Event: 2017 Virgin Money London Marathon
Distance: 42.2km (26.2mi)
Date: Sunday, April 23 2017
Weather: 7C min. to 16C max. Overcast (44F min. to 60F max.)
I flew into London City Airport on the Friday before the race. This was super convenient as the Marathon Expo was being held at the London Excel Arena, less than a 10 minute drive from the airport. The only downside was that we had two large suitcases that we did not want to drag through the Expo. Our solution… drop them off at the hotel right outside the London Excel.
Upon entering the Marathon Expo I went straight to the collection desk to collect my race number and timing chip. I have to say that it was an extremely fast, efficient and friendly experience.
Once inside the Expo we spent several hours wandering the aisles. While there was nothing there I hadn’t seen before, it was still good taking it all in and getting excited for the marathon.
Before exiting, we embarked on a large games area set up by Virgin Money. The aim was to encourage some friendly competition with the goal to win some additional sponsorship dollars for your charity. Lucky for me my wife, Toni, was with me, who is quite the tenpin bowler, with a strike on her first go, she secured a few additional pounds for my charity!
Later that evening we checked into our accommodation, just a short walk from the finish line. This was a deliberate choice, as I remember how hard it was to slowly shuffle back to the hotel after the New York Marathon. So not only is proximity key, but there are two things I always look for when choosing a place to stay for a marathon; a bath tub and a kitchen.
On the Saturday we scoped out part of the course. I had a plan to switch hydration belts with Toni at the halfway point. I used this same tactic in New York and it worked well, meaning I could avoid the chaos of the drink stations on the course. Not to mention I prefer my own energy drink. While walking from the Tube Station to the changeover point I realised there was a problem. Due to the design of the course and location relative to the Tube Station, Toni was going to come out on the wrong side of the road and there is no crossing due to the road closures. It quickly became apparent that seeing things in real life is no substitute to planning and maps.
After an hour of wandering the streets, looking on Google Maps and checking the course map, we finally had a solution. An underground tunnel out of the Tube Station that comes out on the correct side of the road. Toni was more than relived!
Next we headed back to the Walkabout, not to have a drink, but this was going to be the last spot on the course Toni and her fellow cheer squad would see me before the finish. This proved much easier. Literally 1 minute from the Tube Station and on the correct side of the road. Toni was now somewhat confident in her plan for race day. From the Walkabout we took a leisurely jog back to our accommodation via the finish line and Buckingham Palace.
The night before race day is always exciting. Laying out my clothes, organising my food and drinks, triple checking transport times and ordering dinner to be delivered to the hotel. How good is Uber Eats? The ability to have whatever you want to eat delivered right to your door. My choice? Mexican. Specifically beef fajitas with rice, beans, salad and guacamole. After dinner it was some TV and kicking back with my feet up.
Race day morning had arrived! With three alarms set, there was no chance I wasn’t going to wake up. I started with my usual breakfast of a big bowl of porridge with almond milk and honey. I made my energy drinks got ready and I was out the door in as little as 30 minutes.
Getting to the start of the London Marathon was pretty easy and stress-free. For me it was a short walk to Victoria Station followed by a Tube to Cannon Street Station and a train to Greenwich. I must say that London Transport did a great job in making sure people got to where they needed to go in a timely and stress-free manner. The trains were leaving so frequently that you didn’t need to worry about over crowding or just missing a train.
I left the hotel at 7:45am and arrived at Greenwich park by 8:40am for a 10:00am start time. This gave me just enough time to go to the bathroom one final time, walk to the starting pen, drink my green smoothie that I brought with me and do my warm-up.
I crossed the start line at exactly 10:03am and started out exactly on my race plan. In fact I was slightly under my race plan. The first 9km (5.6mi) was mostly downhill, so I managed to average a faster pace. By the 16km (10mi) I was 1 minute faster than planned, things were going well. Then just as I was passing through a drinks station someone clipped the foot, causing me to stumble and over extend. In order to stop myself from hitting the ground, I over-extended and in the process put additional pressure on my left thigh. That’s when I first felt the pain, I had pulled my quadricep.
Obviously it was an accident and the runner that caused it apologised as he reached for his drink. But it was going to make the remaining 26km (16mi) a very tough struggle. As I was slightly ahead of my goal, I knew I could slow down a little and try and nurse the injury. I thought that maybe it would miraculously get better. Sadly it wasn’t to be. I managed to keep to race plan right up to the 30km (18.5mi) mark. Then the pain got to intense and my left thigh was so tight I could barley straighten it out.
It was at this point the race turned from a physical challenge into a mental challenge. Everything in my mind was telling me to just stop and walk the rest of the way, but I knew that in a few days time when the injury had healed, I would be very disappointed. I started thinking about all the reasons why I’m out here. All the people that donated to my charity, all my friends and family following on Facebook and the live tracking app, my wife and friends who were waiting for me at the 39km (24.2mi) mark, all the people lining the streets that wanted to see people running. I knew I just had to keep going.
I also drew strength and motivation to keep going from two of my favourite mantras;
By the time I reached my wife and friends who were patiently waiting for me outside the Walkabout, at the 39km (242.mi) mark, I was really struggling. I just wanted to stop, but seeing them cheer with their Aussie flags and hearing the passion in their voice really fired me up. It was the spark I so desperately needed to get the the finish.
I dug deep and gritted my teeth. I calculated I only had about 20min of running to go. I thought about all those training sessions, how many times over the past 6 months I had run more than 20min. Of course I could do it!
The crowds were lining the streets up to four people deep, the sun was shining and I was running through some of the most beautiful streets, what’s not to love or be excited about. As I turned into the home straight, outside Buckingham Palace, I reached for my phone and recorded a quick video. I wanted to capture the moment and savour the experience.
It’s funny, when I crossed the finish line in New York it was a feeling of sheer excitement. But in London it was sheer relief. It was a strange mix of frustration at missing my goal and pride that I gritted it out and made it to the end in a pretty respectable time too.
I am so fortunate that one of my good friends was able to arrange a massage therapist at the finish line. This is probably the single most important step I took on the road to recovery. Not only did it help with the pain and discomfort from the injury, it also prevented me from developing two big knots in my calf muscles. During the massage the therapist noticed two large knots in each of my calf muscles. Turns out that in order to compensate my sore leg, I changed my stride and gait, thereby creating additional issues in my lower leg. The lesson learnt here is that no mater how you feel at the end of a marathon, get a massage!
To round out the day, I was so grateful that I got to spend the afternoon indulging in a celebratory lunch with friends and supporters. It was such a great way to acknowledge their invaluable support, not only on race day, but also in the lead up to the race.
I want to say a big THANK YOU to everyone who watched, cheered and supported me on my London Marathon journey. I could not have achieved what I did without your inspiration and support. I especially want to thank all those people that also donated to my charity. I am so pleased to say that we surpassed our target and there will be many children and families that will directly benefit as a result.