All done. (And all done in.)

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So here it is. Proof that somehow, I got around the 26.2 miles of the London Marathon, without passing out, vomiting or just giving up and sitting down in the street – all of which I felt like doing several times.

It was so hard. I really, really underestimated how hard. Having run 18.9 miles in four hours, I reckoned I might be able to manage 26 in five. But I reckoned entirely without the extraordinarily cumulative effect of tiredness upon tiredness; ache upon ache.

Until now, the most gruelling time of my life was trying to stay awake through Wendy’s 72-hour labour with Tom, our first boy. But let’s face it, the gruel level was stratospherically higher for Wendy herself. All I had to do was keep my eyes open. This was so much tougher. Not as emotionally draining, but physically unbelievable.

Marathon gathering

The crowds gathering in Greenwich

Marathon Red Start

At the Red Start, feeling a bit funny.

Marathon start

Waiting for the off.

The atmosphere at the start was pretty amazing. We were herded into our zones (I was in Zone 8, Marathon completists), and stood about for what felt quite a long time, but without any whinging or grumpiness. It didn’t hurt that the sun was out properly for perhaps the first time this year, which boosted spirits enormously.

Up ahead I could see the huge BBC camera crane, with the Red Start blimp floating to its right, and a helicopter hovering to its left. (See above.) It all felt completely unreal, so it was reassuring to hear someone say exactly that nearby:

‘This doesn’t feel real at all, does it?’ he said to his running mate. ‘It’s like we were doing our training and suddenly someone pressed fast-forward and here we are in London.’

That was exactly it. Running the frost-hardened fields of Surrey, the viciously cold Manhattan streets, or the balmy stretches of the Golden Gate Bridge, the idea that at some point in the future I’d actually be starting the real, live London Marathon felt like a fantasy.

Then they announced the 30-second silence for Boston. I half-heard the guy on the PA telling people it was coming, but it seemed to be lost among the excited chatter of 35,000-odd people.

Then the whistle blew, and silence fell like a window slammed against a storm. Standing among those thousands of people, in the capital city, with not a word spoken – not even a stifled cough or sneeze – was extraordinary.

One moment there was the low-level clamour of thousands of excited voices. Next, there was only the breeze, and birdsong, and your own thoughts of that appalling moment across the Atlantic. The applause at the end felt like an affirmation of human resolve and fellow-feeling. It was worth running 26 miles just to be part of it. (Video here.)

Then we were shuffling forward, bit by bit, and the reality began to dawn that I was actually here, and would actually have to run those 26 miles or look very silly indeed.

The first half was pretty good, actually. I kept a decent pace, and although the soles of my feet were hurting quite a lot by about the third mile, they calmed down again and left me alone after a while. (Probably because they were drowned out by the increasingly shrill cries of my hips and buttocks.)

At mile 13, I found the Children’s Trust cheering station. Three friends of ours were running for that charity, so they’d let my family in too: my wife Wendy was waiting with the aforementioned Tom (now 8) and my mother-in-law, Jean. They snapped me as I arrived, looking distinctly warm but still fairly happy:

At the half-way point

At the half-way point

From there, things got progressively harder. I’d run this far before, but only a couple of times. And it was showing. (Of course, if I’d done any more long-distance training, I might not have been able to run the marathon at all, thanks to my various injuries.)

By 18 miles I knew I was in for an incredibly tough final stage. My hip-flexes (as I’ve learned to call them) were really complaining, and it felt like I was being kicked quite hard in the arse every few steps. I’d started to allow myself short walk rests, but it was increasingly hard to get started again.

All the way round, though, the crowds were incredible. I was glad that I’d been advised to write my name on my vest – you can’t deny the psychological force of people shouting , ‘Come on Mike, you can do it, Mike!’ all the way round.

Marathon 20 miles

The 20-mile mark

There was a point, at something like 22 miles, when I felt totally beaten. I’d slowed to a dejected walk, and was allowing myself to think that I might just have to walk the rest. (Although the thought of how long that would take was almost unbearable.) Then a little knot of people at the roadside yelled, ‘Come on, Mike! Don‘t give up mate, you can do it. Come on Mike!’

I mugged at them and forced myself back into a run, earning their cheers. I was off again. I’m really not sure I’d have managed that without them. (Or without the many people who handed out sweets and slices of orange – I got around thanks mainly to jelly babies.)

There was also a fire station at, I think, about 8 miles, where one of the guys had the fire hose spraying into the road – I ran over to it and straight through the water, which was blissful in the unexpected heat.

