London, London, London, London. What can be said about the London Marathon that hasn’t already been said? Arguably the greatest marathon in the world. Certainly New York might have something to say about that, but still. You cannot help but be inspired and motivated and moved every year. Since I was a child I have watched it on the TV. Sure some years I have been more interested than others and until a couple of years ago I had never considered actually running the race.
Good For Age
In 2014 I put my name in the hat for the first time, expecting nothing. Yet, low and behold in October 2014 I received the all important “You’re In” magazine. I couldn’t believe it. The first time I ever applied and I was going to run the London Marathon. Of course I had to film it and film it I did. You can see that video here. Fast forward a couple of months to June 2015 and I ran the Kent Viking Coastal Marathon. A much smaller event than the London Marathon but a flat and fast course. I came third overall, behind two other guys named Steve, and ran a time good enough to properly qualify for the 2016 London Marathon. It is what is called a ’Good for Age’ time. The 3 hours 13 minutes I ran on that day in Kent remained my marathon PB right up to the day of the 2016 London Marathon.
Last year was stressful. I had to travel back from London after the expo to work the night before the marathon and got back to the hotel at 11pm. We had broken sleep because we had poorly children and on race morning I forgot warm clothes so was freezing for the 2 hours before the race started. That said I still managed 3:18:30. This year was different. We travelled up to London early on Saturday morning without children and spent a relaxing morning at the expo. Victoria went to get her hair cut and the rest of the day was spent in the sauna, jacuzzi and pool in the Bexleyheath Marriott Hotel.
Excellent Race Preparation
After a very relaxing night in a double bed all to myself, I was fresh and raring to go on Sunday morning. We had originally booked a room for the whole family so we had two double beds in the room!! Breakfast was two slices of toast with jam. I had coffee and an electrolyte drink in a Coke bottle, which looked like a bottle of wee! Bizarrely the taxi driver who took me to Bexleyheath Station was the same guy who took me last year….and he remembered me. At least this year I had remembered some warm clothing.
I had a jumper, my big coat and a bin liner as I got off the train some 15 minutes later at Blackheath. Last year I bought a coffee at the Costa in the village and I did the same again this year. I couldn’t work out if the weather was colder than 12 months ago or not. I think it was probably a little warmer this year. I made my way on to the green and asked a marshal where I should go. Most people were walking up to the Blue start but I needed to get to the Green start which meant not following the crowd. I headed off in the other direction. I must try and get a room at the Clarendon Hotel next year. It’s right on the green. Lovely.
Red, Blue and Green
It’s worth discussing the start areas again even if you have read my previous blog about last years London Marathon. There are various starts to the race. There are three start areas, Red, Blue and Green. The Red start is THE mass start. Thousands line up on Blackheath Avenue and turn to start on Charlton Way. These are mostly charity runners. The Blue start is for those who have been successful getting a ballot place and is also the start for the elite runners. There is a big grandstand at this start and it’s the one where the announcer is and it has more of an exciting atmosphere! The Green start is much smaller compared to the other two. It is where the celebrities start and where Good For Age runners go from. In addition to this, different runners start at different times. So the wheelchair racers go off first, followed by guided and non able-bodied runners. Then the elite women start about half an hour before the mass start. There are variations to this and it can change from year to year, but in general that’s how it works.
Once in the Green Start area I almost immediately bumped in to my friend Alex Whearity from Reading Roadrunners. Alex is an annoyingly good runner with a marathon PB of 2:54 set in Paris just 3 weeks before London. We spent the next hour or so together. Much of that time was spent in toilet queues. I think we went about 4 times!! We put our bags in the trucks and joined the other runners in the starting pen. The bloke with the microphone in the green area started warning people half an hour before that the baggage trucks would be leaving, yet still there were people who didn’t get their bags on in time. It’s not like there were queues, it was just people not getting their shit together. I was in start pen 2 but when we got there pens 1 and 2 were together, so we were able to get right to the front. We hadn’t been there long when my Worthing Harriers club mate Gary Witton turned up beside us. Gary is a road runner. He does one marathon a year and hates trail running! He’s also faster than me. We both admitted that we were feeling a little nervous.
With five minutes to go the celebrity runners emerged from the tent at the side of the road and lined up just in front of us. Chris Evans, Sophie Raworth, Danny Mills, Kelly Holmes, Iwan Thomas and others. In the distance we could hear the announcer introducing the Elite Men over at the Blue Start. I crouched down and had a final little wee on the road…..and then we were off. That was the last I saw of Gary and Alex as they sped off in to the crowd. I didn’t notice any of the celebrity runners as I passed them, so focussed was I already on the task in hand. With no camera, this was to be a genuine marathon PB attempt for the first time in 10 months.
My plan had been a little up in the air until 24 hours before. I was toying with the idea of going for a sub 3 hour finish. However, after discussing things with my wife the previous day, we agreed that it was more sensible for me to target 3 hours 10 minutes. This meant a pace of just under 4:30 per kilometre or 7:15 per mile I think. I work in kilometres so pacing in miles is almost becoming an enigma to me. The first few miles of the London Marathon are rather bland, but they are downhill and it’s easy to get carried away here. I stuck rigidly to pace, refusing to let myself bound down the descents. The first major landmark is Cutty Sark at just over 6 miles. I know everyone’s experience is different but I felt the crowds weren’t quite as vociferous as last year. Although I did have my camera last year which may have raised more cheers.
