Tuesday, 23 April 2013

I did it! - completed the London Marathon 2013

Here it is - not made from gold but to me, as valuable as one.
This blog post is a long (and fun) account of my marathon day - it is one of the reasons why I started this blog so allow me to indulge. However, for those who want a quick summary, read the section marked 'TLDR' below. If you need to know what the four-letter anagram means, google it.


Finished the marathon in 05:19:40 - my first ever marathon, really chuffed. I had two races: one before my knee injury at mile 14 and one after. Was in pain for the last 12 miles but the crowd and the supporters made a huge difference. The injury was silly: I went to grab some Haribo sweets being offered by the crowd, I spotted a young lad with a bowl of sugary goodness and bent down to grab some, while still running. He was quite short and didn't push the box towards me; I missed first time so dug into the box a second time, still running and I twisted round. You can guess the rest: my left knee went 'crunch'. What made it even worse? I didn't even get a Haribo coca-cola bottle but ended up with a couple of Haribo 'fried-egg' sweets. I hate them.
This is what I wanted!
With me now running on a damaged knee, my race changed. Everything changed: my pace, my planning and most importantly, my confidence. I was now running in pain and worried if I could complete the remaining 12 miles without long-lasting damage. Considering I was planning on the 'hard' bit of the race to be around mile 20, hitting this milestone 6 miles early with a painful knee was a bit of a blow. 

So I gritted my teeth and moved along. The support was fantastic and the MapAction crew at Mile 22 made a massive difference, really picked me up. I took two more toilet stops, partly to give my knee a relief from the grinding but each restart from the break was harder than the last one. I managed to get to mile 23 in a lot of discomfort but the next stretch was super hard. I knew that my enforced pee-breaks had cost me around 30 minutes, about 3 miles in distance so part of me felt that, without these breaks, I would be 3 miles ahead and actually finishing at this moment. The mind plays funny tricks on you. At no point did I think of giving up, but this was the closest.

Stumbling towards mile 25 and the crowd cheering propelled me to the final 1.2 miles and towards the Palace. I was not overtaken by a womble, or a pink panther and managed to keep pepper pig at bay.
No way is a pig getting ahead of me....
However, I was racing a rooster (going by the name of 'Freddy') and he managed to pull away from me at mile 25. I finished in a daze but elated when the medal was put around my neck. 

Hoo ya. See you next year?

Now to those who want a more comprehensive account of my day, get a tea and pull a chair up and get comfortable.

The start of the day

Woke up around 05:45 on Sunday morning having gone to bed at 21:00 after my final pasta meal and 500ml of water. I slept quite soundly and woke up in some excitement. My wife and friend would be accompanying me to the start of the race but would be 15 minutes late. I was planning on leaving for Greenwich at 08:00 but decided to wait. Supporters would play a big part of the day. I re-checked my kit and made sure everything was prepared: compeed anti-blister plasters applied, my nipples taped up (yes, seriously - thanks to Andy K for the tip), and racing bag sorted. Once all was ready, my close support team in tow, we hit the London Underground and then switched to the DLR.
My personal support team on the DLR en route to the start!
Already it was full of runners and their supporters. There was an air of excitement and apprehension.

I also had an overwhelming urge to pee. Not a good start but I put it down to nerves.

We arrived and it was another 10-15 minute walk to the start and I had to pick up the pace, it was already 09:20 and I had some of the running tops for the other members of the MapAction running team.

The start of the race

I think at this point, I should introduce the other members of the MapAction Virgin London Marathon 2013 team:
  • Mark Jarman
  • John Lyon
  • Christopher Edgerton-Warburton
  • Chris Holcroft
  • Ian Holt (deferred to 2014)
  • Ming Lee (of course)
I met up with them and we all posed for a team photo:
MapAction Team Photo - thanks to Mark Jarman. Check out the 'invisible man' behind and right of Chris Edge!
I was allocated to red 7 starting group and the team wished each other the best of luck. We watched the introduction of the elite runners and their start as we made our way through the throng of runners all assembling together. There was a 30-second silence before our start, in remembrance for the victims of the Boston Marathon bombing a week before and then we were off. Well, group 7 didn't actually start the run until 10:15 due to the size of the groups ahead but my first ever marathon was now underway! I deliberately slowed my pace down as the temptation to race ahead was almost overwhelming. I felt good, full of energy and was excited. It was a beautiful day for a run: bright, warm with a slight breeze. Perfect.

