I am always so excited when the London weekend is approaching and, whilst I have fond memories of times at London since participation became an annual family tradition back in 2011, I seem to forget just what a wonderful weekend it is.
My London Journey
Growing up, the London marathon was on the TV each year in our house and we would spend the day sitting around watching the elite race through to the back end of the masses. I remember thinking “That looks fun” but never imagining I could or would run it myself one day. I sit writing this having now completed four London marathons – the first as my debut marathon in 2013 and three times since as a pacer for the Runners World team.
It wasn’t until Mum took up marathon running and gained a Good For Age (GFA) entry to the race that my relationship with the London marathon really took off.
I remember standing on the Mall eagerly waiting for mum to run past, amazed by the huge crowds of people out watching the race and the constant stream of runners coming in to complete this iconic event. Whilst the BBC commentary was excellent, nothing could convey the feeling of actually being there. Instantly I fell in love with it all! Having been to watch Mum run some of her first few more low-key marathons, what first struck me was how involved in this race everyone was. A spot up against the barriers was not going to be an option; however about four people deep I did manage to catch a glimpse of mum as she passed to finish in 3:55, wearing her signature running smile.
As it was one of Mum’s first marathons, a group of us had gone down to watch her and once meeting up with her we all headed over to the pub, where I was about to make a declaration (albeit not really believing it myself) that would change my life forever: “Next year I’m going to run the London marathon with you!”
So fast forward a year. After a few testing months of training, I had come to realise that, although I very much wanted to take part in the Marathon, it hadn’t all been glamorous, and had required commitment and some lows along with the highs. But here I was on the start line, standing in the pen with all the other runners around me, ready to go. The camaraderie was amazing and the atmosphere was buzzing. I didn’t want the day to end. 23 miles later and overwhelmed by the support from the crowds, I think I was ready for the running part of the day to be over. Proudly I crossed the line in 4.15.16. My only thought after a beer was – when can I do that again!?
Turns out it would be a few years before I stood on the start line at London again as, unlike mum, I hadn’t achieved a GFA and ballot places were hard to come by. Nevertheless, for the following two years I continued to run marathons around the UK and the world, and volunteered and supported at London. Then through friends and contacts made over that two- year period, I gained a place as part of the Runner’s World pace team. Three years since I first ran London and 69 marathons later I stood again on the start line as part of the official pace team. It was a dream come true.
This Year – Friday to Monday
Nowadays the London weekend follows a set routine which begins on Friday evening and continues through until Monday mornings somewhat like a festival.
Jim Murray arrives from Devon before I get home from work on the Friday and, once I get there, we all excitedly head of to the expo to collect our numbers. This year saw the introduction of a new member to the team: Jim’s son Rob, here to run his first London marathon. I’m always slightly jealous of those running their first London; it’s a feeling you can never get back.
The expo is an amazing experience. At the registration desk we are met by smiles and hellos from members of the 100 Marathon Club who staff and distribute the numbers for the four days ahead of the event. Even though the expo doesn’t change much from one year to the next, you are required to do the mandatory circuit (and make at least one purchase) before collecting your goodie bag from Les as you leave.
Then it’s on to the pub for dinner and to catch up with friends. We head home often a little merry and with our plastic drop-bag full of freebies; first phase of the London weekend successfully completed!
Saturday morning sees an excited bunch head off to Richmond parkrun to shake out the legs before the marathon and join Pembroke Athletica for post-run coffee (more about PA in a later blog). There is always a guest appearance or two as well, and this year we were lucky enough to be joined by Hideo Takano, a true legend and one of the nicest men you could meet. He had brought along his Gold Comrades medal which he won this year at the Spirit of Comrades award; that in itself speaks volumes for Hideo’s character.
The rest of Saturday is spent chilling around the house and catching up. The warm weather meant that we were lucky enough to be able to sit outside in the garden where we talked and ate all day – spirits were high and the running chat was endless. Later, ten of us enjoyed an evening meal and laughed our way through a few bottles of wine! Then we strolled down to the river; it resembled the walk-out boxers take the afternoon of a fight – and with that we were ready to face the big day.
The role of a pacer
As a pacer, the question I get asked the most is “How do you know what pace to keep to?”. I would love to claim that it was a complex mathematical process, combined with an intuitive feel for speed, but it’s not! It is mainly the work of a pace calculator app or website, and then use of the Garmin GPS watch! This year my pace position had changed, along with
my fellow pacer – I had the pleasure of leading out the blue 4.45 pace-bus with Jack Easthope. We had only met once briefly at a Runner’s World photo shoot, but Jack had coincidentally been staying close to our house in London and messaged me the day before the run to ask if he could travel to the start of the race with us. Of course the answer was “yes!”, and I sent the address and time. One of the wonderful things about the running community is how new friends instantly seem like life-long companions because we have so much in common, and this would be no exception. I came downstairs to find Jack sitting at our kitchen table, with breakfast and a coffee prepared for him by Pete Bowles who was also in residence for the weekend, and that was it – he was instantly part of the gang!
On the train to Blackheath we had our “pacers’ briefing” – much less serious than it sounds. It mainly involved us revisiting distance covered in previous years (I never calculate a pace for a race to 26.2 miles as you will almost inevitably travel further, unless you are Kipchoge et al and the race line is all there is ahead of you) and deciding on our moving pace, all considerations noted and agreement of who would take what role. We decided that I would monitor our moving pace as we progressed through the race, and Jack would be responsible for checking in at every mile marker to ensure we were on track.
After the official pacers’ photoshoot in the morning, we were dispatched to mingle amongst the runners and to find our position for the start. It is always so humbling when runners come to ask advice and questions, some I’m sure just seeking clarity or to have someone acknowledge their intentions, but it’s great to feel like you are helping. This year was particularly tough for some, especially first timers – having trained through a brutal and gruelling winter which seemed to have only finished within the last few days – to then face the daunting task of heading out to complete the hottest London Marathon to date. I have huge admiration for every one of those runners who readjusted their plans and goals (which is hard to do!) and headed out for a long testing day.
As for us, our pacing plan worked a dream; after 26.7 miles we crossed the finish line in 4.44.23. Spot on!
The support on the course as always was overwhelming and one thing I noticed particularly this year was how much there was for the pacers. It’s quite easily done as spectator when fixated on seeing “your runner” to let the rest of the race pass you by, but thank you to each and every person who gave us a cheer and to all my family and friends I saw out on the course. After 135 marathons your presence never taken for granted.
As we headed towards the Mall, I had a moment of sadness that this was almost London done for another year – well, the race at least. Now it was on to the party!