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Water run that was

05/03/2014

London marathon 2014 2

A couple of miles from the end of the London marathon there’s a short subterranean section where Upper Thames Street disappears beneath the tower blocks of the City. It’s only a few hundred yards but this year it provided a welcome break from the early afternoon sun that was beginning to take its toll on some runners. To the left, as we passed through the tunnel, dodging discarded plastic water bottles and trying not to slip on the greasy surface, a series of brightly lit globes encouraged us with messages like “keep going, you’re nearly there” and “greatness awaits”.

I’m not sure what happened to me in that tunnel but having entered it feeling relatively strong and ready to tackle the home stretch, I emerged blinking into the sunlight by Blackfriars Bridge like a drunken nightclubber at 2am as the music stops and the lights go up. Maybe the quiet of the tunnel, perhaps the only section of the marathon where you can’t hear the cheering crowds, had allowed my mind to play tricks on me. The crowds lining the course seemed bigger than ever this year, no doubt encouraged by the opportunity to see Mo Farah go head to head with some of the greatest marathon runners of all time.

The energy that I’d felt after some jelly babies a couple of miles back had all but vanished and I no longer seemed to be getting a buzz from the screaming masses. Ahead of us lay the Embankment and the broad sweep of the Thames towards Big Ben which we could now see. It’s a strip of road that I’m extremely familiar with as I run along it at least twice a week. It’s barely more than a mile from Blackfriars Bridge to the Houses of Parliament but, all of a sudden, it looked like five times that distance as my legs turned to jelly. The fuel gauge was running dangerously low and I wasn’t sure where the next filling station was.

Eventually turning right at Big Ben and into Birdcage Walk I felt like I was going backwards as runners passed me on either side. Post-race I surveyed an array of statistics, beloved of all modern sports events, that suggested that in the final 7.2km I was overtaken by forty five runners. I was surprised, it felt like at least ten times that number sped past me inside the final mile.

London marathon 2014 4

At the 600 metres to go sign I was tempted to walk the rest of the way but decided to press on to the next sign for 400m to go. Barely a quarter of a mile from home and I was desperately clinging on. This was the marathon right here in a nutshell. My body was exhausted, my legs were aching and my head was casting doubts on my ability to keep going. But somehow, from somewhere, maybe from all those hours and miles of training in the wind and rain, I found enough energy to get me round the corner in front of Buckingham Palace and, finally, I could see the finish line in The Mall. It wasn’t a sprint finish but I was home in three hours and twelve minutes, a personal best by some six minutes. I was seriously chuffed but absolutely bollocksed.

A few hours earlier on a beautiful spring morning at the start on Blackheath there was nervous energy aplenty as runners of all shapes and sizes chomped on bananas, queued for the toilets and limbered up before taking their place in the starting area. Selfies, no doubt being posted on social media later on, were being taken all over the shop. And over the tannoy were regular reminders of the numerous charities that benefit from the thousands of runners who raise millions in sponsorship. Me? Nah, I’m a heartless monster, I was just running for the fun of it.

Once again I ignored all the sensible advice to take it easy the day before the marathon and had journeyed north to watch FC United of Manchester lose at home to Buxton in the Northern Premier League. It was a result that ended a long unbeaten run for FC which had moved them into contention for the league title. Buxton water were the official water suppliers for this year’s marathon, so as plastic water bottles were handed out at drinks stations at every mile along the course I was reminded of the previous day’s defeat. I’m convinced the organisers did this on purpose.

London marathon 2014 1

Water had also been on my mind when I visited the Excel Arena on the Wednesday before the marathon to register. Only a few steps into one of the cavernous exhibition halls and I was invited to complete a questionnaire to aid research by a local university into hydration during marathons. “It’ll only take a few minutes” I was informed as I was handed a clipboard and a pen. Thirty nine questions later and I was still there, scratching my head, desperately trying to forecast (in millilitres) how much water I thought I’d consume before, during and after the London marathon. This is, of course, valuable research as there is an important balance to be struck between keeping properly hydrated during a marathon but also avoiding over-doing it and potentially risking the condition of water intoxication known as hyponataemia which has claimed the lives of several marathon runners.

Exactly a week after the marathon and I was out running again by the Thames. If the week before had been all about buzzing off the crowds and the tremendous support and running through the pain barrier, the following Sunday was about running in the pissing rain with many people pointing and laughing as if to say “look at that daft oaf getting soaked”. As the rain lashed down pavements got increasingly slippery and, as I got close to home and tired a little, I slipped and fell backwards, collapsing on my backside on the ground. An elderly lady returning from the shops peered down and asked me if I was alright. Ah, the glamour of running.

A day later and I was back on the London marathon website trying to apply for a place in next year’s race. Anyone can enter but the race is always heavily over-subscribed with the organisers closing the ballot as soon as they get 125,000 entries. This year’s ballot closed in less than ten hours. You need to move fast if you want to secure a place. But, wait, what’s this? Apparently any bloke aged between 41 and 49 years old who has run a recent marathon in less than three hours and fifteen minutes is classed as “good for age” and is entitled to an automatic entry to the London marathon with no need to enter the ballot. Bingo. Mind you, anyone who saw me out running this morning might have wondered at that “good for age” label.

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From → Personal, Sport

2 Comments
  1. Sharon robson permalink

    Another great read as always. Keep them coming.

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