This race recap is finally getting done now that I’m back home from across the pond. I didn’t have too much time to start my London Marathon race recap since my wife and I did a lot of sightseeing on our trip. London is one of the world’s most vibrant cities for a reason and we now have an even better understanding of why. It’s no surprise one of the world’s most important cities would put on one of the world’s best marathons–maybe even THE BEST.
Even though the race itself is a great experience, my performance was my worst ever. My goal was to run under three hours but the warm and somewhat humid weather, along with my minor training injuries, did me in. I finished with the official time of 3 hours, 15 minutes, 59 seconds. That’s roughly 27 minutes slower than my personal best time of 2:48:48 in Berlin just several months earlier. I’ll explain what happened, how I felt and what I can learn from this. Despite my performance, I did finish and I did complete my fifth Abbott World Marathon Major. I now have one more to go (Tokyo) before I complete all six and collect the coveted six-star medal which is given to people who finish all six majors.
I also completed my fundraising goal for Livability. I had a chance to meet some people who work for this outstanding charity and was touched by the work they do and was honored to be able to help.
Here’s how the trip started. We arrived Friday afternoon, ate and slept early to wake up to collect my Livability singlet and bib number at the expo.
The expo was well-organized and it was very easy to collect my bib.
If you notice, I’m wearing my 2016 Los Angeles Marathon shirt. I had to represent Los Angeles while in London 🙂
After the expo, we toured the Tower of London which was magnificent and full of history, both good and bad. The walking didn’t bother me and my legs felt fine. There was no groin pain nor was my shin splint issue a problem. After touring the tower, we ate and went back to the hotel for an early night.
Like most people, I get a little nervous and anxious before a big race. My sleep wasn’t great but it wasn’t horrible either. I woke up in the morning feeling generally fine. My legs felt good thanks to massaging by my wife the night before that included a roller that really works at loosening the muscles. I ate oatmeal and a banana like I do every morning of a race whether it’s a 5k or marathon. I also drank my hydration drink from Osmo. This drink helps my body stay hydrated during long races. Hydration is so important in a marathon. Of course, I was drinking water regularly leading up to the race but this drink helps keep sodium and electrolyte levels more balanced. It’s not a miracle drink and it doesn’t replace the need for water during the race but it certainly helps.
I also knew it was going to be warm. Like all marathon runners, I check the weather forecast to the hour. The forecast called for clear skies and temperatures in the low to mid-70s. Yikes! While sunny and in the 70s seem like perfect weather it is absolutely horrendous for a marathon. The ideal marathon temperature is anywhere from 45 to 55 degrees. When a race is long, cooler weather is preferred because the warmer temperatures slow the body down because the body uses more energy to cool itself rather than to make you run faster. A one-mile run in 85 degree weather can be tolerated as I’ve done it before. That race is only four to six minutes. A race that lasts two to five hours in those conditions means slower times. Plus, it was a little humid and the race started at 10am when the sun is even higher in the sky. Knowing all this, I still felt confident that I could run under three hours but probably not a personal best. I have trained in these conditions but training and racing are much different.
I also decided to wear my usual racing shoes even though they were worn out. I used new inserts to prevent them from slipping out like one did in the Pasadena Half Marathon. I felt the new inserts would help. I did bring another pair of shoes to possibly race in but I felt I would go with what I know. That probably wasn’t a good idea. My racing shoes were done. More on that later.
My wife and I got onto a bus and headed to the underground station to go to the start. We left around 7am so that would give us enough time to get there without rushing. The trains were packed with runners so I had to mostly stand. It was ok though.
We arrived at Greenwich Park, where the race begins, a little past 8am. The park is huge and we walked uphill to the start line and runner villages. It was as sunny as it could get. Not a cloud in the sky in a city known for cool, damp and dreary weather. It was also getting warm. I could feel the sun beat on me even while sitting and relaxing. My wife went off to find a spot to see me around the 10k mark while I entered the runner’s village.
I drank my beet juice, which has nitrates to help expand blood vessels so more energy can get to the muscles. I also did my usual warm up routine. I wore calf compression sleeves for the first time in a race. My calves felt a little tight in the days before the race so I chose to wear the sleeves to help with blood flow and prevent possible cramping. It worked. There were no calf cramps and I didn’t feel the sleeves were a nuisance.
I made my way to the red start line which is where all the charity runners line up. Like the New York City Marathon, there were different start lines that merge about three miles into the race. I was in the pen when Queen Elizabeth appeared on the big screen from Windsor Castle to officially start the race. She pressed the button and we were all off. Us charity runners had to wait a couple minutes for the Good for Age runners to start. This was no bother because I had a timing chip on my shoe so my official time didn’t start until I crossed the start line.
Once I crossed the start line, I began my run. It’s always best to run the first few miles a little slower than goal pace. My first mile was 6:29 which was my ideal goal pace. I wasn’t sure if that’d be sustainable so I slowed down on mile two for a 6:39 then picked it up again for a 6:31 mile three. My first 5k split was 20:36 which is in line with my other marathons. However, the heat started to get to me and my legs started to feel a little heavy. I was already sweating more than usual. Every time I stepped down, it felt like my feet were slipping as if I didn’t have proper traction. It was probably the new inserts combined with the worn out shoes.
My second 5k split was slower at 21:07. It was at the 10k mark that I started to think a sub-3 hour marathon was going to be very difficult. I could feel the sun sitting on top of me like a weight. My shin didn’t bother me nor did my groin so that was good. While I felt myself starting to struggle, the amazing crowds kept me going. They kept shouting my name and cheering me on. How did they know my name? It was on the front of my singlet. I recommend, if you can, putting your name on your singlet for a marathon or any race. People will cheer your name and it does help. Hearing random people in the crowd shout for you really does push you along. I should also add the crowds for London were among the best I’ve ever heard.
