I see a woman struggling to pull a pram backwards up a flight of stairs. There are not many stairs, 7 or 8, but they are high. I have 4 options:
1.Pick up the bottom wheel and perform 2 person carry up the stairs
(the most commonly employed and preferred method)
2. Pick up the whole pram and carry it myself up the stairs
(I have had to do this on rare occasions, if the carer seems very unsteady and unable to assist in option 1)
3. Pick up the whole pram and the woman too, then carry them all up the stairs
(never tried, but would secretly like to, as I’m pretty sure I could do it. Never been necessary as yet, or appropriate)
4. Walk away quickly, or look for another able bodied individual to cajole into assistance
(I scan the vicinity, and although I have just completed a race with 40,000 other runners, and a record 800,000 spectators, there is literally NO ONE around)
It’s a funny thing, being a sub-elite, where the 1st dozen or so guys to finish are getting whisked off to do interviews and press stuff, then the next 20 guys are all just sitting by a tree or getting a massage or something. So, after deafening cheers from every angle for the last 2 hours 29 mins and 41 seconds, suddenly, abruptly, you are all alone.
Which leaves just me and the woman and the pram. Any other day and I would love to help, but today… then our eyes lock, I can’t pretend I haven’t seen her. She is still stuck on the first step, I offer to help. She says something unconvincing like ‘you don’t have to, you have just run a marathon’.
I go for option 1, and lift up the front wheel. I have my heavy kit bag and goody bag in my free hand.
Step 1. Bit of a head rush from leaning down too fast
Step 2. It is clearing, thank God, I was worried I would black out for a second there
Step 3. Hamstring is feeling very tight, too late to back out now
Step 4. OWWWWW! Hamstring cramps
Step 5. SHIT. Don’t drop the pram!
Step 6. SHIT SHIT SHIT SHIT SHIT!
Step 7. Was it 7? Or 8? I can’t remember. Pain. Idiot. Pain.
She says thanks. She might have said something completely different, I have no idea. “Yep. No problem”. I pretend like I don’t have a searingly painful hamstring cramp screaming at me.
We are walking in the same direction, taking a short cut towards Trafalgar Square. I let her get ahead so she can’t see me frantically grabbing at my hamstring and limping.
I make it to a pub and lean on the pillar outside. Revellers everywhere, bar lady sees me in distress, and says very loudly, “oh my god are you OK? Can I help you? Do you want a free pint?”. The woman with pram is only just ahead and within earshot, so I rudely tell the bar lady to “shhhhh”. I start limping off again, wondering if a bad deed cancels out a good one. I’m just mulling this over when I forget what I was thinking about.
Make it to Trafalgar Square. I see the fountain full with beautiful cold water. Surely there is nothing else to be doing on a day like this. I don’t hang around, I get down on my knees and stick my head straight in the water. I can literally hear the fizzzzzz as my forehead cools down. I come up for air for about a second, hear kids laughing at me, then head back in again. I must be there for about 5 minutes doing this. It is the best thing in the world that has ever happened to me. A Warden comes over to tell me off, something about not being allowed to stick my head in the water. To be honest, it is very hard to hear him, what with my head being stuck in the water.
Team mate Jordan approaches me. A younger member of Kent AC, who I like to think looks up to me abit. I’ve run some fast times over the years, and he asks for my advice occasionally. He sees me on my knees with my head in the water and a Warden trying to chase me off. He takes my bag and escorts me away to our club HQ (Chandos pub). I’m sure the illusion is shattered for him now. I am just mulling this over when I forget what I was thinking about.
You will have all heard that this was the hottest London Marathon ever. And it was. But the thing that people are not saying so much, is that it came after one of the longest, coldest winters. I am actually really good at performing in hot conditions. I have run a half marathon in Kenya in 30°C, at 7000ft. All the runners were locked in a suntrap pen for an hour before the race, the water all ran out (it was getting nicked by the spectators) and I performed much better than I did in London. I once competed in a decathlon (alongside David Rudisha) where the only shade for 2 days was a school bus, and the only liquid was warm UHT full-fat milk. I won the last event of the decathlon, the 1500m, in 4.05.
BUT, I have never trained for a marathon through such cold weather. It is a lot harder to run 26 miles in 24°C when you haven’t done a single long run in your build up in anything over 10°C, and a lot of your training has taken place in minus temperatures. The body needs time to adapt.
I am feeling fresh and ready on the start line. I am going to go out at 2.18 pace and see how it feels. I am with a group for the first three miles, it is feeling easy, but it is too fast. I’m abit annoyed, I know the pace is too quick for most of the guys in the group (most of them do drop out later on). I consciously slow down, but then am left adrift and alone. Running towards Cutty Sark into a head wind, I am in a kindof no-mans land. I did not expect to be so alone so early.
Plus, things are starting to go wrong. When you overheat, you don’t always feel hot, other energy systems shut down to preserve your thermal regulation. My legs just aren’t popping the way they should. I like to run marathons on a sweet spot. If I balance my weight directly above my legs, I can pop nice and effortlessly and just focus on rhythm. I am not getting this feeling at all today.
If a group of guys would come past, where they all have their shit together and are all sharing the pace, I think I could get reignited. But the whole field seems to be blown open with the heat, and everyone is out there on their own. People come hammering past me one by one, I can’t latch on. By mile 6, I am still on for sub 2.20, but I know it is going to be a very different result for me today. It is a long, painful, battle for me and my mind, slipping further and further behind, until around mile 20. Finally I get latched on to a small group that I can work with.
It is funny how, in the last 6 miles of London, the race always gets exciting. People are suddenly swerving all over the road like drunkards. One guy blitzes right past me only to suddenly stop and sit on the curb with his head in his hands. People are skipping about with various cramps and injuries. Some very good runners come back to me. I am feeling fresher, I throw my sunglasses off. I try and run away from my group, it hurts, they catch me back up, I don’t try it again.
I get to mile 25 and bizarrely am feeling the best I have ever felt at this point. In 2016, I hit the wall, and 2017 I got a stitch. So I do a high-5 with Jim, my little boy, and I make sure I enjoy the last mile. Into the Mall and I kick past the group I am with and wave to the crowds, the response is fantastic and I am happy to squeeze under 2hrs30.
With a race like that, where your time is gone, you just have to do your best and then hope that something good comes out of it. It does. I achieve my highest ever finishing position of 39th, so everyone must have suffered in the heat (everyone who doesn’t train in Africa). I win the Welsh Champs, and also come 2nd in team prize, after blistering performances for Kent AC guys John Gilbert and Peter “Lightning”.
Positives are: I didn’t get a stitch, I seem to have nailed the gels, my calves didn’t cramp up, and I am totally loving my ON CloudFlash shoes. Also, my legs feel pretty much fine now.
In Chandos pub, as soon as I am able, I am tracking my brother in law Patrick. It looks like he has dropped out at half way. I am devastated. I know how hard he has trained, and I was sure that he was in sub 3 hr shape. I hope the heat hasn’t destroyed him. Then I get a ping update and he has finished in 3.09. I am over the moon and it has made my day.
Warm handshakes and hugs with everyone at the pub, Chris (two shout outs in 2 weeks!) fixes my bag, Ken tells me my marathon medal looks ridiculous, and I finally meet John’s little boy, Anton.
Go home to my parents for Marathon Sunday after party, I eat Jerk Chicken and Crunchy Nut Cornflakes.