When I first started running, the London Marathon was never on the agenda, it wasn’t a desirable race to me. The crowds, the people, the marketing, the corporate mayhem and London. I’ve held a championship time now for London since 2017, which means I don’t have to enter the ballot. I just get my place, so I figured at some stage, whilst I’m in a position to say, I’ve run the London Marathon, then I may as well just go ahead and do it. I still wasn’t driven, I still didn’t have my eyes set on it, the plan was to run it when it would just feel right. Then things changed, things began to feel a little more right then they did before. As some of the local running community to me, may know already, on September the 6th 2018. We lost a friend and local runner, Gary Dean. A runner who had a particular interest in the London Marathon. If you don’t believe me, take a look at his power of 10 profile.
A runner, a runner who just couldn’t keep himself away. Always drawn back and always turned up, you could always count on him for the team events, the cross countries, the track, field and the fell. He’d represent at the 12 stage, 6 stage, dam flask, he’d throw a javelin or two. But yet again still, he was drawn to the London Marathon. So that was that for me, it was decided where I’d be in 2019. I myself would take on the London Marathon. It’s the same distance as any other marathon, you still cross the start line and finish line. The achievement is just the same, but I’ve learnt what separates London now. Separates it from all the rest. In fact my ears are still ringing! The noise around the course, the atmosphere is unbelievable. At times it can be a little overwhelming, at times it can make you run quicker when you actually don’t need to. But that’s all part of the challenge.
My plan for the month was target Manchester and then if I didn’t get what I wanted or thought was possible at Manchester. I’d go ahead and ‘race’ London as well. Manchester went better than expected, running 2:26:48. So London became more of a run around the capital, anything I’d achieve there would be counted as a bonus. I was going to stay and push my capability, but running without the pressure or the need of chasing a PB. Which made it all the more enjoyable!
The original plan for London was to travel on the Saturday, with Hannah, Shaun and Jack, collecting our numbers and then resting for the rest of the day before taking on the marathon on the Sunday. However, after properly looking at and studying, and more importantly speaking to people. It seemed best to travel down on the Friday, giving us more time on the Saturday. So that was that, we booked a hotel in Watford, just outside of London. Travelled down Friday evening, got food and even had time for a Parkrun at Cassiobury on the Saturday.
Hannah, Shaun and Jack also followed suit. Travelling to Watford as well. Cassiobury Parkrun made for a fun experience, all of us having a go. 2.5 laps, basically an oval shape. Ish.
Some small announcements and we was off, a fast 800 metres downhill, before making the turn left. To run back up 800 metres, not much of a descent or ascent. Nothing in comparison to Barnsley! My plan for the Parkrun was to keep it around Marathon pace or hopeful marathon pace anyway. Using the philosophy that, marathon pace is slower than 5k pace, isn’t it? I probably got carried away a little bit, and enjoyed running a flatter course a little too much. Clocking 16:44 for the distance. Ellie and Hannah managed 24:47 and Shaun got around in 25:49. Not bad for a morning out. Then straight back, showered before making our journey closer to the capital. Heckling my dad for his driving, myself being a typical backseat driver. He did a good job really! Car parked under Bloomsbury Square and then straight away, the destination was the tube. To make our way to the expo to collect our numbers! Turned out to be a lot longer on our feet then I previously imagined. Seeming to be a long drawn out process and probably quicker if I ran from the car to the expo!
Got the number and the journey on the way back must’ve only taken half of the time. Then it was time to relax, only had about an hour of doing so. Usually like a bit of a nap the day before a marathon or a siesta, if you’re cultured. Keeping steps to a minimum and keeping energy levels low. Saving as much as I can for the adventure I’m about to go on. So far, 29,000 steps done. Legs killing from all the walking and so tired! Suppose I’ll sleep better tonight. Table booked at a spaghetti house for 6 ish, definitely sells pasta. Some how didn’t get back and in bed until gone 10 o’clock. Worn out and tired, London you’ve done me in! The plan for Sunday was walk to the station with everyone get on the train at embankment or whatever it’s called and straight through to the start. Hannah wanted to go through early to make sure we didn’t get lost and if we did, we’d have enough time to find our way. We’d leave everyone else behind at the station so they can do their own thing. We was at the station for 7.30.
