The London Marathon in 2009 was my first ever marathon. I signed up the day after the 2008 race, which had coincided with a bad rowing race we’d been forced to concede and I’d gone for an angry post-race run along the canal. I had grown frustrated with rowing; the times I would be at the river in the dark and swirling mist at 6am and one girl wouldn’t turn up, letting the other eight of us down. I was frustrated with people not pulling their weight physically and metaphorically speaking, and although I liked being part of a team, I wanted to see my efforts directly pay off and see what I could really do. So I entered the London Marathon ballot; I entered a half marathon for the October half way through the year, and a 10km (my first running race) too. I didn’t get in on the ballot, so joined the Oxford University Cross Country Club and got a place that way. I followed a plan, I did my long runs, I tapered and I carb-loaded following a deplete followed by load regime. I aimed for 3.45 (that being the good for age time for my category), and on the day got a 4:44. It was incredibly difficult but I had the bug.
2009 finish photo (when it was considerably warmer)
In 2010, a year later I ran the Stratford Upon Avon Marathon.
In 2011 I did 2: Gloucester and Startford.
In 2012 I did 4: Gloucester, Cotswold, Tenby and Cheltenham.
In 2013, it was 5: Cheltenham, Fairlands Valley in Stevenage, Salisbury 54321, Bacchus in Dorking, and A20 in Maidstone.
In 2014, I upped it to 7: Statford, Milton Keynes, The Ox, Cheltenham, Tenby, Abingdon and Rhosilli and did my first couple of ultras.
In 2015, 6 marathons: Viking, Citrus Trail, Tomoka, Llanelli, Tenby and my ironman one in Mallorca, and 4 ultras (including two single day and two multi-day).
It took me until October 2014 at Abingdon to finally make the grade, and I smashed my previous 3:50 PB, the 3:45 GFA goal, and ran a 3:33, which I was delighted with. In January I PB’d again with a 3:31 and then ran a 3:17 in March the week before MDS and 3:22 in April the week after.
This time round, I was nervous, it had been a good while since my last marathon in September which hardly counted given it was at the end of my ironman and I walked so much. Prior to that it was Tenby in July, and that’s a hilly course and also followed a brutal Saturday 112 mile bike and choppy Friday 2.4 mile swim. So my last “fresh” road marathon had been Llanelli, the week after the Marathon Des Sables, where I placed 3rd (losing my lead after around 15 miles and my 2nd place after 20) with a 2nd best time of 3:22. I just had no idea what I could really do. I’d registered for London as a good for age entrant, aiming to go sub 3:15 for a championship place entry next year, but I’m still off pace from November’s injury (90 seconds off my 5km PB pace and about 6 mins off my half marathon best), so had to reduce my expectations somewhat. So I’m nervous because I don’t know what to expect, (although my big PBs have all been unexpected), and I’m nervous because to the non-marathon running general public, the London marathon is the only one they’ve heard of, and therefore to them the only one that counts. Answering “I ran xx:xx, but my best is actually xx:xx” isn’t going to cut it. But I had to be realistic and decided sub 3:30 would do nicely. I’ve recently decided I want to go to Boston and while I’ve easily qualified in the past, I haven’t since the cut off date in September, and feel like I should do it sooner rather than later in case I slow down. My BQ time would be 3:35 probably minus 1-2 minutes, but it’s net gun time not chip time and while I was confident I could run 3:33, I was concerned about doing it if I was too far back in the holding pens and taking a long time to cross the line.
Marathon week prep
I tapered properly, something I haven’t done in a long while given how often I race.
My week was:-
Sunday – 6m road run with pack; changed shoes; 10 mile cross country run with my club
Monday – 5km run AM / 30 mins strength and conditioning PM
Tuesday – 2500m swim AM / 7 mile run inc. 4 X 0.5 mile efforts with club PM
Wednesday – 20 mins strength and conditioning AM / 5km at marathon pace PM
Thursday – 1 mile run > 2000m swim > 1 mile run
Friday – REST
Saturday – REST
Sunday – Race day!
I ate like someone who’d been starved the whole month prior. There was so much food on the ward Wednesday and Thursday and I didn’t stop, plus I baked lots of goodies (Nutella & Pistachio Cookies and Lemon & Blueberry Loaf Cake) ready to take in for my last day on the job Friday.
Saturday I attended the Marathon Medicine Conference
which was really inspiring for me
professionally, giving me some food for thought for my career. Then I braved the crowds to collect my number at registration, which went surprisingly smoothly: in and out of the Excel centre in 30 minutes! I enjoyed a prawn pasta dish for dinner, then my last two homemade cookies with some pistachio kulfi icecream; watching coverage of the Manchester and Brighton marathons for inspiration, before getting an early night anticipating a rather early start.
Race morning arrived at I was up just before 5, got ready and packed my kit bag, and had a big bowl of porridge with Nutella before leaving. I met at my running club HQ at 5:45 for the coach which they had arranged, leaving at 6. I took a pillow and snoozed on the coach until around 7:30 then had a small chocolate filled crepe, and a small cereal bar.
