The London Marathon 2017!

Before I go over the full details of the day I wanted to start with my most memorable moment from the marathon… no not the pain, which I will come on to, but the London Marathon crowd! Before the event I was told just how amazing the crowd is, but to actually experience it, it is like nothing I’ve ever experienced before, it was truly immense! There was of course the cheering that helps drive you forward but on top of that you had DJ’s playing music, many different styles of bands from trumpets playing to drums banging, choirs and other singers, people giving out sweets, and children giving high fives. To hear complete strangers shouting you name in encouragement, willing you to the finish line is overwhelmingly emotional, especially as you get closer to the end and you hurt so much. I can’t thank every single person who turned out to watch and cheer enough for their support because without it, I would never have completed the mighty 26.2 mile feat!

Now let’s rewind to the start to the day. As you can imagine my sleep was very broken with excitement and nerves but I managed over 6 hours which wasn’t bad considering. I rolled out of bed before 6am and once showered I got my racing kit on, which was all laid out in preparation the night before, and I did some last minute prep work on my legs with some gentle massaging with the foam roller. It was then time to start fuelling my body with my breakfast of protein Weetabix and granola and making sure I was well hydrated even before I left the hotel.

By 7am I was on the train to start my journey to Greenwich. I didn’t know if I had left too early as the journey would only take half an hour but I wasn’t the only runner on the train. The weather was looking ideal for running. It was fairly cool and cloudy and the forecast pretty much said it would stay that way throughout the day but boy did it lie! Again, I will come to that later. At Greenwich station I sat down, started sipping my Lucozade to continue fuelling and waited to meet some of the other people who were running on behalf of Meningitis Research Foundation (MRF). It was good to meet the other runners for a quick photo and have somebody to talk to whilst walking to the red start area at Greenwich Park. It helped to calm the nerves a bit and thanks has to go to Alan Glynn for organising the pre-race meet up and to Colleen Carter for sticking with me in the start area after we seemed to lose everybody else!

It wasn’t long till the start area began to get busy and even though we had arrived fairly early, time seemed to speed up and before you knew it the start of the marathon was only an hour away. It was time to get more food in me with a trusty banana and make sure I had everything I needed with me (largely running gels and jelly beans) before putting my bag on the storage lorry and importantly, heading to the loo!

 

The buzz of excitement began to build especially when the elite wheelchair racers set off followed shortly after by the elite women’s runners. Feeling confident that I was ready I headed to my starting pen and began warming up. I made sure I was nearer the back of my pen so I was close to the pace setter runner for a 4.15 finish. I know I wasn’t going to achieve this finish time after the shin splint injury but it was a comfortable pace to start with. My legs felt fresh but I was a little anxious due to nerves and I was also grateful to have my training top on over my running gear and my gloves on too as I just couldn’t warm my body up. Thankfully, this soon changed once the pen began to fill up with warm bodies. You could, however, feel the tension coming off the other runners. I thought more people would be talking but it was eerily quieter than expected. Some people then started making last minute dashes to the toilet and I was caught between two minds as whether to do the same thing but I chose to just stay put. On reflection I wish I had nipped to the loo as with having my racing bum bag full of carb gels and jelly beans around my waist, as soon as I began to run it would gently bounce right in the region of my bladder making me feel like I needed to go toilet but I coped ok.

It was soon time to start and after a 10 second countdown a claxon rang out bang on 10am to get the race underway. There was a massive happy cheer from everyone and the tension seemed to lift in an instant to excitement instead. It took me about 15 minutes to finally reach the start line and begin the hardest race of my life! The first few miles were really enjoyable with soaking up the atmosphere and having my first experience of the support from the crowd. It was also fun spotting some crazy fancy dress costumes including Mr Men characters, pineapples, sunflowers, people in rhino and T-rex suits and I even saw Jesus crucified on the cross! By mile 3 all the runners from the 3 different start points converged together which increased the level of excitement further. It also meant it got very crowded and you did find yourself dodging past people as well as discarded bottles of water. There was one Lucozade fuel station after we had all converged coming out of the Woolwich dockyard area into New Charlton where the road was literally littered with bottles, which was quite a hazard. Luckily this was the only point where the bottles littered the road fully rather than along the edges.

By the time I reached mile 7 where you run past Cutty Sark, the impressive British clipper ship, I was hitting a constant 9 and a half minute mile and feeling pretty good. I was conscious that I was reaching a distance where I hadn’t ran further than for quite sometime since the shin splint injury so I knew that after this point it would be interesting to see if I would feel any niggles in that area. I had used Vaseline on my feet, inside of my legs and nipples to help prevent any rubbing but still one blister was annoyingly appearing on one of my toes on my left foot.

