At the suggestion of Mrs. DK, and agreeance of some forum members, here’s a post from a blog I was writing this time last year. Its a full account of my first ever marathon, in London on April 17th 2011. I completed in 5:44:32 and raised £2013.70 for a charity called ‘CHILDREN with LEUKAEMIA’.
It’s lengthy, so I suggest you grab a drink before you start.
LonDONE, Virgin London Marathon 2011.
This is lengthy, and I probably ramble, but this is my account of the 2011 London marathon and the problems you can overcome if you want something bad enough, from a first timers view.
The evening before the marathon my wife (Mrs. DK) and I decided on Pizza Express for my pre-race meal. Rightly or wrongly, I’d convinced myself that dough-balls and pizza were sufficiently carb-loaded. As we waited for a table, the smell of deep heat tipped me off that I wasn’t alone. Towards the end of my meal I got a whiff of DH again, it was coming from a table just behind me. Started chatting to a nice couple (unfortunately names were never swapped), who we found were not only staying in the same Hotel (Travelodge Tower Bridge) but lived only 25 minutes away from us. We discussed strategies, expectations (we were both London virgins) and about how daunted we were having seen the 23 mile marker across the road.
An attempt for an early night was a complete waste of time… I was still awake at half one, a five year old on xmas eve has less trouble dropping to sleep than I did… excitement and nerves just wouldn’t let me go. I awoke at 5 am, at 6 I woke Mrs. DK and we went to breakfast. There were loads of runners in our hotel, all scoffing down porridge and bananas as much as they could. The porridge really was gross, really thick and like wallpaper paste, but it had to be eaten.
At 7am my dad arrived, he’d caught a coach at 2am to arrive in London at 6:20 only to find the tube didn’t run until 7am, so he walked until he found a cab. We headed to Tower gateway DLR station and walked straight onto a train. We must have been fairly early as even as we alighted at Greenwich, the train was full, but not what I’d call packed. We walked the half mile or so to the red start area where I packed my final bits into my kit bag, had a couple of photos taken and said goodbye to my ‘cheering squad’…
I walked up the hill and into the red area looking for my kit lorry, it was almost at the end of the line. Kit dropped off, time for a wee… bonus, a queue of only 3 people. The guy in front of me had a balloon which hit me in the face, he apologized, to which I replied “don’t worry about it, if that’s the worst that happens to me today I’ll be ok”. I walked over to the Lucozade stand and took a bottle, then sat down with my tiger. The tiger was an inflatable thing dad had found at the coast a few days earlier. He’d picked it up by chance, but it actually held significance to me, as one of my nicknames is Tony the Tiger. It was about 4 feet high, and simply an inflatable pole with a tigers head on top. (A few people kept calling it a cat.. which I suppose a tiger is). I was to run with it until about 300 yards where Mrs. DK would take it off me.
I sat and watched the elite women start on the big screen, then decided to find my way to Pen 9. Still wearing 2 extra t-shirts for warmth, carrying my tiger and 2 bottles of lucozade sport which I’d taken with me. The pen gradually filled, I chatted to quite a few people who were running for various charities. As the gun went off at 9:45, the crowd surged forward, only to come to a stop again at around the pen 7 sign, From there it was a shuffle. I looked at my watch, Garmin Forerunner 405. I’d had problems with its battery not lasting as long as it should recently, so checked the charge… 97%… bugger, it’d been on charge all night, and it was dropping too fast. Decided I’d abandon my HR monitor along with the tiger, so removed it and turned the HR function off. We were still shuffling when we reached the pen 5 marker, I removed and discarded my 2 extra t-shirts, that’s when I realized I’d managed to drink (in sips) an entire bottle of Lucozade, not only that, I needed the loo again… bugger. Should I duck out and go pre-start line, or wait until the first port-a-loo and go then? Can’t let a waz ruin things… go now!
