London Marathon 2018 – A race like no other!

What a crazy week it has been! As I stood nervously on the start line of the London Marathon, eyes gazing beyond the bouncing shoulders of the elites ahead of me and down the welcoming slope of Shooters Hill, I had a plan in my head of how I would like the race to pan out: I knew what pace I would be aiming to settle into once the Queen had signalled the start of the race; I knew that every fifth mile I would be squeezing a slightly warmed, but very welcome, carb gel down my throat and I knew that various groups of family and friends would be poised at a number of well thought out stations along the route, ready to yell messages of support (or friendly abuse) as required. I hadn’t, however, put much thought into what might happen after the race. I am sure that if I had, I would not have imagined that I’d be standing 24 hours later with a BBC Camera perched at the back of my classroom and with an e-mail flashing at me from my computer asking me to phone the local newspaper back ASAP. This was not necessarily going to be the race that I had planned, but it was certainly one which I will never forget.

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Training had been fantastic. Since crossing the finish line in Berlin seven months earlier, London had been the focus. I had put in the hours in training through a tough cross-country season, gruelling solo runs along the Clyde Walkway and even ploughing through snow courtesy of the ‘Beast from the East’. Smashing several of my PBs along the way, this was one of the most consistent training blocks that I have ever managed. The goal had always been to break 2:30:0 and I was feeling confident that this was definitely on the cards…

Then I thought about the weather. As my taper drew to a close and the carb-loading commenced, I began to think about possible race-day conditions. Most forecasts were indicating that this was going to be a warm one and to be honest my initial thoughts were relief that it wouldn’t be as cold as the training that I had suffered through in our typical Scottish Winter. It was when I started hearing whisperings of ‘the hottest London Marathon ever’ that I was forced to take things a little more seriously. At Berlin, on a cool, wet September morning, I had not consumed any water for the duration of the marathon. I knew however that in a hot London race, this would not be a sensible tactic.

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I lined up on the start line with a bottle filled with ice having taken on the advice I heard on Marathon Talk about ‘pre-cooling’. I had spent the previous hour sitting in the shade with the iced placed periodically across my shoulders and the back of my neck in order to lower my core temperature. I ditched the ice and found myself squashed in amongst the other excited athletes in the Championship Start. Having had difficulties with congestion in the past, I managed to make my way to the front and found myself tucked in just a few rows behind the pros. Seeing the likes of Kipchoge just ahead of me was phenomenal and it is moments like that which make running in a big city marathon that little bit special. Before I had a chance to get too star struck, the Queen appeared on the screen to press her button and start the race.

We were off!

People talk about the fast start at London but nothing quite prepares you for it. The long slope of Shooters Hill falls away before you and it can be very difficult to stick to a planned pace. I went through the first 5km in 17:16 – a little quicker than intended. I managed to hold myself back a little over the next 5km and settled into a pace that I felt I could sustain. Just before the half way mark I passed over Tower Bridge and felt a huge rush as the crowds roar filled the road – there is nothing quite like this moment and it never fails to take my breath away. I had found that my comfort levels were fluctuating through the first half – I had moments where I felt fantastic and others where I felt lethargic. This seemed to be a turning point however and the next 5 miles were great. I started to really enjoy the run and found I could work the crowd a little for an extra boost.

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Then I reached mile 18. This is where I first experienced the sensation that everyone who has run a marathon will know well. This was the moment that I realised I was slowing down. It is a strange feeling. I didn’t feel particularly ‘tired’, I simply realised that I was putting in the same amount of effort and yet not travelling at quite the same pace. This is where marathons are made or broken. It is a fine line that needs to be walked (or jogged!) when you still have 8 miles to complete of the race. A voice in your head is telling you to slow down to ensure that you reach the finish (this was accompanied by images of the incredible Callum Hawkins collapsing in the final stages of his marathon only weeks earlier) and yet a voice in your heart is whispering that you just need to grit your teeth and see how deep the well goes.

I saw the pace drop a little but reasoned I was still on target for my goal and that I could afford to be a little careful for a few miles. As I reached mile 22 however I realised that things were slowing more than I could afford and that the initial target was falling out of reach. I battled on in the heat and felt positive as I continued to pass other runners who were also struggling in the midday sun. I was forced to accept that the 2:30 target was not going to happen today but realised that a PB was still on the cards. I knuckled down, focused on the positive and fought my way onto the Mall.

