London Marathon 2014 – Yu’s review

For the 2013 race, please click the following:

2014 London Marathon bib

Woohoo! I made it into pen number 3!

Wowoweewow. What a marathon! Mostly ups, not many downs and I now have a shiny new marathon PB and a shiny new fiancée as well. So, grab yourself a coffee, a snack and read on to find out what happened in my 2014 London Marathon. As ever, if you’re just interested in my race experience, then just head straight to “The race” but I highly recommend you read it all.

More photos will be added as they come through from various sources so keep checking back to see any new image updates.

A marathon history lesson

I ran last year’s London Marathon and whilst I didn’t fare too badly, I missed my mark by over 20 minutes. I was prepared but not well enough, and the typical British weather proved problematic with 6 inches of snow only 3 weeks before a sweltering heat wave that hit the nation. Add being stuffed into pen 8 out of 9 to my list of problems and it would have taken a miracle last year to break 3:30 over 26.2 miles.

Running the final 6 miles with Suz West, the last thing going through my mind was the thought of running another marathon. Everything hurt, from my neck and shoulders, to my legs and feet. My stomach was in knots and doing cartwheels at the same time for an incredibly unpleasant experience. But like any serious running enthusiast, unfinished business only makes you stronger with a desire to put things right, so I entered the ballot again. Getting one ballot place takes some good going but two in a row? I didn’t think so either but you’ve “got to be in it to win it” as they say and low and behold, I bagged another place . I did promise to myself that if I got in, I would plan to propose to my long-suffering girlfriend/running widow, Lis, whilst out on the course. Talk about making a monumental effort even tougher than normal!

Training for this year’s London Marathon went very well. Plenty of 20+ mile long runs, some work at marathon pace, a few tune-up races and some faster sessions all had me feeling reasonably confident to go sub-3:30 and even possibly sub-3:25. The taper had also gone to plan and I was full of energy; nervous energy but energy all the same.

The London Marathon expo

I had booked the Friday off from work to get prepared and also attend the London Marathon expo to collect my race number. I also wanted an in-depth wander around what is running geek nirvana. There are exhibitors of all sorts present, including the likes of Adidas, Garmin, Lucozade and so on.

New Balance mascot

New Balance had shoe mascots welcoming people

On my way to ExCeL, I was stood on the platform of Canning Town DLR station and almost everybody had a copy of the London Marathon Final Instructions magazine in their hands. Arriving at the expo, I got a real sense of the size and scale of the event to unfold on Sunday; Friday is one of the quieter days but it was still very busy inside.

London Marathon expo registration

Registration was smooth and quick

Collecting my race number was very smooth with just one person ahead of me in my queue. I had already contacted the race organisers earlier in the week to confirm with them regarding what printed race result evidence they would need from me to get myself promoted to a faster start pen; turns out there was no need in the end because I had been plonked slap bang in pen 3, designated for runners aiming to finish between 3:15 and 3:29.

My new aggressive foam roller

Say hello to my new best friend/worst enemy

Once I had been processed, I was free to wander around the expo for a few hours. I had already decided that I wouldn’t go nuts and buy tonnes of merchandise unlike last year. The one thing I did want was a more aggressive foam roller to complement the one Iain and Elsa gave me for my birthday several years ago. I think it’s safe to say that what I ended up with definitely fits the bill! I declined a bag for it and I certainly received some odd looks whilst I travelled through central London to get back home…

I managed to meet a few famous faces at the expo as well…

Chris Thompson at the London Marathon

Chris Thompson at the London Marathon Expo

I was passing by the main stage when I noticed Chris Thompson was being interviewed. Chris won the Silverstone Half Marathon that Dave and I recently raced at and would be making his marathon debut in London on Sunday. After his interview, I made a beeline towards him for a photo and a quick chat; he was very friendly and interested in my race plans for the big day. I wished him well and went on my way.

Scott Overall at the London Marathon

Scott Overall at the London Marathon Expo

Wandering around the Adidas stand, I noticed Scott Overall was stood alone and nobody took any notice of him. I made my way over to say “hello” and grabbed a photo with Scott, also chatting about our respective race plans. He told me he was due over on the main stage for an interview so he ran over there and I followed in pursuit.