Between mile 8 and 9 I ran past the MRF cheer squad, looking great in their purple charity t-shirts and waving their little flags. It really helped hit home what an amazing cause I was running for and the achievement of raising so much money for them. Just after the cheer squad at mile 9 near Canada Water I heard an almighty ‘SHAUN!!!!!!!’ yelled out to the left of me. I turned and saw a couple of old University friends, Amy and Vanessa cheering me on! It was great to see some friendly faces and it brought a massive grin to my face.

By mile 11 I was starting to feel a slight niggle on the side of my left knee and because of it my pace started slowing down ever so slightly. My energy levels still felt good, as by this point I had consumed a couple of carb gels and had kept well hydrated. I needed a bit of a boost though and it came with seeing my wife, her parents and my parents just before mile 12. I had spent that mile trying to keep an eye out for them and thought maybe I had missed them so it was a wonderful feeling when I spotted them and gave them a wave.

After the high of seeing my family, another high soon followed with coming round a corner to see Tower Bridge ahead of me. It was a beautiful sight to behold and also mentally told me I was close to approaching the half way mark. Unfortunately after this point my knee issue increased from a slight niggle to giving me quite a lot of discomfort. I knew it was my IT band giving me grief and that it would only get worse. This played on my mind a bit and wasn’t helped when you can see the elite runners passing us by on the other side of the road as we reached the point of the course where mile 14 and mile 22 run parallel to one another. How I wished at the time that I was on the other side of the road with only 4 miles remaining!

From mile 16-19 the marathon became a bit of a blur for me. Heading in to the Docklands I surpassed the longest distance I had ever ran before and I was in a great deal more pain than when I hit that distance in training. Approaching mile 17 I felt the blister on my toe expand, it was not a pleasant feeling and for a minute I thought it had popped! Then in the underpass on either mile 18 or 19 my bladder couldn’t hold out anymore and I stopped off at the urinal. It felt good to empty my bladder but standing still for half a minute did not do my knee any good and it was ridiculously hard to get running again. The crowds aren’t as big in this area of the course either and I found my mind closing in on itself and all I was thinking about was reaching mile 20. I knew if I made it to mile 20 it meant that there was just over 6 miles to go, which from my training was one lap of Brixworth Country Park, and that even if I had to walk the rest of the way I would make it to the finish. This physiologically really helped keeping me going and the crowds started to build again coming out of Canary Wharf and seeing that mile 20 sign was a brilliant feeling.

My next goal was reaching mile 22 and hoping I would see my family again. Between mile 20 and 22 I was feeling incredibly emotional as the crowds were so immense in their support and a lot of runners were seeing their family members and getting teary. It was at this point that the pain in my knee was too intense to continue to run. I had wanted to run the whole marathon and not walk at all but I had to be sensible and relieve some of the pain in my knee or I would end up not finishing and causing serious damage to my leg. It was also quite disheartening to see the 4.30 pace setters past me so I knew I wouldn’t make this time but hoped I would finish within 5 hours. I decided to change my strategy to running for a bit then power walking followed by slowing down to a gentle walk until the pain eased. I continued with this cycle and it seemed to help with my progress and was aided by seeing Amy and Vanessa again for the second time for an encouraging high five at around mile 21.

Come mile 22 I was on the look out for my family. I once again needed an extra boost. By this time the weather had changed to glorious sunshine and it felt ridiculously hot! I still felt well hydrated but I couldn’t stomach any more carb gels and instead I was very grateful for the jelly beans I had on me. Finally, I heard my name being called out from my wife and I hobbled over to her and gave her a kiss and a hug which felt incredible. I could see tears in both my mother and mother in law’s eyes and they gave me the added push to keep going. Even in the pain I was in I was able to run the next half mile because of seeing my family!

From mile 23 to 25 I probably heard the crowd shouting my name in reassurance more than throughout all the other miles that came before. It was largely because they could see the distress on my face and my hobbling run/walk. Around this section of the course I also saw Olympic silver medallist for 110m hurdles, Colin Jackson, and was able to shake his hand. Because I was now walking more I could take in the London scenery and landmarks. To the left of me I could see the Thames with the London Eye on the bank of it, with the Shard off in the distance. To my right I past St Paul’s Cathedral in all its glory and getting ever closer to mile 26 I was faced with the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben towering over me.

I knew if I could give myself 20 minutes to complete the final mile then I would complete the marathon in less than 5 hours. It was a great incentive to have. I could finally see the large signs indicating how many metres you had left to run. I knew in my mind that I was going to give every last bit of energy and fight so that I would run across the finish line! From 800 metres I began to run again. I could see Buckingham Palace ahead of me and on turning the corner I crossed the 26 mile marker and therefore only had 200 metres left to go. With Buckingham Palace now behind me and The Mall stretching out in front of me I could see the finish line! My legs suddenly felt fresh and the pain seemed to disappear as I picked up my pace and stormed towards the line. I was going to make it in under 5 hours and the relief I felt crossing the line was overwhelming. I had managed to complete all 26.2 miles of the London Marathon and considering I did pretty much half of it in pain I was chuffed to do it in 4 hours, 53 minutes and 18 seconds!

