Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Virgin London Marathon 2015 - RACE REPORT

This year's Virgin London Marathon (VLM) was the realisation of a long held dream to run the world's largest marathon which has seen me unsuccessfully gain a place through the ballot for the last 4 years.  After reading about the fantastic work of Hospice UK and their support of hospices throughout the UK I decided that I would apply for a coveted golden bond charity place, with a £2000 fundraising target. After 4 months of dedicated training, covering 400+ miles, I felt fitter than I had ever been during my 4 previous marathons.  This weekend was what it was all about, that sub 3hrs15mins target that I had set as my goal for the last 2 years.

After heading down to London on the Saturday my first stop was the VLM Expo at the Excel centre.  The main reason for attending was to pick up my race pack which included my number, timing chip and final instructions for race day.  The Expo had been open since Wednesday but the Saturday was always their busiest day, with over half of the 40,000 runners expected.  Despite the big crowds everything was really well organised and I joined a relatively small queue and received my pack within a few minutes.

As I moved into the main hall I could really feel the buzz and excitement of the other runners, as well as plenty of nervous and anxious ones.  The main hall itself was very busy and it was a bit of a squash moving through the endless trade stands of running paraphernalia, from  running shoe brands through to physio tape, wireless earphones, GPS devices and any other conceivable running gadget.  I made my way to the Virgin Money lounge as I new there was some keynote speakers there who would be giving advice about race day.  As I listened to an entertaining presentation which showed runners what to expect at each part of race day and the course itself it all began to seem very real, with a mixture of nerves and excitement churning up in my stomach.  The obligatory picture next to the VLM logo after the presentation and then it was off to find the Hospice UK stand.


The charity itself had over 100 runners entered into the marathon, each with a story and their own special reason for running.  It was great to see Nicola and Sarah-Jane from the charity, after meeting them the previous month of the Adidas Silverstone Half Marathon.  Another obligatory photo call next to the charity's logo and it was time to leave the expo and head to the hotel.

In order to avoid battling public transport on race day, I chose a hotel which was close to the start. The Greenwich Hotel were ready for the runners with a special evening menu and an early breakfast.  A sneaky pint in the bar after dinner set me up for a great night's sleep, waking on race day morning fresh and ready for what lay ahead. 




Pre Race Breakfast & Photo call
The 2015 miles comrades
meet at last!
 At 7:30am I joined the other Hospice UK runners hosted by the charity at the Spanish Galleon pub, Greenwich.  This was an opportunity to meet the rest of the 'team', particularly those who had been so active on our Facebook group - I particularly relished the opportunity to meet the legendary Simon Singleton - marathoner extraordinaire!  A quick coffee, banana and final kit check and there was just time for a team photo before heading off together to the race start.

Pre Race Breakfast
Team Hospice UK 2015

The Race!
After a 10 minute walk to Greenwich Park the group naturally split up and most went their separate ways to drop off  kit bags onto the lorries and join the BIG queues for the infamous portaloos!  I soon found starting pen 2 and got myself ready for the start of the race. I was much closer to the Red start than I expected and realised I would hopefully get going pretty soon after the official start time of 10:10am.

As the hooter sounded I gradually began edging my way towards the startling, first a few steps, then a steady walk and eventually I was running through the start line and was off on my 26.2 mile adventure.  I'd been prepared to run the first mile slower than target pace of 7:20 -7:25 per mile if necessary as I expected to be crammed in with other runners. Surprisingly this wasn't the case and I found there was plenty of room to run at the pace I wanted, passing the Mile 1 marker in 7:24.  I'd read so much about the London crowds and they didn't disappoint with 1000s of spectators lining the streets as I made my way towards Woolwich where the 3 different start groups would join up in, what looked from a distance like, a never ending river of runners stretching as far as the eye could see. I went through 5k in 22:54 (12 seconds up on target pace) feeling good and trying to take in as much of the experience as possible.  By 10k I was 15 seconds up on my target pace and heading towards one of the busiest parts of the course, The Cutty Sark. Here I ran past the first Hospice UK cheer station which gave me such a buzz and a massive surge of energy to send me on my way. 

Hospice UK Supporters @ The Cutty Sark - Leading Mens Group (I'm 'just' behind!)

By 15k, and after 250ml of isotonic drink,  my pace had settled a little, going through in 1:09:13 (9 seconds up on target pace).  The next land mark I was looking forward to was Tower Bridge, just after mile 12.  I caught the eye of the runner next to me and could see the excitement on his face as we both simultaneously let out a cheer of 'here we go!'. The sound of the crowd was almost deafening with seemly every charity having its biggest cheer station at this point.  I wasn't sure where the Hospice UK supporters would be and, as I neared the end of the bridge, thought I'd missed them.  I then caught a glimpse of their bright yellow banners  and managed to raise an arm and a sort of smile as I went past - again the cheer station gave me a well need burst of adrenaline.   I went through the half way point in 1:37:15 which was 35 seconds faster than expected.  It was at this point I became concerned that I had gone off a little too fast and could easily pay for this in the final miles.  Although I was still feeling good I tried to relax my pace, taking on another 250ml of isotonic so it would be fully in my system for miles 16-19, where the wheels so brutally came of at the 2013 Yorkshire Marathon when I was also attempting to break 3hrs15min.  As I headed through the quieter docklands area I realised my pace hadn't actually reduced and I was still running relatively comfortably at this pace, going through 30k in 2:18:09 - now 29 seconds up on target pace.  As I ticked off the mile markers 20, 21, 22 I still felt great, although my final 250ml isotonic was a bit of a struggle to palate.  I passed mile 23 feeling strong and decided that I had enough left to push on at this point, hoping the wheels would stay on and the ever threatening 'wall' would not come and get me.  I ran 35-40k in 22:36 (my fastest 5k of the race) bringing me another 30 seconds up on my target time.  As I reached the embankment with Big Ben in the distance my legs began to feel it and began thinking of all those who had supported me in my fundraising efforts and the real reason I was running this race.  The final Hospice UK cheer station gave me the final boost as I headed through Parliament Square and 
up towards Buckingham Palace.  
As the distance markers began counting down t (rather than up), '800 meters to go', '600 meters to go' I could feel the emotions beginning to stir in me as I held back the tears and feeling of elation - I wasn't their yet.  I passed the '385 yards to go' sign and looked over to see Buckingham Palace, knowing just one more corner to go.  As I turned and entered The Mall I pushed as hard as I could and attempted some kind of sprint to the finish line.  With arms raised I crossed the finish line in 3:13:31, meaning I had run 1:29 faster than expected and had achieved a new personal best by over 11 minutes.

Post Race Reception

After collecting my medal, goodie bag and being reunited with my kid bag I was met by a charity volunteer who escorted me up to the post race reception at the QEII centre, just a few minutes walk from the finish.  As soon as I arrived I was offered a massage to bring my legs back to life and reunite me with my calf muscles!  I also took advantage of the hot food laid on, hoping to get my body in recovery mode as quickly as possible.  A final photo next to the Hospice UK marathon banner and that was that, London had been 'done' and it was back off to sunny Yorkshire.

Looking back now on the race I can truly say it was one of the most exhilarating experiences of my life.  It was an honour to run for such a wonderful charity and can't thank all the Hospice UK staff and volunteers enough for all their hard work during the weekend and making all of their runners so comfortable.  I would also like to thank every single person who has supported my in raising the £2050, I couldn't have done any of this without you.

Steve






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