Red Wine Runner

A Scottish Running Blog

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Running Science by John Brewer | Book Review

Running Science – John Brewerrunning science by John Brewer

In the last week I have been enjoying a new book which was sent to me; Running Science: Optimising Training and Performance. Published by Ivy Press, this large, hardback book is a compendium of contributions by 11 sports scientists and researchers, and edited by sports scientist and Running Magazine columnist, Professor John Brewer. The book looks at the scientific facts behind some of the world’s best performances and includes insights and analysis which apply to all runners from amateur to elite.

running science by john brewer

Running is deceptively simple as we all know. At an access level it is one of the easiest sports to break into, but to improve and reach ones’ peak potential requires a careful balance of nutrition, conditioning, and environment; all of which are firmly rooted in science. John Brewer and his team of experts examined hundreds of scientific studies on running and broke down the details and analysis to produce eight chapters of technical information, presented in a colourful and easy to understand format.

running science by john brewer

The findings are collated as a series of questions, many of which the reader will have asked themselves or their friends at some point:

Do you really need to stretch? Why can’t I catch my breath after I stop running? Do I have to load up on carbs to be a good endurance runner? What is DOMS and is it beneficial? Do i really need to warm up?

Anyone who has ever been in a running Facebook group will be familiar with the standard sofa-scientist answers to these questions, delivered with un-sourced references to ‘I once heard…’ or ‘In my experience…’. Of course there is some benefit to hearing about others’ experiences, but it is really refreshing to look up a question in this book and then get a fully referenced, scientific answer with a short, digestible explanation and diagrams where appropriate.

running science by john brewer

Other questions enhance appreciation for the incredible feats of the worlds’ greatest athletes – what would it actually take to run a 2 hour marathon? The Nike project certainly came close recently, but we still haven’t quite got there. Brewers’ answer to this question gives us a technical breakdown of what he thinks is actually required to achieve this, which isn’t too distant from what Nike recently attempted.

running science by john brewer

There are sections for specific events such as marathons and ultras, as well as questions regarding equipment and kit, including an answer to the oft-asked question: “Can running shoes help my running form – are my running shoes right for me?” There’s even an investigation into the science behind the influence of technology on runners’ psychological states, which for those of us who have ever panicked when the Garmin ran out of battery mid-race, makes for an interesting read.

running science by john brewer

I was so impressed with this book and the way it answers the questions that I’ve read it from cover to cover, soaking up all of the information provided in the infographics, and enjoying the full-page action photographs. Equally, it could sit on your shelf as a reference publication for the next time you have a burning question (or, if someone happens to be wrong on the internet…).

I would highly recommend this book as essential reading for any runner, from the curious beginner wanting to learn more, to the seasoned athlete wishing to fine-tune their performance to perfection. It would make a perfect gift for the runner in your life, or perhaps as a post-race treat for yourself; it is available from all usual book outlets at an RRP of £20.

Follow John Brewer on Twitter here: @sportprofbrewer

I received an advance copy of Running Science to review, but all opinions are as ever, my own.

Stirling Marathon Race Report | Stirling Marathon 2017

Stirling Marathon

21st May 2017

stirling marathon medal
4h 16m 49s
2065th place overall
510th Female
149th Female Senior

In May 2016, it was announced that the Great Run group was extending their Great Run British Marathon Series, and that Scotland was to get a new marathon. Billed as the Stirling Scottish Marathon, the event was received with enthusiasm by many as a ‘big city’ alternative to the Edinburgh Marathon Festival, with a route which would combine scenic running through the Heart of Scotland with an impressive finish in the shadow of Stirling Castle.

I was excited to hear about the new race and was delighted to receive a media place from Great Run in order to cover the event for Red Wine Runner. My original Spring 2017 plans were to PB at the London Marathon and then have a jog around Stirling for fun, taking the opportunity to soak in as much of the race atmosphere as possible. However, after my London plans were derailed by a nasty bout of flu, I found myself on recovery mode for a little longer than planned. I headed to Stirling with legs which were very well rested, but still with no intentions to try and set a new personal best. I wasn’t really sure what I would get on the day, but I just I wanted to enjoy myself and clock up my 28th marathon finish at this exciting, inaugural event.

I arrived at my friend Jemma’s house in Stirling on Saturday afternoon, and we spent the evening with her husband and his sister, Iona, eating food, drinking wine and discussing our plans for the race. We had to think about which shuttle bus to get to the start, and our cheering squad had to figure out their logistics too. It really could not be over-estimated how much Stirling had embraced this new event – with the entire city centre and surrounding roads being completely shut down to accommodate the runners, the race had pretty much taken over Central Scotland.

