Race Report: London Marathon 2019

Race Report: London Marathon 2019

I wrote a pre race report for the first time. That is probably worthwhile prerequisite material. This was the first time I have written a pre race report because I took this one really quite seriously.

In advance of the race I had a think about why I wanted to beat my personal best (2:52:18). It came to me that the real reason was that throughout my life I have done numerous things and pushed myself in weird and wonderful ways simply because other people thought (or implied) that I could not do it. Whilst certainly not a good raison d'ĂȘtre it simply became a solid way of motivating myself to do challenging things.

I have mentioned before that after Berlin 2016 I had immediately thought 'I am never beating that'. I realised that I wanted to beat that time in London because I have never proven myself wrong.

Race Details

The 2019 London Marathon was held on 28th April 2019 in London, England.

I finished in 2:54:50.

I ran an extra 0.6 miles for fun.

Before and after

Training

I outlined my training in my pre race report but I forgot to mention one thing.. so i'll add it here. Yoga.

I did like 20 hot yoga classes at The Life Centre in Manchester. It can not be understated how important this was in helping me recover from my shin issues (that plagued me last year) and maintaining a generally good level of bodily function.

Hot yoga is insanely hard and I am continually impressed by everyone who attends those sessions. Its like being in a room full of elite athletes.

Also.. stretching (more generally). I did a lot of glute strengthening stretches. Donkey kicks, bridges, squats and the like. At one point I was doing a 40 minute circuit every day but I started lagging and by the end of my training I wasn't doing it enough. Stretching is definitely important and something I'd like to get back into the habit of doing.

I also always do a brief set of stretches at the end of any/all runs. Sidesteps, lunges, step-twists, high knees etc.

Goals

I don't tend to publish goals in advance - unnecessary pressure. This time I published my A goal - to beat my PB. I also don't go for the whole B and C goals idea because I see it as planning for failure which whilst I accept failure is always an option.. it shouldn't be planned for.

That said I did have subconscious B and C goals - things that had crossed my mind in passing.

  • A |< 2:52:18 | No |
  • B |< 2:53:00 | No |
  • C |< 3:00:00 | Yes |
D: Look for this dog.

So, yes I missed my main goals but am still totally ecstatic with my time. Why? My A goal was always premised on going big or going home. I did not know I could hit it but I wanted to try. The TL;DR is that I did my absolute best and I left nothing on the table. On the day I wasn't a good enough runner to beat my PB but I couldn't have pushed any more so..

That said, I did make some mistakes in the run up to/during the race. I will mention them in this post but want to be explicit that it is what it is - mistakes are part of the process. I am not using them to justify anything.

Pre race

I arrived in London on the Saturday afternoon (mistake 1). It was stressful because I had to get to the expo before it closed. I did make it but my anxiety got the better of me all the way.

The night before (at my parents house) my sleep was poor (worse than race night) because the stress of getting to London and getting organised got to me. Not the actual race. Weird.

The train had to stop for half an hour because a bridge had been hit by a car and they had to check the structural integrity. I nearly had a heart attack. A small child also decided to projectile vomit everywhere on the train. Normally I would have helped the poor mother.

The expo was crowded. I rushed through it. The animals that are British citizens (mass generalisation) were pushing each other out the way to get a 3 gram sample of a disgusting protein bar. It wasn't for me.

26.2 miles to go
I plan to photoshop myself into this.

I hadn't eaten lunch and I needed to carb load. Supermarket sandwiches suck so at 3:30pm I sat on a bench in the cold with sandwich making equipment making a terrible mess. Vegetable crisps and popcorn also played a part.

I got to my AirBnb which for some reason I had booked in the center of Covent Garden. I had a panic attack when I realised it was above a noisy pub but it turned out to be insanely quiet and really nice. Triple glazing for the win. I was impressed.

It had a bathroom with a bath bang in the center of the room. The shower came from below and you had to pull it upwards. It was ridiculous. Non functional. Not impressed.

I then headed out to meet the Comrades gang at Jamie's Italian in Piccadilly. I had a risotto, a superfood salad, and some broccoli. Carbs for the win.

