Minding the Gap: London 2012

Runner friends will agree that marathon training requires motivation.  Anyone who knows me knows that what I lack in natural athletic ability, I make up for in motivation.  I also have a generally positive disposition, which comes in handy for a mentally-challenging sport.  Marathoning is full of ups and downs.  We train for months to race one single day and hope we can avoid injury & illness and have the stars and planets align perfectly for a few hours just one day.  I train for 2 marathons a year, so ask for a lot . . . a perfect world for 2 days each year.

Chicago 2011 wasn’t my day.  I caught a bad cold/sinus infection 2 days before the race coupled with business travel to Vegas on the way and warm temperatures did not equal a PR.  But I did it, and ran my second fastest marathon.

We arrived in London on Friday morning, met up with world-travelling Rogue & close friend, Super Joe Sesil, for the Expo, a reception that night with Joe & the Tall Bald Brit, Mark Enstone, and a casual pub dinner.  Saturday morning, we did a short shake-out jog through Hyde Park (kind of between Buckingham Palace and Kensington Palace) on a beautiful trail that runs alongside a bridle path.

We did the tourist thing with a hop on, hop off bus tour so we could get out of the “closet” (aka European hotel room), but not spend too much time on our feet.  It gave us a tour of the latter half of the course while taking in the sights and we walked around the finish line area in front on Buckingham Palace so we could visualize the British flag-lined mall finish line on race day.

It was go time.

London 2012 was my day.  It was 45 degrees and sunny at the start from Greenwich/Blackheath Parks in East London.  We enjoyed hot tea, flushing portaloo’s and hot air balloons. (They also had female urinals.  Don’t make me talk about it . . . traumatizing.)  Scoob commented on how quiet I was being . . . highly unusual, but I was taking Coach Ruth’s advice and focusing my energy inward.

37,500 runners toed the line, with 3 groups of runners merging within the first 2 miles.  C-R-O-W-D-E-D.  Toward the END of mile 1, the entire field came to a complete stop (you expect this at the start line, but not a mile or more in!)  I’m still not sure why.  We speculated that someone had fallen on one of the speed humps.  Another mile or so in, we heard multiple gunshots . . . as we ran through a riflery test event for the Summer Olympics.

We tried to get in a rhythm, but ran a few, too fast miles around 6-9.  We passed the 1869 Cutty Sark clipper ship and scanned the crowd for Super Joe.  I half-expected to see him actually on the Cutty Sark (closed to the public for a few more days.)  Around mile 10, I remember thinking that I was warm.  Uh oh.  It was early and I was only wearing a short-sleeved shirt and skirt.  Around mile 12.5, we crossed the iconic Tower Bridge, a real highlight to run across in the middle of the road.  We looked for Super, but no luck.  People were E-V-E-R-Y-W-H-E-R-E.

Once over the bridge, we turned east again, opposite direction of the finish line.  The course loops on itself so at 13-14, you’re also seeing runners at miles 21-22.  Around 13-14, I was supposed to be cutting a few seconds off each mile, a little more after each 3 mile set, but I wasn’t able to drop down and sustain it.  Scoob tried encouraging me by telling me I was “killing it,” and I snapped back because I knew I wasn’t.  I wasn’t on pace.  I had some doubts about whether or not this was going to be my day.

The water stops were handing out 330ml bottles of water and/or Lucozade every mile starting at mile 3, rather than cups of water/sports drink.  It was nice because you could carry the small sports bottle and control how much/when you took in fluids as well as avoid losing time with the slowdown of water stop tables.  But it was also kind of wasteful and created water bottle minefields as many people took 2 sips and tossed their bottles.   (There were 972,000 bottles of water and sport drink between the start/finish/course.)

There was a dashed blue line drawn on the road . . . the official tangent on which the 26.2 mile course was certified.  I zoned on the blue line trying to stay as close to it as possible.  It was a good distraction.  I had a mantra that I unfolded throughout the course.  Focus.  Energy.  Believe.  Power.  I focused on each word for about 6 miles, then moved to the next, chanting it in my head as I tried to follow the blue line while navigating the crowd.

At this point we were on the Isle of Dogs (Canary Wharf and Canada Water areas) with a lot of turns.  Around mile 15-16, I had a brief thought about how hard marathoning is and wondering how I had forgotten that, since this was my 12th marathon.  But I knew that negative thoughts weren’t going to get me to the finish line.  Scoob told me to just run the best I could for the next ½ mile and the ½ mile after that.  That was a turning point.  That became my focus.

I recited my mantra, thought of the support of my friends at home, followed the blue line, and focused on running the best pace I could mile to mile.  Then the miles started ticking away.  F-I-N-A-L-L-Y.  I didn’t realize at first that I had pulled away from Scoob, just thought he was getting water, etc.  (Coming back from injury and only getting in 9 weeks of actual marathon training with a longest run of 18 miles, the lack of time on his feet and some muscle cramps caught up with him and he slowed a little.)  I was grateful for his help getting to that point.  I focused inward, on getting to the next marker and kicked it in about the time most were hitting the wall.

I turned the corner at mile 21 where the course crosses itself and thanked the running gods that I wasn’t on the other side of the course (at mile 13/14.)  I knew I was not running a BQ.  In past races, this would have mentally broken me.  I was running a PR, a signficant one.  I turned that into fuel to see how much of a PR could I run.

