I have been a very, very lucky boy when it comes to the London Marathon. The very first year I applied in the ballot, I got in. Here’s the video from that day. It seems so unfair, given that there are people who have applied every year for 10 years and never been granted a place. It’s not my fault, I just applied like everyone else!
My Fourth London Marathon
That was in 2015. I ran again in 2016 because I managed to get in via Good For Age qualification. As of today that is still my marathon PB. I managed 3:09 something and it was definitely my best road marathon performance. I ran again in 2017 because I was working with Martin Yelling filming a series of short training and preparation videos, which were broadcast on the London Marathon Facebook page in the run up to this year’s marathon. See my video of that run here and watch the London Marathon 2018 training videos here. That took us 5 hours to run because we kept going back and forth trying to get the right shots! Thankfully I was able to qualify for the 2018 race using my 2016 GFA time. My 2016 London Marathon time of 3:09 was well under the required 3:15 for my age group and lasts for two years of guaranteed entry. However, just days after many people had run the Brighton, Manchester and Paris Marathons this year, the London Marathon organisers dropped a bombshell. The GFA times were changing.
Many, including people I know, had trained for and achieved what they believed to be GFA times to qualify them for guaranteed entry in 2019. The next day they woke up to find the time they achieved was no longer eligible. A friend of mine had got 3:13 in Brighton only to discover that the time he needed had changed from 3:15 to 3:05 overnight. Furthermore, now, even a time of under 3:05 would not guarantee a place. The further under the required time you manage, the more likely you are to get a GFA spot.
Changing the GFA Times
Luckily for me, I had always targeted the London Marathon 2018 as my fast marathon for the year and my training had been geared to some degree towards achieving a GFA time at London. With the change in the GFA qualifying times I had a week to mentally prepare to try and run 3:10 instead of 3:15. Unfortunately, I didn’t handle this very well. When I heard, rather than focussing my mind in a positive way towards achieving the new target, I crumbled and took a rather negative view of the situation.
Three hours fifteen minutes would have been a good time for me, given that a lot of my running is slow, ultra distance running and I don’t concentrate on speed per se. I was confident I could give it a go but I’d have to be on my game to get it. 3:10, to me, was an entirely different proposition. Where was I going to find those extra 5 minutes?!! I immediately started talking down my expectations. It would have to be an absolutely perfect day for me to get under 3:10 again.
Hottest London Marathon Ever
Then came the weather forecast. One of the hottest London Marathons ever was predicted. I just don’t do well in the heat. If you see me running an ultra in the summer through beautiful countryside. You will quite often find me lying prostrate in a river or swimming in the sea to cool off. I just can’t regulate my body temperature in hot weather and my pace really suffers. So that was it. There was absolutely no way I was ever going to run a sub 3:10 marathon at London this year.
I knew I was being overly negative and that a negative attitude at the outset is no way to go into a race. But there it was. To add to my problems, I was working at the London Marathon 2018 Expo for three days, which meant being on my feet for hours. I was also supposed to be running on a treadmill for some of the time to demonstrate Zwift. Zwift is an online training tool where you can run or cycle in a virtual world. It makes indoor training a whole lot more interesting and entertaining and I love it. I’ve been using it for well over three years but they have only recently introduced the running feature. I was asked to come along and help out on the Zwift stand. I was delighted to be asked and very happy to do it. But it certainly was not what one might consider the ideal preparation for the race itself!
Working with Zwift
Working on the Zwift stand was great fun though. We introduced loads of people to Zwift (short video of my time at expo) and I got to hang out a bit with my friend Martin, who was presenting his expert marathon talk on the main stage. It was nice that during his presentation he showed some of the videos he and I made at last year’s London Marathon. There were loads of people I knew working or passing through expo so it was a fab experience. I was also fortunate to meet the legend that is Steve Jones. Martin, he and I shared the train to Expo on the Friday and he said he was fully expecting Mo Farah to beat his 34 year old British marathon record of 2:07:13. I am rarely star-struck but, Steve Jones!
Given all of the things I’ve listed above going against me, my expectations for the race itself were pretty low. But I decided I would still start out at the required pace for a 3:10 finish and see how far I could get. You just never know. The day didn’t get off to the best start, however. I have never actually gone to the Green Start via the officially advertised route. This year I did. I got the train to Maze Hill. Never again. I guess it’s called Maze ‘Hill’ for a reason. The walk to the Green Start is further than for any other start. It’s miles, and up a steep hill!! I know the organisers want to avoid overcrowding, but next time I will be getting the train to Blackheath and walking up through the village. Much shorter, so much nicer and a Costa Coffee en route!
The Green Start
When I eventually arrived at the Green Start there was the longest queue I have ever seen there. Usually the Green Start is the small, quiet start. Not many people and feels much more intimate. This time it seemed there were a lot more people and there was security checking of bags at the entrance, so it took ages to get in. I was nice and early though, so I still had plenty of time once I was in. Your job on entering the start area at the London Marathon, whether it’s red, blue or green, is to get in the toilet queue as soon as possible. Once you’ve used the toilet, join the back of the toilet queue again. Oh and make sure you put your bag in the baggage truck before the cut off time.
