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Virgin Money London Marathon 2014

VMLM: a personal perspective

By Jane Stirling

Jane Stirling registering for the VLM

Jane registered and ready to go!

Every single moment of London Marathon Day was exciting, from the moment I realised that it was a lovely sunny day, to seeing my club vest waiting with its carefully pinned race number, to switching on the TV and seeing the first runners already arriving at Blackheath as I ate my porridge pot.  Then there was the first sighting of a fellow runner on the underground, clutching their red bag just like me.

Rich McLeod and I sat on the tube at 7.30 am watching it fill up with lycra clad runners, marshals in high-vis and supporters clutching homemade banners.  We looked out for the red start runners (speedy lean and fit club runners) and a few for the green start (celebrities and world record holders); we spotted the first of these at London Bridge, it turned out to be our local MP Jason McCartney, who trains on the roads between Honley and Meltham. We spent a few minutes trying to persuade him to join Harriers and he said he might! 

The train was crowded and slow and it was some time before we found ourselves making our way through the Blackheath High Street and into Greenwich Park for the mass Blue start.  Rich and I said our farewells and I just had time to queue for the loo and leave my luggage on the lorry before it was time to head for the starter pens.  I was in pen 6 and I had resigned myself to a slow start.  It was a relaxed atmosphere in the sun and I positioned myself half way between the 3:59 pacer at the back of Pen 5 and the 4:15 pacer at the back of Pen 6.  My plan was to run 4:10 in strict 9:30 minute miles.  Anything faster than that would be too fast! 

Matthew Pierson gets off to a good start

Matthew Pierson gets
off to a great start

Moments later we were being told to walk forwards and the crowd began to cheer as Mo Farah and the other elites were announced.  Then the horn went and we shuffled forwards.  This is my third London Marathon so I was amazed to find myself going over the line in just over 5 minutes as I was expecting double the wait.  The masses were soon moving at a similar pace to me, at PMP, and I was soon rolling along, the miles quickly swallowed up.  I tried to follow the blue line wherever possible (it is painted on the road for the elites to follow!).  At 6 miles I looked out for Rich and spotted him just after 6 miles opposite the Royal Naval College.  Another mile came and went; the Cutty Sark in its shiny bubble, a glimpse of the O2 arena, the Gherkin, the Shard, and in the distance Canary Wharf on the other side of the Thames, where a tiny black dot in the sky showed me the helicopter where the elite would be running.  I thought of our own Harriers out there far ahead of me and wondered how they were getting on. 

At 8 miles a 3:59 pacer ran past me causing me to panic for a second before I realised he was red start and must have gone over the start line well after me time wise!  He brought with him what my friend calls “the rolling road blocks” of about 150 runners, all desperate to finish in less than 4 hours, all moving faster than the surrounding runners and deploying sharp elbows to get past.  It took nearly 10 minutes for the congestion to clear. 

Dave Turnbull pushes hard

Dave Turnbull working hard

At eleven miles I ran down the Jamaica Road where Richard and I stood with my son Joel last year to cheer on all the runners, and then turned sharp right onto Tower Bridge where the noise was overwhelming and the crowd cheering and shouting; I saw the Tower of London, a Beefeater taking photographs of the runners, and then turned right again and ran over the half way mark.  I was bang on pace 9:30 minute miles. The pace picked up a little here as the faster sub 3 hour runners are coming back on the other carriage way at between 22 and 23 miles. 

Suddenly I saw a flash of amber hurtling towards me so I moved left to the barrier and managed to shout to Dave Turnbull as he went past at a cracking pace.  He looked strong but I could see he was working hard.  Just behind him was a partially sighted Japanese lady in the IPU race, with her guide.  She was crying, tears rolling down her cheeks as she ran on.  It served as a stern reminder to me that we all hurt in the later stages of marathons; whether we are fast or slow we all face the same mental discipline to get us around the course. 

Stu Sharpe heads for a PB

Stu Sharp focuses on achieving his PB

Only a few minutes later I saw another amber vest pass by in the form of Stuart Sharp, also running very well.  I heard a shout out off to my left and, given that I can hear him shouting at the juniors from my front door, I knew it must be John MacFadzean. 

As the course enters the Docklands area it becomes very narrow and goes under an underpass resulting in my Garmin going haywire.  The high buildings around Canary Wharf didn’t help either and I spent most of the time worrying about whether I was speeding up or slowing down. 

By mile 19 I was still bang on target for 9:30mi/ml although I was suffering a little, as my body was telling me I was dehydrated, I am sure I was, yet when I drank it made me feel sluggish and bloated a little like indigestion.  I resolved only to take a bottle every other station, and worried about drinking too much as well as too little, and whether an energy drink or gel would help, or not!

Mile 20 was my last on target and at mile 21 I began to fade despite the best efforts of the screaming crowds and the knowledge that Rich was waiting for me with a gel at 23 miles.  He told me to do my best and I set off again with just a parkrun to go.  The discomfort, the crowd noise, the water bottles in the road and the sun all got to me a bit and I just wanted to finish although I couldn’t manage anything above a trot! I decided that my marathon running days were over and I would stick to halves from now on!   

I struggled on past Whitehall, Big Ben, the Millennium Eye, Houses of Parliament, a glimpse of Buckingham Palace, the noise of the finish rose to greet me and I passed the “365 metres to go!” sign!  I couldn’t speed up; I just stumbled over the line disappointed in my time of 4:16:33, three minutes off my PB, when only an hour ago it had all seemed so possible to finish in under 4:10:00.  It was however my fastest attempt at London by about ten minutes so I took comfort from that.  Also my higher than usual mileage seemed to have paid off as my legs were a lot less mashed up than usual! 

