds were phenomenal and even though by then both legs were severely cramping I pushed on harder purely through the crowd. In my mind I kept telling myself that all I needed to do was get to the end and then I could collapse as the St.Johns Ambulance teams would deal with me. I saw so many people pulling up in those last few miles and now began to overtake others instead of being passed. My lap times for those last 4 miles were all solid 7:40 pace and as I rounded the last corner and saw the finish line I waved to the cameras and made it across the line.... not into the waiting arms of the St.Johns Ambulance but Richard Branson, who shook my hand and bizarrely I sort of felt ok. My body was definitely broken and I was shattered from the hardest feat of physical endurance I have ever done. I could only shuffle along to get my medal and bag and photo, then off to my charity recovery venue to meet my wife and get a post race massage.
Never has a sweat cup of tea tasted so good as I lay there on the massage table. Apparently both of my IT Bands were so tight the physio had to call over all of the other physios as none of them had ever felt anything that tight before. I thought of the 6 month journey that had taken us here, from the initial 3-4 miles that felt so hard to the excitement of buying a new set of trainers and the harshness of the cold lonely winter runs. A journey shared with a common purpose that had now come to an end.
I was massively pleased with my time of 3:15. I finished 2757th overall which is in the top 10% which was my target. However, I also know that I have it in me to break 3:10.... But for now, time to heal and to mend. I've learnt a great deal from my first marathon... note 'first'... which implies I will do it again (maybe...). London was amazing and I will definitely be back. For now the commitment needed might mean having to wait my time but I will be back... and I will break 3:10.
I've had a fantastic response to my fundraising with plenty of money pledged still to come in. I think I may end up raising over £2500 by the end which really does go a long way.
Some obligatory pics!
Starting in Pen 2 with 30,000+ behind me!
Looking good at 13 miles (1:30) and running too quick!
Not looking so good and running slower at 22.5 miles
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