Return to the UK
After allowing two days recovery from the ‘Battle of Boston’, I was back on the move, taking the overnight Norwegian Airlines flight from Boston to London. I’d been left with a few concerning niggles over and above the normal muscle fatigue after a tough marathon and my right knee in particular was a cause for concern. It was still inflamed and had a limited range of movement. After six hours on the plane in economy, it’s safe to say that the movement was non-existent on my arrival in London Gatwick.
I landed on the morning of Thursday 19th April, three days after Boston and three days before London Marathon. I had seventy-two hours to rest my weary body and get over the jet lag. The first tactic was to adopt and realise the ‘awake til 9, feeling fine’ approach. This was easier said than done and I spent most of the day nodding & blinking, ignoring my bodies constant plea for sleep.
The next two days were spent a) napping, b) catching up with friends and family that I hadn’t seen for the five months I’d been in the Americas and c) becoming reacquainted with my yoga mat and foam roller. Saturday soon rolled along and I needed to head into London and visit the London Marathon Expo at ExCeL in Docklands. By now, everything had become about conserving as much energy as possible so I quickly collected my number and timing chip, waltzed through the myriad of stalls in the exhibition and headed to my accommodation for the evening - a friends floor in Peckham, South London. As I wandered through Peckham Rye Common in the warm lunchtime sunshine (record temperatures had been forecast for marathon morning), I realised that I wasn’t going to make the journey in one attempt and had to stop for a nap under a tree. I then spent the remainder of the afternoon crashed on the sofa at my friends place. I’m unsure whether Eliud Kipchoge & Mo Farah go through a similar routine the day before a big race, searching London’s parks for decent places to get some shut-eye.
#readynotready at the marathon expo
As usual, I awoke far earlier than I needed to. Last year, I’d left it late as I was so close to the start and ended stuck on a platform waiting for crowded, delayed trains before having to take a taxi to my start in Blackheath. This year I'd learnt my lesson and boarded an earlier train which was half-full. Nervous chatter filled the carriages as newly acquainted experienced marathoners and first-timers exchanged their hopes, fears and strategies for the next few hours. As the train pulled into Blackheath station, a nervous silence fell across the train and runners exited the station, joining a steady stream of athletes walking upward toward the heath.
Runners making their way to Blackheath pre-race
As with hundreds of thousands of other hopefuls, I unsuccessfully attempted to enter London Marathon through the ballot for several years (eight to be exact), constantly missing out due to the huge number of applicants vs available places. As I became more experienced, qualified as a coach and my running subsequently improved, I edged closer to qualifying through the ‘Good for Age’ process and have been fortunate enough to qualify through this route for the past three years.
One of the bonuses about being in the ‘Fast Good for Age’ start (a.k.a. ‘Old but Fast’), other than being right at the front, is that you get a little tea & coffee stand. I made for the coffee and it was there that a volunteer spotted my Boston t-shirt and we compared our war stories from Monday before she questioned my mental sanity for going again so soon and wished me luck. I took a seat on the grass, soaking up the sun, trying to mentally prepare, thinking about the challenge that lie ahead and assessing my condition. I still had that foggy-headed feeling from not quite adjusting to a new time zone and I could feel the fatigue from Monday's efforts, particularly in my quads and knee.
'Old but Fast' zone at the Athlete's Village
So, 141 hours on from finishing Boston in the freezing rain, after changing into my kit and covering myself in factor 50 sunscreen, I was queuing up in the warmth of East London to go again. A big screen showed the Queen announcing the start of the race from Windsor Castle, a horn sounded and the quickies who were shooting for well under sub three hour finishes raced off into the distance. I moved to the side, allowing anyone who was on a mission through, adopting what I thought was a sensible pace, still with a little bit of zip in case something magical happened and I suddenly started to loosen up after a couple of miles.
As we moved away from Blackheath and into the residential areas, it became clear that the crowds were huge. Bigger than I’d ever seen. In spots where there are normally only a single row of well-wishers, there were people three deep. The runners were not going to want for support on course. I knew that it was only a matter of time before my body started to creak so used my slower pace to soak up the surroundings and atmosphere. There’s a chap who drags a karaoke machine out onto his third floor balcony every year and I looked up for him, saw that he was on excellent form, singing along to a tune and shouting out the names of people as they passed below. Another great thing about marathon day is the number of community groups who come out to support. I passed steel bands, church and youth groups, morris dancers, bands who’d set up in pub front gardens, run crews, DJs…
After five miles I could already feel my legs starting to complain and my right knee gripping so I eased off again, shortening my stride length, reducing my knee drive and adopting more of a ‘shuffle’. I’d heard the familiar stampede of the Runners World pace groups thundering behind me as the hordes looking to go under 3.00 and 3.15 swarmed around their allocated pace-maker and passed by. My time spent living and training in warm weather meant that I was relatively comfortable with the rising heat but looking around, I could see that it was starting to affect others. Almost all runners headed under the showers provided along the course and the cool water that London Fire Brigade were hosing onto the runners from their stations was gleefully received.
