Five Fabulous Fables
Zoe Evans …
This was the second time I have run the London Marathon, and having taken it all way too seriously in 2008 (obsessing over mile timings, weighing out pasta relative to my body weight, sobbing uncontrollably at mile 21 etc etc), I decided if there was only one plan I would stick to this time round it would be to ENJOY IT!! I had a vague idea I would be somewhere between a 9:30 and 10 min mile, but just decided to run however felt good.
The weather was already getting warm as I got off the train at Blackheath, and it was only to get warmer. The start area was buzzing and I made friends with a nice lady from Cornwall in zone 6. And we were off! I managed 3 miles before I accepted the fact that I was desperate for the loo and resigned myself to stopping in the portaloo queue (no, I did NOT do a ‘Paula’). Although this lost me about 3 mins I felt a whole lot better for it! From then on I cruised along, taking in the views, enjoying the music, the drumming band around mile 5 were fantastic, and even did a bit of celebrity spotting – Cheryl Baker!! Wasn’t she in Bucks Fizz??
I spotted my family at mile 12 which was a massive boost, as the weather was getting really hot by then, and my knees feeling a little bit funny. Stopped for a minute to give them a hug and then pressed on. As I crossed Tower Bridge I’m not sure why but I felt really emotional and overwhelmed, felt so grateful just to be there, be a part of something that does so much good for so many people. I’m trying not to make this sound corny but it really felt so special to be a part of it all. As I commenced the big ‘loop’ and saw the really fast dudes speeding past on the other side, I realised that I still had a while to go before I had tamed the beast. The sun was beating down so thank god for all those water stations and showers. Maybe it’s being from down South, or having been running around in a few fires at work of late, but I really do enjoy running in the heat, much more than in the cold, so although it was challenging I felt comfortable plodding along, anticipating a nice suntan later on. I did pour some water over myself, which mainly served to cause my some unfortunate chafing! Mile 20 and I was slowing down a bit, but took a couple of painkillers for my creaky knees, and kept on plodding. I realised that last time I ran this race I had already started walking on and off by this point, so was happy to find myself still jogging and still enjoying the scenery.
The next 2 miles went by in a haze of staring intently at the crowd for my family, who finally appeared at 23.5 miles, happy days! And then I realised, I had less than 3 miles to go! Less than a Parkrun! And I’m still running! The crowds were great, I heard my name countless times and felt so grateful to everyone who shouted for me. By this point every muscle in my legs was burning but I was determined that I would run the whole way this time. And finally, there it was, the Mall. Then the ‘400m to go’ sign…. And with the end in sight I managed a little token sprint to finish in 4hrs14mins, knocking 15mins off my pb, and finishing with a big smile on my face. Thanks to all the Striders for their encouragement, especially on wednesday night before the race, it gave me such a confidence booster and reminded me of everything I love about running. Well done to all the ‘Super 6’, it’s been fun!!
… and Alister Robson…
What an absolutely fantastic event. When I first applied back in April last year I didn’t know what I’d let myself in for. I do now and I also know I’m going to be applying again. All those long, horrible runs on cold mornings in January and February were worth it as everything came together on the day.
The whole day was just one brilliant experience after another. I even enjoyed the Expo on the Saturday where it was great to meet up with George and Kathryn and get some silly photo’s. The expo itself was great and I ended up buying far more stuff than I probably needed. In the end I plumped for running in my Striders vest over the Acorns charity vest – I had my name put onto it at the Expo. It just felt right somehow to be running in purple on a Sunday!
I hit a slight snag on race morning as we missed an overland train from Dalston where we were staying, but there was another along very shortly afterwards and all the trains were full of pensive looking runners. Walking across Blackheath to the blue area was brilliant too, a real sense of converging on something important. The start was fantastically well organised, with loads of loos and the pens were much better organised than the GNR. When the start went off the pens gradually merged and there was a bit of bunching. Quite a few other male runners took this opportunity to have a last minute pee against the fence and although I didn’t think I really needed to go, I thought it prudent to join them. Turns out I did desperately need to go, and also that this would be the last time for about 10 hours that I would be able to! I lost quite a bit of time here as many, many runners went past me, but I actually think this worked in my advantage as I was forced to slow to their pace which was slightly slower than I intended, and given the later heat, could well have saved me. I stayed sensible and didn’t try to catch up the lost time as I knew that would be a mistake.