The crowds were great: cheering and clapping and shouting encouragements to all the runners. The kids especially loved it. The first mile marker loomed overhead and I glanced at my pace band - I was aiming for a 04:40:00 run and the pace band has a time for each mile marker. I checked and I was 23 seconds slow. No matter, I intended to catch up and was confident and relaxed. All the months of running in the snow, rain and generally unpleasant weather meant that the Sunday run in the sun was a blessing.

The miles went by easily enough. Highlights in the first 10km included the deafening disco music around mile 4 (some chap with his speakers hanging out of his window!), the cheering (and slightly tipsy pub crowds), Alan Mills actually seeing me around mile 7, the Cutty Sark and the well wishers all the way round.

This is Alan, he wasn't wearing a Pith Helmet but he did have a hat on.


Approaching 10km

I entered the 10km (milestones were split between mile and kilometre distances) check-point in a little over 60 minutes, still a bit off pace but no problem. I was keeping pace with a couple of runners who looked strong and steady, sticking with them was my short-term tactic as I slowly found my rhythm. I felt fine, fresh with plenty left in the tank. I was in the groove as I approached and went past mile 8. One third of the race completed and I felt great!

As I approached mile 12, the crowds were building up again and I had the urge to pee. Since mile 1, I had either a bottle of either water or lucozade in hand and had been sipping steadily throughout the race, grabbing a new bottle at every opportunity. By the time I was hitting the mile 12 marker, I probably had about 4 litres of water in me and needed to go. OK, I knew this wasn't ideal - one rule I had learnt during training was never stop running until the finish. Slow down if you have to but don't stop.

However, I had little choice - I couldn't nip over to a bush or anything as we were in the middle of a street (Jamaica Road I think) and Paula Radcliffe's 'peeing-on-the-run' technique was something I hadn't mastered.

Cute kittens always relieve tension and introduce humour I find...

So, I made a bee-line to the portaloos set up for runners-in-need. I joined a queue of runners, all either running on the spot, stretching or generally trying to keep their limbs loose. The wait was horrible: 6 cubicles with one 'broken', and an ever increasing length of runners. I finally managed to get into one, did my business, washed my hands and back into the marathon.

I had incurred a 10:02 penalty! What, it took that long?

A bit miffed, I realised that I was also struggling to get my pace back up. Legs felt a bit heavy at this point (remember the rule about not stopping?) - and I really had to relax and focus to get back into the rhythm of the race. Approaching Tower Bridge was an experience however, the crowds were full, the cheering deafening and the view, spectacular. Many runners slowed right down to take a picture, I even had one lady, performing a self-interview / video-blog as she went over the bridge. Brilliant.
A great view and exciting...

Approaching mile 13 marker was great. This was the half-way point and I would be seeing the MapAction supporters section soon. On the other side of the road, we could see the elite runners heading towards mile 23. They were so fast! Many runners on my side, approaching mile 13 cheered the elite runners thundering their way to the finish line. We would be on that side of the road in a couple of hours too! Impressive stuff. 

The all-important mile 13.1 mile-mark was reached and completed. Half-way there and I will be counting down the distance now! I felt very good, despite the pee-break-induced delay; I was in control and thoroughly enjoying myself. I almost missed the MapAction support crew on my right but I could definitely hear them and waved at them as I streaked past. Well done chaps!

Well, the MapAction team were also in blue...

Anyway, a friend of mine told me that a marathon was actually two races: 1-20 miles and then the remaining 6 miles. I needed to concentrate to get through the first 'race'. 

