I figured it was either that title or “5 ways you can run the London Marathon without even trying” ;-)
If you’d told me in 2008 that I’d ever run a 10k, I’d have laughed at you. If you’d told me in 2009 that I’d ever run a half marathon, I’d have laughed at you. If you’d told me in 2011 that I’d ever run a marathon, I’d have laughed at you. If you’d told me in 2014 that I’d ever run two marathons in 5 weeks, I’d have laughed at you. You get my point.
I blogged two years ago about the Dublin Marathon and I thought that was the last time I’d ever mention a marathon. I’ve done several half marathons and 10k runs since but at the back of my mind I wondered if I’d ever give 26.2 miles another go.
I had an abortive attempt at training for Dublin 2014 but then in December my wife suggested we do London. Initially I thought no. If I was ever to do it, I’d want to lose 5 stone and be ultra fit so I’d do it in a time to be proud of. But I thought about it more and realised I could be dead long before then. As a Carpe Diem kind of person it just made sense to do it. So our Christmas present to each other was entry to the 2015 London Marathon (via the absolutely superb Sports Travel International).
Training went well as I lost 1.5 stone, upped my speeds and experimented with various minimal-drop non-Five-Fingers running shoes. Then we realised in early March that some travel and Easter would mess up the training schedule. I was following the London Intermediate schedule which meant that 22 miles was the peak training distance but I wouldn’t be around to do that weekend.
So we decided to throw caution to the wind and do the Tralee Marathon for “practice”. One reason I was a big fan of this idea was that I could make all the mistakes and deal with all the worry in Tralee. It was a very small race of fewer than 400 people and I came 8th last in a time of 5:45. Most of the slowness was caused by my walking up the hills of the second half. But I was happy because it was very doable, I didn’t destroy my body and I didn’t lose my mind!
Now London felt totally manageable and I wasn’t stressed at all. I upped my speed some more in the final weeks to see if I could crack 5 hours in London. I gave up on using the New Balance MR00 and I could not get comfortable in a new pair of MR10 so my old knackered worn-heel pair of MR10 were chosen.
Finally the day came. A 6am wake-up and we arrived at the start area by coach with over two hours to wait. The crowds of runners just built and built. The announcer said that 38000 people were due to start. I couldn’t even imagine how many people that is! The adrenalin began to flow and the wind, drizzle and cool temperature did nothing to reduce my enthusiasm. Hot tea and coffee was an unusual but much appreciated aid.
At 10am I shed my Christmas jumper and lined up the podcasts on my phone. Catherine headed to the faster zone and I went to the rear. At 10:10 I started RunKeeper and the shuffle to the start line began. As soon as we crossed the line, I began running and had none of the predicted start-stop that London is infamous for.
The next 5 hours and 40 minutes were like nothing I’ve ever experienced in my life. I’m going to struggle to describe just how it felt. If you’ve heard that the crowds in London are great then you still haven’t the vaguest idea of what the people of London do for the Marathon. It’s on an epic scale. Imagine 26.2 miles of people all lined up on both sides of the roads winding through London all cheering shouting, banging, singing, playing and dancing. And all of that energy is targeted at you. Non stop. It’s a completely transcendent experience. At times I felt like I wasn’t running and they were just carrying my sore legs along. I came close to tears on Tower Bridge with the location and the “moment”. I nearly lost it completely at mile 23 with the emotional impact of all the crowds and the music and the pain and the encouragement.
I don’t know London well, I’ve never worked there. My semi-regular visits have never really given me a feeling for the place. On Sunday I think I saw the real London. I saw the soul of an amazing city. Where every area from the poorest to the richest was loudly willing you to succeed. Where everyone from the most ultra athlete to overweight people blobs like me were given the same encouragement and love from hundreds of thousands of people for 6 hours plus.
Crossing that line is a life moment that’s now burned into my mind forever.
I’ve run races in Amsterdam, Cork, Dublin, Galway, Kerry and Wexford. I’ve watched my wife run more in Paris and Rome. None of them, none, come even close to what happened on the streets of London. My time is irrelevant, you can’t measure the effect that day had on me.
I now finally know why many people rate it as the greatest of all the major marathons. It’s got nothing to do with the route. It’s taking part in an incredible experience.
I don’t need a bucket list. I’ve done London. Thank you Londoners.