Race Morning

After a good night’s sleep we got up at 6am for coffee and breakfast. With all our gear ready, we left the house an hour later, intending to catch the 0720am shuttle bus from Stirling Bus Station. Due to so many roads being closed, the race had provided shuttle transport to the start at Blair Drummond Safari Park which all runners were strongly encouraged to take. There were various park and ride collection points around the Stirling area, with all runners allegedly being accounted for for transport. I was a bit nervous about this – 6,500 runners is a lot of people, and I didn’t recall being asked where I was intending to travel from on race morning. How would they know how many buses to send, and where?

Unfortunately when we arrived at the bus station, we were joining a queue several hundred people long which extended all the way around the concourse. Jemma spotted a friend near the start who had been waiting since 0630, and had seen only two buses turn up, both only able to take a tiny handful of runners due to them being full from earlier collection points out of town. This wasn’t the greatest start to the day, and with no event staff on the ground, communications on how the issue was to be solved was poor. I busied myself on my phone to try and get an answer via Twitter, if only to avoid thinking about how much I needed the toilet…

stirling marathon shuttle bus

Two empty double-decker buses showed up about 0745 though, so in the grand scheme of things we were not inconvenienced too greatly. Some Security personnel directed the long snake of the queue across the concourse to the bus stands and started herding us on to the second bus from the back of the queue first, which understandably *really* irritated some of the runners who had been waiting for much longer. This was regrettable, but we really didn’t have a choice other than to get on as directed. The buses pulled away to a selection of colourful language and two-fingered salutes from the crowd that was left with just over an hour until the start of the race.

stirling marathon start

As previously mentioned, the race starts in the impressive surroundings of Blair Drummond Safari Park. The buses dropped us off at the gates and then we had about a mile’s walk to the start area. When we arrived, Jemma and I went straight to the toilet queues as we were both absolutely bursting. Regrettably there seemed to be somewhat less Portaloos than the demand required, and we spent the next 30 mins inching forward bit by bit. The Portaloos were in addition to other park toilets, but I had hoped that the queues for the Portaloos would move more quickly…

At 9am when the runners were called to their pens for the warm up I was still in the queue with my kit bag, as I still was when the Orange Wave, which I was placed in, started their race. Upon exiting my Portaloo, I raced to where Jemma and Chris were sorting their kit and quickly did some last minute checks before sprinting to my allocated baggage bus to deposit my bag. Together we jogged towards the back of the next wave who had been brought up to the starting line, and with a sigh of relief realised that we could finally get on with the easy bit – running the marathon.

stirling marathon start

The Great Run Group do sporting ceremony very well, and we all felt roused by the music and announcements in the minutes before we crossed the line. Dozens of park rangers were lining the first part of the route alongside cute jungle animal characters; despite the stressful start to the day, as soon as I got a high-five from a Lion and an Elephant I knew everything was going to be just fine.

stirling marathon start

stirling marathon start

Speaking of elephants… this guy came out to cheer too:

stirling marathon safari park

 And this majestic beast was overseeing proceedings from the sidelines. Also spotted – a common-or-garden Red Wine Runner not looking where she is going.

Image from the Metro

Image from the Metro

So we were finally on our way; through the Safari Park before on to the closed A84 road heading towards Doune. There was a little out-and-back where I was able to shout to some friends including Naomi, who was just up ahead. It was truly amazing how many people I knew taking part, especially people from the Scottish ultrarunning community who hadn’t run a road marathon in years, if ever. It seemed like everyone had wanted to be a part of the first running of the Stirling Marathon even if they had sworn off tarmac running for good.

After about a mile I caught up with Naomi, and she and I spent the next 6 miles trotting along together steadily and catching up. It turned out that she had had quite a stressful morning getting to the start via the Park and Ride service; given the amount of feedback which has been deluged on the Stirling Marathon Facebook page, I do hope they can use this first year as a steep learning curve and improve the transport for next year.

stirling marathon route

At four miles we ran through the tiny town of Doune, where there were pipe bands, drummers, and 100s of enthusiastic supporters. Even at this early stage we had seen that the people who lived along the route were willing to turn out their full support for the race and make us feel welcomed as we ran through their towns and villages. Between six and seven miles Naomi and I went our separate ways; we’ve ran together for years now and I was aware that I was pulling her on a bit – she’s not daft enough to burn out too early in a marathon so I drifted ahead as we approached Dunblane.

The route swept through the town from the West to the South, and from the first hand-made ‘Welcome To Dunblane!’ banner, the road was packed with crowds for the entire two miles. The outpouring of support was phenomenal; young and old, they cheered us through their town and offered jelly beans, orange slices, and high fives. My face actually started to ache from all the smiling – I know the support in London is legendary, but this somehow felt so much more authentic and closer to home.

Next up at ten miles was Bridge of Allan. Again, even though the rain was now steadily pouring, the crowds stayed out to cheer. The route then presented a tough hill as we took a brief lollipop shaped tour around the University of Stirling, and by the time we were running past the foot of the Wallace Monument, we had hit half way and it was time to look out for Iona, Duncan, and other assorted friends waiting to see us and deliver high-fives.

I did a quick body-check at half way to assess how I felt. I had passed half way in 2hrs 06m which was promising, as I was feeling really good and my legs definitely had some pep in them. I had been checking my watch occasionally the last few miles and was comfortably running around 9:30/9:40 pace without trying, so I decided to try and stick to that and see what happened. I knew we’d hit Stirling city centre and the laps at about 18 miles, and I had been mentally visualising the race as a sprint finish with an 18 mile warm up.

stirling marathon finish

A lot of people had been apprehensive of how the lap system would work. The route map showed that we would go around the city two and a half times before finishing at the foot of the castle, where there was a lane system in place – keep right to carry on, keep left to finish. There were also timing maps to verify that every finisher had completed the correct distance. I think this system worked ok, but completing the lapped section was very tough mentally and I had to work hard to keep my head together.

stirling marathon laps

Upon entering the city loop, we immediately merged with fast runners who were completing their final loop and were sprinting through the city. I was conscious to not get in people’s way, but it was hard when they were ducking and weaving around the slower runners. The support from the crowd was brilliant but I quickly realised I had to ignore it as I still had 7 miles to run, despite the well meaning shouts of ‘you’re nearly there!’ and the big signs announcing ‘800m To Go’, and ‘400m To Go’. Running past the finish line area not just once, but twice, was quite soul destroying, and required a degree of tenacity to keep going.

The loop consisted of a climb into the city centre then a section going right through the middle of the town. It had been raining for a couple of hours which made the paving underfoot very slippery, and the sections of road which were cobbled were treacherous! After passing through the centre, the loop went past the finish and then negotiated a couple of steep underpasses on a roundabout which were narrow and slippery. We then went through a housing estate with lots of friendly supporters, and then returned to the start of the loop after climbing up a nasty lung-bursting hill.

Eventually it was my turn to complete a final lap of the city and finally let the rousing cheers of the crowd spur me on. There were quite a few friends scattered around and seeing them on my way gave me a last boost for a strong finish, as I finally got to ‘Keep Left’ and cross the line.

stirling marathon medal

I was really pleased with my race. I felt very strong throughout most of the miles and maintained a really even pace without a single walking break.  I haven’t had many good runs after London and I was worried that I’d lost a lot of fitness, but this is clearly not the case and I am more recovered from my illness than I thought! I’m excited to get back to training again, and will be tackling the Strathearn Marathon in two weeks’ time with renewed confidence.

stirling marathon

All in all, I think the Stirling Marathon has the potential to be a really great race. There are one or two issues which stand out which need change or improvement, such as the situations with the buses and the toilets, but hopefully the organisers will listen to the feedback from runners and improve for next year. I’m still not convinced about the loops of the city however, and would be in favour of accommodating a few miles elsewhere earlier in the route in order to reduce the amount of laps.

Thanks again to Great Run for the opportunity to run at this new event!

Did you run the Stirling Marathon?
What do you think of races with laps?

Running For Mental Health – When it just doesn’t add up

This week I have regrettably had to make a very hard decision, and emailed my declaration as a DNS (Did Not Start) for the Cateran Trail 55 mile race. I’ve decided to write about this rather than just sweep it under the carpet as I think there are some things that I need to say about some stuff. Usually when I feel like this, I feel a lot better after I’ve written it all down, and on this occasion I’ve decided to share it with you. This might be a difficult read, so buckle up.