Stu and Dave happy with their runs

Great performances from Stu and Dave!

Half an hour later Rich found me lying in Hyde Park under my tin foil sheet and already the nausea and sickness were passing and I was beginning to wonder how I would manage a better time at the Yorkshire Marathon in October! 

Back on my feet I was able to turn to Facebook to find out how my fellow Harriers got on.  Dave Turnbull finished in an awesome 2:29:41 putting him in an amazing 38th place, only 20 minutes behind Mo!  Stuart Sharp finished in 2:37:31 which has to be another mind-blowingly speedy time.  Maggie Sykes is our fastest lady in a stunning PB of 3:05:55 and 10th in her age category; well done to her.

Matthew Pierson, suffering with knee problems over recent weeks put in a fantastic effort in the first half; regretably the pain worsened forcing Matthew to withdraw at mile 14.

Liz, Chris (mum) and Russ (husband)

From left: a happy Liz, Chris and Russ

Kathryn celebrates

Kathryn - I did it!

Liz Woodfield (fundraising for the forget Me Not children's Hospice at www.justgiving.com/Lizwoodfield) made her debut marathon in 3:40:55 which is a cracking time, just pipping Jared Croft (3:44:26) and husband Russell Woodfield (3:56:48) to the post!

The amazing Katherine MacFadzean (fundraising for Heart Research UK at www.justgiving.com/Katherine-McFadzean26) had a great first marathon, finishing in 4:48:44.

Chris Hobson,(better known as Liz Woodfield’s Mum), finished in 5:52:39 so well done to her too.

If you fancy running for the club in 2015, you need to enter the ballot first, so set your alarm early on 22 April and you can start training now for a very special race.

A Spectator’s Guide to the London Marathon

Embrace your supporting role.  How can you best care for your runner on their big day?   It will be a long hard day for you.  Here are some tips to help. 

  • Water is not your friend.  The battle against dehydration is a runner’s issue.  The porta-potties are for runners, not for you.  The BBC has a ten second time delay just in case anyone pulls a Paula in front of the cameras.  If you get caught with your trousers around your ankles in Greenwich Park or cocking your leg against the Tower of London, you can expect a criminal record.  So avoid fluids at all costs! 
  • Sharpen your elbows!  Watch John Ewart running a fell race and then unleash your inner Ewart on the crowds.  With thousands of supporters decending on London you have to be a little selfish; hold your ground and look after your own otherwise you'll not get anywhere!
  • Safety pins are not just for runners.  Use one to surreptitiously deflate as many of those irritating clackers that Fuller’s Brewery hand out as you can.  Keep a tally to while away the hours!
  • Spend hours studying a map of the London Underground so that you know where you are going and which side of the road to stand on.  And don’t change at Monument and Bank whatever you do.  You could be down there for hours. 
  • Remember that your runner trained for months for today.  You haven’t trained at all.  But you’ll be the one on your feet for the next 8 hours as you battle your way across London to the finish.
  • Obviously your runner will moan about course congestion and how the other 36,000 runners got in their way and made that illusive PB so hard.  Whatever you do don’t point out that there are about 500,000 spectators, making it less congested on the course.  Also, about 6,000 of them are on the same carriage as you trapped on the Bakerloo line between stations. 
  • Ensure that you are able to offer IT helpdesk support by mobile, to your runner’s elderly relatives, as they try to operate the Marathon Tracker on the Virgin website.  Obviously they will call you, demanding to know why they can’t operate it properly while you are still stuck in that carriage on the Bakerloo, and they won’t understand that the entire mobile network of London is straining under the effects of 500,000 people texting a blue blur with some legs to their bessies entitled ”just seen Mo Farah” . 
  • Remember that your duties do not stop as you battle your way into Hyde Park to collect your exhausted but elated runner!  Prepare for the following:
    • Carry their luggage which will now be twice as heavy with the addition of a goodie bag
    • Give them a quick leg massage
    • Buy them a post race pint or several (it’s all on you, after all they just ran a marathon and you can’t expect them to stand up at the bar in that crowd!)
    • Get them something to eat or perhaps treat them to a meal out (they deserve treating after running a marathon)
    • Sit and listen to a minute by minute account of everything they saw, thought, felt and experienced during the last 5 hours and make only the odd helpful comment such as “yes, I did see Bagpuss” and “ no [insert name of arch harriers rival] they didn’t get past you”.  You may have seen some of the world’s finest athletes in action today, but that is incidental and can wait for another day!
  • And when you get your runner home leave them to flop on the sofa while you
    • Run them a bath
    • Answer the phone as their entire acquaintance ring up to congratulate them
    • Put their kit in the washing machine
    • Pop the cork on something sparkly (after all they did just run a marathon)
  • Be tolerant of the inevitable post race low which will hit on around Wednesday when the endorphins wear off and your runner has nobody left that they know to show their medal to.  Expect tears and moodiness for a few days.
  • Set your alarm for 5am on 22 April when you know they’ll be rushing to enter the ballot so that the madness can begin all over again.  Or, you could set your alarm for 4.30am and enter it yourself, and tell them you hope they enjoy supporting you next year – it might well be easier!  

 

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