A very very hot London Marathon, London, UK, 22 April 2018

Well, that wasn’t much fun… We couldn’t pretend that we hadn’t been warned as the weather forecasts had been pretty consistently alarming in the run-up. However, let’s be honest, UK forecasters have an unfortunate tendency to send frightening warnings out for 2mm of snow or temperatures over 20C so I was taking it all with a pinch of salt for once. Surely, as per usual, the panic button was pressed too soon. Well… nope. It was a furnace, and it was hell.

As I’m a bit tight on time today, I thought I’d list a few bullet points this time instead of a riveting narrative that would keep you gripped to your seat. Business-mode and all that…:

  • They’ve had a fair bit of practice at making this run smoothly over the years but it’s still worth giving a big thumbs up to the organisers for the really well sign-posted, laid out and organised starting areas. They had ‘London 2012-style’ volunteers all the way from the train station, free water bottles, plentiful amounts of toilets, well-managed bag-drop lorries etc. Well done!
  • However, here’s a big middle finger to the runner smoking right next to me in the ‘fast Good for Age runners’ waiting pen. Seriously?! I know you were nervous but come on …
  • It was HOT. Even waiting around for half an hour before the race was getting us all somewhat twitchy (and leaky, as I found out from being the recipient of splash-back from runners peeing against the barrier. Gross.). The only silver lining in the weather forecast’s dark cloud was that they’d announced…broken clouds throughout the day which could at least have given us some on/off respite. Erm, clouds? Anyone? Someone didn’t get the script and it was an absolutely beautiful day (for supporters) without a single bloody cloud in sight. Anywhere.
  • They said it was 24C but my arse that it was only 24C. In the shade, maybe. Maybe. I’d be amazed if it wasn’t over 30C once you also add the heat beaming back up off the tarmac. Considering we were training in snow a month ago, this was a slight shock to the system, to say the least.
I look a lot happier than I was!!
  • The start was fine, a few shoulder barging incidents aside. I’d planned to go off at 4 minute kilometres for as long as possible and then see what happens, as per my normal race strategy: that normally means the first 30km at that pace followed by a slow-down and a final time in the low 2:50s. It started off ok and I reached the 5km mark in 20.01 which was pretty accurate pacing! It then started unravelling a bit…
  • They say a picture paints a thousand words…

    To me, over-heating means getting the hot sweats, then cold sweats, then getting panicky, then being short of breath etc and, ultimately, just feeling super sick. Yesterday wasn’t like that for me or for many of my clubmates. It was more that we really rapidly lost all our strength. While I should be able to ‘half-jog’ a 10km in 40 minutes, I felt insanely sluggish at that pace after only 7km. It felt like I’d already run a full marathon, it was like nothing I’d ever felt before (other than say after an actual marathon). My totally non-medical training makes me guess that my body was exceptionally warm and, as it was struggling to cool down, it was sending messages to every muscle exerting itself saying ‘I’m going to make this feel nightmare-ish so you stop what you’re doing now, muahaha’. At that point, I switched my watch off the pace-mode and ran to feel (which was not fast).

  • From then onwards, I kept going by breaking up the race and working out at what point it may be acceptable to pull out. The first objective was to get to 14km where Pippa would be cheering me on so I could give her a head’s up that I’d be slowing down so she wouldn’t worry. Then, it was to make it half way. Then, to the 23km mark where other club members would be (on that note, thank you everyone I knew and other supporters cheering us all on). Then, to see Pippa again at 29km to tell her I’d be walking/running on-off ‘til the end. It was that kind of race… I’ve never seen so many top-level club runners starting to walk from 10km onwards. I managed not to walk until just before the 30km mark, at which point I took the first of my three 50m walking stops.
Although it looks like I’m running, I’m actually just about to stop for 5 seconds to chat to Pippa to tell her how hard this is…!
  • Narcissistically, one of the main reasons I didn’t want to actually pull out was that I didn’t want a DNF on Power of 10. Priorities, right …
  • One other thing that did keep me going was, thankfully, the thousands and THOUSANDS of litres of water and, based on my rough calculations (40,000 runners x ~15 bottles each), not far from a million water bottles which were laid out essentially every mile from 5km onwards (ok, the environmental impact was horrific, but let’s ignore that). The ‘rule’ was to only take one bottle at each station which I mostly stuck to but there were times later in the race when I needed two: one to pour over me and one to half sip/half pour. The half-a-dozen showers were a great relief too but their cooling effect didn’t last long. And I feel genuinely sorry for the slower runners for whom water had run out at miles 8, 9 and 10 by the time they got there. Sorry…
  • (Oh, and thank you to all the volunteers who made the race possible!)
  • Also, a note to the organisers: mid-race, there is nothing more upsetting than picking up a bottle of water to cool yourself down only to find out that it’s been lying out in the sun for a few hours and is lukewarm/hot. Nooooo.
  • It’s all over. And you get a bonus topless picture.

    That said, warm water is still rehydrating and kept most of us just about going. Towards the ‘front-end’ of the race, you’ve normally always got a few runners struggling but, as a whole, runners know what they’re doing, they’ve trained well and they know how not to push themselves too much. Yesterday was a war zone, with zombie-runners far too common an occurrence. There were quite a few runners down too, and it was very saddening to hear today that one of those I remember running by at 22.5 miles died after the race.

  • Well done (begrudgingly!) to the fancy dress runners who flew past me, either dressed as a penguin, a Star Wars character or on their way to a word record wearing a wedding dress!
  • Like most people, times didn’t matter yesterday: of the 20 or so friends running, a few got PBs but these were still way off target times and only one person I can think of actually met their target. The rest were between 5 and 30 minutes off target. Me: 23 minutes off my last PB. Youch.
  • But, then again, finishing was the only target yesterday so no one really cared. I did, however, achieve one personal best: my PB for number of gels guzzled during a race, which now stands at 9. Yes, nine. In hindsight, maybe that was why I woke up halfway through last night, wide awake and buzzing…

Time: 3h16.32 (2,583/47,810)

Speed

Weather

Pain

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