The New York Marathon

13 Feb

I think by now it’s fairly clear that I’ve abandoned this blog – it always was a little unfocussed. But I like that I recorded my running experiences, the big ones anyway. So last week when I stumbled across my old blog and re-read the Chicago account, three months after I ran the New York marathon, I remembered what I liked about the old posts. Now I’m going to map out what I can remember of the New York run so I can look back on it in the same way. This is for me, if anyone else enjoys it then that’s an added bonus.

When I finished the Chicago marathon in 2014 I was elated. The happiest I’ve ever been after a run; I’d achieved my marathon goal – I ran a marathon in under 3 hours. It bloody hurt and it was under the best circumstances (weather, food, sleep, training etc etc). I wasn’t really expecting to do it again, but then I wanted to run more and know that I wouldn’t be happy about my result unless I did manage it again. So I took myself off to New York having told everyone that I was aiming for 3 and a half hours, that I didn’t mind if I ran slower than 3 hours, but knowing deep down that I did.

I’d never been to New York before, and there’s a lot to see. I was travelling with a company who arranged marathon tours – I’d been to a preparation event where everyone else who had bought a ticket through this company (2.09 events – https://www.209events.com/) discussed the various training, stretching, nutrition and logistical preparations for the trip. I went along partly to meet people who’d be in New York with me, but then I realised that I didn’t know where they were staying. As such, I resolved to quickly seeing most of the major sites on my own. That way I’d be able to stay for as long as I wanted to and then move on to the next one.

As I ticked a must-see-sight off my list, I realised I wasn’t too far from another, so walked on. The day before the marathon I ended up walking across Manhattan twice and about halfway down and back up. I then went straight out to the pre-race pasta party, which was somewhat disappointing when I thought back to the pasta-mountain that the youth hostel in Chicago had served a year ago. I tried to sneak back in for seconds but they had guards on the doors – the buggers. As I left, contemplating a cheeky pizza, I checked my watch and figured I probably had enough time to get to the infamous Halloween parade (https://www.halloween-nyc.com/) and back and still get a relatively early night.

But I hadn’t thought about the crowds.

Waking up to my alarm at 5am the following morning I realised I’d made a hefty mistake. I needed to get up, quickly, and over to the bus which was taking us to the starting line by 6am. And I was shattered. Given the race starts on Statten Island, which is hard to get to at the best of times, let alone when 50,000 other runners are trying to get there too, so on marathon morning you have to set off early. Really early. To be sure we got there on time the tour company made sure that we got there around 7.30, but the race didn’t start until just before 10.

It was the first of November, which isn’t exactly the depth of a New York winter but it was still cold enough to be sitting around a field at 7 in the morning for over two hours. On the bus on the way over I’d chatted with someone I recognised from the training session, and we wandered to the starting line together, trying to work out where we were meant to be going, discussing food tactics and what our expected finish times were. The organisers were giving out free bagels, but I’d brought one with me just in case, as well as a banana and a pack of peanut butter M&Ms. My usual pre-run meal is a slice of bread, topped with a spread of peanut butter and a mashed banana, but I was in a strange country without a stocked kitchen to hand so I had to improvise. Also I bloody love peanut butter M&Ms. Two or three people did stop as they walked past to ask if I was seriously eating M&Ms on toast, but it tasted pretty damned good to me.

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Much of my running is fuelled by a magpie-like obsession with collecting shiny medals

So good that I almost missed the start. I randomly decided to get up and wander to the start corrals just in case and immediately heard the 2 minute warning for the group I’d been allocated to. I ran to the start and squeezed in as we started to walk forward. I was within sight of the start, clearly my predicted time of 3 hours is enough to get me to the very front of the line now. Which is quite daunting really. I remember yawning as the Mayor of New York was telling me how huge this moment was, not exactly a good sign before a marathon.

