James' Journey and Race Report of Virgin London Marathon
My journey to the 2018 London Marathon started just over a year and a half ago when I started training for the Leicester Marathon, with the intention of running under 3hrs and gaining a GFA place in the 2018 London Marathon. Unsurprisingly, when you hit the wall at mile 18 and your legs start to feel like lead, using the thought of running another marathon as motivation doesn’t work as well as you might think. Despite this, I was delighted to successfully achieve a sub 3hr time and qualification for London. 2017 was a difficult year as I was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis (a form of inflammatory bowel disease), which meant that running became quite difficult and my routes were generally dictated by where there would be a good supply of bushes… After a few months of this I managed to find the right medication for me and life started to get back to normal.
My goal for London was for a new PB, with the main priority of trying to go under 3 hours again. Training kicked off on new year’s day with a 16 mile run in the wind and rain on the south downs with Heather – little did I know these conditions would be some of the more pleasant. Having to deal with snow, ice, torrential rain and gales on my training runs became all too regular and a twenty mile treadmill session one week was my only option for a long run.
I started in the blue start area - pen 1, which despite my disappointment of not being in the fast Good For Age pen (and having a fancy yellow number) it still gave me a great starting position, and the atmosphere was amazing - it felt more like a festival than the start of a race. It was already seriously hot, so trying to find some shade to sit in was my priority. I had the great idea that sitting in the porta loo would be a good way to kill two birds with one stone; unsurprisingly, it turns out it gets pretty hot in those things so I soon retreated back outside. The race started and although extremely busy, moving up the field wasn’t too difficult. My Garmin buzzed midway into the second mile to tell me my performance condition, I nervously looked down to see “-4 – Poor” flash up – it was going to be a tough day. The Strategy was to drink 3 or 4 times throughout the race, it soon became apparent that that wasn’t going to happen when I’d taken liquid on at 3 water stations within the first 4 miles. I bumped into my friend Craig at about mile 6 which was great and a real lift, and we even managed bit of a chat. Immediately both saying how hot it was, and wondered how we were going to keep our sub 3 pace for the next 20miles! I was feeling okay up until mile 9, running slightly ahead of the 3hr pacer, but suddenly it felt a whole lot tougher on the approach to tower bridge which was a mile or so later, and found myself really having to work to keep pace as we crossed the bridge. I knew I would see my family between mile 13 and 14, so made sure to stay intact until I got past them. I struggled on to mile 16, which was when I was overtaken by someone in a penguin outfit, and I made the decision to back off and make sure I finished the race, rather than risking having to walk or collapsing with exhaustion. I thought that this would allow me to recover slightly and then reassess my goal time. Unfortunately, the recovery never really happened and the next 10 miles were a constant battle to put one foot in front of the other. I knew Heather was at mile 22, which on the approach brought out some mixed emotions. I was of course looking forward to seeing her, but I was also conscious that I didn’t want her to see me in my semi broken state. Despite constantly drinking, I started to get the beginnings of cramp at mile 23 in both calfs, which resulted in a new running technique that included some funny skips!
I crossed the finish line in 3:08:55 with a sense of relief. It wasn’t the time I had planned and trained for, but listening to other people's stories and how their race went, I’ve become a lot more proud of my time and achievement. All in all the support was amazing there wasn’t one part of the course that wasn’t full of spectators cheering you on. I just wish I could have appreciated them more!
Training for London Marathon has taught me a lot about my body and how to manage my condition. I experimented a lot with when to run, what to eat before and during and now know what works for me. I am confident with the right method anyone can enjoy running with a similar condition. For those in my shoes, here and are some tips of what worked for me (obviously everyone is different). • I don’t go for a run as soon as I wake up. I give myself at least 15 - 30 mins to take my medication and let my body wake up and feel settled before I head out. • The night before my long run I eat plainer foods and avoid anything too spicy or rich. • If I have breakfast before I always have porridge. I just give myself at least 2 hours before running. • I practised with isotonic High5 gels on long runs and had no issues with them. They weren’t as thick as other gel brands and seemed to sit well in my stomach.