Mile 14 and Haribo sweets

As I ran through Limehouse, there were plenty of crowds all lining the streets cheering away. They were offering all sorts of refreshments from orange slices, oreo cookies, hard boiled sweets, sandwiches (no really) and beer. The latter am sure was a joke and surely there would be no takers? At this point I was behind a chap running in a bagpus outfit (no, really) - poor git must have been sweating buckets! As I turned right and down Westferry Circus and along the road, I noticed a dad giving his young son a right bollicking in public. It went along the lines of:

Irate Dad: Son, don't eat those sweets! 
Young son: But...
Irate Dad: They are not for you! They are for the runners! Put them back!
Young son: But...
Irate Dad: ENOUGH!!
Young son: (now crying)

I felt sorry for the kid, as you're seven years old, you're holding a tub of Haribo sweets (oh the temptation) and you're expected NOT to eat them? Also, most of the runners were taking refreshments off the adults and I noticed that the most successful 'givers' were all young, pretty things:
I have candies, come to me....

So, I was feeling good and why not make a kid's day, a little bit better and make him feel involved? I vowed to take some sweets off the next child offering a bag/bowl to any runner on my side of the road. Give the evil-candy-giving-women a run for their money! So I spotted a potential donor, made eye contact and held out my hand, palm up (as opposed to the open cup hold when you're running towards a water station) - the kid eye's lit up but he didn't lift his bowl of sweets up. He was quite low down so, I bent down and reached, I missed and tried again and managed to grab something. All the time, I was still running. Just as my fingers closed on a couple chunks of sugary goodness, my left knee (with my body, twised almost all the way round to my left) finally obeyed the laws of physics and human anatomy and went 'crunch'.
Actually, pictures of kids giving sweets are remarkably rare....

I hobbled a few steps, grimaced in pain and then continued running.

With me now running on a damaged knee, my race changed. Everything changed: my pace, my planning and most importantly, my confidence. I was now running in some pain and worried if I could complete the remaining 12 miles without long-lasting damage. Considering I was planning on the 'hard' bit of the race to be around mile 20, hitting this milestone 6 miles early with a painful knee was a bit of a blow.

Lesson: don't take sweets off little kids, even when they are offered!

What made it even worse? I didn't even get a Haribo coca-cola bottle but ended up with a couple of Haribo 'fried-egg' sweets. I hate them.

This cost me most of my pace, a hurt left knee and a horrible taste in my mouth...most expensive egg ever.

I then started to over-compensate with my right knee and after a mile, my right knee started to hurt too. At mile 15, the marathon route goes under a tunnel. It is the Westferry Road going underneath another main road. I have no idea what the tunnel is called, but I will call it 'Pee Valley'. Yes, at this junction, all the male (and some female) runners ducked to the side and answered the call of nature. There were no crowds here. All the runners ran through a very large human made puddle. I stopped here too, and massaged my knee as well as answering the call of nature. Not too sure whether stopping was just an excuse to give me knee a rest but I also knew that restarting would be hard. I also incurred a 4-5 minute penalty, slowing me down even further but at this stage, I just wanted to finish.

I was right, the slog to Mile 16 was difficult, I am in the Isle of Dogs and you have 10 more miles to go. The crowds have thinned out here and it was tough going. At mile 17 onwards, the crowds seem to pick up once more, the roads twisting quite a lot. I finally made it to mile 21 (after yet another pee break/knee massage) and knew that the MapAction cheering team would be there once more - somewhere between mile 21 and 22. I really needed the boost. My left knee felt it was on fire, my right knee was complaining that it felt it was doing all the work and my concentration was slipping.
However, at the optimum moment, I saw Matt, Alan and Clare with an energetic Chris Ewing running along side me (on the otherside of the barrier) cheering me on.

Sorry MapAction, I just can't seem to find a suitable picture of you guys....
I needed that boost and my knees both started to complain less as I told them both to 'shut up and keep working'.

