London Marathon, Sunday, April 22, 2012

Alister Robson

I had such a positive experience in last year’s London marathon I was worried that this year might not live up to that. I needn’t have worried.

My big running target for 2012 was supposed to be the Hull marathon. I entered the VLM ballot, sure, but was unlucky so thought no more about it. I didn’t enter the club ballot because I was lucky enough to get a place via the club last year and wanted to give others the same chance so I thought no more about it, entered Hull and got on with my training. It was only in the middle of February when I got a phone call out of the blue telling me I’d got a place courtesy of adidas that it was back on.

Hull came and went and I have to admit I was a bit envious reading Yusef’s report, but it was just too much of a risk only two weeks before London. All my races leading up to London were tailored towards Hull so I was a bit worried my taper was too long. There were positive signs (5K, 5M and 10M PB’s) but also some really bad races (Spen 20, probably as a result of doing Dent the day before and also Run Northumberland Wallington Half, again probably as a result of doing Prudhoe XC the day before). I broke 4 hours last time, so thought 3.45 was an appropriate target, although publicly I only said I was looking for a PB. I deliberately set my target on the low side because I’d rather run well, achieve that slightly low target and then lower that. If I was to have a real blow up going for an ambitious time I might not want to run one again. That works for me, but I’m not sure it will work for others. The traditional method of calculating your marathon pace is to take a recent, decent half marathon, double it and add 10%.

Alister hears the voice of experience.

We travelled down on the Friday afternoon same as last year and stayed at a friend’s (again the same as last year). After a very pleasant Italian meal on the Friday evening, we popped across London on Saturday morning to Bushy Park, where along with another 800+ runners we took part in the parkrun that started it all. I took it steady and even let Jacquie beat me and we had a very pleasant coffee and bacon butty with the parkrun founder, Paul Sinton-Hewitt, the bushy park Event Directors Ray and Ann Coward and Dave and Gabby who are starting a new parkrun in Newcastle. Newcastle, New South Wales that is! After that it was back across London again to get to the marathon Expo. Lots of runners hate this and find it something to be endured but after being so nervous last year I wanted to drink it all in and was glad I did. We bumped into Ian and Jane and had arranged to meet Anna which was nice. My good friend Craig was working on the Sweatshop stand so we called in and saw him. We listened to Martin Yelling, coach and husband of Liz up on the main stage and some of his tips, although I’d heard before, had a real resonance.

After a couple of hours it was back to our friend’s house, (via the supermarket to pick up exactly the same food I normally eat before an important run and a cheap jumper to throw away at the race start), where I cooked dinner and then we popped out to our friend’s local to have a beer. I know some people would frown on this but I find it relaxes and helps me sleep and in moderation doesn’t affect my performance. We were tucked up in bed at about 10pm.

Next day we were up and about at 6am and after the obligatory race morning photo it was off to get the train to Blackheath. I was in the Red start this year rather than the Blue and although you were supposed to go to Maze Hill station, I wanted to repeat as much as possible of last years run, helping to reinforce positive memories. I loved the feeling of coming up the quiet Blackheath common off the first train and gradually spotting the huge assembly area at the top of the hill.

Although the weather all week had been heavy rain and chilly it was a beautiful clear morning. I had a coffee on the way up, something which is also one of my pre-race rituals now and then we just milled around at the Blue start looking out for people we knew. We bumped into a couple of Quakers RC we knew from parkrun but no-one else and were just about to set off for the Red start when we saw Barrie ambling up the common looking every inch the experienced campaigner he is and seemingly without a care in the world.

It was great to see him, Jacquie got some nice photo’s and we had a nice chat and then bid each other good luck. I didn’t know anyone else who was in Red which was a shame but by this point I didn’t have too long to wait. I’d brought some bin bags (to keep warm and dry with) and a newspaper to kill a bit of time. After putting my bag onto the baggage lorries (so well organised it’s almost unbelievable to behold) it was time to go into my pen, Red 4 (the pens are numbered with lower numbers being nearest the front). The pen was still pretty quiet and it was bright and sunny and warming up nicely. I always prefer to run in warmer conditions and I knew that would be better for the spectators although I also know that most runners prefer it cooler and struggle in the heat.