At mile 24, there was a long, dark tunnel, some respite from the sun for a few minutes.  My Garmin lost its satellite connection and I wondered if it stopped tracking time (silly thought, clearly oxygen deprived.)  I wasn’t watching my pace, just running by feel.  I made myself smile from time to time to remind my body that we were having fun.  I could visualize the 40k mark (from the day before) and watched for it, running along the Thames River.  I was tired and ready to finish, but knew I could sustain my pace and finish strong.

I focused on landmarks and picking off runners.  I caught Peter easily, then pink shirt, the cave man, etc.  Paul was tricky as he was picking up his pace too, but I finally caught him.   (LOTS of people have their names on their shirts so people can cheer them on, makes it easier to know who you’re targeting. : )

Mile 25 came into view as well as the London Eye and Big Ben up ahead.  Big Ben kept getting bigger.  We turned past Parliament and toward Buckingham Palace.  Hello, 800m sign.  So happy to see you.  It was time to give whatever I had left.

Then 400m . . . and the 385 yards sign (the .2 at the end.)  Buckingham Palace and Buckingham Fountain were on the left, then the final, right turn running down the British flag-lined mall to the finish.  What a relief to stop running.  D-O-N-E

It took a few minutes to sink in.  I ran a 3:52:15 . . . a 15 min. 42 sec. PR.  I officially joined the sub-4 marathon club!

A few minutes later Scoob celebrated the finish of his 9th marathon with a 3:56 despite a limited training season.   We learned later that Mark had run a 3:24 to re-BQ just 6 days after running the hot, hot, hot Boston Marathon.  Brilliant.

All 3 Rogues succeeded in London.  “Well done, you.” (as the Brit’s say)

 

 

Honorable Mention:

On a sad note, I want to pay tribute to an athlete who didn’t get to cross the finish line.  There was a tragedy at the London Marathon.  A 30-year-old woman, Claire Squires, dropped about 500-600m from the finish line.  I saw her go down and people rush to catch her.  Scooby saw her receiving CPR.  It’s a sight that shakes you and you know you have to push on, but a hard image to let go of.  We learned later that she passed away.   She was a charity runner, running her second London Marathon.  She raised approx. £500 (about $800) prior to the race.  As a tribute, many have donated to her cause and her legacy now lives on with more than £916,000 donated to date . . . approx. $1.5M.  Congratulations to Claire for making a difference.

The London Marathon holds the Guinness World Record as the largest fund-raising event in the world.  In 2011, runners raised £51.8M (approx. $83M.)  Since the race started in 1981, runners have raised £550M or $890M for charity.  At that rate, they’ll be close to $1B this year.  Amazing.

 

Highlights:

  • Joined the sub-4 cool kids with a personal best by 15 min. 42 sec. (previous was 4:07 at Eugene 2010)
  • 12th marathon, 3rd world major
  • Being 2 of 376 Americans entered in the race, out of 170,150 applicants and 50,200 accepted
  • Best spectators ever . . . 2 million+ British spectators yelling, “Well done, you” in super cool accents and our personal favorites, Super Joe Sesil & Knut Næsvold with champagne at the finish line
  • First injury-free season in a while; heartrate training was challenging (in a very different way), but paid off
  • Mental toughness; overcame regrets from Eugene
  • Vacation with hubby & Super Joe exploring the grandeur of London and Paris . . . and indulging in obscene amounts of champagne, wine, cupcakes, crepes, macarons, cheese, croissants and quiche
  • Fantastic post-race Indian food with all of my men (TBB, Super, Knut & Scooby)
  • Longest run side by side with Scooby; running tours of London and Paris alongside Scoob & Super
  • Good weather, great course – mostly flat with a few small, rollers.  A must-do marathon.
  • Met a family at our hotel (dad was spitting image of Simon Pegg), with a lovely, young woman, one week away from turning 18 years old, who completed the marathon with her dad.  She now holds the record for youngest female to complete the London Marathon.
  • Huge amount of support back at home from friends, family, Rogues and their kids!  Thank you to Coach Ruth for the personalized attention, calming influence and positive energy and Coach Schruppy for always providing support and considering me one of his athletes no matter which coach I’m training with.  Thanks to my running buddies — Carolyn, Christina, Steph K, Pablo, Brenda, Peter and Amy — for the many, many miles logged together.  And last, but not least, all of our friends who sacrificed sleep and/or chickens, chanted and cheered us on from home.
  • Losing 12 lbs. for race day
  • Getting closer and closer to my BQ
  • Reward of a visit to the flagship Louis Vuitton store on the Champs Elysees in Paris

Lowlights:

  • Full on sunshine for the race (yes, really, in London; it was cloudy, rainy the rest of the time)
  • Crazy crowded until about mile 20 when people started hitting the wall and dropping back
  • Did not negative split; a few too-fast miles around 6-9 trying to break out of the crowd, probably lost 2-3 min. later as a result
  • Scooby’s muscle cramps setting him back a few minutes, separating us
  • Was kicked/stepped on at least 5 times; too many sweaty arm grazes to count . . . ick
  • Water and Lucozade bottles scattered all over the course become obstacles and water canons when stepped on
  • Lots and lots of crazy costumes, which are fun . . . until you get passed by someone with their entire head covered or Elvis chatting away
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