Superfood salad
Rissotto

Because I am fat and greedy I then went and got some 10pm soup and oatcakes from Tesco. This was probably foolish but it was fine.

I went to bed. I wasn't that stressed, and I ended up sleeping well (I mean.. I still woke up at 5am but thats fairly standard). It turns out that when you have prepared well and know you have done everything you can do it is possible to relax a bit.

In the morning I got up, and had breakfast (100g oats , 2 eggs - nothing new on race day) went to Charring Cross, met my brother, got on a train and went to the start. We said we'd get a photo together with every photographer (as we wouldn't be running together). There was only 1 photographer :)

My brother and I.

I was in the yellow start - 'Fast Good For Age'. It makes me happy that I a considered fast and good for age. I queued for the toilet. Then I queued again. Then I went to the start line queue. I made no real effort to get close to the front. In hindsight perhaps I should have. Oh well.

A man was taking a piss in the starting corral against the grandstand. It sprayed on my leg.

Nice

The race

This was a fairly standard execution of the 20 mile warm up, 10k race approach to marathoning.

As mentioned in my pre race thing the plan was to go out at 6:30 pace and see If I could maintain it. I knew there was a possibility that I could not and that it would be a battle to get to the end. My approach was 'we will think about that as/when necessary'.

I was basically going for the intentional positive split and I think the results of this race show that this approach actually has a lot of merit. Yes, I would have loved to have got to half way, felt great, and sped up (a la Berlin) but sometimes that Is just not possible. This approach means that if you get to the end (and your speed is within the realms of your fitness) then you will have optimised your time.

Miles 1-6

Guess what. I went out too fast.

It still bemuses me how paces that hurt in training feel like nothing in Miles 1-6 of a marathon. I could have been going even faster and I was aware and constantly thinking/trying to slow down. That is progress for me.

The main problem was that it was an absolute clusterf**k. The blue racing line was being used (blocked) by people who were not going fast. I'll say it now to get it over with - this race is the absolute worst for race etiquette. People just don't care about other racers, and it is very much dog eat dog.. which is completely ridiculous for a race with charity/community roots. At one point someone ran across me (and thus into me), tripped and then got angry as though it was my fault. Generally throughout the race I was zigzagging and being forced to do sharp stops because people just did not give a toss. This was at the front of the race and I can only assume it was worse further back. This is why I ended up running an extra 0.6 miles.

My feelings

Miles 6 - 13.1

Things were OK. My approach was to get to half way and then think about the second half :) The sights were nice, and the crowds were good at parts. This time I was sufficiently 'OK' that I remember going over Tower Bridge and thinking 'this really is quite impressive'.

I was running more consistently at closer to target pace but things had started to flatten out so that might be why.

The London Eye

Miles 13.1 - 17

At some point in this section you go into Canary Wharf and under a big underpass.

Some old university friends were sitting above the entrance to said underpass. I am not too sure how I heard, but one of them saw me and shouted. Apparently at that point I was flying. I do remember feeling good at that point and the personal support was super appreciated. Especially going into the lonely sections of the course.

Me, flying.

This period made me think about the support. Across the route there were various sections where there was amazing amounts of crowd support. The noise was impressive. That said I noticed very little music/on course entertainment. Loud bands and power ballads are the things that get me pumped and keep me going. I only noticed one band before the tunnel (and on the loop back).

People always ask me how crowds and entertainment compared across the races that I have done. Respectfully, the crowd noise was nothing compared to the cheer tunnel in Boston (even in the pouring rain) and the entertainment was nothing compared to New York/Berlin. I don't think London lived up to its hype..

Miles 17 - 20

I looped back. Saw my old university friends again. One offered me a gel but sadly I was at the 'I can not stomach gels stage' and I was starting to get concerned.

I had a slight groin strain in advance of the race (which I put down to maranoia) but as I ran it got worse and running fast certainly did not help. My right quad and left calf were also giving me hell and it felt like my right knee cap had shattered. I suspect that this was due to the aforementioned stops/starts that resulted from the crowded course. Regardless, I do remember thinking to myself 'I will need to slow down just to finish'.