Regardless of how I was feeling the race was starting. I was getting kinda excited about the whole thing, I might do a 3 hour marathon again. But then we immediately slowed to a walk as we hit a bottle neck on the approach to the first bridge into Brooklyn. I have no idea how long we were walking for, probably about 30 seconds to a minute but it seemed to last for the first 5 and that’s what I’ve told anyone who asked how the run went. I was slower than I could have been and it’s the fault of the organisers, somehow. And then my RunKeeper app glitched, so it thought I’d run about two thirds of a mile more than I had, making it useless at working out my actual pace. At that point I sulkily told myself I wasn’t setting any personal bests in New York.

Much of the rest of the run is like a dream, remembered in moments but with no consistent narrative. I know ran my own race, I didn’t try to stick with anyone, or chat to anyone, or go faster than anyone. I just ran according to how fast I thought I could run.

I remember going over the first bridge and thinking how great it looked, with these giant vertical struts and all the cables, but then looking desperately over my left shoulder to try to see the famous skyline. And not quite seeing it because it was so far away. I remember looking at all the tall non-descript residential buildings, thinking that this could well be any American town and wondering when I’d get to anything that looked like New York.

I also remember the hills. So many hills.

And I panicked with my strategy for taking on water. When you’ve run a marathon and been ill afterwards because you drank too much, and then you run another where you had to walk towards the end because you hadn’t drunk enough, you develop a strategy/paranoia for taking on the right amount of water. Basically I skip every third water station, so drink at 1 and 2 then skip 3, but as my mind wandered I forgot how many I’d passed. Nevertheless, despite panicking that I’d lost count of the water stations, I felt okay. Then, around 16 miles, we started climbing the Queensboro Bridge from Brooklyn to Manhattan. It’s a long climb, a bloody long climb and my legs started to wane. I began to wonder if I’d walked too far the previous day, if I’d taken enough water on – or maybe too much – whether I’d eaten enough M&Ms (I’d definitely not eaten enough M&Ms, it’s not physically possible to eat too many of those things) and how hard the following 10 miles were going to be.

As I got to the end of the bridge I looked at my watch and realised that I was doing okay really. RunKeeper has deserted me and I wasn’t 100% sure I could count water statiosn but I could still managed rudimentary runner-maths. I know that I can do a mile in about 7 minutes, and that’s if I run slower than my average pace. I slowly worked out I was actually, despite everything, still on for a 3 hour race.

Next thing I remember is running over the Madison Avenue bridge back into Manhattan and seeing a woman holding a sign saying “the last damned bridge”. It made me smile because every bridge was an agony at this point. But it was a rare smile. The New York crowd have this reputation for their outlandish support for everyone who runs the marathon, however I found that the Chicagoans had been so much more supportive. After the race I found New York muted, I walked around with the post-race poncho (I’ll explain in a minute) and medal on but no-one commented. It was almost as though I were in London, everyone kept their head down and carried on. In Chicago everyone issued congratulations and good wishes. And there were far fewer funny placards of support, and less people yelling encouraging slogans. So that was a shame.

Anyway, I digress, after that bridge I ran on into Manhattan and down Fifth Avenue. I’m told by those who had downloaded the marathon app, on which you can track your chosen runners in real time, that I dramatically slowed down at this point. Looking back on it that seems about right. I felt heavy. My weary legs were slowing but I knew that I was close to the end. I was counting down each mile marker, welcoming every kilometre sign. When I got to the 40km sign I noticed my time. I was going to be about a minute too slow.

At that point I decided that there was no way I’d come all the way to New York and run a marathon to be a minute slow. I checked how I was feeling, in truth I was feeling a bit sick but I managed to find some form of determination and I pushed on. And it fricking hurt. I was expecting to hear my RunKeeper alert telling me I’d been running for 3 hours at any moment, hoping that I’d manage to cross the line before that happened.

And I did – somehow I crossed the line before my phone yelled 3 hours at me.

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I really don’t remember much after this. I know I felt very ill, and light headed. That my legs ached to the point that I didn’t want to sit down even though I felt unstable. I know I phoned my girlfriend in the UK immediately to double check I’d finished in under 3 hours.

I had, but only just. 2 hours 59 and 26 seconds.

I remember taking a photo of a fellow finisher and asking that he take mine, then smiling for a few official photographers and slowly, achingly, shuffling toward the exit. Someone threw a poncho thing around me but I had to ask them to help me fasten it. I still have the poncho, it’s a giant blue blanket with a hood, specially designed for the marathon, and I love it. It was like a giant duvet that I was somehow justified in wearing whilst wandering through the New York streets. I hugged it around myself whilst on the underground.

