Southwold is a lovely little seaside town on the East coast of England. It’s full of beach huts, old folks, fish and chips, Adnams beer and genteel jollity. Of course I also hoped it would have some kind of timed run.
I scanned the parkrun pages for a run local to Southwold but the nearest was Lowestoft. This is only about 30 minutes drive from Southwold but I was on holiday with my wife and felt it might be a bit unfair if I went off up the coast without her. I then searched just for runs in the area and found that Adnams (the brewer) did a 10K run but that was a once a year thing in November. I did however spot in the list of hits something called ‘Great Run Local’. I clicked on the page and saw that it mentioned something called Wythenshawe Park and Salford Quays. I scrolled down and saw a map centred on Manchester. How odd, I thought. I shouldn’t have got that in my search. I was just about to click away when I decided to try a Ctrl F page search for Southwold. Sure enough there it was, just a little below the cut,
Run’s start at 9:30am from the Water Tower on the Common every Sunday (please arrive for 9:20am).
Being a bit dim sometimes, my first thought here was that 3 metres and 1 metre isn’t very far to run. I did however manage to figure out that it was more likely to be miles.
The run was on a Sunday morning at 0930 so I popped out earlier to do a little warm up run. I felt terribly creaky and was breathing quite heavily after only a few yards. My physio has given me strict instructions to keep to very short distances and allow 2 clear days between every run. She also told me to try other ways of keeping fit such as swimming or resistance training. I haven’t really been doing these things so my fitness has dipped quite a bit. The ankle injury is giving me fewer problems though so cutting back on running along with the icing and stretching does seem to be helping. My breathing levelled out after a while and I started to move a little easier. I ran up to the common to find out where the run started and then ran back again.
I spotted a useful sign while I was there that told me ‘You Are here’ and then presented me with a blank sheet of metal. I returned to our rented cottage and my wife told me that she wished to come along to watch me run.
There was a lovely warm welcome waiting for us on the Common where they explained where we would be going and handed us a nice glossy piece of paper that told us a little more about the Southwold Great Run Local. It seems that this is a movement quite similar to parkruns but with a little more flexibility on when they do their timed runs. They also do 2 runs at the same time. One of the runs is 3 miles and the other 1 mile. This seems to be an exceptionally good idea as the one mile run serves as a great introductory run to the longer 3 miles. They even managed to convince my wife, Carrie to try the one mile run. Carrie keeps fit with all manner of fitness classes but an inherent weakness in her knees means that she has come to dislike running quite intensely. I was more than a little surprised when she agreed to run the mile.
There were 15 of us on the out and back 3 mile course. We were sent on our way and then the 1 mile runners started moments later on the same course but turning around much sooner than us.
I set off at a decent pace and was a little surprised to find myself among the leading group of runners. This never usually happens. I started to wonder whether I should slow down a little so that I would have enough energy in the bank to finish the run. I had just backed off a little when a little worry started to nag at me. I had no idea how well the course would be marshalled so there was a distinct possibility that I might get lost. I glanced behind me and the next person was quite a way away. I looked forward and could see the line of runners snaking away in a line. I should really try to stay in contact with these people so they could show me the way. I surged a little and locked in behind the runner in front. My thinking was that if I could get to half way then we would turn around and come back the same way. Then I shouldn’t get lost and could maybe slow a little. The running felt quite easy now as we passed along bramble covered hedgerows, then over the River Blyth where I was left gasping at the sheer beauty of it all.
The 1 and a half mile marker was a cheery marshall who was happy to be a runner roundabout as we circled around him and pushed back toward the Common. It was lovely to see the other runners as we retraced our steps and we were all able to offer greetings and encouragement to each other as we passed. We ran back along the long straight course (I don’t think I would have been able to get lost if I tried) and at the end the marshall waved us to the right to go back onto the Common. I was fighting for breath as I struggled up the very slight uphill toward the finish line but pushed on and staggered across to collapse onto the ground. Jane Samkin was there with her phone prodding at the screen as I crossed the line. I think the way it would usually work is for her to scan wristbands using the Near Field Communication built into most smartphones. I had registered on the web site but unfortunately my wristband hadn’t arrived by the time I set off on holiday. It was waiting for me when I got home.
I crossed the finish line in 5th place in a time of 24.54 which pleased me immensely. My parkrun best for 5k is 25.54 so the time equates to something very similar, being a slightly shorter distance. This was completely unexpected coming off the back of so little recent running and gives me a lot of hope that I might be able to improve my time when my ankle heals and I can start to run more often.
Carrie also completed the one mile run (in ordinary shoes as she wasn’t intending to run) and now has a PB of either 12.14 or 12.35 to aim at when we get the chance to do another Great Run Local.
I really enjoyed this run. It had beautiful scenery, was well marshalled and had a really friendly atmosphere. I also liked there being the 1 mile option so that Carrie could run too.
I am grateful to all the people who gave their time and energy to make it happen.
Needles, she said. I’m going to stick some needles into your leg. What foul quackery is this thought I. My ankle hurts and she wants to hurt it some more by sticking a bunch of needles into it.
I lay down on the bench and put my head through the hole. I’ve always hated needles. Dentistry has poisoned my mind against such barbaric instruments. However, the physio seems to know what she’s doing, so I steel myself to whatever is to come. She assures me that it won’t hurt but I squeal pathetically every time she introduces a new needle. She assures me that the latest one hasn’t yet pierced the skin. “That’s just the tube” she says. I am baffled. That really hurt. I would be rubbish at tattoos. She goes into the next room to get something and I look around at my ankle. There are several small spikes sticking out of it. It looks extremely alarming. I look away and she returns to remove the needles and massage the tendon. Surprisingly it seems that she can now touch that achilles tendon without me squealing and leaping into the air. The needles thing seems to have eased the pain a little. I suspect the relief is only temporary but it feels good nevertheless. Apparently its purpose is to increase blood flow into the tendon. These tendon thingies don’t get so much blood and it seems that if you’re trying to fix them then blood is just the thing that their little tendon selves desperately need.
I’ve been seeing a physiotherapist for a few months now. It started with my hamstring problems just before the London Marathon. Then there was a debilitating knee problem after the marathon and now I have achilles tendon pains. It seems that I am receiving a crash course in runners injuries.
The knee pains were absolutely dreadful. It was they that put paid to my Edinburgh Marathon at mile 16. Michelle (the physio) explained to me that it was an imbalance in the muscles that had pulled the knee out of alignment. This caused the knee to scrape on things it shouldn’t be scraping on and therefore inflicted loadsa pain. She is very realistic and realises that runners are ridiculously stupid creatures and will still attempt to run whatever the injury. She therefore taped up the leg to try hold the muscles in place and stop any more inflammation. Unfortunately this doesn’t last long as the tape tends to work loose after a few days. I am, however, learning (albeit very slowly) that I really should cut back on the running and take up other forms of exercise until my injuries heal. Even when they have healed then it seems to make sense to look after the other muscles that work together with the leg muscles. She is trying to talk me into Pilates classes but I’m not overly attracted by the idea. I am however doing the exercises she has given me to pull that knee back into place. There are bum exercises and some more to strengthen the inside of my knee and these exercises seem to have worked. I have had no more pain from that knee. I have had pain from my achilles tendon though.
It’s an overuse injury she says. My heart sinks when I hear this.I know that the only real answer to an overuse injury is to stop using it. I take a look on the Internet and everywhere I see the answer, it’s an overuse injury.
