Sunday 21st April 2013
By Michael Mansfield
Why run a marathon?
Because it has iconic significance as the long distance challenge for runners.
Because many of the runners I’ve met in the last two years, had done one or were aiming to.
Because running 5kms every week is like a soft drug which gets you hooked and leads to much harder stuff.
Because it was an unrivalled opportunity to gather funds for two causes close to my heart: Multiple Sclerosis which impacts my family life and diabetes which is much of my life at work.
Why the London Marathon ?
Because it is the greatest mass participation event in the world.
It starts on Blackheath, the part of London where I was schooled.
Because I remember going to see the first London marathon with my dad when I was 18. He’s now 80 and I’m 50 and I wanted to give him something extra to be proud of.
Because having failed on the general ballot I was lucky enough to have my name pulled from the hat for one of the places Roundhay Runners were given as a UKA-affiliated running club.
What was the training like ?
It was about 5 months of 4 runs a week building up distances, often in sub-zero temperature and/or wind and/or rain and with the odd half marathon thrown in (The Brass Monkey sadly snowed off, and a very cold windy Silverstone Adidas Half in early March). For me this training was time-consuming and often energy-sapping and the advice to ensure full friends & family support in advance had been really helpful (Thanks Sarah Oldroyd for that advice). My whole life away from work became planned around the training runs.
I followed a training plan on the My Asics website. With hindsight I’d been too optimistic about my target time which I based on the Race predictor website and my Leeds Half and Great North Run times. This estimated I could run a marathon in 3:45.In the last few weeks of training, having spoken to experienced marathon runners I learned much more about estimating marathon times. In short, to get near my Race Predictor estimated time I’d need to have been running perhaps 50miles a week for some months. My training plan took me up to “only” about 35 miles in a week. Anyway, may be that’s a topic for another posting. So I downgraded my target to 4 hours and continued training only to be disappointed when my longest training run of 35km (accompanied at the start by Ann Chivers and Pete Wilkie) suggested I’d struggle to get round a full marathon in under 4:20.
What was it like on marathon weekend?
Well, it was always going to be emotional, and the Boston marathon events did nothing to decrease the intensity. The support from friends, family and fellow Roundhay Runners, on those few days before was both unexpected and overwhelming.
The organisation in London seemed flawless to me. The whole city was resonating with runners, excitement and references to the marathon.
You had to register at the Marathon Expo which is held in the Excel Centre, just across the river from the Millennium Dome (aka O2 Arena). If you like shopping for running gear then you’ll love the Expo. It opened on the Wednesday before and the last possible time to register was late Saturday afternoon.
The Marathon started at a fairly civilised 10AM considering you’re in London already and public transport is quick and free to runners. It was busy and congested at the start and running with the bulk of the field it became a bit congested at other narrowings too. It is a net downhill course and the downhill is nearly all in the first few miles. Otherwise it is flat compared to hilly Leeds, although after 24 miles the up-slopes out of the underpasses on the Embankment felt steeper than they are.
What really makes the marathon unique is the support along the route. The spectators lining every possible sidewalk, raised wall, pub balcony, windows etcwere vocal, funny, encouraging and simply wouldn’t let you get away with walking past.Seeing the different mix of Londoners in the suburbs of Woolwich, Greenwich, Deptford,Rotherhithe, Docklands and so on was really interesting. Also my stomach was spared the need for any more than one energy gel as I picked up bananas, orange segments and jelly babies from spectators.
Now it may be obvious to you already,but as you run amarathon for the first time, it becomes clearer than ever that 26.2 miles is a very long way to run. For the first 13 miles I was spot on target pace for a 4 hour finish. But something happened after Tower Bridge and I found despite similar effort going in my pace had slowed up just a bit. Then by 17 miles I started getting cramps in my thighs and occasionally calf muscles. It was the friendly, unrelenting encouragement from the crowd that forced me on. The advice to get my name printed on the front and back of my running vest turned out to make such a big difference.
Despite sticking to my training plan rigorously, I’d run further than 17 miles only 3 times before I ran VLM. There’s a balance to be struck between conditioning your muscles (and brain) and tiring yourself out. So this was really unfamiliar and uncomfortable territory for me. Those last 9 miles were what marathon running is all about. If it wasn’t so hard, there’d be no challenge, no value in doing it.
The last mile was good though. By Big Ben it was clear I was going to finish and would be running as I did. The final turn in front of Buckingham Palace on to the Mall revealed a thankfully short final stretch to the finish line.
I finished in a very respectable 4:20:41. Pulled myself together put on my medal and went to have my finisher photo taken.
I’m so glad I took this on and very grateful to Roundhay Runners for giving me the chance to run it this year. Also, I’ve learned not to be so coy: please feel free to contribute to my fund-raising: www.virginmoneygiving.com/michaelmansfield