Last weekend we traveled from Aberdeen to London so Kynon could run the London Marathon. After a catalogue of minor fails which resulted in the weekend falling seriously short of potential; I’ve put together some humorous thoughts which could be applicable to any major city marathon, especially one you’ve traveled a distance to attend…
1.Choose your hotel very carefully
This is really a no-brainer, but we made a poor choice in booking three nights at the Ibis Styles ExCel Centre. The hotel itself was largely acceptable (apart from paper thin walls and a bathroom that stunk of marijuana…but I’ll leave the rest of that moan for TripAdvisor), but the ExCel Centre is a lot further away from Central London than we expected. Whilst Kynon could walk to the Expo at the ExCel in five minutes, that was really the only benefit of this location which is 30 – 40 minute tube ride from Central London, and on the edge of a sketchy housing estate. Whilst it was good value, I would have happily paid double the rate to be closer to the London action. We booked in December, so if you are planning on doing London next year, then you need to get your hotel booked yesterday…
2. Don’t get smashed in the 48 hours before the race
Another no-brainer really, but it’s amazing how easily these things happen. Being offered the opportunity to rendezvous with a selection of friends he hadn’t seen for a while, Kynon hit the pubs of London Bridge pretty hard on Friday night which made Saturday a bit of a nightmare for him. Spending the day before a marathon feeling pretty poorly will do nothing for your mental or physical preparation, and the dehydration will negatively impact your running. If anyone finds out how to make turning down the opportunity to drink good beers and catch up with friends on race weekend a fun and appealing option, let me know.
3. Don’t go to Camden Market on a Saturday
I don’t know what came over me, but I really wanted to do a bit of market shopping. I used to love going to Camden many years ago, but I somehow missed the change in the district from ‘intriguing alternative hive’ to ‘mainstream tourist hell-hole’. I’m somewhat misanthropic at the best of times, but I had to jump on a bus and GTF overland before I committed mass-murder with a Spanish tourists’ selfie stick. Critical London error: 2/10 could do better.
4. Don’t go to NikeTown when you know you can’t afford it.
I love browsing the shiny new-season kit in Nike on Oxford St. I tend to purchase my kit when it’s months out of season and discounted massively on SportsShoes.com, so it’s nice to see what I’ll be wearing in about 18 months time. I spotted a pair of deliciously awesome £120 compression tights and was eyeing them up for the second time; I was almost about to reach for my wallet when an announcement came over the tannoy: “Attention! An incident has occurred! Please stand by for further instructions!”. The announcement was repeated several times before changing to an instruction to evacuate the building. Jeez. Ok. I know I’m broke but back off, man. I put the gorgeous tights back on the hanger and followed staff instruction to evacuate to street level alongside four floors of active-wear lovers, and the entirety of Topshop Oxford St. It turns out they were evacuating the entire block. I was mildly alarmed, but I retreated to a safe distance and attempted to call Kynon to find out where he was. It turned out he had been in the customer toilet at the time; whether that had anything to do with the evacuation is TBD, but either way my attempts at purchasing kit I can’t afford were well and truly foiled.
5. Plan your pre-race dinner
Seriously though, this is so bread-and-butter, but we somehow dropped the ball here as well and ended up wandering the streets looking for an Italian which had availability for 4 on the night before the London Marathon. LOL. We found a vaguely acceptable looking pizza cafe which was half empty and ate a very average meal. It was crap. Do your research and make a booking before you even arrive in your race city – it’s not worth the hassle or disappointment to try and wing it.
6. Plan your spectating route in advance
I did a pretty good job on this one, and managed to see Kynon twice and at the finish. I made the most of it by putting on my running kit and a CamelBak, and scooted between 9 miles, 11 miles, 24 miles, 22 miles, and back to the finish via the South Bank. I racked up a healthy 8 miles, saw many of my friends on their way, and particularly enjoyed watching the Championship and fast club runners gallop past at mile 24. There was some serious effort being deployed here which I found quite inspirational.
7. If you must lose your Oyster Card, don’t do it on Marathon day
Nobody really wants to do this anyway, but I managed to lose mine with a healthy balance on it at some point on my marathon supporting jog. Tube stations near the route are utterly mobbed on marathon day so an attempt at purchasing day or single tickets will add considerable time to your journey, as well as added expense. Thankfully someone reminded me that I can use my contactless bank card to pay, but personally I am not really comfortable with sacrificing personal privacy and security for convenience, so it is not a long term solution for me. Farewell my trusty 10 year old Oyster Card – given to me by an old friend long disappeared in the sands of time, I have no idea who it is registered to and no way of retrieving the balance.
8. Plan your post-Marathon celebrations with military precision
We all know how easy it is to fall into a bed or couch after a marathon, order delivery food, and not leave the house until you have to. That’s fine when you’re at home, but if you’re in a new city you’ll want to use your apres-race evening to soak up the last of the race atmosphere, exchange knowing nods across a bar with your fellow runners, wear your medal proudly, and generally cling on to as much of your race-cation time as possible. Hopefully you won’t have been as daft as us and booked a hotel in the middle of nowhere, but if you have, then you need to get a plan in place in advance in order to make the most of your evening. If not, risk of the following occurrences will occur: sitting in your hotel room saying ‘what do you want to do?’, ‘I don’t know, you?’, until you finally break free of the clutches of the Ibis Styles to head to the Canary Wharf area, because it’s easy to get to and there’s a Wetherspoons there that will do the job. Except, you will show up and the Wetherspoons will be inexplicably closed and you’ll find yourself wandering the empty streets of the Isle of Dogs looking for a restaurant or bar that isn’t a £200-a-head steakhouse. You will finally locate a curry house online which looks vaguely acceptable, only to find it is a tiny, deserted cave in a strip-mall next to a dual carriageway across from Westferry Station, with only two other customers in it. The curry will be crap, you will leave after one beer, and be back in the Ibis Styles taking a long hard look at yourself wondering how you managed to mess this up so badly.
So what is the overall lesson here, ladies and gentlemen? PLANNING. PLAN EVERYTHING. PLAN MORE. Piss poor planning promotes piss poor performance. We seriously messed up this one, and other than Kynon having a great race and pacing his lifelong friend around his first marathon to a 4:44 finish, the whole weekend was generally the extended disco remix of mediocrity. It really shouldn’t have been; we thought we could just wing it…how hard could it be to have a great weekend in one of the greatest cities in the world? Not hard at all, but it turns out that having a shit weekend is a lot easier than we thought.
Have you ever had a race weekend disaster?
What are your tips for a stress-free race-cation?