The first 20 miles were good – never again

For some odd reason a marathon is 26.2 miles. It was my first marathon at London on Sunday. The first 20 miles and the last 0.2 miles were good. The 6 miles in between don’t sound like much, but they determined the ultimate result.

I said in my previous blog “my sole objective for the Marathon is to finish as elegantly as possible”. I certainly did that – my finish (the last 0.2 miles) looked pretty sprightly. But it’s only when reality happens that you realise that perhaps the aim should have been more specific. I really wanted to run the whole way. Rather arrogantly I thought my training and a bit of discipline in pacing at the start would make me immune from “the wall”. It didn’t!

The discipline was working well at first. I started near the back of the blue start area, and must have been in the last few hundred runners of 42,000, but I watched my Fitbit, stuck to 7:30 kilometres and spent the first few miles chatting to a nice lady called Marie. At the first drink station she stopped and I jogged on gently. I was going too fast for her!

Before the 20 mile point – I’m smiling

At around the 20 mile mark I was feeling pretty tired (as I expected) but was also finding that maintaining any reasonable running pace was making me feel faint. The last thing I wanted was to keel over and get dragged off the course, and when my running speed was no longer any faster than others around me who were walking, I concluded that it made sense to save energy and join then. My pace up to that time would have brought me to the finish in around 5:30 – that had been my plan, and it had gone well to that point.

But now I was walking – I have never walked (in an event) before, so I had no idea of what my pace might be. Six miles of a marathon doesn’t sound a lot, but walking it could easily add 30 minutes or maybe even an hour to my time. And while I hadn’t admitted to a target time before the run, I had certainly said that I would finish in 5 hours something – not six hours! I was walking briskly, with a bit of a run now and then, especially on downhill sections. It was no time for slacking, and I was desperately doing mental arithmetic to realign my expectations. It looked as though I was now doing 10-minute kilometres, but still looked OK for less than 6 hours. I re-calibrated at every opportunity, and it continued to look good. There was a degree of uncertainty, because by this stage my Fitbit thought I had done 2 kilometres more than the course markers, so I continued with desperate calculations.

Gradually landmarks near the finish came into view. At last a sub 6-hour finish looked assured. I could plan strategically. By now I was feeling better, and could have run, but I decided to walk until I approached the right turn to the finish. I’m told Buckingham Palace was there. I didn’t see it – I was staring at the finishing line, and jogging quite comfortably. I was no longer flat footed and exhausted. I was overtaking people and enjoying it.

And then I was finished. A marshal did a high-five at the line, but the rest was a real anti-climax. No carnival atmosphere – people handed us the medal, we walked on to pick up the goody-bags (some ladies complaining there were no small size T-shirts left, which seems a bit of an oversight) and then a long long walk to get out. Nowhere to sit and chill, we just emerged into Trafalgar Square and then I had to push past thousands of unhelpful Weatherspoons drinkers to the meeting point in Whitehall. That was one long walk.

And that was it – apart from fainting on the Tube on the way back.

The time was 05:50:29, and I finished reasonably elegantly. Mission accomplished. Oh, and nice lady Marie, who I left behind in the early stages, beat me. Well done Marie!

Lessons learned

  • Even when training has gone well, a marathon is hard work
  • It’s very difficult to devise, test and execute a feeding strategy for a marathon
  • After finishing it’s a good idea to take time out to eat and drink before hitting the outside world
  • I’m sort of happy – but I could have done better
  • Never again? Well, I’ve signed up for the 2020 ballot, but I won’t get in!
  • I am a marathon runner

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