The first ten or so miles went past really easily and I felt a bit of a fraud, knowing full well that I was basically coasting quite a bit slower than I knew I could run. I was also surprised by how emotional the whole day was. I ran with a smile on my face and my head up as advised by several people – really trying to drink in the atmosphere – and you can’t help but be inspired by some of the wonderful stories from the charity runners and supporters around you. Some daft song set me off and somehow I found tears in my eyes at several points early on. Tower Bridge was also a particular highpoint – it just looked stunning in the sunshine and the crowds were fantastic. Just after the halfway marker I spotted my wife, Jacquie, and was able to get across to give her a sweaty kiss – it was a real boost to see her and our friend who kindly put us up for the weekend. 13-22 miles was where the real hard work began as I knew it would. The heat was now really starting to get up and whereas in the first part I’d been able to carry and sip a bottle of powerade from the start most of the way round, I grabbed water and lucozade from nearly every drinks station all the way home. My gel strategy I also adjusted on the fly – I took one every 50 minutes or so rather than the hour I’d been practising beforehand, but again this seemed to work. My right knee which has been a little sore for a couple of weeks, I certainly became more aware of, although from my splits it doesn’t appear to have slowed me too much. I spotted my wife again at about 22 miles and again grabbed a kiss. She later said that we’d have both been gutted if I missed my four hour target by a few seconds! I don’t remember a great deal from about 22 miles in – it was very much a case of gritting my teeth and getting on – this was further than I had ever run before. I think I worked out at 5K out that there was only a ‘parkrun’ left and I knew I could do that. I even managed a sprint coming up and over the line, especially as the race clock still had 3.59.xx on it, but I think I just missed the race clock 4 hour mark.
The medal was well worth it and I think I even managed a smile for my photo. Bag collection was easy and simple and I made my way over to ‘R’ where I’d arranged to meet my wife and slumped on the kerb. The only bad thing about the day was when we found out about George, and thank goodness he’s OK now. I think he still thinks he let people down by not finishing but he did no such thing. He is a personal hero and an inspiration.
Thank you so much to everyone who made this possible for me to do, joined me on training runs and provided freely some great advice and best wishes. I would name you all personally but I’d be petrified of leaving someone out.
You know who you are.
… and Kathryn Sygrove…
I still don’t really know what to make of my London marathon race, my first ever marathon two years after I took up running in earnest. Did I achieve my goals? Yes and no. Yes, I raised nigh on £1200 for Toybox, a charity which works with street children in Central America. No, I did not achieve the sub-4 hours which I had hoped for. Does it matter? Yes and no. Yes, because that’s the sort of person I am. No, because I have helped to make the lives of some desperately poverty-stricken children better (maybe even helped to save their lives, the way some of them are “removed” for good by the police); no, because I made it in hot conditions, whilst having the nouse to re-think my original game plan in light of those unexpected conditions; and, no, because I achieved something which many people will never achieve in their lives. In balance, then, I came up trumps.
On the day, I started at the red start with George Nick, after having met him, his wife Anne, Ali and Jacqui, at the Expo on the Saturday after a 5am start. The Nicholsons and I went on to meet Amanda, one of George’s daughters, at Heathrow Ariel, where our hotel was. Saturday passed and Sunday greeted us with another 5am start for breakfast. YIKES! The coach transfer to the start left at 6.30am and we got to the start points about 7.50am. Lots of photos, mainly mad ones, were taken, then me and George were left to find our pen near the back. George swapped pens to start with me, so we could encourage each other in the pre-race wait. So far, so good.
It was coolish as we went over the start line about 9:57. A bit jostly, but fine. I soon separated from George and kept an eye on my pace, aware that some bottlenecks slowed me down (probably for the best) and at other times, I was as close to my marathon race pace as I could be. Really, the first 10 miles went like a dream. I have never managed to be THAT close to my race pace so consistently well in any of my training runs, apart from slowing a bit for drinks (my first at 6 miles might have been a bit tardy, and may have impacted me later on, but in the relative cool, I was feeling strong and steady). First signs of a bit of weariness were evident in trying to bob along behind the 3:56 pacing guy, but I held on till about halfway at around 1:58. My tried and tested Shotblox had gone down pretty well, and I had increased my water intake to include running with it by now, for extra hydration.