Martin Yelling at the London Marathon

Martin Yelling at the London Marathon Expo

Whilst sat down and listening to Scott’s interview, I noticed Martin Yelling – Marathon Talk co-host – also watching the interview. Regular readers of this blog will know of my love for the Marathon Talk podcast (it’s not just for people that run marathons, all forms of running are covered) so meeting Martin was a serious OMG moment for me. I shook his hand and he said, “I love your t-shirt by the way”, clearly noticing the 26.2 Marathon Talk t-shirt I was wearing. We had a chat about his Manchester Marathon, how his recovery was going, and also the recent Boy On The Run skit along with Tony Audenshaw’s latest song, “The Things You Hear Before a Marathon”. It was great discussing Marathon Talk with Martin, if a little odd where it felt like I was speaking with a fellow listener rather than with the co-host of the show. He did mention that Tom Williams was somewhere at the expo but wasn’t due back on the stage for another 1 or 2 hours. It would have been nice to also meet Tom to complete the set, so to speak!

Conscious that I’d already been at the expo for close to 3 hours, I decided it was time to call it a day and head back into central London to grab some grub with Iain.

The day before

Lis and I travelled to London via first class train; believe it or not, the first class tickets were actually a good £7 cheaper than travelling standard class for some bizarre reason.

We were staying at the Ibis in Blackfriars/Southwark which scored top marks from me. Clean, quiet and modern and reasonably priced for Central London. I spent much of the afternoon watching Scooby Doo and The Goonies on TV, doing my best to stay off my feet and just unwind.

Whilst in Covent Garden waiting for Lis’ parents, I randomly bumped into Matt (what are the chances, eh?), Cheryl’s boyfriend who was on his way to meet the girls over on Oxford Street. I needed to get the engagement ring to Lis’ dad, Philip, to look after for me until it was needed the next day. Unfortunately, they couldn’t make it to Covent Garden so I had to some how get the ring to him at dinner without arousing suspicion from anyone. I need not have worried at all but it was comical that there was a square shaped bulge in Philip’s trousers for most of the evening…

I never sleep well the night before a major race and this was no exception. I was tossing and turning and I couldn’t stop thinking about the next day, probably sleeping less than I did last year!

Race day

Andy Yu ready to race at the London Marathon

Ready to race at the London Marathon

Since I was already wide awake before 6am, I decided to simply start getting ready and put the extra time available to good use. The lack of sleep had hit me and I didn’t feel nearly as fresh as I did on Saturday. The weather was also dramatically sunnier and warmer than on Saturday too – why, oh why couldn’t I have raced on Saturday instead?!

I’d been having Starbucks’ cinnamon swirls for breakfast as of late and they worked an absolute treat. They taste great and are energy dense in a fairly small package making them perfect for race day. Starbucks are absolutely everywhere in London so there was never a concern about sourcing them.

Watered, fed and showered, I got dressed into my race day garb and made my way over to Southwark Tube station for the walk through to Waterloo East. Runners get free Tube travel along with free train travel to the start areas in Greenwich, which is muchos appreciated.

As a contrast to last year, my train to Blackheath was pretty empty. 12 months prior, I had to stand the whole way but I had half of an entire carriage to myself on this occasion. I fired up a few tunes on my iPhone to get me primed for the task ahead.

Blue start at the London Marathon

The blue start, but no Japanese news crew this year

After a short walk, I arrived at the Blue Start area and entered in through the one-way gate. Only runners are allowed beyond the entrance and it was surprising to see so many runners with their friends and families, either unaware of the policy or happy to travel all the way out to Greenwich to then travel back into central London to spectate out on the course.

At only 8am, the sun was already out in full force. When not in the shade, the warmth of the sun was definitely noticeable on the skin and I knew people’s race results would be affected. I initially plonked myself down next to one of the marquees but I was starting to heat up too quickly so I made my way back into the shade where I was then too cold!

Andy and Richard the Parkrunner

Andy and Richard the Parkrunner at the London Marathon

I started speaking to a Parkrunner from Bromley to pass the time. He told me his local event had actually been flooded for the last few months with all the rain that’d been battering the nation of late. He was hoping for 4:30 or better which would have landed him pretty much bang in the middle of all the finishers for the day.

