And the Big Day dawned…at 5am, to be precise. I woke up with a migraine. Hurrah. My body’s last ditch attempt to give me an excuse to not run. Was I going to listen to it? Maybe.
It took almost an hour to shower, dress (I chose the A400 Skins capri compression tights because they fit better across my stomach than the A200s and the full-length tights would have been too warm, and I wore a pair of my new wicking underwear as they couldn’t possibly chafe worse than my old cotton ones), tape up my achilles and calf, and put some blister plasters on my big toes.
Breakfast was a quiet affair; Bassman gallantly accompanied me but I was too nervous for any conversation. I attempted to have my usual pre-long run breakfast of porridge and toast, but the porridge was vile and I could only manage half a bowl. My tummy was in too much turmoil to risk anything new so I pocketed a banana for later, went back to our room to collect my kit bag, and then back to the lobby to wait for the bus transport to the start. I felt like a scruffy newbie – I was wearing an old sweatshirt and old jogging bottoms over my running clothes to keep warm (as suggested by the VLM website, Runners’ World, and Paul) – but everyone else was wearing just their running gear. At least obsessing about clothes kept me from thinking too much about what might lie ahead.
And then I was on the coach. It was a quiet drive to the start and I did some relaxation exercises to calm my stomach and to relax my shoulders. Once there, it was easy to find the Blue Start – Blue, Red, and Green had appropriately coloured blimps flying above them – and I realised that it was too late to run away. I finally accepted it: I was going to be running this marathon. And with that, my migraine - and my anxiety - disappeared.
The first thing that I did in the holding area was go for a pee. There was a sign for ‘Female Urinals’ and there was no queue, so I poked my head around the corner to see what was what. Yikes. There was a box with disposable cardboard She-Wees for our use (you can click on the link, but don’t hold me responsible for your reaction) and I’d always been curious about them, so I had a go…all I can say is, I’m glad that I’m not a guy. Judging from the reactions of the women around me, they felt much the same.
I spent the rest of my time in the holding area standing in a queue for the porta-loos, sitting on the grass in the sun (thankful for the bin bags that I got at the Q&A yesterday because the grass was quite wet), queuing for the loos again, and repeatingthat sequence until time ran out. I was glad that I had my old clothes with me, even though I still felt that I stood out as the sole scruffy person there, as there was quite a cold wind and the temperature was 3 degrees.
And then it was time to go to our pens. I found pen 9 – way in the back with the slow runners – and did some Chi exercises and joint mobilisation exercises while we were waiting to get started. There was meant to be a 30 second silence right before the start to show our respect for the folks who were at the Boston Marathon, but we never heard an announcement for it nor did we hear anything that indicated that the race had started. We eventually started shuffling forward, moving into a fast walk, with the arch that indicated the start line coming into view ahead. And then, 16 minutes after the official start, I was off!
Miles 1 to 5: My plan was to do a 4 min run/1 min walk from the beginning, keeping my pace between an 11.30 and 12.00 min/mile. I stuck to this, but I hadn’t been prepared for how wrong it felt to be walking so early, especially when everyone else was speeding ahead. For once, though, I wasn’t the last person in the race - but I was definitely in the last 50!
The crowd was loud and encouraging, but it all felt a bit surreal. I still couldn’t believe that I was there and I couldn’t believe that I was about to run 26.2 miles on less-than-adequate training. Rather than focus on that, though, I chose instead to focus on each mile as it came. I wanted to be exactly where I was and to fully experience as much of this first marathon – and the atmosphere that everyone talks about as being unique to London – as possible.
|One of Rhino Sam's friends|
During Mile 2, I overtook a woman on crutches with her foot in a boot. Stress fracture. During Mile 3, I overtook another woman on crutches who had a sign on her back that said, ‘I broke my toe, that’s why I’m so slow.’ I felt humbled by this; it wouldn’t have occurred to me to do the race no matter what. At Mile 3, the 4:58 pacing group came thundering past me. At Mile 5, Rhino Sam lumbered past. As did Homer Simpson. And a Storm Trooper. And some Army guys carrying huge rucksacks. Elvis kept pace with me for a while, then overtook me too. At least I was managing to go faster than the women on crutches.