Straight onto the train, sat down, plenty of leg room for about 10 minutes. Then it got busy! Finding ourselves talking to a danish guy and a gent from Tennessee, Jack Daniels country. Telling us about how many marathons they’d run, how it was their first experience of London, Britain and the people! Asking us about our targets and then the danish guy taking the mick out of Jack Daniels accent! Then we was off the train, on the platform, walking across the field and into the blue zone! All went by in a flash, quick toilet trip. Vaselined my body, not having the same chafe as Manchester! Then went to scout the baggage drop off. I was in the championship start and Hannah in zone 4. The plan was to ram all the stuff in my bag, with the wishful thinking. I’d be done before her, so I can get the bag. My baggage drop was in the championship zone. So could hold onto the bag until the last minute. Soon as we found that out and wrestled my bag back away from the woman who was adamant my bag was on her lorry, but it definitely wasn’t. Think she just wanted to do her job. We stood, we stood in the field and waited. Waited. Waited. Waited. Like we were about to be shot, anticipating what we was about to endure. Before Hannah made her way to her zone and for a run around and I made my way to my zone, bumping into Martin James, Rich Spooner and Alan Ford! Team Yorkshire!
Martin took a quick photo before I made my way again to the toilet, just in case! Then dropped my bag on the lorry. Down to my t shirt and vest, evident now that the wind may put a dampener on peoples day. Clear that with it being a point to point course, a battle with a headwind may be about to take place. It was like a ‘who’s who’ of distance running. Looking around, spotting Adam Holland, Russell Bentley, Josh Sambrook, Scott Harrington, Jonathan Walton, Carl Ryde, Jason Cherriman. All runners who I have brushed shoulders with, all quality runners who have achieved loads, with plenty more to come. All those like minded people, who lace up, to run long distances. Happily! Bag on the lorry, walking slowly but surely to the line. Glancing onwards, seeing Mo Farah, Kipchoge, Hawkins, Griffiths all out in front. Getting ready for the Kipchoge Chase. Loosening the legs. Toeing the line, splitting out of the pen. Being in a world of my own, getting pushed to the front of the line by Carl Ryde, also known as Andres Iniesta! If I was to share a race with him, then I haven’t done bad. Andy Murray on the podium, then the race begun. We was off and on our journey around the capital. The temptation to kick on, faster had begun. The temptation to try and beat the ‘elites’ was there. But knowing full well, that each and everyone out there today, is elite. We’re all running a marathon and we’re all running London. Barnsley got its moment where they saw me, about 20 seconds into the race! Hopefully on the shoulder of Kipchoge, maybe?
I’m there to the left of the screen! Somewhere anyway in the white vest. Then as the pace began to settle and we moved into smaller packs of runners, ganging together to try and battle the eventual wind. Probably tramming on a little bit too fast, getting carried away, the cheer zones pushing me a little too much. I’ll pay for it later, I know I will. Because there wasn’t any pressure or time attached to my London target. I played a gambling game, mentioning to Hannah; I’m going to try and run 5:20 for as long as possible. If I collapse trying, fair enough! If not, it’ll be a massive PB. Then I’ll be over the moon. I knew there was people coming down to watch the marathon, plenty of people that I know of through various walks of life. It made some interesting head turning, as I heard my name shouted. Glancing around, trying to pick people out in the crowd. Ears beginning to ring by the time mile 2 came around. Not knowing really how far I’d come, just knowing I’ve 2 hours left, listening to the cheers and shouts. Listening to the atmosphere. Joined by Carl Ryde eventually, in a nice little pack. Working and tucking in behind to block ourselves from the wind. Trying to chat, but not being able to ear what each other is saying to the other. Pace felt easy, it felt comfortable. My head was up, ever so slightly. Looking ahead, looking to the side, looking at everything around me.
