Lost to Apathy (London Marathon)

May 16, 2015

On the 21st April 2013 I ran my first ever marathon, the London Marathon. Two years, five days and 16 marathons later I was back in the nation’s capital for another crack at the ‘greatest marathon in the world’. When I ran London Marathon for the first time back in 2013 it was an overwhelming emotional experience, with the combination of being my first time running 26.2 miles and the matter of it taking place only a few days after the tragic events of the Boston bombings. This time round there was no fear, no anxiety just a lot of expectation and ultimately, disappointment.

Two years ago there was a lot of questions and uncertainty, I was nervous, I knew that I would be running further than I ever had before and quite simply I didn’t know if I could. At the time, up until the last 385 yards I didn’t really feel like I was enjoying it. My headphones went in from the minute the race started and, save for a couple of moments, they stayed in the entire time. It was simply a case of head down and focus on surviving the distance, there was little time to savour the occasion.

In the week leading up to the marathon I had been eagerly looking through photos of the Expo and allowed myself a rare treat of getting excited for the race.  This time, with many, many more marathons under my belt I had one purpose, to enjoy the day and soak in the atmosphere. The weather forecast going into the weekend looked bleak, rain on both days over the weekend, but as the big day drew gradually closer, the rain shifted away and the conditions looked ideal. The weekend began early on Saturday morning with the long drive down from West Yorkshire to London via the ExCel Centre for the registration and London Marathon Expo. I wouldn’t stop long, certainly not long enough to get my money’s worth for the £10 parking fee, as being stuck in the crowds of people ambling around like extras in a George A. Romero film was not how I really wanted to spend my afternooon. I simply collected my race number, bought some gels for the next day and made my way round before jumping back in the car for the drive across London to my Brother’s flat. The route would take us over a few sections of the course, including driving over Tower Bridge, a surreal experience knowing that in less than 24 hours I would be running down the middle of it.

On the morning of the race I had a rare good night’s sleep. Whether it’s due to anxiety or sleeping in an unfamiliar bed at a family member’s house I usually have very interrupted sleep before a race, so I was very grateful. That’s about as good as the morning got as when it came to eating breakfast I simply had to skip the freshly made bowl of porridge as I simply couldn’t stomach it, instead hoping to grab something later on once I was on my way across London. The closer and closer I got to the start the less likely breakfast began to look, until eventually I was at Blackheath for the start and out of options. Thankfully I had packed a banana and cereal bar with me so had to make do with that, hardly ideal but there was no alternative.

Back in 2013 when I ran the London Marathon, I did so on a Charity Place and from the Red Start, whereas this time I was in the Blue Start with the Elite athletes. There seemed to be a much more focused atmosphere this year, compared to 2013 when I was in with the charity runners where everyone, myself included seemed more relaxed. The first few miles were a bit of a blur as I was trying to remember sections of the course that I hadn’t ran before, forgetting that the Red Start runners wouldn’t join up with the rest until the 3 mile mark. From the minute I crossed the start line my legs felt heavy, I began to worry about if I  hadn’t warmed up enough or if it was too crowded and my form was suffering because of it. It was a struggle to maintain any kind of consistent pace as the only thing my legs wanted to do was stop. Either way I wasn’t too concerned at this point as I still had a long way to go and with a few miles in the bag it was on to the Cutty Sark, the first true landmark of the Marathon at around the 7 mile mark.

Often I’ve found my legs able to loosen up as I go on, but it soon became clear this wasn’t to be the case and that the Huddersfield marathon had taken whatever energy my legs may have had and devoured it. In the two Ultras I have ran this year it felt like my legs only really loosened up after 10 or so miles, but I wouldn’t have that luxury of being able to wait that long or indeed that luxury of them loosening up at all.

Last time I ran the London Marathon I was taken aback by how Tower Bridge sneaks up on you at about 12 miles. I remember getting goosebumps as you turned the corner of an innocuous London street to see the iconic bridge looming over you, with the cheers from the crowd (and runners) rippling down the road as it came into view. My anticipation for running over Tower Bridge again was high, by this point in the race it was becoming a struggle and I was hoping that the atmosphere and excitement would power me on for the next few miles of the race. From the halfway point it began to feel tough, really tough. Look back through my splits I had somehow managed to maintain a steady pace for the first 13 miles, much against my legs best wishes, but my pace would begin to drop off over the second half of the race.

I looked down at mylegs and shouted "Save Us", and they whispered "no".

