Tuesday, 19 April 2011

London 2011

As my face turned grey and the cold swell of dread surged from the pit of my stomach, a kind-looking lady beckoned me to the registration desk and asked if all was OK. Reassuringly amused by my mistake, she was willing to believe I was merely inept, rather than fraudulent, and, after making me empty out the contents of my handbag and summoning her colleagues for a good giggle, took the signature on my Visa card as proof of identity. For those who've faced year after year of ballot rejection, London Marathon is not the impenetrable fortress of organisation that it sometimes appears, instead it seems it is run by lovely people with big hearts; however, I really wouldn't recommend risking such a balls up to anyone else, particularly given the grief I gave the poor lovely boyfriend about looking after his passport properly on holiday. Free to enjoy the rest of the Expo, I steadied my nerves at the London Pride stand and wondered if they'd pipe out Goodwin's "The Trap" around the whole run on Sunday.

Sunday morning: Marathon day. Doo doo di doo di dooo di doo dooooo, di dooo di dooo di doo dooooo. There are certain things a marathoner needs to take care of before the race starts; some are best accomplished in privacy before leaving the house, but the urgent need to pee is recurrent and regular if you're keeping well-hydrated and I was already squirming in my seat before the train arrived at Blackheath. Scouring the start for any signs of a portaloo (long queues/whiff of farmyard), I noticed these signs (left) and remembered giggling at the "P-Mate" leaflet in my goody bag the night before.

In for a penny (and desperate to spend one), I joined the queue, wondering if I was supposed to fashion a device myself from the leaflet and panicked that I'd made another foolish oversight in my preparation by not bringing it. Thankfully, courteous marshals were handing out the cardboard tubes at the entrance and I needn't revive a fleeting childhood obsession with origami. I'm not sure the inventors had accounted for running tights when they designed them and a certain amount of "exposure" was required to do the business. I'm pleased to report that the humble bin bag, worn usually for its thermal properties, serves well as a protector of modesty too - all the more reason to take one to future races.

On any given Sunday, I'd have taken the ability to pee standing up as a notable accomplishment in itself and demanded a medal, so the pressure was certainly on to top that; luckily, 26.2 miles of London streets lay ahead. The start was remarkably relaxed and eerily easy to forget where you were; normally, I would have watched the entire preamble on TV, cheered on the wheelchairs and elite girlies, before marveling at the men and masses making their way through; however, 9.45 am had arrived with little recognition of that and we were moving slowly across Blackheath towards the start of my 5th marathon on a very warm April day.

I think there's a whole other blog on ways to make marathon running as hard as possible for yourself, but I think I'd already spotted the winner in this category as we merged with the green start in the first mile: a man dancing his way around the entire course. I've since Googled his cause and you can find out more about Ben Hammond here. He was just one of many extraordinary people I ran alongside over the course of the day.

I concentrated on keeping a slow, steady pace in the first few miles, trying to ignore the rising temperature and taking on water wherever I could. Lovely boyfriend was ready at 8 miles to remind me to keep drinking as it was turning into a scorcher of a day. Turning right around the corner just after 12 miles to see Tower Bridge looming ahead was a truly magical moment. I nodded to the man next to me and puffed, "This is what it's all about," as a tingle went down the back of my neck. He looked slightly startled and cantered off to avoid any further such affirmations. I kept left to look out for my friends, but the overwhelming crowds made it impossible and I settled gratefully for shouts of encouragement from total strangers knowing that another friend, Amy, was volunteering at the Lucozade stand in a few miles.

Halfway was where the wheels startled to wobble on the wagon, much earlier than any marathon I've run before. I was absolutely roasting but risked popping if I drank any more water than I was already. As we turned into the relative shade of Narrow Street, I opted for some run/walk; a decision I was very glad of as I saw St John's volunteers attending to withering runners on the pavements. I kept this going until I saw Amy at mile 15 and stopped for a quick, sweaty hug before plodding on again.

Putting my name on my running shirt was one of the single best decisions made in preparation for this marathon. I guess it's not for everyone, but hearing even the surliest-looking teenager manage a "Gaaaaaaan Kaaaa-yeeeeee" as I lurched past was enough to keep one foot moving in front of the other. At one point a lady shouted, "Slow run is better than no run, Katie" and this became my mantra for the rest of the day.

The height of the buildings in Canary Wharf offered some much-appreciated shade, even if my GPS didn't like it, and I reaslied I could recognise some of the runners around me as the field was spreading out to a more comfortable population. I spent a while running with Batman, who never seemed to tire of being serenaded with "d-nur d-nur d-nur d-nur", and finally realised that the white-haired man in front of me, sending the crowds in to a frenzy, was That Chap from Emmerdale. By far the most popular runner was this man though.

London Marathon 2011
(Picture by Ross Holdsworth)

Reaching 22 miles, I was back to scanning the crowds on the right for lovely boyfriend and lapping up the cheers from anyone who could decipher my name from the sweaty sign on my shirt, when I heard louder and more excited screaming than I'd experienced all day: one of the friends I'd missed earlier, Sadie, was on the other side, leaping up and down with the kind of energy I could only envy at that point. I stopped for another sweaty hug (I should really stop that or they may disown me) but made my excuses when I saw Pingu getting away.

