So if you got the guts mister, yeah if you’ve got the balls
If you think it’s your time, then step to the line, and bring on your wrecking ball
Bring on your wrecking ball
Bring on your wrecking ball
Come on and take your best shot, let me see what you’ve got
Bring on your wrecking ball
Bring on your wrecking ball
Bring on your wrecking ball
Come on and take your best shot, let me see what you’ve got
Bring on your wrecking ball
Bruce Springsteen – Wrecking Ball
Sunday the 24th of April 2016, the day when I finally managed to achieved one of my big long held ambitions of running the London Marathon. Even before I was a runner it was an event I was aware of, I can remember most years growing up watching it on a Sunday morning with my Dad, both of us not even remotely interested in running, me actually quite lazy if I’m honest. But still we were captivated by the sights and stories of the race we watched each year. Each April the London Marathon like the Masters and Easter Holidays was the symbolic switch to the start of summer after a long dark winter. I always remember it was mostly bright and sunny no matter what year it was. The TV coverage never fails in inspiring those watching with the elation, suffering and challenge of the event. From the superhuman speed of the elite field and faster club runners, to the colourful parade of the mass start with the elaborate fancy dress runners to people of all shapes, sizes and ages taking on their own marathon journey. Each year watching I am sure that this subconsciously planted a seed that if they could all do it one day maybe I could be a marathon runner.
It took until I grew up and discovered running for that seed to grow in to reality. I have completed many marathons now but still something was missing, I needed to run London, to experience what I watched each year as a child, to do it for myself, for my Dad, my family and to do justice to these memories.
Each year since 2009 I have entered the ballot for a place in London and each October I’ve received my rejection magazine. I never wanted to go down the charity place route as I didn’t want the pressure of a fundraising target and I also think if I am going to ask for sponsorship it should be for something that takes me out of my comfort zone like swimming! Running a good for age time was also highly unlikely. So unless there was any ballot success one year my chances of running London were quite slim. However one of the many advantages of joining a running club is that each UK club gets two marathon places so last December I put my name in the hat for one of the Kilbarchan AAC places and along with Norman we were allocated the places so 2016 would be the year I got to run London.
Knowing that in April I would be running London gave me a real focus and determination to get out training and log the miles over the winter. I was out in the dark, cold, wet even in the snow all the time being driven by the thought of being ready for April and a run round London to Her Majesty’s house.
In the lead up to the marathon I really had the perfect training from running well in the Cross Country races to the daily miles of Marcothon. On top of this Donald at the club had taken on the role of providing training plans for the senior road runners so for each week since October we have had planned fartlek sessions on a Monday night and speed work at the track on Thursdays which has really brought me on more than I could have imagined as a runner. This was demonstrated by my better than expected results in the Balloch to Clydebank half marathon and Tom Scott 10 mile road race which were my two London build up races. So I was full of confidence from these results and the weekly long runs I had completed during training.
In most of my previous marathons I had done nearly all of my long runs on the fairly flat cycle path which passes by close to my house but this time I made a conscious decision to make my long runs a lot hillier as I felt it would make me stronger and faster on the flatter route on marathon day. Also in previous marathons I’ll be honest I had not been as dedicated and put in the full amount of training required for the times I would like to run, but this year was different. I managed all planned long runs and also included a mid-week long run of between 9 and 12 miles which I think really helped on two fronts, firstly it was miles in the legs and secondly psychologically it made the weekend long run less daunting which was a big help. My total mileage for each month of this year so far was January 162 miles, February 147 miles, March 211 and April 169 miles. This is the sort of work which I was putting in, it was all really building my confidence as I was running well and enjoying it, it wasn’t a struggle to get out the door and get going. I also managed to meet up with Norman for a lot of the mid-week runs and it’s amazing what a bit of company can do, it worked really well for us as we are both self-employed, live in the same village, run similar times and were training for the same event.
