You’re not allowed to say anything negative about London apparently. People go bananas about it. I have been warned. But then again I am not negative by default, I have been called a cynic, but I am more of a cynical realist, leaning towards being a closet optimist. I want every race to be awesome and some really are. I call races on the things lacking, that detract from the experience in an honest way. But telling me that I am not allowed to have any opinion other than staring starry eyed at it, foaming at the mouth, is not going to fly. In fact, I will list that people can be real dicks about London as the first negative point. See what did there, dicks? You became a self-fulfilling prophecy. Negative point #1 People can be real dicks about London.
Cue the HYPE!
There is a lot of hype around the London marathon and justifiably so. It is one of the 6 majors. It has been going for 30 years. It is one of the biggest marathons in the world. It is one of the best supported sporting events in the world. And it is the biggest mass participation charity event in the world. And maybe that is why I am reluctant to start this blog jumping around like a crazy person, foaming at the mouth and waxing rhapsodic about crossing Tower Bridge, the level of support, the Mall, Buck House, that tear jerking theme tune, and all the razzmatazz that comes as part and parcel of the Virgin London Marathon 2017.
This is a mass participation event that boasts well over 40,000 runners and is almost impossible to get into for some, and you have to look at the why. That is simple, the London marathon has charitable roots. It was started to raise funds for the people of London, the charities therein and for the betterment of many. There are GFA places that a lot of people I know get, club places.
Note: Here’s an idea, start a running club, apply to be recognised by the British or English Athletics Association and then apply for club places. It may be the easiest way to get in.
This leaves the ballot. In 2016 247,069 applied to run the race through the ballot, and had to wait the months and months until the result was announced. Many people were disappointed, most in fact, me included (for the 5th time), as am sure the ballot only offered 15,000 or so places, and many, who’s heart was set on running the London marathon, had to take the charity places available, and raise up to and beyond £2000. The fact that London gives away 15,000, 16,000 17,000 places to charities (and by gives away, I mean charges them a lot) means that those places are not available to runners who just want to run it, who don’t want the additional pain and stress of raising £2000 and the potential further pain of being hounded by the charities if you don’t get the minimum number they want. So I guess the argument a lot of people have is that you can run marathons all over the UK, all over the world, by just paying to run them. You don’t have to go through a ballot for most. Some, and I tend to agree, think that people who want to sign up and just run should be given more of a chance. If you are going to expand the numbers, expand them there. So negative point #2 is the number of places available for runners who don’t want to raise money for charities.
But all that said, it is clearly an amazing event. It raises a record breaking amount for charity every year and I do not think it is going to change anytime soon. It is growing in numbers, but am sure those numbers will be charity places too, and not given to the quarter of a million people entering the ballot.
And so there is a mixed reaction to London, although I would say a VAST majority of it is positive. But there are races that people either love or hate. I, for one, have absolutely no interest whatsoever in running the Great North Run. Some people love it. Some people hate it. I just think the sheer volume of people for a half marathon and the newspaper hype about getting entries is nonsense. Some people love it, and they are most welcome to have that opinion. I don’t hate it, I just don’t have any interest in running it.
For 5 years of running (Christ, has it been that long already, where did the time (and my hair) go?) I entered the ballot and got a rejection. I moaned about it a little, and the unfairness of the universe, but then moved on, picked other races in the Spring months to make up for it and ended up running Disney Florida and New Orleans in a US two-fer, and the Two Oceans in Cape Town, and Manchester and then Copenhagen Marathons last year. You just have to get over it. Indeed, this year, I was so over it by the announcement of yet another ballot failure that I signed up for Brighton, Barcelona and MK marathons. So getting a London place on the cut-off day kinda makes it an interesting time with 4 marathons in a 7 week period.
The Brother and the 11th Hour
So, how did I get to run it? Fortuitously is the answer. I had tried to be a little cheeky and entered both myself and my baby brother into the ballot to double my chance of getting a spot, as I firmly believed he would have absolutely no interest in it, or would show a modicum of interest before bailing mid-training and then give me his place, if I didn’t get one. And, of course, that is exactly what happened. Well, kinda. Other than the fact that I did not get in, and that independently both my brother and I decided that, in his fortieth year it would be a great thing for him to do. And so it was that he got in and I did not.
As history will highlight this is now becoming a “thing”, of me applying for something, not getting in, and then me telling other people about it, and them getting it. And he would not be the only London marathoner who got in because of me. It made me a bit of a grumpy sausage to be honest, but then a stroke of luck…
I do not know what made me do it, but I emailed my charity of choice (Pancreatic Cancer UK) out of the blue to say that I would be happy to step in if they needed me. I had done this before for Royal Parks last minute, and Berlin, as I was trained and happy to help out. After all, they have to pay for these places and if people drop out they lose that revenue. Anyway, I emailed then went to lunch and, whilst there my phone rang. Now, I never answer my phone, even if I know who it is, and this was an unknown number but still, for some reason, I answered it. It was the charity, people had dropped out, that day happened to be the deadline day for gold bond charity place registration, and could I sign up before 5. I did ask if the £2K could be raised over the course of the year and not just in the next 7 weeks and they said yes. Boom! In there like…
And so to the Race Targets
I have pushing my idea of having multiple targets and for Brighton and Barcelona was happy to hit at least some of the 10. For London, however, the targets have changed:
- Beat Brother!!!!!