The physio has me standing on steps and pushing my heels down over the edge. I have to do 30 of these quite slowly every day. I also have to do calf stretches, ice the tendon, heat the tendon and then still maintain all those knee exercises. This fixing my legs business is becoming a full time activity. I am also under strict instructions to attend the gym, do some swimming and lots of bicycle rides. Frankly all I want to do is the thing that I enjoy; just to run. I must be patient though. My time will come once this tendon is mended.
I love doing a bit of parkrun tourism. It is fascinating going to different places to see how they do their parkruns and to experience so many of the beautiful places in which these runs take place.
My home parkrun in Cambridge was taking a short break for a couple of weeks so that Milton Country Park could do some work on the paths. Richard and I discussed the alternatives and decided to go slightly further afield to try out one that we’d never been to before.
The Bury St Edmunds parkrun is held in a beautiful park full of fine mature trees and splendidly springy grass to run upon.
The run has a wide start so that no one is far from the start line even with the 259 runners there were today. We set off like a charging barbarian horde going uphill across the grass. There is much shuffling for position but as we turn the corner to run back downhill, everyone is beginning to spread out a little.
We curved around to the right keeping the trees on our right hand side and then back down another slope eventually arriving at a large clump of trees and a narrow path through the middle. This is very welcome for the shade the leaf cover gives us from the sun but it is a bit of a bottleneck and we must tread carefully to avoid the many tree roots strewn across our path. Having survived the deadly obstacles we emerged back into the sun to skirt around the enclosed football courts and then up the hill back to the start so that we can begin our second lap.
I’m hurting quite a bit now from the ankle injury and reckon that I’m beginning to slow a little. I huff and puff a little up the hill. Richard is running at the side of me and I reckon he’s a little bit alarmed by the noises I’m making. He suggests that maybe I could slow down if I wish. We turn to go down the hill and my breathing eases a little but as we turn right I’m hurting again and I can tell that my speed has dropped,, as people are beginning to go past. I’m trying to ignore the pain from my ankle and just keep my legs turning over. It’s damn hot and sweat is running into my eyes causing them to sting. The trees are a welcome relief but as we run through this section Richard trips on a tree root and goes down onto the floor. Fortunately he manages to put his hands out and roll so doesn’t get hurt too badly. He gets up and we carry on.
We burst out from the trees again and curve around the fenced football pitches. I put on an extra bit of speed up the hill and am incredibly relieved to see the finish funnel this time and take my token.
This was a lovely course and it must be delightful to see how it changes with the seasons. I should imagine parts of it become fantastically muddy during the winter months. Of course that kind of weather was a long way away today and both Richard and I suffered from the heat and the humidity of that glorious summer Saturday morning. We grabbed a couple of cold drinks from the shop and made our way back to the car. We both really enjoyed our visit to Bury St Edmunds parkun and thank all the volunteers for making it happen and helping to give us such a fine running experience.
I got a time of 27:03 which wasn’t amazing but I was reasonably happy with it.
I really had almost no idea where I was going or how long I was going out for but just wanted to get outside and do some running.
It’s been quite a while since my knee gave way at mile sixteen on the Edinburgh Marathon. I have been resting and then attempting to build up my running nice and slow. This has, of course been massively frustrating and I have managed to acquire a whole new injury on my right ankle that I shall ask the physio about on Monday.
The physio (Michelle from Vinery Studios here in Cambridge) gave me a whole bunch of exercises to try and build up my glutes (bum muscles) and the muscles that run by the inside of my knee. They are designed to strengthen those muscles and that should pull my kneecap back to where it should be and it will stop becoming inflamed when I run. It seems to be working and I am tentatively running a little bit further every week. With this in mind I felt it might be time to attempt a Sunday long run. I was however quite nervous about it. Will it be too much, too soon? Are my legs ready for it? I decided that I would aim to go over 10 kilometres but not too far over. I’ll run up to Histon and see how I’m feeling then.
Through Histon I ran and was feeling fine although very hot. A little bit of water in my mouth and more tipped over my head. Very nice. I probably should have put some sun screen on. I have a small bald patch on the top of my head on which the sun tends to burn with a ferocious intensity. The heat burrows into my brain and I can get all groggy and wobbly with it. No sir, I haven’t touched a drop. It was the sun wot done it, honest.
I ran through Histon and found myself on a path leading down to the busway. On the other side of the busway was a path going to Girton. That’s decided it for me then, I thought. I shall go to Girton and play on the fitness equipment.
Across the fields I ran and emerged on to a football pitch in Girton. All around the edge of the field were various pieces of equipment. I tried them all, looked mighty foolish and failed mightily with any that required even a modicum of arm strength.
So, that was a lot of fun and I realise I do need to do some more varied exercise. Just running is great but a muscle imbalance such as the one that pulled my kneecap out of alignment is one I very much want to avoid in the future. I ran back and did just over 17 kilometres altogether. I stopped off at the Sycamores recreation ground in Milton Village on the way back and quickly did a few reps on each machine.
So, 17 kilometres seems fine. Hopefully I can push back up to half marathon distance and then eventually back up to Marathon distance. To do that I will have to try and stay uninjured for as long as possible.
I am running alongside the sea, heading out of Edinburgh and everything seems to be going well. There is some pain in the knee but it has dissolved into a background ache rather than the grinding hurt I had felt before. I was enjoying the course and I felt pretty good. Despite all my fears it seemed that this, my second marathon was going to go much smoother than I expected.
So why was I so fearful about this run?
Well, it had all begun a few weeks ago. I had run the London Marathon 4 weeks previously and even though I had emerged aching and hurting I had suffered no injury. I rested for a week afterwards and then settled back into my usual running routine. All the next week was fine until Friday when I popped out for a nice gentle 10k around the park and down the busway. Near the end of this run I felt a bit of a twinge in the knee. Hmmm, slightly worrying thinks I but I’m sure that it’s nothing to worry about. A couple of hours later I am finding it quite painful to walk. Every time I bent the knee, the back of the kneecap felt as if it was scraping backwards and forwards over jagged glass. I went to parkrun the following day and only managed the first kilometre before I limped sadly from the course. With the Edinburgh marathon only 2 weeks away, drastic action was called for. I rang around and booked an appointment with a physiotherapist.
The physiotherapist that I chose was from Vinery Studios in Cambridge. Darryl from the local running shop, ‘Up and Running’ told me that they had been doing some work with Vinery Studios so I thought I would give it a go. I booked an hour session with Michelle for Tuesday very much hoping that she would be able to help.
Michelle looked at my leg, asked me some questions and did a bit of prodding. She then got me to lay down and do various leg raises in different positions. “I am going to push down on your leg and I want you to resist as hard as you can.” I resisted and the leg was pushed down as easily as you might slide a glass along a polished table. She readjusted me and instructed me to resist again. The sliding glass on polished table thing repeated itself all too easily. Michelle made her diagnosis. My quads, it seems are reasonably strong. Apparently this is often the case with runners. It’s one of the muscles that we very much rely upon. Michelle tells me the strong muscle interacting with the weak muscles will have pulled the knee out of alignment. This causes it to scrape against things that it shouldn’t be scraping against. She gave me a bunch of exercises to do and I went home and set to, in the hope that I could whip these muscles into shape before the Edinburgh marathon.
I tried out out my knee the following weekend and although it was fairly painful it didn’t feel too bad. I ran 16 kilometres and my confidence soared. Running the Edinburgh marathon now looked like something that I might be able to do. I saw the physio again the following Tuesday and she seemed pleased with progress. I could do all those fancy clever things like walking up and down stairs. “Do you think I might be able to run the Edinburgh Marathon” I asked hopefully. Michelle thought it might be possible but advised me to stop if it began to hurt. I floated away in a sea of happy complacency until I came to do a gentle run two days before the marathon. The pain was back and it continued after I had stopped running, inflicting all sorts of hideous discomfort upon me. I checked the website to see whether it would be possible to get a refund or a deferral if I pulled out of the Edinburgh marathon but it assured me that they didn’t hold truck with any of that sort of thing. I resolved to run but knew that having to quit during the race was a distinct possibility.
So I’m running along and thinking that maybe things are going to be OK. The course is nice although it maybe seems a little disingenuous calling it the Edinburgh Marathon when so little of it is in Edinburgh. Maybe something such as East Lothian Marathon or Musselburgh Marathon might be more appropriate, or possibly they could get really cocky and call it The Scottish Marathon. This latter suggestion might possibly upset all those other people who run marathon events in Scotland.
We run around a few streets in Edinburgh and then head out to the coast. There is mile after mile of sea and sand on our left hand side and a lovely cooling breeze coming off the sea. Everyone is now settling down to their regular pace after the hustle and bustle of the first 7 or 8 kilometres. A chap called Steve runs alongside me and begins to chat. He’s from Woking and is telling me how much marathons terrify him. He sounds as if he is faster and more experienced than I at this thing but the marathon still frightens him every time. We compare training and talk about all those runner type things such as intervals, long runs, hydration etc. All those topics that we can put non runners to sleep with at dinner parties. Steve is also worried about injury problems and feels that he hasn’t had the training that he would like to have had. We compare trials and tribulations but also look to chat about the good things such as the scenery and that astoundingly welcome sea breeze.
Musselburgh eventually hoves into view and is a welcome sight. Even though we are only a third of the way through we know that next time we come into Musselburgh the race will be done. We make progress.
I am enjoying the interaction with the spectators although am acutely aware of the vast difference between this event and the London Marathon. In London the levels of craziness just seem to go higher and higher. People are screaming and shouting and encouraging each other to become massively excited about the whole experience. The crowds infect the runners with their excitement and the runners respond so encouraging the crowds even more. In Edinburgh there is support but it is more at the level I am accustomed to in the smaller races that I have taken part in around Cambridge. There are some people shouting out especially as I am wearing a London Marathon, Save The Rhino shirt with my name emblazoned across the front. I make sure that I acknowledge every shout. I feel obliged to do so but don’t feel that this is a bad thing. Obligations can often feel like a burden but this one feels an absolute joy.
Looking across the road we see the leaders start to come through. The winner was a chap called Kiprono.I hadn’t heard of him before this.
I was imagining myself coming back this way and really looking forward to it. It was a gentle downhill and the breeze would be behind me urging me onwards.
At around 15 miles Steve asked me for his Lucozade bottle. I dig around in his back pack and hand it to him. My leg is hurting so I cadged some ibuprofen gel from him. His tendons were hurting and he asked me to rub some gel on his knee also.
Steve ran on, I stepped out to try and catch up and found the knee pain had increased dramatically. I gritted my teeth and tried to carry on and then suddenly discovered that I could no longer put any weight on my left leg without it buckling from the pain. I staggered over to the side of the road and found a tree to prop myself upon with one leg held in the air. A marshall came to help, asked if I needed medical assistance and I said yes.
While we were waiting I heard various exchanges on his radio. Not everyone was as willing to stop and receive assistance. Someone else apparently was weaving all over the road in considerable distress, bumping into other runners. Marshalls had asked him to stop but he didn’t seem to hear them and carried on. Someone was shouting over the radio, “stand in front of him, it’s the only way to stop them when they are like this.” I had no such problems stopping myself running. Putting any weight on that leg at all sent huge rolling waves of agony flashing out sharply from my knee. I wasn’t keen on the notion of letting that foot touch the ground anytime soon. The doctor appeared a few minutes later and offered me several tablets. I swallowed them down and then he asked me what I was going to do. I was a bit nonplussed by the question as I didn’t feel that I had much in the way of options. I decided that telling him that I was just going to stand here on one leg and whimper probably wasn’t an answer that anyone wanted to hear. Instead I suggested that maybe I would try to find my wife who had said that she would try and connect up with me at mile sixteen. I reckoned that I was past mile 15 but wasn’t entirely sure. The doctor and the marshall didn’t know where we were other than we were in their sector thirteen. I reckoned that I needed to get moving and put left foot down to try walking. I howled in pain and stopped again. I called Carrie and told her the news. She said that she was in a taxi trying to find the course and asked where I was. I couldn’t really give her any specific information. I tried to walk again and found that if I kept the knee very straight indeed that it could bear a little weight. I limped forward. People were asking me all the time whether they could help but there wasn’t much that anyone could do. What I needed was transport to the end to collect my baggage but no one was in a position to offer me that. Some kind people did give me a bottle of orange though and that was very welcome indeed.
The doctor caught me up again and pointed across the other side of the road. There was a footpath there going up to a village. He reckoned that might be a good way to connect up with my wife. I concurred and attempted to cross the road. There was a constant stream of runners but eventually I saw a gap and with the speed of a snail attempting to slide across dry sand hauled myself over to the other side. I reached the footpath and began the long slow walk over the golf course. People were passing to and fro asking if they could assist me at all. I obviously looked in a very bad way indeed. I thanked them for their concern, managed to find out where I was (Longniddry) and told them that I was meeting my wife. That was the plan anyway although phone reception had become increasingly patchy so I wasn’t entirely sure how much she had heard of my description of the current location.
On and on I walked. It seemed like forever but I was learning a technique that minimised the pain a little. I found that if I could keep my left leg very straight when I put my foot on the ground then it didn’t hurt too much. If my knee bent laterally at all then there was huge amounts of pain. Avoid that I thought. It took massive amounts of concentration to keep that leg straight and I could only take very tiny steps as I had to stop the knee attempting to bend at all.
My journey across the golf course was a very long trek indeed. At the other end I emerged on to another footpath and began limping up that one. Over a hedge I saw someone running. Carrie was there looking quite frantic. I yelled out that I was here and she did a kind of mad muppet flailing with her arms thing and whirled around to find her way back to the path that I was on. A couple of minutes later she found me and flung herself into my arms. It was very good to be reunited again.
Carrie pointed me at the train station and we began our long slow walk up the hill. A very tall man appeared from nowhere and asked if we wanted a lift up to the train station. “Yes, absolutely!” yells I, “that would be brilliant”. He vanishes for several minutes and then reappears in a car and drives us to the train station. I think he must have seen us from his living room window and made the decision to help. Just a downright wonderful thing to do. Thank you tall man from Longniddry. You are a damn fine chap.
The trains from Longniddry are only once every hour so I had plenty of time to sit in the station feeling sorry for myself. Despite wanting to hide away I still needed to make my way to the finish. I had put some warm clothes into a bag at the start and that bag was now waiting for me at the finish line in Musselburgh. We boarded the train and arrived in Musselburgh to find that the train station was nearly two miles away from Musselburgh. How bizarre. Fortunately there was a bus and that took me within about a half mile of the finish. Carrie and I limped along the high street but I was moving very slowly indeed. She decided to stash me in a Subway (where I bought a sandwich), take my number and go on to collect my bag. She also collected a friend of ours called Lynn who had arranged to meet us at the finish line. They came back for me and we all went back to find another bus at my micro slow limping speed. Back in Edinburgh there was a long slow trudge to Waverley station. At Waverley we caught a train to Ian and Elaine’s house in Linlithgow. Then it was time to relax with ice on knee, raised foot and beer. The physio hadn’t mentioned anything about beer in her recommendations but I’m sure that was just an oversight.
A poor broken marathon runner am I.
There may be rather fewer races in my immediate future than I had planned. This knee is very painful indeed.
“That last mile is absolutely amazing” she said, “and when you turn to go down the Mall it’s the most incredible experience that you could imagine.” I did try to imagine it and reckoned it would be akin to some of the feelings that I have previously experienced when I have finished a particularly gruelling run. The actuality was was nothing like that. It was a massive emotional assault on a astounding scale.
I shuffled along the Embankment in a world of pain and then turned right at the Palace of Westminster. Then I ran along Birdcage Walk curving around toward the Mall and Buckingham Palace. All the while the noise grew louder and louder until it became completely unbearable. There was a kind of mass hysteria going on all around me. I’d got a shop to print Jim on the Save The Rhino tee shirt so people could shout out my name and, in a way, join in with my run. What felt like thousands of people were shouting my name. Faces were looming out of the crowd telling me that I was awesome or amazing or incredible. It was absolutely terrifying but quite exciting too. My mind couldn’t cope with this assault and tried to shut down to get me through. I went with it for a while but realised that this was a very special moment and I had to savour it. I forced myself to engage again. I could hear everyone shouting and screaming, all caught up in this amazing event. I zoned in and out as we progressed further down the Mall trying not to break down and cry with the massive waves of emotion rolling over and around me. At the final turn I saw the finish line and focussed in on that, lurching forward until I crossed the mat with arms held aloft.
It was an incredible day.
I can feel so many of those precious memories beginning to fade already. I desperately need to write it all down so I can relive some of these moments. Unfortunately life is making its demands. I need to go back to work and live the rest of my life. I will write as much as I can before the memories become too diffuse for me to rely upon.
The day before the marathon Carrie and I went along to the Expo at The
Excel Centre to collect my race number. There was a huge hall full of queues and shops. We picked up my number at the start and then were funnelled, Ikea style around a route of gadgets, shirts, running accessories and invitations from around the world to join up to their dazzlingly exciting marathons. So many places now have come to realise just how much money a big city marathon brings in to their local economy. Hotels, restaurants, transport systems all scoop up huge dollops of cash from the rampaging runners sweeping through their city. The runners stay a couple of days and then vanish as quickly as they came, to leave the various establishments sitting back and fingering through their recently accumulated wads of money.
The Expo is an exhausting experience. Carrie and I are weaving through the crowds but every few minutes there seems to be some kind of mass migration begins somewhere in the Excel Centre and we are swept this way and that with little control over our own direction. I must admit that I am not entirely enjoying this experience.
As we near the exit the space opens up a little and we can almost begin to breath again. There is an area for games where you can play to win extra donations for your charity. This sounds a most excellent idea and Carrie and I both line up for the bowling alley. We fire the ball down the track and see the satisfying sight of a bunch of skittles all reclining happily after being well and truly bowled over. We claim our vouchers, take them over to the harassed looking laptop people and they enter the details into their computer. Some day soon, they say, there will be an extra couple of five pound notes donated to Save The Rhino. Most excellent!
We then head out to Docklands Light Railway which is groaning under the strain of so many marathon runners trying to find their way to and from the Excel Centre.It’s just about managing but there is a rising note of hysteria in the voice of every announcer.
We are Greenwich bound. Carrie booked us in at the Mercure hotel in Greenwich so that it would be nice and relaxed to get to the start.
Arriving at the hotel there is a titanic struggle through an irritating check in procedure that seems to have been confounded by Carrie changing bank accounts and now having a different card to that with which she had booked the room. It’s fair enough that they wish to check that you are the owner of the card but it would have been nice if they had mentioned this in their booking emails.
We decided to eat in the hotel so that it will be a nice relaxed and easy night. They are doing a runners special as the hotel is packed with London Marathon runners. We attended a seminar on nutrition at the Expo and they had advised that the evening meal should be before 8pm so that it wouldn’t be laying heavy upon us at 10 the following morning. They also advised that pasta would be good fuel so I, and many of the other runners there, had spaghetti bolognese. I probably ate quite bit later than 8 as the service was massively slow.
We retired early and I was in quite a state of anxiety. I was experiencing all sorts of leg pain mostly in my calves. I wondered if maybe I had been doing too much walking around that day and had strained something. This seemed unlikely as Carrie had no leg problems so why should I be suffering so. Of course, it must be psychosomatic but it did feel very real indeed.
I still managed to get to sleep without too many problems and awoke early for breakfast. The nutritionist had recommended having breakfast 3 to 4 hours before the start of the marathon so I was tucking into the recommended egg on toast that they suggested would be just the thing. The leg pain seemed to have eased so I was hopeful that my many and various pains were all in the mind.
We left the hotel at about 0830 and wandered over to the park. We were soon joined by thousands of people all heading in the same direction. As one of the slower runners I was allocated the pen, red 9 which is right at the back of everyone. The benefit of this was that I was with all the fancy dress runners so the sights were absolutely amazing. I was fortunate enough to get an opportunity to chat with some of the Save The Rhino runners running in full rhino gear. I had run 8 parkruns in the rhino costume over Christmas so we were able to share info about the difficulties of running in 10 kilogrammes of ridiculously hot rhino costume. It was fortunate that today, at 10 degrees Celsius with a brisk wind, that it would help to cool the rhino runners a little and so enable them to finish without heat exhaustion taking its toll. We also talked about the possibilities of the elites being able to achieve a really good time as the conditions were perfect for marathon running.
Baggage drop in the start section was wonderfully efficient, with a line of trucks arranged by running number order and huge numbers of people there ready to stow your bag, with its runner number displayed. I had put some warm clothing into the bag as I knew that I always had trouble getting my body back up to temperature after a long run. My body dumps heat with alacrity during a long run but once I have stopped I know that I soon become very cold indeed.
Ten o clock approaches and Tim Peake, orbiting the Earth in the space station counts us down to the start. Tim is also running the marathon but out there in the space station chained to a treadmill. I am partly envious of his being able to run without his weight dragging him down. I am quite heavy at 85 kilogrammes so would welcome not having to cope with the pull of gravity. I had been 90 kilogrammes so have thankfully shed a significant amount of weight but am still somewhat chunky. One advantage I do have over Tim is that I will be running through one of the most beautiful and historic cities in the world cheered on by thousands of people all willing me toward the finish line. That’s got to beat running on a treadmill even if it is somewhere as groovy as the International Space Station.
There is a radio commentary going on as we walk forwards toward the start line. The chap on the microphone is more or less saying anything that comes into his head. One of his comments is in adulation of all the beautiful women he can see on their way to the start. “Great to see so many beautiful women here today. There are also some ugly ones. Oh yes, you know who you are.” Quite horrible but I assume that he was trying to fill in time and keep talking and some of his talk was just drivel. We edge down to the gates.There is a beautiful gate house there and a family live in this house. A typical nuclear family of mummy daddy and two children are leaning out of the upstairs window waving at us. We all wave back merrily. At the next window just set back a little is an older woman. She waves too although with a little more reticence. She is there although slightly disengaged. I have to wonder whether the jolly little nuclear family in the next window even know that she is there.
After the house we turn the corner and can now see the start.There is another block of toilets there and many people run off in that direction for a last emergency visit before they cross the start timing mat. We pass under the inflatable arch 28 minutes after the 10 o clock start and the race has begun.
Already I encounter people that have started walking. “We are pacing ourselves” they shout to all of us, who have checked our stride and are running around them.
The weather still looks a little gloomy but the temperature is fine. We head out towards Woolwich where red, blue and green start routes all merge. Of course everyone else has already passed this point, so any merging that there was to be done is now ancient history. It is somewhere around here that I hear someone shouting “Jim!”. This is not so unusual as I have had my name put onto my Save The Rhino T shirt to encourage folks to cheer me along. This however sounds a bit more insistent as if the person is trying to get my attention. I look up and it’s a face a that I recognise from science fiction conventions. I wave back to Misha and feel warmed through and through. It felt good to see someone that I recognised on the streets of London.
I’m settling into my rhythm now. It can be quite difficult to keep up a steady pace in amongst so many people and so many distractions but I had been warned what it would be like and had adjusted my expectations. I came to the London Marathon knowing that there would be absolutely no chance of running my own race at my own pace. It came as a very nice surprise on those few occasions where I did have a clear run. We turned back toward Greenwich and passed by on the opposite side of the park to that which I started and then we turned right to the Cutty Sark.
There was a fine swing band playing at the side of the road. I was feeling absolutely wonderful. I was so buoyed up by the crowds, the music and the whole occasion that I felt almost superhuman. I was absolutely sure that I could run a thousand miles without breaking sweat. I felt the urge to break off and dance to the swing band but there was a little sensible voice, in the dark recesses of my mind, pulling me back. It warned me that I had a long way still to go and that all this excess energy I could feel would be better conserved for later. I gave a couple of little happy skips going past the jazz band but resisted the urge to dance. Seconds later I am staring up at the massively impressive sight of the sailing ship, The Cutty Sark. I felt as if my breath had been snatched away. I was gasping in awe at the sight of the ship towering over me amid a backdrop of hundreds and hundreds of people, all yelling and waving from behind the barriers. There was music playing and a commentator talking to people in the audience and introducing the records. I stumble through this section in a daze and don’t recover my composure until we cross Deptford Creek and are moving deeper into Deptford. There’s a long straight road now all the way to Surrey Quays. I mentally do a check of my body and it’s feeling fine. All those pains that I felt in my legs the previous evening seem to have completely disappeared. There is a right turn at Surrey Quays and I get that tingling feeling as if there is some kind of presence. I peer over my left shoulder and sure enough, there is Silas with that intense stare of his. I am convinced that Silas has special powers. Standing together with Silas is Alan and Debs. All 3 of them are from the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Appreciation Society. I turn around and run back to them. I give Debs a hug and acknowledge Silas and Alan. It’s wonderful to see them all. I assure them that I am well and look forward to seeing them at the end on the Save The Rhino picnic blanket. I turn and
wave and continue on with my marathon.
There is a little wiggle in the course after Surrey Quays and then the first of the showers. This is a collection of pipes at the side of the road that looks a bit like a spindly scaffold. You run up close to them and they blast out freezing cold water all over you. Most exhilarating I thought and so took every opportunity for a soaking whenever I saw one.
We took a long looping run around Rotherhithe, then followed the river for a while before turning to cross it at Tower Bridge. This is one of the iconic scenes from the London Marathon. Running up to the massive tower structure was awe inspiring, exciting and exhilarating all at the same time. Runners all around me were stopping to take photos and maybe I should have too but I was in some strange kind of floating trance looking at the tower and soaking up the atmosphere all around me.
The noise level increased dramatically on the bridge. It was packed with madly exuberant charity team supporters. There were so many banners on that bridge that I would guess you can only get a place there if you’re connected with one of the major London Marathon charities. I looked for my own charity, Save The Rhino but there was no sign of them. Perhaps they are just too small to be able to get their own Tower Bridge cheering spot.
The bridge goes uphill to the centre and then slopes pleasantly downhill on the other side. We are just approaching halfway and I am feeling deliriously happy. I have what probably looks like a ridiculous grin plastered permanently across my face. My legs are hurting but it doesn’t feel like anything that will cause me a problem. My breathing is easy and I’m feeling relaxed and in excellent spirits. All is good.
We turn right after the bridge back toward the dock areas where we see runners on the other side of the road heading towards central London. They are moving fast and I envy the ease with which they cover the ground. I wonder for a moment whether anyone is ever tempted to jump over the central barrier to skip a few miles. I reckon it unlikely; partly because it would seem to negate the point of attempting to run the marathon but more prosaically there are so many witnesses with cameras that such a move would very quickly make you a hate figure on Youtube.
As we are running toward Canary Wharf I glance around at my fellow runners. There seems to be a lot of social media stuff happening. There’s a woman with a selfie stick posing dramatically for her camera phone. She is wearing make up and looks very composed and glamorous as she flicks her hair back, pouting for the camera. A man also has his phone on a selfie stick and is giving race commentary as he runs. I hear him say “many of you may not have run a marathon before” as I run by and wonder if he’s broadcasting live or recording for a podcast. I did consider creating a podcast myself but then figured that for my first marathon I needed to concentrate on just running, if I were going to finish it. I also don’t think I would want to spend the whole marathon carrying a phone on a selfie stick. I think I would be more likely to use a head mounted camera and maybe a separate audio device that had a fixed microphone, either as part of a headset or attached to my shirt.
Canary Wharf is ahead of us and then a run around the Isle of Dogs. Carrie should be waiting there and she said that she would try get ahold of a bag of peanuts for me. We have a theory that the salt may come in useful. I tend to lose quite a lot of salt when I run.
Carrie has been reading up on all the spectator info and taken on board all the dire warnings of how difficult it is going to be to get around London with so many roads closed and the vast crowds of people milling around. It probably all has something to do with this marathon thing taking place here.
Her campaign began by seeing me on to the start area at Greenwich and then she was going to go through the tunnel, under the river, to the Isle of Dogs. Apparently it was harder to cross the marathon route than she expected and she did, quite by chance, encounterme running in Greenwich before she went to the tunnel. I didn’t see her though but at the Isle of Dogs she yelled out at me and waved a Don’t Panic towel in my direction. That and the fact that she had warned me that she would be there meant there was no chance that I would miss her. We hugged and kissed and she bestowed some dry roasted peanuts upon me. Silas was there with her and gave me the good news that the other folks from the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Appreciation Society were waiting just a few yards further on. Sure enough there they were with another Don’t Panic towel. I greeted them warmly and posed for photographs with the towel. I was still feeling quite good although the large muscle in the front of my legs was really hurting. It felt like someone had shoved an iron bar under my skin and it was busily bashing up against all sorts of other more fragile bones and muscles in its vicinity. However, I still felt strong and surged on.
I had been wondering about a possible toilet stop for some time. Aware of the London Marathon strongly worded advice that we shouldn’t pee in people’s gardens I was looking for something less anti social. I did eventually find something but it was still quite public. The lines at all of the portaloos were huge but I noticed, when we were under one of the bridges, that there was also a large round plastic thing with holes in it next to the portaloos. I nipped over and peed into one of the holes. Several of the blokes spotted me doing this and immediately left the portaloo queues. “I saw these” said one of them “but didn’t realise they were toilets.” I was only about 70 per cent sure myself but I peed in them anyway. The women jeered at us. I think the phrase “lucky bastards” was uttered by one of our well wishers. We emerged into the sunlight and I reckoned we were now pointing back in the direction of London. This should have been lifting my spirits but I was now starting to feel unhappy. My pace had dropped and the distance markers seem to have become spaced further apart. I passed the 20 mile marker and tried cheering myself up. Only a 10K (or so) to go. All your training runs are at least 10k. This should be easy. It’s not really helping. I look in vain for the 21 mile marker but it doesn’t seem to arrive. I am in a world of pain now and seem to have been running forever since that 20 mile sign. My mind could focus on nothing else now. Where was that sign? Why didn’t I seem to be making any progress? I couldn’t be lost. It is quite impossible to lose your way on the London Marathon so I must just have slowed down to a crawl. I slogged, on starting to feel really miserable and even the joyful cries of all the happy spectators had faded to become just a background noise.Then in the distance I see a sign. I picked up my pace a little and crane my neck eagerly to see it as I get closer. I got a wonderful surprise when I saw that it was the 22 mile marker. Somehow I had managed to miss the one telling me that I had reached 21 miles. My mood swung way back and the big silly grin returned to keep me company. I was still in vast amounts of pain but the change in mindset made it all so much more bearable. I pushed on past 23 and on up to 24 miles.The 22 mile happy boost moment is now a distant memory. Those quadricep muscles have stepped up the pain level several more notches. The soles of my feet feel as if they have been battered to a soft pulpy goo. I am just about to pass under the end of Blackfriars bridge when my phone begins to buzz. It’s Carrie and she tells me that she and the ZZ9ers are waiting for me on the embankment, somewhere around mile 25. I try to acknowledge what she was saying with some degree of coherence but I probably wasn’t too successful. Talking to Carrie later she tells me that this was quite a worrying phone call. I sounded absolutely terrible but she couldn’t imagine any way that she could help so didn’t comment upon it at the time. This was probably for the best as I’m not sure that it would have been useful for me if she had said how appalling I sounded.
Into the dark we went, under the end of the bridge and then up the hill into the sunlight once again. We were on the Embankment now and I was trying to talk myself around. I have read many books about ultra runners and they often talk about repeating some kind of mantra to help them to push on when the pain threatens to overwhelm them. Previously I couldn’t see myself doing this. How could repeating some string of words help to overcome physical distress? Now, as I ran along the embankment and waves of pain were washing over me I was trying to think myself through it all. I knew that I hurt and had to accept that. I also felt it unlikely that the pain would get any worse. If I were to get to the end all I had to do was keep putting one foot in front of the other. This thought sort of stuck in my mind and kept coming back in slightly different forms. One foot in front of the other, one foot at a time, keep moving one step at a time. All I had to do was to keep moving and eventually I would reach the end.
The Embankment seemed to go on forever but eventually I saw the 25 mile marker. A few yards further on Carrie, Silas and Alan were all waiting for me and cheering madly. Yet again they managed to lift my mood and I lifted my head to see the Houses of Parliament and the clock tower directly in front of me. I couldn’t coax any more speed out of my legs but the pain seemed to recede a little and I knew that there was no way that I wasn’t going to finish. I was near enough now that I could crawl to the end if I had to.
I turned right along Birdcage Walk and the sound volume suddenly doubled. Waves of noise and outpourings of emotion washed over all of we runners staggering along that last mile. Both sides of the road were lined with thousands of people urging us on. I was laughing and crying at the same time trying to cope with a crazy mixture of feelings.
I crossed the line and staggered onwards. Someone hung a medal over me and I felt I was sagging under the weight of it. Onwards we went and picked up plastic bags with tee shirts and various promotional items and then onto the lines of trucks with our drop bags. I quickly found mine and then walked very slowly over to the fence posts at the side of the road. I leaned on one intending to do a few stretches and then suddenly I began to see black spots before my eyes.I wobbled a little and my head felt incredibly hot. What to do next? I thought that I should sit down before I fell but then there was the worry that I might not be able to get back up again. Glancing around I saw a St John’s Ambulance tent only a few yards away. I lurched toward it trying to ask for assistance but not really managing any proper words. It will have looked almost exactly like the march of a particularly slow moving zombie. Fortunately the chap at the tent was made of stern stuff so not even my march of the undead could faze him. He grabbed ahold of my arm and guided me to a chair. He asked me what the problem was and I managed to convey that I felt as if I was going to faint. He handed me a funnel for puke and then some water. I attempted to take a drink. My head began to cool but then I started to worry that the problem may have shifted. I sat there thinking that I desperately needed to go to the toilet but just coudn’t move. I feared that consequences may be disastrous and extremely embarrassing but there’s nothing I could do. Then something happens that takes my mind off that as I got a really nasty calf cramp. Suddenly I am screaming and a chap with an armband saying doctor is knelt at my feet, grabbing my foot. “Is it calf cramp” he asks. I nod vigorously. He bends my foot up and asks me to point my toes toward my chin. This stretches out the muscles in the calf and the pain subsides. He asked me what I had been eating and drinking and I said mostly just water and a few shotblocks. “Here, drink this” he says. He offers me a Lucozade isotonic drink that has had a packet of gel dumped into it. “It’ll taste foul” he says “but it should help to stop any more cramps.” He’s right, it does taste foul but I don’t get any more cramps so maybe it was just what I needed.
Eventually the nausea and the desperate need to visit the toilet fades and I am just left feeling very cold indeed. Someone wraps me in a blanket and then some foil to try and keep me warm. I stay there for quite some time shivering away but eventually reckon I should move on and try to find Carrie. I express my gratitude and stagger out of the tent.
At the end of the finishers funnel are group of people with Save The Rhino banners. I tell them that I’m a Save The Rhino runner and someone leads me away to the their picnic blanket.
They photograph me and try to shovel food inside me. I’m busily shivering so not sure I can cope with something as complicated as eating and being cold at the same time. Silas, Alan and Carrie are all there and are soon admiring my huge chunk of medal. It is a very significant looking thing indeed and becomes the star of many photographs.
I am still struggling to get warm, so soon suggest that we move off somewhere to get a warm cup of coffee. London is at our feet so we reckon there should be a coffee shop or two about the place. We struggle slightly due to it being Sunday and there being rather a lot of people about but very soon I am sipping coffee and heat is beginning to return to my body. I start to feel almost human again and begin to tell stories from my run. Unfortunately I find that I am also beginning to droop a little and there is a distinct danger that I shall fall asleep.
We say goodbye to the ZZ9ers. Carrie and I head for the river bus and are soon making our way back to Greenwich and the hotel.
In the next few days there was a considerable amount of pain particularly in my quads. Going down stairs was almost impossible unless I turned around and went backwards. However, by the following Saturday I was able to run parkrun and then the Fen Drayton 10K only 7 days after the marathon. Although it didn’t seem possible at first my body does seem to be recovering.
I have also achieved my target of raising 2500 pounds for Save The Rhino International. A great big thankyou to all of you folks who helped me to help them and thank you to everyone who offered me encouragement on my journey to and through the London Marathon.
It was a most amazing, wonderful and astounding experience.
In 7 days time I shall be running the London Marathon. I am incredibly excited and terrified at the same time.
