On surviving the 2010 London Marathon

After a week of eating copious amounts of rice, pasta, potatoes and sweet things, it is done. I finished my first marathon in one piece.

Arriving in Greenwich Park at 8:30am in sideways rain is not the way I normally like to start my Sundays, but I did pray (despite my atheism) for rain on race day and down it came, soaking the many thousands of runners standing anxiously in the portaloo queues waiting for the all-important pre-race relief.

Once over the start line (between a womble, some fairies, a polystyrene wall and a dinasour), the first six miles passed in a flash, steaming past a variety of wonderful seldom-seen south-east London treats: a Woolwich pub turned into a pirate ship; a priest throwing holy water on passing runners; a mini brass-band squeezed into a front yard; a myriad of brave late-April street side barbecues; and morris-dancing ladies. Seeing friends at 6 and 11 miles was fantastic. And suddenly I was at Tower Bridge, and the crowds were immense and roary.

At mile 22
Me, sweaty and beaming, at mile 22, courtesy of Andy Patterson

Things got a lot tougher between about 14 and 20 miles – having run around the Isle of Dogs during training I was ready for it to be tricky, but the humidity and the sense of shared dread among the runners, combined with the dwindling crowds, made it really hard going. At about 17 miles I bumped into a friend J, and then the t’other J met me at 21 for a sip of tea which I think powered me on past mile 22 and a gaggle of amazing, cacophonous Uni friends onwards to the finish, where the hundreds of people shouting my name – My Name – and grinning madly when I made eye contact – spurred me on towards the finish.

Crossing the finish line was followed by wave after wave of relief, rather than immediate euphoria, which has slowly, quietly grown over the last day or so as the enormity of this achievement, the focus of last four months, has sunk in. I started training in November, and since then I’ve since skidded around Hyde Park in sub-zero temperatures with the amazing Howard, grappled with achilles tendonitis, suffered a pretty aggravating metacarpal fracture, dodged the coast road traffic at rush hour in Cape Town, and been locked in two of London’s parks after running around them too late. Despite all this, I managed to finish my first marathon in five hours and one minute. And my legs are feeling every second of it.

The main and best thing though is that with your help I smashed my Shelter fundraising target of £1600 to raise well over £2000 – and there’s still time to sponsor me if you haven’t already. Thanks so much for your support.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ll be down the pub…

  • Number of tears shed: a fair few
  • Litres of water drunk: 4
  • Number of jelly babies eaten: many
  • Days to go until the next one: we’ll see

Sweet sweet tapering

After a few weeks of doing 15/17/19 mile long runs in addition to shorter ones in the week, tapering feels good. With only one week to go until the race, it was a treat to head out for a leisurely 8-miler around Hyde Park, under perfect blue, plane-free skies with Howard. Seeing folk having picnics under trees in full blossom was a big change from the slip-slidey run we did back in January.

With only two more short training runs to go, this week is all about the pasta and giving my legs a relative rest before the big day. The nerves are starting to kick in, as I thought they would. Nothing I do now can improve my readiness for the gruelling task ahead, but it’s tempting to think that just adding a mile on here or there will help. It won’t, so from here in it’s all about summoning the mental strength to get through.

My legs will get a huge boost from knowing I’ve raised over £1200 towards my £1600 fundraising target for Shelter, with over £500 coming from deep-pocketed friends who piled round last Friday to be fed a world of carbohydrates (think Come Dine With Me, but with more pasta). If you’d like to help me get a little further towards my target, please donate over at my justgiving page.

I’ve started running with RunMeter, a neat little app which tracks route progress and plots it on a map. The neatest features about it is its ability to tweet location / pace updates and read out replies. If you’re a tweeter you can follow me at @simonruns to check how I’m progressing around the course, and you can send me messages of encouragement to be fed into my ear.

Will you be watching the race? Let me know if you are, and where, and I’ll try and look out for you. I reckon I’ll be finishing between 4h30m and 5h. And then having a very long sit down.

  • Days to go: 6
  • Calories per day: at least 3000
  • Money left to raise: £392
  • Volume of ash in lungs: increasing
  • Likelihood of winning marathon due to elite athletes being stranded by ash: also increasing

Pink Velcro

Pink stripy paw Now, I don’t recommend picking up a fracture of any description whilst training for a marathon – it’s a pain. Most of my long runs in the last 6 weeks or so have involved swelling and pain, so I was very relieved to hear today, on my latest hand therapist check-up, that I’m healing up very nicely indeed. I was even rewarded by having a length of neon-pink velcro to accessorise my new, less restrictive splint. I’m not allowed to do any weight training for another 6 weeks or so but I can live with that.