- Finish (obvs)
- Finish well and healthy (again obvs)
- Finish having run most of the way
- Finish having run ALL of the way
- Sub 5 (it may sound easy, but given the muddy, hilly, difficult marathons I have run since November, it is not)
- Within 20 mins of my PB
- Within 10 mins of my PB
- Sub 4
- All of the above
My brother is 4 years younger than me, taught Krav for a while, but in the last few years has enjoyed the good life so much he has developed a bit of a paunch. But, as part of his marathon place, he got thousands of pounds worth of medical tests to make sure he was fit and healthy, a personal trainer and a tonne of my less used kit (including a Garmin Vivoactive), the jammie goit.
He did train, though, which is something I rarely do. I just run maintenance runs between races. He ran a 15 week program, discovering what it was like to push himself week on week, upping his miles. I was kinda jealous. And so that first target, to beat him, really was up in the air. And moreso given we were in different start pens. So I wouldn’t know if I had beaten him until after we had both finished.
One for the Star Wars nerds here. This was my starting pen.
The start area is huge and we took the Jubes to Canary Wharf, chatting with a fellow runner from Manchester who was running his first marathon, then the DLR to Greenwich. I sounded like a voice of reason and an old war horse as they speculated about x and y and I gave them anecdotal accounts of races from my years of running. I walked my brother to the start of his blue (ballot) pen, and then headed to the red (charity) pen where I caught up with Lou from Bacchus and Jen.
The Video Finish
Now something to notice is the woman in the right hand side of the screen. She was unconscious, and they (being stewards) carried her over the line. I had this conversation with someone only last week. If I have an injury, say with a mile to go and someone offers me a shoulder to lean on I would take it. I am, after all, still being propelled by my own steam. But if I am not compos mentis then I do not think that counts. I would not want to be carried to the finish as I would not have finished. That is just me. Maybe others feel differently. The poor girl was in a state though, and maybe the steward was trying to get her to the medics over the finish line. Let’s just hope she is ok.
Love it. I really do. It is double sided and both sides are great, one side shows the landmarks, the other the route. It is already on the rack, bling 135, my 11th marathon and 5th of the year. Job done.
How I did?
I was slow, half hour slower than expected but…
- Beat Brother!!!!! (by 49 minutes – tick)
- Finish (obvs) (tick)
- Finish well and healthy (again obvs) (tick, especially compared to the unconscious woman they carried over the line in the video)
- Finish having run most of the way (tick)
- Finish having run ALL of the way (nowhere close)
- Sub 5 (it may sound easy, but given the muddy, hilly, difficult marathons I have run since November, it is not) (just missed out on this)
- Within 20 mins of my PB (nope)
- Within 10 mins of my PB (nope)
- PB (noperooney)
- Sub 4 (Nah)
- All of the above
So 4/11. It could have been better. 5 mins faster and there would have been the sub-5 tick I wanted. But London was a lot more challenging that I had anticipated. I would say that it is the toughest road marathon I have done. I know a lot of people struggled. Maybe the crowd, as you don’t want to be seen to be walking, and so will push yourself even when a wiser head would say drop your pace, walk, take stock are to blame. Maybe it was the overcrowding. Who knows? And who cares? We all did it.
Not as hilly as Athens, not as hot as Brighton. Lots of people found it hard. And the crowds!
Negative point #3 was the pace group jostling: This happened to Helen, Jen and me at different points and more than once. I have run with pacers before. I have paced before. But at London, with the huge amount of first time marathoners/newbies taking their brain out and tethering themselves mentally to the pacer, barging everyone else out the way, it just got too much. They are basically dogs called to heel and it is poor race etiquette. The course and the times they passed meant it was too physical, even though I was happy to shove back twice as hard.
So maybe it was the overcrowding that makes it so tiring, the constant checking of your pace, of people dragged along faster than you would want, and then virtually coming to a standstill the next minute. Next time, if there is a next time (ballot from now on for me, am not raising £2K again), I will be better prepared. And yes, I beat the guy dressed as Mr Blobby who lied about his expected finish time.
The London Marathon was great. I did love it, but maybe not as much as I did Barcelona, but I think that was based on how I feel about my run more than anything else. It felt like it was the biggest marathon in the world. The field never thinned out. The support never thinned out. And that sheer volume of people maybe makes for the downsides of it being too crowded.
Would I recommend the London Marathon? Of course I would. I just hope you can get in.
Would I run the London Marathon again? Of course I would. I just hope I can get in.
MILTON KEYNES MARATHON and all it’s delights