My mile splits started to drop in to the 6:50s before bouncing up to a 6:36 mile 8 but they were all slower after that. The course itself wasn’t hard. It’s generally flat but has some small ups and downs in many places unlike Berlin or Chicago, which are basically pancake flat.
By mile 10, I knew anything above 2:55 would be almost impossible for me. I was starting to wither in the heat. I did grab water a few times at the stations. They were small plastic bottles which you can squeeze. I thought that was great because you can carry it with you for a bit without worrying about it spilling like in a cup.
I went up and through the Tower Bridge and crossed the half way mark a little bit later in 1:28:43. That’s still sub-3 pace but I knew at that point it probably wasn’t going to happen. I felt a little disappointed but I quickly just focused on running the best I could and didn’t worry myself about a sub-3 time anymore. It was just too hot. The sun just felt heavier and heavier as it sat on me. My shoes felt as if they had no traction and I started to heel strike on the hot pavement which made my left heel feel as if it was burning. I basically felt awful. I maintained my splits in the 6:50s until mile 16 when I ran a 7:12 mile. I could feel my body losing energy and power in the 75-degree heat which felt more like 95 to 100-degree heat. It turned out to be the hottest London Marathon on record!
I slogged through the next few miles seeing more people than usual pass me. Right before the mile 20 mark, I started to walk. I was just too exhausted. My body couldn’t handle the heat. I’ve only stopped or walked two other times in races. One was for a quick restroom stop in New York at mile 11 and the other was a 51k race (31.7 miles) in which I started out way too fast. I walked/ran for the next four miles in front of the largest crowds. I wasn’t devastated but I wasn’t happy either. I walked briskly with my head down so I could still walk with a purpose. I heard people cheer me on and give me encouragement. It helped tremendously. When I got to mile 24, I ran again..slowly…very slowly. I didn’t stop running until the finish–2.2 miles later. I made it a point to finish as strongly as I could. It wasn’t strong by my normal standards but it was all that I had.
I ran past the Parliament building with Big Ben hiding behind scaffolding for maintenance work. I turned right, saw Buckingham Palace and followed the curved road until it straightened out to the finish a few hundred yards away. I saw a line of British flags on poles leading to the finish and the roaring crowd. I plodded to the finish and put my hands in the air to celebrate. I was done! I collected my medal and my finisher t-shirt and walked slowly to the meet-up area. It was still hot.
Two things that I never experienced with such intensity during a race happened to me during those final 2.2 miles. I got hit with extreme tiredness as if my body wanted me to stop and nap on the side of the road and extreme hunger. My body wanted a large quantity of food. Usually, it takes 20 to 30 minutes after a marathon before my body can handle solid foods.
When I sat down waiting for my wife, I drank whatever liquids were in my post-race goodie bag along with an apple and a couple granola-type bars. I scarfed those down unlike ever after a marathon. It was unusual for me but this was an usual race.
While sitting, I was ok with not reaching my goal. While I strive for consistency, there are going to be some ups and downs. It’s just math. The more you run, the more good and bad races you’ll have. But that being said, you want most of your races to be consistent. This race was on the bad end. I reflected on what I should’ve done better though. I remembered I went through something similar after the Boston Marathon in 2014. I ran a personal best at the time of 2:49:21. I felt if I could keep training like I did, I’d push my times even lower. What happened was I didn’t give my aging body time to properly recover before I intensified training for the 51k race that August. That race was bad for me as I briefly mentioned above, but I still didn’t learn. I trained for the Las Vegas Marathon that November. My training runs started to get slower (a sign of overtraining) and I felt anxious and pressured internally to perform well. This all added up to running a 3:05:50 just a seven months after my 2:49 in Boston. 3:05 is a fine time but not what I wanted. I didn’t run a marathon again until Chicago in October, 2015. I felt better, more focused and ran 2:54. That was done after not running for six weeks in May/June due to a stress reaction.
I think part of me felt pressured shortly after Berlin to equal or rival that performance in London. I had wanted to run all six majors under three hours. Because of that, I developed a nagging injury like shin splints which caused my groin strain. I lost valuable training time.
I sat down recovering realizing no goals were shattered. I reflected on the race itself and the course, crowds, etc. The whole experience was still amazing even as I struggled in the heat. I thought I could run this again and go under 3 which would still allow me to complete my goal.
My wife and I headed to a nearby hotel for a post-race reception hosted by Livability. We met great people there and learned more about Livability’s mission of helping connect disabled people to their communities. They thanked us for raising money but we thanked them for devoting themselves to helping those less fortunate. I made a decision to run this race again in the future (possibly even next year) and when I do, I will once again fundraise for Livability.
What’s next for me? I plan to take two to three weeks off completely from running following the race. I want my legs, body and mind to rest and recover. I’ll start again slowly with renewed vigor and excitement and without anymore self-imposed pressure. I did plan to run the Twin Cities Marathon in Minnesota in October but I may skip that one. I will also find some local 5ks, 10ks and half marathons to run coming up in the summer so that’ll be fun. This summer, I also have to figure out how to enter the Tokyo Marathon in March to complete my six-star journey. I will probably raise money for a charity again. I enjoyed that and think I can do it again. If not Tokyo in March, maybe Boston in April or London again. I’m excited about the possibilities. I’m even more excited about running again feeling fresh both physically and mentally.
Overall, the London Marathon is incredible. The crowds are loud and spirited, the course is fun and the weather won’t always be hot and awful. Raising money for a charity also give you more of a purpose. If you can run this race, do it!
Running With You,