We were turfed off the coach into drizzle before 8am, with 2 hours to go before the start but it went fairly quickly, and we managed to find a space on the floor in the changing tent to commandeer and sit down on our bin bags. Slight panic when it was announced that the baggage lorries would be leaving the green start at 9:25 and I’d planned on stripping off my warm layers and checking my bag in last minute. So I donned my binbag and braved the chill. And in fact as soon as I’d handed my bag over the sunshine tried to break through and there were in fact a few several second warm moments. I spotted Emily Foy, or rather she spotted me while I was sparing into space, and we discussed goals and race tactics and I are my pre-race banana while queuing for a last minute portaloo visit before a jog to our start pens with 2 minutes to spare.
My plan was to go out with the 3:15 pacers and hang on as long as I could before dropping off to maybe a 3:25 finish. I’m not a very good pacer and tend to go out way too fast so this would be a very sensibly paced race if I could carry it off. My 3:17 PB had been started at a blistering pace well under sub 3 and then faded exponentially. Hey, if it works for me, it works, but I would like to try it the “right” way and see what I can achieve. The problem was I was in pen 3 and the 3:15 pacers were in pen 2. I’m not sure why as my qualifying time was 3:17 and I’m sure my predicted time when I registered would have been something like 3:14/3:15. But it took me 2 minutes to cross the start line and 4 miles to catch the pacers, and I stuck between them for a mile or so. Then I saw Emily in her bright orange just a couple of metres ahead of them so went to catch up with her, staying with her for a bit of a chat before accidentally breaking my resolve to stick with the pacers and steadily moving off forward, though not crazily so. I think by mile 16ish I was around 4 minutes ahead of schedule, mile 20 around 2 minutes. I was a bit shocked at one point to think I was about to come up to the mile 17 marker and then happened upon 16, my watch showing 16.7! All that dodging around slower people at the start (again, why was I in the pen behind them?) added distance to my race. It happened in 2009 with me veering off to visit every portaloo ‘just in case’ and ending on 27.5miles, but this time I didn’t think it would be so bad – I didn’t stop once, and all my drinks were grab and go without walking a step. This would account for making up time on my PB race where I stopped for the loo once and walked and chatted through the aid stations.
The 3:15 pacers caught up with me again at mile 24, but that was OK as I knew I had 2 minutes on them still from starting further back, and my goal had been 3:25-3:30 so I could walk the rest and be ok. But I didn’t, I stuck it out and gritted my teeth to finish in a new personal best, 3 minutes faster than in Florida’s Tomoka marathon last year with a time of 3:14:26! I was absolutely delighted. That’s a London good for age time, a more than comfortable Boston qualifier, meeting my goal time, a new PB, and a club championship qualifier all rolled into one and I couldn’t have hoped for more.
The crowds didn’t disappoint, support all the way round a few familiar faces with Julian, a GP who organises the Abingdon Marathon entries; Ludy from MDS and Ironman Mallorca; Josie, a doctor and one of my old flatmates; and Alan, my oft-running buddy and MDS tentie. Around mile 19, I kept hearing shouts of “Go Kelly”, and realised I was running with the legend that is Dame Kelly Holmes which was pretty exciting.
With regards to fuelling and hydration, I grabbed a bottle and took 2/3 sips probably every other aid station so mostly water and maybe 100mls of lucozade, and that was it for calories. I was thirsty, but also felt a bit sick and couldn’t tolerate much more sloshing in my stomach. I don’t really use gels, and very rarely taken on calories in a race other than an ultra unless jelly babies are stuck under my nose.
After the race, I met my friend Charlie and we had a 3 course feed in Pizza Express with calamari, pizza and icecream. Quick March to the coach afterwards and a social media whirlwind on the way home, then I relaxed in a deep bubble bath before eating half a tub of pistachio kulfi with Nutella before bed. Great double icecream day!
Pace / Race Analysis
My pacing was quite consistent for me with splits ranging from approximately 6:49/mile around mile 23 to 7:39 in the first mile. Miles 18, 19 and 20 were down as 6:48, 6:36, and 5:11, which I think is a GPS glitch as 5:11 is 15 seconds faster than my 1500metre track PB and makes those 3 miles a new 5km PB by 2 seconds at 19:17, so we’ll ignore that! But overall, it was quite evenly paced with the first half in just under 1:36 and the second in just over 1:38. By the end, my watch read 27.2 miles, and at the point it read 26.2, I was on 3:07:08. Allowing for GPS glitches, that’s still sub 3:10 for a marathon distance if I hadn’t had to dodge and weave around so many other runners, which puts sub 3 realistically in my sights if I work really hard for it over the next couple of years. Lifetime goal set right here.
Position wise, I was 3861 out of 39045 overall, so top 9.9%; I came 331 out of 15089 women, putting me in the top 2.2% of finishers; and 223 out of 8880 of senior women aged 18-39, so top 2.5% of my category. I’m so unbelievable chuffed with today’s outcome, as it was so unexpected and beyond what I imagined I could do.
Now, time to rest up before my 100 mile race on Saturday!