Tuesday, 15 May 2018

London Marathon 2018 - Race Day!

Race day started customarily early, in fact thanks to the dawn chorus in the woodland backing on to my brother's house in High Wcombe, it was just before my alarm went off at 5:25am! I'd slept well so was soon awake and up. Everything was laid out and ready to go, so after an early morinng pit stop I was dressed and munch on a couple of pre-made white pitta breads with sliced banana and raspberry jam, a bit more handy than my usual porridge as it didn't require going upstairs to the kitchen and potentially waking up my 9 month niece! Also meant I could continue eating breakfast in the car. It was damp and misty in the early light after a night of heavy thundery rain as I set off in the car for central London.

The well used routine of parking close to the race finish for an easy get away post-race was in use again. The car park is in the shadow of Westminster, a short walk along The Embankment to get the train from Charing Cross to the race start on Blackheath and within a mile of the finish area.

Driving into London Early on Race Morning

I was parked up in plenty of time, before 7am and soon on my way passing the Houses of Parliment and a Big Ben completely shrouded in scaffolding (that's going to spoil a few race photos this year!). The roads were already shut around Westminster for the race, with crews of workers unloading piles of crowd barriers from trucks and fixing on advertising banners. It's quite a surreal experience walking along a realtively quiet road which will be a buzzing marathon course swarming with spectators only a few hours later!

Strolling Along The Embankment to Charing Cross (Mile 25)

I got to Charing Cross Station in time to grab a double expresso and hop on the 07:25, destination Blackheath. The early trains are also a quiet experience, with only a moderate number of other runners getting on there and the intermediate stations. Arriving at Blackheath it was only 10-15min walk to the entrance to the blue start entrance and on to the UKA Club Championships enclosure down near the race start line.

The Train to Blackheath & Walking to the Blue Start Area

By now the sun was well up and with not a cloud in the sky it was already feeling warm. There was not much need for the tights and long sleeve long and jacket I had on. I would have been perfectly ok to be walking round in race kit only at 8am! I headed into the men's changing tent in the Champs start area (upgraded this year with the addition of a thin carpetted floor to sit on instead of just grass!) where I found Bournemouth AC's Ant Clark already reclined on the floor, so settled down for a catch up chat while waiting for others to turn up and fiddling with my race kit (shoe laces, gel belt, gels etc,,,,). 

Before long the tent was filling up with many familar faces to say hi to and swap notes on raining progress and targets for the race. It was now clear that this was likely going to be the hottest London on record, with the temperature nudging towards 20DegC before we'd even got to the start line. This did make pre-race prep easy, not need to stay wrapped up until the last minute or wear old t-shirts or bin bags to try and stay a bit warm! Instead we were standing around in race kit, caps, shades and dowsing water on bare skin to keep as cool as possible. I dropped my bag at the kit truck and got in the toilet queue for a last pit-stop while waiting for the marshalls to let us out on to Shooters Hill Road to loosen up (no need to 'warm up'!). The elite men were out jogging already so it was fun running celebrity spotting, including some all time greats, Eliud Kipchoge, Kenenisa Bekele and of course Mo Farah.

We were let out on to the road at about 9:40 and I easy jogged up the 200-300m stretch we had available and picked up to speed coming back the other way twice and that was it, didn't want to get too hot before the start. Then it was a case of lining up behind the wall of marshalls who would lead us around the roundabout on the road and up to the start. I got myself nicely to the front so by the time we were up to the start I was standing just behind Bekele in the elite line-up (you can see my hands up in the air on the BBC coverage when they are doing the elite introductions 😃) During the wait to start I was already damping myself down with water to maximise pre-race cooling.

The start is pretty tense, there's loud music playing, helicopters circling overhead, the public address system going and the general chatter of a pack of keen runners. So knowing we weren't moving anywhere for a few minutes I just shut my eyes and focused on my breathing for 10-20 breath cycles. Despite the hubbub I still found this settled me down and cleared my head ready for the task ahead....

For the last few weeks I had had my sights firmly set on another shot at going under 2hr30 and possibly even sub 2:29/28 for a new PB. If the weather had been more like last year I would have followed a similar plan of just running to the target pace and seeing what happened (without looking at my heart rate). But given the more challenging conditions I opted to keep the heart rate data visible on my Garmin watch and decided to give 2:30 pace a chance up to at least the Cutty Sark at 10km. At that point I'd make a decision on what to do for the rest of the race. My minimum target was to get round in under 2:45 so at least keep my London sub 2:45 streak going (6 years and counting!)

The elite intros over with for the TV cameras, we had an impromptu rendition of the National Anthem from the Coldstream Guards (or similar!) band, due to the Queen starting the race (via video link from Windsor castle), and suddenly we were off. The start is a bit of stampede up the road and despite being right up near the front I was soon running in a big crowd with a lot of people streaming past. I just went with it and after a mile or so things had settled down. I didn't have sight of anyone I knew so just stuck with the effort feeling a bit above reasonably comfortable. I wanted to get going at target pace and not start building up a time deficit on such a warm day, so I made sure I pushed on. Also I tend to find the first couple of miles harder than they should feel (in 2017 that feeling lasted until 11-12 miles!), so I wasn't worried.