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Crossing the line in 2:31:04, I felt a strange cocktail of emotions. As relief at finishing and the pride of having a medal draped over my shoulders mixed in with the tinge of disappointment at not hitting my target I felt strangely conflicted. This was a PB (my previous being 2:31:31) but it wasn’t the PB I wanted – I was still a 2:31 marathoner, no one really cares about the seconds! It was moments later however that I felt my first taste of overwhelming satisfaction (and slight incredulity!) as I glanced at my phone to see a message from a friend declaring me the 33rd finisher. Thirty-third?!? I thought this must be a mistake but soon had it confirmed and I was ecstatic – I had not even considered my position in the race as I had been too busy thinking about my time.

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I enjoyed a very quick celebration with my fellow runners, my brother, friends who had travelled down to watch and, of course, my wife Vicki before we needed to rush away for our flight back to Glasgow! A quick shower, a few slices of pizza in a plastic bag for the journey (thanks to my awesome sister-in-law Laura!) and a short train journey took Vicki and I to Stanstead for the final leg of our journey. A short delay to our flight meant that we were back in our flat just after 11pm and finally my head hit the pillow for a few hours kip before work on Monday morning and I enjoyed dreams of a nice, quiet day in the classroom…

“Jack, you’re needed in the headmaster’s office now – apparently it is urgent!”

My colleague had just burst in during my second period of the day with no idea what I was wanted for – but it sounded important! I was a little scared (and more than a little confused) as I entered his office but was greeted with a handshake and invited to take a seat.

“The BBC are on the phone. They want to come in for an interview – and they want to film you teaching your S3 class”

Despite my fear that I would make a fool of myself on camera, and after a stern/desperate chat with my pupils, things actually worked out OK and the footage on Reporting Scotland didn’t make me look like a complete idiot! I was overwhelmed with the messages of congratulations that I received after this and I even got a free Greggs in the morning from the staff who had seen my interview! What a bonus!

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The week since has been fantastic. I may not have achieved the initial target but I am incredibly proud of the result. I am now left planning for the future – I know that I have more to offer in the marathon, but for now it is time to reflect and recover. In the meantime I need to thank a few people who helped in the long road to London:

  • Bellahouston Harriers – for providing a huge level of support to all of us who were running.
  • Matt – who put up with almost daily questions and who provided an unparalleled level of advice and guidance throughout the training block.
  • The Locker Room – for that extra touch of motivation when needed.

And most importantly to Vicki who put up with months of my obsession, anxiety, bragging and distraction, all the while struggling with her own injury. I couldn’t have done it without her support.

Bring on the next one…

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The Runbetweeners Review 2017

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Wow that was faster than a quick spin around parkrun – 2017, over in a flash. Another good year for both of us both on and off the road with pbs, great races, running abroad and new friends made. So before we start setting out goals at the beginning of a new year it’s that Oscar-esque moment that races up and down the land have been waiting for: the now annual Runbetweeners pick of the best races around in 2017.

 

Prior to the glittery prizes being handed out (there are none before anyone contacts us) we both agree that this years major highlight has been the real establishment of The Runbetweeners running group in the south side of Glasgow – to such an extent that we’ve now both been ‘spotted’ on at least two occasions. In true Ant and Dec fashion though it’s clear some of you are still not sure which one’s The Boy and which one is Kenny. The best ‘spot’ was definitely as we cheered on the Stirling Marathon and two runners after a few double takes gave us a shout of ‘it’s definitely them. It’s The Runbetweeners. The most handsome runners in the south side of Glasgow’. We might have added the ‘most handsome’ bit in case the shouter is reading this 🙂

 

Anyway back to the group, we are delighted that our numbers continue to grow and many of our members are taking on new and exciting personal challenges. We have had great times together with monthly trips to taste some of the best cakes the central belt has to offer, often with a sideshow of a parkrun or charity 5k.

 

Unbelievably, we were shortlisted for JogScotland Group of the Year towards the end of 2017. We had a great night at the Scottish Athletics Awards with an impressive 30 members in attendance and although we did not win the main prize it was a huge honour to even be considered and to rub shoulders with the great and the good including Callum Hawkins, Laura Muir and Sammi Kinghorn.

 

This blog though is about the races we most enjoyed in 2017 and ones we’d encourage you to look out for in 2018. Hope you enjoy and let us know if you agree or have your own favourites.