But even with all the incredible support, I found myself heading towards Victoria Embankment and the final stretch feeling sure I’d have to walk the final couple of miles.

Indeed, I was walking as I went into what had been temporarily branded ‘the Lucozade Tunnel of Yes’, which had been decked out in lights beaming encouraging slogans. But I decided I really wanted to be running when I saw the family again – they were at the ICAN station on the 25-mile mark. I’d run to there if I could, I decided, and then see how much more I could do.

Marathon 25 miles

At 25 miles

I managed it, although my running was, by then, little more than a trot. I said hello to the family, and it was lovely to see them. Then I set off again, and told myself: less than a mile, less than a mile.

The crowd was really critical now, and they rose to the occasion wonderfully, cheering all of us slower runners on to the end. It was absolutely a matter of just one more step, but somehow I kept running around past Big Ben, up to St James’s Park, and down to the 800 METRES TO GO! sign.

After that there are signs every 200 metres. I remembered, right at the beginning, there’d been a sign saying TOILETS 200 METRES, and the toilets seemed to appear almost instantly. So 200 metres really couldn’t be that far, right? I tell you: the intervening 26 miles make each of those final 200-metre stretches feel like a marathon in itself.

But I found that I was still just about meeting the technical description of running as I stepped onto the pink surface of the Mall. By this point you’re hearing your name as a near-constant throb in your ears, which is a pretty incredible feeling.

If I could run this far, I decided, I could bloody well run across the line. And I even picked up speed – probably by about 0.25% – as I hit that final short straight of the Mall to the big clock at the end.

Crossing the line felt, at that moment, far more like relief than triumph. I was well and truly done in, with a constant piano-wire of pain on the inside of both hips and a very sore bum indeed.

Even mounting the little raised platform you have to go onto to let them take the timing tag of your shoes felt like a challenge. And the walk to collect my bag, and then find the family in Horse Guard’s Road, seemed to take forever.

But I found them, and they gave me a Penguin and let me lie down. Which was heaven.

Marathon finish

Done.

Somehow, I followed them to the Tube and we got ourselves home. (Meeting a couple of fellow runners on the way: the sudden camaraderie with perfect strangers is a lovely by-product of the Marathon.)

At home, my lovely sister-in-law Kay had laid on dinner, and it was fantastic to eat proper food again. (I’d eaten porridge and banana at about 6am, and had nothing but water, Lucozade, gels and jelly babies for the subsequent 13 hours.)

Then I had a blissful hot bath, fell asleep in it, tried to sit up on the sofa with Wendy, fell asleep again, and took myself to bed. I slept like a log for nine hours.

It was quite a day. But looking back, the exhaustion and pain fade very quickly in comparison to the overriding delight in people sharing something very special. The connection with the crowds really is quite overwhelming, especially when they know your name. And the sense of people getting together ultimately to help others – charitable giving is definitely the dominant theme of the day – is fantastic.

Especially after the horrors of Boston, it was impossible not to feel one’s faith in humanity re-ignited. In the end, there were two bombers in Boston, against tens of thousands of runners, and millions of supporters – at the events and watching on screens. As the news continues to feed us stories – important stories – of the evils of the world, it’s worth being reminded that the odds are still stacked in favour of the good.

I even think I might have another go next year. And that really is saying something.

Last of all, thank you again to everyone who’s sponsored me. It’s been phenomenal. I hoped to raise £2,000 for ICAN, and the total as I write is £2,415! With Gift Aid on top, that’s very nearly £3,000 for this superb charity. THANK YOU. You’re amazing.

It’s tomorrow!

Registration at ExCel yesterday

Registration at ExCel yesterday

It all, as they say, comes down to this. Which gives me a distinctly floaty, fluttery feeling in the tum, I have to say.

That feeling got fairly intense when I joined the streaming crowd draining off the DLR into the ExCel centre in London for Marathon registration yesterday.

When you consider this was just a random hour (about 11.30am) during one of the four or five days that registration is open, the number of people was astonishing – and some hint at what tomorrow (TOMORROW!) is going to feel like.

Anyway, little to report on the training front. As instructed, I’ve been resting and stretching, and therefore hopefully avoiding any horrors tomorrow. I went for a very short little run on Thursday morning – only 20 minutes, just to make sure the legs were still working really. I was in the Cotswolds at the time, with no signal on my phone at all, so you’ll have to trust me, not Nike+, on that one.

Most importantly, a very large number of stupendously lovely people have made sure that I not only reached my fundraising target of £2,000, but overshot it by quite some way. In fact, the donations are still coming in – I had two today!