A couple of weeks ago I got very ill just before running the London Marathon, and in the end I managed to run it anyway. Fuck knows how. I really don’t know; some kind of combination of ragged determination, muscle memory, base fitness, seven years of failed ballot frustration, and the sounds of hundreds of thousands of voices cheering me on from the sidelines. It was not the smart decision, but one I made independently; fully in the knowledge that I would probably pay the price with a vastly extended recovery but that it was going to be worth it. It was; I had a great time, and I regret nothing.

img_1128.jpg

You will, of course, not be at all surprised to read that my immune system took an absolute hammering afterwards, and that topping off my meagre pre-race recovery with a 26.7 mile (yes, you better believe I’m counting that bonus 0.5 mile because I felt every bloody step) run left me in a sorry state. The race was just under three weeks ago; I’m still coughing up crap, my lungs feel like they are the size of fists, and my fatigue levels have been horrible. I live on the fourth floor of a tenement building, and I can confirm that coming home from work every day is my Everest. Once I’m in, I ain’t leaving.

I’ve ran three times since London – three five mile jogs. Each has been a massive effort, and disturbingly uncomfortable. I’m getting better, but it’s taking time. I’d love to go to the doctor and clear up my fears of viral pneumonia, but I’m a relatively new  resident to the South Side of Edinburgh and every single GP practice is full with their waiting list closed… One does not simply ‘register’ for a Doctor in Edinburgh. I might go and get myself hit by a truck so I have an excuse to go to A&E…

Anyway; that’s not why I’m here tonight. I want to talk about my attitude to all of this and why it’s so messed up. You’d think, after reading the above paragraphs, that it would be a relatively straightforward decision to NOT run the 55 mile trail race on Saturday. But ultrarunners are TOUGH aren’t they? STRONG? Unstoppable?

How TOUGH is tough enough?

My subculture prides itself on being relentless. We go places people don’t go, travel distances that usually only vehicles can, and generally defy all common logic as to the definition of what an enjoyable way to spend a weekend is. People work towards this in varying ways, but often, there is often a sense of pride in showing up to a start line under-trained. For many, finishes are celebrated in overcoming hardship instead of speed. Show up hungover and out of shape yet still record a 50 miler finish, and you will be a temporary hero. However, we all know that the biggest secret to ultrarunning is that there is no secret at all – if you want to do it, you can.  You don’t even need two legs for fucks’ sake; just bottomless tenacity and an iron will to succeed.

I’m not very tough right now. Despite this, I know I could actually finish the race. I know that eventually I would get there; drag my carcass over the finish line and receive the commendation that feels so good. That won’t fix the problem though.

How STRONG is strong enough?

When I wanted to ask my friends what to do, I already knew what the answer would be; so I didn’t bother.

Woman up. Man up and get on with it. Ya big jessie. BLOUSE. Just start and see how you feel; you’ll finish anyway. It’s just running. Don’t over-think it. Shut up and just run. Tough it out – you’ll get through it.

Everything I’ve worked to train myself in since my first ultra in 2012 has been towards building a strong and resilient human. It was never about being fast, or looking fit and lean. I wanted to be unstoppable; to overcome, to be superwoman. A sufferer of poor mental health since my late teens, I’ve never quite figured out whether I’ve been running away from something or running towards it, but either way, I’ve always had to be one step ahead of the black dog which relentlessly sniffs around my heels. Ultra-running empowers me. It just makes me a better version of myself from top to toe. If you’ve finished the West Highland Way Race, there’s not much in life that can make you feel like you can’t overcome it one way or the other.

the-only-thing-standing-in-between-you-and-your-go

Oh. Ok, thanks. There are a million visualisations of this bullshit quote by Jordan Belfort out there, but I picked this one because it has a lion on it, and I like cats. Screw this online viral noise…but why does the message continue to resonate?

I’ve DNS’d a couple of races in the past due to poor life management, but never like this. I have never actually been not capable of doing the race I’m signed up for. I’ve never not been strong enough to commit to the starting line, and this actually has nothing to do with the fact that I’m getting over the flu. I have spent so much time this week going over my ‘excuses’ for not doing the race and trying to figure out if I was looking for an excuse to punk out, or whether I was legitimately not up to it. It’s really hard to figure out if you are ok when your day-to-day average ‘ok’ line is pretty low anyway, and when ‘ok’ in an ultra means showing up at a check point dehydrated, with a mild concussion, and hallucinating.

