Virgin London Marathon 2018 – Race Recap

When it comes down to it and your heart is punching its way out of your chest, your legs are heavy and you feel dizzy as fuck, the way I see it you have three choices:

  1. Drop out of the race, sacrificing your hard work fundraising for charity and that finish-line feeling, not to mention the medal.
  2. Push through, risking your health for the pride of a certain hour mark.
  3. Dial it back and make as much fun of the situation as possible, soaking up the atmosphere and the energy of the crowds.

Ian and I chose option 3.

About Our Targets

I’ve wanted to run the London Marathon for years – since about 6 months into taking up running. I’ve entered the ballot 6 or 7 times from 2009 and never got in, but when I decided to take on the 2018 London Marathon my focus was more on targets than on experiences. First of all the fundraising target, with £2,350 to raise for the Royal British Legion I knew I’d have my work cut out. But also the time target I’d set myself… I wanted those three little letters “GFA”.

In case you don’t know, Good For Age (GFA) for women between 18-39 is sub 3:45. Ian wanted sub 3:30, well within his reach. I’m sure we both have it in us, with the right training.

It’s all in the Preparation

I’m not going to quote the cliche, but you all know what saying I’m talking about. We had a far from ideal lead-up to the marathon. I can’t pretend I’d been entirely on plan… my mid-week sessions took a backseat to CrossFit, catching up with friends and nights in on the sofa. The weather was tough, with snow way later than it should have been coming.

But then, after tackling Roding Valley and getting an unplanned PB thanks to some awesome pacing from Ian, our long runs disappeared completely too. My house sale completed and I had three days to clear my things from the house before the new owners moved in. This meant missing the Big Half. The following weekend clearing the boxes that had cluttered my flat for a week took priority over a 7-8 hour round trip for Lydd 20. Then Reading Half was snowed off.

Our next race in the diary was London Landmarks, but a drunken day of fun in London ended up with me throwing up in A&E while Ian waited to have his swollen ankle x-rayed. Yeah, we’re proper athletes!!

With just four weeks to go, we didn’t know what to do.

Four Weeks, Four Runs

I ran four times between Roding Valley Half and the London Marathon. One an evening 10k round my local area, two Spartan races in one weekend, and then a 2 mile test run the Tuesday before the marathon.

Spartan gave me a little bit of a confidence boost – I figured that having spent nearly 5 hours in one weekend on my feet and taking on obstacles and disgusting hills, the lack of specific marathon training might not have been such an issue. But then the 2 mile test run on Tuesday took me crashing right back down to earth. My legs felt so heavy and my chest tight. I couldn’t breath and wondered how I was going to make it round 24 more miles. But it was too late. No amount of worrying was going to help me – there was no undoing my lack of preparation, and no more time to train.

 

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Now was the time to focus on experiences over targets.

Marathon Day

Of course, after all that perfect preparation, 22nd April 2018 would be the hottest London Marathon on record! At 24.1 degrees c, with temperatures on the course likely to be even hotter because of the heat absorbed by the road and from other runners, this was not going to be a perfect race for anyone, let alone the severely undertrained.

Here’s a whistle-stop tour of my London 2018 experience:

Blackheath

After dropping our bags off we wandered over to the starting corrals, and over to the land of the porter loo – little tip, past the first set of toilets you see there’s a whole town of toilets with hardly any queues. Along the way we bumped into Nicki, who was pacing the 4:30 group. Ian and I had both put ambitious predicted finishes when we completed our race entries, so we were in the 3rd corral at the start. As we made our way towards the start line, the excitement really hit… we were running the London Marathon! We saw my brother and Leigh, who kindly let us stay at their flat the night before, and then as we neared the corner there was Claire waving us off with her daughter! Even before we started the support was there and it was so welcome.

Miles 0-8

Within the first half mile, my belt that I hadn’t actually trained in was already pissing me off! Ian offered to wear it for me and I was SO grateful – I genuinely think I would have chucked it if it wasn’t for him! We started off at a strong pace, on track for between 3:45 and 4 hours. I was feeling hot, but actually pretty good and as if the sub-4 dream might actually still be achievable. The crowds were already huge, and there was even a pony poking its head over a wall with its owners along the way! It’s funny what makes you smile when you’re running a marathon. What didn’t make me smile was all the marijuana we inhaled as we ran through some of the high street areas… seriously, take it away from the course please!