With Gift Aid, the grand total is now £2,650, which is just fantastic. Thank you very much indeed to everyone who’s sponsored me. It’s very greatly appreciated.

Can I also give a shout-out to the other runners I know:

Jan Maybury, who’s running for the Children’s Trust, who cared for her late son, Mark.

Debbie Bishop, who’s running with Jan for the same charity. Oddly, I can’t find her page, but if you’d like to support her you can sponsor her and Jan together on Jan’s page!

Julie Willard, who’s also supporting the Children’s Trust.

Steve Kirkendall, who’s running for not one but two charities close to his heart.

Gemma Rowland, who had to pull out of last year’s race, but is back in this year for the charities who helped her little girl, Tess.

Good luck to everyone!

So. The plan now is rest, pasta and sleep. Then … Well, let’s cross that bridge (run that road/circle that park/crawl that Mall) when we come to it.

Deep breath…

10 miles, and something going ‘ba-doiing’ in my hip

After my 18.9-mile run on Saturday, my personal trainer Karen very kindly put together a plan for the rest of the time leading up to the Marathon on the 21st.

First on her list: ‘Run 10 miles’. So I did, yesterday morning, running from our house up the now-familiar roadside track towards Leatherhead. It turned out to be exactly five miles to the roundabout leading into Leatherhead, so I had a quick stretch there and turned for home.

The ever-scintillating Givons Grove roundabout approach

The ever-scintillating Givons Grove roundabout approach

It wasn’t easy – my legs must have still been tired from the hammering they got at the weekend – and there were many points where the devil on my shoulder was insisting that I just stop and walk for a bit. That devil is going to be pretty busy on April 21, I imagine, so it’s good to practise resisting him.

And I did: I ran the whole ten miles with only that 30-second stretch break at the midway point, and an even shorter break to sort out a wrinkle in my sock that was bugging me. The mental training is as important as the physical, I’m learning.

The only problem is, I seem to have done something unpleasant on the left side of what I can’t avoid having to call my groin. Some muscle in there gives a little squeal every time I make it stretch – even by getting out of the car, or turning to look behind me. Ouch.

I saw Karen again this morning for a scheduled training session, but less than a minute into my warm-up row, I could feel this annoying muscle twanging every time I stretched back to pull on the cable.

‘Okay, stop,’ said Karen. ‘I don’t think you should be doing anything with it like that. Let it totally rest for a couple of days and see how it goes.’

Slightly worrying, this, but I would imagine there’s time before the Marathon to get it sorted out. Even if I need to go back to the physio, or see a sports masseur, as Karen thinks I might.

My poor old body. It’s had a lovely time sitting about doing very little except write, watch TV, eat and drink for 20 years. Now I’m pushing it out the door and forcing it to run 19 miles on a Saturday afternoon. No wonder it’s complaining.

Fingers (and legs) crossed it all sorts itself out after a bit of rest.

18.9 miles!

Leatherhead viaduct

Mini-viaduct at Leatherhead

This was the biggest run yet (here it is on Nike+), and will be the biggest until I get to the Marathon, just three weeks away now.

Helen Esplen, the physiotherapist, had recommended I run an 18-miler this weekend, and then taper it off until the Big Day. So that’s what I set out to do. And, thank goodness, that’s what I did.

In fact I ran 18.9 miles, if you want to be pedantic about it. And believe me, I do. When every yard is a fight to stop yourself stopping (if you know what I mean), you want to count them all.

I tried to stay away from any major hills (successfully, I’m happy to say), running at first the same road I ran last weekend, to Leatherhead (5.7 miles away).

This time, thankfully, I wasn’t in the teeth of a bitter, snow-flecked wind (although snow came and went throughout the run), and when I hit Leatherhead I kept going, running around the edge of the town centre out towards, and then through, Great Bookham.

Bookham roundabout

At the Bockett’s Farm roundabout, heading to Bookham

Running this far, especially on your tod, means one of the great dangers is boredom. Good news, then, that I could plug into my phone, which is stuffed with Mayo & Kermode ‘Wittertainment‘ film review podcasts I haven’t otherwise had time to listen to. The latest two of those got me through about two thirds of this run.

Between Bookham and Effingham (which sound like unsavoury verb constructions: ‘Don’t book ’em while I’m effing ’em’), I cut left back towards Dorking (which sounds like a rather rude gerund itself), taking a slightly mistaken detour towards Polesden Lacey.

Retracing those steps, and listening to Kermode and Mayo’s entertaining interview with the great David Morrissey, I was passed by a cyclist who slowed down enough to ask how far I was running today, and (when I revealed it was 18 miles), asked if it was for the London Marathon.

