London Marathon 2021

Having been the focus of my training for many months, it was great to be able to run a ‘live’ marathon after going virtual last year. Leaving work on Friday, I was very excited to be on my way, if a little nervous. The thought of being among so many people after so long was really quite intimidating!

The Run Up to the Main Event

Following the Hanson Marathon Method again, I’d decided that this time I’d run this week, fully committing to the plan, where previously I’ve usually stopped running after Tuesday. The result was an easy 6 miles on Monday, 5 on Tuesday, 4 on Thursday and 2 on Saturday, allowing the legs to stick to their routine. Running easy, in theory, meant that come Sunday I’d be ready to fly!

But first, the small matter of the flight from Aberdeen!

This went without any hiccups, so smooth in fact that had I not been looking out the window I’d have been unaware that the plane had touched down! Sadly the same couldn’t be said of the check in at Premier Inn – major issue with vouchers from Barclaycard Freedom Rewards – but that’s a story for another day. Sadly the outcome was that we were near 9 pm before we were in a position to eat, far from ideal when I’d struggled to get lunch over my throat.

Shake Out, Register and Relax

Up bright and early through habit rather than choice, I did my 2 mile shakeout run before breakfast on Saturday. Bruce and I then parted ways, me taking the District Line and onwards to the Expo, him to ‘town’ and later the football.

I felt quite at home on the tube and timed my trains to perfection, purely by accident, arriving at the DLR station as the platform was very crowded. I had no choice but to stand near the front and successfully sardined my way onto the train, just like a local!

Reaching the Expo I showed my negative lateral flow test at various points and dropped off my bag to be prepped for the finish.

Moving next door, I visited the Expo. Good For Age runners had designated collection points allocated and I had the pleasure of collecting two numbers: one for the London Marathon, the other for the inaugural Abbott World Marathon Majors Wanda Age Group World Championships. This was very exciting: the main number for my front, the other for my back.

Numbers collected, I took the opportunity to browse the Expo and purchase an overpriced t-shirt to commemorate the occasion; it’s one of my favourite colours so had to be done! I also justified it through London having unisex t-shirts; it’s a bit pot luck as to whether these fit me.

There wasn’t a whole lot of further interest for me, but I did get some tips from the man at Garmin on how to increase the tracking accuracy of my watch, and I had a couple of questions answered on the route itself.

On leaving the Expo I headed back to London Bridge to meet a friend (Ali) for coffee. She’d holed herself up in a great wee coffee shop (Crol & Co), taking up residence on Friday and returning Saturday morning. Coffee, peppermint tea and an amazing raspberry and white chocolate brownie later we moved on, picking up some lunch before heading to her apartment. Carb loading and hydration were going well, even if only for one day.

Ali’s hospitality was greatly appreciated! She sadly hadn’t managed to bake a cake, but I felt at home for a couple of hours, chatting about running and doing some stretches under her expert yogi guidance to ease the aches and pains my mind had developed for me!

Heading back to my hotel later in the afternoon I took advantage of time alone to get my kit ready.

Kit Preparation

The key thing was to ensure everything was laid out for morning, my intention being to be up just before 0600 and away by 0740; this would provide sufficient time to digest my breakfast and faff! Being organised in advance might also mean not waking Bruce, who with a long day alone looming probably wouldn’t relish such an early start.

I laid out my clothes, decanted my gels into wee flasks and got my throwaway clothes sorted out. Taking advantage of being alone, I then got my book and climbed into bed to read and relax. I had wondered if I might have a nap but didn’t feel the need to nod off. It was good just to do nothing and rest my mind.

As promised, Bruce arrived home from the football in time for my pre-race dinner. I opted for pizza (good carb loading) and then settled down for the night.

Race Day Morning

I woke feeling pretty refreshed; I’d been up a couple of times during the night, but had slept well and felt relaxed, if a little stiff across my shoulders and neck. Funnily enough the pain, that at times had been quite excruciating for a couple of days, disappeared as I did some gentle stretches and didn’t return again!

Having quietly eaten breakfast – a porridge pot with dates, almonds and a banana – showered and then spent time faffing, applying suntan lotion on shoulders particularly (the sun did come out!) and Bodyglide on my feet and any other parts that may chafe over 26 miles.

Catching the tube, the train was fairly quiet. I had the good fortune to get seats on all my trains, catching up with a couple of other ladies from the North East (Garioch and Turriff) on the Jubilee Line and heading out to the start with them. The feeling of camaraderie was good, and I also enjoyed chatting to a first time runner on the DLR, offering some words of wisdom and helping to calm his nerves.

Arriving at Blackheath, I walked to the starting area with the ladies before parting ways as I headed off to find the shortest toilet queue! Mission accomplished, I looked around for somewhere quiet to sit. After the heavy rain of Saturday I was reluctant to sit on the ground, even with a waterproof jacket, so befriended an American lady and shared the large piece of plastic that she was using to keep dry.

This little area of solitude lulled me into a false sense of security. When I finally decided it was time for a loo stop before starting, the queues for the portaloos were massive! On the upside, this meant that I made it just in time to get to my starting pen with a few minutes to spare. I was in Wave 2 and scheduled for a start at 0936.