I'd set my Garmin up so the automatic mile laps were turned off and the main screen just displayed 'Average Lap Time' and the overall timer. By hitting the lap button each time I passed a mile marker the average lap time figure would give me an accurate reading of my average pace up to and including the last mile completed. I also had a pace band on my other wrist with the timings for each mile for a 2:30 marathon (you can make your own custom band here) which I could use to check against the timing clock displayed at each mile marker or the timer on my GPS watch.
Passing Cutty Sark - Adopted the reverse cap look!

Mile 1 was more or less on target in 5:46 (2:30 pace is 5:44/M). The next few miles sped up as the road got less crowded & we headed down to the river at Woolwich, with the 3rd & 4th in 5:26 & 5:33 respectively. From there to Cutty Sark at 10km things felt ok, wih the pace hovering in the low 5:40s but I could just detect the sensatation of needing to raise the effort to keep on pace, especially on any slight upward gradient. The crowd support was fantastic, with the great weather bringing a lot of people out onto the streets which caused a few enthusiastic pace surges! By mile 9 I could definitely tell that the effort required to maintain 2:30 pace was creeping up already, my heart rate was rising close to overall race average levels (c. 167-168bpm) whenever I tried to push on a bit to maintain the speed. I had been soaking myself with water from the 1st water station at mile 3 and every station since (one a mile or so), but the heat was still having it's effect! It probably didn't help that there wasn't any water stations for the first 3 miles, so my body temperature got a headstart in the battle to keep it down....

Dowsing with water trying to cool down!  (Photo-Manol Dmitrov)
At around 10 miles I was still just about on target for 2:30 but made the decision to back off the effort and get my heart rate down to a more race-long manageable level. It was too early in the race, given the temperatures, to be pushing on in the hope of being able to maintain the pace to the finish. There was a strong possibility that it could go very wrong and end badly! I had two thoughts in my head, one was that having already bagged the sub 2:30 time last year I didn't have huge personal pressure to do it again  and the other was the wise words of TR from the Runners World forum Sub 3 thread that "You can only control the controllables". I decided that in the balance of things I was better off controlling my pace, cooling as much as possible, getting to the pub in a reasonable time and able to still stand and drink a beer!

High-fiving Pickburn Family Support Team

From there on it was a case of moderating the effort and keeping as cool as possible to the finish. Miles 12, 13 and 14 were actually a lot of fun. With the pressure off I could enjoy the athmosphere, passing my loudly cheering family (Wife Milly, son Cameron & my parents, Jill & George) near Bermondsey station, the ever breath-taking crossing of Tower Bridge and along The Highway. I went through halfway in 75:30, which banished any thoughts that a sub 2:30 might still be on the cards and confirmed the plan to get to the finish in one piece.

It was clear that the weather was great for spectators, there was a lot of them and making plenty of noise! There were several moments during the race where it was literally quite overwhleming, Tower Bridge is the obvious place.

Crossing Tower Bridge - Mind Blowing!
I'm still to better the experience of running pretty much solo down the centre of the road, crowds 4 or 5 deep on both sides with a clear view up the River Thames to St Pauls Cathedral and other famous landmarks. It makes me weil up just thinking about it.... Another section with great athmosphere is after you turn off The Highway and onto Narrow Street in Limehouse. The road goes from a broad 4 lane dual carriageway to a narrow(!) street lined with tall waterfront buildings, the crowds aren't as dense as in other places, but the buidlings do seem to amplify the sound they make!

Coming out of Limehouse we hit the start of the Isle of Dogs section. Historically this is my (and many others) least favourite part of the marathon. More more sparse crowds, until you reach Canary Wharf, coupled with the building fatigue in your legs and the thought of over 10 miles left to go, makes it mentally challenging. Although I had backing my effort off I was unsure just how much the temperature was going to effect me, so the mental fight was just a prominate as before. By this point I'd largely stopped paying attention to my mile split times, I had missed pressing the lap split button at a couple mile markers and had to double press at the next marker to keep the Average Lap Time data correct. So I wasn't really sure what kind of pace I was managing to sustain, looking back at the data I was around about 5:50-6:00/mile, but I did know my heart rate in the low 160's. My marathon heart rate from the 2017 race had averaged 168/169, so I was happy that I was keeping the lid on the effort. The next few miles were just a case of keeping going as we headed south through miles 16 & 17, there was a bit of headwind which which was quite nice as it helped manage the temperature a bit more. Mile 18 and 19 felt quite a slog as we came back north into Canary Wharf, but the crowds there are very uplifting and I started to get the sense that I was 'nearly there' with 6-7 miles to go. At this point I was now feeling confident that I was going to be able to maintain a similar sort of pace through to the finish and was starting to pass quite a few other runners. In the second half I was only passed by 5 runners, but passed 57. The effort level wasn't rising, but the discomfort in my legs and feet was, but nothing overly worrying. 

