London Marathon Run report from Chris Parker
Flyer Southend Race Report – Virgin Money London Marathon
Sunday 24th April 2016
My 2016 marathon journey began in September 2014, when I got a ballot place for 2015. Injury and the death of my 18 year old daughter in March 2015 from a genetic condition interrupted my training, so I deferred. To add to the challenges, I was made redundant at the end of 2015, but in a way that meant I did not have to rush back to work, so the story became that I was leaving to become a professional athlete, training full time for VMLM. I also decided I was going to try and raise money for Havens Hospices and the J’s hospice, who had looked after Laurel.
Training had gone well, apart from an occasional sore ankle, and a holiday in the Maldives (that’s how tough the redundancy was) where the heat and quality of the treadmills conspired to knock me back. I still had over 500 miles in the bank from 20 weeks of training, two 20 mile trail runs and about 8 other runs between 13 and 18 miles. This was my fourth London marathon, so I kind of knew what to expect in terms of logistics, course and atmosphere. Training had suggested I should be capable of ten minute miling, but I was a little unsure of how the last six miles would be, so I set my “best” target time to be 4h30.
I had started a thread on the Flyers Facebook page to find out which VMLMers were starting where, and to see if there was any opportunity to meet and / or run in groups. I was on the blue (Blackheath) start, as was Jo Cole and another mystery Flyer, who we shall call NB. We had arranged to try and meet up, which we managed, despite the Havens Hospices runners’ coach missing a sign and taking NB and me on a tour of Eltham and central Blackheath. After a loo stop, we also met up with Richard Farr, Andrew Coombes and Elliot Cone, who were all starting towards the front of the field. The photographic evidence is on Facebook.
Pre-race discussion was mainly around clothing – the weather was chilly, but probably going to warm up a bit. We had all brought something to wear and throw away, and luckily the VMLM organisers have a recycling scheme. Jo decided against photographing me applying Vaseline, for which I thank her. We were called to bag drops and then to starting pens, Jo to pen 7, NB and I to the back in pen 9. The race went off at 10am, and we were moving forward soon after. As we got back towards the toilets, I nipped off for a sneaky visit, and left NB to go on, saying I would catch her up. I was quite near the back of the field when I rejoined, briefly considered going for the glory role of last across the start, including great advertising for my customised Flyers shirt, courtesy of Huey Lovett at Screenery / Flyers Kit, then I thought how embarrassed my daughter would have been, and no one likes a show off. I crossed the start line after 16 minutes (I believe the red start in Greenwich Park takes much longer to clear), and was on the move easily.
I caught up with NB and decided to not push on further just yet. We passed the guy in the big pink wig and dress, and caught up with Ian Hawthorn from Bas parkrun and Pitsea running club, so another quick chat before we left him on the way down toward the mile 3 point. NB had run the Brighton marathon, and I was impressed that she was moving at all, let alone the pace she was keeping. She was also pretty good at picking lines to pass through the crowd. Miles 4-6 through Deptford to Greenwich saw NB and I pass a huge dinosaur, and one or two other big costumes that I would remember only if I watched the TV coverage through. There was a moment when we passed a DJ who started to play the Jacksons “I want you back”, and we tried to lead some over the head clapping. We didn’t look back to see if it worked. This stretch also saw our first Flyer spots – Jo Dyson and Matt Campbell. Thanks for coming out.
Entering Greenwich, we all waved at the cameras as we turned the corners around Cutty Sark. I don’t think we made onto the telly though. We had an Elvis nearby during this stretch, who was getting lots of shouts from the crowd. We were then heading out toward Surrey Quays, which in the past has been a bit quiet, but was busy most of the way round this year, though without the barbecues, which was an improvement. NB was still setting the pace and the lines, including narrowly missing a faller, who did get back up. NB had considered helping, but we agreed she would probably gone down as well if she had tried to help.
VMLM has water stations every mile, and I was taking on water every second or third station. Conditions were perfect for me – I am a pretty big guy, and get a bit sweaty in the heat, but this day was nice and bright, around 10 Celsius. There are also four Lucozade drink stations and two gel stations. The gels make me puke (they need to be taken with water), so I stuck with my trusted SIS. I do use Lucozade sport for long runs, so did partake of these. There is a balance to strike between fuelling, hydration and your mouth feeling is definitely something you need to practise on long training runs.
Heading towards Bermondsey, it was time to start looking out for my family. I found them near the tube station, and stopped for a quick chat before heading off to catch NB for our next landmark at Tower Bridge. We passed the Buxton path of champions, a special lane, which I had seen adverts about, but could not work out how it was supposed to be going. The barriers had blown over, so the marshals had to do a quick job to pick them up again.