I looked down at my legs and shouted “Save Us”, and they whispered “no”.

As the course doubled back on itself shortly after crossing Tower Bridge, seeing the elite athletes come past at the 22 mile mark would often be motivational, but instead it served to be demoralising. Suddenly I was able to remember every twist and turn the course would take over the next 8/9 miles and the eternity it would feel to get back across the other side of the road. Even seeing my family in the crowd at 16 miles did little to rejuvenate my legs, they were in it for the long haul now and I just had to focus on keeping the momentum going and under no circumstances could I stop. Once again, as with 2013 once I hit 20 miles the wheels completely came off and my pace dropped drastically to over 10 minute miles. The next 6 miles would take almost as long as the first 10 and they would be utterly, utterly miserable. The last mile from Westminster to Buckingham Palace would feel like an eternity, by this point I was barely able to lift my feet, shuffling along towards the finish line and only seeing the iconic ‘Only 385 yards to go’ sign would offer me any respite.

When I crossed the line there was no feeling of elation, just relief. Off the back of Huddersfield’s ‘probably toughest road marathon in the country’, my London Marathon experience was almost on par. I collected my medal and began stumbling through the baggage area and towards where my family were family were waiting for me and tried to reflect on the race I had just run. A battle across the London Underground trying to get back to my Brother’s flat, a free cupcake from Lola’s Cupcakes and lots of food later it was time for the long journey back North and the battle of trying to keep awake.

A couple of days after the London Marathon it dawned on me that the race was my 10th marathon (including the two Ultras) since last August, which given I was struck down with flu in December and unable to run for a few weeks means I’ve been fairly busy. I hadn’t even intentionally led into this year on the back of a marathon streak, it just kinda…happened. One thing it did do was explain why my legs were completely empty, especially when factoring in that it takes several months for your body to recover from running just one marathon, let alone running them one week to the next.

If the lethargic nature of my legs wasn’t enough of warning of over-training, then the cold I suffered from the week after the marathon was. On Monday I woke up with a bad sore throat, before later that evening I started to cough up blood. Most of the next few days would essentially be a write off as a strong, bastard cold tried it’s best to maintain the shitty post marathon feeling. Apparently getting sick after running a marathon is fairly common, as the strenuous exercise depletes the body’s glucose levels and in turn weakens the immune system. Thankfully, after 17 marathons I can say that this is the first time I have experienced this and hopefully it will be the last.

Last week I began looking for a local sports masseuse, if I’m to enjoy any of the rest of the races this year then I need someone/something to breathe life back into my legs. I had my first session booked in this Thursday, with another tentatively penciled in for before the 100K in June. I was a little more anxious about the sports massage than I was my first Ultra. The 1.5 million search results for ‘sports massage painful’ didn’t really help matters, but if I’m to get through this Sunday’s Dukeries Ultra then I’ll probably need the crap beaten out of my legs. Believe the hype, as after an hour on the massage table I can definitely vouch for them being quite painful, my legs, and my calves especially, were much tighter than I realised. Hopefully that’s done the trick and they’ll be nice and light for Sunday’s Ultra.

On another positive note I received my appointment through the post for my initial consultation from the IAPT last week. It’s the same stage I’d reached before a couple of years ago, before my appointments were cancelled and rearranged and I eventually gave up. Anything better than me ending up crying in a Edinburgh Cafe’s toilets this time round will be progress. My first phone appointment happened on Tuesday and it was a fairly painless affair, simply a case of filling out a multiple choice questionnaire based on my feelings around certain scenarios and such. I was told there would be another follow up appointment in a couple of weeks to run through the same form to compare results, before then getting referred on to some form of therapy.

This one has been a difficult blog post to write and one I’ve been putting off for a while. For the few days following the London Marathon it felt like groundhog day with everyone eagerly asking me how ‘the marathon’ went, only to be met, without fail, with an apathetic ‘it was alright’. It was a race I had been looking forward to for almost two years, so when the day came and it turned out to be somewhat anticlimactic it just felt very disappointing. In hindsight it was almost impossible to expect it to be good, given I was coming off the back of the tough Huddersfield Marathon and with two Ultras and another three Marathons already completed this year. Through in a crap diet, little self respect for my body and no training/recovery plan to speak off and it’s probably a wonder I got round at all.

Oh well, better luck next time as they say.

All this suffering isn’t just for fun, it’s part of the 15 marathons/Ultras I plan to run this year for Mind. So if you have any spare pennies, please visit my JustGiving page.

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