It seemed to come round quickly that the hard work was all done and we were in to the taper period. In many ways this is harder than the training, it’s a case of finding the fine line of still running and keeping the sharpness but not getting ill or injured or tired. In the week or two before the marathon some runs were just awful, it felt like I had forgotten how to run, I imagined myself to be all arms and legs flailing all over the place, breathing all over the place and pace fluctuating from insanely fast to plodding along, pretty much like all my normal runs but the only difference was out of injury paranoia I was over analysing every little detail. But I did manage to get through it all and was travelling down to London excited and ready to go. Sadly the same could not be said for Norman the week before the marathon he injured his hamstring and had been seeing his physio for treatment, we were both still hopeful he would be able to run after as many days of no running as possible, rest and treatment but we would not know until the Saturday or maybe even Sunday morning if he would be running.
Friday 22nd April
This was the day we travelled down to London, our original plan had been to get the train down and back up but for some reason or other it seemed the train companies did not want our business and made it as difficult as possible to book a reasonably priced ticket. The train appealed as particularly for the way back after the race we would be able to get up for a walk and stretch our legs rather than be cramped in to a plane seat. But when we compared the cost of return train travel to a return flight there really was only one clear winner. It really is crazy when you think about it that you can fly return to London for less than the price of a standard one way journey on the train. So the plan was Easyjet for the short flight from Glasgow to Stanstead as the mid-afternoon flight down suited us and we would be at our hotel for about 6pm.
The Friday morning really should have been spent with my children but Hannah was at nursery and Robbie was at toddlers so I spent it packing. When it comes to travelling away from home to a marathon packing really is a several hours mission filled with dilemmas, debates and decisions about pretty much every running related piece of clothing, technology and equipment you own. Things get put in to piles of essential kit that is going no matter what, then there is a maybe pile of things that get put in and taken out of the suitcase and might end up making the cut. Then there is a just in case pile of things that you don’t think you will need but would like to have on the rare chance you do need them a bit like a running comfort blanket. You would have thought with all this debating over every little thing to take the marathon was in the middle of nowhere and it was all about self-sufficient survival instead of a busy city with shops and even more ridiculously I had to go to the marathon expo which is just one massive running exhibition selling everything a runner could need to collect my number. So if I thought about it logically if I forgot something or didn’t have it I would be able to get it, but you don’t really think logically at times in the few days before a marathon. Nadine arrived back home with the kids around noon after leaving me for over 3 hours and asked what I was doing and was not impressed when I answered packing, she then asked what I had been doing all morning and was even less impressed when she got the same answer of packing. However the end was in sight and after taking 5 minutes to throw in some non-running clothes for the rest of the time I think I was good to go. This still didn’t stop me several times over the next two hours before I had to leave opening the suitcase to add things in. I did nearly forget one of the most crucial things, a few minutes before we were leaving to pick Norman up I remembered I hadn’t packed my Stoats Apple and Cinnamon instant porridge, my tried and tested, safe to eat breakfast when I am running races away from home. Once they were safely in my case it was time to say goodbye to Hannah and Robbie and Nadine and I were off to collect Norman. In my defence despite all my debating about what to pack I fitted it all in to a small sensibly sized case for a two night trip. When we collected Norman he came out with a case that made you think he was away for a fortnight! It did make me feel a bit better that it wasn’t just me with the packing and that he had been the same or actually much, much worse. How many pairs of running shoes did you take Norman?!
The nice thing about a mid-afternoon flight is that the airport is relatively quiet so when we arrived to drop our bags there was no queue at the Easyjet desk and then when we went upstairs we sailed through security in a matter of minutes so we had time to relax with a coffee before boarding opened for our flight. Everything with our flight was to time and we arrived in Stanstead ahead of schedule where we were quickly off the plane to collect our bags and straight downstairs on to the Stanstead express to Liverpool Street. It was not long after 5pm when we arrived at Liverpool Street and we had to negotiate a rush hour underground ride on the Central line out to Stratford. It was at this moment I was thankful for having the smaller suitcase as Norman and the Underground barriers had a bit of a disagreement about his case fitting through.
We arrived at Stratford and with the thanks of Google maps managed to navigate our way the short distance to our hotel. We had left Glasgow with warm sunshine and were now walking through the streets of London in the rain and a noticeable drop in temperature. Which was not too nice to walk in but if it was like that for running in on the Sunday I would have been over the moon. We half talked about going straight to the expo to collect our race numbers but as it was only open till 8pm we thought it was more important to get checked in to the hotel and then head out for some dinner than rush our way down to the Excel when we had the option of doing it on the Saturday afternoon.