I’m gonna do London next. Then use this result to get into the Boston marathon in 2017.

Then I only have Tokyo to go and I’ve done all 6 majors. Unless they add another one.

I hope they don’t.

The Chicago marathon 2014

27 Oct

It’s been a long time since I posted anything. I realise this isn’t going to have broken any hearts, no-one’s been sitting by their computer, solemnly tapping the refresh button whilst wiping away their tears of disappointment, but I thought I should perhaps briefly address the absence of blog-musings before starting. Basically this is entirely down to laziness, there is no other or better excuse. I’ve still been running, still been watching films and still cooking/eating new foods – I just haven’t mustered the initiative to put finger to keyboard. Until now.

The reason for this bloggy resurrection? I just ran the Chicago marathon and in doing so I set a new personal best. And it’s a personal best I don’t imagine I can better for a long long time (if ever). Some time ago I read through my old race blogs and realised how glad I was that I’d recorded my thoughts and sentiments during my running career to date so I thought I should really write something for what is likely to be the best running performance I’ll ever manage. If anyone else finds this interesting then it’s a double-whammy.

To personal bests indeed, Bank of America the official sponsors, to personal bests indeed

To personal bests indeed, Bank of America the official sponsors, to personal bests indeed

Right, so, the marathon. As it’s one of the six races on the World Marathon Majors, the Chicago marathon was always on my to-do list. And it’s one of the easier ones to enter. Unlike many marathons you don’t need to qualify to enter, you can just buy a place. Well, that’s how it was until I came to register last year; an entry time of 3 hours 15 minutes seemed to have been added just as I came to register. But as this is a new requirement the standards were set relatively low – the New York marathon, for instance, expects a time of less than 2 hours 45 minutes of it’s qualifiers – so I was able to use my Berlin time to get a place. There’s something very satisfying about qualifying for a race rather than just buying a place.

With that in mind I should point out that I had entered the ballot for the London 2015 marathon but didn’t get a place, so I went into the Chicago marathon aiming for a time of 3 hours and 5 minutes to allow me to qualify for 2016. I’d previously secured a time of 3 hours and 8 minutes which, at that time, was good enough to qualify for the London marathon. Annoyingly though, they decided that that was the year they’d raise the time requirement to 3 hours and 5, making me just 3 minutes too slow. So whilst I was aiming for 3:05 I wanted to crush that time to ensure that, even if they decided to raise the requirement again, I would still get a place for 2016. So three hours was my target.

Three hours, by the by, has always been my target. In my mind the casual runner has three main targets: sub-40 minute for 10k, sub-1:30 for half marathon and sub-3hr for a marathon (God knows about the ultra marathons, but I’m never going to do them). Since I’ve achieved the first two in the last two years the sub-3hr marathon has been my main running focus for a while.

So I set about my training, in my new trainers (which I may do a blog about at some point soon), and really put in the miles. Miraculously I didn’t seem to pick up an injury. Approaching the marathon everyone around me started picking up a cold/flu type bug, causing fears of a repeat of my last Paris marathon to mind, but I didn’t seem to contract it – which might have something to do with the sheer amount of orange juice I drank and Vit C tables I swallowed. I then strode my way around the Ealing half marathon (which I may also blog about soon) with a time slightly slower than my PB but still fairly promising. I wasn’t in the best form of my life but in terms of prepping for a marathon I’ve been a hell of a lot worse.

On Sunday morning I lined up with my competitors in the crisp Chicagoan air. Ahead of me rose sky-scraping tower blocks, with two tiny helicopters hanging in the air between them, ready to film the start of the race. Those around me looked remarkably calm, there were a few woops and hollers but nothing ostenatiously “American”. The traditional 10-second count down began and I repeatedly assured myself that I was going to be okay, that this was going to be easy. As the go-signal was given, at the ungodly hour of 7.30am, I slowly filed forward with the crowd, fiddling with my RunKeeper app, trudging towards the start line and the best chance I had of a new personal best.

