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A (Tower) Bridge Too Far?

Steve and Deborah Wyatt report from the London Marathon 26 April 2015

It’s been a long 2 years since I ran a PB at London  and there’s been a nagging doubt in my mind that I might never get fit again after being injured in the intervening period. A slow haul back since last summer but completing barely 35 miles per month meant that I probably wasn’t in the ideal shape to start marathon training in January. Each step was painful and after each training run I had to have at least 2 days recovery to get over the discomfort and that wasn’t exactly leading to rapid progress. What to do? Set a target!

Blackmore Vale Half was my first full on attempt at completing any form of road running over any distance. Started well in that race (well it is downhill for the first mile….) but a sad decline after 8 miles meant that I came in as 5th WAC , was `Chicked’ more than once and got my butt kicked by Andy Horsley back up that last hill….. Definitely not an auspicious indicator of likely marathon performance and so it was that buoyed (sunk) by this 1.30 half, I set my next target, a sub 3.15 finish at London. The significance of 3.15 is achieving that time would mean an automatic place in VLM for the next 2 years. With this joyous news, my beloved Deborah looked at me with astonishment and incredulity of my newly stated and highly optimistic ambition.  

She’s right of course but if I don’t run, who am I? Just a middle aged bloke who used to be quick and can’t overcome injury….. I should state at this point that the absolute low point for me in 31 years of competitive running was VLM 2011 when I had the same aim and crossed the line in 3.15.42- Never have I been so completely gutted at coming so close and yet failing. I was so keen to avoid a repetition of that performance.

So with no real indicator that I can actually get anywhere near that time I start to train deciding to focus on the long runs and gently ramp to a peak performance of 20 miles in 2hrs 30mins in training (not quick enough) . I imagine that pregnancy might be similar to marathon running in that there are brief moments of joy but overall it’s fairly painful. By the time you are due the next one you’ve convinced yourself that it wasn’t that bad and promptly embark on the whole journey again. Whilst I’ve not tried the former, my body never forgets the latter and knows all too well that the last 6 miles are an unremitting journey of PAIN and SUFFERING. A 2hr 30 min 20 mile race pace will leave too much to do in the last 45 mins and it won’t happen. I start to think I should revert to my `normal’ race` tactic’

Of course the reason why my usual race tactic of: Start quickly, Settle to race pace quicker than you should be going, Get tired and slow down, Drag sorry backside over the line in a last act of desperation doesn’t appear in any training manuals is for one simple reason – even pacing is better !

I should know this, I do know this but I struggle to put it into practice. As a final act of idiocy I top the start of the last week before race day with an average park run and a half marathon in training. All I need to complete the novice runner look are new shoes on race day.

Of course now being of average running ability means I delay and delay committing to actually run until 2 weeks before meaning that we have made no transport or hotel arrangements and we have the thorny issue of collecting the race number in the week before. (The Excel Centre is so convenient though ……. NOT). We resolve that one and decide to travel by car on the day. This part goes smoothly and I jump on a train at West Wickham to get to Lewisham where I walk to the start.

`Good for Age Red Start’ may have been my dream at Blackmore Vale but I can say with complete conviction that at this point I felt decidedly below average in all departments for my age. I would go as far as to say 7 year olds have been better prepared for `show and tell’ than I am for VLM but allegedly I’m a grown up so I fight back the nerves and join the other WAC grown-ups for a chat. I feel a bit of a fraud just being here, like I’ve stolen the place from someone more worthy. This is after all a major ambition of a lot of people and I’ve ambled in on the back of 395 miles of training since Xmas- Is it enough?

The race starts……..I see my darling wife and children 3 times along the course but my complete lack of adherence to previously agreed race plan means she has the race of her life to get around to each of the four agreed places (words are later said about this in the car home.) A mate is playing in the Bournemouth `Googie Band’ at Cannon Street who gives me a cheer and I suffer alone for that last 6 miles.

At the end, I’m happy to forget the run and focus on the time 3.00.38

Apparently 395 miles is enough training. 

A tale of two cities (plans)

Let’s just say that in my day and age, girls couldn’t be part of the scout movement but I would have been first in line – be prepared is my motto.  So when two weeks before VLM, he indoors is still prevaricating as to whether he is running or not, we are not prepared.  I pick up his running number on Thursday (working in London for the day helped enormously with this one, but oh my goodness, what a trek to the Excel Centre) and on return home, the jury is still out!  Only on Saturday morning is the decision made that we are going.  Yes the Wyatt’s like to keep this running lark a family affair with us all in tow to offer moral support.

So, were we prepared for this year?  With places agreed along the course, including whether we would be on the right or the left to allow for easy sighting plus ‘suggested’ timings, what could go wrong?  A husband who decides that he’s feeling OK with a faster than planned time which throws out our timings before we even leave the first sighting point at Surrey Quays - that’s what!  With thanks to Richard and Jerry at this point, who we spotted really easily as they were ‘on the pace’, I nearly missed my beloved (I’m 6 minutes quicker at this point than I said I would be) Steve!

The race is on and the challenge has been set.  Can we make it to Shadwell at 13 miles before he does?  Of course we can and whilst our excessive shouting of his name and waving of the race clackers caused a quick glance over the shoulder, we were not really seen.  On well, no time to ponder as we must get going to Blackwall and the 19 mile point.  Through nifty footwork (“come on children run”) we make it with time to spare and see Paula for the third time, Jensen for the first and Richard and Jerry and then Steve.  At this point, I’ve thrown away the schedule as it bears no resemblance to reality, but at least the timings have moved in a positive direction.  As soon as we see the heels of Steve, we start on the last leg. 

A quick sprint back to the DLR, all trains via Canary Wharf (who wants to go there when the race is already 2.5 hours old) and then onto Tower Gateway.  How can I describe the purgatory of this area?  I’ve never seen so many people as there were this year and they all wanted to go our way!  With a 10 minute queue to even get into the Underground, let alone get on a train, our plans for a final sighting at 25 miles were doomed.  We still ran from the station to the mile marker, managed to squeeze our way through but no, he had already gone past!

On well, more running to Trafalgar Square (look children, Nelson’s Column) and our rendezvous point at letter W.  Typically a great place to meet where we are normally relaxed with the picnic ready for our runner.  Not this year, when I get a ‘where are you?’ phone call with beloved already waiting for us as the family fights its way through the crowds across Horse Guards Parade. 

What a relief!  A much better than expected time achieved and a very proud wife.  I think I always knew, that when I married the man, I married the running shoes too!


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