Mile 23 - the final slog

People say that at mile 23, things get crazy. You're approaching Tower Hill, the end is (almost) in sight, the landmarks become familiar and the crowds get deep and noisy. Well, for me, the last 3.2 miles was agony. I gritted my teeth and moved along. I knew that my enforced pee-breaks had cost me around 30 minutes, about 3 miles in distance so part of me felt that, without these breaks, I would be 3 miles ahead and actually finishing at this very moment. The mind plays funny tricks on you. At no point did I think of giving up, but this was the most negative thought of the entire run. 

Mile 24 approached and it felt like I had been running a day to get there. I was on the Victoria Embankment and had the river to my left, passing Blackfriars Bridge and towards Westminster. I was trailing a chap wearing a cockerel outfit. People were cheering him on, I think he was called 'Freddy' and there was a postie as well, delivering his rounds and speedwalking to the finish. I could see Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament and knew that, so long as I kept moving, I would reach the penultimate milestone at mile 25. The marathon, is not the task of Sisyphus, as it does end...eventually.

Stumbling towards mile 25 I found myself in a race with a womble, pepper pig and the aforementioned, Freddy the cockerel in amongst dozens of other runners.

No way is a pig getting ahead of me....
The crowd was cheering me on, with 'Go Ming, Go' and 'Run Ming, Run' (I wonder if they read this blog?) and this propelled me to the final mile 26 mark.  I had St. James park on my right and I was in Birdcage Walk. I was here bearing the olympic torch just before last year's Olympics. Little did I know that my short 300-yard amble towards the Palace, with a lit torch and enjoying the cheers of the crowd would be repeated a year later but in a different outfit, no torch and man-sized pig next to me!

A year from now I will be running with Pepper Pig!
I went around the roundabout, Buckingham Palace being on my left and into the mall. 200m to go and I was almost there. I didn't feel the pain in the knee, just an elation that I was about to finish. The crowd was amazing, the announcer urging the runners onwards. Even telling us that some of the celebrities were still miles behind us. As I finally crossed the finish line, I could still smile. I had done it, regardless of the hurt knee, the pee-break 'penalty' and being chased by a man-sized pig. I had given myself the objective to finish the London Marathon, and I did.

Was this worth it? Hell yes.

I had done it.

An added bonus: was not overtaken by a womble, a kettle or a pink panther and managed to keep pepper pig at bay. I was overtaken by two apples and what looked like a rhino.

The Aftermath - fainting and massages

All the runners were processed through the styles and given a medal. I stopped and posed for an offical photo and then stumbled towards the dozens of trucks that had my bags. Many, runners were collapsing and there were calls of 'Medic!' or 'I need help from someone!' from around the rest area. The medics were quite busy as many runners finally realised that they could now stop and observe the damage to their legs (or lungs or mind).

I got my race-bag and sat down (another no-no) but I needed to eat something. I started to get a tingling sensation starting from my finger tips and lips and it began to spread. I took some water, and nibbled on a 'recovery bar' that I had stashed away. The tingling was worse, so I got up and walked around, feeling a bit faint. I splashed some water on my face and tried to shake my legs loose. From what I could remember, it would be another 15-30 minutes before I could get out and meet up with the other members of my team, MapAction and the support team. I had to make my way to the 'Rag' (traditional Army and Navy club) on Pall Mall. However, there were so many people that I had trouble getting out of the assembly area. I also had to keep walking, briskly to aid in my legs' recovery. So, I struck out along the Mall and then went left along the A4 before joining Pall Mall at around 200 Pall Mall. I limped my way there, flexing as many muscles as best as I could. I was tired but on a high and after a minute of walking, I started to feel better.

Finding the Rag, I met my darling wife who took me to the reception area where MapAction was kindly given a spot by the Child Bereavement UK. My father in law was there, along with the MapAction team with Roy our chairman (and his wife), Liz (our CEO), Mim (our fundraiser) and Matt Sims (a key part of the logistics and support team). The Child Bereavement UK team were also welcoming their runners too.

