London Marathon Report – Jennifer Rich

One last report on the Rubix Cube that is the London Marathon comes from Jennifer Rich:

The marathon is a masterpiece in puzzle making. For those who take it seriously enough, there’s no easy route to marathon success and victory can easily slip between the fingers of even the most meticulously prepared. Thankfully, for me, the marathon means much more that the 26.2 miles between two sets of coordinates, and the reward is far more than the underwhelming numbers that greet you at the finish line. It’s about churning out the miles in good company; the chance to share anecdotes and training tips; the satisfaction of a few PBs in the build-up; the physical sensation of becoming faster and stronger; and the knowledge that you’re helping others to reach their marathon goals, just as they’re indispensable in helping you to achieve yours. I think these are the reasons for the notable spring in my step since completing those arduous and largely unpleasant 26.2 miles across London last Sunday, despite not getting the time I’d so hoped and prepared for.

I’d been struggling to find the words to describe the London Marathon until coach Pete Brown likened it to the Wacky Races! I couldn’t agree more. The start is busy, fast and hectic. The cattle herd gallops away, but it’s soon joined by another herd coming in from the left, and then another, until the whole 38,000 strong morass motors along at pace through the streets of east London. For me, these first few miles contained some surprising downhill sections, and so I soon found myself going out much faster than planned. It wasn’t until mile four that I landed at my planned race pace. However, two more miles saw me imperceptibly quicken again, and I was already one Wacky Racer feeling pretty puffed out. Puffed out and occasionally irritable, particularly when passing the string of pubs with their boozing and BBQ-ing revellers, cheering between gulps of lager and mouthfuls of beef burgers (‘say it don’t spray it’). The crowds got denser and denser and louder and louder, and already I was beginning to feel heavy, discombobulated and concerned that I’d yet to find my rhythm, or feel any sense of enjoyment.

The half-way point saw the herd cross Tower Bridge and this was where my spirits were momentarily lifted. The volume of the crowds suddenly soared and I crossed the bridge grinning from ear to ear. Sadly the moment quickly passed and I was back to running, and back to an awareness of the expenditures of energy needed for running. The inevitable countdown of miles ensued and I felt pretty gloomy. As the herd progressed, I gradually slowed and the feedback from my watch offered concrete evidence that I was getting further and further from my target finishing time. Yet more feedback came in the form of TV (CCTV?) screens installed in one of the course’s two underpasses, which projected images of a weary runner to an increasingly weary runner. I’m ashamed to say that by mile eighteen, or thereabouts, I’d started to care less and less, and couldn’t summon the energy needed to dispel the negativity. And here, I think, lies the problem with the London Marathon, and that’s the crowds – the energy-sapping, concentration-thwarting, Wacky Racer followers.

At London, the sheer volume of the supporters – the screaming, the shouting, the banging of inflatable sticks, the repeated phrases – had the unintended consequence of slowing me down. The noise seemed to drown out the usual feedback of breathing and footfall to the point where, for me at least, running felt a bit of an unfamiliar activity. It’s a tricky thing to mitigate for in training but shows that marathon success demands flexibility and an ability to stay focussed, despite the contingencies of the race environment, in all their Wacky guises.

Foggy eyed and eared, and with my comedy soapbox wheels well and truly falling off, I laboured on. Birdcage walk was a crescendo of sound, which only added to my sense of disorientation and disappointment. I felt dreadful, tearful, wheezy, sad, self-conscious, despondent and a little dizzy too. I turned into the last two bends and saw the finish line, which I welcomed and dreaded in equal measure. 3:12:50 was the product of eighteen weeks of well-planned and hard training; I hadn’t achieved my goal and I knew it would be a long time before I’d be able to give the marathon another go. I ground to a halt at the finish line and felt very lonely and dejected indeed……

……. but not for long. Because in St James’s Park, where the runners meet friends and family, and under the letter ‘S’ for ‘Steel City Striders’, was one sight for sore eyes. Gathered together under a tree stood the following: one loyal supporter in Striders official knitted headgear; a smiling though slightly washed-out looking Nick Scott devouring a much-deserved and long-awaited Snickers bar; and a beaming Barry Gyte, who’d travelled down to support us all despite frustratingly (for him and for us) not being able to run himself*. The cloud of despondency slowly lifted and I soon started to feel my usual self, glad to be at the end of a long run but this time somewhere other than on the TPT. We didn’t have to wait long for Dave Birch to join us too, boasting another stupendous marathon time, and news of other Strider successes soon trickled in – a HUGE well done to you all! I finally felt like a runner again and able to appreciate all we’d achieved, and able to revel too, just a little bit, in a new marathon PB.

The Virgin Money London Marathon. Wacky Races indeed: a comedic journey of ridiculousness all round, but sadly, this time, I showed myself to be no ‘glamour gal of the gas pedal’! Maybe next year!

Tips for London Marathoners:

* Find someone who’s done the race before to go through a course profile with you – there are more ups and downs than you’d think!

* Prepare yourself for how you’ll respond to the noise of the crowds.

* Don’t go out too fast – get to at least mile 16 at a pace at which you’d be able to hold a conversation.

Things I’d do differently next time:

* I’d minimise time on my feet before the start on race day.

* If the weather were the same, I’d take old gloves, an old hat and an old sweater to discard at the start line.

* I wouldn’t eat half a banana 45mins before the race (this may have been the cause the stitch I had for the first twelve miles)

* I’d find a way to stay focussed despite the noise (ear plugs, ambient soundtrack of Sheffield birdsong?!)

* In training, I’d practice mental arithmetic when really really tired and fed up – one method might be practising my times tables in the middle of a 12 X 400m session at Woodbourn Road.

* Without a doubt, I’d make sure not to go off too fast!


* Also unable to run and also in the crowd was Sian Evans, who’d been in fine form in the lead up to London but had got carried away on the ski slopes and gained two gammy knees. Sian – you were missed on the course (and missed off the course!) but I know you’ll be back even stronger next year.

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