Virgin London Marathon 2013

Aaah yes, THE marathon. London was my first, in 2009 and it was, to be honest, a bit shit. Ok, the whole spectacle itself wasn’t, but my experience of it was. Too hot, too noisy, too crowded and sick of people shouting my name at me by 20 miles.

I loved the long distance training, but I didn’t even enter the ballot the next year. I got stuck back into smaller, mostly off-road races, and ultras. In fact it was nearly 2 years later, at Brighton, when I next did a road marathon (though I’d done 15 off-road marathons/ultras in-between.) I told myself I’d do London again one day, but not until I qualified as GFA.

One Friday morning in late 2012, having done a lot more road marathons thanks to the 10in10 (and training for it), I found myself at the Sweatshop store in Reading, to meet some fantastic people who were running 12 marathons in 12 days. One of those people was Kerry McCarthy, who as well as writing for Runners World, helps put the pacing team together for London. They were planning on expanding the pacing team for 2013, and having paced at Brighton and Milton Keynes in 2012, I was added to the team. So, still no GFA, but exciting!

On Saturday Sally and I went to Beckton Parkrun (v near expo) for a gentle jaunt where we were joined by Pete and Zoe Stockdale from the club and none other than Martin Yelling! At the expo, I went to the RW stand to collect my backpack (onto which a flag was to be attached) and they had top trump cards for each of the pacers – nice idea! I’d been given 3:30 (8 min/miles) which I was pretty happy with – my PB is 3:13 so not a million miles away but I’ve run many a sub-3:30 and I know I can do that pace pretty consistently. Still, people kept telling me that there must be a lot of pressure as a pacer and I suppose that and the size of the occasion got to me a little and I started feeling some nerves that evening.

Sunday morning was an early start – up at 5:30 to get sorted and to get the train from Reading into London – almost exclusively full of marathon runners and supporters 🙂  We got to Greenwich Park a little late for my 8:30 rendezvous with the pacing team, but they were still there. It was a glorious sunny morning already, which indicated it would be hot later on. Still, great atmosphere in the park as I collected my flag, attached it to the backpack and had a gentle trot to test it out. This was right by the red start and the green start where we both had to get to was a bit of a walk away. We didn’t get there until after 9, by which time the loo queues were massive and the PA was telling everyone to get on with it and get our bags on the lorries smartish. Usual pre-race faff (vaseline, pins, number) and bag on lorry and I found Sally in the loo queue still. Thought I’d best wish her luck and head off to my pen.

vlm4Even before I got to the pen, loads of people came up to me.. some had been looking for me, some must have just seen me coming (what with the dayglo yellow pace team t-shirt and huge flag and all). Lots of “I’m sticking with you” and so on! I got into pen 4 and positioned myself towards the back as instructed and was quickly surrounded by 3:30 hopefuls. Some introductions, nervous chatter and questions and a massive sense of anticipation. I tried not to look nervous. The 30 seconds silence for Boston was intense. It’s incredible just how powerful a large group of people being silent with the same things on their mind can be. I was a little choked up.. I imagine there must have been some tears here and there.

The race started and it took only a couple of minutes to cross the line – the green start is the smallest with only around 3000 runners there. I didn’t see much of the slebs tbh, but I did notice Amy Childs within the first mile or so, as I passed her. I had my entourage, and it was bigger than hers. Speaking of which.. the London Marathon is well busy unless you’re at the sharp end. (That’s pretty obvious really Matt) The first couple of miles were a little slow due to congestion, particularly after we merged with the blue start after less than a mile. Add to that a bunch of people who desperately don’t want to let you out of their sight and there’s trouble. Most people who want to run with a pacer are content to keep nearby you, but there’s always one or two who insist on being right on your elbow. I had two of these early on. I’d be looking for gaps to get past people to get up to or keep up my pace, and a few times these runners would shove through after me, sometimes tripping me or another runner up a little. A little further on we got a bit more room, but then we merged with the red start and it got bad all over again. Anyway, I’d managed to get up to pace and even up the pace a little to make up for the slow first couple of miles.