Camera managing to catch me as I’m at the front of the pack. Everything seems such a blur, a little surreal, as I’m experiencing an out of body experience. Am I really in control of what I’m doing, or how I’m running. The first learning point came for me, well second really. The first being, don’t spend a full day walking around the day before a marathon. Anyway, the second learning point. Penistone really does need an hyphen in it, to aid with the pronunciation. Peni-stone, not Penis-tone. A few runners around me, commenting on the Penis. Southerners, clearly. Feeling strong in the pack, dropping off the back, yo-yoing and going out in front. Pace quite constant and smooth, but evident again. The bloody wind. Now into an headwind, again. Holding this direction until around mile 10. For me, I was psychologically breaking it up to the point I’d see the Penistone Flag. Knowing that the Howsham’s were to be stood around mile 7, glancing ahead, holding my head high. Looking for them and for the flag. Looping around Cutty Sark, something I’ve seen many times on the tv. Knowing that it’s just a big ship? The noise clash was unbelievable, noise from every direction, hitting you, echoing off of the surroundings and hitting you again. Chasing through, didn’t have chance to take it all in. Then we was at mile 7, glanced ahead and saw the Howshams, just as we made a small climb over a bridge near Greenwich Quay. Seeing Jacqueline clear as day, waving and going bonkers. Before running on. Enjoying the moment and enjoying the London Marathon. The next iconic structure in the marathon for me was The Tower Bridge, probably the next iconic structure for medal. This again was another surreal moment, a moment and picture I’ve seen many times again on the tv. Seeing all the masses running across on their journey. Where the tv crews stop people for a quick chit chat. They don’t tell you about the small climb over the bridge though! Then the demoralising out and back section that comes afterwards! Seeing the elite women and visually impaired athletes on the other side, seeing the distance markers. Recognising to myself that I’ll be on the other side in roughly 10 miles time. Recognising that when I’m on that side, I’ll be running gradually uphill and into an headwind. GULP! Pace begun to drop off and the bravery of running 5:20’s began to show, the walking from they day before began to catch up with me, Manchester Marathon recovery legs began to take over. In hindsight, the wheels didn’t even fall off. They didn’t even go. Pace didn’t drop, not at all. I was running with a tailwind, so that probably helped! Although at this point, I knew from experience that at some stage the wheels were actually wobbling. I split the half way mat in 1:12:20. If only I could maintain that for the second half! I was confident in myself, that I would make it to the end but I’d let the group go on ahead. I was on my own and sitting with no wind protection for further in the race. I was tailing off. My head was all over the place. I kept it high, battling. I was dreading the return leg of the out and back section, truly and honestly dreading it. The first terrible bit came as we approached the Isle of Dogs, the tunnel. Not nice, but a moment of silence, away from the crowds. Where the hard work is put in. Likening it to Thurgoland Tunnel from the winter training, with a little bit less graffiti on the wall! We was away on the Isle of Dogs, looping around, twisting and turning. I don’t (for the first time in a while) remember any of it, all I remember was wishing it could be over. Wishing that I was past the Tower of London and 5k away from home and my legs would be ok. I was still upright, still running fine. Splitting around 5:30’s, marathon PB pace. So not too bad, I was ahead of PB pace in fact for the distance. Ahead enough so that it was achievable. Hoping that I’d enough in me to hold on. Then came the true terrible bit of the London marathon, the bit I was dreading, the turn back into the head wind, with the uphill drag (it felt like it anyway) back towards exactly where we had just come from. The bit doubling back, making everything else seem a little bit pointless. I was tired by now, I was aching. I was hoping for the finish. My pace had swayed from a steady 5:30 mile, to a generous 6:00. I was working for it, in a place on my own. Glancing ahead aiming to catch the next runner to motivate myself along. I knew the fade was coming, I knew two sub 2:30 marathons in a month was a massive ask. Although believing I am more than definitely capable, but chasing two PB’s over the distance was an even bigger ask. Questioning myself, questioning whether I’d gone off too fast and whether sustaining the 5:30 or 5:20 pace was a bad idea. Should I have gone off steadier? Should I have run more conservative? Answering myself, almost definitely not. The only way I can truly ever improve is by pushing and pushing; gambling my body to achieve things it may not be ready to achieve just yet. I was happy, I was in pain, but I was proud of what I had run so far. I just needed to make it to the end, in one piece! Back through the next tunnel at Mile 23. 5k from home, exactly where I wanted to be. Knowing the line, isn’t too far away now. Content and striving. The PB had slipped out of my hands, but the enjoyment and the experience was exactly where I wanted it to be. The 4:04 marathon runner from 2013, who entered a marathon to raise money for cancer research. Who entered Milton Keynes Marathon because it looked a good alternative to London, the 4:04 runner, who had no idea that the road running scene even existed; that people actually competed up and down the country every week, every day in fact, over distances other than a marathon. The 4:04 runner was in his element. Doing exactly what he has grown to love and enjoy, that is simply put; just running. Running and placing one foot in front of the other. The simple task, that is ever so honest. You get out what you put in, that is it.