 

10. Sheffield Hallam parkrun

JA: I returned to Sheffield Hallam parkrun at the start of 2017 and was chuffed to be lining up alongside the incredible Jess Ennis! The run was a fun and fast one and the atmosphere was fantastic. It was also nice to have a chat with Paul Sinton-Hewitt himself at the end of the run and to discuss the experiences that I have had as part of the team at Rouken Glen Junior parkrun

https://therunbetweeners.wordpress.com/2017/02/07/running-with-an-olympic-legend/

 

9.  The Jimmy Irvine

KT: A great run for both of us. I loved the undulating, lapped course around Bellahouston Park. This one makes the Top 10 for me as I am convinced it’s one of my best ever race performances. A day when I felt good, ran hard and secured a massive pb.

https://therunbetweeners.wordpress.com/2017/11/13/the-jimmy-irvine-10k/

 

8. Tom Scott 10 Miler

KT: This was my first shot at the 10 mile distance and another cracking day when everything just seemed to click. I felt strong throughout and was able to reel in a number of runners on the small inclines in the second half of the route. This was a key race in my build up to London and showed I was coming out of winter training in good shape for the new season. A real confidence builder.

https://therunbetweeners.wordpress.com/2017/04/06/tom-scott-road-race-10-miler/

 

7. Cowal Hill Race

KT: This is a proper race. A real traditional no-frills event. Cheap to enter with a small field of runners it is a tough uphill slog followed by a sprint to the finish. With beers and food on tap and free entry to The Cowal Games at the end this one has everything you would want. I love going back to Dunoon to catch up with the guys in the Hill Runners and was pleased to finish so high up the field.

https://therunbetweeners.wordpress.com/2017/08/26/cowal-hill-race/

 

6. Moira’s Run

JA/KT: This was a great day out with The Runbetweeners and a brilliantly appropriate race for our club. The sun always shines on Moira’s run with the race itself taking second place to the wonderfully happy atmosphere that engulfs the park. Great to see so many familiar faces and a brilliant effort by all of The Runbetweeners on a very tough course.

https://therunbetweeners.wordpress.com/2017/11/16/moiras-run-5k/

 

5. Bellahouston Harriers Time Trial

JA: The Harriers Time Trials this year were all fantastic and the July event was a particular favourite of mine this year. The cheap entry cost, enthusiastic turnout and fantastic post-run soup always make this a good experience but this event was also my first time at dipping below 10minutes which had been a big barrier on the horizon for a while. Loved it!

https://therunbetweeners.wordpress.com/2017/07/09/bellahouston-harriers-2m-time-trial/

 

4. Run Mhor Half Marathon

KT: I loved the scenery, the climbs and the race with this one being a battle to hold on to position from the start for me. With the right amount of road, trail and challenge this suited me to a tea. I was pleased to run so quickly on a very tough course following a reasonable break after the London Marathon. The food and drink at the end didn’t interest me in the slightest or have any bearing on my decision to rank this one so highly 🙂

JA: As Kenny has mentioned, the stunning location of this run made it a fantastic experience and the climb at the end, whilst horrific during the running, led to a particularly incredible view. Also, any race that ends with a free pint and a fish and chips van is going to be good with me!

https://therunbetweeners.wordpress.com/2017/06/25/run-mhor-2017-a-top-ten-route/

 

3. The Kyles 10 Miles

KT: Another race that seems to be blessed with guaranteed sunshine. This has become a must do event for our calendar for the last few years. I was again pleased with my run and a big course pb. Pleased to see so many familiar faces making the journey and hopefully more will make the trip this year.

JA: This was our third trip to the event and we have had a hat-trick of glorious weather. This was a big PB for the both of us and it was great to sit out in the sun after the race and enjoy a beer and a burger with a group of good pals.

https://therunbetweeners.wordpress.com/2017/09/10/kyles-10-miles-round-3/

 

2. The Coigach Half Marathon

KT: About as perfect an event as I could imagine making the 5 hour journey totally worth it. Incredible scenery, fantastic hospitality, a challenging route and brilliant post-race catering. If The Boy had made the journey this would definitely have been our race of the year. As it is it’s ranked as our highest place race in Scotland for 2017.

https://therunbetweeners.wordpress.com/2017/10/20/coigach-half-marathon/

 

1. London Marathon / Berlin Marathon

KT: I’ve never felt so comfortable in any race and knew I was on for a big pb at London this year. This is just a special race. The emotion, the support, the sights and the noise are overwhelming at times. I focused on enjoying the experience this time around after learning harsh lessons and having my butt kicked in previous marathons and managed a near 20 minute pb with plenty left in the tank for my next visit to the big smoke.

