..... and ran a new personal best of 3:58:08 at the London Marathon!!
What a day. It's hard to quickly summarise the experience, so this post might end up being a long one.
I'm not the sort of person who gets excited or thrilled about the imminent prospect of running a marathon, in fact it scares me. I tend to be quiet in the morning, moody (what's different Christine says) and struggle with the anxiety that I may fail to deliver the performance I expect of myself. Christine, who's largely the polar opposite before a marathon, did not get a London place and was trying to instill some confidence in me but two hours before the start I couldn't see beyond the enormity of the challenge.
Thankfully, we met up with several friends from RunMND, Mr & Mrs G and Cat, who are all nuts to a greater or lesser extent. Meeting fellow condemned runners tends to ease my concerns and so we said our goodbyes to Christine and our friends the Fletcher sisters and headed into the runner assembly areas. By the time I'd dropped my bag off and queued for the urinal (now I know how the ladies feel) we were ushered into our starting pens. I tried to push my way to the front of the pen where the 4 hour pace runners were but it was too congested. So I stood with other lonely runners contemplating the challenge ahead. I tried to get my head around the awful truth that a marathon is a race of two very unequal halfs. The first half is 20 miles long, you have to navigate this distance before you begin the hard second 'half' of the race which although only 6 miles, feels like 20. It's when all or most of the pain is felt. I tried to remember all the sage advice I'd heard about about how to psychologically deal with the dark moments. Then, all of a sudden, we started moving and to my horror the 4-hour pace makers disappeared across the line while my start bin was held back. Bollocks!
The nice thing about running is that once it starts you quickly slip into your routine, after all I'd been training for 4 months and had run 438 miles in training. While I was aware that I shouldn't set off too quickly, I knew I still had to catch the pacers, so I pressed on a little quicker than planned. En route I passed a chap wearing a replica stormtrooper costume, identical to the one I'd worn at the 2016 Great North Run. He ultimately had a stormer of a run and went on to break the world marathon record for a someone in a star wars costume.
At about 3 miles I caught up with the 4 hour pacers and eased up along side and almost immediately I felt a tap on the shoulder. I turned to see my mate Mr G, Paul Gardner, dressed as Batman, who was also running for the MNDA. It was so nice to run together as it was quite a novel experience for me. We managed to stay together for several miles before Paul answered the call of nature. The pace was feeling good so I continued to push on and get ahead of the pacers. I needed to get some time in the bank because it was inevitable that I would slow once I got beyond 20 miles. I passed through half way in 1 hour 55 mins but somehow managed to miss Christine on Tower Bridge which was disappointing. By now the sun was out and it was getting quite warm, ahead lay some tough miles as we headed out to Canary Wharf. It's mentally a tough section as you're running away from the finish and the sights and architecture are not so special.
Canary Wharf is pretty forgettable but on the way out you pass the 20 mile sign, which I reached in a personal best time of 2 hours 55 mins. Unfortunately, as the 21st mile progressed I could feel some cramps starting to build in my quads and some dark clouds gathered in my mind. Three years previously I'd had a disaster in the London marathon with cramping legs. Thoughts of missing out on sub-4 hours flooded my mind. I started to employ my psychological strategy of thinking about the people you are doing the run for; my dad who's suffering terribly with Alzheimer's and also Christine's mum who died after a brief battle against motor neurone disease. It didn't really help. If anything it weakened my resolve. Just ahead I knew Christine and a lot of my friends were waiting at 21 miles and I was desperate to see some friendly faces.
As I approached I became aware of one of my crazy RunMND friends, Helen Barber, half way up a lamp post going crazy shouting my name. She was supposed to be in Leeds providing updates on the progress of RunMND runners. All the emotional turmoil associated with my self doubt and the personal reasons I was running came bubbling to the surface. This only got worse when I reached the MNDA cheering point where Christine was going absolutely bonkers. I rushed over and embraced briefly before running away. I think I was actually blubbing at that point, so I said nothing. Remarkably, that hug was immensely uplifting, a real power up. Despite my quad muscles becoming increasingly painful I had a new resolve. I was still on schedule to break 4 hours, so long as I didn't give in.
At about 22 miles I passed the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, aka Prince William and Kate, standing at the side of the road. Instinctively I shouted "hello your highnesses". William shouted back "Go on Michael". Cool :)
At 23 miles I was struggling with every painful step but my mile times were still pretty good. Only 3 miles to go. At 24 miles I had 25 minutes to get to the end. Big Ben was looming ahead, a sub-4 finish was now almost a certainty. Heading through mile 25 felt great, yeah my legs were destroyed and it was torture to keep running but I was still ahead of the 4 hour pacers and now it was only 1 km to go. No sooner had I thought that, than the 4 hour pacer came along side.
"You are shitting me" was all I could say to her.
I immediately changed gear and set off after her. I asked how far ahead of schedule she was "30 secs" came the reply.
I panicked slightly as the pacer was imploring those around her to go for it. As we sped through 600 m to go it began to dawn on me that I had started behind the pacers, therefore I was actually ahead. 400 m to go, you turn off Birdcage Walk and pass Buckingham Palace. It's disappointing because you expect to see The Mall but that's another 200 m. Then it's The Mall, only 200 m to go, sprinting as best I could I was side by side with the pacer. A photograph shows me smiling as I approach the finish, although it didn't feel like I was happy 'cause it hurts like crazy.
click the gallery for full images
Then it's over.
It's just the most overwhelming feeling of satisfaction and contentment, I looked down at my watch and saw 03:58:10. I'd bloody well smashed it and thrust my arms into the air and whooped like a loon. As I strolled up The Mall to collect my baggage I saw the familiar figure of Shane Williams walking towards me. He's my all time sporting hero.
"Alright Shane mate?" We shook hands.
"Good time?" I asked
"Nah, 4 hours"
I threw my hands in the air again and shouted "I beat you"
I can't imagine that was what he wanted to hear at that point. Hopefully he'll excuse a middle aged man who'd just achieved a 3 year running dream.
click the gallery for full images