Look Ma, I Ran a Marathon

5th October 2020

So. Yesterday I ran the London Marathon. It was virtual, but it was the London Marathon. I got a medal, and an official time and the results history will include my name. But. But it is so far from what I had expected when I got my place last year, it is hard to know how I should feel. I’m very pleased I completed the distance, but I can’t pretend it feels anything more than another long training run.

It’s been six months at least since my last post and that represents where my running has got to. The blog was all about progression and since April my running has all been about maintaining that level as best as I could and that was far less interesting to write about. But, I made it and I’m now an official marathoner so let’s have a little catch up about how I got there.

Throughout the winter my training was focussed on complementary work with plenty of yoga and swimming but once lock down hit these went out of the window. No swimming at all and only YouTube yoga, which soon became something of a chore. The marathon team took the early and wise decision to make the October event a virtual one and it at least gave runners something solid to prepare for.

Having reached a good point in my training I felt confident in my ability to complete a 26.2 mile run, which just left the question of how long it would take. Now it was a virtual event, I wasn’t even that worried about that. Throughout the spring and summer I had continued running good distances and had managed at least one half marathon each month since February so by late August I was ready to increase the distances so that I completed runs of 25, 27 and 31km by mid September. I hesitate to call this training but it was preparation so that I would be able to finish the full distance.

The next question was route, and as it turns out I took a rather cavalier approach to this. Many friends and club mates chose to run local laps to avoid hills and aim for half decent times but from the get-go I wanted to run an interesting route with some variety and this led me to head towards the countryside. I had in mind that I would create a route suitable should there ever be a Metro-Kent marathon, based on the constraint that it must start and finish at my house. Therefore, I looked at the local map and picked out some highlights. First up were the remains of Roman and Anglo-Saxon forts a mile or so from my house. I’m going to have to take the boffin’s word for this as although I’ve been to these places many times there isn’t anything to see. It’s on the Ordnance Survey map, though, so must be true. Next up, a few miles on, is Biggin Hill airport. The famous base of a Spitfire squadron during the Battle of Britain, going past here always gives me a thrill especially when you see the twin Spitfires sitting proudly by the gates. Almost makes me forget the sound of commercial jets flying over my house from dawn to dusk. A mile further you come to Jail Lane and the Old Jail Inn, a wonderful looking 18th century pub. I’ve never bothered to look up the history but assume there was some horrible old prison here for ne’er do-wells like in a Dickens novel. It was here that I saw my first fellow marathoner and it first occurred to me I wasn’t doing this entirely on my own. 

From there it is a long run through country lanes towards the pretty village of Downe where at the 10 mile mark you pass Down House, the home of Charles Darwin. I often cycle here and I get another little thrill each time I pass, this time of scientific discovery. To be honest the pickings get a little thin from this point as I head back towards London. In Downe there is the lovely Christmas Tree Farm and after a wonderful, long downhill stretch you reach the remains of the expansive Lubbock Estate at High Elms. OK, at this point I need to return to the reality of my own run. You may have noticed that the weather last Sunday was poor. Heavy, heavy rain and harsh, cold winds and the routes I had run and cycled over the summer turned into cascading rain wash offs and muddy foot paths giving flashbacks to terrible school cross country runs from my youth. After this point the route becomes rather more practical (think of the Rotherhithe section of the official route) as you head down busy A roads and past retail estates but it is largely flat although the persistent rain and wind sapped away at the enthusiasm. This busier section did mean I saw several others with marathon numbers, including some from my own club so there was some sense of community to make you feel part of something bigger. I met my family at around mile 24 and it was nice to get that pick-me-up for the final stretch as by then my legs were very tired. Curiously, the official app had me finish about a mile from home which didn’t match my Garmin but with that registered any motivation to carry on went and I walk/hobbled the rest of the way home. A quick mention for the App, I found it really helpful and motivating. The familiar voices of Steve Cram and Tanni Grey-Thomson came up to mark off the miles and really gave a sense of progression. Their comments were always appropriate, never vacuous, and I genuinely appreciated them. 

I think Hugh Brasher and the VLM team did a great job to get this organised and as far as I can see got every decision that affected me right. It was a god-awful day weather-wise, I probably wouldn’t have run a 5k in those conditions at any other time but the motivation of the London Marathon, even a virtual one, was enough to get me further than I’ve ever run before.

I’ve now had my place for the 2021 VLM confirmed, I can only hope things are back to normal by then. I’ll keep running over the winter and start thinking about proper training in April so can’t imagine I’ll post much until then but if I think of anything interesting to say I will be back sooner.

Well done to anyone else who did the Virtual VLM or is attempting any other virtual events. I had a look at the Virtual New York marathon but they won’t let me recycle my VLM run to will give it a miss.

All the best until next time

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