Miles 9-14

It was at this point I started to falter. My legs felt heavy, I was overheating and my chest was tight – my heart rate was ridiculously high. I said I needed to walk for a bit, so we did. I clock-watched for a little while, panicking that each time we walked it would ruin our chances of the race time we both wanted. Ian told me he didn’t think his ankle would hold up the whole way. We made little bargains with ourselves: “let’s run to the next mile marker, then we can walk a bit”. It worked, but it was hard. Neither of us are run/walkers in practice and getting started again once you’ve walked is hard (respect to anyone who does it!). We bumped into Tommy in the crowds and had a quick hug before pushing on. At mile 13 Tower Bridge was coming up and, as one of my favourite parts of London, I knew it would give me a boost. I also knew shortly after would be the first Royal British Legion cheer station. We ran the bridge and it started to feel ok again, until…

Miles 14-18

After seeing the Legion, we knew we were in the meat of the race. The section that leads out towards Canary Wharf is tough for many reasons – firstly you’re heading in the opposite direction to the finish line, secondly you know you’re halfway and have to do it all over again and, thirdly the support typically fades a little here. I was starting to feel really defeatist so when I spotted a dog with its owners I knew I HAD to stroke it… we stopped for about 10 minutes just chatting and stroking this dog! A little while later we noticed my friends Laura and Dave. Dave’s wife, Gemma, was running and they were looking out for her. We stopped and talked for a bit and when she appeared in the crowd Dave’s reaction was priceless! We ran with Gem for a bit, before stopping for a toilet break. We also saw Emma and Lucy along here, and then Nicki went past with her pacing group. We knew we were in for a long race.

 

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Miles 19-22

It was somewhere along this point that we bumped into Ian’s cousin, Leanne. It was 100% NOT the best time to meet a family member for the first time, when you’re sweaty and probably a little stinky too… great first impression huh?! Shortly after this we saw Martin, quickly followed by the Cheer Dem Crew – probably one of the biggest and best organised cheer crews at the marathon! It was definitely a boost, despite not knowing any of the faces. We then bumped into Chris, who was volunteering at one of the water stations, and stopped for a chat. His surprise and joy at seeing Ian having made it so far with his ankle injury was clear and it was SO nice to stop and talk to him. Thanks for the Haribo too, Chris!

 

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Miles 23-26.2

This probably should have been the hardest part of the race, but actually it went pretty quickly. Running back past the Tower of London and then down towards Blackfriars, we knew we’d soon get to see the cheer squad we’d been looking forward to the most. We came out of the tunnel, after a long section of stop-start run/walking, but we couldn’t see them. We searched the crowds, looked out for the unicorn and rainbow balloons, but nothing. And then they were there! Nicole, Matt, AshLizzie, Mark, Becca, Hannah, Libby, Martina, Tash… I’m so sorry if I’ve missed anyone – it’s crazy how running can make you completely delirious! We stopped for lots of hugs (sorry for the sweaty cuddles guys!) and absorbed every ounce of motivation we could from those beaming faces. But we knew that the next face we’d see would be the most special of all…

 

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Ian’s mum had brought his daughter down to the race to cheer him on at the final bend and it was absolutely beautiful to see his interaction with her as she was handed over the railings and into his arms. That final 600m or so would be the easiest we’ve ever run now, despite the miles in our legs. As we charged down The Mall we knew we’d done it. My watch was approaching 5 and a half hours, but we genuinely didn’t care. We held hands as we crossed the finish line, smiling with pride. It may not have been the race we set out to do back in Jan/Feb, but it was 100% the most memorable race of my life, and for all the right reasons.

Thank You

I wanted to end this post by saying a HUGE thank you to everyone who supported me throughout my training – either through liking and commenting on my update posts, donating to my fundraising page, giving me words of encouragement and comfort, or even just listening when I complained about the snow or my achy legs. I also wanted to thank the Royal British Legion for not only giving me the place to run and fulfilling a dream of mine, but also for the support along the course and the amazing post-race reception – it really was the perfect way to regenerate after the race. And finally, perhaps obviously, I wanted to thank Ian for convincing me to run in the first place, and for making it the experience it was – I’m not sure I would have finished at all if you hadn’t been there.