American marathons are different to European races. When I ran my first half marathon around Greenwich – I think it was 2009 – I remember getting to the 12 mile mark and finding there were suddenly people standing by the side of the course. I was damned if I would slow to a walk with people watching. Yes I was knackered, and yes my legs burned and yeah so I couldn’t see straight, but there were people watching me; I couldn’t walk. I continued running because people were watching. And occasionally they clapped. This has continued through the races in Britain and at Berlin and Paris – people have stood at the side of the course and, every so often, they cheered. Their bouts of enthusiasm pushed me on. Americans aren’t like Europeans though, they don’t have impediments such as shame, pride or inhibition. They let it all loose – and they’re damned funny with it. As I ran through the streets of Chicago I was entertained by the masses of wooping, screaming and encouraging calls of the US crowd. They held signs aloft, comedy signs such as “Smile if you pee’d a little” (it’s impossible not to smile), “Hurry Up! The Kenyans are drinking your free beer” and “Go, Random Stranger Go”. As I ran I saw my fellow runners waving their arms to make the crowd cheer more, so I joined in – and they responded. Before long I was punching the air and doing the Mobot with casual abandon. This really distracted me from the pain of the race.

Before the run I’d planned my race. With previous marathons I’ve tried running fast for as long as I could, I’ve tried keeping up with others, I’ve tried running my own race, I’ve tried various tactics for water stops and food-timings. This time I would get it right. I decided on “a race of four 10ks” and broke it up; slow-fast-slow-fast. I figured I would drink at every stop until the halfway mark and then miss every third stop from then on. Two hours before the race I would eat a banana with bread, then an hour before I’d just have a banana, then 20 minutes before I’d have a Gu gel thing. I’d eat at 1 hour, 1 hr 45 and 2hr 15. I planned such detail but accepted that I would adapt to circumstance. I was taking this seriously, I wanted this to work.

And it did. I always try to ignore the first four miles, if I start thinking about my progress so early I’m likely to imagine aches and panic, thereby losing any Positive Mental Attitude I’d mustered. So at mile 8 I had a quick check on my progress. At this point in Paris I was starting to seize up, to struggle and to realise that 26 miles is a bloody long way. This time I felt loose, I’d passed my first 10k at a much quicker pace than I’d meant to but I was still feeling light on my feet. I pushed on, keeping my eye on a guy with an apple on his shirt who was running what I guessed was a decent pace. For some reason I was slowing at every water station – the cups were so hard to drink from that I ended up choking at each one – but by keeping my eye on ‘Apple Guy’ I managed to maintain a good pace. By about mile 12 or 13 I caught up with him and asked him what time he was going for. He responded with his target of 3 hours, I mentioned this was the same as me so I’d try keep pace with him for a while. His plan was to get to mile 20 and see how he felt before going for a final push. This seemed like a good idea so I stole it. As we’d just passed the half way mark I was now on my ‘slower’ 10k pace again, but I was determined to keep up with him. I would ‘relax’ into this section of the race, whilst making sure I didn’t lag behind, and then really push for it at mile 20.

That one with the cap, thats me that is

That one with the cap, thats me that is

At some point in that 3rd 10k I drifted ahead of ‘Apple Guy’. A couple of other runners had over-taken us at a pace I realised I could keep up with. So I kept up with them and left ‘Apple Guy’ behind. This pace slowly took it’s toll though; around mile 18 my legs were starting to feel tight, my left foot had been a problem for a while before the marathon and now my right knee was beginning to hurt. I tried flicking my leg back as I’d heard to do – kicking the heel toward my bum – and it loosened it out a bit but was hard to keep doing. All I could do was grit my teeth and try to keep up with my new target pace-man; a guy in a red and black top which I’d decided looked like the evil Transformers’ logo, I dubbed him ‘Megatron’ and vowed not to lose him.

