A look back at London

Well, where to start, probably with an apology - I was hoping to put some photos in to this blog to space out the text but I haven't had a chance. Sorry!

I've had some time to think about London Marathon now and so this is my post race thoughts.

It's busy! It's noisy! It's warm! It's busy! - did I say that already?

Standing on the start line ready to go I honestly thought it would thin out once we got going, it didn't. If anything it got worse. I expected our pen to be ahead of 'the masses' by the time the two starts merged at mile 3, again I was wrong! The red start merged with the group I was in and there was more nudging and trying to find your own space than anything before and this continued for the next 20+ miles.

Trying to get to the water stations was a nightmare as I said in my previous blog, you had to put your hand out to indicate your intention to move across the path of other runners to get to the tables. Once you got the water, if you didn't finish the bottle it wasn't uncommon for someone to then shout out "Water?" and someone behind you would more than likely shout "Please!" and you would hand your left overs to them. Some people just couldn't get across to the water tables due to the mass number of runners and this was in the 'Fast good for age' group, I would hate to think what it must be like even further back.

Is London a course you can race?
In my experience, no. Not unless you are lucky enough to get within the first 2 or maybe 3 rows of the start line and even then it's every person for themselves, I reckon you would need to run sub 6 minutes for the first mile just to give you a margin and some space. If you can do this and still keep your pace for the rest of the distance then you may get more than a metre of space in front of you. I didn't.

The first couple of miles I spent jumping up and down pavements, saying sorry to people I may have bumped in to and putting my hands out to the left or right to indicate I was wanting to cross the path of others. It felt like I was directing traffic or bringing a plane in to land - not running London marathon.

What's the difference between running a course and racing a course?
The difference between racing and running a course to me is simple. When you cross a finish line next time, think to yourself, could I have ran that faster? If you are completely honest with yourself, the chances are you will say yes, this to me means you haven't raced it. If you have raced a course, you will have given every bit of energy you have, you will have chased down that person in front of you, chased that second on the clock, you get that sickie feeling at the pit of your stomach and when you cross that finish line you can hardly keep your legs under you. At London yes it hurt, yes my legs were tired but when I finished I was more than capable of walking to get my luggage, I was able to walk to the ice cream shack for a 99 flake. I didn't race the distance by any stretch of the imagination and I have only recently learned what it feels like to race over other distances. Racing hurts, racing takes a lot out of you and this is why many elite athletes only race 1 marathon a year because of what it does to the body. It runs it in to the ground and takes time to recover.

Is London a fast course?
If you can get a clean start and keep out of the traffic, without a doubt it's a fast course. There are some ups and some downs but nothing to worry about. If I remember correctly, mile 2 is downhill and easy to get carried away with your pace - if you have space but apart from that it's all pretty easy going. Even the underpasses aren't too steep. I was a bit worried by them as I had imagined something like the clyde tunnel or something similar with a steep incline somewhere along the way.

So it's a fast course, what happened to you?
Looking back a number of things happened, I was struggling to get in to a comfortable stride. By mile 13 I was on track for sub 3:00 but I was already starting to feel tired. Legs felt fine but I think mentally I was struggling with the crowds and the number of runners around me, I started to feel the air around me wasn't my own. I wasn't enjoying the race and I really did want the crowds just to be silent for a couple of minutes, let me run past them without the cheering and clapping and then continue again for everyone behind me.

I started off slower than target pace which is the first time I have tried this at a marathon, my plan was to pick up the pace for the second half and finish feeling strong. I think that would have been possible if I had space and I will be trying it again at my next marathon. I can see the advantages of a negative split, even if its just by a couple of seconds. To run a strong second half would feel brilliant.

I probably wasted quite a bit of energy going over to get water at the stations, trying to time my stride to get me between the guy in front and the person behind without tripping them up. I wasn't mentally relaxed either, I was constantly thinking, watching for the person in front of me and trying to guess where they were going next.

The heat also got to me, all my training was done in snow, hail, rain, wind or at low temperatures which was lovely but didn't prepare me for London's weather. I know everyone else was the same and I guess it's a poor excuse but I do believe the warmer weather had an impact on all of us.