I said it was, and he said that was brilliant, and wished me luck. Very decent and cheering of him, and a good fillip at that point – somewhere between 10 and 11 miles.

I found the right road – Chapel Lane – and headed towards Westhumble, with the sun suddenly breaking out and making the day feel remarkably springy.

Sheep at Westhumble

Westhumble sheep, with rare glimpse of sunshine.

I must have driven through Westhumble before, but running through the village I was struck by how ludicrously pretty it is. I passed beautiful house after beautiful house, snuggled in among winding lanes and ancient trees. If you were looking for a slice of Hollywood England, it would be as good a place as any.

As I came round the bend to Westhumble station, I came upon a family of walkers. The man pushing the buggy said, ‘Blimey, you’re covering some distance! We saw you an hour and a half ago!’ I felt a bit rude rejoining with little more than ‘Really?’ but I didn’t dare stop – I’d run about 13 miles by this point, and knew there were five more – about 8km – required. I hope he didn’t mind.

I hit the A25 and set off back towards Leatherhead again, knowing that it was 5.7km from my house to the town. So if I ran almost there, and then back again, I’d be fine.

I’d gone quite a long way before my brain caught up with itself, tapped itself on the shoulder and reminded itself it was 5.7 miles to Leatherhead. Not kilometres. Laughing ruefully at myself, I saw that if I turned around now and ran home, I’d actually do about 20 miles in total. Hey ho.

And so I ran back, with the sky turning from Quite Nice to Worryingly Glowery as I went. Snow speckled the air, and I hoped very much that it wasn’t about to get really nasty.

It didn’t, but it was cold enough for me to stop and put the trusty Howies merino back on. (I’d taken it off quite early in the run, surprised by how mild the day was.) I’d brought energy gels with me for the first time (and I’m profoundly glad I did), but they were gone now. It was just me and the road, all the way home.

Well, I made it into Dorking and through the park, all the way to Pump Corner, the base of the climb towards our house. (Why did we have to buy a house on a hill?) By this point I knew I’d passed 18 miles, but I was hoping I might squeeze 20.

But there was virtually nothing left in the legs. Or in the phone battery, and I was damned if I was going to miss having this run recorded. So I let myself stop, and hit End Run on Nike+ Running.

18.9 miles. I was shattered. But hey – the Marathon’s only another 6.3, right? I shall buy more gels, and hope the crowd carries me the rest of the way.

Postscript: The day after this run I went to see the wonderful Karen Marshall, my personal trainer. I explained what I’d been up to, and threw myself on her mercy.

A fatal error, as Karen has no mercy. ‘You really ought to be doing another run today,’ she explained, ‘so we’re going to put some work through your legs I’m afraid.’

I’m sure she was right, but I got home a limp rag of a man. Seriously, I’m working for this run. So if you haven’t already sponsored me, do express your admiration and sympathy by chucking a few quid in the pot if you can.

Thanks to the generosity of many (seriously, thank you all), I’m getting very close to my £2,000 target for ICAN. I’d be very grateful if you could help tip the balance. Cheers!

My first half-marathon

Setting off

 

Nike+ claims I ran a half-marathon back in November, and at a stonking pace too. But the subsequent months have convinced me that this must have been some sort of glitch on the app’s part – I’ve never again been able to match it.

No matter. I definitely ran one on Sunday. And in driving snow, too. The picture above is what greeted me as I left the house. It was barely snowing at the time, although the wind was vicious and the temperature somewhere around zero.

But you just have to get on with it don’t you? So I set off, and ran to Leatherhead – a little under six miles away – and back, adding a couple of off-road loops into the run to make up the required 13 miles.

Crossing the frosted railway, heading out of Dorking

Crossing the frosted railway, heading out of Dorking

The route was suggested by Mrs Reed, who very sensibly pointed out that the tarmac roadside path would be much easier to run on than the thick, slippery mud-world all the local trails had turned into. And she was right.

Even better, my new Eat More regime proved its worth: my energy levels were transformed, and I reached Leatherhead quicker and more easily than I could have expected.

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As I ran, the snow grew thicker in the air, although thankfully never quite developed into the blizzard it occasionally seemed to threaten. It came and went, and hardly settled, but having it whipped across you by that mean wind was fairly off-putting.

The good thing about running six miles away from home, of course, is that you have no choice but to run the six miles back again (with, as I say, some little extras to make the 13).