I noticed a gap in the railing which a few others were using to nip for wee stops and decide to follow. No queue, straight in, straight out. I was previously just in front of ‘The Bus’, so aimed for getting back into the line in a similar place, found another gap in the railings and got into the line about 20 feet in front of it. We shuffled along, past the crier, through the gates and complete the first of 4 targets I had, run across the start…. this was it! The initial pace was much, much slower than I’d have liked, It was too fast to walk, but to slow to run. I saw Mrs. DK and my dad at the traffic light exactly in the same place I’d stood last year to watch my dad. I Practically threw the tiger and my HR monitor at them and kept going. The poor pace continued for about a mile, after which I was able to find enough space to settle down to a nice tempo… however… my old friend shin-splints was back for a chat. I’ve noticed in training, particularly on the treadmill, that if I’m in that slow run/ fast walk pace, my shins act up… and they did, they were on fire. The only way I can get rid of them is to ‘run them out’, so I gritted my teeth and pushed through it, by the third mile they were easing up.
My strategy of starting with a LucoZade seemed to be working well… just a sip or two every so often. I took a water bottle at the first station and started alternating water and LZ. I took an LZ gel at 3 miles (I’d taken 4 with me) and felt good. The good feeling didn’t last long… I picked up an injury in my right knee when I walked a marathon in my gym 3 weeks ago to raise funds. The sports therapist there said it was my IT band, as it was really tight. At the expo, the guys doing the sports strapping said they thought it was my hamstring. All I knew was that it hurt, not lots, but enough to niggle. The strapping applied at the expo was helping, but not enough, so I’d bought one of those neoprene supports from Boots on Saturday. It wasn’t my right knee giving me grief though… it was my left! The shin-splint pain had been so bad, it was masking the discomfort of my left knee rubbing against the support on my right knee. The support had a seem on the outside facing my left knee, and had rubbed a huge angry red patch. By 5 miles it was really sore and I found I was trying to run differently to compensate it. I had an SIS pack on that was not only holding my LZ gels, but my own ‘first aid kit’ (Compeed plasters, Ibuprofen, Paracetamol and a big glob of vaseline in a food bag), I stopped to a walk and put the entire glob of vaseline on my knee, it helped, but only a little. About half a mile on I had to stop and get more vaseline from SJA, adjusted the support a little to move the seam and put some vaseline on the support too.
That broke me, I was always planning to run/walk, but I’d wanted to run til at least 10 miles before a walk. I just couldn’t get going again, so allowed myself a walk break. Decided enough was enough and said to myself ‘run fat boy, run’ (I’ve used that a lot in training). I ran another 3 miles or so then walked again. By this time i’d finished my own LZ and taken another for the station at 5 miles. I didn’t take water from every station… as I was only sipping, I kept each bottle until it was empty, so constantly had two bottles, 1 LZ 1 water. I didn’t feel it right to take a bottle at every station only to waste more than half, there were people behind me who’d be gutted if the station ran out through my selfishness.
Just after the 9 mile marker I felt the first pains of a blister appearing on my left heel. I stopped up on a grass verge and treated it myself with a compeed. Took another LZ gel at 9 miles and began to feel good again. Felt even better at just after 11 miles… ‘Jades Roundabout’ we called it, just on the edge of Southwark Park in Bermondsey… thats where I saw the tiger bobbing above the crowds… they’d made it, Mrs. DK and my dad. I took the support off my right knee and gave it them, quick hug, took a packet of LZ jelly beans and off again. I ran for another half mile or so then had another walk. That’s when I realized my watch had died, lifeless… gutted. Time wasn’t a massive factor for me really. I always said I’d be happy with 5:30 overjoyed at 5:00 and ecstatic at 4:30, but in reality my only goal was to finish. The watch however was crucial, it timed my walks, it told me how far I’d gone (yes, I know the huge towers and balloons do that, but when you’ve run half a mile and it feels like 10 feet, only a watch can let you know you’re doing better than you feel).
We turned a bend and my second target of the day came into view… Tower Bridge. I was already running when I saw it, and I HAD to run its full length… I did. I’ll never look at that bridge the same again. A lot of people use the London eye as a major landmark these days, but that won’t be there forever, Tower Bridge will! I carried on around the corner, through 13 miles and on to the halfway point. I carried on along the highway at a walk, starting to run again just before limehouse. I kept going until the underpass roundabout at Westferry road, had a good chat with a nice bloke called Aaron, we stayed together for quarter of a mile or so. It was so nice to be out of the sun for a while. I’d done lots of training last summer so didn’t think heat would be a massive problem… wrong. Those runs were 40, 50 minutes at the most, by Westferry I’d been in the sun for over 3 hours! I sort of knew dehydration wouldn’t be a problem… I was well hydrated on the days before the marathon, and my race drink strategy was working well. The sun caused a problem I couldn’t have seen coming though and one which could have been catastrophic… Migraine!
