This was my 4th London marathon and one I was very much looking forward to. I had deferred my good for age 2017 entry due to a stress fracture of my left foot and it had been two years since my last stand alone marathon which was in fact in 2016 guided by Tim Hemming. This was a long awaited race for me. Not the easiest as London is incredibly congested at the best of times, even if you start from the front. There are so many talented runners from across the world competing in this iconic and prestigious marathon.
So, for me it was a mouth watering prospect to see whether or not I could equal or better what I achieved back in 2016 which was a 3.o1.58 finish. I found a new guide who volunteered to guide me back in December. David Chapman who had a proven track record in brutal Ironman events such as Norseman which he completed multiple times. David and his girlfriend had been Facebook friends and we had mutual triathlon friends also. The tri community is relatively small, growing but we all know each other. I certainly knew David was made of tough stuff. But, I didn’t know him particularly well back in December 2017. So, we went for a short training run over Xmas. I felt a little tired and was breathing heavily at the time and, David hardly seemed to break sweat. This guy is awesome, I thought.
The training over the winter was hard going with all the snow and ice. I got a bad cold during February and it took a lot out of me. I wasn’t able to train consistently but promised myself that I would keep my long runs going. Despite a heavy cold I trained through. It was going to make me or break me. Either way, I was determined not to take a whole week off training. I wasn’t the only one suffering. I know that there were a lot of people affected with chest infections and other viral type illnesses. The snow also played its part in stopping me from going out on long road runs. So it meant a lot of tedious training on the tred mill. When I did go for long runs it was great being able to get out with my good friend Chris Sherwood and I also completed long runs with David.
I learned that David was doing a 100 mile ultra marathon 2 weeks before our Gloucester 20 race. I wondered whether David would recover in time for the race, but he seemed unflustered and pretty confident that he would be ready. However, this being David’s first 100 mile race neither of us knew what shape he would be in for the 20 mile race on 25 March 2018. It would be a good test for us both. I have written a previous blog covering the race in great detail. Suffice to say that after 2 laps of 3 David wasn’t able to sustain the pace and had to bail out. I was rescued by a friend who kindly guided me to finishing the race. At this point I was actually starting to worry whether David would recover for London. Only time would tell.
Three weeks later and it’s the weekend before the London marathon. I was browsing my Facebook newsfeed and I saw a post from David’s girlfriend checking in to the airport to fly out to Spain from East Midlands airport. I knew David and Tina had planned to go to Spain but the penny had dropped now that in fact he would be flying back from Spain the day before the race. I got in contact with him to check when his flight was due back in to England. He told me that he would be getting in at 12.30 pm on Saturday 21 April. He then had to make his way to the Excel Exhibition Centre to register for the race. No race numbers were going to be issued after 5 pm and therefore anyone who didn’t collect their race numbers were not going to be able to race. So, I have to admit I began to get anxious as to whether David would actually make the start line if there would be any travel issues such as flight delays or cancelations, or other public transport issues. During the week David sent me a message saying that there were storms due over the weekend. I started to panic thinking that this would delay his flight. When I asked whether these were storms in Spain he clarified that the storms were forecast for London. Panic over! In fact this was good news as far as I was concerned. It was evident from the weather forecast that it was going to be the hottest London marathon on record. Numerous emails and warnings were issued by the race organisers to be sensible and revise any target times runners had in mind. I was hoping for a 3 hour or less marathon. As I had run in Barcelona as part of my Ironman world Record attempt back in October 2016 in the searing heat I wasn’t too fazed. I also ran the Hungerton 7 mile race in 2015 when it was 33 degrees and coped fairly well. How bad could it get?
I registered for London on Friday with the help of my wonderful daughter and popped back to Leicester on the same day. Best to sleep in my own bed I thought. The following day (Saturday 21 April) I travelled down to London by myself. Originally the plan was to meet David for us to register together but with his flight coming in mid afternoon I thought it best he concentrate on getting to the Excel Exhibition Centre. I got off the train myself at 2.30 pm and wondered down the platform with the aid of my white cane. Walt was being looked after by my brilliant support worker Abby and her husband Mike. I couldn’t hear anyone else around me, just the sound of the train engines going. Oh heck I thought, I really hope I wasn’t heading the wrong way as I might end up back in Leicester!
Eventually I came to the barrier and a member of staff ushered me through the gate where I was met by my brother and his girlfriend. We went for something to eat. It was great to see them both and, so happy.
My brother and Laura (his girlfriend) then helped me to get to my hotel in North Greenwich. David was waiting in reception. It was a relief to hook up with him finally. We were both registered and it only remained for us to prepare for the race the following morning.
Breakfast at the Intercontinental isn’t cheap. £20 a head and it was quite honestly no different to the breakfast one would get at the Premier Inn. I expected at least a waitering service. Nope, not even that. Oh well you live and you learn.
Breakfast downed and it was time to set off for the bus. We got to the bus stop around 8.30. The first bus pulled up and we asked the driver if he was going to Black Heath. “No, there are no busses going through to Black Heath today.” Oh yes, all the roads were closed for the marathon! How inconvenient.
We turned back and headed to the tube station and made our way to Black Heath. We arrived around 9.30. Kit Bags had to be loaded on to the Lorries and then there was no time to waste but to try to get to the front of the pack. The heat was rising already. It was 18 degrees and the sun was beating down on us. I decided to wear a hat to keep the worst of it off. I made sure I drank plenty of water. I also ensured that I went for a loo break before racing. My bladder was a little too full when I did Gloucester. I wasn’t going to make that mistake again.
