It was a strange thing running down Birdcage walk at the end of the marathon. I wasn't sure what feelings I'd expect; elation? pride? achievement? I didn't feel any of them, but just a massive sense of relief and an overwhelming urge to burst into tears. I avoided the latter (narrowly), but the sense of relief as the 26.7 miles of running/shuffling were completed.
Preparation for a marathon begins the day before. We'd got all our clothes sorted, and began to 'carb load.' Weirdly this was one of the toughest parts of the challenge; we drank plenty and made sure to eat plenty at every opportunity. We had to make sure we didn't over-eat, but also at no point during the day did I ever feel hungry. Our last meal was at 6pm, and we were tucked up in bed and asleep before 9pm.
The day began well; an early start followed by a large bowl of porridge. I wolfed it down, and had a pint of Ribena too. We got the tube down to London Bridge, and joined the crowds headed over to Greenwich.
Greenwich Park was buzzing - Karly and I were in different start pens, so I left her at the Red Start whilst I headed over to Blue. It's hard to grasp the size of the occasion - runners were setting off for the Women's race, the wheelchair race and parathletes left all within a few hundred metres of us - but all of the focus was on self-preparation. Do I have the right food, am I wearing the right clothes - when shall I ditch my bright yellow poncho?
Thankfully the weather on the day was perfect; I left my poncho behind as I stepped into starting pen 6, and finally felt ready. I was nervous about my knee - at 10 miles in on my preparation run there was no way I could have continued, let's hope it matched my 16 mile prep run and disappear.
The first 13 miles were great; the crowds were present from the start, but the noise & support really began around Greenwich & Cutty Sark. I did my bit of civic duty by giving out copius numbers of high-5s to old & young, even running round the outside of the Cutty Sark hairpin, partly due to wanting to give out some high-5s, but also due to the fact I was struggling to unwrap a starbust. Whilst I appreciate the sentiment of hygenine by providing runners with individually wrapped sweets - I'd much rather dip my sweat-encrusted hand into container of haribo. One to note for next time if you're showing up to support.
Things were going well; I saw my friends @ a local pub just before hitting Tower Bridge. I say I saw them - but they didn't see me til I was well past, and sarcastically shouting 'Sh*t support guys' back in their general direction. I apologised later, but was in high spirits at this point so all was good in the world.
I knew Tower bridge was the only real 'hill' on the course, and that the crowds would make me want to run faster. I'd checked my pace at around 9 mins / mile for the run so far, hoping to pick up the pace a bit later on in order to hit my sub-4 target. I'd passed the 9:09 (4 hr pacer) around mile 10, and knew that I could drop the pace slightly and still make my goals.
Unfortunately Tower bridge had other thoughts; I'm not sure if it was the incline or the distance I'd travelled, but turning right just off Tower bridge and my knee started to hurt. Not just the dull ache that I'd experienced doing the Colchester 1/2 marathon, but a sharp pain on the outside of my knee. Balls. I knew it was the tight ITB wanting to let me know that my stretching regime hadn't been quite up to scratch in the months preceeding the race.
Straight after this was a St John's ambulance stop. I was their first victim of the day, and asked what they had that I could use to pin back my ITB to stop it from being aggravated by dragging over the little bone protruding on the outside edge of my right knee. I got some tape. You know the standard medical tape that is use to hold on bandages? Needless to say, 50 metres down the road and I was cursing. It still hurt. Was I going to turn back and try and get them to try something else - they had nothing else. Balls.
It was then I had to look twice. Discarded in the gutter at the side of the road was a knee support. A few sizes too big, but a knee support nonetheless. Maybe I could get that on and use it to help me at least get round the second half. I slowed my pace, then made an about turn to go and pick it up. I apologised to the crowd for being a 'tramp', and they seemed to turn away in disgust as I picked up the support. If it could only get me round the next 10 miles, then at least I could walk the last three...
I started running with it and immediately I noticed an improvement. The knee was now fine but oh - my muscles were TIGHT. The support was tight around the top of my calf and the bottom of my hamstring, and that has the undesired effect of shortening both muscles. I then spent the next two miles adjusting the support to balance between numbing the pain, and stopping it from restricting my muscles too much. It was around the 15 mile point when the 4 hour marker went past me - but I was smiling because at least now I had a chance.
The next few miles around the Isle of Dogs was tough; my knee was less painful, but the muscles cramped at being restricted. I reverted to walking/running as I knew that in the grand scheme of things it was likely to have a negligable effect on my overall time. Walking/running I tried to maintain a pace of 10.5 mins a mile - and managed to keep this up for most of the rest of the race; crossing the finish line at 4h23 minutes.
What have I learnt? Runnning a marathon is tough. It's a mental challenge as much as a physical one. You can spend months in preparation, with the risk of injury hanging over you to undo all your good work. It's also not just about the running - I'd have done well to have lost a few pounds, but also to change my lifestyle to run-commute to work, rather than bike-commute. The biking was undoing all the good work I'd done on stretching out my ITB & hip flexors - going for a long ride wasn't helping at all.
However, I got round, and I'm happy enough with the time. The second best bit? It's beatable, and I hope that next time I decide to do something stupid like run a marathon I'll get the preparation even better. The best bit? Running with Karly Jose - my girlfriend, & Hanna Jenvey to raise nearly £6000 for the Duchenne Family Support Group.
If anyone knows who the knee support belongs too - I'll happily return it to it's original owner. Please let me know!