So how’s the running going? Truth is after a difficult few weeks post-injury in February, things have been going well. I was lucky enough to spend a week in South Africa this month and whilst there managed to complete a few pretty long runs on hills in the heat, which was tough but great training. I’ve also been gorge walking a couple of times which I think has strengthened my achilles.

Last night I completed my longest run to date at 17.1 miles. I took it pretty steady and did a couple of laps around Hyde Park (though I did accidentally get locked in Kensington Gardens and nearly speared my thigh climbing out*), before heading up and looping around Regent’s Park, to make it home in about 2h45m.

I’ve started employing a couple of little mental tricks to keep me going on longer runs. One of these is to tell myself that I’ve only run four miles so far (regardless of the truth) and that I only really have to think about the next four. Weirdly that thought alone seems to give my legs more renewed energy than any number of jelly babies.

I just need to do one more 18/19 miler and then it’s three weeks of sweet, sweet tapering and pasta-eating. As exhilarating and exciting as completing such long distances is, I’m very much looking forward to getting my legs and my life back.

  • Days to go: 27
  • Miles in the last week: 29
  • Thighs: disproportionately bulbous
  • Sponsorship: Up to £305 – but a long way to go! Please please sponsor me!

* Getting stuck in parks has been a general theme of my training. Last week I ran around the Greenpoint Stadium in Cape Town and accidentally got stuck in a not-yet-finished bit of landscape park in front of it…

Glutes loose about this hoose

In my first ever physio rehab session this week, with the unforgiving Kelly, I noticed that one of my knees doesn’t point forwards like the other one. It points inwards slightly.

“It’s because you have a weak bum”, piped Kelly, cheerily, “especially on your right side”. This is the major cause of my achilles woes, which is having to work harder to deal with my foot landing the wrong way.

So, to my daily routine of pasta-a-go-go and finger clenches for my sore paw, I must now add clam stretches, one-legged squats, transversus amdominus engagement (a bit like pelvis floor tensing, which I can sneakily do in meetings).

If I reach the £300 mark this week in donations I will share pictures of humiliating butt stretches. Clothed, obviously. I must retain some dignity.

  • Days to go: 57
  • Money raised so far: £190. Thanks all! Keep it coming! There’s a long way to go. Sponsor my puny ass!
  • Miles this week: 13
  • Word of the week: clench

A few unexpected hurdles

Stripy paw

No running this week as I waited to see how bad the grumpy achilles & fractured hand are bearing up. The good news is that the achilles has got a lot better with some rest. The less good news is the hand is still pretty sore.

I’m all strapped up like Dennis The Menace in my fancy splint which was custom-made for me by a lovely hand therapist at UCLH. I even had a choice of blue, red or neon-pink velcro.

I’m going to attempt my first run with it tomorrow, I’m super-conscious that my balance won’t be what it was, and the jarring probably won’t do it much good.

Running impairment aside, these are some more fundamental things I’ve also found difficult this week:

  1. Turning socks inside out
  2. Putting socks on once you have made them the right way round
  3. Doing up button-fly jeans (especially with my little mid-twenties paunch…)
  4. Taking the lid off marmalade
  5. Cracking open an egg in one piece
  6. Eating porridge without spilling all over myself
  7. Cutting up food (thanks to all who have helped in this matter this week!)

I’m still very much on for the marathon, and whilst it’s very unlikely I’ll be setting any speed records, it’ll be a huge achievement to get round.

As it’s been quite a mentally and physically tough week – more so than any other week so far, I’ve decided to try and boost my morale a bit by setting up my fundraising page.

ShelterPlease, please sponsor me – I’m raising money for Shelter, whose good work for the homeless has always filled me with admiration. Hearing the stories of people they help only serves to put my minor injury into perspective and strengthen my resolve to complete the marathon and hit my fundraising target.

The best laid training plans…

Gang aft agley. The last couple of weeks I’ve been hit with with a few setbacks.

It’s worth mentioning first off that Howard and I managed a decent 12-miler around Regent’s Park, Primrose Hill, down along the canal through Camden and King’s Cross to Angel, before heading down through the City to cross over the river and head back up over Waterloo bridge to finish. We didn’t set any speed records but it felt good to run a long way in the low sun, seeing so much of the city in one go.

A few days and shorter runs later though my achilles started to play up again. As it got no better this week I finally went to see a physio on Friday who taped up my leg, suggested switching to cycling for a week, perhaps some new trainers (which don’t correct my over-pronation quite so much) and some exercises for my glutes (I have a weak butt, allegedly). All of which not ideal but in no way showstopping.