Yeah, check out ma bling!
There was an added bonus: all runners could get a 10 minute massage from masseurs, two of 'em at the same time. One to each leg! Unfortunately, the ladies could only do my calves and feet as to get to my thighs, they needed to remove my trousers and since I was going 'commando' (hey, I run light and there was NO chaffing) - I couldn't embarras the poor ladies. They did a fantastic job however, and walking was so much more comfortable after the session. After some food, I then headed home - I still had a long journey home. We walked another kilometre, which was good to stretch my legs and made it back to where my car was parked. My wife drove me and father-in-law home. Back at home, I had a luxiourious bubble bath, first one in about six years. I hung the medal up, which immediately got the interest of the cats and I tried to get some sleep. Despite knowing that I would have trouble walking in the next couple of days, I didn't care.

Personal thanks

My marathon success would not be complete with thanks to a bunch of people:

  • Everyone at MapAction for being the super charity that it is, full of the most altrusitic, intelligent and supportive people that I know of and also making a difference every time they deploy. Your support made a huge difference to me and I am proud, as ever, to be associated with you all.
  • Especial thanks to Chloe and Mim and Matt from MapAction for doing a massive chunk of  putting the whole experience together and for taking care of the smallest details.
  • Mike Sims for organising the 'Marathon reporting and monitoring centre'.
    Mike keeping everyone up to date on the day
  • My fellow runners (Chris, Edge, John and Mark) who all completed - well done. Sorry I wasn't there for a family team picture, but - knees, you know?
  • Child Bereavement UK charity - for the excellent reception and the masseurs.
  • Everyone who has donated something this year - check out my 'Bro Hugs' post.
  • The crowds who cheered me and everyone else along. 
  • My family and close friends who wished me well or told me I was mad but wished me luck anyway. I love you all.
  • Finally, thanks to my wife Shena for putting up with the winter running and the smelly kit strewn around the house as well as my generally decepit state in the hours (and days) post-race. I love you loads.

Am going to take a wee break but will I continue running?  Yes, there's a couple of half-marathons I want to tackle as well as the Tring Ridgeway (cross country) in October.

London Marathon 2014? Hoo ya. See you next year?

Some interesting and completely random statistics and observations

Fastest pace: 9.12 km/h or 6.55min/km
Slowest pace: 7.04 km/h or 8.32min/km

Water drunk before the run: 500ml
Water drunk during the run (380ml) x10 drink stations: - 3.8 liters
Lucozade drunk during the run (380ml bottles) x10 drink stations: - 3.8 liters
Total liquid intake during the entire run: 7.6 liters (really?)
Toilet breaks: x4
Time lost to toilet breaks (total): 28 minutes
Number of times peeing in a ditch: 1
Estimated number of male runners peeing alongside the ditch: 45
Number of times peeing in a tunnel: 0
Estimated number of runners peeing in a tunnel: 30
Blisters on both feet: 0
Chaffed nipples: 0
Chaffed, 'other' bits: 0
Gel packs consumed during the run: 7 packs (x2 Lucozade and x5 SiS gels)
Gel packs lost during the run: 2 packs
Number of times people shouted 'Run Ming, Run!' : Too many to count
Number of idiots who crossed the road as marathon runners were thundering along: dozens
Jelly babies consumed from donations from the crowd: 12
Haribo sweets consumed from donations from the crowd: 9
Estimated number of costumed characters that overtook me: 5
Number of times I thought of quitting the race: 0
Most impressive competitor(s): a runner dressed as bagpuss or the soldiers in their 40lb rucksacks
Most eye-catching competitor: a lady dressed in a tight (and I mean tight), fuchsia coloured sports leotard with hair curlers! (on her head obviously)
Charity that seemed to have the most runners: VICTA or SHELTER
Amount of pasta/rice eaten in the carbo-loading period: 3 kgs

My final thoughts....
Hmmmmmm.....I have already gotten the medal..

Last distance run: 42.19 km
Duration: 5 hours 19 minutes 40 seconds
Pace: 7:56 min/km
Total run so far: 303.86 km

You can still sponsor me for the London 2013 Marathon,benefitting MapAction so click here.
Here are my bro-hugs for all my wonderful sponsors, click here to see them.

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