Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The London Marathon 2009

At 9.49pm on Saturday night a good friend texted me to say good luck and remind me of the words of one Winston Churchill, ‘If you’re going through hell, keep going’. Inspiring stuff, although my favourite Churchill is ‘Never ever, ever, ever, ever, give up.’

The world's healthiest festival site

Sunday morning in Greenwich park and such thoughts are far away as we enjoy the ‘world’s healthiest festival site’, in the words of my running mate, of fancy dress costumes, flags and banners, and music. Photos with Team Go at the NSPCC and a video interview for their promotional DVDs, quick loo breaks, lathering up in sun tan lotion in light of the ridiculous sun; which would become a mainstay of the day.

Slowly we take our place on the line, chatting to a nice chap named Matthew from Warwick University who was going for 3hrs anything (I hope he made it) we await the start. The 9 minute miler pacer turns up and all eyes turn to him; like a god among men people flock to him, aiming to follow him for their 3.54 time.

The hooter sounds and we funnel towards the start and, here’s the line…we’re off and running, literally. No walking, straight into the running. The crowds are thin but friendly and the only bad thought is, ‘that sun is quite hot…’

Bands play, people cheer us on, a vicar blesses passing runners (it burns, it burns!) and the first ‘go on Dan’ cheers start. This is great! Soon we merge with the blue runners. The booing commences, who knows why, but quickly subsides, and we’re all together. Away into the distance stretch the runners. All bobbing up and down creating the effect of waves on the shore on a choppy sea.

We're on TV!

We head past the Greenwich Naval College – an amazing building – and manage to get on TV. As Matt Baker (him off Blue Peter) pulls aside a man in a devil costume, we wave inanely at the TV and, checking later on the iPlayer, yes there we are! Around the charred body of the Cutty Sark the crowds swell and the cheering increases. For another 3 miles the crowds are just amazing. Music and bands, sweets and biscuits, high-fives, name cheering, all just inspiring stuff.

Mile 8 and I spot my work colleague who gets a good picture (click) and gives me a nice buzz. Up to 10 and my running mate decides to stop for a quick break; we agree to split, I wanting to push through the slight twinge in my stomach, knowing the second wind will kick in soon.

Mile 12 and the realization Tower Bridge is close by brings in that second wind, and running over the bridge I remind myself to admire the sight of the bridge, the crowds, and soak up the cooling breeze of the Thames. The sun is still beating down, and although cloud cover is intermittent, it doesn’t help.


Over the bridge and half way in 2.07. Off target for a sub 4hr run but given the heat I’ve already decided it’s not worth pushing too hard. Round to 14 and the best bit of the race – see my parents (who pass me the much reminded about Snickers bar) and a huge NSPCC cheer point – who cheer me like a world champion, and I run on feeling fed and loved. Only 12 miles to go!

On down Narrow Street (very narrow it is too) I spot Michelle Collins cheering people on, and start to overtake the people around me. Realising I’m being foolhardy, I rein it in and ease up, telling myself to slow down. Into Canary Wharf and the crowds show no signs of easing up (amazing!) and I take the opportunity to run through another fine mist shower system. Still so, so hot. In fact I have now seen several people being treated on the side of the road and it’s a good reminder to run sensibly.

Through the financial center I pass Kate Lawler who won Big Brother 3, and start to feel the pain. Just 6 miles to go and we’re going past Billingsgate market, very hot, very bland, very hard. Hamstrings getting tight now. Push on. If you’re going through hell, keep going.

Ah, yes, pain. Hello.

21 miles – only 5.2 to go. Only, ha. I don’t hit the wall here but I do realise my hamstrings are now hurting and there’s nothing I can do about it. Never, ever, ever, ever, ever give up. Just put one leg in front of the other and keep going. Nothing lasts forever.

23 miles and the crowds are huge. But, I’ll be honest, they’re doing nothing for me. This is an internal battle now. The pain v me. I will win. One leg in front of the other. Running through the last shower station makes me shiver, making me realise how low my energy reserves must be, despite the heat of the sun. Out of embankment tunnel I spy Big Ben – so close but so far…

Here I manage to miss my parents and and most friends, although see a few of them, as I internalise everything. Every cheer of ‘Come on Dan!’ is met with a ‘you bloody do it then!’ in my mind only of course.

Turning at Westminster. So tired. Someone shouts. 1km to go. Never, ever, ever, ever give up. I’ve run so many kilometers in this last 6 months, what’s one more? The photographers appear – what? Who placed them there! Force a smile. Just 600m to go. What, where was 800m? So glad to have missed it!

Then 400 to go. Then 385 yards. The turn on the Mall is blessed relief. I shout out ‘ohhhhhhhhhhhhh’ in a form of release to the pain and the joy the sight brings. For no reason I sprint to shave pointless seconds off my time and run with my arms aloft. Once over I put them down and acknowledge my legs’ calls for rest and stretching.

The end?

Utterly dazed and confused I take my medal, my bag, and find a place to lie down in St James’ Park. I’ve just run the London Marathon in 4.22.01. A few loo stops in there but who cares. In that heat I’m very pleased.

Today, Tuesday, and I feel strange. My legs are getting better and people are all very interested and quizzical but I just feel the same. I don’t feel like a hero or that I’ve done something life changing, or affirming, or anything. I don’t know. Perhaps I anticipated feeling like that when really not everyone will. Perhaps it’s too soon to know. I raised £1,901 for charity which is amazing and this makes me feel better than the idea of doing the run itself. Am I alone in having this almost post-marathon depression?

