Another Ultramarathon Running Blog

2015 Virgin Money London Marathon

I had convinced myself it wouldn’t be as good as last year.

Last year was the first time I had run London (my first big city marathon) after waiting five years in the ballot to get a place (having never really committing to any speed training to try and work for a time) and then I had a brilliant day, lovely weather, family came to watch, fantastic crowds, a new PB and a Good For Age time.

So this year it definitely wasn’t going to be as good as last year’s dream outcome, no chance. So I decided to run it for fun in fancy dress to make this an obvious ‘no pressure’ run. No expectations, no goals, just enjoy the day.

The week before I was unwell with a hacking cough, which resulted in me sleeping on the sofa for a few nights which meant my back was sore; a Saturday morning run was canned a little earlier than planned and plans for a family day trip to London and stop over the night before was changed so I could rest up at home and try and get a good nights sleep in my own bed (the girls carried on with their shopping trip and had a great time).

On the Sunday morning I left the house early to travel to the start. I’ve worked out a nice route to the start involving a bit of a drive and a bit of tube and train travel which seems to avoid a lot of congestion (aside from the connection from Victoria station to Blackheath) which I don’t wish to reveal in case other people start to use it! I wasn’t feeling that enthusiastic about the race to be honest and travelling to the race can be a bit of a necessary bore.

I sat on the train to the start which was rammed with other runners many of which were nervously excited about their race and talking about their plans, goals and dreams. I think I heard a statistic that 75% of the runners on London were charity runners which does give it a different dynamic to other races in terms of the makeup of the runners and quality and quantity of support. I have heard the complaint that many regular runners have to apply in the ballot for a place whilst many (probably less capable in running terms) runners get charity places but with millions being raised for good causes this wins out in my opinion. I spent five years waiting for a place in the ballot before I got my first place and yes I probably grumbled every year I received the annual rejection magazine aswell.

So I sat on the train listening into various conversations and trying to summon up some enthusiasm for the race. Someone did ask me what my goal was for the race, I patted my bag with my fancy dress costume and said “I would love to be spotted on TV” at that point, that was my only goal for the day.

I was going with the Dick Dastardly outfit which I had worn at Reading. Unfortunately, the beak of the hat had disintegrated after washing it and the original moustache had no stickiness so a “Merv Hughes” style replacement was acquired.

2015 Virgin Money London Marathon Paul Ali 02

I was starting in the Fast Good for Age zone and slightly embarrassed at first to be one of the few people in fancy dress there but did find it much easier at the start to hit a preferred pace immediately rather than being crowded out by the masses at the start which was my experience last year. I bumped into Richard Felton at the start (who ran a rather good 3.05 in the end) and saw the 3.00 pacer early on but saw both gradually disappear from sight as I settled into my own rhythm.

The weather was a little wet and cool which made it cold at the start and I had a bit of the pre-race shivers but running wise it was good unless you were wearing several layers and a big coat and a big hat which meant I had the full head sweat thing going on.

I cruised around the course at a pace which meant I was making some effort but was fairly comfortable. I pretty much ran on feel for this race, I was wearing my Garmin but this was underneath the long sleeved glove I was wearing from my costume so it was a hassle to try and check it and I just gauged my time from the timing clocks at each mile marker.

It wasn’t going to be as good as last year but I was going to try and enjoy the day.

The crowds were wonderful once again as I trotted round ticking off some early few miles before we (the red start) converged with the other runners (blue/green start runners) and then got involved in some crowd interaction running wide of the road and high-fiving anyone who was willing.

Once again my experience from the Reading Half Marathon was repeated with anyone under the age of 35 referring to me as Super Mario and anyone over that age spotting I was in fact Dick Dastardly.

Super Mario

Super Mario.. wasn’t going for this

Dick DastardlyDick Dastardly.. was going for this

Willy Wonka

Willy Wonka.. some thought I was this

By mile 8 my moustache had fallen off due to a lack of stickiness with the amount of sweat I was generating on my face although my hat had settled into a position when I wasn’t having to prop it up every 10 seconds. It once fell below my eyes.. cue frantic propping up before I fell over.