 

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London Marathon Training Diary – Week 2

So, the second week of training… I definitely didn’t run as much this week as I’d planned to… but with a mid-week accidental PB and a CrossFit competition at the end of the week it was probably good to have a bit of a quieter week of running.

I haven’t done anywhere near enough fundraising though and, with a place at the London Landmarks Half Marathon now also secured with the Royal British Legion, I have a grand total of £2,350 to raise. I have a loose plan of how I’ll get there, but the time to put it all into action is another story. In the meantime, I’m extremely grateful for any donations you can make to help me along the way. If you do want to donate, you can do so here: George Does VLM.

Anyway, here’s my training diary for week 2…

VLM Minus 15 Weeks

Monday

Rest day

Tuesday

Rest day – I was supposed to be doing 5 miles easy (RPE 6), but my ITB was still painful from Sunday’s 9 miles. Since having inflammation of the bone underneath where my ITB connects at the knee after Ragnar Relay I’ve been a bit paranoid about it flaring up again so decided to take the extra rest ahead of tomorrow’s 10k RunThrough race instead.

Wednesday

RunThrough Chase the Moon 10k. Kerry told me to try to take it easy for the race – he had about 52 minutes in mind for me based on my PB of 49:15, but around halfway through the race I realised I’d been consistently running at around 7:30-7:40 minute/mile and decided to try and keep it up for a new PB. I crossed the finish line at 46:25, a nearly 3 minute PB and was super happy! Celebratory Nando’s most definitely earned, but…

Kerry’s punishment to me for going too fast? He devised a penalty system:

I’ll now be tracking my penalty peanut butter cups at the bottom of my training diary!

 

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Thursday

I’d arranged to join Shellie, Louise, Amy, Sophie, Becca and Lizzie for a bit of bouldering fun at The Arch Climbing Wall in Bermondsey. It was such a lovely evening – climbing, laughing, supporting each other and pushing ourselves to our limits. Sadly, Lizzie picked up an injury towards the end of the evening and had to cut her climb short, but the way everyone pulled together to help her just showed what a community we’ve built through the simple act of documenting our training on Instagram! Hope you have a speedy recovery Lizzie.

 

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Friday

Rest day – with my CrossFit pairs competition with Nic up in Manchester tomorrow, I took a half day from work to make the long drive up north.

Saturday

Today was the M-Squared FeMale same sex pairs CrossFit competition. I’d signed up with Nic during a drunken night out back in October/November time and today was the day that we took on the workouts along with dream-team Lisa and Lucy. We had so much fun with three ace workouts:

WOD 1

12 minute time cap to complete:

40 calorie row

10 down ups

40 box jump overs

10 down ups

40 snatches (35kg)

10 down ups

40 toes to bar

WOD 2a

9 minutes to find a max clean complex of:

Clean, hang clean and front squat

1 minute rest, then

WOD 2b

3 minutes to do:

AMRAP hang clean and jerk, at a weight of your choice

As a pair you weren’t allowed to put the bar down at all in the 3 minutes, or your rep count would be reset to zero.

WOD 3

21-15-9

Thrusters (30kg)

Burpees over the bar

Despite me messing up a couple of times in the first workout, we were so happy to finish in the top 10 out of 24 athlete teams in the RX category. Nic and I are also signed up as a team for the Inferno pairs series at Lee Valley over the Easter Weekend and I can’t wait to team up again – I genuinely think we worked really well together!

 

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Sunday

After signing up to take part in the Battle of Britain qualifiers, I had to submit my first workout score. I was aching from yesterday’s competition, but I needed to get this done…

WOD 1 – Welcome to the Suck

4 rounds of:

12 wall balls (6kg)

10 deadlifts (70kg)

8 handstand pushups

6 hang snatches (35kg)

All within a 15 minute time-cap. Sadly I reached the time-cap with 5 handstand pushups and 6 hang snatches to go, but I was really proud of my performance – especially with having not done HSPUs from the floor for a VERY long time.

 

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In the evening I had to fit in my long run for the week – a 10 mile run at 8:45 min/mile pace, which I managed to stick to pretty bang on, avoiding any further penalty peanut butter cups! It was a late run, and along the river towpath too, which meant wearing my Silva headtorch – that thing is seriously awesome, lighting up the path so well in-front of my that I still felt pretty comfortable running at a relatively fast pace.

 

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Training by Numbers

Miles run: 16.2

Medals earned: 1

Times nearly pissed myself: 0

Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup Count: 5

Fundraising total so far: £395

Follow me on Strava to see my training progress in more detail, and check out my Instagram for more training updates – including my stories where I document even more of my training, diet and general life!

London Marathon Training Diary – Week 1

In case you missed the announcement on my Instagram… I’m running the 2018 Virgin London Marathon! I can’t quite believe it – this is a race I’ve had my heart set on for years now, entering the ballot a grand total (I think) of 7 times! I decided this year had to be my year to do it so, rather than leave my fate in the hands of the ballot, I applied for a select few charities I would be proud to run for. To my absolute delight, The Royal British Legion accepted my application and offered me a place. I’m so excited to be running for them, and can’t wait to wear my poppy vest on race day.

If you’d like to sponsor me to help me reach my fundraising target of £2,500, you can find my JustGiving page here: George Does VLM. I really do appreciate each and every donation, and no amount is too small!

 

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VLM Minus 16 Weeks

So, onto the training… I’m lucky to be receiving coaching from the awesome Kerry McCarthy. Kerry has run a ridiculous 44 marathons and writes features for Runner’s World UK, so I know I’m in good hands when it comes to my training and I’m excited to see what he has in store for me.

Monday

New Years’ Day. I was supposed to run the Serpentine NYD 10k but, after drinking FAR too much whiskey the night before, I woke up not just too late to get to the race, but after the race had actually started!! Facepalm or WHAT. So, having committed to doing Run Every Day January, I headed out for a 1 mile leg loosener late that evening.

Tuesday

Kerry had me do a 5k time trial for my second run of the week. The idea was to do a mile warmup and then go ALL OUT for 5k. It was miserable outside with Storm Eleanor brewing and the out-and-back route was in a headwind for the entire first half. I was convinced I could get under 23 minutes, after running 7:20 pace at the Movember run in November, but came in at 23:35. I shouldn’t have been disappointed given the conditions, but I was.

 

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Wednesday

Today’s run was a 6 mile progression run, starting at 9:15 min/mile and getting faster by 15 seconds each mile. I managed to stick mostly to plan – going a little faster than the prescribed paces but still getting quicker each mile – until the last mile had me walking because I needed to pee! I completed my feedback on my training plan and swiftly got a congratulatory WhatsApp from Kerry for not actually pissing myself haha – thanks Kerry!

Thursday

Thursday was a planned rest day, which meant a mile run for RED January, but an afternoon physio appointment convinced me that this wasn’t the best idea. The pain I’d started to experience towards the end of my Advent Running run streak was shin splints and, with my history of stress fractures, it just didn’t make sense to jeopardise my marathon training for a month-long challenge.

Friday

Rest day.

Saturday

Battersea Park RunThrough 10k… this was in the diary as a social race to catch up with friends and kick off the medal haul in style (in case you don’t know, RunThrough medals are ace!). Kerry planned for me to run 9 miles in total by tagging a couple of laps on to the end of the race, and he told me to aim for a 6/10 RPE (rate of perceived exertion). I ran with Ian and we gradually got quicker and quicker, finishing just 30 seconds over my PB! Although this was faster than planned, I felt pretty good the whole way round, maybe pushing up to a 7-8/10 towards the end.

A few of us followed up with an epic post-run brunch – surely everyone knows that a fry up and pancakes are the perfect post-race fuel?!

 

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Sunday

A well-deserved rest day. My ITB started to ache towards the end of the run yesterday so the time off my feet was definitely needed!

Training by Numbers

Miles run: 20.7

Medals earned: 1

Times nearly pissed myself: 1

Fundraising total so far: £395

Follow me on Strava to see my training progress in more detail, and check out my Instagram for more training updates – including my stories where I document even more of my training, diet and general life!