I lost ‘Megatron’ by about mile 23 but I was with a fast flowing crowd by then. The Chicago marathon is excellent for its long straight roads. Around mile 23 or 24 it settles in for a final two-to-three mile straight and we flowed down it. I picked a third target-man and shifted my running style a few times to stop the growing aches, eventually I just gritted my teeth and ran. For the past few miles I’d been watching my clock, I knew I could still run a 7 minute mile and I’d got to 20 miles at 2 hours and 15 minutes. Even with my fatigue-fogged mind I knew that’d be 15 minutes for every 2 miles. I noticed at 22 miles I was still on target, by 24 miles I was 2hrs 45 minutes in and the window was closing. My legs were really seizing up, they felt like blocks of wood and moving them was hard enough, let alone keeping up with the crowd and my target pace. Having passed a guy who’d slowed to a walk, loudly admonishing himself with “FOCUS, dammit man FOCUS!” I decided to take his advice and focused my mind on the finish line.

As I pushed for my final sprint I knew I’d managed a sub-3hr marathon. Passing over the line I heard the guy next to me roar his way home, clearly I wasn’t the only one pushing for the 3 hour mark. And I decided to give in to the American enthusiasm and euphoria, I lifted my hands to the sky and started laughing. It was unexpectedly sunny, I’d got the time I was looking for, I was about to get a new shiny medal for my collection, and I had a ticket for a free beer in my pocket. All was good with the world, very good.

That'll do pig

That’ll do, pig

 

So… that’s it. I’ve now run a sub-3hr marathon. And I’ve told everyone that that’s now enough for me, I’m happy with that and will run all future marathons at a much more relaxed pace. That’s the one thing that’s clear – I will be running more marathons. The Berlin and Chicago marathons are both part of the World Marathon Majors, I do realise these are nothing more than a marketing ploy, but I’ve fallen for it hook-line-and-sinker. I want to run them all. Besides, I’ve always wanted to go to New York and Tokyo. And Boston… I guess. But next up is London, if I can get a place, or New York, which I can always buy a ticket for.

And whilst I say now that I will be trying to run them at a more relaxed, achievable pace, I know I’ll be pushing myself as hard as I can on the day. Maybe I’ll knock it down to a sub 2hr 50 marathon…

My fortnight in film – Weeks 14 and 15

15 Apr

I find that I go in cycles of how I pass my downtime, either reading, watching good TV, watching movies or playing computer games. At the moment I’ve been stuck in a cycle of watching Breaking Bad then House of Cards and Walking Dead and now I’ve picked up Nurse Jackie and True Detective with Game of Thrones coming up. But then again there’s a bunch of great films coming up that I’m not going to miss, so maybe I’ll break out of my current obsession and kick into a new. For now though I have three films from the last two weeks to discuss.

Avengers Assemble (I watched the Blu Ray but also on Netflix)

I love superhero films, I don’t care whether they’re childish, unrealistic, a pointless punch-em-kick-em blast of primary colours with little educational value, I love them. Movies for me can be educational, they can be inspirational and touch on deeper themes whilst holding up a mirror on society but I tend to enjoy those that just block my reality, just suspend my disbelief and present a portal into another person’s imagination. There’s very few people’s imaginations that I would prefer to spend my non-working hours in than that of Joss Whedon and when he takes the work of others and fine tunes it into a film like the Avengers, well then I’m more than happy to spend countless hours enjoying the results.

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Avengers Assemble is quite an ambitious project when you think about it; bringing together four separate film franchises and giving them enough scope and personality within a single film whilst simultaneously building in side-characters, a cojent narrative and allow all the characters in it a chance to bounce off each other in a way that’s respectful of the previous films and both engaging and amusing. It’s just an unthinkable task when you concieve it, however in Whedon we trust and in the Avengers Assemble he delivered.

That is not to say it’s a perfect film. I wince whenever the scene in Germany starts; a lazy comparison of the film’s villain with Hitler and a jarring piece of jingoism via Cap’n America in his red-white-n-blue; and the mysterious alien baddies are just a bit unbelievable, but altogether it is a very impressive film. I’m regularly told the fight sequence is too long at the end, but I would hastily disagree – without the length the victory would appear too easy. This is why everyone gets beaten a little, everyone takes a punch and takes it hard, without the fight-back you wouldn’t be invested. The long sequence which follows one character to another, from street level to rooftops, from flying chariots to Grand Central Station via the back of a flying worm thing and ending with the greatest comedy punch ever, it’s one of my favourite cinematic moments of all time.