Don’t worry, the guy on the speaker system will keep telling you over and over again that you need to get your bag on the truck because it’s leaving in 30 minutes, 25 minutes, 20 minutes, 15 minutes, 10 minutes, 5 minutes. “GET YOUR BAG ON THE TRUCK NOOOOOOOOWWWWWWW!!!!!” Or words to that effect. Obviously, you can’t get your bag on the truck because you’re in the toilet queue and you can’t leave the toilet queue becaus you might need the toilet in a minute. What do you want to do? Get to the end of the marathon with no clean dry clothes or food, or wee yourself during the marathon because you didn’t get to go to the toilet, but at least you have a change of clothes when you’ve finished. You could always stop for a wee en route but then you sacrifice your marathon PB, which you’ve been training meticulously for for 6 months and your pace is set at 5 minutes per kilometre and you can’t budge from that.
Why is the Marathon 26.2 Miles Long
Anyway, I digress. I was in Pen 2 at the Green Start. I was over the start line within 50 seconds of the gun going off after the Queen had, with historic significance, started the race from Windsor Castle. The historic significance being that the only reason the officially accepted marathon distance, across the world, is 26.2 miles, is because Queen Alexandra requested that the 1908 Olympic Marathon start from the lawn at Windsor Castle, so her children could watch from the nursery. The distance was standardised from this in 1921 and has remained the same ever since. So the Queen starting the London Marathon 2018 from the lawn at Windsor is a nod in that direction.
Because the sun was out and it was really warm from the get-go, the crowds were out in force. It was without question the loudest and most well supported marathon I have been a part of. The crowds around the main tourist sites were phenomenal. The Cutty Sark at 6 miles in, is the first place where this is really evident. I managed to stay on course and relatively comfortable through here and through 10 miles. But before Tower Bridge I was beginning to feel tired. I don’t normally take on much food or water during a marathon, but the sun was making it impossible to run my normal race. I began dousing myself and drinking way more than I normally would.
Crossing Tower Bridge is another massive highlight and I tried to take it all in, genuinely thinking I may not see this again for a few years. I saw Victoria, my wife, just around the corner and shouted to her that I was shattered. She told me later that she could tell I was suffering as my running style alters. The half way point is not far after Tower Bridge on the way to the Isle of Dogs. I crossed the timing mat at pretty much exactly 1 hour 35 minutes. But I knew I wasn’t going to keep it up. It was a massive boost to see the lead runners coming back the other way Kipchoge in the lead and Mo Farah not far behind in third place. Mo must have to deal with that noise all the way around the route. Incredible.
It’s at this point on the course where most of the cheating goes on. It’s relatively easy to cross the street and start running in the other direction. So instead of being at 13 miles, you’re now at 22 miles. The only people stupid enough to do this, of course, are the ones who don’t realise how easy it is to spot. If you do decide to cheat here, you won’t pass over the 25km, 30km and possibly the 35km timing mats. The London Marathon team and plenty of eagle eyed individuals will spot these omissions immediately and you’ll be reported and disqualified. There have been a good few high profile cases in the past and I’m sure it will happen again in the future.
No GFA For Me!
I struggled on through the Isle of Dogs, knowing that I was slowing all the time. If there is any point of the London Marathon course that is marginally less well supported it is around the 16-18 miles mark before you get to Canary Wharf. You have to dig in here and concentrate or you’ll lose motivation and it’s a long slow march of death home from here. I was certainly not the only one suffering in the heat. Plenty of people were walking from very early on and plenty of people stopped altogether. I came upon a club colleague, Ben, at around 19 miles. He is usually much faster than me, but he was completely done by the weather. I wished him well and carried on. I was now at a slow jog.
Passing the Run Dem Crew supporters, who are always at around 21 miles is a massive boost. They are so loud and raucous. It really spurs you on. I passed my wife again at 22 miles and waved to her on the other side of the road and ran past the Tower of London with three miles to go along Embankment. I was now drenched with water and probably a stone heavier because of it! I kept wringing my top out but then throwing more water over myself at the next water station! The time goals kept gradually slipping away. 3:10 had long gone. I kept hold of the 3:15 goal for a while but eventually that went too. In the final 4 miles the 3:20 goal was also lost and I was left sprinting to the line down the Mall to creep in just under 3:25.
London Marathon 2018
Well that was much harder work that I had hoped it would be!! Here’s my Strava from the race. Surely I am fitter than a 3:25 marathon! I think I can probably take 10 minutes off because of the weather, but that still only gets me in at 3:15. Not good enough for a GFA place. It was interesting that not long after finishing, my legs felt pretty good. I had no cramp and my walking returned to near normal, which suggests there was more to give from my legs, had the heat not burned its lethargy into my soul. The cut off for GFA applications for next year’s London Marathon in August 2018. So I will be doing another flat marathon in June this year as a final attempt to get under 3:10, so I can at least apply. We’ll see.
It’s a shame that my London Marathon 2018 race was a bit of a disappointment because overall, having worked at the Expo and with the crowds being the best ever, it was an amazing experience. Hopefully I’ll still be working in some capacity with Zwift this time next year, so even if I don’t actually run the marathon, I’ll be able to be a part of the event at the Expo again. I am a trail and ultra runner, but I do love a good old fashioned big city road marathon with all its razzmatazz. I have done Paris 7 times and London 4 times and I fully intend to do plenty more in the future alongside my ridiculous 100 mile jaunts across the countryside!