Well, it’s Christmas again and we are doing the tour of mothers.
First mum stop this year is my mum, in Leeds for Christmas and, of course I am looking to do a bit of parkrun tourism while I’m here. This is one that I haven’t done before. It’s in a place called Dewsbury which is in between Leeds and Huddersfield. It is in a park and, as with everything else in this area, it is on a hill.
The wind has been making a nuisance of itself and has blown debris all over the paths on which we intended to run. One of the pieces of debris is a tree and the decision is taken that it is probably a bit too big to just brush off to the side of the path. The parkrun volunteers take the decision to use emergency course which involves going around the small loop section a mighty six times. Our race director tries to explain this and gets into a frightful tangle when she adds extra detail to try and make it easier to understand. You will pass this monument 6 times she says. Ahem say the assembled masses. Seeing as the finish line is just back there won’t it be 5 times. Oh yes, well erm, yes ignore everything I’ve just said.
Unfortunately my wife has taken the six times bit of data and possibly hasn’t heard the correction (you are cheating here Jim – you are speaking from the future so you know that is what happened – well yes – and so you shouldn’t go around sounding all superior saying this or that probably happened when you’ve already been to the future and so know full well what happened – harumph, my blog, my rules, if I want to pretend omniscience then I shall).
Off we go around the monument and down the hill. I’m feeling great and really enjoying it.
The fast folk have already vanished around the bend at the bottom of the hill. I am skipping along happily until I reach the bottom of the hill and have to climb upwards again. It is a long slow hill but I see the finish line for the first time and this gives me cheer until I remember that it I must pass here another 5 times, or is it 6 or 4 or…
I pass Carrie at the top of the hill near the monument. She is wearing antlers and so fairly easy to spot. She hold up one finger doing her Sesame Street impression of the Count saying “one lap, ah ah ah”
Next time around the leaders have already caught me up. Gosh that’s a bit demoralising thinks I. Carrie is waiting for me again, “two laps, ah ah ah”. Around and around we go. I must have slowed down as people are passing me. There are a wide variety of costumes. Santas, reindeer and all kinds of Christmassy things.
“Three laps ah ah ah”.
“Four laps ah ah ah”
The leaders are passing me again on their way to the finish line. One goes speeding by and I hear a voice shout, “get yourself moving, we’re catching you.” The leader grins and steps up a gear.
“Five laps ah ah ah.”
I shout back to Carrie to say that I will see her at the finish line next time around. I look back as I run down the hill and she hasn’t moved at all. I wonder whether she didn’t hear me or didn’t believe me.
A chap looks behind and sees me approaching. “Go one he says, lap me now while you’ve got the chance.” I do as he says and do manage to pick up my pace a little toward the end. My time is still much slower than I expected but I reached the end injury free so am happy with that. I am handed a tag as I finish and then there is a long long windey funnel. This seems most peculiar until I realise that they are doing scanning at the end of the funnel. This makes absolute sense now as it means that there is plenty of room for the people to come through the finish line and then queue for scanning.
I am pounced on after the scanning and offered chocolates. I think if anyone is going to pounce on me then it is favourable if the aim of this manoeuvre is to offer me chocolates.
Carrie catches up with me and admits that there was a bit of confusion as regards 5 or 6 times around the monument.
It was a fun parkrun. It was fairly small (in terms of numbers, there were 119 people there on 25th December) and a very strange course going around and around so many times. I would like to try it again when they do the regular route.
Well done to Joe Sagar who finished more than a minute in front of anyone else and also many thanks to all the volunteers for putting on this extra Christmas Day parkrun.
The Book of my London Marathon run for Save The Rhino
Hurrah, it is finally done.
For all those of you who have a London Marathon place this year, I have just the book for you. I ran the marathon this year to raise money for Save The Rhino and found it bloody difficult but a tremendous experience. I’ve crunched all the fun and frivolity of the months of blood, sweat and tears and then the slog around London into a bright and breezy ebook called ‘From Parkrun To London Marathon’. Buy it on Amazon UK, Amazon USA and all those other Amazons all over the world . They will take their cut from the sales but every penny they hand over to me will be donated directly to Save The Rhino.