Close to our hotel we had the Westfield shopping centre which was good as it had plenty of food options for our lunch and dinner requirements over the few days we were down there so after getting settled in to the hotel we headed back up there and got our dinner at a Thai restaurant which was very nice. It was a bit surreal walking back through the shopping centre on a Friday night to see people living the dream and sitting at a champagne bar in the middle of closed shops, it seems I have been missing out on that type of experience so far in my life. It got even stranger when we were looking for a supermarket to get some supplies for our room the Westfield options of Waitrose and M&S were shut so we crossed the road and went in to the Stratford centre which was the London equivalent of the Paisley centre with a eclectic mix of customers at that time on a Friday night. It did have a supermarket which provided us with all we were after so we survived it and made our way back to our hotel and bed as we planned to do some running on the Saturday morning to stretch our legs and give Norman a fitness test to see if he would be running the marathon after his hamstring injury.
Saturday 23rd April
On the Saturday morning we were up early to get breakfast at the hotel before heading out for our run. I am ashamed to say I have never done any of the worldwide phenomenon that is Parkrun, the free weekly timed 5k races which take place on Saturday mornings. Norman is a Parkrun regular and race director for the Victoria Parkrun in Glasgow so he had researched London options for our Saturday morning run. The closest and easiest to get to from our hotel was the one at Mile End park, this was a short journey a couple of stops along the Central line and we were there in lots of time to get a short warm up completed before the crowds started to assemble. I think the regular runners were boosted by quite a few Parkrun tourists in town for the marathon and we were all made to feel very welcome. The run is a two lap circuit with a few up and downs in it through Mile End park and along the canal path. Norman appeared to be ok during and after our warm up and the plan for the Parkrun was to take it gentle and see how Normans hamstring held up. For most of the first lap I think Norman was quite close behind me but going in to the second lap I couldn’t see him behind me when I turned. I thought he might have just eased up the pace a bit, but I did start to get a bad feeling that his hamstring may have been causing a worse problem than expected. My fears were confirmed when I finished in a time of 24.53 and waited around at the finish line for a few minutes and couldn’t see him come in. I started walking back down the course to meet him walking his way back in and could tell straight away that his fitness test had not gone well and it would be unlikely he would be running the marathon.
It was a bit of a difficult journey back to our hotel as Norman debated over his decision about pulling out of the race. Deep down I think he knew from the moment of the parkrun that there was no way he could do the marathon. But actually saying those words and the reality of it was a difficult moment for him. Norman’s son David had surprised him by booking flights down to come and watch him running the marathon and I think this was weighing on his mind with the decision to withdraw but I am sure this turned the negative of not running the marathon in to a positive of having a day with his son and company to watch the race the following day. Also Norman has a place for the New York marathon later this year and he will be back strong and ready to go for that one which he may have jeopardised by trying to run in London.
After we went back to the hotel and got showered and changed we headed down to the marathon Expo so that I could collect my race number and stuff. Again this must have been difficult for Norman after having to withdraw from the race however I was grateful for his company. After a wee wander through the expo we decided to head off for lunch somewhere. We took the Air line across from the Excel to the O2 arena at Greenwich, I quite enjoyed this as it was one of the tourist type things I had never had the chance to do in my previous trips to London. After lunch we stopped off in a pop up craft brewers bar for Norman to have a couple of drinks and for me to sit and rest my legs. Then we headed back to the hotel so I could rest for a couple of hours before we headed out for dinner. When we planned the trip we had looked in to heading out to watch a football match on the Saturday afternoon on of the options was to go to Wembley for the Everton v Man Utd FA Cup Semi Final but we decided a teatime trip across London was not the best idea before the marathon but it did give us a good chance to relax watching the game in our hotel.
Dinner on the Saturday night was back up to Westfield for me to have a big bowl of pasta from Jamie’s Italian to fuel me up for the following morning’s effort. Then it was back down to the hotel for me to prepare my race kit and get in to bed and sleep as well as I could as tomorrow was the big day.
Kilbarchan AAC Club Vest, Craft Shorts, Smartwool Socks, Compressport Calf Guards, Nike Zoom Streak 5 racing shoes, Adidas Team GB Sweat band, Adidas Sunglasses, Garmin Forerunner 220, SiS Energy Gels 2 x Orange, 1 x Berry Caffeine, 1 x Double Espresso Caffeine.