It's hard to describe the crowds over the next 4 miles. Just when you thought they couldn't get any louder or more excited, the folks a hundred metres later would blow that away. I finally caught up with lovely boyfriend just before Blackfriars Underpass and wondered whether he'd placed himself there deliberately to indulge his love of zombie movies: dark, stinky and filled with the walking (jogging) dead, this was the only part of the course bereft of support and a friendly face before it was definitely welcome.

I know there are many other marathons, I've run and enjoyed a very small number of them, but I have wanted to run London Marathon for a very long time; I may have even watched every one of the previous 29 events, either on TV or in person, and failed to get an entry to at least 7. Forget the pain and exhaustion, I was determined to enjoy every single step of those final couple of miles. I attempted to say thank you to or at least smile at anyone that shouted my name because I was genuinely grateful for their help, for giving up their Sunday to watch this very special event. Turning the final corner, I could hear the commentator questioning the whereabouts of Callum Best and knew the finish was close: a short "sprint", an over-indulgent victory wave and I was there. 5 hours and 30 minutes (a new P.W.!) and a London Marathon finisher. Thank you to all who have supported, encouraged and even run with me to make this happen.


Have I already looked up when the ballot opens for London 2012? Of course I have.

Monday, 18 April 2011

Organisation is key

Friday: Final 3 mile run. Go to hairdressers for cut and colour (discuss weekend away in London, "Aw that'll be nice, there are some really good bars there"). Pick up final supplies: gels, jelly babies, Savlon, post-race crisps. Check bus times (find that Oxford Tube are kindly providing free transport to runners. Bonus). Write list of stuff to pack for the weekend.

Love a good list. Can't go wrong with a good list.

Saturday a.m.: Pack bag, sticking rigidly to list. Must obey the list. The list says I need my registration form. The registration form says I need my passport to collect my number. Find both and place securely in handbag for Expo later. Check once more that registration form and passport are securely in handbag. Finish packing kit bag.

Get on bus:

"May I have a free journey to London, please? It says on the website I can because I'm running the marathon."


"The London Marathon. I'm running it. See, I have the form here." Wave registration form triumphantly in driver's direction.

"Dunno what you're talking about. You'd better get on anyway."

Sit down, check carefully to put registration form back in handbag with passport. Good times. I am running the marathon and have almost managed to convince the nice bus driver of this fact.

Saturday p.m.: Make it to King's Cross to meet friends off Edinburgh train. Go for a 30p wee in station loos (30p! No loo roll or working taps either). Marvel at how busy and important everyone looks. Make our way to Expo at Excel centre, making full use of Oyster cards (they make you feel like a busy, important London-type, rather than provincial nobody). Check passport and registration form are still securely in handbag.

Arrive at Expo, follow queue of people. Can't go wrong with a queue, nor a list. Arrive at registration desk to collect number and breathe sigh of relief that both passport and registration form are still in my handbag.

Excellent organisation. Well done me.


To be continued...

Monday, 11 April 2011

Lighting the taper

Something dawned on me yesterday: just a week remained until London Marathon. You may think me careless to even need reminding but I've been away on holiday, enjoying the blissful denial as weekdays and weekends merged gloriously together. I was dragged back to reality this morning and made it to Palma airport to accompany the sun-crisped, Stella-drenched masses on the return leg of their journey back to Blighty.

I am at least aware that I should be well into the "tapering" phase by now: the practice of reducing the volume and intensity of training in the run up to an important race. Did you catch those two important words there? "Volume" and "intensity"? I’m not sure I did; in fact, it would be a gross misrepresentation to state that my training has convincingly consisted of either really. If we're thinking geometrically (and why wouldn't we... isn't your mind a permanent blur of isosceles trapezoids and polyhedra too?),then in order to have a taper, surely there must have been some width in the shape to start with (now "width" is a word with more familiarity, particularly for describing my backside in running shorts). No, this girl's training triangle's taper would have Pythagoras scratching his magnificent hypotenuse.

Not that I'm fretting about this; preparing for this marathon has had as much emphasis on enjoying the running again as it has building the mileage and I feel like I've been successful in the first aim, even if the marathon sits trouser-soilingly close on the horizon. And, if the conventional training programme is going to undergo such modifications, then so too can my interpretation of the idea of tapering. So, here are the 4 priorities for a taper I have decided upon in the absence of any accepted wisdom:

1. Stay intact

Tips: Avoid mildly straining a quad muscle during an embarrassingly energetic attempt to conquer the under-13s netball team in an end of term "friendly" game. If this cannot be avoided, better not to aggravate said strain by bunny-hopping over pot holes whilst out on the road bike and/or tripping on a kerb on the way out of the local bar in cycling shoes.

2. Stay well

Tips: Dodge germs by getting lots of fresh air and keeping away from sneezing, lurgy-ridden people. Spending a week cycling behind a man recovering from a chest infection intermittently triggering some kind of intergalactic snot-nebulae across the peleton is definitely not advised.

3. Eat well

Tips: Take care selecting foods to eat during the period of tapering. Aim for nutritious and healthy meals, rather than high fat snacks and treats. Drink plenty of water, rather than coffee in sun-soaked Mallorcan cafes.


4. Rest well

Tips: Resist the temptation to book a cycling holiday in the fortnight before the marathon, particularly if you are weak-willed against the promise of sunny days and visions of men in lycra. If this is unavoidable, stop regularly, being sure to take into account Taper Tip number 3.


1 week in Mallorca, 350+ miles on the bike and 6 days to go until the marathon. I hope this taper hasn't burned out by Sunday.

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