The big question is of course, will I enter next years? Maybe. It’s a commitment for sure, but it would be nice to go sub 4hrs…

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Sprint finish

So here we are, just five days away from the London Marathon. It's been a hell of a journey.

I can vividly recall when I agreed to do it:

Int Shot: Two lazy people playing Pro Evo, a phone rings, I answer:

'Hi Dan it's Will. Do you want to run the marathon next year? '(his voice intones 'this is just a token gesture, I don't expect you to say yes').
'Urm, yeah okay, why the hell not!'

A pause

'You do?'
'Yeah, do you have a place or something?'
'Er, yes, we can get places with the NSPCC.'
'Great, yep sign me up.'

Phone call ends.

Then four months later on a crisp September morning we set off on our first run. A full 800 meters around the block. We return exhausted, glistening with sweat, and having just been chastised by an old lady who said, 'come on keep going' as we laboured past her. (Where are you now O Mystic Wise Woman?)

Then it was, 'Did 20 minutes tonight and don't feel like I'm going to die. This is fun.' And on it went, 25 minutes, 35, 45, an hour! Then a 10k race at Finsbury Park (Time = 47mins 14 seconds), then another 10k back home in Cornwall - which became the basis for my first ever article on running - and was another 47 minutes, although on a very hilly course.

From here training intensified - 12 miles in 1hr 55 minutes felt like the end of the world, then I did a half-marathon in Watford - a lovely rolling, countryside course, and a sprint finish over the last 3 miles, passing hundreds of runners - a perfectly paced race and one of the best running moments to date.

Onwards! A 14 miler in the freezing rain, under-nourished, cursing every individual drop of rain that fell, but really knowing it was our own fault for not having prepared properly before going out - lesson learned, this is now a serious challenge and requires pre-run and post-run commitments. Fridge now forever stocked with sport drinks and cupboards bursting with Jelly Babies.

Then 16 miles, then a half-marathon at Silverstone. Race plan slightly off - too fast for 10 miles, although feel fine, then slow considerably over last three, to finish in a good time of 1.42, but think it would have been better if I had saved fuel for the end, rather than fading - another lesson learnt; the end if the hard part, not the start.

Then 18 miles - feel drunk on exhaustion come the end, but do realise we are running past the American Presidential house in Regent's Park and so next weeks 19.7 miler - a lot of hills on these runs too - sees us watching with interest as the police head hither and thither erecting anti-terrorist barriers and helicopters hover overhead. We carry on running, enjoying glimpses into London Zoo.

Then suddenly it's all over. Twenty miles is done and we've recovered. Now what? Now a party - to raise funds you see - and then that's it. A couple of eight milers ('nothing really', say the two runners who six months ago almost collapsed running 800m) and now we find ourselves simply counting down days, eating pasta dish after pasta dish, preparing for probably the hardest, but most anticipated challenge of a lifetime.

There's a lot I've left out too - the mid week evening runs over to Alexandra Palace with its stunning views of the city, the training day held by the NSPCC in January, the fantastic people I've met in the virtual world of Twitter who are also running the marathon, the strange sense that I'm actually rather enjoying all this running, the books I've read, the magazines, the times I've been on the JustGiving website the strange quirks of the body - give me Jelly Babies! - and the genuine buzz I've felt from raising over £1,500 for charityand the kindness of people in donating (especially in this credit crunch).

So - that's it. Sunday, 9.45am, 26.2 miles - what's left to say? Bring it on.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Free from running (sort of)

Another running post here - less than two weeks until the London Marathon now though so it's to be expected. Ran a nice nine miles in Cornwall on Sunday with a friend (who completed the Rome Marathon about two weeks ago in 4.19) around the highways and byways of the county which was very pleasant. A different experience to London that's for sure.

The tapering off period is bloody ace. My legs are fully recovered and feel good, and with just one run left - some sprint training penciled in (mentally) for tomorrow night - it will then just be a sit-back-and-relax until the big day, eating copious amounts of pasta and trying to get fund-raising heading towards the mythical £1,800. As you can see from the JustGiving widget on the side I'm inches short of £1,400 (feel free to push me over if thou wishest too).

Friday, April 03, 2009

Run on

My first ever article on running was published in Cornwall Today this month - I'm very pleased with it and I hope to write more about running in the future.

If you click on the image you should be able to enlarge the image to a size that is readable. Alternatively click here.

Building snowmen to get on the news

Charlie Brooker's Newswipe was good this week, covering User Generated Content, or UGC to the media-savvy among you (or those with a penchant for acroynms). We heard a lot about UGC on our course in Cardiff - see - and so it was interesting to see what Brooker would make of it, especially with his ability to hit the target of his scorn repeatedly - X-factor for example.

It was interesting to hear his view that it's been since the death of Diana that the news has become far more interested in what we think and feel about particular issues despite the fact, as Brooker pointed out, it's not really news. The snow in Februray of this year gave him the perfect ammunition for this - showing the endless pictures of snow and snowman that the BBC showed throughout the coverage, despite the fact it's not really news at all. His clip of Jeremy Paxman's withering contempt for this practice was fantastic.

The rise of UGC is undoubtedly a good thing when it's used correctly and can add to the story - images of floods, fires, plane crashes, and so forth all can give a news story added value and an impact; Twitter has, as I have said, already shifted this up to another level. However, it is important that this isn't the story, it must be an adjunct to the story. Once the story has been covered, discussed, looked at and the days have rolled on it should, unless somehow continually relevant, be dropped / pushed down the schedules. Even if there are more people's opinions that can be gathered / pictures coming in it doesn't mean it should stay in the news agenda.

There's only so many snowmen you can look at.