Physical update: By Mile 3 I was fairly certain that my hip was going to be okay. It ached a bit to start with but quickly settled down to a vague stiffness. By Mile 5, I noticed that there was a blister hot spot on both of my big toes (sensibly covered with Compeed) and on the side of my left foot near the ball (which wasn’t covered with Compeed because I had never had a blister there before). And the lacing of the left shoe was really bothering me. I decided to carry on for a bit longer in case it all dissipated, but I didn’t think that it was a good sign that my shoes were hurting me so early in the race.
Miles 5 to 10:
In general, these were good miles. I felt strong, the run/walk combination was working well, and it was a beautiful day for a run. There was no point in thinking about how far I had left to run; instead, I thought about how much I love running and how this was just another long run but with better weather than I was used to.
|Same race but different Mankini Man|
The Cutty Sark was at Mile 6.5 and I waited to feel impressed by it but, well, it was just a big ship. There were lots of people here, drinking and cheering and throwing their plastic pint glasses into the road. During Mile 7, I found myself running behind a portly gentleman in a mankini; I overtook him because I didn't think that I could bear to look at his bottom for the next 19 miles but he did make me appreciate my new running underwear which were staying firmly in place.
Somewhere around Mile 8 or 9, I caught up with the 4:58 pacing group! I didn’t expect that I could keep up with them for the rest of the distance, but I was heartened to realise that run/walking wasn’t particularly slowing me down.
Physical update: My hip felt great. No pain or stiffness or discomfort. It was like it had never been hurt. Thank you, Mr Rocktape Physio! The blisters weren’t feeling any worse but my left shoe was so tight across the top that I started to get pins and needles in my foot, and I had to stop to loosen the lacing. More concerning, my right ankle started to feel stiff and achey between Miles 6 and 7, almost as though I had a slight sprain. I tried to address this by doing some Chi focusing to relax my ankle, assuming that I had tensed up with the excitement of running, but it didn’t help. I tried to think back as to what might have caused this – and remembered stepping into a pothole a mile earlier as I tried to avoid being hit in the face by the deflated helium balloons that were tied to the ponytail of the woman in front of me.
Miles 10 to 16: Shortly before Mile 11, I had to stop for a loo break. I had been needing to stop since Mile 3 but was waiting for shorter queues; however, it didn’t look as though this was going to happen any time soon. (And, indeed, it didn’t. There were loos every couple of miles and all of them had huge waits.) It took 10 minutes to get to the front, during which my hip started to seize up, and then probably another couple of minutes to do my business, readjust my tights and Spibelt, and stretch a bit. If I had been going for a particular time, I would have been really miffed by the delay (alternatively, I could have tried harder to keep running); as it was, I did my best to stay calm and to avoid being bowled over by the passing runners who were weaving in and out of the loo queues.
After the loos, the crowd became a bit sparse and quiet so I plugged myself into my iPod to help to get me moving again. I loosened up after five minutes and, before I knew it, I was crossing Tower Bridge at Mile 12.5. It was a bit of a shock to the system, coming round the bend after a quiet stretch to the raucous shouts and applause on Tower Bridge. Just like with the Cutty Sark, I waited to be impressed by this iconic section of the race but I ended up being more focused on not tripping on the red mats lying across the road in several places. Still, all of the charity groups lining both sides of the bridge were hugely energetic and encouraging of all the runners, not just their own particular ones, and I tried to look perky in case I ended up on TV.
I knew that Bassman, Cathy, and Paul would be at Mile 13 and sure enough, there they were, waving and cheering; I waved back, gave them a big thumbs up and a big smile. It was great to see them and great to be able to indicate that I was feeling good, that my legs were feeling okay, and that I felt confident that I could get to the end.
Physical update: My left shoe still was bothering me, this time because it was too loose and I could feel my foot sliding around in it. This was not helping my blisters. Aside from tightening up when I stopped for the loo, my hip continued to feel absolutely fine. My energy level was good and my cardio certainly wasn't being challenged; what could possibly go wrong?
TOMORROW’S INSTALLMENT: Miles 16 to 26.2 (or, 'Oops, I spoke too soon!')