  

What followed was the realisation of just how much pain my knee was in. It felt like it was on fire, it was that intense. I then managed to hobble to collect my medal and get my official finisher picture taken. The medal was truly stunning with so much detail on it and also incredibly weighty too! It’s definitely an appropriate reward for running such a long distance!

With the race finished and medal collected by next goal was to collect my goodie bag, race kit and find my charity meet and greet point. This was a struggle as I could barely walk and it wasn’t helped by having to walk for what seemed like forever to reach the end of The Mall, dodging the thousands of other runners, in the blazing sunshine. It was a satisfying feeling, finally to meet up with the charity team and be able to stand still and get some much needed rest. At this point I met a couple of the other charity runners and we started sharing our experience and I soon learnt I was not the only person in a lot pain.

After another brief walk and wait, we were shipped by mini bus to the hotel for the charity celebration. It felt so incredibly good to walk into the room where everyone was collected to be greeted by cheering and applause. A wave of accomplishment passed over me and I was immensely proud of all that I had achieved for MRF. It was good to also finally meet in person Esther Trackman, the charity contact that had given us so much help and support in the run up to the marathon. The charity had done such an amazing job of making us feel part of the family and I was incredibly thankful for all their hard work and support. I was also very grateful to finally be able to relax and catch up with my family who were immensely proud of me. With a much needed light sports massage and shower, my incredible marathon journey had come to an end. It had been a day mixed with so many different emotions and lasting memories.

I have to say just how incredibly well organised the marathon was and to thank the volunteers for the amazing job they did. From handing out water and marshalling the crowd to the St John’s Ambulance volunteers caring and helping runners in need, it was collectively such a great effort. I pretty much thanked everyone in my last blog post so I will say a final thank you to Meningitis Research Foundation for choosing me as one of their gold bond runners and allowing me to achieve one of my dreams! It was an absolute pleasure running for the charity and I’m incredibly proud to announce that my fundraising total has reached £2,784.73!! It is possible to still donate if you haven’t done so already so check out my Just Giving page. Thank you!

I have of course been asked whether I enjoyed the marathon and would do another one. Enjoy is most definitely not the term I would use! To be in pain for pretty much half of the marathon was not enjoyable in the slightest but I did love the whole experience. Straight after the marathon I said I wouldn’t run another one. It was just too brutal, but now on reflection, I might possibly consider doing another one and it would be rude not to put my name in the hat for next year’s London Marathon ballot. I know I could beat my time if my training was injury free and if I could get the higher mileage runs in, but if next time I have problems again with my training, my mind would be plagued knowing that I would no doubt be running in a lot of pain again. I don’t think mentally I could go through that, even with the support and drive of the crowd.

I’m going to end my blog post with some useful tips that might help those that wish to run a future marathon:

  • Train, train, train! An obvious one I know, but if I hadn’t put the effort and dedication in, there is no chance I would have finished and my body would be hurting a great deal more. Do follow a training plan but my advice is to start early and build miles up slowly with only a adding a maximum of 10-15 minutes to your run at a time and get comfortable at running a certain distance before upping it.
  • Strengthen your legs but also do upper body and core work too. You will be moving your arms as you run for hours so to prevent your biceps and shoulders from aching add some upper body weight work to your training schedule.
  • On race day do take a last minute toilet trip even if you are already queuing in your starting pen. You won’t be the only one doing it and as I previously stated, I wish I had done so, so that the opening few miles would have been a bit more comfortable.
  • Don’t just rely on carb gels to fuel your running. Your body will start rejecting them and you will crave something else so have jelly beans, jelly babies or some after sweets on you too or help yourself to the ones that the crowd offer out as there will be plenty.
  • Keep smiling! Not only as you never know when the camera is taking pictures of you but it also helps ease the pain and keeps you mentally strong.
  • Don’t get too disheartened if you aren’t going to hit your target time, readjust and set a new goal. Don’t push your body too hard, the aim is to finish. Also, don’t get disheartened if someone in a Womble suit overtakes you and beats you to the finish (this happened to me), it might not necessarily be a Womble but it will be someone else in a fancy dress costume!
  • Finally, just do it! If you are on the fence about doing it, get off the fence and do it. Find a charity close to your heart as knowing that you are supporting a great cause gives you the extra incentive to finish. It will easily be one of the best experiences of your life (also might be the most painful too) and the sense of achievement when you finish outweighs all the aches and pains.

That’s it! I don’t know what my next challenge will be and my mind isn’t quite ready to think about it yet. It’s time to rest and hope my knee recovers before I do Tough Mudder next month. I thank everyone who has taken time to read my blog posts and I hope you enjoyed them. Till next time… keep running!

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