London Marathon 2016
I was comfortably on pace heading through Deptford to Surrey Quays and Rotherhide before the excitement of Tower Bridge at 12 miles. My plan was to hit the 20k mark in 1:30. The timing mat for this is just over the bridge. I took in the fantastic crowd support and made sure I looked right and left over the Thames as I crossed. It is a beautiful tunnel of colour and noise and gives you a real boost just before the half way point. According to the stats I went through 20k in 1:29:33 and over the half way mat in 1:34:22. So, just do all that again and I’ll finish in 3:08:44!! Of course anyone who’s run a marathon knows that this is much easier said than done.
Between 13 and 14 miles you can see runners on the other side of the road who are 7 miles ahead. I was lucky enough, for the second year running, to catch the leaders as they headed back towards the Tower of London and on to Embankment. It’s at this point that anyone who is going to cheat the course can jump over the barriers or sneak through the underpass to the other side. There have been a few high profile cases in recent years and this year was no different. Some sister of a reality show celebrity disappeared from all the timing mats at this point and suddenly reappeared at the 40km mat having apparently covered the previous 20km in world record breaking time! I mean, really. Why? Why do it?
Digging in at the Isle of Dogs
Miles 14 to 21 take runners through the Isle of Dogs past Canary Wharf. My wife had texted me to say she was standing 50 metres past the 17 mile mark with my Coke-a-Cola. Up to this point I had taken on minimal water and I had just finished eating my Baby Brekkie Ella’s Kitchen baby food sachet. Yum. If you’re a regular follower, you know I can’t stand gels and in general I use baby food. Certainly for flat road marathons, this is my nutrition of choice. I found my wife in the crowd very easily, took the bottle and went on my way. I was still feeling strong and still keeping to pace. This time last year I could already feel that I was slowing up a little.
Although the support is still great, the Isle of Dogs section is a bit of a grind. It’s where you start to know if it’s going to happen or not. It’s where you find out if you have the mental strength to get through. Thankfully I came out the other side at mile 21 feeling ok. I know it’s awful to say, but when you see the runners on the other side of the road and you say to yourself, ‘they are only at mile 14 and I am at mile 21’ it really feels great!! There’s also a great support section here organised by Run Dem Crew which is a bit of a hip running club in London. It’s a long straight run for home past Tower Bridge again and on to Lower Thames Street, Upper Thames Street and Victoria Embankment. My friends Zoe and Liam shouted support as I passed them by the Tower of London.
When you finally see the London Eye, the end starts to become tangible. Last year by this point I was being passed by hundreds of runners as I slowed dramatically. This year was the opposite as my stats testify. I was passing hundreds of runners as I just managed to keep to my 4:30 per kilometre pace. I passed the 40km timing mat on Embankment at exactly 3 hours, leaving me with 2 kilometres to go and 10 minutes to run them in. I rounded the corner at Westminster Bridge and just as I got to St. James Park I heard Victoria shout me on to the finish. It was going to be very tight. There was no time to take in the atmosphere. No time to look at Buckingham Palace.
I squeezed past another runner on Birdcage Walk on the inside and sprinted down The Mall. I could see the main clock at the finish ticking ever closer to 3 hours 10 minutes. I wrenched the last drops of energy from my legs and crossed the line in 3 hours, 9 minutes and 43 seconds. Job done! A marathon personal best by 4 minutes and I felt pretty comfortable all the way round. Of course it’s tough, but as tough goes, that was comfortably tough. Hard work but within my capabilities and it gives me confidence that one day I may even be able to pull out a sub 3 hour marathon. We’ll see. Ignore the odd 3:20 split in my stats. My watch lost GPS signal through a tunnel and I got this erroneous split as a result.
I’d not long crossed the line when I saw a club mate, Adam Stevens, looking a little dazed and confused. He said he couldn’t remember crossing the line. So we stayed together while we collected our bags and found somewhere to get changed, by the fencing next to St. James Park and Horse Guards Parade. Strangely the spot we chose to change was right next to our other club mate Gary, with whom I had started the race. He had finished in a very impressive 3:03, a PB for him. We took the obligatory selfie and went off to meet our various family members. Adam had finished in 3:06 and my friend Alex had smashed his 3 week old Paris PB and achieved a 2 hour 50 minute marathon time. Awesome stuff Alex.
I met my wife and we had coffee in Nero in Trafalgar Square as we had done 12 months previously. This time though, I felt great. I’m not the fastest runner in the world and let me tell you, those guys running an hour faster than me absolutely amaze me. British runner Callum Hawkins finished first UK runner in 2 hours 11 minutes. I met him in Cardiff and am so impressed with what he did there, and again here. Steve Way yet again put in a great display coming in just over 2 hours 20 minutes and local runner from the Brighton Arena 80 club Gary McKivett finished in 2:36.
I came in 4th Worthing Harrier, with Kev West the fastest in 2:29. I was the second fastest person with the surname ‘Cousins’, beaten only by Katherine Cousins of Lancaster and Morecambe AC who completed the course in 3:04. There was a Victoria Cousins running. Not my wife though. We’ve seen her appear on results before. She finished in 5:42.
Paris and London Again Next Year
I’ve now done the London Marathon twice and I have every intention of doing it again and again and again, as long as I can keep qualifying as Good For Age. Unless they change the rules I’m in next year so I will see you all there. Thanks for reading and I’m sorry there was no video this year. I’m sure you understand!! Next year I will run hard at the Paris Marathon and film London. However, I do appear in this guys London Marathon 2016 video, at around 6 minutes 30 seconds in.
Thank you as always to the fantastic volunteers and marshals and to the superb support all around the course. Great organisation, awesome Green start area with no baggage problems and manageable toilet queues! Back next year for more. If you have enjoyed this London Marathon 2016 race report then please do share it or give it a like.