I’ve finally made it, walking up the hill to the Green start at Blackheath amongst thousands of other runners. Preparation wasn’t ideal, with a bit of a problem with my quads from the beginning of March onwards. I’ve had it before and normally it seems to cure itself in a few weeks with wearing a neoprene support but this time it took a bit longer. In the meantime I’d done a bit more cycling and indoor rowing to keep my fitness up and paid fairly close attention to what I was eating to make sure I wasn’t carrying any unnecessary weight on the big day. I managed to get down to something close to my “summer ironman” race weight, which I was pretty happy with given it was still early April.
The campaign started back in October with a steady 125 km of running, and ramped up through November and December. I had a bit of an easier week starting in the New Year, mainly down to my achilles and knee tendons getting a bit sore and demanding a rest, and then February was also pretty good where I managed a 92½ km week somewhere along the way. I was starting to feel really quite efficient on my longer runs, ticking along at 7:40-7:45 mile pace, but in March was hit by my quad problem:
November 175 km
December 248 km
January 330 km
February 278 km
March 211 km
The week before the race was taken pretty easily, an hour’s run on Monday (where a calf muscle tightened up a little - cue frantic foam rollering and stretching on Tuesday and Wednesday!) and some cycling and rowing, plus a couple of rest days. I took advantage of a massage on my visit to the marathon expo on Thursday and was feeling pretty good. A bit of carbo-loading over the last couple of days saw me put on just over a kg in weight, but that’s to be expected. On Saturday I went out for an easy hour’s bike ride, just to keep things ticking over. I had a reasonable night’s sleep and was up and out the door for a bike ride to catch the 6:40am London bus from Headington.
Once at the start area, it took me most of the next hour to get changed, check-in my bag and queue for the loo. I had a few sips of tea from a flask along the way and from a bottle of water, just to keep me hydrated on what was clearly going to be a nice sunny day. It’s so crowded there’s no chance of even a gentle warm-up. Inside the start pen I chatted to Ian Wright, “TheInspector” from Fetcheveryone.com, and then we watched the elites get introduced on the big screen. A few seconds later, we were off.
It took me 24 seconds to shuffle across the start line, and I was keen to get into a decent stride although the green start didn’t really sort itself out until we’d just about merged with the blue start runners after 1200 m. As we merged there was a bit of elbowing and then after another steady half-mile or so things thinned out a bit and I was running more at my own pace, checking my Garmin as I did so.
Around mile 3 you descend quite a bit, but I was hold back and feeling quite good, careful not to overcook it. From here on in, the crowds lining the streets were huge and deafening in their support – it makes the race very special. The sunny day and the presence of Mo Farah in the elite field had brought everyone out, even more so than usual. The race merges red and blue starts not long after this and it was pretty crowded although we were moving along at a fair lick – not far short of 7 minute mile pace. Both the 2h59 and 3h15 Runner’s World pacers were in sight here – I didn’t expect to see either of them so close-by after this time. I planned on starting drinking after 30 minutes, but missed the water station and resorted to picking up an abandoned half-empty bottle at the next roundabout. After that, when I was ready for a drink I always made sure I was at the side of the road ready to pluck a bottle from a helper.
I had a couple of gels tucked into the key pocket of my shorts (planning on picking up a few more along the way) and had my first one after 45 minutes. I kept downing them every 40 minutes or so, a regime I’d tested in long training runs which seemed to keep my energy levels up OK. There was Lucozade on offer but not having had it before in training, I skipped those stations. 5 miles passed in 35:21. I was on my target to run the first half at 3h10-pace and then slow a little bit over the second half to bring it home in 3h15.
Around 6 miles PaulTheBuilder from Fetch caught me. We were both going comfortably enough that we were able to chat for a bit – a good sign. He was planning a bit of a faster paced run than me and so I said I’d better let him go after another mile or so, although I still had him sight 25 minutes later as we crossed Tower Bridge, oops. Running across that bridge was awesome, I couldn’t quite believe it and had a huge grin on my face. I was starting to feel a few hot spots coming on my toes despite running in my old race shoes and some decent socks, but apart from that everything was going OK.
Past halfway in around 1:34:30, on schedule, and the Fetchpoint cheers from the opposite side of the road were great! We saw the leaders come by on the other side of the road. Mo Farah was off the pace though – he hadn’t come into sight by the time we turned down to the Isle of Dogs. My feet were getting rather sore so I dropped back off my toes a bit and got some instant relief there. The twists and turns here seemed to take forever past those massive buildings. Looking back at my splits I think my concentration went a bit too (and my Garmin was struggling with the high buildings all around), my pace slipped. My quads were starting to tie-up despite the quad guards I was wearing, although I’m sure they helped a bit. As we came out of the Isle of Dogs and turned for home along Poplar High Street after passing the loudest crowd of all outside an evangelical church – there was a sound system and confetti - I stopped for a few yards walk – it felt like I’d been running a long time and there were still 50 minutes or so to run. Typically, someone in the crowd recognised me as soon as I slowed and shouted out “c’mon Oranj!”, so I waved acknowledgement and got back on with the job in hand.
Ian passed me as we turned under the railway bridge just before The Highway and gave me a shout of encouragement. He was looking smooth. And then we were back past Fetchpoint where I briefly stopped to shake a few hands. The next bit past the Tower and through the City of London was familiar to me from years of following my mum around the course – you’d have the roads to yourself as the race used to follow the river more closely in those days. It was still a little bit quiet along here but I was starting to find a better rhythm again, now that I could hear myself think.
Coming out the tunnel on the other side (note to self – wear a footpod next time, the Garmin doesn’t like the tunnels and high buildings) I could see the London Eye and Big Ben in the distance – a real target. Somewhere around 24 miles I stopped for another short walk to swallow my last gel and saw Ian just ahead. That was my new target and I was determined to catch him up and keep running on. I caught him just before the right turn past Big Ben, said hi, and then tried to raise my pace as much as my sore legs would allow. The last mile-and-a-bit seemed to take forever, but eventually we were round past Buckingham Palace and the finish was in sight. I had visions of getting up on to my toes for a final sprint to the line but the reality was less energetic.
I remembered to raise my arms as I crossed the line for my finisher’s photo and then had to have a bit of a rest, no surprise there. I’d finished in 3:16:00 exactly, a little bit slower than I’d been aiming for, but hopefully enough to get me another good-for-age place in 2015 (when I’ll be 50 and the good-for-age qualifying time limit relaxes to sub-3h20). After collecting my medal, goody bag and kit bag I had a chat to Ian. I think he might’ve been a bit deflated that he’d just missed the 3h15 GFA qualifying time.
I finished off most of the drink in the goody bag and ate the free apple. The free T-shirt, although one-size-fits-all, was cotton which is great, a nice change from all the nylon “technical” shirts you get at races these days. It took me quite a while to find the changing area (up some stairs – how cruel), but eventually I was on my way back to the tube and the bus home ready to watch the TV highlights and then for a few beers with Jules in the evening. Very happy, job done, what an amazing race experience!
Official results HERE (and more official photos). Click image below for stats from my Garmin: