My London Marathon Run For Save The Rhino

“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 pic of jimrunninggrew 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.

Jim crosses finish lineIt 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

jim at expoExcel 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.

 

carrie bowlingAs 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!jim with voucher

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.

jim with pasta

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.

3 first male finishers in London Marathon
The weather did help as Kipchoge won with a course record of 2:03.04

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.

tim peake

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.

do not feed the runner
Do not feed the runner

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.

pic of 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

pic jim rejoins the race
Went to see ZZ9ers then turn back to rejoin the race

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, encounterjim with towelme 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 gardensdo not wee 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 pic of jim runninghave 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.

pic of jim at birdcage walk

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.

jim crossing finish line

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.

Save the rhino greeters
They kind of look like they are demonstrating against Save The Rhino don’t they

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.

jim with medalThey 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.

in foil blanket

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.

pic of zz9 folks

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.

pic of London Marathon medal

One Week To Go

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 brigpic of dirty running shoesht 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…

A New 10K Personal Best Time

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 pic of brown breadhave 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 twopic of brown rice pasta 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.

 

Cambridge Half Marathon 2016

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.

pic of Jim at start of runWe 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.

jimatstartWe’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.

It’s been a very good day.

 

If anyone gets the urge to donate to Save The Rhino then please visit the page http://virginmoneygiving.com/jimmowatt and donate whatever you feel you can afford.

A Creaking Engine

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.

Guess How Long It Will Take Me To Run London Marathon

I’ve set up a sweepstake on a page run by a site called Guess To Give asking you to guess how long it will take me to run the London Marathon.

It costs 5 pounds to make a guess and you can make as many guesses as you like (although it will cost 5 pounds each time). From that money, 1 pound goes to the prize fund (the amount you can win), 3 pounds and 70 pence goes to Save The Rhino (if gift aid is included or 3 pounds and 30 pence if not) and I’m assuming that the other 70 pence goes to the web site.

So, that’s the logistics but i hope the fun bit will be trying to guess.

You could ask I suppose but it’s all unknown territory to me. I’ve never run 26.2 miles before so really have very little idea how long it will take me to run that far in London on the 24th of April 2016.

There are, however clues and if you pay close attention you will see more clues as we approach marathon day. The best of these clues are probably to be found on a page of my web site called ‘race log‘,  .This page contains my finishing time for every organised race in which I take part. If you want to see my training runs then take a look at my Strava link.

Good luck and hope you enjoy trying to guess.

 

20 Miles!

I would be dancing for joy today if my legs weren’t aching so much. I went out this morning with the intention of doing a longish run but not expecting to manage much more than about 13 miles. I slowed my pace, kept plugging on and arrived back home 4 hours later having completed 20 miles. I’m thrilled, overjoyed and incredibly relieved. My longest distance for some time now has been 15 miles and I’ve been finding it extremely difficult to increase that. I’ve arrived home time after time having reached 15 and been crippled for the next 3 days. This time I had no real agenda and just kept running. I passed 13 miles and realised that I was quite some distance away from home. I also realised that I still had some energy left in my legs so could quite happily keep going. I got closer to home and checked my Strava app. It now said that I had run 26.2 kilometres. My goodness thinks I. That seems quite a lot. I taxed my little brain for some time trying to figure out how many miles that may be and all the while the distance I had covered was going up. It’s now 27 kilometres. Well, that’s quite close to 30 so why not go for that. I got to 30 and I’m quite close to home but still had some energy left. Why not make it 32 and then I’m only 10 kilometres from my marathon target.

And so I did.

People have been telling me for some time that if I can manage 18 miles before the London marathon then the adrenalin provided by the crowds and the occasion will push me on for the rest. I’ve now covered 20 miles and reckon I still had a little bit left in the tank. This is such a relief. I now feel that the 26.2 miles is an attainable goal. It has previously always seemed too ridiculously far to even contemplate. Reaching it has now become a very distinct possibility.

This has been quite a week and in other news I got a wonderful gift from one of the people who have donated to my ‘Save The Rhino’ campaign.

Claire Middlehurst popped into my office on Friday with a bottle of tonic. She ran thpic of tonice London Marathon last year and said that one of the most important parts of her training was trying to stay clear of coughs, sneezes and general diseases.I shall be taking regular doses of the tonic to try and ward off the evil lurgi.

 

Thanks Claire

It’s very much appreciated.

 

I also went along to Anglia Ruskin University to see the Saucony running shoe folks and try out their new gait analysis machine. They’ve promised to send me the video from the machine so I’ll be writing a little more about this once they send it across.

Meanwhile here’s a little bit of video we shot on the night with my phone

And here’s a pic of the running gait computer. It filmed from 3 different angles. I’m really looking forward to seeing the video it produced.

pic of running gait computer

Rhino Running in Oakwell Mud

Oakwell Hall is a fine setting for the parkrun. It’s not as big and grand as huge places such as Temple Newsam but it’s very much of its time and place being a late 17th century family home more suited to the affluent upper middle classes of the time rather than the nobility you would find in the great houses. It looks hard, stern and super tough. The parkrun course is similarly tough and this rhino found it difficult going up and down the hills, through the trees and then slogging its way through the mud.

pic of runners at start of oakwell hall parkrun

We are waved off and go charging past the house circling right around and then charging down the hill. Going down seems fine but then you have to climb back up the other side. No mean feat for a rhino that can’t see its legs. I know that they’re down there somewhere but not entirely sure what they’re getting up to. We flounder our way along until there’s a car park and then dive into the woods. This is a really pretty bit. There are trees and tracks and all sorts of good stuff. Then we come out of the trees into a short stretch of field before another track. The mud is so thick here that I become completely stuck and can’t move for a moment. I haul one foot out of the mud and plonk it down in front of me. Then repeat process for next foot and continue until the gate of joy and hope is reached and normal rhino running can be resumed.

Then there’s more running around Oakwell Hall and the stables and we can begin all over again. It’s a great run but a difficult one. There’s no chance of a rhino pb today despite the abundance of super manic marshalls cheering us all on. The course is just too tough. Great fun though and absolutely gorgeous.

pic of me and amanda

I eventually crown the hill and am running along the finish funnel. Amanda, our run director is there cheering everyone in and doing the timekeeping too. We wait until the flood of runners coming in slackens off a little and then bag her for a rhino and run director photo.

There’s a whiteboard at the finish line and various people write on their new year resolutions. I couldn’t think of any new ones so didn’t add to it myself.

pic of rhino with new year resolution board

We go for a coffee afterwards and  discover a Leeds Rhinos fan who would very much like a picture with the rhino and I also meet the chap who had been taking video with his GoPro on buggycam at Woodhouse Moor and Temple Newsam. He promises to post the link to the video on the Oakwell Hall parkrun page.

We took some more photos around the house including this one from the front which mirrors Charlotte Bronte’s splendid description of it when she used it as a model for Fieldhead in the novel ‘Shirley’

ic of Jim the rhino at Oakwell Hall

and then this great model of a sheep which is hanging about in the front garden. Me and the sheep make a splendid art installation I reckon.

pic of jim in rhino costume with sheep statue

We have a great time relaxing with a coffee and talking to other parkrunners but must eventually leave as we need to drive back to Cambridge today. There will be two cats waiting for us there who haven’t seen us for two weeks and will need their cuddle quota topped up as soon as possible.

pic of 2 cats

 

If anyone gets the urge to donate to Save The Rhino then please visit the page http://virginmoneygiving.com/jimmowatt and donate whatever you feel you can afford.

 

New Year’s Day on Woodhouse Moor

I’m visiting my mum in Leeds and there are parkruns on New Year’s Day. Of course I have to go. What’s more I want to do two parkruns in one morning. Also I want to do them in rhino costume. All sounds perfectly reasonable to me. Carrie sighed and agreed to come along. I can see so little out of the front of the rhino suit that I need as much assistance as I can possibly get just to make sure I arrive on the start line. Therefore I’m really grateful that she can come along to help.

pic of Rhino runner at start of parkrun

There’s a fine gathering on the moor. As with last year there seems to be a tradition of gathering near the finish funnel and then moving back to the start for the prerun briefing. Sam, the run director does the briefing. He mentions someone who got what sounded like about 84 per cent in age grading and also someone doing their 250th parkrun. Unfortunately I couldn’t hear much from inside the rhino but many congratulations to them. Sam also does a wonderful shout out for me and talks a little about the sorry plight of the rhino.

pic of start of parkrun

The run director counts us down and then sends us on our way around the course. It’s a nice flat course although there are occasional patches of ice. We do a fair amount of looping around and pass some places three times during the run. It’s not the most scenic parkrun I’ve ever done but it’s an excellent example of being able to put on a fine run even in quite a limited space. They’ve really used what they have in an interesting way alternating the loops slightly each time around.  I follow someone in an orange shirt for a while and eventually manage to pass by. Then I followed someone in a 250 shirt but I didn’t have enough energy to pass her and she left me staggering along behind. It looks a really nice shirt. Hope they’re still doing them when I get to 250 parkruns.

I hauled myself across the finish line and run director Sam came across for a chat. I thanked him for the shout out at the start and we had a photo taken together. Sam then grabbed my finish token and barcode and scanned them in for me. He then shooed me away to my next parkrun at Temple Newsam asking me to remember him to Ronnie who would be run directing there.

I’ve just received my Woodhouse Moor parkrun time and it’s a new rhino pb:

Woodhouse Moor parkrun results for event #435. Your time was 00:32:49.

If anyone gets the urge to donate to Save The Rhino then please visit the page http://virginmoneygiving.com/jimmowatt and donate whatever you feel you can afford.

A Temple Newsam Parkrun Rhino

Wow!

So many people here at Temple Newsam.

The run director is doing the prerun briefing but I can’t hear any of the words. I’m not sure the people around me can either. My guess is that there may be rather more people here today than they are accustomed to. However it all seems really well organised so they handled the large turnout really well.

Jill popped over to say hello. She’s been answering my email enquiries about the parkrun. Hiya Jill, good to see you.

Dogs are barking at me and I’m meeting folk I saw at Woodhouse Moor. I’m also seeing a lot more children at this parkrun and they are all intensely curious. That gives us a great opportunity to offer them Save The Rhino stickers and talk to them and their parents a little about the endangered rhinos. I see a family running with a buggy and a small dog. They have a GoPro Hero strapped to one of the buggy arms and assure me thay have footage of the rhino from Woodhouse Moor. I wish I’d swapped email addresses with them to ask for some of that footage. Quite apart from gathering more rhino video I would like to see how the Hero performs. I quite fancy getting one for myself.

We set off past the glorious Elizabethan mansion and out through the formal gardens. Down the long hill, left at the motorway and curl back along the edge of the woods until we are once again struggling up the hill toward the house. Twice around we go and the second time we are curved around the hill a little until we burst out into the finish funnel. I queue to be scanned behind the girl in the orange tee shirt. I’d finished before her at Woodhouse Moor but she was really pleased to finish in front of me here at Temple Newsam. “I couldn’t be beaten by a rhino twice in one day” she said.

pic of Jim as rhino at Temple Newsam parkrun

I was going to get a coffee afterwards but there was a very long queue indeed and I had more family duties to attend to at home. We made our way back up by the house and stopped for a moment outside the glorious front doors for just one more picture. We were immediately pounced on by large numbers of people asking if we’d let them take a picture of their child standing by the rhino. It was really sweet and I posed for many photos beside children who were either delighted or terrified to take part in a rhino photo.

pic of rhino at Temple Newsam

I never got to pass on your regards Sam, to Ronnie the run director. He seemed awfully busy. I’m saying hello to Ronnie here from Sam and the Rhino.

If anyone gets the urge to donate to Save The Rhino then please visit the page http://virginmoneygiving.com/jimmowatt and donate whatever you feel you can afford.