Whenever people write this, I find it so clichéd and corny, that I normally skim over it wondering why they bother. I must have read it a thousand times, I wish I could find a more unique or genuine way of expressing it. But I can’t. So, here it is, and I apologise in advance if it bores you.
Thankyou so much for all your messages, it meant so much to me and I am really really grateful for the support.
There, I feel much better now I’ve got it off my chest. In all seriousness, the amount of texts and emails was overwhelming. My phone was still beeping away inside my bag as I loaded it onto the kit lorry just before the race.
On the starting line the sun is out and I am buzzing. I haven’t had caffeine for 2 weeks so the energy drink has gone straight to my head. I am standing right behind the elites and can see Keninisa Bekele (best runner ever) right there. I wave at Prince Harry and he waves back directly at me, although the 40,000 people behind are thinking the same thing. Bamboléo is playing and I am dancing along. I’m going to enjoy this.
My plan is to run 5.20 mile splits, which would give me a 2.20 marathon. I get into a good, solid group alongside James Douglas and Rob Samuel. I know they are both strong runners and looking for about the same time as me. We are going abit faster than 5.20 pace, but it is feeling easy and calm. “Don’t do any running until mile 20”, I tell myself. Meaning, no pain until then, just nice and relaxed and within yourself.
I am taking little sips of water whenever I can grab a bottle. My breathing is under control, my legs feel fresh, and everything is great. At Cutty Sark, around mile 6, the cheering is deafening, the only word I can find to describe it is “volcanic”. James takes it upon himself to wave at everyone, I imagine this is the first interaction the crowd have had from a runner, the Kenyans ahead of us don’t wave much, so everyone just erupts. It is impossible to stay cool, we run that mile in 5.07.
Things back under control, the group has whittled down considerably. Rob is ahead, and James and I pass halfway in 69.50, almost perfect, I am still feeling in control. At mile 15 I am starting to tire a little bit, and by mile 17 I have lost James and am on my own through the hardest part of the course, Canary Wharf. It is twisty, and the crowds aren’t as thick. Also the high towers seem to make it windy in there.
I am struggling on my own and I know the pace is dropping, Jonathan Poole and a foreign runner come past me at around mile 19 and I thank my lucky stars. I cling onto them for dear life and it is working a charm. Mile 20 and we are heading for home. We pass Johnny Hay, a pro runner, and are catching up on Tom Payn. As we pass him I get a really bad stitch, the same one I sometimes get in races, and by mile 21 I am brought to a standstill. Hands on my knees I try to catch my breath as the crowd goes eerily silent.
I am watching the guys run away from me, time stands still. At these moments, you have no control over what comes into your head. I remember a conversation I had with my 3 year old boy that morning,
JIM – Daddy, are you going to win the race?
ME – I am going to try my best
I know Jim is waiting for me at mile 25. There is no way I can leave him there looking down the road in vain. I’m not going home tonight to say “Daddy dropped out because he had a really bad stitch and felt sorry for himself”.
There is only “Daddy tried his best and finished the race”.
So I take as many deep breaths as I can while I wait for the next runners to catch up to me. I tag on to them. They are not going as fast, but my body won’t let me go any faster. My form and rhythm are all gone, I am running ugly, “freestyling” the Kenyans call it. I try to calculate how bad the damage is, how much time I have lost, how much time I am still losing, it is freaking me out, I tell myself…
I say it to myself again and again, it really helps. Slowly the miles tick by, at mile 24 I pass Chris Thompson and Andy Lemoncello, two more pros who are having a worse day than me.
As I turn into the mall with 250m to go I can see the clock says 2.21.50. I know I can run a personal best so I close my eyes and pump my arms, I run right through my stitch, overtake someone, and it is all over. 2.22.37 is a 4 minute pb so I am happy with it, but I badly wanted the sub 2.20. The pain in my side is awful, I want to lie down and moan, but the dozens of volunteers are clapping me. I hide the ache until it fades. I see Rob and James and we do big hugs.
The walk to the pub after is hard and takes forever. I meet my Kent AC teammates and we have won the team prize. Marathon legend John Gilbert buys me a Guinness, I can’t drink it, he tells me that is why I didn’t run sub 2.20. I have a few sips.
Walking back to the train station with the medal round my neck and people are clapping and patting me on the back, it feels pretty incredible. A busker is singing Coldplay, “Nobody said it was easy, no-one ever said it would be this hard”. I let a tear slip. I feel like I’ve let my wife down, I promised her I would run sub 2.20. And she deserved nothing less.
Back in Greenwich we have pizza and beer with my friends and family. It is a really perfect way to end the weekend. I sit back for a second and see all my loved ones around me in the sunshine, with a Little Mix song playing in the background (I love Little Mix, let the world know, see if I care).
There is a saying among athletes, “the harder you train the luckier you get”, but still, I am a very very lucky guy.