HOW I RAN A FIVE-HOUR MARATHON AND STILL FELT GOOD ABOUT MYSELF 🙂
On April 21 (the day before the London Marathon) all racers received yet another e-mail from the Race Director noting that “…the weather forecast for Race Day is for a bright morning and a maximum temperature of 20-22C at 14:00. It will be a hot day and it is very important that you adjust your plans for Race Day accordingly”.
Talk about an understatement!
The message went on to say that London Fire Brigade would have additional showers on the race route…we should slow our planned pace and use one of the 39 first aid stations on the course…wear appropriate clothing…drink, douse, drain, and drop when we take water…use the showers… and slather ourselves with sunscreen.
And that was before the race even started…at 10:00am in the bright sun with not a cloud in the sky!
I’m jumping the gun (no pun intended!) so let me back-up and set the context.
We arrived in London on a Wednesday in advance of the Sunday Race Day. That was lots of time. My heart sank as we walked out of the St. James’s Tube Station and across the street to our hotel: London was already in the middle of a heat wave. While it was beautiful and warm and the trees were all green and flowers were in full bloom and people were walking around in shorts and t-shirts (we had flown out of Toronto in the middle of a cold, raw, rain/freezing rain night), everywhere we turned or listened there were warnings about the heat. That’s not what you want to hear when you’ve been training for the past five months in a pretty tough Canadian Winter!
You know what? We’re runners…we run…so quit complaining! I was in London getting ready to run the London Marathon: it just doesn’t get any better than that!
On Thursday and Friday my wife and biggest supporter–Antonella–and I did a few early morning runs in St. James’s Park and Green Park which was right around the corner from our hotel. Let me digress for a minute. Our hotel was about ten minutes from the Finish Line on The Mall right in front of Buckingham Palace. It was a perfect location, especially at the end when we had to walk home. It was my first ‘sense of the moment’ when we ran across The Mall in front of the Palace. It was just so special: I really WAS in London and would be rounding the final corner of my Marathon right there in a few days and sprinting up to the Finish Line with a smile on my face.
The Expo was out in The Docklands and was ‘the usual’.
I digress again. As we were riding the Docklands Light Railway out to the Expo, we kept hearing announcements indicating that there might be a planned industrial action on the DLR network on Race Day which would have a huge impact on everyone trying to get to the Starting Line. It didn’t happen in the end but…just one more thing to think (what…me worry??) about.
On Race Day! I had a bus leaving directly from the hotel departing at 7:30am which took us right to the Starting Area. Everything worked like clockwork. The Starting Area is one huge field in Greenwich Park. For those of you from Toronto, think Downsview Park. It was wide open although there was no place to hide from the blazing sun which was already beating down on us. Starting zones (this was the first year that they introduced wave starts across all three starts) were well-marked and easy to find…there were lots of urinals…and it was really just ‘sit around and wait’ until we rolled out.
Her Majesty started the race although I didn’t see her when I crossed the Starting Line.
The Blue Start and the Red Start followed different routes for the first three miles, and then converged on a section of dual carriageway. It was very orderly and we were immediately running through residential areas that felt like small villages.
The Course itself is amazing. At about 10k we passed the Cutty Sark and at half-way we turned a corner and all of a sudden I was running across Tower Bridge. By the time we were at Canary Wharf the mileage showed 30k and we hit the Tower of London…ran in front of Whitehall and down Birdcage Walk around that corner right in front of Buckingham Palace and across the Finish Line on The Mall.
I loved the energy of the entire race. In terms of spectators…think of the New York Marathon and that’s what it was like. People were literally wall-to-wall for 42.2 km and they never stopped shouting and screaming: it was pure energy. We literally ran the streets of London and the route was so inspiring and beautiful and there were even a few spots where you could run on the shady side of the road!
What about my race, you ask? Well…it was the hardest, hottest, slowest, and toughest Marathon I’ve ever done. Period. End of story. No excuses: that’s simply what it was on Race Day. The week before in Boston, it was freezing cold and windy. From the sublime to the ridiculous!
It really was hot! With a 10:00am start, we were already in it. If I recall, most of the race was run in 25C and that’s tough. According to all race officials, this was the hottest London Marathon on record. Why me? Even the elites struggled and Sir Mo Farah, who broke the British marathon record and finished third overall, collapsed after crossing the Finish Line. One runner, a young, fast and experienced marathoner, collapsed and died a few kilometres from the Finish Line. I don’t think there were may PB’s on the day.