https://therunbetweeners.wordpress.com/2017/04/30/tips-for-first-time-marathoners-the-london-marathon-2017/

 

JA: The entire build up to this event was a fantastic experience and I loved having good mates (and a wife!) to prepare with in the weeks prior to the event. The weekend away was awesome and the race went perfectly to plan. Vicki and I both ran nice PBs and it was great to celebrate the run with our pals afterwards in Berlin.

https://therunbetweeners.wordpress.com/2017/11/15/a-very-late-summary-of-my-final-preparations-for-the-berlin-marathon/

 

 

Tips for First Time Marathoners – The London Marathon 2017

A week on, and with the pain in my legs now a distant memory, it seems the time is right to review my 4th crack at the London Marathon and 6th tilt at the distance overall. Well not really a review – more a message to myself 7 years ago and hopefully to some of you gearing up to your first marathon.

 

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So Many Messages of Support

 

Setting off for Blackheath last Sunday I’ll admit I knew I was going to run strongly and that there would be no repeat of the infamous walk/crawl/drink beer strategy adopted on my last London in 2013. I had a 3:20 and 3:25 timing band on my wrist and knew with 100% confidence I would achieve this sensible goal in my marathon journey. Quite a jump from my previous runs of 4:02, 3:57 and 4:03. The reason was simple – with a badly bruised ego after several calamitous runs I was finally ready to listen to all the advice anyone who’d ever run a marathon before had ever given me. I’d made most of the mistakes they advised me to avoid and wonder in hindsight if that had to happen for me to finally accept what they were telling me.

 

When you tell other runners you’re doing your first marathon you will hear the same things all of the the time. Guys telling you about mistakes they’ve made and warning you not to make them too. But if you’re stubborn like me you’ll convince yourself they don’t apply to you, that you are ready to hit a strong performance before you are ready. Well the reality is that if you don’t treat it with the respect it deserves the marathon will bite you on the back side. For me I’ve had to learn from my mistakes before I got to this stage. I’ve sat head in hands at the roadside. I’ve clung on to barriers. I’ve willed people to stop shouting my name and longed for the ground to swallow me up. On the flip side my stubbornness has somehow got me around each of the previous 5 marathons I’ve run.

 

If you’re lucky you might be the type of person that listens to others or you might learn some of them in training. If not remember so many factors come in to play on race day so be prepared. So much has to go right – kit, weather, nutrition, health, pacing, ablutions etc. As a result your first marathon is unlikely to be your best or even the most pleasant experience but like most tough things in time you’ll only remember the good bits. You’ll dust yourself down and get back on again.

 

 

So what makes me so happy with last week’s effort? Was it time? No it was being in a mindset beforehand that I was going to enjoy it, run consistently (perhaps even a bit within myself) and make a good stride forward in my own marathon story.

 

And that is it. The realisation that I wanted to be happy with my performance and not beat myself up about a time afterwards. It’s the first lesson I was told and the one you’ll get when you tell an experienced runner you are doing the marathon – listen to them. Be happy with your performance and don’t chase a time goal. Running 4:02 in my first really annoyed me when I should have been really pleased I could get around and proud of that fact.

 

What else should you know?

 

Lesson two is let the field go. I’ve learned to pace races well in the last few seasons and every race I go to sees most folk hitting the start too fast and fading in the second half. Nothing gives you the feeling of a strong performance better than being able to pick up speed in the home straight (well maintain your pace in the marathon – hanging on in the final miles is as good as speeding up). Consistent splits will see you reel similar runners in who set off too fast. This is a timely boost (albeit based on the suffering of others but I’ve been the other so it’s ok). Negative splitting is difficult in the marathon but consistent pacing is possible for all.

 

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A Career in Professional Pacing Beckons

 

Lesson 3 – listen to your body and adjust your goal accordingly. You’ll know by mile 9 how you are feeling. Do a body MOT from head to toe. If this is starting to sound a bit like the runner’s cliche bingo it’s because the things you always hear are right. So if it’s not your day treat it as a training run and drop the goal pace. Trying to stick with Plan A when it is not going well will result in a really tough day out, probably a world of pain and maybe even some tears (I mean dust in my eye).