After several toilet visits, I checked my red kit bag in and jogged in circles for maybe 5 minutes or so before making my way into my start pen. It was mostly blokes in the third pen with maybe a 50/50 split between Brits and visiting runners from abroad, at least based on those stood immediately around me. Iain and I were discussing the day before about where would be the best place for me to position myself; we settled on the front of my pen, agreeing that it would be wise to let others go around me if they were desperate to go faster.

After observing several people pissing against the wire fence overlooking families with kids in the park, I decided to join in and empty my bladder one last time; I didn’t want to have to stop mid-run like last year and figured I’d look after number one (pun intended). Before too long, we were ushered forward before coming to a stop. The announcers introduced the elites and after a few cheers, the countdown began and on the sound of the air horn, the 2014 London Marathon began.

The race

Despite being in pen 3, we were all running with very little breathing space around us. I repeatedly told myself that I would stay calm and just go with the pace for the first mile or two and then assess the damage and go from there. I was actually able to run on the blue line quite often which was a complete contrast to last year where it wasn’t until mile 18 or so before I had a clear run.

The sun was right on us for what would become a slow cook over the course of the day. I was carrying a bottle of Lucozade and sipping it periodically to stay hydrated and fuelled, looking to recreate the Bramley 20 race back in February that went beautifully for me. I quickly realised that I had over done it by carrying 8 gels on my gel belt; they were all jostling about with the additional weight quite noticeable. I decided to go with it for a little while longer with plans to sink a gel every 3 miles or so.

The first mile marker appeared very quickly with my watch beeping after passing through the gantry. I was in high spirits thinking all I had to do was maintain a clean line for the rest of the race. I estimated there would be some excess distance covered and hoped for 26.4 and no more, unlike last year where I covered 26.7 miles in total.

The early miles flew by and before too long, the blue start and the red start began to merge. Whilst it was by no means as jarring as it was last year, there was still a noticeable build-up in the crowds around me on the narrow London streets. I was also surrounded by multiple 3:30 pacers and their followers from all three different starts; what’s annoying is there’s no obvious way to identify which start area the pacers are actually from so you could happily be running alongside one group only to then find out that they’ve started behind or in front of you, taking you around at a pace that’s possibly too slow or too fast.

After sinking a gel, I decided to discard two from from my belt and move another to my hand. I instantly felt much lighter and ready to rock and roll. My third mile split was firmly on race pace target for what was unfolding to become a well-executed race plan.

The eagle-eyed amongst you may have already spotted a new addition to my race day kit in the form of my name  across my chest. I had too much pride last year to go down this road but after witnessing the boost that the crowds can give you when they’re cheering your name, I figured I’d be stupid not to take advantage of something so simple. The first time I heard somebody shout, “go Andy!” was incredibly intoxicating and quite addictive. I quickly began to see how many people would cheer out my name on the course and sometimes purposely ran along the side to try and draw some attention.

There was still a bit of jostling amongst us runners but nowhere near as bad as my last 26.2 mile outing. I continued to run on the blue line where possible but the distance rot was starting to make itself known with my Garmin growing increasingly out of sync with the mile markers.

Whilst London is known as a reasonably flat course, there are quite a few undulations in places and this caught me off guard a little. The roads on the course were also piss-poor with potholes and plenty of uneven surfaces to catch your feet on. I did actually witness one guy fall over on one of the narrower streets and whether that was due to the road, a stray bottle or being clipped by a fellow runner, the importance of keeping your wits about you at all times until the course opens up can’t be stressed enough.

Arriving at the Cutty Sark, I was able to run quite a clean line around the ship. This was the first densely populated crowd along the course; there are very few quiet patches during the London Marathon and despite the organisers’ suggestions to not spectate at the Cutty Sark, nobody seems to pay any attention and heads there anyway to cheer on loved ones.

The crowds around me thinned a little more at mile 8 which provided some much needed relief. A marathon is stressful enough and without ample breathing room, it’s difficult to settle into a rhythm and relax into race pace. I noticed somebody having a BBQ along the roadside but they neglected to offer any sausages or burgers for runners passing by.

Whilst not proactively running with a pacing group, I did notice that one of the 3:30 pacers was consistently running on the right-hand side of the course. I thought to myself, “here’s a pacer that knows what they’re doing!” by keeping all of his runners to one side of the road and freeing up the other side for those looking to pass and so on. The next 3:30 pacer up ahead wasn’t as thoughtful, choosing to run right in the middle of the course with his followers spilling out all over the already congested road.

I very quickly found myself turning right towards Tower Bridge without realising I was almost halfway. I began to perk up and positioned myself on the right-hand side of the course to try and catch Iain and Elsa. The crowds surrounding Tower Bridge were insane and the noise produced was deafening. The energy was high and I was careful not to get carried away with an excessively fast mile split. Exiting Tower Bridge, I was on the look out for the corner before turning right again and just where I’d planted my eyes were Iain and Elsa! I yelled out to them and they cheered back at me, providing an instant lift to power me on to the halfway point.

I reached 13.1 miles in 1:45 or so; all I had to do was continue running at my target pace and I would dip under 3:30 with about a minute to spare. I started to worry because I obviously had to propose to Lis out on the course as well, which could take a minute on its own… I decided I would keep going and re-assess the situation after 20 miles. At this point, there was no doubt that I wouldn’t hit my target; I was feeling strong, swift and ready to cover the distance. My breathing wasn’t laboured at all and whilst I was warm, I was regularly pouring water over myself to help keep my temperature under control.

Mo Farah at Tower Bridge

Mo Farah at Tower Bridge – photo by Elsa Tam

At around mile 14, I saw the elites coming through on the other side of the road. The cheers started to get louder and I quickly realised that Mo Farah must have been coming through. The crowd started going wild and there was the man himself, zooming past but clearly not in first place or even in contention for a podium position. The poor guy has had so much pressure put on him by the media and various sports pundits; if he doesn’t run a marathon, then he’s criticised for not having a go and when he does, he’s criticised for not coming first or breaking a British record. It’s his first marathon and very few people get the distance right first time. Hell, it’s generally agreed that elite marathon runners only peak after 7 or 8 stabs at the marathon so how’s a first timer expected to beat the strongest male marathon elite field ever assembled?

Somewhere around mile 15

Notice Forest Gump in the bottom left corner

Moving into the Isle of Dogs area of the course, somebody dressed as Forrest Gump was running alongside me for a while. I’m always amazed at the guys in costume that are able to pull off quick times because what must they be capable of in regular running gear? The Isle of Dogs is one of the extremely narrow parts of the course and spectating crowds were spilling out on to the road again like last year. There isn’t enough room for us runners as it is and the last thing we want happening is some stray spectator getting knocked down. There needs to be better marshalling in the tight spots on the course because spectators clearly aren’t going to control themselves.

Arriving in Canary Wharf, the tall buildings provided some much needed relief from the sun that continued to cook us all alive. The crowds started to cheer me on a little and once again, I was like a drug addict being given a taste of what I needed but not enough to satisfy. I loved hearing the crowds cheer my name and so I started throwing my arms in the air, working the spectators up. Like a conductor at an orchestra, they all followed my commands and began cheering my name! Chants of “Andy, Andy, Andy!” spurred me on. “You’ve got this, Andy!” and “You’re doing great, Andy!” became my fuel to keep running at race pace. Seriously speaking, if you’re reading this and about to take on your first marathon, do yourself a huge favour and have your name on display – the crowds truly do pick you back up when you’re stumbling and sing for you when you’re winning.

I ran alongside a guy in a chicken costume for about a mile, which also drove me to push on and leave him behind. I’ve already been shamed in the past by having photos taken of me sprinting against a chap in an astronaut costume; I wasn’t about to allow it to happen again, least of all at the London Marathon of all places! I have since found out that the chicken was going for a world record but missed his mark by a few minutes.

I had accidentally missed two Lucozade stops out on the course – one at mile 15 and one at 19. Due to the narrow course, it’s actually quite rare that drink stations are available from both sides of the road and there’s little to no warning when they’re either only on the left or the right. On both occasions, I was on the opposite side of the road and it was impossible to stop and go back. I was down to my last gel and I needed to sink it, banking on being able to pick up a Lucozade at mile 23 when the road is super wide and there are runners dropping like flies to clear a path for me.

Exiting Canary Wharf, it was time to dig deep but it simply wasn’t happening. My legs were feeling fine and my lungs were ready to go the distance, but I clearly started to fade. I had by no means hit the wall because I was still able to run, albeit 20 – 30 seconds slower than race pace; I guess it was fatigue setting in through a culmination of a bad night’s sleep, warm temperatures and missing two Lucozade stations. I began to swing my arms to try and develop a rhythm but race pace wasn’t materialising. People all around me started to walk, with a few stopping entirely and some were even stretchered away due to collapse. Those that were still running were slowing at an even faster pace than I was, so the number of people I overtook in the final 6 miles must have been quite high. I gritted my teeth and did what I could to minimise the damage.

At around mile 21, Matt and Cheryl spotted me and yelled out “beetroot!” on Lis’ advice. I received a boost from this but it only pushed me on for so long before I was back at slower than race pace. I tried short faster bursts, almost like a fartlek run, but I couldn’t muster the energy to drive – 8:20s were the only choice on the menu for me.

Looking surprisingly good

Looking surprisingly good!

The crowds in the last 6 miles were really something and all cheered me on. Knowing that thousands of people are watching, you don’t want to let any of them down even though you know you’ll never see any of them ever again. I was feeding off their positive energy and I’m certain I would have run a lot slower if not for their aid.

The water available on the course was no longer a relief after having been warmed up by the sun all morning and afternoon. The sun was shining right on us and there was no hiding at all from the onslaught, with temperatures rapidly rising to their highest at around 1pm when most runners were hitting the slightly tougher second half of the London Marathon. To make matters worse, the course started to undulate again to sap what little energy runners had left in their tanks.

Not looking so good

Not looking so good…

The final Lucozade station on my whistle-stop tour of London had arrived and quite literally, nothing could have possibly tasted sweeter! I glugged a quarter of the bottle down before throwing it to one side – I couldn’t take anymore on-board because my stomach was pretty unsettled and I didn’t want to risk it all coming back up again. I had to hold my hand over my mouth a few times when I really thought I was going to throw up…

My Garmin was now reporting a 0.3 mile differential from the mile markers. This wouldn’t have been so bad if the final few miles were in a straight line, but when the Garmin beeped and there was no mile marker in sight, I can’t deny I wasn’t a little demoralised. Target-wise, I was behind by about 3 minutes and I knew I couldn’t make that time up with just 3 miles left to go with trashed legs. I simply did what I could to stay steady and not allow any further damage to happen. At least I could get my proposal underway without any time pressures!

I simply had a Parkrun left to complete and shouted this out to the runners alongside me, but nobody seemed to know what the hell I was talking about. I dug a little deeper but this made no noticeable difference to the pace on my Garmin. I was now regularly overtaking runners though this in itself was an illusion because I was merely catching up to people that were already slowing down. Once again, the crowds loved that I was overtaking and I received cheers as loud as in Canary Wharf but with no command from me. For a brief moment in time, you’re that spectator’s athletic hero and they care deeply about whether you get to the end or not. All sorts of people were spurring me on and I started high-fiving folks again to try and distract me from the fatigue. Phil Hewitt, author of Keep On Running, spends a lot of time in his book discussing the joys of having people cheer you on in races and it really is something you have to experience for yourself to appreciate how motivating it really is.

I had reached mile 24 and only 2.2 miles stood between me and the end. If I were any less stubborn, I’d have been tempted to slow the pace down and everything would have instantly felt better. My pride, however, would have been permanently dented with the knowledge that I could have done something but chose not to. I gritted my teeth once more and this time dug as deep as I could into what few resources I had left. I managed to shave 10 or so seconds off this mile which felt like a sprint at such a late stage in the marathon. The mile markers also did their usual trick of moving further and further away from each other in my head, with time slowing down like I was in my own Inception dream sequence.

Less than a mile to go!

Less than a mile to go!

Big Ben was now right in front of me as I crossed Westminster Bridge, welcomed back home by the crowds who were positively electric. Cheers of “You’ve got this, Andy!” and “Own this marathon, Andy!” stood out and really stoked the fire inside me to keep pushing for the final mile or so. I was definitely going to miss my sub-3:30 target by a good few minutes so whilst disappointed, I was also slightly relieved because it meant I could stop and propose without worry. That right turn after Big Ben took forever to arrive but in just a few steps, I was finally on the approach to Birdcage Walk and only minutes away from the big finalé, and the end of the race. The crowds continued to welcome runners home, sensing that everybody’s pain could be dulled with their words of encouragement to get them through the final 1km. The “800m to go” sign was now just ahead of me and I tried visualising the route from Cardiff Parkrun’s 800m sign to make it more tolerable – anything to get me to the end. The 600m sign got closer and closer but still felt like it was an eternity away. I was desperately scanning my eyes through the runners ahead to see if any of them would turn right towards The Mall and sure enough, they all started veering off Birdcage Walk. The time had come to get my game face on!

