It’s Thursday morning, I’ve just arrived home after an overnight flight, my legs still ache from Monday’s marathon and I need to sleep. But, I’m running the London marathon on Sunday, and I need to get myself organised. Twenty-four hours later I’m on the train heading for the third and all important home leg of this year’s Timmyslam. It might have been my third marathon major of the year, but this one felt very different.
To be honest with you, of all this year’s great races, this is the one I’ve been least excited about. Despite the fact that the London marathon has inspired so many people to take up running since it began in 1981, it was never something that I watched and thought “one day I’d love to do that”. Even when I started running in 2010 I never had a desire to run London. As I wrote last time, my running dream was to qualify and run in Boston. The fact that London takes place six days after Boston doesn’t help either; with only a few days for it to really sink in that I’m going to be running in such an iconic race. The quick turnaround also means that this is going to be the toughest part of my world marathon major challenge.
Marathon weekend in London is also different for another important reason. This time I’m not travelling alone, but have my family with me. Unlike Tokyo and Boston, this time there’s not much focus on sightseeing, just on enjoying the experience of marathon weekend in our capital city. On Friday evening we travel to the Expo in London’s Docklands, and it is amazing to see what a different experience this is when you take a 9 and 7 year-old with you. It appears they’re not as interested in shopping for running gear as I am. However, they are quite happy populating the message walls and creating colourful and elaborate signs to hold up on race day, and by the end of the evening they both have two large bags of “free stuff” collected as they moved from stall to stall. One word of advice though – try and avoid the testing of energy shot bloks so close to bedtime!
Saturday is equally family focused with a trip on the London Eye, ice-cream in Leicester Square and an afternoon at the theatre all helping to distract me from the race ahead and keep me off my feet. Consequently, as I head off on Sunday morning to catch the early train to the start, waved-off by three sleepy but excited faces, I feel as relaxed as I ever have done before a marathon. And this is a good thing, as I genuinely have no idea how my body is going to cope with a second marathon in six days. “Just run how you feel”, I repeatedly tell myself. Good advice, it turns out. I am expecting the craziness of the mass starts for which London is well known. However, those of us allocated to the Green start are rewarded with a much smaller-scale and relaxed starting area, shared with a host of celebrity runners and those attempting to break world records dressed as a lobster (finished in 3hrs 17mins), a hot dog (3:57) and Elsa (2:39) amongst others.
Before too long we are off, and I settle into a surprisingly comfortable and steady pace, with no sign of tiredness in my legs, and able to take in the friendly and positive atmosphere created by runners and spectators alike. Before too long we begin to merge with runners from the mass starts (“Come on Greens we can take this Blue lot”, I shout) and suddenly we are passing Cutty Sark (“I’ve seen this bit on the telly”), cheered on by an enormous crowd. I am really starting to enjoy myself. A big boost comes at mile 9 when I spot the family, all in bright pink and pushed to the front of the crowd, and barely stopping for quick hugs and kisses I push on towards half-way and the amazing crossing of Tower Bridge. As we head out towards Canary Wharf there is no let-up in the enthusiasm of the crowd, nor in my pace, and by the time I see the pink ladies again at mile 22 I know I am going to beat my Boston time (that was never in the plan). All I have to do is enjoy the final run-in along the Embankment, through Parliament Square before the finish on The Mall.
Mission accomplished! It had been a great run, a whole lot of fun and, quite unexpectedly, London had become my most enjoyable marathon to date, made all the better by being able to share it with those who mean the most, and who heroically put up with ‘running man’.
And so I reach the mid-way point in this running challenge. Of course, the running won’t stop, but at least I can now pause for breath before setting my sights on a nice fast time at Berlin in September. Thanks to all of you for your continuing support and encouragement, and remember; train hard, race strong, and eat what you like!
PS – I didn’t beat Elsa, but at least I am faster than the hot dog…