First, a bit about the more important run of the weekend – parkrun! Robert and I stayed in King’s Cross and with over thirty parkruns all easily reachable by tube or train, the choice wasn’t easy. We had already made the pilgrimage to Bushy, the Mecca of parkrun. It regularly attracts over 800 runners so I thought something on the opposite end of the scale would be nice. Pymmes parkrun in Edmonton, North London, with an average turnout of 16 and a highest of 34, was celebrating its third anniversary so the lure of cake was hard to resist. When we got there, the run director immediately recognized us as tourists; no surprise there. The course is a pan flat three lapper entirely on tarmac paths with very few turns. The fastest times there are usually over 20 mins so the temptation was there to go for a first place finish but with a marathon to do the next day and a lower leg sprain that had gotten quite painful just a few days previously, common sense prevailed and I jogged around in just under 23 mins with Robert. No doubt because of the anniversary, they had a new record turnout of 44. A table was set up right next to the finish with treats and the most amazing cake in the shape of a pair of trainers and after everyone finished, the run director gave a quick awards presentation to the points table winners and volunteers. The whole event that morning had the feel of a family affair. I’ve been to some of the biggest parkruns in the country but I think Pymmes really captures the spirit of parkrun with its super friendly tight knit community.
On to the big day then. If you’ve read my report from last year, you’ll know I didn’t exactly have the greatest time. London is not my kind of race. Too many runners, too many people yelling at you, too many water bottles littered about; it’s just overwhelming. I won’t deny the atmosphere is fantastic though. I was lucky enough to win a place through Lucozade in a parkrun competition and along with a ton of their sports drink, they sent me over a branded shirt with my name printed on it. I was torn between wearing this and the club shirt not least because having my name yelled at me as I struggled after 20 miles (something I accepted was inevitable) wouldn’t be very fun. I took both so I could decide on the day but in the end I went with theirs and was glad I did. Apparently, there were 15 people who had won a place though them in various competitions and I got to meet quite of a few them before the start as they were all wearing their shirts. One of them in the start pen with me even worked at Lucozade!
I had absolutely no expectations for this race. After coming back from a two month injury lay off in January, I just couldn’t be bothered to train and wasn’t sure I could even finish with the sprained leg hurting quite a bit. I set my watch for a 3:30 pace and stayed just ahead of it the entire time. Right from the start, the crowds were getting on my nerves and the waste bottles even more so. Still, the sun was out and the temperature was perfect, so I tried to enjoy it as best I could. At 13 miles on Tower Bridge, Robert caught up with me, chatted for a bit and took off. Some time after, the elites went flying past in the opposite direction already 22 miles into it. Mo Farah was in somewhere around 7th and he got a huge cheer from the runners and crowd. I was feeling alright but knew I couldn’t keep the pace up for much longer. The Lucozade drink was really helping but I kept wishing the stations were at closer intervals rather than just every five miles. This meant I had to run with the bottle for long periods but thankfully I had practiced this in training.
At around 16 miles, I felt like the wheels were coming off and the urge to walk for a bit was rising. Then, a godsend. Up to this point, I was mostly ignoring the crowd but for some reason I happened to notice a couple of women with a sign that read “Wave if you love parkrun”. Maybe it’s the parkrun nerd in me but their reaction to my wave gave me the most amazing lift. I started to speed up a bit. Or it felt like it anyway. After 20 miles, my watch said I was two minutes ahead of my target pace. There was no way that was possible but this was where I had crashed last year so I decided to just go for it and ran as hard as I could expecting my legs to give up anytime. They didn’t. For the first time, I managed to run the second half of a marathon quicker, albeit by a tiny bit. Last year, I couldn’t enjoy the last 5k along the Embankment (the best bit) at all. This time, I was flying along and the support of the crowds was the most amazing thing ever. With a kilometre to go, my watch said I was over three minutes ahead. Down Birdcage Walk, past Buckingham Palace, round the corner and a flat out sprint along The Mall to the finish with my bottle of Lucozade held aloft as I crossed the mat scraping in just under 3:30! I couldn’t believe it. The watch must have conked out with all the buildings around and given me the wrong pace. Still, I was ecstatic I had gotten under 3:30.
I had an invite for post-race hospitality at the Lucozade office a short but much needed warm down walk from the finish. Robert, who had finished two minutes ahead of me, I brought along and we met Jeremy there, already getting a well-deserved massage after finishing in an awesome PB of 3:19. Some champagne, a huge buffet, chat with some of the other competition winners and the train back to Newcastle in the evening; not a bad day’s work.
Also, I think I may have developed a Lucozade addiction.