Andy Yu proposing at the London Marathon

Getting down on one knee was easier than expected!

As I turned right, I began frantically moving my eyes through the crowds to spot everybody waiting for me. I caught a glimpse of something yellow and started waving, hoping that it was Lis and her daffodil mask-hat thing; she started waving back along with everybody else around her so it was definitely the right person! I slowed down to avoid overshooting my mark and walked up to the barrier, confusing a few people. I motioned for Philip to come closer and he handed me the box containing the engagement ring. I then began to open the box, presenting it to Lis whilst doing my best to get down on one knee. Surprisingly, this was not a problem despite having run 26 miles and my thoughts quickly turned to fear that I wouldn’t be able to get back up again! On my 26 miles to reach this point, I did wonder about what I would say but sadly, eloquence was not a skill available to my brain running desperately low on energy. I simply blurted out “Will you marry me?” in what must have sounded like drunken gibberish. Lis definitely nodded her head but I don’t recall her saying “yes” – now came the task of fine motor skills to pick the ring up from the box and then slide it on to her finger, hoping that it fitted, and thankfully it did. I gave Lis a kiss and I think the crowd around us started cheering and everybody ushered me on to leave the box and carry on with my race, so I waved and sprinted off on to The Mall to finish things off.

Crossing the finish line

Crossing the finish line of the 2014 London Marathon

My arms were pumping hard and I was on an enormous temporary high after the proposal to power me through to the end. I must have easily overtaken 20, maybe 30 people on my approach towards the finish line and just like that, my foot stepped through the line and I stopped my Garmin – I had finally completed the 2014 London Marathon and gained a fiancée in the process!

Here’s the Garmin data for my 2014 London Marathon.

Post race

I stopped running and wanted to collapse. Looking at the time on my Garmin, a result of 03:34:02 stared right back at me for what was an 18.5 minute PB. That’s almost a Parkrun between me and last year’s finish time! I was exhausted and was ushered along to keep moving forward. I tried bargaining with a marshall to let me stop and lean against a barrier but she wasn’t having any of it, so I moved forward incredibly slowly. My legs were tight and I needed to stretch my quads out to avoid seizing up later on. I was also desperate for a drink so I tried moving towards the goodie bags as quickly as my body would allow. I saw Lis and Elsa through the fences and they told that they’d be waiting in the meet and greet area rather than at Piccadilly Circus as originally planned; knowing how busy it can get there, I thought they were bonkers to try and re-group with me where everybody else is trying to do the same thing with loved ones.

2014 London Marathon medal

The 2014 London Marathon medal

I was given my finisher’s medal and any disappointment I had from the preview images were quickly dispelled – the thing was huge! Early images did not show it against anything for scale so my natural assumption was that it looked very low-key and similar to many other medals I’ve previously earned.

I also received the coveted goodie bag and I started tearing into a cereal bar and a bottle of Lucozade to kick-start the recovery process.

Like at the Silverstone Half Marathon, little ramps were set up for runners to walk on to and volunteers removed our timing chips for us – a nice little touch that I’m sure is really appreciated. I struggle to remove timing chips even after hard half marathons so imagine what it would be like after 26.2 miles!

Crappy photographer missed the medal!

You can’t even see my medal!

The official photographers were taking snaps of runners against the finisher’s backdrop. My photographer last year was very good and took several photos for Suz and me so that we could pick the best one. This year’s photographer was rubbish; he’d somehow managed to take my photo whilst my medal was in mid-spin so it’s perfectly side-on to the lens – I don’t even look like I’m wearing one at all!

Bag collection last year was buttery smooth with no queue at all to retrieve my kit. There was a lot of congestion to get into the baggage area this time but once I was through, the volunteers had spotted me coming and had everything ready for me to collect like clockwork. The New York Marathon tries to dissuade runners from checking kit in and they’ve clearly struggled in recent times, going as far as offering runners posh ponchos in exchange for not checking kit bags in. I don’t get it myself – if London can manage perfectly fine (as do other large city marathons) then why can’t New York?