Weaving through Covent Garden on my return to work from the physio however, I slipped and fell down a metal staircase, landing on my left hand and bum. After an excruciating 90-min work meeting I took myself to A&E where they informed me I have a fractured metacarpal.


I have a splint which I’m wearing for the next few weeks and i’m just hoping it heals quickly, though there is still a fair bit of swelling as the above shows. With tying shoelaces and putting t-shirts on a bit of a challenge, I’ve realised this is going to limit my training options still further.

  • Days to go: 71
  • Typing with: one hand
  • Feeling: undeterred
  • Eating: food which can be eaten with a spork

Training for the London Marathon: Week 4

On Tuesday, a chap next to me at the gym fell off his treadmill. He recovered himself pretty well and, after shooting off the back and into the cross trainer behind, got back on and carried on gingerly. Particularly impressive considering he was going at a fair lick of 12km/h at a hefty incline. It’s always been a big fear of mine – it only takes one wrong footfall to end up faceslamming the deck with significant force.

Obviously as the internet (and procrastionation) knows no bounds, someone has already created a playlist of You’ve Been Framed style treadmill capers. Watch and wince.

Things I learned this week:

  1. Eating cherries can reduce muscle pain
  2. 94% of runners are College/University educated, and 20% say their favourite restaurant chain is McDonalds. This and other statistics from the 2007 Running USA Conference in San Diego can be found over at Dean Karnazes’ blog
  3. Whilst running long distances, the body cannot, in fact, reabsorb waste water from the bladder, as my dubious running book told me. However, Frogs can reabsorb glucose from their bladders.

Next week: it’s all about the sponsorship…

2010 London Marathon Training: Week 3

Time is flying by. Flying! This week started with a lovely 8-miler last Sunday – two laps around a beautifully crisp, blue-sky Hyde Park with Howard. We were quick on the first lap but slowed down a lot on the second lap, mainly due to my legs becoming a bit leaden.

Since then I’ve squeezed in two further runs, two body pump classes and some cycling, but today the achilles is complaining again, so I think I will tone it down for a few days.

So I need to start fundraising. My justgiving page is set up, but before I unleash it on the world I’m trying to think of other ways to fundraise. To complement my love of dishing up dodgy dinners to friends I’m probably going to host a Come Dine With Me style fundraiser, and I have another few ideas up my sleeve too, but I’m drawing the line at sitting in a bath of beans (I’ll just eat them all) or dying my hair red.

  • Days to go: 92
  • Miles this week: 15.5
  • Eating: eggs benedict (not necessarily the healthiest but DAMN good)
  • Alcohol: 18 units. Yikes! Not drinking is hard.

2010 London Marathon Training: Week 2

Compared with last week, this week’s training has been much more full-on. The achilles niggle was sorted after a week off pounding the streets, and I managed to get four pretty decent runs in. My body’s really not used to this sort of behaviour though, and I’ve been sleeping like a log, solidly, all week. No-one tells you that starting to train in earnest will drain your energy so!

I’ve also cut down the boozing which, when there’s an appreciable amount of wine and gin in the house, means I’m going to have to find new uses for all this undrunk alcohol. Bicep curls with Bombay Sapphire maybe?

  • Days to go: 99
  • Miles this week: 17.8
  • Eating: Thai Chicken Curry
  • Alcohol: Yes please! Oh. Um. 12 units.

Training for the 2010 London Marathon: Week 1

The first four months of this year are going to be nearly entirely focussed on getting fit enough to run the Virgin London Marathon on April 25th. I’ll be running for Shelter, the homelessness and housing charity, and my fundraising will be getting underway in earnest in the coming weeks. To keep me motivated and track progress I’m going to be recording my exercise regime and thoughts here until the big day.

This week
I’ve been hampered a little by a tender achilles tendon in my right leg. Contracting this injury in 2007 put me out of the Great North Run, so this time I’m determined not to aggravate it. With this in mind, other than following the RICE (Rest, Ice, Compress, Elevate) philosophy, I’ve changed my workouts, switching to low-impact Body Pump classes and rowing instead of running.

Body Pump is essentially weight lifting to music, aiming to improve core strength. If you’ve ever seen one of these classes you may be mistaken in thinking they are an easy option. With the right weights though, these are pretty bloody tough work. The sheer ridiculousness of doing bicep curls to the sound of Bon Jovi with twenty other people (and the peer pressure) never fails to amuse and motivate.

I also discovered this week that I’ve gained 12lbs in weight since September, not all of which can be muscle, so I’ll be looking at my diet to cut out a bit of the fat.

  • Days to go: 106
  • Eating: porridge
  • Listening to: the slightly marvellous Running Trax compilation by Ministry of Sound
  • Sleeping: lots