Dehydration had kicked in, too late for me to do anything about it whilst racing. Mouth was becoming frothy, usually I drink from every water station; this time for some reason, I made the mistake. Made the mistake of skipping a few early ones, knowing exactly where some aspect had gone wrong. I could ear the fuss of the finish line, could ear it ever so slightly over the fuss of the crowds around me. Sensing and knowing Buckingham Palace was just around the corner. Seeing the signs, counting down the distance left to run. Getting through it, keeping myself as comfortable as I absolutely could.
200 to go, turning and seeing the ever so iconic finish line. Chasing it down. Holding out. Then crossing it, to suddenly come to an halt. Fall into the arms of Terry Forrest. A friend and local runner, known for starting at the back. Clocking himself a massive PB. Myself clocking:
2:31:50, for 121st place.
Not a PB, but my 3rd fastest marathon. 3rd to York (2:29:35) and Manchester (2:26:48). Not bad. If you’d have told me them times a year ago, I’d have laughed at you. If you had told the 4:04 runner them, 6 years ago. He’d have probably passed out! Mad, Bonkers and completely Insane!
Instantly spotted Scott Harrington for a quick chat, collected my bag off of the lorry, not so well organised. All of the Championship runners were on the same truck and we all wanted our bags at the same time. Bit of a nightmare really and probably gave the marshalls a massive headache! Helped David Herdsman collect his bag as well in the process. They were so close but yet so far, I’m sure he’d agree!
Then slowly but surely made my way down the line, straight into the arms of Ellie, with Mum and Dad in the area we agreed. Battered but not bruised, ready and motivated to fight another day. I’m sure if someone said to me, you’ve got to go again now. I’d definitely have a go!
Had a bit of a chat, then Me and Ellie, steadily made our way back to the hotel. Getting some well deserved food on the way. Got a shower; then came to good news, no chafing! WIN! Relaxed, and checked the tracker to see where everyone was who was still out there.
If I had the chance would I change a few things, a few of the mistakes I’ve spoke about. The answer would be, probably not. They’ve taught me a lesson or two. Walking around so much, the day before. I know my afternoon naps and feet up are so important now. The importance of water during the marathon, the simple importance of Water to keep me fresh. The love of running, well that will always be there, won’t it? The London Marathon experience was great, it was eye opening and it was busy. It was loud, it was supportive and fascinating. My ears are ringing still! It was overwhelming, it was ace and it was iconic. It isn’t particularly a fast course, I’ve run faster courses, it has too many turns, but it’s busy enough to tag on board with people, should you need it.
With the race being about Gary Dean for me initially, I thought it was fitting and right if I bring him along for the ride. So the day before the event, I had spoke to all the Penistone Runners who I knew was in London. Arranging to meet them in Bloomsbury Square for a photo and for a photo with Gary. I had brought his Trophy down for the journey. We met, we chatted, we shared stories of the event. Bill managing to get his moment in the spotlight as he ran through the line alongside the struggling Big Ben! Breaking a club record in the process may I add. Hannah experiencing the London Marathon, I dare say, enjoying it and finishing off of minimal training and Luke also joined us for the photo, again he’d probably say minimal training but he enjoyed it and enjoyed the experience of running London.
So Gary came along, he ran his 19th London Marathon with all of us, he ran alongside, I enjoyed it and so did I. I’ll be back for sure. That one was for Gary.
Just Keep Running….