Off and Running

It didn’t take long before we were moving to the start and unlike last time I ran in London, there was no stop-start shuffle to the line! People started jogging around me as others, equally perplexed, realised that we were off! I held on until getting to the chip mats before starting to run, conserving every available bit of energy!

Spotted on TV!
Wave 2 – where’s Clare?

I’d decided to aim for a time of 3:30 as this is what I’d trained for. Using the Hanson Method meant I had a good feel for the pace and I quickly settled into it. However, the Abbott race meant there were a lot of faster runners in my group and it was quite disconcerting at times, constantly keeping an eye out for others. As time went on I grew tired of seeing pointing fingers meaning someone was about to cut through a gap, and was wary of having my heels clipped or clipping someone else. I tried to stick close to the blue line to avoid extra distance and avoided weaving in and out.

My pace held steady. I nipped off to the loo at 2 miles in, and then I settled for the rest of the run.

I tried to do as suggested, run relaxed to 16 miles, then focus on getting to 20, finally taking it mile by mile until the end. I enjoyed the crowds, the cheers and particularly the music. Hearing bands, pipers, drums and DJs really lifted my spirits and when things got tough I had to fight the temptation to just stop and listen.

I passed the sights, loving running past the Cutty Sark and over London Bridge. I tried to leave the unicorn behind, shouts of ‘Go unicorn,’ becoming a bit wearing. I was glad after doing so much time in lockdown to not have people shouting at me, trying to zone out a bit towards the end as it all got a bit overwhelming!

As time progressed, it got sunnier and hotter. I tried to find the shade if at all possible; sadly it wasn’t always there, and was glad I’d put on suncream. As all the people in the second race were together, the crowd of runners never really thinned out. This was good in a way as it gave me people to keep pace with, but it was also tiring, always being alert to who was passing, cutting in, or diving in front to reach a water station. The Lucozade stations were the worst for me; not a fan, the smell was overwhelming!

Beyond mile 20 it got harder. I reminded myself that this is what I’d trained for, trying hard to hang onto the pace and not drop off too much. I’d been fuelling every 2 miles until mile 10, but struggled with gels beyond this, even in smaller quantities. I tried to take on small amounts of water when available and continued with little sips of gel here and there.

Finally I was in the last mile, the end in sight, I knew a personal best was achievable; it was tough but I was doing it. Then pretty much out of nowhere the retching began, a few times before I vomited. Nowhere to hide, the preferable option would have been to duck off to the side of the road; the reality of this meant I’d have to vomit at the feet of the spectators, so as another few waves hit me as I continued running, instead turning away from them. I felt awful, very tempted to walk, and am very grateful to the volunteers in the red jackets who encouraged me to keep going, reminding me I was in the final mile.

Just along the road I heard a shout from Bruce and was lifted once again. The signs came thick and fast: 800 m to go, 400 m, the finish! A few others sprinted past me but I had nothing left to give, having left everything out on the course.

Crossing the line I was elated. I had a PB! Maybe not quite 3:30 but I’ll take it! The finish volunteers were amazing and so supportive. I got my foil blanket and then had to progress to my bag pick up zone, all the while receiving congratulations and praise from the people in red. I chatted to a few others along the way, exchanging smiles and congratulations.

Bag collected, my medals round my neck, I was reunited with Bruce. Hats off to the man for reaching our arranged reunion point ahead of me given the crowds of spectators.

I do believe at this point I uttered the words, ‘never again’. This changed pretty quickly to ‘perhaps in a few years’ or ‘maybe a different marathon’. I think by the time the Good For Age entries open later in the year, I’ll need to sit on my hands for a week!

The Aftermath

The biggest crowd challenge of the day involved getting to the pub for the post run drinks. This involved crossing the road to get to St James’, a logistical nightmare! We opted for the bridge crossing, then went against the flow of people who initially were very frustrated as two eejits we passed were attempting to go through with Boris bikes! We got past them, led by a guy you’d definitely want with you in a busy bar, and got there eventually.

It was good to get a seat, have a celebratory pint of cider and hear the stories of clubmates. As always, there were personal bests and celebrations, with some amazing times and some particularly hard won victories.

Reflections

It’s now pretty much a week since I rushed out the door of work to catch a plane, and these are my final thoughts on the marathon for now …

  • Training pays dividends – I ran a PB (3:33:49) which was hard won on my 11th marathon (not counting last year’s virtual effort)
  • Having the support of your partner or family is key for logging all the miles – it takes commitment! Thank you Bruce for your ongoing support and belief in me.
  • Getting on and off the toilet is painful, especially on day 2!
  • The pain is short-lived! Very quickly I was considering what’s next; still thinking no marathon next year, but maybe something different (in school hols or within travelling distance for a weekend). Any recommendations?
  • I work in the best school ever! Look what I returned to!

Raising money for our school charity, Friends of Orchard Brae, I’ve been overwhelmed with the generosity of supporters. Thank you!

https://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/ClareRussell15/1

6 thoughts on “London Marathon 2021

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