Sunday 24th April
I woke up on the Sunday morning feeling a combination of excited, nervous, confident and ready to go. I had a shower and then my good old Stoats porridge and a quick trip down to breakfast for some toast and honey before returning to the room to put sun cream and my race kit on. Before long it was time to leave to make my way to the start line. Norman joined me heading up to Stratford station as he was going to Liverpool Street to meet David so we said our goodbyes and Norman wished me luck and said he would see me on the course as I headed off to follow the other runners on to the DLR and down to Greenwich for the marathon start. It’s a strange feeling and journey travelling to a marathon start, particularly when you are travelling by yourself. I watched the other runners some travelling in groups, who were louder and more exuberant than others, some who were travelling with family or loved ones who were trying to be positive and encouraging and calm the nerves of their runner and lots of people travelling solo like myself. There was a mix of all nationalities, ages and runner types from really nervous first timers to regulars who had done it all many times. It’s very strange that the trains are so busy but also really, really quiet as everyone is quiet and thoughtful thinking of what they have ahead of them.
I checked my phone and had a few messages of good luck and comments on Instagram and Facebook wishing me luck. I was really touched by these, it meant so much to me and gave me a boost that people were thinking of me and supporting me. So thank you.
The journey down to the start went smoothly and once off the DLR it was a case of joining the procession of all the runners walking up the hill to the start area in Greenwich Park which was about a 20 minute walk away. For the walk up to the start I put some music on, I don’t really run listening to music any more but I do like to use it to get motivated and in to the zone as they say. The album of choice was my normal marathon one of Wrecking Ball by Bruce Springsteen. It just seems to fit perfectly for me with the thoughts and emotions I feel with marathons. Dad was a massive fan of the Boss and his influence has rubbed off on to my brother’s and my own music tastes.
My start was the Blue start so I went in to the start area and got ready. I got myself in to my racing kit and then loaded my bag on to the baggage trucks. It was a dry, sunny morning in the park but it was still very cold. I was always going to run in only my club vest as I knew it would heat up so I was glad I packed an old jumper to wear and throw away at the start. My biggest decisions was if I would wear my sunglasses or not, in the end I went with them and I was very glad that I did. Next stop was to join the queues for the toilets which were big but moving well, again at times like this I am very glad to be male. I still had time before the start to have a cup of tea, anyone who knows me is aware of how much of a tea addict I am so this really was very welcome and it helped heat me up for the start. A final quick trip to the toilet and then it was in to the start pens and before I knew it the start countdown was on and Tim Peake in the International Space station was setting the runners of.
The Blue start follows straight after the Elite field so it took me a minute or so to get across the start line. In all my previous marathons I never really had a plan or strategy for the race, it was always a case of head out at a pace which I probably optimistically thought I could sustain then hold on before the wheels come off usually around miles 18-20 and then run walk the best I can to the end. However for London based on my training and warm up races I actually put thought in to a plan for the race. Check me out, going in to a race with a strategy! My aim was to run the first 10 miles at 7.30 per mile pace, then increase that from mile 10 to 7.00 per mile pace and hang on to that pace as long as I could, possibly 20 miles or optimistically beyond that, I would find out if I was able to put that plan in to action. My main target was any form of PB with a time of 3:15 being the optimistic aim and I hoped my plan would allow me to get near to this with a margin to allow for the wheels coming off.
The first mile was quite congested so my pace time was just shy of 8 minutes which was off what the plan said, however I didn’t panic as I knew I had a long way to make that time back up. From the off the thing that hit me straight away was the crowds, they were several people deep at each side of the road. This was only the start and it got even more impressive as we progressed along the route and passed some of the iconic London marathon sights. My second mile was closer to planned pace with a 7.36 and taking advantage of the downhill nature of the course miles 3 and 4 were 7.09 and 7.04 respectively. Running without headphones makes you really appreciate the crowd and the sounds along the route. You really do hear every type of music along the route as all the diverse communities of London come out on to the streets and turn the marathon in to one long party that the runners are passing through in a procession. Pubs had speakers blasting out music, people in flats had put sound systems on their balconies and on top of that was the constant noise and cheers from the crowds.
