A week ago today, I ran the London Marathon for the second time. My first race, in 2013, was ever so slightly ruined by being tripped up after the half-way point. I managed to finish (in 4 hours 51 mins) with a right knee swollen to the size of a large grapefruit. As a result, I ended up getting knee surgery to repair the damage, which was a whole heap of fun.
This time round, I was once again running for Epilepsy Action, but better prepared and in a really positive frame of mind. I secured my place in the race a months later than most – thanks to Epilepsy Action – so training was slightly curtailed. The sheer volume of business travel I had during the last six months was also a real challenge to maintaining a training schedule.
As a result, I ran across the Dutch countryside on Christmas Day (!!), jogged through Singapore in deathly humidity and ran in Malaysia in a non-air conditioned hotel gym. My final long, slow run took place across the Spanish countryside. All to get in shape for the big race.
I started this year’s marathon in great shape. My right knee (the one I had surgery on) had behaved itself all through training and my mental prep had me visualising the run, my pacing and large swathes of the course. I was on home turf, after all.
I was aiming for an injury-free completion, but deep down I wanted to beat my previous time by quite a bit. I would have been delighted with 4 hours 30mins or quicker, given my training, my previous injury and (let’s face it) my general level of fitness.
I really enjoyed the first few miles and the crowds lining the route were a big help. The mood among the runners was positive and light-hearted. By the time I crossed Tower Bridge, waving t the Epilepsy Action support team lining the pavement, I felt like I could take on the world. A few miles later and I was at 17 miles, waving to @FrankDJS and another friend who came to support me. As you can see form the below, I was in good form!
Sadly, it wasn’t to last. By the time I got to Limehouse, I was crippled with pain. Not the suspect knee, actually, but my left hip. I think – with hindsight – that I had been subconsciously favouring my left side throughout the race, putting to much strain on my left hip. Searing burning pain and a grinding feeling almost stopped me in my tracks a few times. Whenever this kicked in, I slowed down, moved to the side of the road and stretched.
This gave a little respite the first couple of times, but after that, absolutely nothing. The pain was as if someone was sticking a hot poker into the very centre of my hip joint. I was loose, confident and pain free throughout the rest of my body, but it felt like someone was putting my left hip through a vice.
After slowing down to a walk for about the fourth time, I stopped by the side of the road in Limehouse before we rejoined the route on the Highway. I briefly – very briefly – considered stopping completely. It was a chilly day and my body temperature was rapidly coming down. I began to shiver and stiffen up all over.
So I kept moving.
A shuffling kind of walking run. Anything to keep moving. By the time I got to Lower Thames Street, I was in agony. Absolutely agony, all centred in that damned hip. Somewhere I’d never had even mild discomfort before. I could have almost forgiven my right knee if it had given way, but it was fine.
And so, I slowed to a walk. For the final 12 kms of the race. It was hell. And every few minutes, I’d look at my watch to see the time ticking by and Westminster apparently getting no closer at all.
I was really cold at this point, but pushed on just to finish the damned thing. I had also spent the previous four months pretty much begging people for money for Epilepsy Action, so there was no way I couldn’t finish. No way.
The walk along Embankment and past Westminster was deeply, deeply unpleasant. Something I’d never want to repeat. I can say without reservation it was the most painful running experience of my life. Putting any weight on my left side was now agony, even when walking. So my final shuffle up to the finishing line (I wasn’t going to walk over the line!) was sheer, brutal agony. And there it was. A painful and humiliating end to the run, in a dismal 5 hours, 41mins.
A painful walk past packs of smiling and joyful runners later and I was at the Epilepsy Action camp, lining up for a sports massage. That in itself was incredibly tough on my body, but I assumed it was the best thing to do. I got congratulations from everyone around me, but I felt like a fraud. I had walked a vast chunk of the run and missed every single one of my targets, including crossing the line without injury.
Yes, I passed people along the way who were completely out of the race. Yes, I managed to finish it in the end. But I didn’t take a single piece of pride in finishing it. Instead, I couldn’t get home fast enough. I just wanted to put it behind me and get in a hot shower.
I’m not over running, but I’m over marathons. I’ve done what I set out to do, but from here on in, it’s half-marathons for me. When I remember all the enjoyable training runs I had over the last few months, I know I can run well and run for fun. I think the marathon is a step too far.
I’ve rested for most of the week, but I’m still hobbling a little. Stairs are still my enemy. So time to get back in the sauna and jacuzzi this evening. And time to start planning some post-summer half-marathons.
The single positive point from all of this is the fundraising. Thanks to the generosity of family, friends and colleagues, I raised over £1,300 for Epilepsy Action. The fundraising page is still open, so if you’d like to add to the fund, you can by clicking here.