 

Lesson four – don’t let a costumed runner dictate your race strategy. Trying to stay ahead of someone dressed as a banana isn’t sticking to your race plan. It’s messing with your speed and that banana is just going to pass you later in the race. It’s a long way and that banana is probably a sub 3 hour marathoner once peeled. It’s a potential banana skin 🙂

 

 

Lesson five – when the pacer for your life goal goes past consider letting them go. When the 3:15 bus went past me last week I was so content it actually felt good letting them disappear over the horizon. It meant I was on pace. They should be getting further ahead of me. Rewind 3 years and I would have been trying to cling on to them for dear life. This resulted in the 3:30, 3:45 and 4:00 paceall passing me before the finish line. That’s a poor outcome in any book.

 

Lesson six – do not worry about your pace until the crowd thins. If you’re first mile is a minute down from goal pace, bonus. You’ve just had an easy mile and you’re in better shape than expected for the final 25.2. Unless you have the self discipline to catch it up at 2 seconds a mile for the final 25 let it go. If you try and catch it up you’ll bust yourself as you’ll try to do it in those very important first miles. Relax in to the race. Aim to feel strong certainly at half way. Similarly do not weave in and out at the start to get on pace. This will increase your total distance. 26.2 is crazy, who wants to run any more.

 

And that is about it. I was so determined to enjoy it and run steady that the miles flew by. The route merge where the Red and Blue starts come together and Cutty Sark passed the first 50 minutes with a carnival of music and dance as we passed through different boroughs. I was having a blast and the greatest danger of cramp was in my cheeks as I laughed and smiled my way along the first half of the run. Turning the corner to Tower Bridge I allowed myself to enjoy the iconic sights and crowd at one of the most special parts of the course. Turning right towards the notorious Isle of Dogs I cheered the elite runners coming the other way – 9 miles further up the road – rather than curse them for being so close to the end.

 

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Mile 14 – This Year The Banana Thorn in My Side Was a Giant Corn in the Cob

 

 

Another strategy I adopted from around mile 9 this time around was to count down the miles rather than count up. Mentally this helped in bringing the finish line closer and closer with each marker. Seeing my support crew twice helped as well as chasing the Road Runner vest several hundred metres ahead of me. The World Record for fastest Bishop, Monk and Nun was either just in front or behind me for most of the race meaning the crowds were noisier than normal and with the weather brightening up over the morning there seemed to be more people on the route than ever before.

 

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Mile 21 – Still Enjoying It But Lost The Ability To Direct Waves At People I Know

 

And so as I exited Canary Wharf I did another top to bottom body MOT and was in good shape aside from a nasty chafe on my right ankle – a new one on me. Vaseline-d up I was able to keep going with only minor discomfort. A great feeling with approximately seven miles to go. Then as always it gets tough and you need to dig deep. From the elite through the club runners to the run-walkers this is the same and what unites everyone who runs the marathon. If it was easy everyone would do it. Keeping going is the last thing you want but knowing you are well prepared and getting closer to home with every step will see you through.

 

This time around it was mile 22-24 when I started to hurt but nowhere near how bad it had been before and perhaps that is what got me through. I’d made mistakes by not listening to others and hurt big time in 2013 but maybe that is what it took for me – to learn the hard way. And then you see Big Ben and it still hurts. I used the mile dedication strategy for the final seven miles, thinking of someone during each mile. This hadn’t been planned and I found myself thinking of quite different people when the going got tough. This definitely helped.

 

And then you get near the finish and people tell you it starts to get easier again. Well this is one piece of advice that is wrong 🙂 It doesn’t get easier and the 1 mile to go, 800m to go, 600m to go and 400m to go will make you want to punch whoever thought it was a good idea to cruelly count down such massive distances at that stage of a marathon. The only one that helps is rounding the corner at Buckingham Palace with 200m to go and seeing that iconic finish line.

 

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Crossing the line in 3:22:31 I had managed a 35 minute course pb and a 22 marathon pb. I know I could have run faster but I was delighted. Anything faster would have been too big a risk, too big a jump and I wouldn’t have had a really great experience. So that is what a good performance is for me now. Incremental improvements towards my goals making sure I continue to learn how to run. The simplest of things but a much more complex sport than I ever imagined when I decided to become a runner back in 2010 with my first London Marathon.

 

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Lisa Covered As Many Miles As Me Out On The Course Supporting

 

It is such a great event. Full of emotion with great stories, real people, amazing sights and vocal support all around. I am really glad to have been lucky enough to take part in four. My only regret was not listening to other marathoners sooner.

 

Or perhaps all this is sentimental rubbish and the reason I ran so well was that I dressed backwards. Wearing my vest back to front in particular made The Boy’s year.