I’ve put my various stories together into a narrative that tells the tale from when I started running to my decision to run the London Marathon for Save the Rhino. I’ve then continued on to talk about raising money for the charity and extending my distance so I had some chance of reaching the finish of the London Marathon and claiming my medal.
The bulk of the book covers my experience on the day as I dragged my tired and unfit body around the streets of London. Trust me, it’s a lot more fun than it sounds from the description there.
There are lots of giggles along the way and hopefully some insights that will help people that are thinking of taking on the challenge themselves.
The paperback version is now available and the links above will lead you to the ebook and paperback versions of the book. Please buy as many copies as you can afford and disseminate them widely. Hopefully they will inspire other people to run the London Marathon and possibly even help push them toward running for Save The Rhino.
Remember all money I receive from sales of this book will go directly to Save The Rhino
Grantchester is just a ridiculously beautiful little village. If you take the phrase ‘picture postcard village’ and then feed that description into an amplifier and crank it up to 11, then you’re somewhere near being able to give an impression of what it feels like to be wandering through Grantchester. Driving through the village prior to the run I bask in the glow of village loveliness arraying itself neatly alongside the winding lanes. I glance to the right and see the church grounds all covered in snow.
This is October, it’s about 12 degrees Celsius, there shouldn’t be snow.
Maybe it wasn’t snow. Could it have been a huge amount of some kind of white blossom? My mind is zipping back and forth, performing somersaults and triple back flips as it struggles to comprehend what it’s just witnessed. Fortunately moments later we see a large studio lighting truck and I realise that the church has probably been decorated for the TV series, Grantchester.
We park up and all gather in a large field. There is a large inflatable that says start on one side and finish on the other. My mighty brain reaches the conclusion that this may be where we begin the run.
The ankle injury is still a long way from being healed so I’m not expecting a good time today. I began near the back of the pack aiming to finish in around 63 minutes. I often start these races near the back and I’m not entirely sure this is the right thing to do. I always spend the first few kilometres jammed in among the masses. I feel that I should be moving on but there’s nowhere to go until the field starts to thin out a little. This sounds like I should be starting further forward but then there is the possibility that I may set off too fast and then have nothing left in the tank for the finish. Alternatively am I being too careful and not really putting in as much effort as I could do?
Eventually a few gaps appear and I am able to start passing people. We cross the M11 and start meandering around across fields, through clumps of trees and then eventually back over the M11 several kilometres later. It is at around the 8 kilometre marker that I encounter a Mr motivation type guy. He is running just in front of a woman that I assumed was his partner. He was holding his hand out at around thigh height while looking back at her and making encouraging type noises. This looked such an odd thing to do that I hung back a little so that I could watch. What was she supposed to do with this hand that he was waving in front of her. It was a good kicking height. I wonder if she was tempted. “C’mon”, he was saying, “you can do this”. Over and over again he exhorted her to run a little faster, to push, to work to try harder etc etc. Surprisingly I never heard her swear at him or even try to kick that hand that he was waving in front of her. Eventually I decided to pass them and this seemed to turn up the dial on his motivational outbursts. “Look, you’re being passed”, he said. “He’s going right past you. You’ve really dropped off the pace. You’ve got to pick it up if you’re going to get in under an hour.” Still she said not a word but I think she started to run very slightly slower. Either his motivation was breaking her spirit or this was her form of rebellion. I left them behind but could still hear him shouting about how slow she was going long after I had reached the edge of the field and was heading toward the 9K marker.
I speeded up a little after 9K and was surprised that I still seemed to have plenty of energy. Maybe that answers the question I asked earlier. Possibly I am being too conservative and should try to push myself more from the start. I sprinted for the finish inflatable and crossed in a time of 57:51. Much faster than I had expected but possibly I could have finished quicker than that.
I wonder if the motivation couple managed to get to the end in less than an hour. Maybe if she looked like she was going to finish under the hour, she would have stopped and walked just to irritate him. I suspect motivation guy would have exploded in a mushroom cloud of anger and frustration if she had finished in 61 minutes. Twould have been quite a sight.
I was too busy queuing up for bacon sandwich and coffee to see who came in after me. I much approve of races providing bacon and coffee. I have far too many running t shirts now. I would much prefer bacon.
