I entered the Virgin London Marathon in Oct 2008 for the 3rd time hoping to get in on the ballot, which to my surprise I did! Having made the assumption I wouldn't get in and having planned my races for 2009 already, I decided to defer until 2010. So I took the family up to London last Friday to complete it. My legs are stiff and sore today, but I've been for a walk, and I was fine whilst moving. The blisters smart too, but there's nothing that won't be fixed by a week off running, and some walking and cycling instead.
It was a great weekend, we stayed in a very well appointed apartment in Woolwich overlooking the Thames. Being the East of London, it wasn't the poshest of areas, which made me feel homesick for our first flat in Toxteth in Liverpool. We did the Expo on the Saturday, having stayed with my sister in law in Winchester on the Friday, and then the family did the Science Museum whilst I did the marathon on the Sunday.
The marathon was quite frankly daunting. The last marathon I did, the Gower, there were only 150 entrants, and it was all very low key and close to home. This was quite a different event altogether. Just getting to the start line proved a challenge. I managed to get onto the wrong train, and had to get off and go back. The start area was huge, I thought I'd never manage to meet my friend Mandy there, but with a few frantic phonecalls and texts we managed it. There were just so many people there, it really made you feel like you were travelling on a tide of humanity. To be honest I found the crush in the pens and throughout the race a little claustrophobic. There was quite a lot of pushing and shoving, with some bad temper from some runners, and a woman in front of me fell over at about 10 miles, which was horrible to watch, I really felt for her, she came down hard. I lost count of the number of times I said "sorry" as I tried to squeeze through between runners, or ducked out of the way past water stations. I even said "sorry" when I was thumped in the chest by other people's elbows and arms. I wouldn't say I could have run alot faster if there hadn't been as many people there, because without all the people it wouldn't be the VLM, but I had to work hard ducking and diving to run the pace I wanted, and I wasn't always able to.
The noise of the crowd was overwhelming. It did make a difference, you could feel yourself surging to every shout of your name. Each mile was marked by a balloon clad gantry, which felt like a mini finish line in its own right, and again had me pushing to get past it. I finished in 4.19 a pb by 11 minutes, and I ran the last 10 miles quicker than the rest of the race, and felt strong. I had blisters from mile 11 from my orthotics, but they were all on the sides of one foot, and I had taped my feet so knew they wouldn't be too bad.
I am glad I've done London. The interest of my non running friends and aquaintances has been huge, probably because it's a race they all know about and have seen on the television, but I wouldn't want to do it again. I don't like being penned in at the start line, and not being able to turn up at the start when you are ready, rather than when the marshalls demand you to be ready. The noise of the crowd was immense, several times I was wishing to be on a welsh mountain with the views for company rather than the screaming spectators. After 4 hours of it, the support at the Mall had rather lost it's appeal, and I had stopped listening to it at about mile 18.
I don't get the same buzz from doing big city marathons that I do from doing some of the more unusual events. I'm not a very fast marathoner, and I'm never particularly impressed with my times. I do get a huge sense of achievement from completing an event that are a real adventure and take me to beautiful remote places like the Gower Trails Marathon, where I have to completely rely on my own strengths and ingenuity to get to the finish line. Plus the point of running for me is being at one with myself and my surroundings, in London with so much noise and so many people all struggling to get there as fast as possible, I felt crushed by the size of it all, no space to breathe and run.
I might give another flat road marathon a try in a couple of years to see how I've improved, but for now I'm happy to stick to my plan to run the length of Wales!