One other interesting (possible mistake) thing was my shoe selection. I am not sure the extent to which I agree that racing (lighter) shoes work. In Berlin I raced in asics DS Trainers and I had intended to do the same in London. When training in them something just seemed off. Given that the longest I had run in them was 8 miles I wasn't prepared to risk it over 26.2 miles so I raced in my training shoes - asics GT-2000s. My legs were ripped apart in the more cushioned shoes, so it was probably a wise choice but who knows. Less weight could have shaved off extra seconds.

In the end I did finish but it is an interesting thing to think about. I can not begin to fathom how devastating it must be to actually have to stop because your knee has properly seized up or another serious injury has made itself known. This is the first time I have had serious on course issues, and I did not like it.

Miles 20 - 26

This was very much a count down the miles situation. My legs were not happy and were giving up on me. I was pushing as much as I could but my legs were not responding. You can see in my splits that I slowed down. Mile 22 was a 7 minute mile which panicked me when it popped up on my screen. I assumed that my PB goal might not be happening (I didn't have the mental capacity to actually do the maths).

I was taking gels more regularly and by this point I was carrying water. It was a 'I don't want to be caught short without water' situation. I was not in a good place. Mile 23 was a 6:56 but then somehow I got back on pace for miles 24 and 25. More interestingly I wasn't explicitly pushing harder and it all felt the same.. I just apparently sped up. Then mile 26 was back to 7:04 even though I was giving it my all and assumed I was pushing to the finish. Odd.

One interesting psychological thing I noticed was the being watched phenomenon. When I am watching friends race I am always tracking them on the respective app. You can usually tell from looking at the numbers exactly when someone has hit the wall. I was consciously aware that at least one person was almost certainly tracking me and I really did not want anyone to watch me fall apart :P

It was certainly the case that after the concern of miles 17 - 23, 23 - 26.2 actually felt OK/good as the end was in sight.

The Mall

London in my opinion has a weirdly long finish. Lots of sites and signs that indicate you are about to finish but it just keeps on going. 600m to go, 400m to go, 200m to go. Eurgh.

As is fairly standard for me as I cross the line a medic ran up to me and asked me "Do you need medical assistance". I think after running a marathon most people need medical assistance. Apparently my post marathon face shouts 'help me !'.

#thismeansmore

Post race

I ate all the goodies in my bag and got lots of photos taken. I waited for my brother and then we got a train home. My brother bought me a train beer. The first in a while. It was great. The sister in law had bought me a Greggs vegan sausage roll. They are surprisingly good. When we got home we went to the pub with the parents.

My reward

I stayed up and watched Game of Thrones. My body begun telling me how much I had fucked it over.

2 days of barely being able to walk and all of the mentioned areas being in significant pain. I spent those days eating shit. Lots of ice cream and chocolate which I had avoided during training. I ate a concerning amount reminiscent of my binge eating days but a few days later my body seems to be back to its pre race 'not craving sugar' status so hopefully I'll be ok.

Today (4 days post race) I am feeling better. I walked around Manchester a lot which I think loosened things up and then I got a massage (shout out to Mahdi at RehabPro - he also played a big part in getting me to the start line). Groin strain is the main remaining 'serious' issue.

Whats next

Well. I didn't keep it secret, but I didn't shout about it either. London was actually my B race for 2019. I was using it as a qualifier for the Comrades ultra marathon in Durban, South Africa on the 9th June.

Comrades 2019

My London time qualifies me for an 'A' start (which is what I wanted) so now it is a case of getting my mileage back up in a careful manner whilst fixing all these injury issues.

I have never done an ultra marathon. Comrades is probably the most famous. I have never run longer than a marathon. Comrades is basically a double marathon with 6,000 feet of elevation gain, in the heat. I am aiming for a 'Silver medal' which requires a 7 hour 30 minute finish time. This will be the hardest thing I have ever done.

The Comrades medals

Update 09/05/2019: I am having the slight problem that my body is absolutely broken 30 days out from running the toughest race of my life. hmm.


Thomas Clowes

Thomas Clowes

I am a 28 year old software engineer from the United Kingdom. During the day I build multi platform applications. In my spare time I eat food and run marathons. Sometimes I write angry tweets.