Sunday, 2 May 2010

London Marathon

Last year, I had spent the Sunday of the London Marathon out along the course, cheering for a few friends who were running it... it was the first time I'd been a "serious spectator," trying to see specific people multiple times at different points on the course. Although it was a fun day out, I definitely had the race bug and kept thinking "if only I was out there running..."

The day after last year's race, registration for the 2010 lottery opened online. I figured I'd give it a try, see what happened, and if I didn't get in on the lottery, I'd try for a charity space, but either way, I'd be out there running the race in 2010. Surprisingly enough, a few months later, I got the email congratulating me for having been given a race number through the lottery!

After months of training with friends in the Serpies, long Saturday runs through town on my own, early morning runs from the office, and more pasta than you'd believe, race day was upon us!

I came into race day feeling much better than I'd expected -- this was the first I'd run a marathon in my home city as opposed to having to take a multi-hour drive or flight in the days leading up to it. The energy from the whole city getting ready for the race, as well as from having all your friends either running it or knowing that you were running it (and planning to be out along the course) just added to the excitement!

After cramming into a DLR train for the minute or so to cross the river into Greenwich, I piled out of the train with hundreds of other runners eating our last pre-race bananas, porridge, and energy bars as we walked up the hill in Greenwich Park. Filing into the blue start area, I ran into the first of many Serpies I'd see that day -- in all, more than 100 of us were running with the club, wearing the club's shirts.

After one last nervous queue for the toilets, I dropped off my bag of clothes, phones, and everything for the finish line. It promptly started raining. Now, I'd been hoping this would happen, as the forecasts had called for 68-74 degrees as a high, with bright sun. Although that would have been great for the spectators, that's drastically too warm for the race participants -- anything over 40-45 begins to slow us down as the heat saps our energy. So, at 50 degrees or so, the rain was a welcome start to the race! (granted, we were all hopping up and down in the starting corrals, shivering, but absolutely nobody had any reason to complain!)

A few minutes before the start, race officials removed the barriers separating each of the timed corrals from each other, leading to a mad rush toward the starting line. Now, I'd run Chicago twice, which had an equally large field of ~35k runners, and had started somewhere midpack where I could see a sea of thousands of runners in front of me. Partially based on my forecast finish time, and partly based on the start being split into three separate sections here in London, I was only 100 yards or so behind the start line by the time the gun went off!

Now, for a bit of a diversion: My target in the race was the same as it had been for my most recent prior marathon: a sub-3:10 finish (approx. 7:12/mile pace). I just recently got a GPS watch, and was using that to try to pace myself this time around, aiming for a constant 7:10 pace the whole way around the course.

In the first mile, despite being so close to the front of the field and having crossed the start line within the first minute after the gun, I had zero control over my pace -- the field was crowded enough that I had to just stay along with the flow of the group. Although I knew it was healthy to start out slow and warm up gradually, it made me a bit nervous to see that I was a full minute off of my target pace by the time we crossed the 1-mile mark -- I felt absolutely great and wanted to pick up the pace!

Over miles 2-5, the field thinned out a bit and I was able to pick up the pace gradually to get back toward the pacing that I originally intended. Although this was the one section of the course that I 'd never seen or run before, it was early enough in the day and the crowds were energetic enough that I felt able to settle into my stride relatively quickly.

From about mile 5, as we turned back in toward Greenwich, I tried to settle down into a constant pace and just enjoy a morning run out with tens of thousands of supporters cheering everyone along! At this point, whenever anyone I knew or anyone who recognized the Serpie shirt cheered me on, I'd glance over, wave, and usually say something back in response... the energy I'd pick up from seeing the supporters was absolutely worth it!

Granted, in this case, I had yet to see Gavin when he took the photo:

...and yes, I was carrying Gatorade with me. I still can't bring myself to drink Lucozade (the much more common sports drink here in the UK) during races, for some reason...

The first seriously emotional moment was just after mile 12, as we made the right turn from Shad Thames onto Tower Bridge Road, saw the bridge reaching out ahead of us, and went from a somewhat quiet residential area into a wall of supporters at least six people deep on both sides of the bridge!

Following on from there, we had a few-mile stretch on The Highway, through east London. Although not quite the most scenic or historic part of the course, there were groups of Serpie supporters every few hundred yards, cheering us on. By this point, I wasn't quite able to be as responsive to them -- in some cases, I'd glance toward them, in some, break a bit of a smile, but definitely wasn't considering myself conversational by now.

Just before the course veered off from the Highway, I was on the far right side of the course when I heard "Tim... TIM! TIM!!!" from the far side of the road. Looking over, I saw Chris and Jen... Jen holding a sign "THINK BOSTON" and Chris holding out a bottle of Gatorade. After a bit of a swerve directly across the course, I waved, smiled, grabbed the drink, and kept moving... as my legs were first starting to have the first twinges of exhaustion at this point, they'd had just about perfect timing!

Now, after that segment comes what most people consider the hardest part of the course -- it loops down Westferry Road, through the Isle of Dogs, then back up to Canary Wharf. The Isle of Dogs section is miles 16-18, with many fewer supporters, and in a part of town most people haven't ever seen before. Fortunately for me, it's where I live, so I felt right at home!

As we looped back in toward Canary Wharf, I felt the first twinges of a cramp in my right quad, but figured I'd do my best to just ignore it and hope it went away. Surely enough, with the crowds, bands, and everything else going through the Wharf, I was able to push that out of mind and it seemed to go away!

Leaving Canary Wharf was the quietest part of the whole course -- there was a loop around a roundabout before heading due west into and through town for the last 6 miles. This was the first time I noticed my perceived effort going up, while the pace started to slip a bit. Not good, but then again, I was still on track for a few minutes faster than the 3:10 target I'd set, so there was definitely time to work with there.

These last six miles started off much easier than I'd expected, but as I got to mile 24 or so, my body just began to run out of energy. I knew I was still within range for an on-target finish, but it was more and more tempting to break stride, slow down a bit, and just try to recover. Fortunately, with the crowds picking up and the scenery of Westminster shortly ahead, I was able to push through this, trying slowly to pass those in front of me, one at a time...

By the time I turned the corner from Buckingham Palace and could see the finish line, the clocks had just clicked over to 3:09:00. Now, I knew I had the better part of a minute more than what was on the clocks until my chip time hit 3:10, but tried to push those last 200 yards as much as possible:

Stopping the watch as I crossed the finish line, I saw 3:09:10 -- well within the target! It was only late that night, following an afternoon of champagne, a celebratory dinner, and many hours with the other finishers from the club, that I got home and saw that the actual finish time had been 3:08:59.

All in all, an incredible experience training and running with a group of close friends! Thank you all for your support throughout!

If you really want to see the route, time splits, etc, it should all be visible here:

Now, on to register for Boston 2011!


Christie said...

I'm so glad you posted about this since we haven't been able to catch up lately. Congrats on a great race! Remind me about Boston later this year - I may be able to coordinate a trip out there to cheer you on!

J.Washburn said...

You're the man.