Fulfilling a 30-Year Dream

The 2018 London Marathon was, for me, the culmination of a two-year project but having a family member running in London was a family project, which started in the 1980s.  In 2013 I started running after deciding to call time on my rugby career, one which I had enjoyed immensely and taken seriously but had never reached anywhere near the heights that my Dad had achieved in his.  He was a fly half with a good turn of pace and an accurate boot who had played for Wasps in the mid to late 70s.  When he finished playing rugby he, in much the same way that I have, took up running with the goal of running the London Marathon.  He was unsuccessful in getting a place in the ballot for three years in a row but his luck changed on his fourth attempt and he was awarded a place.  Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to take his place up as shortly afterwards he was diagnosed with osteoarthritis in his hips and advised not to run.


Fast forward thirty-odd years and the beginnings of a plan to run the race myself started to take shape.  I have good memories of being inspired by watching the marathon on TV as a child and decided that as my running improved the most predictable way to get a place in London was to bypass the ballot completely and aim for a Good For Age place, by running under 3h05, hence running in Manchester in 2016. I achieved my goal, coming in at 3h00:01 but decided to delay my attempt on London for a year and go back to Manchester to try to break the elusive three hour barrier in 2017. This I achieved, albeit narrowly and despite not being in as good shape as the year before, with a time of 2h59:59, followed by a 90 minute stay in the medical tent.


2018 was going to be my year to race in London and despite some early season injury niggles which prevented me from running at times, I trained well with extra swimming and cycling taking up the slack and approached the race in good shape. The potential spanner in the works was that from about two weeks out the long range weather forecast was predicting temperatures in the mid twenties Celcius which isn’t very helpful when you have done most of your training in the cold and wet British winter. Seeing this as a potential issue, I decided the best way to adapt to this kind of weather was to wear extra layers for my training runs. You’re likely to get some funny looks when you are running in a thermal top and running tights with the outside temperature over 20 degrees but I was determined to do as much as I could to be ready for race day.

 I travelled to London on the Friday before the race and spent a leisurely Saturday morning strolling around the expo, trying not to buy things and collected my race number. I considered an afternoon of sightseeing but decided that putting my feet up and watching the rugby on TV would be the best thing to do, before heading back into the city centre to meet up with my friends Allan and Sue who were also in London for the weekend. Allan had been due to run the race but a broken foot had put paid to that and despite being on the path to recovery, the race had come a bit early for him to take part.The hotel that I was staying in was quite a long way out from the start of the race, but there was a good sprinkling of runners waiting for the train at Kew Gardens station when I arrived.


As the train stopped at more stations the carriage filled with more runners including a man dressed as a gorilla who had decided to carry on with his fancy dress plans despite advice from the race organisers not to due to the risk of over heating as this was to be the hottest London Marathon on record at 24 degrees. The second train I caught was more like a can of sardines than a locomotive as we crammed in for the last stretch of the journey.There was a palpable buzz of excitement in the air as disembarked and started the short walk to the area set aside for Good For Age runners in Greenwich Park which made me feel that this was truly a special occasion which captured the excitement of those involved.


Shortly after arriving in the warm up area I was joined by my friend and training partner Rich Foster who I had shared some good long training runs with over the winter.  It was good to have a friendly face around to have a chat with and help to dissipate the pre race nerves, which were building a bit by this stage.  The problem with having run marathons before is that you know how hard the task at hand is and having collapsed at the end last year I knew that it wasn’t without risk.


After a short warm up we made our way into the starting pen and waited for the pre race formalities to take place. 2018 was the 110thanniversary, to the day, of the 1908 London Olympic Marathon, a race which is the reason behind the modern marathon distance of 26.2 miles.  25 mile races weren’t unusual before 1908 but the race that day was to start in Windsor and run into London.  The British royal family granted permission for the race to start in the grounds of Windsor Castle and the race was extended to it’s current distance and it has stuck.  In order to mark the occasion, Her Majesty The Queen pressed the starting button on the lawn in Windsor Castle and we were away.


Rich and I had discussed our planned schedules for the race and he was aiming for a quicker time than me, 2h45 rather

than 2h50 so I let him go at the start.  One of the big mistakes that you can make on a long race like this is to go at someone else’s pace and if you burn your matches too early in a long race, you have a long way to go where you will be leaking time.

My Mum had looked at the race route the day before the race and pointed out that we would pass, if it were still there, my Great-Grandmother’s old flat.  It has now been replaced by a modern building but it was on this corner where the different race starting areas came together that I saw Spirit of Monmouth club teammate Rob Nicholls bouncing along in his usual effortless way.  We had a bit of chat but Rob was soon easing away from me and I could see him over taking Rich too.  Part of me wanted to catch them both and race as it had been nearly four years since I had last been beaten by a Spirit of Monmouth runner but thankfully the computer overruled the inner chimp on this occasion and I decided to stick to my own pace, figuring that Rob had been swept up in the atmosphere and was going too fast.


I reached halfway in 1h25 and was still on schedule to hit 2h50 having by this point passed both Rich and Rob. Rich had decided that 2h45 was a suicidal pace in the increasing heat and Rob was paying the price for his fast start and had lost all of the normal relaxed spring from his legs.  It was shortly after halfway that I too decided to ease back and abandon the 2h50 plan or risk the wheels coming off. I was however still feeling confident that another sub-3 finish was achievable (which would mean that I would be allowed a finishers medal- Lisa Erikson!).


In Manchester last year I started to struggle at around mile 15 and had to really dig in to get through it.  This time around I had a much better run and didn’t start to wish the end would come quickly until around mile 23.  I think that my increasing experience in endurance sport was a factor and also the amazingly noisy support all around the course was a factor. I can’t remember where some of the noisiest parts were but I had a big grin on my face as I ran across Tower Bridge which is just one of the many iconic landmarks of the race.  I had done a practice run of the last few miles of the race when we had visited London last summer and did my best to try and remember the things to look out for as I ran across the embankment towards the finish.


I was running on fumes by the time I reached Buckingham Palace and turned right to finish along The Mall but I was able to summon one last effort as Rich appeared beside me and suggested that we should cross the finish line together. This was a really nice gesture and I like to think that I would have done the same thing in his position, although there would have been a small part of me that wanted to outsprint him if I was the one coming from behind!  I guess it’s one of those situations where you don’t know how you will react until you are in the position yourself.  Hopefully if I find myself approaching a friendly runner in the future I will remember how Rich played it and do the same thing.


My pre race warm weather simulation with extra clothing seemed to work well and I think that I affected less by the temperature than lots of other runners. I finished in 3h00:53 for 1163 position, beating 39840 runners in the process.  Looking at last year’s race results (in cooler conditions) I might have expected a time around 2h54 if the weather had been kinder if I had finished in a similar placing.  I’m very pleased to have performed so well and it gives me a huge amount of confidence heading into Ironman Italy.  I’m clearly a very consistent marathon runner as I have now run three stand alone marathons and my finishing times are all within one minute of each other!


The finishing funnel area worked like a well-oiled machine and we had collected medals and kit and met up with Rich’s family in a very short space of time. I was exhausted but elated at the same time and managed to keep my usual post-long race tears at bay until I spoke to my Dad on the phone.  Mum and Dad had been watching the race on the TV and after announcing pre-race that I was going to do the race for him, the emotions came pouring out at the end when we spoke.  I don’t think we managed to say very much as we were both blubbing by this point but to hear him say how proud he was is a memory that will live with me as much as crossing the finish line will.


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