Then came the heat. WHAM! (at least, that’s how I felt it). 13 to 16 miles I focussed on 14, 15 then 16 miles in between the mile markers, but was starting to feel increasingly nauseous and a bit light-headed. The psychological “10 miles to go” point saw me stop briefly to force down more Shotblox, which stuck to my dry mouth by then, and a good bottle of water in sips. A man collapsed on the path at that point made me think: “You better rethink your plan, or that will be you, if you feel like this already.” That wise move saw me move off again, re-energised, but still feeling churny and a bit sick. All of a sudden I was at 21 miles, and the same thing happened again. Eh? I had drunk so much extra water, maybe not quite as many Shotblox as intended, but the choice between nausea without them and a different nausea after imbibing them, wasn’t really much cop. In fact, having to take on board a lot more liquid on the run had not been easy either. My gut felt assailed and complained evidently. A coolish bit under a bridge (not many of them all the way round) saw me repeat my tactic of 16 miles, but I could have wept, I felt so sick. I could have cheerfully stood there and not budged one inch further. More water, more ramming down of Shotblox, some of which I spat back out as they were so cloying by then. I asked a marshall – a young guy – for a hug, and reluctantly set off, feeling awful. But I knew the 22 mile mark was familiar territory – across the road from 13 miles – and the crowd started to roar in an ever-increasing crescendo, the closer the finish-line got. Somehow, I crossed 23, 24, 25 miles, Heaven knows how. My mental determination was spent that is for sure, and I realised how alone you can feel after doing so much of your training with running buddies. I walked a wee bit then, as faint-headedness re-occurred, with thoughts of “Stuff the time, I am gunna make it now, come what may.” And as we rounded the corner into the Mall, I broke into a very gentle trot, ever-so-slightly upping the pace as the 800/600/400/200 metre markers came along. I saw a man limping in obvious great pain, and asked if he would like me to walk with him to the end, but he waved me on, so I finished jogging lightly, but nothing more than that.
After picking up my kitbag, I sat down in a haze. I could not believe that, after having felt so dreadful for most of the second half – mainly the heat, partly my ever-dicky tum – I had actually done it. The second leg had been an absolute ordeal, I had forced myself through it, and I honestly cannot say that I enjoyed that part. My thoughts turned to George in that hot “Buzz” suit and I started to worry about him, if I, when lightly-clad, had felt so lousy. When I heard about Sophie Raworth and how she had pushed for a similar goal to mine, only to end in collapse at 24 miles with a core body temperature of 43 degrees, I realised that I had probably also been starting to show symptoms of heat exhaustion, and had run the best and only way I could have on that day and in that hot weather. It suddenly hit me that this isn’t a game, it is serious business, and if your body is sending you messages you did not expect to hear on race day, it is because it knows so much better than your competitively- driven mind.
… and Dougie Nisbet
The portaloos were the first thing to impress me. Policed by fierce looking women armed with radios and spare toilet roll there was absolutely no doubt about who was in charge. Once you reached the front of the queue you were given a curt nod and pointed to the first free loo. All very reassuring and efficient. I’d arrived at the blue start with plenty of time in hand and as it was warm and spacious I found a space on the grass and settled down to wait. This was to be my 6th marathon and I felt good. Rested, hydrated, trained, tapered, calm, confident and a little bit excited. I wasn’t worried about the heat as I’d run Edinburgh in 2009 in very hot conditions and this looked nowhere close.
I joined the exodus to the starting pens and waited for the action to begin. I’d left my Garmin at home and would be running alone, using the Force. I knew there would be timer clocks at every mile and I had a rough idea of where I should be and when but mostly I simply planned to run, run as fast, as I can, until I got to the finish. There was no indication of when the race actually started just a gradual movement of bodies forward and when I reached the timer mats at the Start Line I was disconcerted to see there were no clocks there. I didn’t know when we’d started and it wouldn’t have mattered anyway as there were no clocks to subtract the walking to the start time from. I asked a few fellow runners but they were all Italian and then I realised I really wasn’t that bothered anyway. Use the Force.
I’d expected congestion but I hadn’t really appreciated how long it lasted. I thought things would open up after a few miles but even getting on for the half-way point it was still pretty boingy. It didn’t worry me unduly and I enjoyed running at the pace that felt right when I could and soaking up the atmosphere. The evangelists giving us bible readings intrigued me (I didn’t stop to listen) and the steel drum bands under the motorway bridges were just fantastic. Normally I don’t get very thirsty during races but given the weather I was drinking a little water at every drinks station.