A marshal kindly helped us to get right to the front. We were practically behind the championship start. The countdown began and before I knew it we were set off!
The throng of runners was incredible. There is no race like it where quite simply you are surrounded by other competitors and there is very little room for error. My foot touched other runner’s feet a couple of times and I was lucky to stay on my feet. It was so hot, but nothing I couldn’t handle. My mouth did feel dry but I knew I had hydrated enough beforehand. There was going to be plenty of water on the course so that was OK.
Our first mile was 7.53. That was slow. Back in 2016 our first mile was completed in 6.45. Minutes. Well, it was hot I thought, so bound to be a bit slower. And, it was very crowded so we couldn’t exactly accelerate. The first water station came along and David passed me a bottle. I took a sip handed it back to David. Damn, I had forgotten to empty it on my head to cool me down. I won’t forget next time.
3 miles in and I was still feeling hot. We had increased the pace. I started to breathe a little heavier and David asked me if I was OK. “Yes mate.” I replied. I still felt OK but a little too warm. At mile four I decided to ditch the hat and tossed it in to the crowd. All of a sudden I felt a little lighter. The hat had got a little wet and it was trapping some of the heat. It had to go, even though it was one of my favourite GB hats.
We had got to 10 kilometres in around 44 minutes. Slower than I wanted but I thought it wasn’t too late to make up time. Let’s see how we go when we get to halfway. 10 miles in and David informed me that the 3 hour pacer was out of sight, ahead of us. When we got to 21 kilometres (13.1 miles) the time on the clock was 1.35. Well down on where I wanted to be. So, I picked up the pace slightly. I actually felt really good. My legs felt strong and I felt a lovely breeze on my face which helped to cool me down. I felt great and was really confident that I could do the second half quicker than the first. That would bag me a good for age time at least and easy entry for next year if I wanted it.
Unfortunately when we reached mile 14 I could tell David was beginning to struggle. He apologised and said,
“Sorry Has but my quads are feeling it, you’re going to have to go easier.”
My heart sank. I felt a mixture of anger and frustration. I couldn’t believe that 4 months of training my heart and soul out was going to lead to a disappointing result. There was nothing I could do. As we slowed down other runners started passing us by. Even though we had slowed considerably I kept finding myself pulling David hoping, that I could somehow persuade his legs to kick back in to action.
By mile 16 David had to walk. His legs couldn’t manage the gentle ascents. There aren’t many hills in London, it is a relatively flat course. However, if your legs are going on strike then even the smallest of climbs seem like mountains. And, it seemed like a mountain to climb for us both. How long was this going to take us I thought.
I twisted my ankle twice on bottles that people had failed to throw to the side and managed to fall over some poor guy who collapsed in front of us. None of this stopped me from wanting to finish. I thought of Mary who was waiting to meet me at the PDSA welcome reception. I knew she was tracking me and would be aware that something had gone wrong but that we were still on the move.
We got to around mile 23 and were walking and jogging at this point. We stopped to walk again for another stretch and it got too much for me. Whilst no one would have noticed with all the sweat on my face, tears started to stream down my face as I silently cried. I thought of all the hopes and aspirations I had to do my very best. All the hard work I had put in to this race and it wasn’t my fault. David had apologised a few times to me and at one stage I told him it didn’t matter, it was only a race. I said it to make him feel better and hoped it would have the same affect on me. But, at that moment there were so many emotions going through my mind. Things that had happened over the past year I have struggled with on a personal level, a friendship lost, challenges I have had to overcome…maybe I had to be brought down to earth. I know that for many even getting as far as I did would have been a major achievement. I do get that, of course I do. And, I applaud those people. But, for me, it was truly heartbreaking at that moment. Yet, it was liberating to get those emotions purged. I am not ashamed to cry from time to time. This was the moment to let it out.
A short while later I got a tap on the back. Oh goodness it was Tim Hemming! He was also walking. It was so good to see him and have his reassuring arm across my shoulder. We started slow jogging again, soon to be passed by Tim.
I decided at this point to enjoy the crowds. I started waving and blowing kisses to everyone. Heck I had the time to do it and it helped to lift my spirits. I know that David was also hurting physically and emotionally too. He is a thoroughly decent man. We spent over 12 hours together and he helped to support me at the hotel and getting to the race. I know he is kind and caring as many of my friends are. There was no way he would have wanted to let me down and I was conscious that I didn’t want him to feel bad.
As we got to the finishing line I felt a sense of relief that it was over. We made our way to the Grand Hotel where the PDSA team made us feel very welcome. I hadn’t raised funds for them this year but had raised over £700 in 2016. Still, Rosie Gibbons and team invited us in which was very kind. My training partner Chris Sherwood who is a vet with them was doing his 10th marathon.
My eventual finishing time was 3.38. Not my slowest marathon by far but a long way off my best 2.59.23 in 2014. After we had showered I caught up with David and gave him a big man hug. I do hope he races with me again but will insist that he doesn’t do a stupid ultra marathon a couple of weeks beforehand!
My next race is a half Ironman in Staffordshire on 10th June 2018 with Marc Laithwaite and then the big World Record Ironman attempt in Barcelona on 7 October 2018. If you want to know more about how I broke the World Record in 2016 you can do so in my autobiography “From Blind Man to Ironman.”
My 2018 London Marathon splits were:
Average Minutes per mile: