#10 / 12 Virtual London Marathon, 04 October 2020 05:15:40

The plan

It was great to be able to participate in the 40th Anniversary London marathon – albeit virtually. Tom had laid out a course around Windsor Park comprising two laps. Windsor has been the site of several previous half marathons with widely varying results. The course itself was inch perfect and the 26.2 mark was actually a white painted line across the road exactly as predicted!

The plan was a simple one – run a whole marathon with Tom at an easy pace and enjoy it.. Tom is my longstanding marathon partner but he and I had never actually run a whole marathon together. We’d started and finished 5 of the same races but different start waves or different form meant we never crossed the line together. Along the way we’ve had a great time hitting a few big city marathons – London, New York, Chicago, Berlin, Milan – each with its own story.

Getting started

The weather was pretty foul with the temperature around 9C and steady rain for most of the way. This was not really a bother as it was just a case of having the right gear. We parked up just before 8am and kitted out with two flasks of tailwind for hydration which we replenished at the halfway mark as we passed back by the car.

We got off to a great start and managed to not egg each other on to a pace beyond what we could sustain (or enjoy) – a common error when we start together 🙂 As Tom hilariously pointed out it can be a bit like Rocky and Apollo on the beach (without the 80’s short shorts).

The goal was to keep to a conversational 10:00 min/mile, it should have been comfortable for the whole distance.

Right from the start we saw several other runners with numbers and the sense of the virtual race added a great dimension to the day. Seeing others taking part was a feature for the whole run. The park is a popular destination and despite the weather there were loads of walkers and runners out and about and a few who recognised what we were up to gave us a cheer. Not quite the cacophony heard in the real event but very welcome nonetheless.

The grind

After a half mile or so my watch pinged me as it always does with a “performance condition” of “-4”. This is a number ranging apparently from -20 to +20 (though I’ve never seen anything outside of about -6 to +6). It’s based on pace, heart-rate and heart-rate variability and is intended to give a measure of “ability to perform”. I’ve never really put any stock in this but how accurate (even conservative) it turned out to be here.

The first 6 miles ticked over just under 1 hour, perfect pace. Things were OK but not as easy as they should have been. By mile 9, however, I had to walk for the first time. What was going on here? This was unprecedented and very unpleasant. Suddenly, from nowhere I was just wrung-out. I felt like I’d run 40 miles.

It’s not a great prospect staring down 17 miles in that shape but I knew what to do. Unfortunately it meant withdrawing from the social side of the run. I had to turn inwards and just focus on “the next”. Next 10, next 5 next 1. The pace continued to drop. My legs were screaming and it seemed that someone had removed my battery. It wasn’t that “hit the wall at 20” no energy bonk sensation. This was something else.

I spent some time trying to get on top of it. Trying to take control thinking that there was no real physical reason for this – perhaps if I could just get my head right? Nope. So there it was – reduced to a crawl with frequent spells of walking.

The lesson

It seems the marathon can still bite hard – perhaps I’ve become a bit casual about it. The 2-3 weeks leading into the run were particularly hectic at work. We were in the process of launching a new product to adapt for the world of virtual events. I’m in charge of the software for my business and it has been a tough year given our solution is for the events industry – a sector decimated by COVID. So, the lead-in was characterised by a lot of stress, very early mornings, long days and virtually no training. I thought my base would carry me – I’d been for a comfortable 16 miler just 2 weeks prior.

I can only think it was these factors which led to my demise. I had not felt this bad at any stage of the 100miler. For that run, however,  I’d focused a lot on mental preparation and rest the week before – it clearly worked and made a big difference. I had now seen the other end of that spectrum first-hand and it wasn’t pretty.

Clearly a marathon is enough of a challenge to require both physical and mental prep for success. Just doing one a month does not provide a quality base. It’s fairly obvious when you think about it but it seems it is also possible to miss this (ahem).

What next

Tom is such a good friend – he just gave me the space I needed to get the run done and I’m grateful to him for that. For him it was a horrible yo-yo’ing run. Despite my lack of participation it was still really great to be out with him pounding the paths around Windsor Park – we have history and memories there and we added some new ones this day.

It feels good to tick off number 10 but frustrating that it was what it was. I’m thinking to map out a local trail run for November and then finish on the road hoping to salvage some dignity for the final one. One thing is for sure – I’m going to get back into a regular training regime. I’ve let things slide and I need to fix that.

So, onwards, there’s always something to learn!

A few quotes to remind me why I run – these resonate with me…

“I’ll be happy if running and I can grow old together.”

– Haruki Murakami

“I run because if I didn’t, I’d be sluggish and glum and spend too much time on the couch. I run to breathe the fresh air. I run to explore. I run to escape the ordinary. I run…to savor the trip along the way. Life becomes a little more vibrant, a little more intense. I like that.”

– Dean Karnazes

“If you run, you are a runner. It doesn’t matter how fast or how far. It doesn’t matter if today is your first day or if you’ve been running for twenty years. There is no test to pass, no license to earn, no membership card to get. You just run.”

– John Bingham


Categories: Race Report