You seem quite negative about the race, anything positive come from it?
Yes! Lots of positives! The first is I can now tick London Marathon of my list of races I want to do. I've done it and I got my place by getting a qualifying time to guarantee me a place, not by entering the ballot. I also got to briefly say hi to Tony Audenshaw (@TonysTrials) from Emmerdale and the MarathonTalk podcast. I think I said something like "looking good Tony!" and then did some sort of rock-on fist gesture and then said "love Marathon Talk!" I think it was about mile 5 or 6 but it gave me a wee boost to see someone famous that I recognised, no idea what the fist gesture was all about though!
 
I've learnt a lot about my own running, I like quieter races. Races that are more about the runner than raising a lot of money for charities. I think what London does is brilliant and the amount of money raised must be incredible but I'm not convinced they really think about people who want to race the course other than the elites.
I'm not sure how it could be improved but even if they started the ladies elite race at 9am, the men elite and 'good for age' group at 9:30 and then the masses at 10, it may reduce the amount of people all merging at the same time.
I like space to run, even a metre or two around me would have been nice and I like time to think about nothing.

I learnt that my training wasn't as good as previous years. I didn't get enough long runs in, I was focussing on my short distance too much and not getting a balance between distance and speed. That will change. My long runs weren't real long runs, one example is a 24 mile run that I did which on my Garmin took me about 3 hours, in real time it took me almost 4! That was due to stopping my watch to catch a dog that had ran away from it's owner, stopping my watch to go in to the shop to get some water, stopping my watch to cross a road, all this added up and meant I wasn't actually getting a consistent run in. I've now found a group that train on a Sunday morning and do anywhere between 13 and 19 miles of consistent running, one of those who run in this group completed London in 2:19:22 and finished 17th so that will give me someone to chase!!

The support of the crowds from 21 miles onward was amazing, people were stopping and walking all around and ever time that happened the crowd would shout encouragement. I admit I had to stop and walk some sections from 21 - 22 miles and every time I got back running again the crowds did give you a cheer, for that I am grateful to every one of them. I needed the support at 21 miles, not so much at mile 1.

I learnt I need to stop listening to my mind when things get really tough, I tried so hard to keep on running so that I could say I ran the full distance but a simple thing like needing to slow down to get some water was enough to pull me to a walk. Saying that though, my vision did get a bit fuzzy round the edges so maybe it was best to walk!

I finished the race with only 1 blister and it looks like I am going to keep all my toenails this time! Unlike Loch Ness! That has to be a positive.

After I had finished the race I very very briefly met Sir Richard Branson, when I say met, I shook his hand and he said well done on completing the marathon to me. Another positive of the race!

You've ran a slower time than hoped, how do you feel about your Commonwealth Games target?
Hmm, this is a tough one to answer because I really need to look deep and be realistic about my goals. I believe I can get faster, I think I can get close, maybe 2:30:00 for the marathon which is approx a 1:10:00 half marathon. Can I get 2:19:00 before London next year? It's a massive ask and I really don't know the answer. Over the next couple of months I am going to focus on getting my miles up again, getting out on a regular basis with the group on a Sunday and reviewing my training plan to allow me to get the miles in but also to get the speed work in to teach my body how to run faster, for longer. I'm also getting back to the gym to work on my core strength.

Would I want to run London again is another question though, to shoot for 2:19:00 at London next year I would need a good start, I would need to get clear of the masses and maybe even look at warm weather training over the winter.

Have I given up with trying to get 2:19:00? Hell no! I never said which Commonwealth Games I was targeting!

So, what's next?
Well I've already ran a race since London! It was one of the club championship races last night, a 10k near Kinross. I went there not expecting much but was very happy to run the course in 39mins. Not too bad considering I ran the marathon at the weekend. My focus is now to improve my 5km, 10km and half marathon times. I'm looking at entering Moray Marathon later in the year with the aim of going sub 2:50:00 because I believe I can do that but the difference is, I want to get sub 2:50:00 even if the conditions aren't favourable. Looking out the window just now with the hailstones bouncing off the ground, I think I will have plenty chances to train in winter conditions and unfavourable weather!

I would like to get sub 17 minutes for 5km, sub 36 for 10km and sub 1:20:00 for the half marathon this year.

The next half marathon I have lined up is Loch Leven which I have never ran before so I am looking forward to that.

One final word, if you are offering support during a marathon, please, please, please, don't blast out AC/DC - Highway to hell at mile 22!! Someone kindly was doing this during London Marathon.

 

Owain Williams

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