It’s hard to extract the part of yourself that needs to be looked after, when looking after yourself often means going for a run. At times, running is both my killer and my cure, my light and my darkness, my blessing and my curse.

west highland way race 2015

I want to be her again. I want to be that strong, that tough, and that happy. Doing this race will not make me her. I am trying to become a person which I spent years building, but lost again after just a few short months when I got too exhausted to keep ahead of the black dog who chased me. Showing up on the starting line on Saturday will not bring her back. She can come back, but just not right now.

west highland way race 2015

Taking a step back, this still has nothing to do with the flu. Why did I get so sick and for so long? It’s because I am exhausted. Completely and utterly exhausted. In three weeks time I will have been living alone in Edinburgh for a year, separately from my husband as we live our little lives as two insignificant victims of the oil crash in Aberdeen. It’s been a year of constant travel, constant stress, constant arguments, constant attempts at planning, constant attempts to support each other, occasional hope, and constant failure. I could write a book about everything he, I, and our associated friends and family have been going through regarding this,  but I suspect you can probably imagine how shit it is and you’d be absolutely correct.

Last weekend in the Algarve - A rare occasion when we've spent the whole weekend together in the last year

Last weekend in the Algarve – A rare occasion when we’ve spent the whole weekend together in the last year. Nice big happy, social media smiles on our faces…

Situational sadness with seemingly never-ending stress is one thing, add that on top of clinical depression and crippling anxiety and you’ve got a hell of a ride. To this end, I can’t do the Cateran Trail 55 this weekend because I don’t think I can handle the journey. I’m not tough enough, strong enough, or stupid enough right now to take this on. I know I’m not fit enough to phone it in, so in order to complete it I would need to dig incredibly deeply; probably into a place where I’m just not willing to go right now. I spend enough of my time cloaked in stress, sadness and exhaustion that I just can’t face voluntarily going there.

I was attempting to try and fix everything with a big long run on Saturday, but I may as well bring a knife to a gun fight.

Glencoe_AliR

You may have heard that it’s Mental Health Awareness week – so I guess this is my contribution. There’s been a lot of talk recently about how running can help your mental health and there is no doubt that it can work wonders, but it is not a cure. For me; what comes up must always come down, there is a yin to every yang. When you rely on something to fix you, when you can’t or won’t do it, then you need to have something else to keep your head above the water.

I’m sorry I don’t have the answer. I’m sorry this isn’t very positive. In this new world of talking about our difficulties and being so open about our mental health, for those of you who don’t suffer; know this – It is not all happy endings, #mindovermarathon, and victory montages at the finish line. Not all of us survive this and it is not something that ever ends in a lifetime – until it does… 127 people a week in the UK took their own lives in 2016, and female suicide rates are at their highest in a decade [source] . This isn’t a bandwagon or a popular campaign. It is not an emoji, a hashtag, or a shareable Facebook picture for #AWARENESS. For 1 in 6 of us it is life, and the strongest suffers will probably never let you know.

I have no idea how to end this post, other than with a link to the Samaritans, and a request that you keep looking out for one another. Be kind. You never know what battles people are fighting when your back is turned.

Contact the Samaritans here.

 

London Marathon 2017 | Race Report

London Marathon 2017London Marathon Medal 2017

23rd April 2017

Time: 4h 22m 0s

Place: 18,533 of 39,349
Gender: 5030 of 14,468
Category: 2750 of 8768

Getting to the start of the London Marathon has not been a straight forward journey for me. Entry through the general race ballot is notoriously hard to achieve, and even more so nowadays when the ballot is open for five days. Estimates put your chances of gaining one of the precious 10,000 ballot places at odds of around 1 in 26, with your other options being a Good For Age place, a UK Athletics Running Club place (one granted per 50 members of an affiliated club), or taking on the responsibility of a charity place with the associated fundraising.

After seven consecutive years of failing in the ballot, I was royally fed up. It seemed that year after year I defied the increasingly smaller odds to continue to miss out on a place which I found endlessly frustrating. My running club is not affiliated to Scottish Athletics, I chose increasing distance over increasing my speed a long time ago, and other than my very first race seven years ago I have never been a charity runner…

When I was offered the opportunity to run the race with Reebok as part of a team of ambassadors celebrating the launch of their new Floatride shoe, I was utterly delighted. Not only a place in the race which had evaded me for years, but the services of a coach, a bundle of kit, and two pairs of shoes as well! I felt very lucky that the blog which I set up so many years ago to write about my training has blossomed into something which attracts opportunities such as this.

Then, the week before the race I got the flu…

I have already covered the gory details in my previous post, but I was very ill in the seven days before the race and was only able to make the final decision to race less than 24 hours before the starting gun went. Not ideal preparation by anyone’s standards, but let it never be left unsaid that when I’m determined to achieve something I will fight tooth and nail until I achieve my goal. I was sitting in a hotel room under a mile from the start of the London Marathon 2017 – and nothing was going to stop me crossing that finish line.