I made my way slowly to the meet and greet where I was incredibly touched when a young lad (Spanish, maybe Italian) said, “You did great, Andy!”. He didn’t know me and certainly didn’t need to congratulate me either, but I was incredibly touched by his kind words. See, even when the race is over, having your name on your vest is the gift that keeps on giving!

There was no sign of Lis or Elsa so I waited. And I waited. And I waited some more. I had to keep moving for fear that my legs would lock-up otherwise. I tried sitting down on the kerb and ended up making grunt-like noises as I lowered myself down, disturbing a nearby woman and her son; I apologised for the distress and she joked that she was fully expecting her husband to be in a similar state to me. I still couldn’t see the girls so I tried to call them, thinking that the networks would be fine given how many people around me were on phones – no joy. None of my calls connected and thinking about it, everybody I tried calling was on the O2 network either directly or as a virtual network. I tried making a FaceTime call and this had more success, clearly showing signs of connection but it always crapped out ultimately. Don’t rely on phones afterwards and make sure you have a meeting place planned!

I decided to start walking towards Piccadilly Circus as per the original agreement. The walk after a marathon is always a monumental feat and I had somehow ended up on an awkward island next to Trafalgar Square with traffic zooming past, leaving me with no opportunity to cross over safely. I backtracked and used the crossings, but the lights were still changing too quickly for my hobble-come-shuffle for a few hairy moments. Several rickshaw drivers asked me if I wanted to be taken anywhere and had I have had some cash, I would have taken them up on the offer but alas, I continued to Piccadilly Circus on foot.

Finally making it to the agreed meet-up point, I celebrated my double achievement with a now traditional Nandos to further bolster the recovery process. Everybody remarked that I didn’t look too bad considering I had just run a marathon PB – I put it down to better training and running a smarter race compared to last year.

Closing thoughts

I’ve had a few days to digest what’s happened, not only on race day but the entire journey from this time last year.

Last year, it took a few days after the race for me to decide that I wanted to do another marathon. This year, even with how awful I was feeling in the final few miles, the desire to run another marathon was still strong inside me. That sub-3:30 finish still eludes me and I know I have the potential to do it; all I need is the right race on the right day. I am not a natural marathon runner and I feel my ability lies in shorter distances, but once I’ve set my sights on a target, I just simply have to have it.

My training had gone very well this year but in retrospect, I would have added significantly more marathon pace intervals to complement the long runs. I would have also run another 20 mile race at marathon pace, killing two birds with one stone. I was dramatically less sore on Monday afterwards and that’s got to be down to running twice the long run mileage as I did last year.

The London Marathon is 10 shades of crazy and is unlike any race I’ve ever participated in. There’s virtually no part of the course that’s free of people and the amount of noise that’s produced is incredible, almost too much at times. Some atmosphere is good but you need to be able to withdraw at times and just knuckle down with the task at hand. Despite the desire for some quiet time, having my name yelled out by hundreds of people is an experience I will never forget and will probably never experience again – for one day, I felt like an elite athlete.

Will I try and run at London again? Probably not. The congestion at the start is probably the main reason why London loses its appeal for me. The sheer volume of people that they have to get through the start line means it’s not practical to release runners in waves with time between each. I would like to run at Berlin for my next marathon but failing that (ballot entry), I think the Manchester Marathon is now looking decent. The race was a mess at first but the organisers have really pulled their fingers out and corrected a lot of the problems that plagued their inaugural event. There are only a few thousand runners rather than 36,000 which should mean a much smoother and calmer run. Oh, it’s also billed as the UK’s flattest marathon with only 54m of total elevation for the entire 26.2 miles! London is pretty flat but I clocked just under 150m of total elevation on Sunday.

So, what now? I’m going to take it very easy for a week or so to allow my body to recover. I was wrecked last year for a good month or so; I know I won’t be breaking any PBs in 5k or 10k anytime soon so I just need to ease myself back into it. My plans for the rest of the spring and summer is to concentrate on speed; I want some of my raw pace back so that I can start chasing after a sub-19 5k and sub-40 10k again.

Thank you to everybody that’s helped me on this journey – it was a victory for all of us on Sunday.

4 thoughts on “London Marathon 2014 – Yu’s review

  1. Pingback: 2014 – A year in review | Run To Win

  2. Pingback: Virgin London Marathon 2013 – the review of Yu | Run To Win

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