I was feeling good and in control and had to make a conscious effort to keep my pace under control and stick with my plan. I passed 10k in a time of 46:42 and that was the first mental point checked off. Not long after this point is the first real iconic part of the route round Cutty Sark, as you come in to this area it really is a wall of noise as every piece of space is filled with spectators, there is also what I think was a pub that had a live Ska band playing outside which was just incredible. I didn’t like the twisty nature of the route round Cutty Sark but for the lift and shot of adrenaline the crowd gave it was a small price to pay, for about the next mile the crowds seemed just as deep and loud and as much of a lift I was getting I really had to keep the pace under control and not speed up, it wasn’t time for that yet.
My nutrition strategy for the marathon was to take energy gels at 8 miles, 12 miles, 16 miles (caffeine) and 20 miles (caffeine) so my next mental marker was my 8 mile gel where again I was running well and in control. It was around the point of my pace increase to 7.00 minute miles at mile 10 that I got in front of the 3:15 pacers and the bunch following behind them. This gave me a real boost as I was ‘ahead’ of target time and also the pacers had a real bunch following them and once I got past them there was a lot more space to fall in to my own rhythm and have more control of my running line which meant I could follow the measured blue line showing the shortest, exact marathon distance. It’s all these little things that help add up to a big performance. Another mental check and marker as I took on my gel at mile 12 and I was feeling good and running well.
The next of the iconic sights and points is the crossing of Tower Bridge just before the half way point, everyone who has run London tells you how special this is and how amazing the crowds are here. That is all true and I couldn’t agree more, what they don’t tell you is that it’s actually a bit of a hill up and on to the bridge. This took me a bit by surprise but I did have the downhill side of the bridge to get the heart rate back under control and the adrenaline shot of the crowd allowed me to keep the pace up and before I knew it I was at the halfway point in a time of 1:36:21.
Around about the 14 mile mark I could see the leaders in the men’s elite race heading back in I had hoped of catching a glimpse of Callum and Derek Hawkins from my club who were going for qualification for Rio but I only saw the first two men before turning right to head in to the Docklands area and around Canary Wharf. At I think just passed the 15 mile mark I saw Norman and David at the side of the road cheering me on which again was another massive mental lift.
Not long after that I was running through a tunnel and it was an incredible contrast for a couple of reasons, firstly we were out of the sun for a start as it had got quite warm and sunny and to go in to the cool shade of the tunnel was really refreshing but most startling for the first time all race there was no crowd and all you could hear was runners footsteps and breathing. It was like the crowd and light had been paused and you had a bit of rest and relief from them before all of a sudden you emerged back in to the light and noise of the marathon. Mentally I took that point to think right, I’m doing this, things are going well today. From that point on I never doubted our thought the wheels would come off. Sure I would get tired and sore, it’s a marathon you expect that but from that moment I knew I wouldn’t need to walk and doubted my pace would drop too much. Then it was time for my 16 mile caffeine gel!
Miles 16 to 20 were all within the 6.47-7.05 pace so all was still going to plan. Between miles 21 and 22 when the route joins up with runners still heading out the way is another point where I got a lift, well that and the effects of the caffeine gel at mile 20 hitting me as I was now on the opposite side of the road heading for the finish just like the elite runners had been as I was heading out. Around here I started to begin overtaking quite a lot of runners who were starting to suffer due to the pace or heat or distance. It’s amazing the lift that this was giving me to be feeling well and overtaking people, this is something I had never felt or experienced in a marathon before. For mile 24 I pulled a 6:49 out of the bag, I was getting quicker and ahead of pace when I thought my pace would be dropping.
I could see on the skyline the London eye, I was running alongside the river I knew I was getting closer to Westminster, I could see Big Ben. I knew the turn on to Birdcage walk, I was alongside St James’s park I’d seen this loads of time before on TV but now I was here, I was running and I was actually doing this. Round the corner, there is the Queen’s house, the Queen Victoria fountain, not long to go, I’m on to the Mall across the line, look up to the sky and I’ve done it. Dad this one is for you, I hope I have done you proud, I’ve ran the London marathon.
