Last weekend I ran the London Marathon in a personal best of 03:14:42. Now I’m writing from a hotel terrace in Zacatecas, Mexico, having flown out to Mexico the day after the marathon. Since then, I’ve bathed away the last of the aches in a thermal spring bath in Aguascalientes, broken my four month training dry spell in style at Mexico’s biggest state fair and done nothing more strenuous than walk to the nearest bar, restaurant or museum.
The timing of this holiday was not accidental. Last year, aiming to break 3:30 in Brighton, I ran 3:19. It made me smile as I crossed the finish line and enjoyed a celebratory cocktail. People congratulated me in the weeks afterwards saying “you must be delighted” and “I bet you’re so happy right now.” But all I felt was spectacularly flat and a bit grumpy.
Apparently this is quite common – something to do with having focused so much time and energy on a specific goal and not really having given much thought to what happens next. For some serious athletes it has even led to depression. So, in a bid to put all thoughts of the marathon out of my mind for a bit and to disrupt my routine so completely that I wouldn’t feel the disruption caused by not having a training plan to follow, I went on holiday.
I realise I’m spoiling that slightly by writing this blog, but a) it is siesta time and b) you have all been so supportive that I thought I should at least let you know how it went.
“The fear” kicked in the night before. I know “the fear” well – it involves the kind of butterflies that make you feel sick and stop you being able to think straight, meaning that getting organised for race day takes twice as long as it should.
Thankfully it was gone by the next morning and the excitement started to mount as soon as I got to Clapham Junction station and saw other people carrying their telltale official red drawstring kit bags. By the time I got on to the train to the start line at Waterloo East, every single person on the platform was a marathon runner.
A soon as I’d found the Green Start (there are three starts to reduce congestion in the early miles as so many people take part) I found someone I knew from one of Save the Children’s corporate partners. We spent the next hour getting ready together which really helped make sure the nerves didn’t come back and meeting some great characters including Joe, who was trying to break the world record for the fastest marathon in a three piece suit, and Bea, who ran her first marathon two years ago aged 63 in less than 4:30, which secured her a Good For Age place in this one.
I started alongside the 3:15 pace runner, and kept up with him for around the first 5k, when I overtook. The first nine miles went by in a complete blur or cheers and music. I couldn’t stop grinning. Despite knowing I was going far too fast (I ran the first 10k in less than 45 minutes) I carried on at that speed until I passed the amazing Save the Children cheer point at Surrey Quays, where all my colleagues were making loads of noise. I then forced myself to slow down to a more steady pace which would have me finish in 3:15 if I maintained it throughout, including a bit of leeway created by my early speeding.
This tactic worked well until about mile 20. Sadly, they always say the best marathons are run at a steady pace throughout…and my final six miles were far from enjoyable. I slowed down considerably, whether due to heatstroke (which I realised I was suffering from after the race), bad pacing or a combination of both. I didn’t really take in much of where I was, the sights along the river or the cheering crowd – I just focused on putting one foot in front of the other, by this stage safe in the knowledge that provided I didn’t stop, I’d done enough to achieve a PB. I did better than that though; I crossed the line in the best possible time I could have hoped for throughout my training.
So, how do I feel about it? Objectively satisfied, but a little scared to probe further into my emotional response, especially while I’m sunbathing on a terrace. I feel better prepared for the post marathon blues this year as I’ve still got 2350 miles to go to ward them off. And next year (and I realise it’s very easy to say this now) I might just forget the PB quest, chill out and enjoy the whole thing as much as I enjoyed the first 9 miles this year.