Coming back through Limehouse (round mile 21) a short guy with a beard, white cap and black vest with 'Boutique Marathon' logo on it (#31238 - Marc Lorenzo) caught up with me. We ran the next couple of miles back along The Highway, past The Tower of London and along Embankment, which gave a nice boost on a stretch which is normally a real drag. The crowds aroung the Tower were simply unbelievable, giving me a real emtional moment. The course dips downhill slightly just past the Tower at the mile 24 marker and I practically floated down the road on the noise generated on either side of the road, trying to hold back tears!

It's really interesting to look back and compare the pacing of those who finished in a similar time to me. The Strava website has a neat tool called 'Flyby' where you can play back the track of your run and of anyothers who did the same run and uploaded to the website. Check it out here for this year's marathon. Lets you see who you were running with and when who overtook who!
Strava Flyby View - Find out who was where when in a race!
Once alongside the River Thames, you're in 'One parkrun to go' territory and physiologically on the home straight. Although opinions can vary on this point as Embankment is the scene of many a death march to the finish which can seemingly last a lifetime.... This year not being in total eye-balls-out-mode it was not particularly comfortable but certainly managable for me. Due to the heat quite a few familiar runners had called it quits on anything special tme-wise and were just cruising/jogging into the finish. I felt that I should still do the race some justice and kept my pace consistant in the high 5 minute miles. Also I didn't really want to slow down, in my head I was telling myself that keeping the speed up was cutting the time to reach the pub and a pint! It was definitely one of the more enjoyable trips down Embankment in my runs at London to date, in the sunshine with huge crowd support 😎

The 2nd to Last Turn - Off Embankment
& Into Parliment Square

At mile 25.5(ish) I turned right in front of Big Ben and into Parliment square and it really was a case of 'nearly there'. The run down Birdcage walk towards Bukingham Palace was superb with a beautiful green canopy of newly sprouting tree leaves forming a coolling tunnel to run up as the 800m, 600m, 400m to go signs ticked by going past St James Park. A final right turn by the Victoria Monument and the finish line was in sight, I made a small effort to muster a bit of a sprint finish, but it didn't come to much (although my last 400m or so did register as 5:34/M on my Garmin). I did remember to try to put on a celebratory finish arms out stretched pose across the line, but it ddn't come out very well! Check out the finish line footage in the video below for proof, Also including a few other clips from the BBC coverage of the race, including the start (i'm jumping up and down behind Daniel Wanjiru!)

Post race medal pose with marafuning friend Ryan Snell
My finish time of 2:33:15 wasn't what I'd hoped for in the run-up to the race, but in light of the conditions it was very satisfying (for the record it was my 5th fastest marathon) especially since it got me my highest London finishing position of 53rd, not including the elites. With the benefit of hindsight I think I hit a good balance between energy expended/fatigue/pace. I could have pushed harder and come in maybe a minute or so faster, which would have pushed me up the rankings, but with the penalty of significantly more recovery time required. Since then I've scored my highest ever finish position in an RR10 series XC race with 3rd at Stony Cross 10 days post marathon and a solid 34:30 (3rd again!) at the mutli terrain Lymington 10k threes weeks on and I'm pretty sure continuing with the sub 2:30 attempt would have ended badly (and possibly before the finish line!). 
With Parents Jill & George, God-Mother Lesley & Son Cameron
(photo by Wife, Milly!)
Overall it was a fantastic race and I've extended my streak of sub :245 London's to 7 years. Post race there was a fair amount of hot weather chat in the finish area before walking out to meet my family on Horse Guards Parade. We then heading down Whitehall for the customary pint (or two) of London Pride in the sun outside the Red Lion, catching up with various marathoning friends from the Runner World sub3 forum.

We headed back to the car (thankfully less than half a mile from the pub!) and got on back home. a quick change and shower and we were back out again for a excellent BBQ at our friends Jennine and Tom's place, with the added bonus of a fantastic hot tub to soak the race aches and pains away in, with a beer 😎. Downside was that I had to share the hot-tub with half a doazn kids to start with, but they did get out and let me have a little bit of time to myself!

So that's spring marathoning done for another year. Bit of a strange one with such cold weather for most of the training and then a hot race. I'm confident that the heat adapation training I did in the 10 days leading up to the race (extended hot sauna sessions and overdressed treadmill running) did help me on the day. I'm sure i was in shape, but I would have needed to do it a lot more heat work consistantly over a longer time period to have stood any chance of getting another sub 2:30 time in the race day conditions...

So now it's time for a bit of break from trying for fast times over 26.2 miles. I'm eyeing up an autumn race, with either York or Bournemouth on the cards. Before that I'm planning on getting a couple of trail 50k races in as well as as many of the summer's club RR10 XC races as work/life allows. There'll also be a week (or maybe two) of running on the Cornish South West Coast Path. 

Plus I've also got some exciting news on the near horizon, but that can wait for another day 😉

No comments:

Post a Comment