I’ve listened to lots of people saying how great the London Marathon atmosphere is but I still wasn’t quite prepared for the reality. Crossing Tower Bridge under clear blue skies with the glorious cacophony from the fantastic crowds will be a memory I shall never forget. Sharp right and on to the Isle of Dogs I knew I was wide of my dream target time but still good for a sub-4. I was a happy man. Things started unravelling for me around Canary Wharf when the noise from the crowd was so loud my ears hurt! The heat was getting to me now and I knew I had to tread the fine line between keeping the pace ticking over and pushing the needle into the red. There was no breeze to take the heat away and I wondered how George was faring in a Buzz Lightyear costume.
Mile 21 proved to be the deal breaker. I was hot but coping ok until a man with a 5-foot lollipop ran passed. The lollipop said “Runners World 3:56 pacer”. Excellent. Realising I was still in with a shout for a sub-4 I lifted my pace to stick with the Lollipop Man. It was to be my undoing. I was managing to hang on to LM but I was also pretty sure that the sky wasn’t meant to contain quite so many bright colours and that the road wasn’t meant to wobble like the set of Faulty Towers. The painful muscles and the prescription free hallucinogenics I could just about deal with as I realised I was pushing the envelope and simply needed to ease up. It was the sudden, unexpected, intense nausea that crippled me. There was no elegant gradual slowing up; I simply stopped running then concentrated on walking gently and focussing on the ground ahead. Any serious attempt at a time ended there and then and I continued walking, absolutely petrified in case I threw up in front of all these people. I may have been close to being one of the many roadside first-aid statistics but the thought racing through my mind was PleaseDontBeSickPleaseDontBeSick, it would just be so embarrassing. I looked around wondering where Zoe’s Uncontrollable Sobbing point was as I felt that perhaps I could pause there as a mark of respect. I was feeling none too great myself.
It’s all very public in the final few miles. In some marathons if you’re struggling you can ease up, walk, and put on a brave face for the final few yards. In London it’s a solid wall of crowd and sound and there’s nowhere to hide. I must have walked for about 15 minutes before I gradually started to feel better and became aware again of the encouragement from the crowd. It was now more specific and directed, beyond the usual “C’mon Dougie!”. I heard “Don’t give up now, Dougie; you’re nearly there.”, and when I responded with a beleaguered nod and broke into a jog I was rewarded with “That’s the spirit!” and cheers and applause.
Reading Kathyrn’s report I think we had a similar race. We were going for similar times, had done the training, and judging by our times, crashed and burned about the same place. In the end we both succumbed to the heat. I ran, rather than raced, the last mile or two to the finish and the final emotional awe-inspiring run up the Mall. The crowds are phenomenal and the whole experience is rather humbling. My race went nowhere to plan (approximately 30 minutes slower than target) but that’s the great thing about our sport. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed with my time but it’s great to be outwitted by the fickleness of a race. Despite all the preparation and training the race will be what it is, on the day, and full of surprises. A great run by Alister who ran on form and a brilliant performance by Zoe who sizzled round ahead of me and Kathryn. George was unlucky and there’s no point in sugar-coating the disappointment he must feel. But it was hot and tough out there and no one is indestructible, not even Buzz Lightyear.
Shaun adds: Hard luck to George Nick, who stopped at the 22-mile medic tent with stomach and leg cramps, but was ambulanced into hospital, unlike Sophie Raworth, who was allowed to recover for a couple of hours and carry on. The account of her collapse on her running blog is actually quite interesting, by the way, though Paul Evans reckons she should have also been pulled out of the race if her core temperature was 43°C. Sophie sent George a message on twitter saying she was sorry to hear what happened to me, which was nice.
George says: “My London 2011 experience did not end as planned, however nothing can detract from some great memories leading up to the big day, the camaraderie and fun of the Super 6 in particular. My failure to finish meant I received dozens of warm & wonderful messages of support from a lot of people. These have made me feel very privileged and honoured indeed, and they mean far more to me than ‘crossing’ across that finish line on Sunday. That will have to now have to wait until April 2012!” A fuller report from George is here.
Those who have followed the fortunes of the VLM Super Six might like to read their sixth and final report by Sunderland Harrier David Savage. David’s account of his London Marathon can be found in this Word document.
*Elite Women’s race.