Pacing at Virgin Money London Marathon 2014
Back in December I was asked to be part of the Runners World pacing team at London again, after running 3:29:12 as a 3:30 pacer last year. I jumped at the chance and put my name down for 3:30 again.
The pacing kit arrived in March – leggings, jacket, top, shorts and a lovely pair of Adidas Adizero Boost shoes – all very colour co-ordinated! Sponsors Timex sent through a Run Trainer 2.0 GPS watch a couple of weeks before the race which was to be used on the day.
The week of the marathon itself was shaping up to be an exhausting one – Manchester on Wednesday evening to see Elbow in concert (amazing!), back to Manchester on Friday evening for a friends wedding, which ended up as a late and alcohol-fuelled night with us not getting to bed until gone 3am! Up at 9 on Saturday, breakfast and then in the car to drive straight to the expo at the Excel centre in London’s docklands. There we registered, did a little shopping and I went to the Runners World stand to pick up my backpack and check out my pacer trump card – apologies for leaving it a little late Katinka!
Sally and I were both pretty knackered by the time we got home, after driving along some of the course on the way back. Pizza in bed, a bit of Britain’s Got Talent and then lights out with alarms set for 5am!
We made it to Reading in time for the 6:22 train followed by a 2 tube and DLR trek across London to get to Greenwich part for just after 8:30 to meet the pacers and pick up my flag. Mine was a little wobbly but I thought some of the pole just needed tightening up where it screwed together. Said Hi to Matthew Pullen and a few others and we set off to walk across the park to the blue start for me and green for Sally. What a beautiful morning! Felt like it could be a warm one for the race though.
We said our goodbyes and I headed into the blue start area went to the loo and posed for a couple of pictures with runners. I sat down to get ready by a bloke with a chicken costume and I looked after that for him whilst he went to the loo, and I spoke to a few runners who had questions about pacing, or just generally about the race (e.g. where’s the start?). I did tighten up the flag pole but the join seemed a bit delicate and I wasn’t sure how well it’d last during the race :/ Nice to see Jon Errington and Adrian Shandley on my way to my start pen and colleague Phil Bickley in the start pens. There was about 20 mins to kill before the start so chatted to runners around me, a few of whom had already decided to stick with me. Great atmosphere at the start.
The plan, as last year, was to try and keep my splits as even as possible throughout the race. Of course the first few miles are very congested so that’s hard straight away and it’s not worth trying to dodge/push your way through the crowd to make up time in those first few miles. Still, I think I was on track after 3 or 4 miles. Unfortunately the clip that attaches onto the bottom of the flag kept coming undone and after re-clipping it once or twice, a runner who was sticking with me took it off for me. Also part of the pole kept dropping out of the bottom and I kept trying to shove it back up inside. Not good. By about 5 miles, the flag seemed to collapse, where the weak join was. I had to take the backpack off and try and repair the flag pole whilst still running – a few other runners offered to help (thanks!) but it was no use – it just wouldn’t screw back together.. I think a piece had fallen off and that was it. So, backpack back on and I held onto the top part of the pole with part of the flag wrapped around it to stop it flapping about.
A few people asked whether I had taken the flag off as I was off pace – I reassured them that I was bang on, it was just broken! I wasn’t going to run 21 miles holding it up in the air, but I did hold onto it for the rest of the race and tried to keep the “3:30” as visible as I could.
The first half of the race seemed to go by pretty quickly – all to plan, although I missed a couple of drinks stations when fiddling with flag etc. The support out on the course was immense! I suppose the lovely weather and the presence of Mo brought the crowds out in force. Over Tower Bridge and I loved the big crowds of charity supporters making loads of noise for their runners. Halfway in 1:45:04, not bad – just a few seconds to make up. I saw Pete from my club not far after here and I was a little concerned (he’s a FAST runner) but he was fine and just enjoying the run despite recent persistent injuries. I saw the leading men coming past the other way and Mo about a minute behind. He got a much louder cheer than the leading runners!
The docklands section was great, loads of support here and then we turned west again. As always happens when pacing, runners come and go, some stick with you as long as they can and either drop off or push on, some come and go, and others stick with you the whole way. It’s hard to tell at times exactly who is still with you – some runners like to run slightly ahead of you or to the side but some just want to keep you in sight. I had about 4 or 5 runners who kept fairly nearby though and they all seemed to be doing great when I checked up on then now and then. Pace wise we were spot on, averaging slightly under 8m/m – I had to concentrate on that at times to stop speeding up!
The Run Trainer 2.0 GPS watches from our sponsors Timex are really good, but I don’t think any GPS can cope with this course – by 10 miles it was reading half a mile ahead of the mile markers and Canary Wharf threw it off even more. Not a problem though, 8m/m is an easy figure to do sums with and I know how that pace feels. Plus, when away from the really tall buildings I could make sure I was keeping my current lap pace to around 8m/m and I knew I’d be almost there. I’d had a big shout out near halfway from Prab, a runner who’d been with me last year and had been in touch since and was out supporting – that was a really nice touch. Another shout out from him on the way back. Thanks Prab!
It’s funny how many people state that it must be easy for me to run a 3:30. Whilst it’s a comfortable pace, keeping to that pace for 26.2 miles in a congested marathon and carrying a flag is not easy, and 26.2 miles is 26.2 miles – you get tired towards the end whatever you’re doing. I’d kept to my now typical 2 gel routine of one after 10 miles and one around 19-20. I took a bottle of water at most water stations (after missing some of the early ones) and had a mouthful or two. By mile 22 and Fetchpoint I was checking up on the runners around me and trying to offer encouragement for the last push. I love mile 24 at London – you come out from the underpass where Lucozade Sport have set up a big section and the embankment and the river opens up in front of you. The crowds here are massive and there’s just 2 miles to go – if you’re on target for your goal time here, you know you just have to dig deep for a little while longer – success is (literally) just around the corner!
We turned at the Houses of Parliament and headed down Birdcage Walk.. A chap called Andy had been with me for some time and I was making him work in the last half a mile or so. Couldn’t get much out of him but he was determined. Final turn and we headed for the finish line with just over 3:30 on the clock, so nicely under 3:30 on the chip. I shook his hand afterwards as he held onto some fencing to catch his breath. He said something along the lines of loving me and hating me in equal measures 🙂 Another guy (Ivor?) who’d been with me throughout asked me if he could have my broken flag! Sorry mate, I have to give it back, broken or not. And there was Sally, who’d finished about 3 minutes ahead of me. Quick selfie!
My official time was 3:29:18 – 6 seconds better (in terms of pacing) than last year.
Top day.. it was a little warm (and I got a little sunburnt), the flag was a catastrophe and my preparation wasn’t exactly textbook, but job done and it went really well.
As this was a pacing run, I feel I can get away with putting my splits here..
Firstly, each 5km: 25:10, 24:56, 24:49, 24:51, 24:41, 24:48, 24:58, 24:29
And each half: 1:45:04, 1:44:14
Happy with that!
I love the London Marathon. It’s a day out, and whether I get a good for age time (under 3:05) any time soon or not, I’ll be back as a pacer for as long as Runners World will have me.