All details about the event can be found here. This post is just about my experience.
150,000 people enter the ballot for a London Marathon place in the May before the event. About 50,000 places are allocated and about 40,000 start the race. In addition to the ballot places there are also some places that are allocated to runners who are very fast or who are considered ‘Good for Age’. So if like me you are female, old and considered to be quick for age and sex you get an automatic entry. In 2015 I ran the North Dorset Villages marathon in 4 hours 30 minutes (and 46 seconds) which just about quick enough to meet the Good for Age standard for women aged 60 – 64.
Of the 40,000 runners who started the London Marathon on 24th April 2016 just 204 were women aged 60 – 64 with a further 130 women over the age of 65. The reason why there were so few older women running the marathon is because it is bloody hard.
I have completed the London Marathon seven times over the years since my first one in 1994. Back in the day I used to run quite quickly and until I was 55 most marathons were sub 3 hours 30 minutes with a personal best of 3 hours 12 minutes set in Paris in 2001. In 2009 I ran 3 hours 37 minutes and I then decided to stop running marathons as I was getting too slow!
Training for a marathon is quite tricky. In an effort to train hard enough to get the best from yourself it is essential to avoid over-training and acquiring injuries. I try to vary my training and do a lot of it off road. I build intensity by running on hills (not difficult in West Dorset) and by doing some intervals and speed work. After the ironman in September 2015 I had a few months of low motivation and started 2016 with no desire to compete and not much urge to get out of the door and run! My training diary records ‘running is hard work and I am depressingly slow. I cannot imagine being at the start of VLM on April 24th’. In January a 15km run was ‘exhausting’, but by February things were improving and I was pushing the long run out to 30km. During March my mojo gradually returned and I recorded that I was ‘running well – just slowly.’ I ran the Grizzly in March at race intensity and was quite pleased. I recovered well and ran the Weymouth half marathon in 2 hours 4 minutes the weekend after. However, I only ran more than 30km in training 6 times in preparation for the London marathon.
As well as running, I have continued to swim at least once a week and cycled several times a week, including many rides over 100km. I also do some strength and conditioning with weights in the gym and Iyengar yoga.
The Virgin London Marathon is incredibly well organised. It is a massive event with 40,000 runners and many thousands helping to facilitate the event. Registration takes place at Excel in London and in itself is a huge event. Registration is open for 3 full days and although by Saturday lunch time when we rolled up it was very busy, we were quickly processed and I had my number and timing chip. I had been quite nervous in the week before going up to London but by this time I was resigned to my fate.
We stayed overnight at the Holiday Inn at Excel and found this to be an excellent place to rest and relax in the last 24 hours before the Marathon. I had written my name on my running vest and agreed to wear a pink tutu to enable Ian to spot me in the mass of runners. I pinned my number on the vest and secured the timing chip onto my laces. The weather forecast reckoned it was going to be chilly so I selected a thin thermal to wear under the vest. I had my bum bag with a stash of gels and some paracetamol (this was definitely going to hurt).
After my usual pre-race breakfast of porridge and a banana we set off to Blackheath on the DLR at 08:15 in plenty of time for the 10:00 start. There were volunteers pointing the mass of nervous runners in the right direction.
We were heading for the Green start. There are 3 different starts Most runners are on Red and Blue starts with just the ‘Good for Age’ runners and a few celebrities on the smaller Green start.
As we walked over the Heath we passed some of the pace makers. I wondered whether I would manage to keep up with the 4 hour 30 minute pacers. There are pacemakers at 15 minutes intervals.
I changed into my running kit and packed my warm clothes into the numbered kit bag and handed it onto the baggage lorry. The 3 huge lorries trundled off to the Mall at 09:15 so as to be there at the finish where we would need to get some warm gear back on. Presumably this was also happening at the much bigger Blue and Red starts. All part of the amazing organisation.
There are only about 3000 runners on the Green Start and we set of at 10:00 on the dot. I was at the back of the queue, as my estimated finish time was 4 hours 40 minutes and it took 3 ½ minutes to get through the start. It doesn’t matter how long it takes to get over the start line because your time is recorded from when your timing chip crosses the timing mat.
Throughout the race I used my Gamin Forerunner to help me to run at an even pace. It is essential not to run too quickly at the start of a marathon and I knew from my training that my maximum speed must not exceed 10 kph or 6 minutes for each kilometre. This is quite difficult to control at the beginning of the race as it feels as if ‘everyone’ is running quicker than you are and with the huge excitement of the race I had to keep checking and slowing down. Right from the start the crowds of spectators were huge and very enthusiastic. I received enormous support all the way round from the crowd because I had my name on my vest and because I was wearing a pink tutu. It really does help having people shout out your name and if you look up and smile and acknowledge the support they cheer even louder. At the really busy points like Cutty Sark and Tower Bridge the noise is deafening. Ian and I managed to spot each other three times on the course – thanks to the tutu.
I tried really hard to stay positive mentally all the time and to keep my head up and smile. The official pictures show quite a few smiles but also a few showing that grim determination needed to get through the inevitable low spots where your feet are cramping and your quads are screaming and you just want to stop and walk. I saw more and more of the 4:15 pace makers and as the race went on I became increasingly hopeful that I would be able to stay ahead of the 4:30 pacers.
I managed to ignore the ‘stop and walk demon’ and employed a distraction technique of counting backwards from 500 when the going got tough around the 32 kilometre mark. I managed to keep up my 6 minutes a kilometre shuffle right up to the Embankment at 38 kilometres where my pace dropped slightly. At Big Ben with just 2 kilometres to go I ran as hard as I could down Birdcage Walk into the Mall and on to the finish, but there was nothing left in the tank. I didn’t go any quicker and my last kilometre was just a little slower than my first.
Finishing is fantastic. I remembered to put up my left arm with the index finger extended as instructed – #oneinamillion.
Running towards the finish on the Mall is quite emotional. After crossing the finish line it is quite weird to stop running and requires more determination to keep walking forwards. My time was 4 hours 18 minutes and 46 seconds which I was pleased with. I was pleased that I had managed to run a steady, even paced marathon without it being too traumatic.
The organisation at the finish is great – a well oiled machine: Medal (little cry)– photograph – goody bag – collect numbered kit bag from lorry – go to the H tree and meet Ian. All done within 15 minutes of finishing and we were soon heading back to the Hotel for a shower before driving back to Dorset.
The day after I rested. My quads are quite sore but other than that no problem. Tomorrow I will swim (pool) and then I look forward to training more on my bike than running. It’s time to get stuck into some proper Triathlon training now we’ve got that pesky marathon out of the way.