Early in the morning, three of the world’s best marathon runners will attempt to run a marathon in under 2 hours as part of Nike’s “Breaking 2” programme. The current world record is 2:02:57, so although running 3 minutes faster is only a 3% improvement, this is still a large difference at the limit of human endurance.
My aim, in the London marathon a couple of weeks ago, was to run under 3 hours. Although such a time is a long way off the world record, a sub-3 hour marathon is still considered as a very respectable effort, only achieved by the top few percent of the masses running in the marathon. My training had gone very well and I was feeling fitter than ever before. I had set a new half marathon PB of 1:23:27 a few weeks previously. However, in the back of my mind was last year’s marathon: I had reached 18 miles on track to run about 3 hours and 2 minutes, but my legs went and I lost about 10 minutes over the last few miles, finishing in 3:12:24. Would the same happen this year or would my training, building on last year’s, stand me in better stead for the closing miles?
We travelled en famille down to London the day before the marathon, our paths diverging when I went to collect my number and the rest going to stay with Uncle Andy. The number collection at the Excel conference centre in Docklands is combined with a marathon expo (at which I bumped into a couple of nervously excited bellringing friends psyching themselves up their first marathon), though owing to the size of the Excel centre there were a couple of other exhibitions on: one for war games (bearded middle-aged men and gawky teenagers) and another for sewing and hobbycrafts (middle-aged women). Quite an interesting contrast of demographics together with the marathon runners!
After serendipitously meeting up with Claire, my Mum, the twins and Uncle Andy after they had ridden on the cable car over the Thames, Steve and I headed to our colleague Matt’s house in Greenwich, where we were staying for the night, very conveniently located close to the start of the marathon. Matt was also running the marathon so, along with another of his friends who was staying, we chewed the cud over marathon running and how the next day might pan out: what times we were aiming for, how our training had gone, where we were going to see friends and family spectating, where we were going to meet after the finish, etc.
A cool and still Sunday dawned, perfect for running. Breakfast consumed, we headed up the hill to Blackheath where the pungent smell of Deep Heat that greets the start of most races hung in the air. We wished each other luck as we headed to our respective start areas – I was in the red, charity start. With my bag lodged on the baggage lorry I headed to position myself in my allocated pen, the nervous last few minutes before the start being passed by exchanging tales of marathons past and hopes for the present with the others pressing the tape at the front of our pen, hoping too to hang onto the 3 hour pacer.
The gun went and we were off. It took me three minutes to get across the start line, but I was able to run at my target pace, maybe even going a few seconds a kilometre too fast in the opening stretch, passing in front of the 3 hour pacer. Everything was going well, passing the deafening crowds at Cutty Sark around 6-7 miles and then over Tower Bridge just before halfway, passing through the halfway point a bit under 1 hour 30. I was still (just) ahead of the pacer and feeling good, so maybe, just maybe could I keep this up?
Soon after, I passed Steve who yelled out to me that he was going backwards. At 18 miles I was still hanging onto 3 hour pace but by 20 miles the pacer was disappearing up the road and I knew that my dream was gone. My fears from last year were repeating themselves. It was now just a matter of hanging on until the finish as best as possible, while seeing my pace gradually slow.
When fatigue sets in, your brain becomes addled and normally simple calculations become virtually impossible. Throughout, I was trying to take on gels every 25 minutes which was working to plan to begin with, but by taking one that they were handing out just after halfway threw this into disarray and I couldn’t recalculate when I needed to take them. While slowing, I was also trying on the fly to calculate what finish time might still be possible with each kilometre that passed. Even adding multiples of five to my current time was proving beyond me!
In the end I gave up all the mental arithmetic and just tried to run as fast as I could… This brought me across the finish line in 3 hours 8 minutes and one second with two very sore legs.
A couple of weeks later, looking back, I am very pleased with how I ran, even though I was disappointed initially at not getting closer to 3 hours. On the day, I don’t think I could have run any faster. I am also very pleased, and incredibly grateful to my wonderfully generous friends and family, for raising what should be well over £4,000 for Crohn’s & Colitis UK.
So what next? It’s the Oxford 10k next week and the Oxford half in October, with hopefully more PBs in store. I also believe that I have a 3 hour marathon in me, it’s just how to get it out. Do I need to train more, run further, run faster, run slower? Do I want to put myself through another winter of waking up early in the dark at weekends to run for two or three hours? But the lure of running a faster marathon with 3 hours is within touching distance…
Thank you for reading!