Not a race review: London 2016

This was going to be a concise race review but, alas, I turned on the waffle iron again. I’m new to this so please bare with. On the other hand, what follows may prove to be more interesting.

I will never forget this experience, April 24th 2016. Standing in Greenwich park, a mix of butterflies and dread swirling around my stomach. “I’ll give you £20 to do a Radcliffe” and other such texts from my friends were helping to calm my nerves as I lined up for my sixth and seventh visits to the toilet.

There is something about that initial foray into the marathon that can never be replicated at this distance. I suppose that’s why people move on to running longer and longer distances. The knowledge that, today, you will run further than you ever have, in front of almost half a million people, with fifty thousand others, is hard to comprehend.

I know from my perspective, the uncertainty of being on a start line, knowing I have never run this far before, is a great stimulus, which has led me into the ultra world (more on that later).

For many, including myself, the marathon debut is linked to some sort of charity fundraising. I’m very biased I know, but I believe strongly that the marathon is the perfect distance for the average human to conquer, so the charity sponsorship makes perfect sense. It requires a specific balance of dedication, mental fortitude and physical prowess. It will consume you for almost a year, giving you just a glimpse of a different way of life, then afterwards, you have a choice:

“You take the blue pill, the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe…you take the red pill, you stay in wonderland and I show you just how deep the rabbit hole goes!”.

This is Chaucer if memory serves, but it rings true!

My first marathon is a bit of a blur now. With over twenty in between, some entire sections of the day have been lost forever (why didn’t I blog sooner?!) It seems trite to say, but the best advice I could give to a first time marathoner is to enjoy it. You aren’t weighed down by time expectation, and, after this, if you choose to hang up your shoes, you made it, you did something less than 1% of the world’s population has achieved, and nobody can ever take it away from you. I know sometimes I will walk past a medal on the wall and a memory of a certain day will come flooding back – they really do last a lifetime.

On the other hand, if something is pulling at you to come back, now you have your first useable data set to work from. This is the framework upon which marathon number two can be built. A little nugget that is worth considering if you debuted at a spring marathon. Why not try an autumn race for number two? Training from June to September beats January to April any day of the week….literally.

I’m not actually a huge fan of the London marathon as a course. There, I said it. I’ve been thinking it and mentioning it in conversation for years, but it feels good to put it down in writing. Don’t get me wrong, the Cutty Sark, Tower Bridge and the Embankment are phenomenal. But I would say 60% of the route leaves a lot to be desired. As someone who lived and worked as a driver in London for several years, I feel I know the city fairly well. There were parts of the race even I was thinking “Where the hell are we?”

There are also darker memories from that day. I happened to be running only a couple of minutes behind David Seath. By the time I got to him, he was splayed out across the road, with paramedics on both sides administering the defibrillator on his bare chest. The race fell totally silent for almost a mile after that. David was an Army captain, in what I imagine to be peak physical fitness, he was just incredibly and tragically unlucky, suffering a cardiac arrest three miles from the finish. He is, and will remain, a great personal inspiration to me.

I still think about David a lot. To me, he serves as a reminder that we are all only here by chance, a great fluke, for a time not determined by us, so enjoy what you are doing and live life to the fullest. I don’t mean that in a hedonistic ‘do what you want and damn the consequences way’, but explore your body and mind, test yourself, see what you can accomplish, know yourself!

I am aware that there is a fair amount of ego attached to marathon running, and mine is particularly fragile. I know there are certain courses I label as crap in my head, purely because I went in undertrained or didn’t deliver on the day, which is illogical and pathetic in equal measure. I will most definitely return to London in either 2020 or 2021, and the prospect does excite me. I will be a totally different runner four years on from my debut. Maybe I’ll have a totally different viewpoint post race – I’m certainly open to it.

One thing I will say, there are few better finishes than rounding the corner at Buckingham Palace and entering the Mall on your way to marathon glory!

RIP David Seath.

The £35 Adidas destroyers, that replaced my £100 foot manglers.

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