Off the back of a superb 2016 (PBs at mile, 5k, 4M, 10k and half marathon distances) I started training for the tricky second marathon. The first had been an adventure into the unknown; a journey of firsts all the way to crossing the finish line. Like a younger sibling, the second had big shoes to fill and a benchmark had been set.
Training was great fun again and went virtually to plan; even losing a week of training and a little confidence thanks to a mystery cricked neck hadn’t prevented me from feeling ready and confident of beating that benchmark of 4:04.
My marathon weekender started with a trip to the Expo on Friday after meeting up with a chunk of the Witney Road Runner crowd for lunch. Saturday was chilled with friends for lunch in Covent Garden, a trip to see the new flagship Lego store and an evening picnic by the Thames with Tamsyn.
A surprisingly good night’s sleep was had and we set off for what the jump across London to Blackheath. It transpired that TfL wanted to keep me on my toes making it harder than it needed to be to enter Westminster station and choosing the furthest platform for the overground train at London Bridge.
After an immediate toilet trip, I had a chance to relax and soak up the atmosphere and finish getting ready. It was great to bump into fellow Witney Road Runners Adam Leary, Tony Burkett & Laura Davies to say hi before heading to our start pens, via the toilet again of course!
When I’m in the start pen for a big race I get the same feeling as I used to get when waiting to go into an exam. I try to keep myself to myself. I don’t want to hear how well prepared others are. I don’t want to hear other people’s anxieties. I don’t want to hear the inane, time filling drivel. I just want to keep calm and focus on what’s to come.
I could see the big screen from the start pen and saw Will, Kate and Harry start the race. We slowly shuffled forward until the start line was in sight. I clocked the clock as I crossed the start mats – 00:04:30 – not bad.
The first 3 miles were new to me, having started at the Red Start last time. It wasn’t as spine tingling as that first marathon feeling but you knew you were part of something special.
Passing through the first couple of mile points is an opportunity to check your pace and make sure you’re running calmly. I got my maths wrong (by adding the 4.5 minutes, rather than subtracting) and started to wonder how I could have been so slow but soon realised and got into a rhythm that was a reasonable pace.
Just after 3 miles, the entire field comes together and to my surprise I heard a familiar voice yelling from the left in an Alan Partridge style, “Dan! Dan! Daaaaan!”. It was only Andy Church with Jamie Jones and Jade Hewlett. I would later see Andy and Jade looking strong as they passed me, I think at Mudchute, around 17 miles.
It was also great to run for a stretch with two runners I’d helped coach for the London Marathon. Both fellow WRR Lucy Harris and Andrew “Grundy” Smith, the Headington Road Runner who was running for African Children’s Fund, were in good form and spirits. I was happy to stick with them for as long as I could. While I was with Lucy we saw clubmate Heather Smith; you woudn’t have known that she’d run Boston Marathon just 6 days previously!
Turning the corner to see Tower Bridge is a special moment for any London Marathoner but for a Witney Road Runner it’s extra special knowing your club mates are on the other side of it, ready to give you a boost. A special big thanks to Jacqui Gamage who was full of energy (and even ran with me for a bit on my way back along Tower Hill)!
As I passed halfway my legs weren’t as fresh as they should have been but at mile 14 I knew Tamsyn would be there to send me towards the Isle of Dogs. A surprise of another friendly face yelling “Go Wymer!” appeared around mile 15 in the shape of former colleague and fellow marathoner Nat Milstead.
Despite my legs feeling heavy, the whole section around Canary Wharf and back to Limehouse seem to pass quickly even though I was now having to put some walk breaks in.
I’d already decided that I was going to stop to talk with Tamsyn and our London friends Sara & Chris when I found them at Limehouse. The target had shifted from time to just getting to the finish. I’d considered calling it a day but I wasn’t going to let 4 months of training and all this discomfort be wasted. I wanted that medal!
In the last few miles, Jamie caught me up, himself having a similar experience, and passed me.
My legs were so achey I could hardly get them going. Walk breaks were becoming more frequent and longer. In the last underpass before the Embankment I took the chance to “use the facilities”. Sat, aching, in the dark of a portaloo is a depressing image but it was strangely cathartic and turned out to be a stroke of luck.
As I exited, having steeled myself for the last 2 miles, I caught sight of a Witney vest up ahead. Was that Jess Wright? Jess is another WRR I helped coach this year and I had a target to keep me running now. If I could ease myself up to her I could at least see how she’s doing and wish her well to the finish before taking another break.
When I got to Jess, she said she was feeling wrecked. Snap! Having helped Jess plan her training I knew that despite feeling shattered she was on for a big PB and somehow my mind switched to helping her to her best finish possible and off my desire to walk.
I can’t remember what we talked about. I think we talked? We just kept each other going and we were soon on Birdcage Walk. Jess gave me permission to leave her if I wanted to sprint the finish but I wasn’t going to do that; she’d helped keep me running the last 2 miles of a painful marathon.
We crossed the line and out came the emotions, from both of us. Jess had just smashed her PB by 41 minutes! She was in tears. I was in tears for her. I was so pleased for her. I was so pleased my marathon was over.
I finished in 4:12:55, 9 minutes slower than 2 years ago but immeasurably harder. Any excuse for a spreadsheet, here are my 5k splits from last both 2015 and 2017 London Marathons:
As always the meet and greet area was heaving but it was a chance to catch up with supporters and clubmates alike. Grundy appeared with a big grin on his face – he’d loved it and scored a new PB and his first sub 4 hour marathon. Phew! He’d wanted to run the London Marathon so much I’d hoped he wouldn’t be disappointed. He wasn’t, although he said no more marathons; except for Berlin in September!
Heading to the Morpeth Arms to catch up with the rest of the club Tamsyn was keeping an eye on the tracker for another friend and new Witney Road Runner, Abi Adams.
Abi’s motivation to take on the London Marathon was her mum, who’d been diagnosed with breast cancer. Abi came to me for help having never run more than 10k and injury problems meant she hadn’t run more than 13 miles in training and hadn’t run for the best part of 6 weeks leading up to race day. She’d combined physio advice with a run/walk plan we’d worked on to make the day as bearable as possible.
I knew Abi was a strong woman and had the determination to complete the marathon but was astounded, given her less than perfect build up, that she completed her first marathon in 5:11:37 and raised over £2,500 for Breast Cancer Now in the process. What an inspiration!
The London Marathon 2017 was a real mix of emotions for me. My first marathon in 2015 had left hungry for more but I’m in no hurry to try my luck in the London Marathon ballot any time soon. On the other hand, the feeling I get from helping people to such great personal achievements is so powerful.
All the messages and calls I’ve received have also helped me to be proud of completing my second marathon, despite the tinge of personal disappointment. I’m sure there will be a third at some point but for the time being I’m going to enjoy running some shorter distances and help others to run the best marathons they can instead.