As a youngster, I would get home from School, get changed and go out to play with my pals.
Now I'm older, I get home from work, get changed and go out to play with my pals, but now I call it training.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

18th April 2004

Christmas 2003, and after 4 years of running I had decided I might like to run a marathon. There was a spare Club Number and before I knew where I was, I was in The London Marathon 2004. My training was stepped up a notch and was planned out for nearly every day throughout Jan Feb and March. My good friend Mike Scott compiled the schedule and also accompanied me on most of the weekend long runs and interval sessions.

I hadn't previously given any thought to a target time and I initially set myself up to beating 3 hours. After just a few weeks it became apparent that 3 hours would be no challenge at all and I set a more realistic aim of beating 2:45. After a training run of 2:52 around 4 laps of the Talkin circuit (26miles) we reassessed again and set 6 minute miling as the target pace. This would give 2hrs 37minutes if I managed.

The day came. Everything had gone to plan. All the runs completed. Now all that was required was one final (big) effort. Mike had prepared a race schedule for me which accounted for the faster, downhill miles to Cutty Sark at 6. They were more downhill than I expected, which, coupled with extreme fitness, a week or more of easy running, and the buzz of the greatest race in the world saw me gain on the schedule with each mile covered. Long way to go though, just keep on popping the miles out. 5:56, 6:01, 5:48 - that kind of thing.

At about 8 miles I felt a bit rubbish and fell to the back of the group I was running with. (It's not like on the TV with thousands of runners one after another and 20 wide - not in the first few hundred anyway. There are groups that form with 50 and 100 metre gaps between each.) Luckily this feeling didn't last long and I was able to remain in the group. At Tower Bridge the feeling was very different - so many people clapping and cheering, I felt like a star. Then at the North end of the bridge, a right turn with even more people on the corner, tiered up on some makeshift grandstand. The noise is immense - euphoria courses through me and those feelings of struggling are swept away.

Reaching the halfway marker I note that my time is actually the 3rd fastest I have ever achieved, and only a couple of minutes outside my PB for the half race. Mike told me that 13 miles was the turning point in a marathon. At 13/14 it is important to step on the gas pedal and ensure that every ounce of available energy/speed is transmitted onto that tarmac below your feet. Inevitably the group thins out as we race on, passing mile markers 14, 16, 18 in the Docklands area. Nobody is running away from me though. I'm managing to keep with this group, in fact I am setting the pace much of the time. The more lads drop away the stronger I feel. I can hear Mike's words in my ear telling me to get it all out. Leave nothing in the bag. This is THE DAY I have been training 4 months for.

We pass the entrance to Canary Wharf Tube Station. Here the crowd are strong in numbers again, but the area feels closed in due to the towering buildings above and the noise is amplified to a level seemingly ten times that of earlier at Tower Bridge. More euphoria hits me. Still up on schedule, still feeling strong.

Rain comes. It was drizzly anyway but now it's raining properly. If you read the official race report you will see the winner states what a bad day it was for running fast. Not for me - I love to run in the rain. I revel in these conditions. The day continues to improve for me as the weather worsens.

I leave Docklands alone. Everyone has been dropped and I'm passing over optimistic runners who now struggle to complete these final miles. In a tunnel is a sign denoting 20miles. My time is exactly 1hr 57minutes. The maths is easy - 3minutes in hand with 6 miles to run means I can run 6:30 pace to the end and finish on target. I am feeling tired but I'm still clicking the miles off in 6:15. Every mile marker hurts more to reach but as each comes and goes I can run slower without failing. But I don't run slower, I maintain pace. This is my day and I'm going to smash all the targets.

Along Embankment, splashing through the puddles. This wide, historic stretch of road is one of the capitals arterial thoroughfares. Dignitaries, commoners, tourists and royals would normally be using it but today it has been closed to them all that I might be allowed to run on it's gold paved surface. People must know I'm coming, they're watching from under umbrellas, clapping me, cheering, banging on the railings. I see a couple of familiar faces in the crowd. I see a familiar face high above - the clock face of the Palace of Westminster. I also see a very welcome sign, it's got a big 25 on it. Along Birdcage Walk I continue toward my goal. I remember being here, on this very street a week after the Royal Wedding of Prince Charles to Princess Di. The place was still decorated then, lampposts festooned in colour in celebration of the big day. Now it's my big day, and it's nearly complete. A Nod to HRH on my left shoulder and the final corner is turned. The gantry seems a long way still but it steadily comes nearer, and then finally, finally, after so many punishing training runs, after thousands of miles, after pair upon pair of worn out trainers, and after one last 26.1 mile jaunt with a few thousand friends I cross the line.

Exhausted, elated, surprised, proud, oh, and happy, yes really quite very happy. I walk on along the funnel, someone puts a medal over my head. Someone else takes the timing chip off my shoe. Here's a plastic bag full of stuff for me to carry around the rest of the day - a small sample of savoury rice amongst the energy bars and race adverts - bizarre. A line of 50 TNT lorries begins. Where is my bag? No need to wonder. So few have finished yet that the staff are easily able to read my number as I slowly wander toward them. They find my bag and have it on an outstretched arm for me to collect as I pass. I reach the end of the cordoned off bit of The Mall and I am no longer 'in' The London Marathon. I am just another person in London. In Horseguards Parade Ground I sit on the only dry place i can find which is a big plastic footing that is the support for the fence upon which is stuck a massive letter A. Half an hour passes. The Parade ground slowly fills with 'funny walking' people in shorts. Eventually Janet sees me sitting there 'looking like a gnome at the end of the garden on a wet day'. I want the euphoria to return, I want to feel emotional again as we embrace. I want somebody else, somebody I love to somehow know how I had felt just 30 minutes earlier. That moment has passed into memory now though. A wonderful memory of what has been the best day of my life.

On April 18th 2004, my watch said I had been running for two hours, thirty six minutes and nine seconds.

But it took a lot longer than that to run The London Marathon.

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