The volume of noise from the supporters on Tower Bridge was immense and a stand out moment from the race which actually brought a massive grin to my face. The crowd support was great (up to volume 10) but when a runner from a specific charity passed by then the amount of noise the “volun-cheers” made was incredible (up to volume 11). Well done to all the supporters, great effort!

I went through the half-way point in 1.32 – 1.33 so running pretty well. I continued on at this comfortable but relatively decent pace (for me) ticking off a few more miles, high-fiving some kids, waving to the camera and trying to enjoy the run although the effort was a little more than a comfortable jog!

It wasn’t going to be as good as last year but I was sort of enjoying the run now.

By the two-thirds point I worked out I could be on for a new Personal Best, I’m not sure how that had happened but there you go. I then went through that difficult process where you try and work out mile splits and finishing times in your head and an extra level of pressure suddenly gets added to your race and your legs suddenly start to feel a little more weary.

2015 Virgin Money London Marathon Paul Ali 00 Header photo by Rachel Clarke

Photo by Rachel Clarke

At 18 miles I had worked out that the final 8 miles at 8m/m pace would put me under last years time by a minute or two. I think I was running a little quicker than that (post Garmin analysis shows I was running just over 7m/m pace all the way round) so anything else gained was a bonus. The focus here was just on maintaining the same pace, no need to push (or so I told myself) just keep it steady and keep it even.

I bumped into Jen Bradley briefly around 20 miles but was pretty much running by myself. I was drifting ahead of runners although this was generally down to others slowing slightly and me being able to maintain a fairly steady pace.

I could feel the need to stop for a toilet break but resisted.. can’t waste precious seconds now. Hold on Dick.. hold on.

My quads and knees were starting to ache now as I tried to mentally break down the race into manageable segments and tried to set small landmarks or goals (i.e. Fetchpoint at Mile 21, 1 more Parkrun to go etc) to get to before the next one.

By this time, any thoughts of veering off to the side of the road to high five some of the crowd had gone, again precious seconds were not to be wasted now.

I carried on, no need to push, just keep the legs moving. I hit the 25 mile marker in just under 3 hrs according to the timing clock. I wasn’t sure how long it took me to get over the start line (perhaps a minute or two) but knew this was good. Just one more mile to go, it can’t be as good as last year, can it?

I started to get to spot the familiar sights towards the end of the race and the wide turn around St James Park with Buckingham Palace in sight.

It can’t be as good as last year.

600m to go, 400m to go, 200m to go, time for a little push for the last few yards and I was done. Official time 3.06.55, over 6 minutes quicker than last year and exactly 30 minutes behind Paula Radcliffe to the second. Absolutely no relevance to Paula’s run or time whatsoever of course but there you go.

My quads were a little sore as I collected my drop bag. I bumped into Nina again who had run a 3.03 which was a fantastic result and then made my way to the tube station (where I was relieved to get a seat) and made my way home. My cough had returned with a vengeance and I coughed and spluttered to myself as I made my way home.

As I sat on the tube and checked my phone to see how friends had got on I got wind of the fact that I had made an appearance on the BBC coverage with a super slow motion close up shot, excellent! I’m not sure what I enjoyed more a shiny new PB or getting on the TV (TV wins I think). This resulted in a bit of banter with friends over the course of the afternoon and another glimpse of me on the video montage on the BBC website here.

2015 Virgin Money London Marathon Paul Ali 03

Fame at last!

So a good run, no a great run (by my own standards) and a PB which was unexpected on the day as I hadn’t had the best preparation the week before. However, we all know what these results are earned in the weeks and months of training beforehand so my training appears to put me in a reasonable place at the moment and the miles to date this year have counted for something.

My final thought is, it can’t be as good next year… no definitely not.

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