I watched this film in anticipation of Captain America 2, so I could compare Cap’ in his first film and in this ensemble piece. This highlighted the skill of the writing. It could also have given me superhero over-load, but it really hasn’t. Some critics deride the superhero genre, hoping that cinema verite will take it’s place. Personally I hope it doesn’t, so long as there’s quality in the craft then I hope this kind of film continues. When the quality drops then the superhero ‘bubble’ (if that’s what is is) can finally pop.

Muppets Most Wanted

This film starts off with a very catchy song, so catchy that I’ve repeatedly listened to it on Spotify and embedded the YouTube video about this paragraph. If you haven’t clicked on it already I want you to stop reading, click on the video and let it roll as you continue to read. The lyrics are brilliantly, muppetty meta, but stating that the sequel is never as good as the first at the start of a sequel might be nicely self-deprecating but it’s also tragically accurate. And when flaws are pointed out, you notice them all the more. It doesn’t excuse them, it highlights them. And there are many flaws.

The plot is a bit tatty; they end up on a world tour alarmingly quickly and simply because they need a plot. That’s literally the reason for it. There’s a distracted sub-plot about a heist and another about Kermit in a gulag. Now a flimsy and distracted plot(s) might not normally be a problem for a Muppet movie, but the Muppets alone are not enough to carry a movie, there needs to be a sympathetic human character for the felt-faced heroes to riff-off. Instead of one central lead that could tie a story together and give the audience an ‘in’ on the weird world of the Muppets, a role that Jason Segel played so well in the first, there’s three. And one of them’s Ricky Bloody Gervais (to give him his full name). Gervais just plays himself, in fact he even does the David Brent dance at one point, and unfortunately the fantastic Ty Burrell and Tina Fey just can’t compensate for Ricky’s charisma-suck with their minimalistic role – though they do both do absolutely everything they can with them.

But given that there’s an unfocussed plot, a lack of a central relatable lead and Ricky Bloody Gervais, there’s still something about the film to make me like it. I laughed, quite a lot. And the songs (tell me your foot wasn’t tapping to We’re Doing A Sequel) are brilliant, almost enough to make up for the lack of a film. Almost. But not quite.

No doubt there’ll be a third, and hopefully Bret MacKenzie will write the songs for that one too. But hopefully they get a new writer/director team and learn they need a central, sympathetic human lead for the Muppets to truly work in cinematic form.

Killers (on Netflix)

killers-movie-poster-2010-1020546227Katherine Hiegel is not particularly famed for her wise choice of films. Nor is Ashton Kutcher. And yet when I saw that this film has landed on Netflix I added it to my list. I think that’s partly because of my weird love of Mr and Mrs Smith, which the trailer for this made regular reference to, but whatever the reason I found myself clicking on this film poster and committing my time to see whether my medium expectations would be met.

They weren’t. This film is pants, don’t bother watching it. Okay, that’s a bit mean, it’s not exactly the worst film ever, nor is it insultingly bad or especially mysogenistic or racist or anything. It’s just not good. They clearly wanted to do Mr and Mrs Smith with a more James Bondy vibe, used Ashton Kutcher to do this who can only just about peek his head above the parapet of his own crappiness, and used Heigel as the cypher for the audience, the sympathetic character to who we pin our own understanding of the world that she’s discovering. And she does the relatively sympathetic responses to insane action well, better than Diaz in Knight and Day, but at some point Hiegel’s screaming and wide-eyed outrage really starts to grate.

It’s just a bit pop-corn, it feels rushed and generally uncared for. It’s a piece of fluff entertainment with little to no substance beneath it and whilst I suggested at the top of this post that I often embraced just this, there has to be some degree of care or thought to a film for it to really draw me in. Killers has neither.