At Leatherhead, I made up some distance by detouring up a muddy track through the farmland, crossing an extremely high and energetic river Mole:

And meeting some hungry cows:

Then I doubled back and ran the roadside path again, taking a final little detour at the foot of Box Hill to make sure I hit 13 before I got home. Which I did. Thank heavens.

Yes, I was knackered, and yes, doing that distance twice in one day is a fairly daunting prospect. But with my newly improved knees, and considerably more protein and carbs fizzing round my system, I’m feeling a lot more confident.

I tested the legs on Tuesday morning with a quick morning run around Norbury Park, a local woodland. It was less than four miles, but involves a steep little climb (frozen mud: like running over shattered concrete), and that left me pretty exhausted.

But I remembered the wisdom of my trainer, who always says to keep going, just at a gentle jog, rather than stop. So I forced the legs on, and they gradually submitted and got on with it. You do learn, doing this stuff, how much more your body is capable of than you thought.

Next weekend: eighteen miles.

Gulp.

A quick one

spuds

I got out for a 5.75km run this Wednesday, in the woodland at the end of our road. (Not much excuse for not running when you have that.)

It took about 3km to feel properly warmed up, and although I was fairly pleased with the time (35 minutes), I felt I could do better if I just had more energy. In fact, I’ve been feeling low on energy for a while, as I’ve mentioned in earlier posts.

I spoke about this to my personal trainer – the wonderful Karen Marshall – this morning. She asked about my diet, and I revealed that I eat pretty much what my wife eats. ‘My God, that’s no good!’ she exclaimed, and as we talked more it became clear that I’m not feeding my body anything like enough for it to keep up with all this new running.

This is great news. Firstly because it explains something that’s been bothering me – psychologically, you start to lose confidence. And secondly, because I get to eat a lot more, of lots of the things I love: meat, potatoes, pasta, fish, bread…

Kedgeree is good, apparently. Excellent.

Kedgeree is good, apparently. Excellent.

Good news all round. I ate a celebratory half-tonne of mash for my lunch, and will be continuing to pile in the (quality) calories ahead of a planned Big Run this weekend. I need to build my distances quite dramatically, so I’m planning a 15-miler.

Better cook up some more spuds.

More about knees, and some more running

So, after my visit to the physio (Helen Esplen, who it turns out is also physio to the GB Rowing team), I went out for a long run last Wednesday to test the knee – just over nine miles around Leith Hill.

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Starting out on the remains of the snow

Thanks to poor planning (okay, no planning), I found myself running downhill for most of the first half. And when your car is parked at the top of the hill, that can only mean one thing.

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So the second half, and especially about the final third, was hard going, as I climbed steadily (sort of) towards Leith Hill Tower – only the highest point in the county, people.

The scramble up to the tower is short, but fairly merciless: a steep ‘path’ that’s in fact just a deep and thoroughly uneven rut carved by rainwater and snowmelt, tangled with roots and strewn with rocks.

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By the time I got to the tower I felt ready to drop, but remembered my personal trainer, Karen, telling me how much better it is to keep going than to stop. And with the tower being the highest point around, at least it would now be all downhill to the car.

I recovered quickly, which I seem (thankfully) to be able to do, and made reasonably quick time heading back to the car park. But the most important thing was that, by the time I got there, my hitherto dodgy knee felt pretty good. Tired, as you’d expect, but not horribly stiff and sore like before.

A couple of days later, I went back to the physio for our next planned appointment, and she seemed pleasantly surprised by the improvement. I’d been diligently doing the stretches she recommended, so they’re obviously playing off.

Bouyed by this, I decided on another run at the weekend. I thought I’d try to build it up a bit: 10 miles. But then, as it does, family life got in the way and by the time I got my trainers on it was almost 5pm on Sunday evening.

As it turned out, though, I felt seriously tired. The measly 6km (3.7 miles) I did around Norbury Park felt sluggish and rotten.

Not sure what’s wrong with me at the moment, I feel like going to sleep pretty much all the time. May just be recovering from the bug that put me in bed for two days about a week ago. As it was, I was in bed before 9.30pm on Sunday night, feeling utterly shattered, so I was clearly under par.

I didn’t get any photos from this run, by the way, but I did record the fact that by the end, I was billowing steam like a racehorse:

Physio Helen reckons I need to complete a 15-18 mile run by (or at) Easter weekend, and I’m sure she’s right. So that’s the plan. I feel confident that with the knee improving, I just need to get my energy levels back up (more careful diet and maybe energy gels should help) and I can manage that distance. Not that it’ll be easy. But it’s essential if I’m going to be prepared for April 21…