I was staying in Canary Wharf, so my journey to the Red Start was very straight forward. A quick ride on the DLR and I was in Greenwich and walking with the masses to the starting area. I had no idea what the best time to arrive would be, so I aimed for about 8.30am which seemed sensibly early for the 10 am start. I went to the toilet before finding a tree to sit down under and lean against and tried to listen to some music. Unfortunately the mobile networks seemed to be overwhelmed already and I couldn’t connect to Spotify, so instead, I just people-watched and tried to relax.


I was nervous in case I had radically misjudged how recovered I was; perhaps I might get a couple of hours into the race and then have to pull out. Unlike most pre-race nerves I couldn’t rationalise this away – it was a real concern and a very valid one. I kept on worrying in case I had made a poor choice and one that I would live (or not) to regret.

I ate a banana at 9.30am and went for one last pee before moving to my corral. I was in Red 4, which was relatively close to the starting line meaning no half hour wait to get going after the gun went! I had purchased a cheap Primark hoody to wear to keep warm in the final hours which reluctantly I stripped off and threw to the side as we started moving forward; in the sunshine it was warm, but there was an early morning chill in the air which was cold on my bare skin – thankfully I’ve been running long enough to know that these conditions were perfect, and within 10 minutes of the race I would be perfectly warm.


I wasn’t sure how I was feeling; sadly the week’s illness had really taken some of the shine off the experience for me. I was expecting some huge waves of emotion to hit as I finally found myself on the starting line of the London Marathon, but in all honesty I couldn’t think beyond the first 5k. I didn’t know anyone in the Red Start to meet up with, and I’m an antisocial creature at the best of times so I wasn’t talking to anyone around me. I was excited to finally get moving, but was underwhelmed by the starting line experience – the footage you see on the television with the grandstands, the music, and the hot air balloons is the Blue and Green start…the Red Start has a gantry and a timing mat with a sprinkling of people clapping and that’s it – you’re on your way.


I’ve been thinking about how to write this race report in an engaging manner – there is only so much you can say about running the 26.2 mile distance when you do it over and over again, especially if on an occasion your effort is just to finish rather than to reach a goal. There’s no point in listing my mile splits – I ran a metronomic 10 minute mile pace for almost the entire race, splitting the first five 5k splits around 30 minutes each, before slowing a little for the last three 5k splits, recording 31:34, 32:21 and 32:22 in the final 15k after having a couple of short walking breaks. Here’s some of the data provided by the race – a very solidly average performance…

london marathon 2017

london marathon 2017

So what did I see on on my 26.2 mile journey?

The first 5k heads out East, deep into residential London; I knew about this but was pleasantly surprised to still see moderate support out and about at just after 10am. People were sitting in their gardens in the sunshine enjoying a glass of fizz with their breakfast, and there were already community bands out performing. We passed a couple of huge Evangelical or Baptist churches where the congregation was out in force with megaphones and music, piling blessings and encouragement upon us all as we danced by.

I loved how engaged the crowds were; every pub was open early and people were getting stuck into the booze and shouting with the enthusiasm that only an Englishman on his third pint of pre-noon Carling on St Georges day can deliver.   It’s the British way; if there is live sport on, you grab a beer and go and shout at the underdogs. We’re so used to being shit at sport that we are born happy to get out there and cheer on competitors, especially if they’re not winning. We love to see people fighting hard for whatever it is they are working for, and events such as the 2012 Olympics and the Commonwealth Games have only brought mass participation sport further into the public eye.

By 10k I was beginning to realise there was a common theme to the shout outs being thrown in my direction – they all seemed to involve Jesus in some regard, so I should have been less surprised when I was overtaken by a bearded and shaggy haired man, naked but for a loin cloth and a massive crucifix strapped to his back, running barefoot. Obviously. I’ve come across Barefoot Jesus before and he’s a pain in the backside. His cross has a habit of bashing you on the shoulder, and he doesn’t like people taking selfies with him. You need a sense of humor if you’re going to be that much of a twat in a race, but he obviously didn’t have room to pack one in his minimal attire. He’s been pestering runners at World Marathon Majors around the world for a while, and on Sunday it was my turn…

london marathon 2017

I feel like it is at this point in the story that I should mention that my friend Mary’s very, very Catholic Mother was quite worried on my behalf when Mary told me that I was poorly, but was still attempting to run the race. Mary’s Mum decided to say a decade of the Rosary for me to help me on my way. Due to me being a massive Atheist I guess the prayers got a little diluted, and what I got instead was my own personal Jesus following me around the course, annoying me into going faster to get away from him. I guess the Lord works in mysterious ways…

Moving on, and a highlight of passing Trinity College was the balcony of people dressed in slightly disheveled Tuxedos and ball gowns still going hard on the Champagne after a marathon session of their own. 10/10 awarded for enthusiasm and some superb singing to Journey’s Don’t Stop Believing. This was quickly contrasted with the slightly more gritty streets of Bermondsey where there were DJs playing some dank beats straight out of their Mum’s front garden bringing a different flavour of party out on to the streets altogether. Everything which I had read and heard was true – the London Marathon is a Tour de Force of the best parts of British culture, served with a healthy dollop of London attitude.

13 miles in

Before I knew it I had danced myself half way around the course and the iconic crossing of Tower Bridge was upon me. Here I took my one and only picture during the race; it was so, so busy that I was scared to drop my phone and then have to stop to collect it, causing a runner pile-up and being a huge pain in the ass.


By now my face was hurting a little from grinning so hard; the vibes from the crowd were INSANE, I’ve never experienced so many people giving a crap about the sport which I graft away at day-in-day-out. They were cheering every single last runner like they meant the world to them, and it filled my heart right up to the brim. Of course I wasn’t feeling great; I was feeling dizzy, nauseated, and coughing like a drain, but those crowds made it easy to ignore the struggle and focus on anything other than my churning insides.


Turning a hard right after we crossed the bridge took us on to the two-way section where the fastest UK club runners were making their way through their last five miles. This was a welcome distraction from the rising temperatures as I saw so many awesome International athletes grinding away – Devon Yanko, Chrissie Wellington, Scott Overall – along with a selection of familiar vests from Scotland including the three speedy Metro Aberdeen lasses who went under 3 hours. I wanted to join in the shouts of support to the other side of the road, but my breathing was a tricky balance and I needed to keep my heart rate under control.

I had known since the start that to succeed in the race I would need to keep my heart rate low and not work too hard – basically I needed to ‘ultra shuffle’ my way around and never get out of breath. Thankfully there are no serious hills on the London Marathon course so trotting around on minimal effort was easy. However, as the heat rose to somewhere perhaps around 16C, it became more of a challenge and I started to feel a bit more ‘spangly’ – dizzy, anxious, and panicky. I took on a sensible amount of water and Lucozade when each were offered, but also used the remaining water in my bottles to cool myself down which helped a lot.

The crowds on the Isle of Dogs were less intense and contrary to many reports I’ve read, there were actually some gaps at the barriers between miles 15 and 20. This was almost a welcome break from the noise, but these were tough miles for me (as they are in every marathon) and I had to play some mental tricks to keep my head in the game. I knew that as soon as I hit 20 I would be fine, and the ‘difficult’ five miles of a marathon are usually over in 45-50 minutes. When you think about it that way, I think it seems much less of a challenge.

One in 40,000

At this point I will address the crowding on the course. We all know how busy the London Marathon is and you just need to look at any of the television coverage of the masses to know how challenging it is to run in your own space unless you really are up the very sharp end of the race. I knew that this was going to be a hazard and I tried to not let it bother me, but by 20 miles in, many of my fellow runners were working my last nerve. Stopping dead in the middle of the road, diving across peoples paths to go and see supporters, throwing bottles or litter with no due attention, slowing to a walk without moving to the side, and then there was the monstrosities which were the Pace Groups; filled with many runners who believed that their right to a time they desired trumped my right to run a safe race… In particular, the Red Sub-4 hour pace group, comprised of a cloud of a couple of hundred runners taking over the entire road, steamrolling past and shoving runners out of the way. I was ‘run over’ by them about 10 miles in and I wanted to clothes-line the whole bunch for their bad race etiquette – very poor behaviour indeed.

But – it’s London, and that’s what you get out there. I’m just glad I didn’t try to achieve a Personal Best as the crowds would have made it impossible and I recorded a distance of 26.7 miles as I ducked and weaved around those who exist within their own oblivious bubble.