Somewhere around 5 or 6 miles I saw my pal Keith Luxon from the 10 in 10, who’d been in Boston. He was wearing his Boston top and he made his way over to me. It was pretty damn good to see him to be honest. After a brief exchange he dropped off and on we went.

vlm1Had a big yell from Pricey who was out supporting and who I think took this photo. I don’t remember a huge amount of detail about the rest of the south of the river stuff tbh.. had a gel after an hour or so and just focused on keeping the pace steady, keeping an eye on my peeps and working our way through the crowd of runners. I do remember realising somewhere around 8 or 9 miles that the distance my watch (Timex Ironman GPS which we had to wear due to team sponsorship thing) was reporting a good .10 or more of a mile more than the mile markers, and that was increasing. I recall nearly being caught out when pacing at Milton Keynes last year with the same and realised I’d have to adjust the pace as reported on the watch from 8:00 to 7:50 or so to make sure I’d be as close to (but under) 3:30 as possible. Somewhere I saw someone running in a Fetch top and buff and thought it was Flanker, but it was Hendo. We exchanged hellos – he seemed to be struggling a bit :/  Tower Bridge was fantastic. By now one or two people had dropped off from the group, including one of the ones who seemed to want to be inside me rather than run near me.

Shortly after Tower Bridge was the halfway point and I knew Fetchpoint would be over the road just before this. I saw them and gave a big wave, getting a huge cheer back.. thanks! Lovely 🙂 I hit the halfway marker in 1:44:52 – perfect. I’d worked back into where I wanted to be after realising the watch was off. I was able to relax the pace just a little then, although of course once we got to the docklands with the tall buildings and twists and turns it went a bit weird again. No worries, I had the mile markers to work things out by. Another gel after 2 hours or so. For a while I’d seen another 3:30 pacer flag a little way up ahead, but I could see that I was closing on it. I caught him somewhere in the docklands and had a little chat, but carried on at the pace I was at and ended up a little ahead of him.

I haven’t mentioned the backpack and flag much have I? It was a bit of a nightmare tbh. At Brighton where we used the same thing, we’d had them the day before the race to have a run and get used to them. Looking back at photos, I think I made some sort of modification, or at least didn’t use the chest strap. We only got the flags on the morning of the race at London so didn’t get much chance to fiddle with things. At it’s tightest, the pack was very loose and the shoulder straps were bouncing around and rubbing my neck and the chest fastener was banging against me. I kept trying to pull my t-shirt up against my neck to stop it rubbing, but to no avail. Nothing to do but to try and ignore it.

vlm2Going back west again with the docklands behind us, I knew Fetchpoint would be there soon. I moved over to the right and once we hit 22 miles I was looking.. and there they were. I gave a big yell and offered some applause to the fetchies and got some love in return. I think I scared the pants of a chap who was walking right next to me as I yelled out 🙂

Another gel after 3 hours ish. 23 miles, the end in sight. The crowds were incredible! I thought back to my first in 2009 and how crap I was feeling, how I just wanted to curl up, and compared that to how good I was feeling right then.. Ok London, I forgive you. At around 23 miles there was a big Lucozade Sports thing just before a big underpass. Out of the corner of my eye I spotted a recognisable face – I looked left and it was Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.. We had a bit of an eyes across a crowded room moment, but tbh he’s not my type. Past the underpass and I was on the look out for the next water station, shortly after 24 miles, where Big Chief and Naomi were volunteering.. I spotted them both and got some nice big yells from them. No idea what they said, but it was nice to see them.

Only two of my original group were still with me, and yes, one of them was still, after 24 miles, right on my elbow. I’d started to get used to him by now. Like an extra limb. A few other runners were asking me if I was on time and seemed to latch on. Yes, of course we are! In fact, I knew I had a little bit of time to play with and slowed just a tadge.

