Archive for April, 2007

A long day

Sunday, April 22nd, 2007

Those of us who had been wishing for sunshine on race day apparently wished a little too hard as this year’s London Marathon equalled the hottest previously on record. Such weather might not make ideal running conditions, but the warmth and sunshine made for a glorious start to the race.

It’s hard to capture in words the feeling of being part of a crowd of 36,500 runners come together on a day like this. Surrounded on all sides by people of all ages, many in full costume, many wearing charity vests, the energy in the air was palpable and the atmosphere simply amazing.

With so many people making their way across the starting line, movement comes slowly. First a shuffle, then a walk, then a jog before breaking into a run. I couldn’t have asked for a better start though and for me, the first few miles went perfectly. My running felt relaxed and easy, and after my three-week taper, I felt full of energy.

At about mile 4, things started to take a definite turn for the worse as I felt a twinge on the inside of my lower left leg. At the time, I hardly noticed it. Indeed, while running, all sorts of twinges, aches and pains come and go so I carried on, fully expecting to simply ‘run it off’.

But by about mile 6, it had become obvious that something was not right. What started as a twinge had become a sharp pain and my pace had slowed dramatically. This was all I needed at such an early stage, and I was starting to become very frustrated and somewhat alarmed. After a couple of attempts to stretch it off myself by the side of the road, I pulled over to the side to seek some medical attention.

The kindly St John Ambulance volunteer who helped me didn’t have much advice to give, but offered to massage the injured muscle in the hope that it might ease the discomfort. Alas, this did little to help and I asked how far it was to the next ambulance station where I thought I might be able to find something more than a well-meaning rub.

But by this stage, I could barely put weight on my left leg and the 300-or-so metres to the ambulance station took a painfully long time. Clambering over the double barriers, I hobbled to the ambulance where I got my leg iced and bandaged. Even this hardly seemed to make any difference and as I sat in the ambulance, any hopes I had of running the rest of the race were rapidly evaporating. I discharged myself and started to limp back towards the course, still not completely sure what I was planning on doing. I knew I had to at least give it another try so I climbed back over the barriers and rejoined the race.

As soon as I was back on the course, I started to experience something that was going to become very important over the coming hours. I must have already been very near to the back of the pack, but even as other runners began to run, jog or walk past me, words of encouragement were exchanged. And to the left and right of me, complete strangers shouted my name, which I had written on my vest.

But even with this encouragement, what lay ahead of me seemed like an impossible wall. If running the 20 mile between me and the finish line seemed like a daunting task, the idea of limping and stumbling it with every step causing me to wince filled me with dread. When sitting down and just giving up seemed like the sensible option, it took every scrap of motivation I could muster to keep going. I filled my head with thoughts of my family and friends who had come to see me race, of everyone who had supported and encouraged me through my training, of my charity Kids and everyone who had sponsored me, the hours I’d spent in the cold running round the darkened streets, and every inspirational person I could think of. I resolved that I was going to complete this race, even if it meant I had to crawl.

The memories are so clear that I think I could probably describe almost everything that happened to me as I made my way as best I could (don’t worry, I won’t!). But it amazed me just how many poignant, saddening and uplifting moments can be fitted into one day.

I finally crossed the finish line in a time of 8 hours 24 minutes.

Tapering, tapering…

Thursday, April 5th, 2007

For the last three months, I’ve been gradually increasing the number of miles I’ve been running each week. When going from running a few token miles to needing to survive more than 26, gradually training up would seem like a sensible approach to take!

But my 20 mile ‘long run’ last Monday marked the end of that process. Paradoxically, even with three weeks to go before the race, marathon training wisdom dictates that now is the point to actually start decreasing the number of miles one is running. So tonight, instead of the expected 10 mile tempo run, it was a much more bite-sized 4 miles (although still at tempo pace).

The idea here is that trying to cover even greater distances at this stage doesn’t increase your fitness significantly, or your likelihood of making it across the finish line. In fact, it can actually have a detrimental effect. Instead, over the next three weeks I’ll be gradually winding down, giving my body plenty of chance to rest and recover from the training it’s just been through, and to start putting away the stores of energy it’ll need come April 22nd. Experienced marathon runners will tell you that if you can run 20 miles three weeks before the race, your body is capable of lasting the full 26.2 miles on race day. The combination of the extra rest, stored energy and the pure adrenaline of race day should carry you those extra 6 miles

So the theory goes, and it’s a theory I’ll be counting on in three weeks time!