Monday, 23 April 2012

To the victor - the spoils...

The race is run, the miles toiled through. Marathon number 5 and a personal best. 3h 18m 09s is forever mine in the annals of Marathon running. OK, it's not exactly a Kenyan pace, and I did just miss the 3h 15 which would be a Boston Qualifier standard. Doesn't matter.

What does matter to me is that I ran it well. 

I've always struggled to hold back the pace for the first few miles, the excitement of the event usually getting the better of me - and of course, having tapered down in the weeks prior, you feel springy, alive, like you can challenge the world. I know enough, now, to know that the feeling of elation can slip away from you in a heartbeat at about mile 16. It really is save now, spend later, where this race is concerned. I did find myself chasing a man dressed as a monk at mile 3...and then had to have a strong word with myself to slow, slow, slow...

I am getting ahead in the story. 

Sunday morning. 06.45am, Marriott, South Ken. Poor night's sleep - naturally. The morning is clean, sharp, and it isn't raining. The forecast has changed totally in the week, and we are now on for the perfect race conditions - cool not cold, dry, still. I hop in the lift, past the night porter, and out into the Sunday silence of the Cromwell Road. On the road, I pass another runner, waiting with his red kitbag, like mine. He's taking a taxi to the start and kindly offers me a lift - but for me the train is part of the build up, the energy, the purpose. I walk on to the tube, pausing only for a coffee in Starbucks - where of course I meet another runner. We talk nervously, and head into the tube. We meet others. Suddenly we are two dozen on the platform, smiling, chatting, like an exercise-bound version of the Moonies, heading to the start. The tube arrives, and we disgorge hundreds of sport-shoe-clad, be-lycra'd runners, all clutching the red plastic square that marks you out as ONE OF US. It's just gone 7am at Charing Cross...

...fastforward to Greenwich now, and the athlete's area. 37,000 hopes, dreams, fears...I meet a fellow runner from work and wish her well..and then I warm up a bit, luxuriating in the fact that I have a ticket for pen 2 and thus will commence within 50 yards of the start. This is the 'semi-good' start, and means that I do not have to worry, for my place is secure amongst only a couple of hundred runners. I can leave it to the last minute to take my place, and the masses must stay behind me! We chat. We pretend to stretch and warm up. We pee (as subtly as we can do) and we check our GPS for the hundredth time.

..and then we are off, and nothing matters, this is it, you start, you run, you finish, and in the middle you prove yourself. What am I going to be today, you wonder - hero, weakling, passive, active, true to myself, conqueror of my feelings or victim to my tiredness? The first few miles pass easily enough, and you take in the surroundings, the cheering, the music. By mile 5 you are in the race, and can do a quick check in with all major functions. All seems to be going well. Then the Kodo drummers under the bridge, their rhythm beats into your chest, and you have to stop yourself from sprinting. Hold back, hold back...

..then you hit 10 miles, and after a systems check, which concluded that you are feeling good, you start, ever so gently, to pick up the pace, to get faster. You pass people every second, for as you are speeding, they are slowing. Then Tower Bridge. No words can prepare you for the wave of energy and cheering that lifts you across, you have seen, heard, felt nothing like this. You round the corner and it continues for 2 more miles, a solid wave of sound. 

..and at 15 it's starting to tell on you a bit, but not too much. You compare with last year...yes, I am feeling much better than last year, oh yes...you push on, you keep passing runners, you hit Canary Wharf, and now you know you are digging deep, this relentless pace is tough, and yet you are still passing, passing, passing...and now you worry about fuelling, have I got it right, did I take enough...you emerge and see the Gherkin, and now it's 21 miles, and oh you know you've worked today. You push harder to maintain the pace, and now you know that it is just going to be a battle for the last 5, and one that you can't know the outcome. This could go either way. Tower Bridge again, this time, you're on your way to the finish and on the other side of the road, they are not even half way. Push, push, push..you wonder if anything can help...


23 passes and your legs are like lead, where did that come from so suddenly? this is the moment I dreaded, the moment when I knew I was no longer fully in charge...then the Cannon Street underpass...200 yards of sudden silence and darkness. Some stop, as if their spirit is broken, or if here is the only place they can walk without being seen. Some pee. I push on, we are carrying on today, we are a bit broken, a bit battered, but we still have some strength. You emerge into the light. The pace has slowed a bit, you now know that you cannot pull a further pace increase out of the bag. Holding this will be tough enough. You focus. Cleopatra's Needle. Janet will be there. God you want to stop. But you won't. Today is not a stopping day. Now you know this.

24. You know you will carry on but you know there will be a compromise, what will it be? Pass Janet, wave, be cheery like you always are for the cheering supporters, but you know she'll know you are struggling, for you are not your usual self at this point, you are digging in. 

25. Look up at Big Ben. 5 minutes to my target, but..what? 7, 8, 9 mins of running left? You just keep going, now there is no doubt in your mind you will finish and finish well, a PB is on today, even if 3h15 isn't. Could you push it, you wonder? You chance a lift in pace and a muscle says no way, not now mate, so you compromise and drop a few secs/mile, it won't matter now and it will get you home

800 yards to go..that's half a mile..never did that seem so long. The tarmac is pink around Buckingham Palace, this is a strange place, this is like an illusion, a mirage...you are on autopilot now. You round the corner and still you are running, this is it, you are going to do it, and then there's the finish ahead...

200 yards and you see the clock..not quite as much of a gap to your previous best, but something to be proud of...today has been good..

You Finish.

Smile. Whoop. Stagger. Get Medal. Remove chip. Get water. Get kitbag.

Today you now know that you delivered. 

That feels good.

Done.

Beer.....

1 comment:

  1. Inspiring.

    Often thought about doing the London Marathon myself but would have to finish 200 yards from the end just to get that DNF on the card!

    Well done. And well written.

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