But…how can you take five hours to run 42.2 km?
It’s not like I wasn’t ready or got hurt along the way. I did the very best I could on that day and wouldn’t/couldn’t change a thing.
My first half was ok. I probably ran slower than usual but I was very conscious of the heat. I drank water at every station and had my gels with me and did everything according to plan. But…a little past the half-way mark I simply knew I was done. I was exhausted…had no energy and just felt mentally and physically depleted and drained. I never wanted to quit and I knew I would finish, but I just didn’t have anything in me to make me perform any better than what I was doing.
It’s a tough reality to accept when you’re just half-way through and you have to come to grips with the fact that you just can’t compete for the rest of the race. I was living it as I was processing it and changing my approach as I was in the middle of it.
The first thing I started doing was running and walking: I walked a lot. To give you some idea…I was through the first half and a bit in about two hours. That’s not bad for me and I felt as if I’d be on track. It took me almost three hours…yes…three hours to do the second half of the race. Read it again: three hours to run a half-marathon. And…run may be an exaggeration. I walked a lot of it. I would try running for half a kilometer and then walking and then maybe walking more but running faster. I did every thing I knew how but my energy bank was simply finite and it had evaporated as quickly as the water I poured over my head.
I was pretty down at that point. There’s just no positive spin to put on it. I was hurt by the fact that here I was in London…and I wasn’t doing what I wanted to do…and most of all…I knew that all of my friends here in Toronto were watching and wanting me to do well and I had such an enormous sense of how I was letting everyone down. Now, I know that’s not the reality because I’ve been on the other side of things too but…I just felt so crushed and beaten down that I couldn’t have summoned up any strength if I wanted.
Some runners can summon up and draw on an energy bank that they didn’t even know they had at a point like this. My mental and physical tank was empty.
But…here’s where I’m really proud of myself in that I was able to change my journey.
I started to appreciate where I was and what I was doing. I WAS running the London Marathon and I WAS going to finish. I started to look around…at the spectators…at the City…at my fellow runners…and I realized that in that moment, I was able to do what a lot of people simply can’t do or will never have the opportunity of doing and I appreciated it! It’s not like I simply gave up and settled but rather that I summoned some mental strength to put everything in perspective. When I rounded that final corner Antonella was there…and I did run and I did have a smile on my face and I was happy. It might be hard to believe, but that’s how I learned to love my five-hour London Marathon!
When I was younger, my Dad always told me not to forget to ‘smell the roses’. I think I finally figured out what he meant while I was on The Embankment running beside the Thames 🙂
The Finish is spectacular. For me, it was extra special because I picked up my Abbott Medal. After a long walk down The Mall, Antonella and I found each other (it did take a while and there was a bit of panic setting in because I wanted so much to hug her and share those moments with her more than anything because she’s been with me every single kilometer) and walked back to the hotel. I felt a bit embarrassed to be wearing the Abbott to be honest and I carried it in my hand much of the way. So many of my friends are faster and better runners than I’ll ever be and I felt like a bit of an imposter. But…as more and more people saw that medal and congratulated me again and again…it did start to feel as if I’d accomplished something. Maybe it was just for me.
I ran the best race I could. An interesting reality check was that, as we were cutting across St. James’s Park and Birdcage Walk to get back to the hotel, there were waves of runners still coming in. I still finished in front of 20,000 other runners and in the top half of my Age Category. At least I wasn’t last!
And…the day after the race was just that…another day. Of course the temperature dropped and it was back to cold, overcast, grey and cloudy skies. It was perfect racing weather. Where were you yesterday???!!
I was still tired…but every runner knows what I mean when I say that it was a ‘good’ tired. There was, however, a lingering feeling of cumulative exhaustion. Maybe I pushed my body a bit too hard. I had run three Marathons (Chicago, Tokyo and London) in six months and I have to admit that it was probably too much. No excuses whatsoever…just a realization and acceptance that there are limits for all of us.
At the end of it all, I say absolutely unequivocally: LONDON IS SPECIAL!
As I re-read this, it sounds like an epitaph. Not quite! The one question I now seem to get from a lot of my friends (mostly from non-runners) when they find out that I’ve completed the six World Majors and have the Abbott Medal (which, by the way, is hanging on my tie rack in the closet just like the others) is…so…what are you going to do now? It’s as if they think that you’re done…it’s time for retirement or you’ve completed the check-list.
My answer is a simple one: I sign-up for the next race!!
Every runner knows that your next race is always your best race!