The Paris Marathon 2014

6 Apr

My marathon was over at 38km. After that marker I shook my head and admitted I couldn’t keep going, having slowed to a walk and pushed myself back into a run already I knew how much better walking felt, so this time I stopped for good. As soon as I did my head swam, my balance shifted and I nearly fell. My shirt was drenched, a mixture of sweat and my having thrown water over my head throughout the run, so I knew I was pretty dehydrated. To run on was to risk collapsing and I was damned if I wasn’t going to cross the line. So I kept walking.

In the run up to the marathon I’d set out my intricate plan and spent multiple Saturday mornings on the London streets to ensure I reached my aim of a sub-3 hour personal best. Pounding those streets my confidence rose, that is it rose until I strained my ankle. After three weeks without training I managed a 10 mile run last week and felt pretty confident, but then I went to work and picked up the flu. It was a head-pounding, nasal-stuffing, chest-filling sod of a cold, took me out for three straight days, but I believed that it wouldn’t affect my running. I was still coughing and unblocking my nose the night before the race.

Ok, that’s the excuses over, they’ll feed into my post-run analysis in a couple paragraphs’ time. As I’d lined up at the start I knew I wanted to push myself to start with, take it easy from the half-way mark then really flog it through the last 10k. My plan was to find someone else to use as a pace-maker, as I set off I chose two guys who turned out to be quite slow so switched to the first official 3 hour pace-maker. Knowing that I couldn’t maintain their pace I passed the first one to build up a lead. Pushing hard uphill I hit the next pace-maker, then thought about trying to reach the next one; the third of four. Half way there my pace started to lag. I realised I’d set off too strong, not even half way around the course and I had very little left in my legs – that hadn’t happened before and I panicked. For some reason, be it under-training, not enough food before, not enough water, the unexpected heat, the flu or a mix of all of them, I was struggling.

The sun was beating down and showing no sign of hiding behind the forecast clouds. My legs were weak, my stamina waning, but somehow I pushed through to the 18 mile mark, met my parents and kept running. By this point both of the 3 hour pace-makers had passed me again and I’d lost sight of the last bouncing, waving banner. Telling myself they were running far ahead of their supposed pace, I didn’t worry too much, though decided that I wouldn’t try for the three hours anymore; I’d focus on the London marathon’s entry time of three hours and five minutes. Even that was looking tough. As we pounded through the park my pace really slowed, but I was able to push several times and keep going at a renewed pace. But then I hit 38km and I knew I couldn’t keep it up, so I slowed, my head swam and I started walking.

Reaching the final water-spot I took a bottle and drained it, took two oranges and sucked them dry, then took a banana. There was a mini Haribo spot which I bent down and scooped a handful before trudging on. My head began to clear. Then the 3 hour 15 minute marker passed me, I didn’t care. The second one passed me and I started to sulk, but I was going to finish this thing. Suddenly I felt someone squeeze my arm and an English voice just yelled “come on, let’s run to this truck then we’ll walk. I need someone to motivate me” so I started to run. A total random stranger saved my race. When we came to the truck he slowed but pushed me forward. I only managed another 100 meters before walking again. Then I came to a French family of four, all of them spotted my name on my chest and egged me on, the kid at the end pleading “for me, Neil, for me!” so I turned, pointed and answered “well, as it’s for you” and started to run again. I knew I was coming to the end so I put in everything I had, finishing at 3 hours 22 minutes, 18 seconds. Easily my slowest time to date, at the marathon that was meant to be my personal best. I was not happy.

But I’ve spent the day analysing it; the cold really did drain me of energy – I’m still coughing (as I write on the evening of the run); the heat was hellish and really screwed my usual water-stop plans; my training was not as complete as it could be – my personal best was achieved in Berlin after uninterrupted and regular training; the course was hotter and hillier than I was expecting; and I’m really not confident I ate enough the night before but I did my best with chicken and rice. With so many possible contributing factors I’m not sure which it really was, I’ll take a combination of all of the above. Either way, I’m not going to blame myself entirely – I did alright in the circumstances – but I will be running Chicago faster. I’ll set off at a more sensible pace, I’ll eat a tonne of carbs the night before and if I get a cold beforehand I’m just going to take the whole week off work until I’m over it.

But, marathon three over and done. Maybe Paris is just going to be my bogey-marathon, all the rest will be fine and fast. Fingers crossed, eh?