The Bank Holiday weekend after the Maidenhead 10 I piled in some more distance work, but it sort-of backfired when I started to come down with the “dead leg” in my right quad again. I’ve battled with it all winter but had to take a week off running completely and missed the White Horse Half the following Sunday which I’d hoped would be a final test of pace before London. Fortunately the rest mostly worked (I did a fair amount of cycling instead) and I was able to have one last “big week” with a 32km long run on the Wednesday morning, 10 days before tapering for London.
The forecast was for a cold overcast day – ideal for long distance running – and in the end it was almost too cold for me. I decided to wear a thin shirt under my OCAC vest so I didn’t feel tempted to race the first half to keep myself warm (and some quad guards to keep the chill off my legs). Two gels in my shorts pocket, and a plan to pick up two more from the gel stations at 13 and 22 miles. My brother Alan was over in London for the FA Cup semi-final and I met him on the train to Maze Hill, and we walked up the hill together to the Green Start for a few photos and a bit of a chat. It took me the best part of 40-50 minutes to queue for the loo and get my bag onto the baggage bus, but the time passed quickly with so many other runners to chat to. I was surprised to find a few first timers on this start as I though everyone was good-for-age with previous experience but it turns out that some gratis club places go on the Green start too.
Off the start it’s a question of weaving past the celebs who start in front of you and then finding a pace and a space in the horde that you’re comfortable with. The Green merges with the Blue after about 1km and then it’s pretty busy. The first 5km passed in a rapid 21:24. I had even splits of 22:00 in mind, but it doesn’t make sense to hold yourself back on the downhill here. The next two splits were 21:47 and 21:48, through the crowds at the Cutty Sark. I was feeling very comfortable and trying not to bounce too much, taking a drink every so often. It was so cold though, that hydration was never a worry – around Rotherhithe we even had a 30-second flurry of very light snow. I overtook a runner dressed as beer bottle, going for some sort of record but fading already, and heard the words he didn’t want to hear “Ooh look, there’s another beer bottle”. All along here my dodgy old left calf was feeling a bit tight but it was never a problem – that’s the effect of going straight to race speed with no warm-up!
After an hour-and-a-bit I’ve done the first easy 20km, and the route crosses the iconic Tower Bridge. The crowds are once again massive and vocal here, and running across this landmark made me smile from ear to ear. That smile carried me to a 21:41 5km split and then along The Highway was the Fetchpoint crowd, always a big boost (I was wearing a Fetch buff) and then the halfway mark, reached in a comfortable 1:31:23, where I picked up a gel for the tricky Isle of Dogs.
This was where the wheels started to come off in 2014, but this time I was feeling good and running well on the twists and turns, almost racing them at times. I got a little carried away perhaps, with splits of 21:28, 21:31 but was very happy to see the back of this section and back to The Highway, Fetchpoint, and the stretch for home. Along here the “broken” toe on my right foot started to hurt quite a lot – I’ve never really tested it beyond 32km at this pace before – it was painful, but manageable, I just had to make sure I didn’t bounce on it too much.
Through the final run along Tower Hill and Thames Street and the big underpasses, I was just waiting for The Embankment and a sight of the Elizabeth Tower (Big Ben). There were runners starting suffer all along here – some walking, some stopping for a stretch. I was weaving between them but a little bit of cramp was creeping in, I could feel the tell-tale twitching in my toes and calves. I was just trying to relax my stride, keep it all together, stick to the blue line, and a little bit of urgency went out my pace now the end was close: a 21:47 split.
Finally we’re on the Embankment, and the last couple of water stations. I took a drink somewhere along here but hardly sipped it, my stomach was also starting to play up a bit. I was thinking all the time of a nice relaxed style, head up, look ahead, keep the cramps at bay, although I’m sure I didn’t look too relaxed at this point. Finally, we turned onto Birdcage Walk. I didn’t have any more to give and stumbled my way through a 22:20 split for that 5km. The final run to the line was hard – my stomach started to cramp up and it was all I could do to hold my head up for the finish gantry photo, much relieved to finish inside my best hope of a 3:05 finish with 3:03 (2456th overall, and 148th in the M50-54 age category, which was won in a frankly ridiculous 2:32!).
After gathering my wits and getting changed I met my brother – I think he’d struggled to keep pace with me via London Transport ;) but we a had a bit of a chat before he had to head off to Wembley for the cup match (they lost 1-2), and me to Marble Arch and the bus home.
Now that sub-3 hours is so close, I’m starting to wonder if I can do it at Abingdon marathon in October, which I’ve already put an entry in for, although that’s a vastly different event – I’d be running on my own for much of it. There is always, of course, another London Marathon next year, now that I’ve garnered another good-for-age entry time! My 32-year-old 2:45:27 PB still looks a bit out of reach though.