In October last year, with great excitement my husband, Roger, announced he was in the London Marathon through the ballot. I had already pre-qualified for a place through the ‘good for age’ scheme, whereby anyone who has run a previous marathon in a reasonable time can qualify. However, I was hoping to put it off till 2016, as memories of our slow Amsterdam marathon (4:16) where still playing through my mind. I hated it from the first mile and by mile 16 I was walking. The only consolation was the great time we had afterwards exploring the city. I also don’t like spring marathons as the training is through the winter with the dark cold nights and mornings, yet race day can be a scorcher. Still this was going to be my fourth and last marathon (except maybe Tokyo when I am 65+) and we were quite fit from Amsterdam, so maybe the training wouldn’t feel so hard after all. I was wrong.
From a half marathon to marathon fitness, it would take us 16 to 18 weeks. With a week skiing in January it meant training started on 29th December, just before New Year’s Day. For me the training would require four runs a week: a recovery run of four to eight miles; ‘efforts’ - fast burst runs of a minute plus; ‘tempo’ - not as fast as efforts but uncomfortable for three to five miles; and the long run, between 12 to 22 miles.
Our training began come wind, rain, snow or sun. For those who run, you will know on some runs you come home exhilarated, I particularly like the early morning runs as the sun is rising and you stumble across a deer or hare, while other runs are hard, your body feels heavy and every minute feels like an hour.
Long distance running is not only to do with being physically fit but also mentally strong, your body will be screaming at you to stop, doubts will creep in as to your reasons for running, yet you will have to overrule these thoughts and feelings, tell your body it can do more. Often after a long run you may find a toe had been bleeding or your t-shirt had been rubbing and caused you to bleed but you had not even noticed.
As you push your body to its limit you become very aware of how food and drink affects your performance, not to mention that extra weight that will slow you down, so I have become very interested about what different foods do to your body and when they should be eaten. Did you know champagne improves your body’s circulation, whereas apples improve lung capacity? Four days before a marathon the carb loading starts, as well as cutting down on training. This is the fun bit, plenty of food without guilt. Even up to a week after the race you should eat plenty of food so beef burger and chips with plenty of salt becomes a good post-marathon meal!
Although we did not have to run for a charity, the London Marathon is known as one of the largest fund raising days. The first marathon I did was the London Marathon in 2011, at that time a friend – Greg - had just been diagnosed with Motor Neuron Disease and so it seemed right to run for that charity. As this was to be my last marathon I would run for MND again in memory of Greg who died in 2012. I do hope they will find a cure for this disease soon. The charity page is https://www.justgiving.com/Alison-Dooley1
So, last Friday Rog and I jumped on a train to London and via the Thames Clipper and cable car – which I highly recommend – we arrived at the Expo centre to pick up our numbers; we were both feeling nervous and excited.
I had spent the train journey reading about Paula Radcliffe for inspiration, and felt the only way I was going to beat her was if her legs fell off, though even then I was not so sure! Apart from seeing our two daughters and their partners (both live and work in London), it was rest, eat and drink water.
Sunday eventually arrived. After 15 mins of panic, having locked ourselves out of the hotel bedroom due to a faulty door, with all our running gear in the room, the hotel resolved the problem and we were back on for the marathon.
The weather was great for running, cold and cloudy and the atmosphere was electrifying as we walked to the start with 37,000 other runners. Rog and I were running from different compounds, so we could not run together. Before I knew it I was off and I felt strong.
Within the first five miles I had overtaken the 3:45 pacers, so I had to give myself a stern talking to, to slow down, I did not want to crash and burn. Running round the Cutty Sark was memorable as were the drum bands. The crowds just over Tower Bridge were amazing; once again I was going too fast and had to slow down. By now Paula Radcliffe was around eight miles in front of me; I saw the motor bike in front of her and the noise from the crowd, she was running fast. From here you enter the Isle of Dogs, the worst part of the marathon and the 18-miler, my nemesis, but I still felt strong and before I knew it I was at mile 19 and trying to slow myself down again (my aim was to run at 8.50 to 9.00 minute miles, I wear a Garmin watch which shows the speed you are doing). At mile 23 I was beginning to feel tired, for the first time in this race I was beginning to push myself not to drop below the nine minute mile, I knew if I could keep this up not only would I do a sub-four hour time, but I would beat my previous times. The last three miles were hard, Big Ben seemed miles away as did the Mall, but I managed it doing 26.69 miles under four hours.
When I stopped running my emotions were all over the place, relief at having stopped, feeling sick, muscles screaming at me, cramp but a great sense of achievement.