Yesterday Carrie was busily organising how she would get around London on race day and where she would go to cheer me on. She has decided upon a spot somewhere near the mile 16 marker. All this organisation stuff brought it home to me that it’s a suddenly become very real indeed. In seven days time I will be running 26.2 miles around the streets of London. That’s twice I’ve said that here now and I may say it again just to try to get to grips with it.
Now, I mentioned that I was terrified up there and you may wonder why. I’ve done the miles. There has been plenty of training.
Until a few weeks ago.
The post on this blog before this one was a very self congratulatory post about achieving a personal best time on a training run. Well, once the soreness in my legs had abated from that run I found that my hamstring didn’t feel quite right. Next time I went for a run I came back with quite a severe pain. I took a week off training and tried again. It was still quite painful and so it has continued. This has meant that my training came to almost a complete stop many weeks before I should have begun my taper. I am desperately hoping that I had built up enough fitness to carry me through on Marathon day.
I can’t do much about that now, so I’m going to try not to think too much about it and concentrate upon enjoying the Marathon experience.
Carrie was busily organising herself yesterday so I thought that maybe I should check that I had everything I needed. I sorted out some clothes that I could wear at the start but would be happy to discard. I also sorted out some clothes to wear at the end. I am usually very warm when I’m running but a little while after I stop my temperature drops dramatically and I can often feel incredibly cold. It’s a strange feeling that feels like you are cold at the very core of your body. It’s a cold that hurts from the inside and it takes quite a lot of doing to get my temperature back up. Therefore I’ve got some clothes to put in my kit bag, that I can collect at the end and try to stay warm. I also have my Shotblocks (a kind of solid gel) for nutrition during the race. I’ve trained using them. They are a bit sweet but they are the best thing I’ve found so far for eating on the run.
I will be visiting the Expo at the Excel Centre on Saturday 23rd to collect my race number and I should imagine they will give me tracking chips too. I have been sent notification of what my number will be and I need to take that form along with me, together with some photo ID. My race number will be 46648.
So what else do I need? Aha, most important, running shoes.
Ugh! They’re downright filthy. I shall put them in the washing machine so they will be bright and shiny for race day.
I also need running shorts and shirt. The shirt has been supplied by Save The Rhino and I’ve taken that into a t shirt printing shop for them to put my name on it. This is so that people watching the race can shout out my name as I run by. I’ve found that this has given me quite a boost when it happens at the Cambridge Half Marathon. I must remember to collect the shirt this week.
A quick check of the running total on my fundraising page http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/JimMowatt shows that it currently stands at 2014 pounds. This is absolutely fantastic and I hope that combined with the money from all the other Save The Rhino runners can make a significant contribution to preserving this magnificent species.
There is still time for you to contribute more. For those who have already contributed then prod family and friends to throw in a few quid if they can. Save The Rhino would very much appreciate it.
So, apart from the recent lack of training and the hamstring niggle I reckon that I’m all ready.
ZZ9, The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy Appreciation Society have organised a slouch to watch me slog my way around London. They will be meeting at the Surrey Quays Railway Station for 0900, outside the Lower Road entrance.
For those people looking to try and figure out when I will reach particular bits of the course then calculate that I’m hoping to finish in around 5 hours. On race day there will also be a tracking link on the home page of the Marathon web site . I will have a tracker that will register me crossing a timing mat every 5 kilometres so you should be able to follow my progress quite closely through that.
Just seven days to go. I’m running the London marathon in seven days.
Have I mentioned that before?
On that subject. There’s a wonderful video that pokes a little fun at people such as myself…
I would say that I didn’t expect to get a personal best time today but that wouldn’t be strictly true. It was just a regular training run but I’d done a couple of 10K runs recently and found that I was running reasonably good times (for me anyway). I knew that I was in good condition.
I set off around the local streets and then headed out toward Waterbeach. My legs felt good although breathing was a little rough so I wasn’t altogether happy. I was fighting for breath and so felt that this would slow me down a little. My legs did feel strong and I was striding out quite confidently. I’ve seen videos of me running and it often does look rather like I’m just shuffling along, so I was really trying to stride out a little and flick my legs out after I landed. It felt good. I pictured myself as if I was a Kenyan or Ethiopian striding along at the front of one of the great marathons. It is testament to the wonderful flexibility of the human mind that I was able to maintain this fiction for several seconds at a time.
I strode confidently at the side of the A10 and then turned right toward Waterbeach. I was beginning to tire here and soon reverted to my regular shuffle step. However when I got to the River Cam I lengthened my stride again and pushed on. My breathing seemed to stabilise at around 5K and I felt comfortable again. It seems to take me around 5K to warm up.
So, my breathing was fine but the legs were starting to hurt. I checked my phone and the time looked good. In fact it looked very good indeed and I started to realise that there was an excellent chance of a personal best time here. I pressed on. I reached 8K and turned back toward Milton. It was getting quite painful now but at 8K I could smell that potential PB only a couple of thousand yards away. I staggered up Fen Road and then turned into the country park. I knew that I’d reverted to my tired shuffle step now but cared not. I just kept pushing on. I reached 10 kilometres and collapsed on to a park bench. The time on my phone was 52:42. Far better than I had ever done before. I am a very happy runner indeed.
I was trying to think what might have made the difference.
I’ve been putting in a lot of miles in training for the London Marathon but I’ve also been adjusting my diet.
My wife Carrie has been adjusting her diet to try and lose a little weight so I have also adopted some of her new regime. One of these changes is to try complex carbs that take a little longer to digest. These include things like brown bread. Previously I’d steered away from brown bread due to it tasting a lot like cardboard. However we’ve found a brand that tastes really good. It’s Tesco Finest Wholemeal with Wheatgerm.
We have also started using organic brown rice pasta and that tastes pretty good too. I have managed to lose around 8 pounds over the last two weeks and it may be because of this or it may have something to do with the fact that I am foregoing my daily bacon sandwich but whichever it is I am losing weight so have a little less to lug around.
So now I am doing the happy, I’ve just achieved a new personal best, dance but am also deeply apprehensive in that I have only six weeks to go before the London Marathon. This is all getting incredibly real.
I absolutely adore the Cambridge Half Marathon. It’s a grand occasion, a celebration of running and a celebration of just being in this glorious city.
We were on Midsummer Common about an hour before the start and soon began to meet our regular running pals. It was a little more difficult to connect up this year as the event has doubled in size. They have changed the route so that it goes out into a couple of the nearby villages in a wide sweeping loop. That means they don’t have to worry about runners getting all tangled up with each other on the double loop that they had before.
There is a really handy meeting place for us in that the shop ‘Up and Running’ has their own stall this year and is displaying a giant flag that draws us in like moths to a nice quiet mothy spot where we can hang out with other moths without worrying about this moth flame that everyone talks about. Darryl and George from the shop are both there. Richard, myself and Carrie all stand about chatting to other runners asking how they feel and what time they are aiming for. John is injured and can’t join in this year. Steve is quite distraught that he won’t be able to run. He’d been training really hard and was hoping for a good time in this race. Unfortunately he was riding his bike when the chain came off. He was pitched forward over the handlebars and suffered a wide variety and fascinating and painful injuries. All of which made us wince in the retelling.
It’s a cold cold day so we’re quite pleased when the time rolls around and we are summoned to join in with the complicated process of getting into the right colour coded groups. I am in red group which is the very slowest of the groups. Richard leaves me to join yellow group. It’s an odd system in that anyone who reckons they will take longer than two hours is put into red group. That means that this group has people of a very wide variety of abilities, from those who are pushing close to two hours to people who will stagger in around 3 hours and longer. It’s a big group that could possibly benefit from being broken down a little more.
We are yelled at for some time by the chap on the microphone who wants us all to bunch up so that we can fit on the road. The umpty thousand (about six thousand apparently) people who are here don’t seem to fit in the space they’ve marked out for us. We shuffle, we bunch we look confused and make noises of incomprehension and bafflement and eventually someone, somewhere makes the decision to start the race. People move off but we red group at the back don’t have much notion of what’s going on way up there at the start line. We sidle along here and then stumble back there and suddenly we are moving toward the start. The people who could not get onto the road to begin the race are now joining us from the side and there is quite a squash.
We’re thrilled to be off but it’s just so crowded out here that you can only trot forward slowly with little choppy strides as you are afraid of treading on your fellow runners all around you. It is frustrating but I realise that this is how it’s going to be until we begin to thin out a little. I run up to the Elizabeth Way Bridge and we are slowed to a walk again as our path narrows. We see Arco Eris on the bridge and they are making a gloriously rambunctious noise. (Tip for race organisers, if we could have percussion bands all the way around then that would be just great).
We turn left from Elizabeth Way Bridge on to Chesterton Road and just as we’re on that corner I see people in front of me waving toward one of the upper floor flats. There are a couple of silver balloons and a silver haired woman in the window waving at us. The balloons are both in the shape of zero so I wonder if there was another balloon somewhere with the number one. This running fan may have been a centenarian. I waved at her too and this wave of interaction carried on as far as I could see. Poor woman must have been quite exhausted with all that waving but I’ll bet she felt like a queen.
We run down Chesterton road now but the choppy stumbling continues as we try to settle into our own pace. I give up trying to move through the field and settle back to wait until we get the chance to stretch out a little.
There’s a sharp left turn back along Bridge Street and we are heading into the centre of Cambridge The noise of the crowd is quite deafening. I’m trying to pick out people I know in the crowd but it’s all quite disorientating. I’m assaulted by noise from all sides and there are runners everywhere. It’s all so confusing that I almost miss the first water point. There’s a real crush to get water but I managed to grab a bottle. I don’t take a gel as I find the High 5 Energy Gels a bit too sweet. I have a supply of 3 Shotblocks in my pouch and reckon that is about right for me when I’m doing 13 miles.
We pass by the Round Church and then turn right on Market Street. I see Carrie there but she doesn’t recognise me at first. Maybe she is overwhelmed by the sheer mass of people also or maybe she’s just not admitting that she knows me.
We turned left on to Kings Parade and the view is as always absolutely gorgeous. Kings College must be one of the most iconic buildings in England. Truly a splendid sight.
As we run out along Trumpington Road I start to find a little bit more space around me. I can’t yet run at the pace that I would like to but I am starting to move through the field a little. I pass a pink flamingo here. It’s a very ungainly looking bird but seems to be enjoying itself.
We turn right then and we are heading toward the picturesque little village of Grantchester. There is another large crowd here at the turn all cheering us on and a sign that says ‘food stop’. It points to a barbecue grill but I’m not sure I’ve earned a burger quite yet. Just slightly further on there is a water point and I’m prepared for it this time. I am running quite slowly and it’s downright chilly out here so I don’t feel that I need the water. However, I grab a bottle and it gives me a real psychological boost.
We enter the village and I encounter the 2:15 pacer. He’s running along nice and easy pointing out landmarks as we pass by. That’s Geoffrey Archer’s house there he says waving toward the Old Vicarage. There are some questions about who the statue is that we can see through the gates. I guess that it might be Rupert Brooke and googling later find that it is. Rupert Brooke immortalised this village and the Old Vicarage in his poem, ‘The Old Vicarage, Grantchester. Here’s snippet from it:
God! I will pack, and take a train, And get me to England once again! For England’s the one land, I know, Where men with Splendid Hearts may go; And Cambridgeshire, of all England, The shire for Men who Understand; And of that district I prefer The lovely hamlet Grantchester.
Of course the lines that most people remember are the last two:
Stands the Church clock at ten to three? And is there honey still for tea?
I am really enjoying my run now. There is more room to move and we are curving around to join Barton Road. I check my watch and it shows I am some way behind schedule. It would take a lot to hit my half marathon PB. I resolve to speed up a bit but reckon there’s no point pushing really hard as I am over half way through and there’s just too much to make up.
We turn back toward Cambridge and all around me runners are making comments about being able to see the city in the distance.It’s a cheering sight to see that we are now heading back in the right direction.
All the way down Barton Road we run and eventually arrive back in Cambridge. Turning on to Fen Causeway I remember how I felt last year at a similar point. My legs had turned to jelly and I was just dragging myself on to the finish. This year I felt strong and happy and was coasting along nicely. I think I allowed my mind to wander here as looking at my splits I see that I slowed down again while running along Chesterton Road only to speed up for the last 2 kilometres. Darth Vader came running past me and then stopped to collect donations from people at the side of the road. He passed me again and again just to rub it in. The dark side is evil indeed.
Just before turning right on to Elizabeth Way Bridge I glance up and the silver haired lady is still there waving to everyone as they run by, and we are all waving back. She has some stamina that lady.
Arco Iris must also have some stamina as they are still on the bridge banging their drums and blowing their whistles. At the end of Elizabeth Way there’s a marshall shouting out, ‘just 5 more minutes’. Excellent, thinks I, 5 mins is no problem. I put on a bit of a spurt toward the finish. Crossing the finish line I see a chap on the ground and medics are attending to him. He looks in a bad way. Hopefully he pulled through.
The finish funnel went a looooong way, presumably so that there was plenty of room for people to fall over, gasping in agony at the end. I didn’t do this and felt a little guilty that I didn’t. Part of me was saying that I should have pushed myself much harder and part was saying well done for running within myself and avoiding injury when I’m only 8 weeks before the London Marathon.
We all met up after the run. There is a mixture of emotions. For many of us this race is the climax of our running year. It’s the biggest race in the area and an astounding experience. We train for it, we plan for it, we adore running it but then it’s over.
Some leave to go to the Old Spring for the meet up of Cambridge and Coleridge running club. The rest of us head off up the hill (the only hill in Cambridge) to the Castle Pub. There we drink Adnams Ale and eat hearty pub food while we share our race stories.
I stepped out of the door this morning and began to run.
I’d been looking forward to this run all week. I get out there for 2 to 3 hours and just roam around, taking in the scenery and feeling the joy of piling on more miles to make my legs stronger and more prepared for the trials to be imposed by the London Marathon. I will often struggle a little at first until everything is at working temperature and then I just start scooping up the miles. Today was different and I don’t really know why.
I had a fine midweek run where I was zipping along quite nicely and a really good parkrun yesterday where I felt fit and strong. Today however all my joints seemed creaky and sad. It made me think of an old engine that has been left in a leaky garage for the last 20 years. Try to start it up and it will valiantly struggle but you’ll get little more out of it other than a few coughs and splutters. My body felt something like this. I imagined that what it probably needed was to be completely dismantled and soaked in a bath of oil for about a week. Then to be lovingly reassembled before being coaxed back into life.
The above didn’t happen. Maybe this is a good thing as I’ve never been disassembled before and I’m not sure I could cope with the trauma.
What did happen was that I just gutted it out for 13 miles and then staggered back home feeling terribly sorry for myself and completely baffled as to why my body is letting me down.
Hopefully things will go better next Sunday for the Cambridge Half Marathon.