Sunday 21st April 2013
By Dan Clark
Sunday April 21st dawned clear, bright and cool in London as I apprehensively made my way from my hotel in North London to my race start point in Greenwich Park. The tube and Docklands Light Railway was uncharacteristically teeming at 8am with hordes of tracksuited, Lyrcraed, banana-gnawing, Powerade sipping competitors. As the train disgorged it’s cargo at Greenwich we met up with the streams of fellow runners marching up the hill to the start.
Stretches completed, fully hydrated and helpfully ushered in the right direction by one of a number of boundlessly enthusiastic stewards, I stood in Zone 7 awaiting the start. Cheers were heard as the big screen showed the lineup of elite runners and the camera settled on everyone’s hero of 2012 – Mo Farah. Then came the whistle for the start of the thirty second silence to remember those killed and injured in the horrific attacks on the Boston Marathon, heads dropped low in respect and a resounding hush settled across the entire park, tens of thousands soundless in remembrance.
After that, the race began in earnest and after a fifteen minute wait I finally arrived at the start line. This is where I immediately forgot everything I had been told. Not having done the marathon before I found myself held up behind a lot of runners slower than myself and proceeded to spend my time darting through available gaps and sprinting towards ever narrowing spaces, always aware that I was playing catch up with my pace and my splits.
Mile after mile ticked by as I continued weaving my way through the crowd, unhappy with a pace that was a minute off my average and before I knew it, I was at mile 9. Simple, I thought, with the reasoned logic of a brain-dead chicken, I’m already a third of the way through the race just keep up the good work. The day grew warmer as the sun beamed down from a cloudless sky onto our capital and I approached Tower Bridge and the half way mark. As I listened in disbelief to the man running next to me phone his wife from his iPhone and give her an update via his hands-free kit I began to feel the dreaded fingers of fatigue clawing their way up my calves to my hamstrings and my thighs.
I had friends coming to watch me at mile 17 and I tried to use this as inspiration as I wound towards the Isle of Dogs and it’s comparatively faceless and forgettable streets. I saw those friends and their shouts of support and smiling faces definitely helped but I knew then that something was wrong. I had gone out far too fast and there was no getting away from it. Now I knew why all the magazines and literature handed out by the organisers warned that runners would definitely not hit their predicted time. Despite the adrenalin and the relatively flat course, the sheer volume of runners combined with the sections of tight London road mean that a runner will never get anywhere near their usual pace and they need to be aware of that.
Miles 19 to 21 were the hardest, it seemed as if the mile markers would never appear and with every step my muscles flooded with more lactic acid, the leaden tread seeming to drag me backwards rather than propel me forwards. After that however, it did become easier, I slowed my pace dramatically, more a decision made by my body rather than my mind, and the mile markers began to tick by again. The House of Parliament were visible in the distance and I used them as an anchor point before I finally rounded the final straight onto the Mall and took those few painful strides over the line.
I finished in 3:50 and overwhelming disappointment was my first reaction, I had let everyone down. My sponsors, my family, my friends at the running club and mainly myself. As they hung the medal around my neck, my mind ran through a gamut of emotions each one magnified by the pain and aching that screamed from my weary muscles. However, as I sat down in a nearby pub with a well deserved pint of ale, I began to experience a whole new raft of sensations with one key emotion shining through.
Pride. In myself at the doing the race, yes. The time wasn’t what I wanted but this was my first marathon and my first experience of how it actually worked. Next time the expectations won’t be so high and I will run a completely different race. But mainly pride in the city of London and our country and the show that we can put on. Every mile along the way was stacked to the rafters with well-wishers and supporters, urging, encouraging and shouting each runner’s name like a personal support crew. From the man in Rotherhithe playing rave music from a sound system on his balcony, to the Morris dancers, to the steel drummers, to the cheerleaders, every single person played their part in getting each and every runner round.
On a sunny spring day what better way for the world to show Boston it’s support, to show hate it will never win, and to show that there is still nothing that can match the human endeavour of both competitor and spectator than the marathon.