....because my performance at London Marathon would have seen us relegated from the division.
Going into the weekend I felt pretty good and confident of my ability to run a good time in the region of 2:45. Today I remain confident in my abilities despite taking well over 3 HOURS to complete the course.
It all started when my hotel said they would serve breakfast earlier than their usual 7:30 am. I was waiting at the dining room doors at 6:50 hoping to get in before the 7am they said. With nobody in attendance at 7:05 I decided to walk in and help myself to the already laid out food.
A lad I spoke to during breakfast poured doubt on my plans to use the (free) underground service to Embankment station with some knowledge of line closure. So at 0730 I hailed a (not free) cab and sat in the rear munching the remnants of my toast and banana as we made our way to Charing Cross. I was aware that I was eating food with 2hrs 15minutes to start time but convinced myself this was OK as it was a marathon and my strict 3 hour minimum time gap would not be a concern.
At Charing Cross I met up with Milly, Trev, Popsy, Wes, Gareth and others and we all got a seat on the free train to Blackheath. Lots of banter on the way set us all up for an enjoyable day in the capital.
More chance meetings in the Red start "fast good for age" pen with Penrith runners and my old pal Gary who I hadn't seen for a year or so. Then it was time for the race to start.
The first steps I took after the gun went were the first running steps I had taken that day, mainly because a warm up isn't really practical and somehow doesn't seem strictly necessary either for a marathon. But in those first few hundred metres I was immediately aware of a feeling in my abdominal area that was known to me as the faint beginnings of a stitch. Had I felt this during a warm up jog I would have tried to jog it off and stretch out those muscles. There was nothing I could do about this except carry on and hope for the best.
Mile 1 was covered in 6:30 and within a mass of runners all around me. This was OK as I knew the next 2 or three miles included enough downhill to recover the pace to nearer 6:20s.
Just before the mile marker I caught up with Rick from Ricks Running we exchanged a few words and noted that despite being at 6:30 pace ourselves, the 2:45 pace man (6:17 pace) was just behind us. I was very confident this guy would achieve 2:45 and considered trying to run with him when he caught me up.
I saw Rick on and off a few more times and am not sure when he finally pulled away from me, but at 10 miles I was bang on target for a 2:45 with exactly 63 minutes on the clock. Trouble is this is also where my stitch began to cause me some real trouble. I knew I was slowing as people were passing me and I was passing nobody. By Tower Bridge I was really struggling to run with the discomfort I was feeling but was determined to continue as the crowds on the Bridge are massive and I didn't want to be one of the first people they saw walking or stopping. I also hoped to see Janet here as I missed her there in 2004 when she was last in London to see me race the marathon.
14 miles was a bit of a milestone as it was at that point I quit the only marathon I have failed to complete, in 2007. That year I vindicated my choice to abandon the race thus saving my legs from the effort by running to a 2:58 and fourth place in the hilly Windermere marathon just 3 weeks later. This time I was determined to complete the distance even if I had to walk it. At 14 miles I had lost a minute to that 2:45 schedule and knew I would continue to get ever slower.
So I stopped running.
The relief from walking was immediate and enormous. NOT landing was enough to stop the knot in my side causing me discomfort with every stride. Also immediate was shouts and encouragement from the crowd to "keep it going". Even more vocal was a lad behind me shouting very insistently that I get running again as I "only had a few miles to go". By the time he passed me I was overwhelmed by his support and began running again. I was slow compared to my earlier pace but still easily caught up to the lad and thanked him for his support. Turned out he was from up my way (well, Lancs somewhere and recognised my club vest).
I ran for a few miles but it was a hopeless task really. Experience tells me that when I get a stitch there is nothing that will make it go away whilst still running. I have no doubts that I could have ran a lot more than I did, but to record, say, 2:55 or 2:58 enduring severe discomfort and bashing my legs with 26 miles of tarmac landing seemed a bit pointless.
So I jogged and walked my way to the finish in 3:11:59.
I really REALLY enjoyed it though.
Once I had decided to quit trying to race I began to play up to the crowds. By cupping a hand to an ear in a "I cant hear you" style they never fail to produce a huge roar that makes you feel like a superstar. Then by jogging along the barriers you can keep the roar going in a vocal Mexican wave. Corners are even better as they can see you coming from further back. This is how Freddy must have felt that night in Rio with100,000 fans hanging on his every word and action. Well, sort of.
I walked for the final time along the Embankment then ran through Parliament Square, and up Birdcage Walk where I knew Milly would be waiting in St James Park on the right. I spotted him and went over for a brief chat. His sister took photos of us then I was off again, not directly toward the finish but diagonally to the other side of the road to play the crowds some more. To be honest by this time I was enjoying it so much I didn't want the finish to come . The final right bend onto the Mall is extremely wide. So wide that the crowds on the outside are a good 40 odd metres away from the runners as they take the tight inside line. I ran the extreme outside of this bend so I could have a last few precious moment enjoying the carnival atmosphere. I high-fived everyone as I nimbly negotiated the signage and policemen guarding the perimeter fencing.
Then all too soon the finish line was in sight. I almost stopped to walk again as I crouched down with both thumbs up to the official photographer (though at £49 for the download I will just remember it - maybe I should put MY prices up?)
So that was it - London Marathon 2011, done.
Not quite the same feeling as my achievement in 2004 but to be honest with about 15 marathons now under my belt I have only really been totally happy with that one, the one I won, and probably Boston 2009.
I will probably run again in 2012 as it is Olympic year in the city and that should bring an additional element to the occasion.
Before then I need to decide which marathon to run this Autumn. Contenders are;
Before then is also the small matter of returning to regular training, and before that is to return to regular running. I ran about 4 miles today - very easy and with stops for Scamp to play with sticks. Tomorrow is a return to photography with a fairly big field to capture as they compete in the Anniversay Waltz fellrace. This will also see me and the dog wonder cover a few miles offroad at an easy jogging pace.
No photos in this blog post, but I have uploaded a couple of my London tourist ones here for anybody interested in such stuff.