The medal looks quite classy. It has a blue background with a picture of a clock with the hands at 10 to 3. This is in homage to the poet Rupert Brooke who lived at the Old Vicarage in Grantchester and wrote a poem called ‘The Old Vicarage’ which ends with the words:
Stands the Church clock at ten to three?
And is there honey still for tea?
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.
“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.
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.
Well, one of the things it means is that my wife and I hire a car a go to visit our Northern mothers (one in Ayr and one in Leeds). The other thing is that I get to run in some different places. Hurrah, let’s pack up the car and be on our way.
Ayr is our first destination and is a fine seaside town on the West coast of Scotland. Ayr is often windy and this Christmas it seems to have settled in to really show off its talent for flinging we fragile human beings hither and thither along the prom.
Everyone is huddled up in their rain clothes peering out at me bustling along in my running shorts. They shake their heads sadly at this poor fool who was obviously dropped on his head as a child and now doesn’t even have the sense to stay indoors when the Scottish weather starts to do its thing. I’ve been out three times so far and it’s been a mighty battle each time.
The first outing was the most pleasant. I only received a medium level battering and by the time I’d passed DoonFoot and was slogging my way up the beach, past the castle and on to the holiday camp I was taking it all in my stride (admittedly sometimes my stride went sideways as the wind gave me a playful little nudge).
Approaching the castle (more of a small tower really) there was a sheer cliff face. Tempted as I was to explore further, I felt there was more running to be done before scrambling about on the cliffs so I saved that one for the way back. I’m glad I did as the climb was a little easier from the other side.
I couldn’t actually get inside though. The doors and windows had been bricked up. A shame but possibly necessary to cut down on vandalism. Running back was much easier as the wind was behind me. I actually felt that I was cheating a little having the wind carry me along so twisted my route around a little so that I could run into the wind again. I see you there giving me a funny look but I maintain that it was a perfectly rational thing to do.
Next time out things started to get really silly. The promenade from where I’m staying on Prestwick road down to the docks was receiving a soaking as waves crashed over onto the road. It looked splendidly dramatic but was quite worrying and involved some paddling to get by this and into Ayr.
I persevered and then checked my phone to see how far I’d gone. Drat! My running app had stopped recording and so showed that I had run about 1 kilometre whereas I was at about 5. Ah well, back I go into the splashing waves and the paddling pool road. The wind was behind me here and I kept on, going past where I started, to twiddle about in the streets for a bit. Excellent fun but rather more weather than I like to confront all in one go.
Third time out was just appalling. it started off at about the same intensity as day two but with Storm Eva having just whistled on through it was dragging a bunch of squally squabbly weather systems it its wake.
I hit the sea front and was about to run into Ayr when I spotted a small path going away toward Prestwick. Always keen to explore I jumped on it and wombled my way along between the sea and the golf course. The waves were being as dramatic as on the previous day but I wasn’t going to let a bit of weather stop me from getting in the miles. I passed a sign later telling me that I could get hit by flying golf balls and that it was all at my own risk. Fortunately I knew I was safe. Golfers are renowned for coming out in all sorts of weathers but this force of wind is enough to dissuade even the most maniacal of golfers. I ended up in the town of Prestwick and thought of carrying on to the airport (famous for being the only bit of the UK that Elvis Presley ever visited. He touched down there while changing planes) but turned instead back into the streets that would take me back home. It was then that the hail began. The wind flung the hail at me with incredible force and it did feel like I was being soundly whipped. I was stuck out in the open and not enjoying it at all. It was then that I discovered that I was quite lost. I also realised that I was feeling quite miserable. OK, fix this. I opened up the running app on my phone. I expanded the view and there not so far away was the blue line showing where I had first began, only a couple of kilometres away. Hurrah thinks I. Head down and head for home.
I arrived back and, of course, it stopped hailing just before I went into the house. “It’s horrible out there says I.” “Looks OK to me says loving wife.” “It was hailing a minute ago” I claim. She shakes her head sadly. “You’ve turned into a soft Southerner haven’t you?”
Over December and the Christmas and New Year period I’ve been doing a tour of parkruns to raise awareness amongst fellow parkrunners for the charity Save The Rhino and to try and encourage fellow runners to donate to that charity through my London marathon rhino fundraising page at http://virginmoneygiving.com/jimmowatt .