All too soon we were off. There’s a slight delay but nowhere near as bad as the Great North Run and after a couple of minutes I was over the line. After last year it was no surprise to see so many (male) runners who were clearly wanting to make sure they were correctly hydrated dash for the sidelines!

Alister benefits from a sponsor's top-notch recovery drink.

The first couple of miles passed without incident although there was one downhill and uphill which seemed a lot steeper than I remembered from the Blue start, soon the starts merged and after some good natured booing and ‘Who are ya?’s the full marathon assemble was in one stream at last. It was somewhat surprising therefore to hear Andy Biggs a Durham City Harrier I know know well from parkrun come up behind me. Naturally he’d recognised the trademark yellow hat and gloves from some distance back. After a chat, (If you can’t chat in the first half of the race, you’re almost certainly going off too fast, I reckon) , we agreed to run together and this worked brilliantly – me slowing him down slightly and him dragging me a tiny touch faster than I would have done on my own. We stayed together for the next ten miles and were also joined by another Durham parkrunner, Simon Gardner for a while in the middle too. We saw Jacquie cheering just after the Cutty Sark and Andy’s wife a little further on still and then we went past Ian who still looked comfortable. Going over Tower Bridge was as incredible as I remembered last year and I was very pleased with the pace – 8:36 by my Garmin, or bang on for a 3.45 finish, but Andy thought we were a little behind schedule and just after half way pushed on and left me.

I saw Jacquie again at about 14 miles and handed her by now soaked yellow hat – I’m sure she was pleased with that! After that it was just a case of sticking to the plan and to the watch. Everything felt fine, I maybe even felt a touch more comfortable than last year. Perhaps you have a natural pace that your body is more comfortable with. There was nothing more of any note until at about 20 miles if memory serves I caught and passed Anna and then Andy, or maybe the other way round. With a little more than 3 miles (parkrun?) to go I tried to push on a little faster as I felt good but my body didn’t respond and just stayed at the same pace. I guess after so long it just wants to keep doing the same thing! I crossed the line with a little sprint, and remembering this time not to stop my Garmin on the line but to smile and look up to the cameras. It was a little surprise to be so far off from 3.45 when I know I was doing such consistent 8:36 miles but I realised afterwards that I’d actually run quite a bit more than the 26 miles and 385 yards marathon distance weaving in and out. Still I was over the moon with that, 9 minutes knocked off last year and with room for improvement if I ever get back in.

After collecting my goodie bag, medal and having my photo taken I got to the baggage collection where again I was handed my bag as I walked up and then I half stumbled and walked around to the ‘R’ meeting area where Jacquie and my friend were waiting. Anna arrived just afterwards and after some photos, a recovery milkshake and a cheeky beer we set off across Trafalgar square to a pub where Anna had arranged to meet a few (hundreds!) Fetch Everyone runners. After a quick couple of beers it was off to get back home, but that’s another story altogether and thanks to this country’s unique railway ‘infrastructure’ we didn’t get back to Durham until 1.30am. Suffice to say two hours standing on the Transpennine ‘express’ from Manchester to York between 10.30 and 00.30 didn’t exactly help my tired legs recover…


Pos Name Club Cat Pos Halfway Finish
1 Kipsang, Wilson Kenya M 1 1:02:12 2:04:44
1* Keitany, Mary Kenya F 1 1:10:53 2:18:37
7,880 Robson, Alister MV40 1,348 1:53:13 3:48:10
10,264 Seeley, Anna F 1,237 1:50:28 3:57:30
12,730 Ives, Jane FV40 542 2:01:30 4:07:12
14,677 Spencer, Ian MV50 892 1:56:16 4:15:08
29,937 Thompson, Margaret FV60 114 2:24:17 5:24:13
30,394 Readey, Claire F 5,690 2:16:26 5:27:32
32,463 Evans, Barrie J MV65 159 2:18:23 5:43:58

*Elite Women’s race.

Anna keeping cool ...

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