How did it go? Are you happy? Did you enjoy it?
Three questions you’d think there’d be an easy answer to when the ‘it’ in question is that you ran the London marathon a few days ago.
I know how it went, technically. The other two are a bit harder to get my head round.
So, how did it go?
Something I’ve learned over the last few years is that there is a difference between running a marathon and racing a marathon. However, I learned on Sunday (or re-learned) that although there’s a difference, that doesn’t mean that running a marathon isn’t its own achievement.
Initially I’d been planning to race this one; sub-4 hours, go hard or go home. I rashly set my stall out along these lines before I was far enough into the plan to know if it was realistic. It wasn’t, and I adjusted my expectations accordingly, but this left me in a weird position on Sunday morning. I was excited about the day as an event, all the fun of number pick-up, the excruciatingly early coach from the Green, seeing the EHM crew at their water station in the blue start, all that jazz. But I was more interested in everyone else’s goals than mine, because for the first time my goal was not going to include getting a PB.
I finished in 4:16:41 and having expected it would be somewhere between 4:15 and 4:20 I was happy enough with that. But something about being a bit outside PB after a tough but manageable run felt sort of…unremarkable.
I know, right? Ungrateful cow, you just ran the London marathon! Have an emotion!
All I can say is in terms of just what the clock said, that was how I felt at the time. I feel differently about it now though, and the change in point of view came from an unlikely source; maths.
Are you happy?
I really dislike maths. I’m ok with day to day arithmetic and I’m good with budgets, but one of the few arguments Mr. Duff and I ever have is over the existence of the complex number i. He thinks it exists and I think it’s nonsense.
This is because I like maths to be quantifiable, not theoretical. My favourite type of maths is stats.
When you get your official result from the London marathon people they send you a few stats. I was in the top 46% or so overall, and in the top 32% ish for women, and in the F18-39 category. So far, so predictable.
The golden stat, the one that has given me a totally different perspective on my time, is the one where they tell you how many people you passed vs how many people passed you over the first and second halves of the race. Here’s mine:
According to the Ralph Dadswell Guide to Your Marathon Split (thanks Ralph!) I ran just 4 and a half minutes slower in the second half, a huge improvement on Richmond’s 9 minute positive split that I was so annoyed about.
Factoring that in as well as the short stops I took to tighten my laces, get hugs around the course from Lisa and Pammy, Mark and Mr. Duff and to thoroughly milk Mile 23 for all it was worth I’m pretty bloody chuffed with 4:16. And it was a 30 minute course PB, which felt as amazing on the day as it still does now.
Did you enjoy it?
I decided before the race not to wear the vest I have with my name on it. This time last year I was struggling with anxiety and I was worried that huge crowds of people shouting my name, especially if I was struggling, would be too much for me. Even though it meant that hearing people around me get personal cheers during the earlier stages made it feel a bit like I was in a little bubble of my own race, on balance I’m glad I chose the nameless vest. This one was about representing the club, and particularly in the second half lots of the crowd cheered me with a ‘go on Ealing’ or ‘go on Eagle’ which was brilliant. I suspect they were runners from our neighbouring London clubs or that we run in leagues with because they’d recognised the front of my vest. It meant an awful lot to be recognised as a member of our special flock and I tried to acknowledge them all back.
And so we come to Mile 23. The trouble with London is that because the Eagles cheer point is three miles before the finish line there’s a feeling that this marathon is really only 23-and-a-bit miles long, because that’s where you’re aiming for. The last bit is just running to pick your bag up.
As I mentioned, I milked it!
I’d been a bit nervous about the new Mr Eagle being on the pavement as there’s a glint of the sinister in his beady eye, but as I got closer he lifted his head and it was Christina in there! I couldn’t have been happier to see my good friend and running buddy and gave Mr Eagle extra hugs before I ran through the high five gauntlet and away. That felt amazing. The last few weeks I’d started feeling the old anxiety rising again at times and I hadn’t been sure how the race would go at all but here I was, I’d made it to Mile 23 with my brain mainly on an even keel and my friends willing me on to the finish.
And then there was the final turn and the finish line and having kept it together all day I nearly cried when I realised that the glorious older ladies doling out the medals were looking for people’s names on their vests, so they could say a personal well done to each and every runner as they carefully placed them around our necks – what a lovely thing to do. As I was a nameless Eagle I got a ‘very well done you, wonderful’ which could have come right out of my mother’s mouth, a firm handshake from a girl I crossed the line with and a hug from an emotional stranger who immediately disappeared again into the crowd.
And I limped off towards the pub, an unnamed Eagle heading to meet up with all the other Eagles whose friendship and belief that I can and should run marathons is the reason why I have now completed 5 of them.
This one was for you, team. Thanks a billion.
PS – I had a good time on Sunday in a well supported race, but it’s since come out that the same was not the case for the people at the back of the pack. This is not my experience, but my friend Tess was involved in some of this and so for her and for the others involved I felt I wanted to share the story of the 7.5 hour pacer, which you can read here.
Lots of people have lots of opinions on cut off times for completing a marathon. In this instance, I believe that if you market a race with the hashtag ‘everybody’s race’ and if you ask for volunteers to pace people to a 7.5 hour finish time, then those people should be treated with the same respect and dignity as all of the other runners. I hope that the London Marathon take this seriously and re-think their approach to make everything fair and to keep people safe, in mind and body, on race day.