At halfway, the game was up. I felt exhausted and I knew that from hereon in it was going to be grim. I could see that many others around me were going through the same battle. It became a matter of just turning my legs over, keeping my breathing steady and clinging on. I stopped looking at my watch and just concentrated on trying to run in a straight line as efficiently as possible and take fuel on. I’d taken my carbohydrate gels and tried a lucozade gel on the course (breaking marathon rule #3 - never try anything new on race day…) and it really hadn’t agreed with me. I was starting to feel nauseous and spent the next couple of miles checking out potential spots for another marathon TC (‘Tactical Chunder’). As we hit 20 miles, I was running on fumes. I didn’t want to touch another gel so was grabbing anything that supporters were offering the runners to try to give me something to get me to the end. Orange segments, gummi bears, jelly babies, some guy’s Subway sandwich...
Your body will argue that there is no justifiable reason to continue. The only recourse is to call on your spirit, which fortunately, functions independently of logic. - Tim Noakes
As we worked our way back into Central London, the crowds were incredible. There were thousands lining both sides of the street and filling overpasses and building entrances. Signs of encouragement were everywhere you looked and names were being screamed from all directions. The athletes were really feeding off the crowd's energy. I was then wasting this energy (and getting quite dizzy) by moving my head around to see where all of the shouts were coming from and seeing if it was anyone I knew.
Once I moved up onto Embankment with the Thames to my left I knew that I was nearly home. Hit a right at Big Ben, run down to Buckingham Palace, hit another right and it’s a couple of hundred yards down the Mall. Along with others, I’d become a slave to the painted blue line that marks the shortest route on the course and could feel my head dropping as I fatigued and my breathing became more shallow. It felt as though I was just power walking at this point. We must have looked like a single-file procession of zombies.
As soon as I'd safely passed Buckingham Palace, I tested a bit of pace and felt stable enough to give it one last push over the line. As I came to a halt inches beyond the timing mats, I could feel the heaviness of my legs and the stabbing pain in my knee but my overwhelming thought was that I had done it, two World Major marathons in six days in crazy conditions.
Course profile: those few little rises after 18 miles felt a lot steeper this year!
After a comedic slump to the floor in St James Park, I changed into my faithful flip flops, at which point my hip went into a painful spasm. After dealing with that (and some screaming) I slowly hauled myself to my feet and met some friends at Horse Guards Parade. I limped up over the Jubilee Bridge to a sun-soaked patio bar, gratefully thanking passers-by who offered their congratulations and finally getting to enjoy the beer I’d been thinking about since exiting the safety of that tent in Boston for the start line six days previous. I 'rested' there for a couple of hours, watching and enjoying the reactions of the waiting friends & families as their loved ones returned from the race wearing their medals and sharing their marathon story. Seeing the pride in their faces and the excitement generated by their efforts and achievement reminded me of the magic of marathon running and the memories, bonds and community it creates.
Anything to avoid walking down stairs. I stayed here for six hours.
40255 people finished the 2018 London Marathon with temperatures reaching 24.1ºC, the highest race-day temperature on record. The next morning it was announced that Matt Campbell, a 29 year old, had collapsed and died at the 22 mile mark with just 3.7 miles to go. My thoughts and condolences go to Matt’s family and friends. This tragedy spawned a #finishformatt movement on social media where the running community came together and pledged to support the charity Matt was running for (the Brathay Trust) and run the last 3.7 miles in his memory. If you would like to run/donate in Matt’s memory you can do so here.
I run because I can. When I get tired, I remember those that can't run, what they'd give to have this simple gift I take for granted, and I run harder for them. I know they would do the same for me - unknown
And that was the time I ran two marathon majors in six days. I'm hoping to return to Boston next year (fingers crossed in friendlier conditions) and will definitely NOT be doing both again. I plan to be in London as a supporter instead - it would be great to cheer some first-timers around. The ballot for London Marathon 2019 opens on Monday 30th April, you can find out more information here. Next stop for me is a return to my second home in Uganda before heading to Berlin for 2018 Major number three in September.
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