The Final Push

As I eased into the last 6 miles the miles became less easy, and I started to have to try a little harder to keep it moving steadily. However, impossible as it may seem, the crowds were getting even more enthusiastic and they pulled me on when I was desperate for just a tiny walking break. I took my first walk of the whole race somewhere in the 23rd mile, and one final one in the Blackfriars Underpass in mile 24, where a festival-sized PA system was blaring the Chase and Status song ‘Blind Faith’ which gave me chills as I got ready to run again. In an amazing bit of timing, the chorus dropped just as I left the tunnel to the roar of the crowd cheering us like heroes as we ran out into the sunshine – it was here that the emotion finally hit and I found tears prickling my eyes as I ran into the final mile of the race.

The finish is just as spectacular as it looks on television. Curving around the last bend on to The Mall, with the flags flying, the grandstands full of people, and the finishing gantries… is an amazing feeling. I looked for the finish line cameras and waved and blew kisses, keeping everything crossed that Kynon and my family would be watching at home. I know I put them through a lot of worry at times and my poor Mother was probably beside herself following me on the tracker all day in case I stopped moving, so I really wanted them to see that I was ok.

london marathon 2017

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge were handing out finishers medals in one finishing chute but I didn’t fancy my chances of not throwing up all over the Royals, so I gave that chute a swerve and chose the one right next to it instead. It goes without saying that I am fully on board with their #HeadsTogether charity campaign which has gained so much publicity from the race and associated media coverage. I’m not the biggest fan of the Royal family, but it is fantastic to see the younger generation put their platform to excellent use.


After snapping a quick victory selfie, I began the long stagger to get my kit bag which was unfortunately in the furthest away lorry – a good quarter mile or so down the Mall! I desperately wanted to sit down in the shade but I knew the sensible thing to do was to get my kit so that I could crash and then stay on the ground as long as I liked.

That turned out to be a good half hour – there was a muscle in my back which wouldn’t stop cramping and I felt very dizzy. I found a free patch of kerb next to a lorry and sat myself down and made myself eat and drink as much as I could stomach from the goody bag, whilst wrapped up in my foil blanket like a freshly baked potato. After a short while I managed to make it over to the reunion area where I met the previously mentioned Mary and her husband, Jo, who had come up from Reading to cheer me on, and then we all went to drink wine on the South Bank in the evening sunshine, and it was the perfect end to a pretty damn good day.


And with that – against all odds – London is finally done.

Some Final Thoughts

The London Marathon effect is weird. People get obsessed with doing it for a variety of reasons and I’ve certainly been guilty of that for long enough. Outside of the world of running, it’s one of the few races that most people know about and it gets very grating having to explain why you haven’t done it to people that don’t understand. They don’t understand that other marathons are the same distance as London and can be just as tough to run but London is toughest to get in to! Unless you’ve done London, the one race they can relate to, they don’t see you as a real marathon runner. It’s exhausting and boring to explain, especially justifying why running for charity in order to get a place is not really a viable option.

However the flip side of this is that when you DO run London, it’s the one day of the year where there is a huge interest in a sport which normally nobody cares about. Friends download the app and track you, they excitedly tell you that they are going to look for you on the television, colleagues ask how you got on. This is not normally what happens when you’re a long distance runner.

It’s both satisfying and frustrating; running is my hobby and my life. I graft away at it 365 days a year in one way or the other, and for 364 days of the year, nobody gives a shit. People glaze over when you tell them about your training runs, they call you crazy, they try and get you to stay out for ‘just one more’, they cannot get their head around the concept of running an ultramarathon or getting up with a hangover and doing a marathon as a training run for fun. It’s nice to have people care about my sport and be interested for once, but I’ve already done a marathon and two ultras this year so far and no-one outside of my silo of running friends really knows or cares… and I kind of like it that way.

So my final line on it is this – the London Marathon is amazing and every distance runner should try to do it once, if only to remember why they run and what it is that they like best about their sport. Is it the iconic British tradition, the television coverage, the social media circus, crowds screaming your name, tripping over someone taking a selfie, or broadcasting the experience on Facebook Live? Or is it the quiet local races, familiar faces, signing up on the day, pensioners with clipboards out in the rain, and weak orange squash at the finish? There is no right or wrong answer here; running is running and I am not here to pass judgement on anyone’s experiential preference.


London, you were incredible and I’m so glad I finally got to tread your streets and see you at your sporting best. For the first time in nearly a decade though, this year the 1st of May did not see me submit my name into your public ballot and I’m not sure when I will again. That’s the only thing that’s changed though…next April I’ll still be running; pounding the trails out there somewhere in the countryside, and quietly getting on with it on my own terms…

Do you prefer big races or small races?
Have you entered the 2018 London Marathon ballot?
What’s the stupidest costume you’ve ever seen in a race?

 

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