I’ve got a new PB and exceeded my expectations with a time of 3:09:05. It is also a time within the Boston marathon qualifying standards for me so it’s slim but it may be good enough to get me to Boston. I’ve done 2 of the World Marathon majors now, it would be wrong not to tick the other 4 off of the list!
I shake hands and congratulate a few of the runners around me and keep walking forward and a cheerful friendly volunteer congratulates me and puts a medal around my neck. I am overcome with a feeling of pride in myself. I’ve put in the hard work and got a result and experience which was better than I could have imagined.
I collect my bag from the baggage truck and phone home, Nadine is surprised to hear from me so soon and panics that something has gone wrong and that I’m calling with bad news, but all is well and it’s good news. Hannah asks if I won the marathon, I didn’t win it, but I tell her I did win my marathon. Next I phone my Mum and let her know I’m ok, she then tells me the good news that Callum Hawkins was 1st Brit (8th overall) and has qualified for the Olympics and his brother Derek was 3rd Brit (14th overall) and within the Olympic qualifying standard with a chance to go to Rio. Gemma also came home as 3rd Scottish female so it was a very good day all round for Kilbarchan Amateur Athletics Club.
I then went to the reunion area to meet up with Norman and David who had had a good time out spectating on the course and following the elite races. We head back to the hotel so I can get a shower and we can collect the bags as we are flying back home that evening. Before we need to head to the airport there is time to visit Westfield for a final meal and by that point I am starving, I had been craving a burger so we went for pub food. It was all excellent and hit the spot but we had some surreal experiences with the waitresses from them thinking Norman looked like someone famous to their shock and disbelief that I wanted a cup of tea as if no one had ever ordered one in there before. Then it was back to Liverpool Street and the Stanstead Express and Easyjet back up to Glasgow and I was home and in my own bed to recover and ready to carry Hannah up to nursery on my shoulders on the Monday morning as 5 year olds don’t understand that Daddy’s legs are sore as he ran a marathon!
I would recommend anyone to take on a marathon. You will learn more about yourself and what you are capable of both physically and mentally than you could ever imagine. It’s a life affirming challenge but one that once you have achieved it no one can take away from you. You will forever be known as a marathon runner. Even if you can only run a few miles or a 5k, with a bit of training and self-belief you can complete a marathon. Or if you can’t and don’t want to do one go and watch one from the side of the road. It really will restore your faith in human nature and inspire you.
Thank you London Marathon, I will be back to do it all over again sometime in the future.
London Marathon Strava
p.s The following week I was a bit frustrated and angry with Scottish Athletics as they were using the London Marathon for the Scottish Marathon Championships. This consists of an individual event which Callum Hawkins won obviously with Derek Hawkins in 3rd. There is also a team competition which is the combined time for the first 3 runners from each club. In the week after the marathon Scottish Athletics announced that Edinburgh AC had won this in a time of 7:53:50, however if you tally up Callum and Derek’s time with my own all be it slower time we have a combined time of 7:32:54. We questioned this with Scottish Athletics and the reason is that Callum and Derek are not eligible for the team competition as they were not wearing their club vests. So as Scottish Athletics see it you can have the first and third place runners in the Individual Scottish Marathon Championships excluded from the Scottish Marathon Team Championships which are taking place within the same race on the same day at the same time based on what they are wearing.
In my opinion it needs to be an all or nothing rule about club vests for Championship events not an ok for some things but not others. I can understand the rules regarding vests for closed Scottish Athletics races, district events and races which are hand timed. But when you are using an open road event in another country for your national marathon championships surely you can have a bit of leeway and common sense?
We are all athletes registered with Kilbarchan AAC and Scottish Athletics who were running in the race with timing chips on our feet, that fact doesn’t change if we are wearing our club vest, sponsors kit, charity vest or pink tutu’s.
I live in the real world, I know my standard and place as a runner and it’s extremely unlikely I will ever win a race or team medal in my running lifetime. I know that it’s just luck on my part that two Olympic standard members of my club were running the same race as me as without that it would never have been an issue or even a topic of discussion. But it still makes it hard to take that when it’s 3 counters for the team title our combined time would have won it.
On the grand scheme of their careers this team title would unlikely not even register for Callum and Derek. For me though it’s a once in a lifetime medal that I would have been proud of and cherished forever that I am not eligible for due to double standard rules from Scottish Athletics.