Biggus Bennus, Birdcage Walk, nearly there now. I’d been massively holding back for miles and the urge to storm it to the finish line was strong, but that wasn’t what I was there for. On the final stretch I saw the clock tick past 3:30, but I knew I had time in hand on the chip. I heard a mention of a Runners World pacer on the PA and I’m even sure he mentioned to be careful of the flag on the finish gantry!

Over the line with 3:29:20 on my watch, 3:29:12 on the chip. I did have to stoop to get across the line. That’ll make a great photo. One of the finish line staff came over and was saying how impressed he was with some of the pacers being bang on time – lovely chap. A quick chat with the lady who’d been with me from the start – great run from her. Said Hi to Richard Branson. Very luscious hair!

vlm3Had a nice bit of chat with some runners who came over to say thanks and spotted the other 3:30 pacer who I’d seen earlier and congratulated him. Then the guy who’d been on my elbow the whole race.. He was so happy – I may have misheard this but I swear he said he’d just achieved a 23 year old goal! Wowsers.

After picking up my bag I headed off to the ‘A’ meeting point to find Sally and bumped into Colin (Leeky), Di Roy and Paul Allen. I found Sally who’d run a superb 3:12 and Steve Edwards. Wow it was warm..

After a bit of a sit/lie down in the sun we headed off to a nearby hotel to hand back my flag where I was offered a glass of bubbly by the lovely RW folks – well, why not! Had a sandwich and got changed in the hotel loo (thank you wet wipes) and we headed off to the pub to meet some fetchies for a few drinks and then Belgo for food (and more drinks!)

What a superb day! The results website shows my splits (avg min/km pace per 5km) were 5:02, 4:59, 4:57, 4:58, 4:56, 4:58, 4:58, 4:56 and 4:58min/km for the final 2km. Very happy with that.

Discuss - 2 Comments

  1. Prab says:

    Hey Matt, great post and race report. I’ll identify myself…I was the guy on your elbow! To get sub 3.30 was a goal of mine that had taken me 3 London marathons (over 4 years) to achieve and you helped me achieve it, I am eternally grateful to you, you are a great pacer and a real star!

    I really enjoyed the race, I had 2 disasters. Mile 1: I started off in pen 3 and couldnt find the 3.30 pacer so I ended up going back too far and ended up next to a 3.45 pacer, I then sprinted with my garmin reading 5.43 minute miles!! I then saw your flag in the distance, sprinted some more and after the problems I had at the start, this was why I stuck to you like glue!! My apologies if I knocked into you by accident when I was trying to follow. You were also a real gentleman apologizing during the race when it was me that knocked you a few times and it was my fault! I just didn’t want a repeat of mile 1! Am glad I have the opportunity here to finally get to apologize for knocking into you and to say thank you for your pacing work at the same time!

    Mile 5: I got knocked from behind and 3 toes came out of my left vibram shoe. Vibrams were great to run in (my first marathon in them) but hadnt planned for this to happen. But I decided to carry on with my left foot half in its shoe! Otherwise catching up would have been tough!

    Thanks for saying ‘I am here’ when I nearly lost you at mile 21, this was the danger area for me as it was where I lost the 2 pacers on the other 2 VLMs! My strategy was to get up to 21 miles then accelerate, so I saw the stroke cheering point (I was running for Stroke Association) got some loud cheers and then legged it!

    My final time was 3.26 so I was really happy! Really nice of you to come up to me at the end if the race, I really appreciate it. It was a real pleasure running with you and the others around us.

    If it wasnt for you I wouldnt have achieved this goal at my third attempt of trying at the VLM so a huge thank you! Keep in touch and good luck with your future races.

    • matt says:

      Hey Prab, congratulations! No worries at all – just a bit of humour for the blog. I don’t know how you managed with your foot half out of your vff for so long!

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