I feel chewed up and spat out after my first experience of the London Marathon.
I started off in 2015 aiming for a sub 3.15 marathon, injured my knee last year and had to defer my place for 12 months. Between then and now I managed a 3.08 marathon at Abingdon in October and, at London 2016, my aim had been to get under the magical 3hr mark.
But life isn’t straightforward. The training was tough this year. I was hampered by a tight glute all the way through, found the relentless pounding of 18 months marathon training unenjoyable and finally, with three weeks to go, I tore my hamstring.
After all that training it was something minor of course that caused the injury – ducking under a metal railing with a sack of footballs on my back. It was a very small tear and I had physio which really helped but it was essentially no running for three weeks beforehand.
It bothered me right up two days before and then started to ease. On the morning I could barely feel it and thought that maybe this was going to be my day. How wrong I was!
I set off at good pace and as I was at the front, tried to keep the 3hr pacer in sight as we fought the crowds in the first 5km. Then I found some open space and stretched my legs out but still couldn’t catch the pacer. I should have trusted my watch over him as it turned out because he was flying in the first 8 miles, setting the pace for a 2.55.
My left foot was sore – something was digging into the joint on my big toe. I carried on and every few hundred metres gave it a shake to relieve the discomfort.
I was enjoying it – crowds were amazing and the pace I was maintaining felt great. But then at Tower Bridge my hamstring just started to complain and tighten. That continued for the next couple of miles so I shortened my stride and pushed on.
My pace was still good and I saw my family at halfway which felt great.
I was still going well but by mile 14 my shortened stride started to have an impact – different bits of me started hurting – hips, quads and the other parts of my body trying to compensate for the tight hammy.
At mile 15 a club mate, Nathan Blake, passed me. We had a brief chat and I tried to use him as motivation to keep my pace up but I didn’t have it any more. Sore foot, tight hamstring and burning hips are not conducive to fast running and he serenely glided way in his cheerful style.
I eased up a bit and the hips and hamstring hurt less. My foot however was now really painful and each step seemed to make worse. Finally, about mile 18 I got worried that I could be doing myself some permanent damage so I stopped, undid my laces, took my shoe off and sorted it out.
I don’t know if I had tightened my laces differently but there was a crease in the shoe near the eyelet which was causing the damage. My foot was red and angry-looking (and is a lovely black and green today). I loosened the laces as much as I dared and gingerly put it back on. The act of putting the shoe on and off was incredible difficult after 18 miles of running and I could feel minor cramps all the way up and down my leg but the adjustment made the foot pain bearable again.
But then I was off. I walked for a while and took on a gel while I assessed the foot. I decided it was ok so broke out into a run – it was a great feeling and soon I was flowing along a nice jog of about 4.30 per km.
I knew the sub 3 was long gone but now a Personal Best was still not out of the question. The enjoyment returned and I was loving it right up to the moment I was suddenly on the ground.
I had stood on a discarded bottle, turned my ankle and down I went. I swore like a trooper and a few other runners stopped but I waved them on (mainly out of embarrassment). A kindly St John’s Ambulance lady came over to help and after a few tests I discovered that nothing was broken and that it could bear my weight.
Up I got and I set off at a tentative walk which became a purposeful walk and eventually a slow jog. I was back in the game!
At about mile 22 I saw my family and stopped for a quick hug and power boost – it was just what I needed and my pace picked right up again. For about five minutes I was back running but just couldn’t maintain it – my injured hamstring twitched and then cramped and I was back to walking.
After 100m I picked up into a slow jog and just set about finishing. A sub 3.15 was still on but with 1km to go the 3.15 pacer overtook and all I could do was watch as he pulled away into the distance.
I finished in 3.17. Not the time I wanted but after all that had happened I couldn’t be too upset.
I'm disappointed not to have done better but with the challenges I had I have to be pretty pleased to finish. Plus my first experience of a city marathon was very positive. Say what you like about the overwhelming commercialism, they are enjoyable for tens of thousands of runners and hundreds of thousands of spectators and that is worth a lot.
Am I done with marathons? Well, I have qualified for London next year as a good for age and that sub 3 itch won't scratch itself ...