Tower Bridge was noisy, and a real lift. We spotted the Havens crowd on the left as we left the bridge, and NB and I stopped to see her special fan. Pictures taken, we headed east to the halfway point, which we hit in about 2h15. Bang on pace. NB is a machine! At this point in the race, we see runners on the other side of the road who are at 22 miles, and boy were they shifting. No Flyer spots while we were on this bit, sadly.
In each of my previous marathons, the loop around the Isle of Dogs has been tough, mainly due to the sun and absence of shade on the north-south roads, and fatigue setting in. This time, whether it was more experience, the conditions, or NB’s metronome ticking away, it flew by. Another Dyson spot at the start if I recall correctly, a couple of non-racing wheelchair users coming through on the down slopes (Eddie Essex, please note), one of whom was called Chris, and a slight change of route from my last time in 2012 to go up a ramp to Westferry Circus, where I called for “ultra tactics” and a short uphill walk. We then passed through my old Canary Wharf stomping ground, where my family were waiting again for another chat. They told me I was looking good. I felt good too.
This next bit, we had been looking forward to – miles 19.5 to 21 was where we were expecting to see a large amount of orange, with Flyers as spectators and marshals, as well as other familiar faces from Hockley Woods parkrun, and Benfleet Running club. It was even better than expected – Graham offering flat coke (declined, but I like his thinking), Anne offering hugs (again declined, we didn’t want to stop), Lloyd in his team leader vest, Donna, the big bunch with the flag, Alex with the megaphone, Papa Keith on the bollard, I missed Paul Mansfield, in disguise with no beard and Mohican covered, Lou Kingsley, who missed us, then ran ahead to take her brilliant photo (also on facebook) and Steve Ray.
Sorry for anyone we missed in that sector, but it really is a brilliant place to be marshalled by familiar faces, just as the tiredness is really biting, but we have turned for home. The extra support was really welcome. There were more familiar faces form the Hockley Woods parkrun team – Mike, Karl and Julia, and we were soon back on the Highway, and this time, it was us nine miles ahead of the people on the other side of the road. We also got to see the sweep vehicles just before we got back to Tower Bridge. The good news was no Flyer spots here – no one was at risk of missing the cut.
Busy again past the tower and into the City. Another Jo Dyson sighting, and I had a chat with NB well before we got to the Tunnel on Upper Thames Street – in the past it has been a bit quiet and lonely. Having done that, I had my “moment” before we actually went underground, thinking about Laurel, how much she had meant to me, and how much I was missing her. Chest tightened, tears welled, chin crumpled, I nearly stopped, but pushed on, got through the tunnel, which had music playing and a voice calling out passing runners, which was new. NB, oblivious kept ticking out the miles. The closer we got to Westminster, the noisier and more crowded it got. My left calf felt like it was cramping, but a slight change of gait and some water sorted that. My final family spot was just outside Westminster tube – a slightly longer stop as some of the emotion was still there, but I picked it up, and had only one goal – catch up with NB and cross the line Flyer style. I managed with just 200m to go, and we were across the line, left hand funnel with a big gap in front of us. Four hours 36 minutes ish for both of us, a PB for NB, and on target for me. We collected medals, took photos and headed for baggage collection, which was really efficient. After thanking each other, we headed our separate ways, ,eventually to see family and back home. Running with NB was not my intention, but it was great to have the company, and even though we didn’t talk that much, we were able to pass the time, point things out and keep a eye on each other.
It was great to check up on the other runners via the app, brilliant times by you all, in particular the pacing of pretty much everyone. As far as I could tell, all the Flyers and friends got round, including the Double club, so well done everybody.
The marathon challenge is the distance – 26.2 miles. The experience though is unique to each runner, and depends on the preparation, fitness, target time, form, location and conditions on the day, as well as a few bits of luck. The London marathon is one of the world’s biggest and best. The logistics and organisation brilliant, the course varied, familiar and mostly scenic, but what really makes it is the support from runners on the road, the volunteers at drink stations, the marshals and St Johns crews and in particular the hundreds of thousands of people on the streets that support you, especially if you have a name on your shirt. Walking between finish and stations after the race wearing my medal, a number of people told me “well done”. They had no idea whether I had finished in three hours or five. I said the same to all the runners I saw. We just knew that everyone had done well . Every runner gets the same medal (even if they don’t get the right size t-shirt Maggie!).
The ballot for the 2017 VMLM opens on Monday 2nd May. You can start preparing now, to work toward a “baseline level” before starting a Passingham plan. Speak to any of the experienced marathon flyers and we can help with all sorts of details over the next year. If you can’t wait that long, take a look at the Flyers on tour sheet for other longer distance races that we are sending entrants to, sign up if you can, prepare, train, wear orange and just have a great time.