I’ve suffered since birth, the docs said I should ‘outgrow’ them by age 16… guess what? I’m 31 and get them worse than ever. I’ve been diagnosed with ‘opthalmaplegic’ (sp) migraines, which means the pain centers around and behind my eyes, usually my right. In addition to making bright light unbearable, including that big orange thing in the sky… it also makes me dizzy, feel sick and I lose focus in that eye, making distance and spatial awareness a real problem. The pain came on in less than 5 minutes. I usually get a ‘warning’ either a distortion of sight or seeing ‘floaters’ but must have missed them as my mental focus was elsewhere. My attacks are acute; they come on very quickly and usually last about 3 – 4 hours, rendering me useless for that time. I couldn’t let this ruin my day; I WOULDN’T let this ruin my dream. I’d collected an LZ at just after 15 miles… I necked it, along with an LZ gel and 3 each of ibuprofen and paracetamol from my ‘first aid kit’.
Most of the docklands were a blur; just trying to keep going was all I could do. I genuinely don’t remember most of 15 to 18 miles, the only thing I do remember is repeating to myself 2 little mantras, 1 I took from a forum signature here on realbuzz “pain is temporary, success is permanent”, the other from a spectator at about mile 3 “your feet hurt because you kick-ass”. I don’t know if it was the drugs, the sudden huge intake of carbs and sugar, or just sheer mind-over-matter, but somehow I kicked that migraines ass in record time, I was ready for another run.
Turned the corner at Jubilee gardens in Canary Wharf to see the tiger again. Once again stopped for a quick hug and another packet of LZ jelly beans. Didn’t mention how I felt, Mrs. DK would’ve pulled me out right there and then. I ran until about 20.5 miles and settled for another walk, that’s when I saw my motivation to keep going….. THE BUS! I don’t know how, but despite everything I managed to stay in front of the bus. It had been a joke of mine all the way through training that even if it killed me I wouldn’t end up ‘on the bus’, meaning the sweeper coach. I hadn’t banked on two blokes doing the marathon dressed as a London bus though… there was no way I was coming behind that thing!
That’s pretty much how it went from there; I’d run as far as I was able then walk for a short while. Whenever the bus came back into sight I just had to run. As I walked for a time along the highway, I saw an old bloke I’d spotted at the start who was pushing a three wheeled buggy. He was on the opposite side, heading towards docklands, he had a full case of LZ in it and looked like he was enjoying himself out for a Sunday stroll, despite the clean up crew doing their thing around him. I ran from there to well after the 23 mile marker that I’d seen the previous evening. Not long after that I saw a woman completely laid out with the SJA, I’m presuming from reading her blog that it was Sophie Raworth.
Not long after I was in the Underpass near Embankment, I was just thinking how quiet it was when one of a group of policemen running the race shouted ogi ogi ogi, I defy anyone not to reply oi oi oi! That gave me what I needed, a huge grin, a kick up the backside and the will to succeed. As I approached the 25 mile marker, the tiger was there again. God I love that tiger… but not quite as much as the person holding it… Mrs. DK. She and my dad had been through hell by that point too… I know, I did it last year with Mrs. DK when dad ran London. We used the same plan, and whilst achievable, it didn’t leave much room for error, nor rest. If it weren’t for them, I wouldn’t have been able to keep going… they were target number 3… To be running every time I saw them… and I was!
I didn’t stop for a hug this time; I simply gave a thumbs up and as I went under the 25 marker, held my right hand high in the air with just my index finger extended. ONE. This had two significances to me… half meaning one more mile… half nicked from ‘We Come One’ by Faithless. At the end of their live gigs they play this track and the whole crowd shout ‘ONE’ together. This was how I felt, the spectators, the runners and myself… ONE!
That last mile and a bit was agony. I kept running until I knew I’d be out of sight, didn’t want them to see the pain… started to walk… the crowd wouldn’t let me… ‘Keep going, you can do it’… ‘Go Tony’… ‘Just a bit further’… I had to run. As I rounded the Mall and onto the final straight, I realized that the bus was about 100 feet behind me… I’m not coming behind that bus… I don’t know where it came from, but I found the energy for a proper pace and… Target number 4… Ran across the line. Broken, battered, agony….. Wait a minute….. Elation… achievement… pride! My official time was 5:44:32, not what I’d hoped for, but given what I’d gone through, I didn’t care.
I’ve done it! The little fat ginger kids done it! No sweeper coach, no ambulance! I took some time to stretch my legs out, then went to get my chip removed and collect my medal. Never before has a bit of metal and ribbon meant so much! I had my picture taken with my medal then walked to collect my bag. The woman was holding it out to me before I even got there. Walked to the repatriation zone and the pre-agreed letter Q. Our surname begins with a C, but we discovered last year just how busy C can be, so decided on Q this year. The tiger was easily spot able.
Posed for photos for Mrs. DK and dad, hugs and then found our way through horse-guards to the ‘Children with Leukaemia’ reception just opposite horse-guards. Mrs. DK and Dad went straight upstairs to get food and refreshments, they’d earned them… I stayed downstairs to get changed. There were no showers, and I’d not thought of an alternative. Luckily a fellow runner had thought of this and was handing out baby-wipes, so there were several of us having a baby-wipe bath. After changing, a massage was provided, bliss, didn’t even care that I was in a huge room of mixed sex strangers in just a t-shirt and boxers. Heard a bloke saying he’d forgot to pack clean socks. I’d packed flip-flops to wear back to the hotel, so didn’t need the clean pair I’d packed… gave them without a second thought.
I got upstairs and wolfed the Sheppard’s pie, crisps, and lucozade down in no time at all, I don’t even remember tasting it. Sadly, a woman on the next table was in a far worse state. Mrs. DK said she’d looked ropey for a while, suddenly she collapsed. The medic was called from downstairs, then the SJA arrived, they put her on oxygen and took her away in an ambulance. I heard them mention severe dehydration. I felt really bad for her that she had to end such an amazing day so badly, but no matter what happens, no-one will ever be able to take that medal from her, she deserves it. We left the reception and made our way to Westminster tube station, as we crossed Victoria embankment, an SJA runner was fighting her own battle to make it to the finish, ‘Lozenge’ across her back. Tears streaming down her face, the course practically gone, I offered her encouragement and watched her struggle on. We caught the tube back to the hotel, quick showers and out for a quick meal before walking dad back to Tower Hill tube station, he was catching a train from Kings Cross, by the time he got home he’d have been awake 24 hours.
I’m back at home myself now, still a mixed bag of emotions… would I run another marathon… damn straight I will… I’m entering the Chester marathon, and come April 26th, I’ll be entering the ballot for the 2012 London Marathon.
Before I sign off, there’s one thing about the marathon I’ve only very briefly mentioned….. The crowds. The people of London and surrounding boroughs, the families, friends and supporters of other runners, the huge cheering squads from Children with Leukaemia and countless other charities and each and every one of the marshals, drinks station team, photographers THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU. If I stayed here for a thousand years saying that it wouldn’t be enough! I was blessed by 3 different priests, and heard my name called out hundreds of times… I tried to thank every call or at least give a nod or thumbs up, but I know I missed some… so THANK YOU. Kids with sweets in their hands or waiting for a ‘high-five’ THANK YOU I welled up when one parent thanked ME for high-fiving his small son… Sir, you and your family are amazing, as are each and every person lining that route. The London marathon wouldn’t be what it is without any of you.
THANK YOU also to my dad, I know Sunday was harder than you were expecting, but knowing you were there not only supporting me, making sure Mrs. DK was safe helped me through.
Finally, THANK YOU to Mrs. DK, you’re my rock, my world and everything. I drain the colour from the sky and turn blue without you. You’ve put up with me all year, the training runs, 2 cold Sundays stood around for over 2 hours while I complete a half marathon. Mood swings, tantrums…. highs, lows. But never doubting me, and never letting me doubt myself. I did it babe, I did it for you!
Thanks for reading folks, i’ll be back with another blog post soon.