Before I get into it I'd like to say that I simply wasn't good enough on the day. There are many factors that contributed to that which I will go into shortly but that's marathon running for you. I accept that the current record holder who ran the VMLM in 2015 had many of the same issues to deal with and I HAD enormous respect for him and his achievement. So to the race:
I've been under huge self inflicted mental pressure leading up to race day. As you may know, my training programme didn't go entirely to plan and the closer you get to race day the less you can do about it until finally all you can do is think about it. It is a huge mind game.
There's a lot to get down so I'll try to condense it so as not to lose you. It may get a bit disjointed as I remember different bits of the day.
I kept waking the night before, dripping with sweat, clearly anxious about race day. When I got to the Green start and checked in with Guinness, they were branding all the record attempts with GWR logos - easy if you have a large silly costume, not so easy on me. I was asked "Do you mind if we put some stickers on your balls?" to which I replied "Yes! Yes I do. That's not going to work". In the end I had a little logo pinned to the front of my shorts. There was a lot of hanging about at the start. Guinness took pre-race pictures of all the record attemptees and a big group shot just before the start. There were lots of cameras about taking pictures and videos of some of the other record attemepts but as I didn't have a silly costume and largely kept my balls tucked away I looked just like any other runner so nobody bothered me. I practised a little up and down the start and decided to let just a little air out of the balls having put more in them the day before.
Once the race started it was time to get on with the job. I'm always nervous for the first mile or two until I find my rhythm. I had covered the entire course on Monday so I knew the state of the roads but with that many people about there really wasn't a lot I could do to avoid the bad patches. It gets particularly tricky where one bit of road is scuffed and worn and there's a join where a repair has been made and you find yourself walking the line between the two different surfaces and then perhaps there's a camber to deal with too. The worst bits of road where undoubtedly through Docklands where there were some really shocking bits for a basketball player to deal with. There were also man-hole covers, drains bollards and of course lots of course litter to deal with (bottles, gel sachets etc). I managed to avoid all the bottles but every so often bounced a ball in some gel which affects how my hand interacts with the ball as it dries out. As my hands and the balls get covered in dirt again I get a more normal touch back. The on course showers were another tricky area as the water often spread right across the course. Initially I had to avoid obvious puddles but any thin layer of water takes some of the bounce from the balls. The water also rehydrates the gel residues on my hands and the balls and I have to go through that drying out process again.
I wanted to keep the 4 hour pacer in sight for as long as possible, given that the next pacer was 04:15 and that was too slow. I was doing OK to begin with but realised I'd lost him around mile 7. One problem I found was that every time a slower runner held me up, three other runners would overtake me because it takes me longer to negotiate slower runners as I need a lot more space to do so. This problem got worse from Docklands onwards as more and more people were walking.
I was wearing my hydration pack with 1000ml of Torq energy drink in and 26 jelly babies in the pockets. I had practiced drinking and eating on the run but it involves letting one ball take a free bounce while I put the drink pipe or a jelly baby in my mouth (I had made certain Guinness were happy with this). The trouble was that it was so congested I didn't feel safe allowing that free bounce anywhere in case someone knocked the ball. As a consequence, my 'little and often' drinks strategy didn't work. I have just emptied my pack and discovered that I finished with 400ml of liquid and 19 jelly babies - all weight I didn't need to be carrying. Although I was stopping at water stations in the latter stages I realised that I must have been severely dehydrated when I got home at about 22:00 and realised that despite having drank a bottle of water, a bottle of Lucozade, a pint of coke and two bottles of beer, I hadn't been for a wee since before the race. I'm now wondering if I would do better to ditch the back pack and just stop at water stations.
I lost a ball a few times. I think the first was at Cutty Sark as we came into Greenwich and turned the corner. Corners are a nightmare as unless I can get to the outside edge (almost impossible to arrange in those crowds) I get squashed as the whole pack tries (quite legitimately) to take the shortest line. I remember a couple of other wobbles as I tried to negotiate my way to the edge to take a break and I remember a woman knocking a ball out of my hand as she tried to squeeze past me as we exited the underpass in Docklands. Further into the race (and fortunately after I'd written off the record attempt) some idiot came up behind me and tried to steal one of the balls from me. I managed to fend him off and offered him a few choice words I won't repeat here but that could've mattered.
There's so much more I could write but I knew it probably wasn't going to be my day by the time I got to Tower Bridge and it was mile 15 where I dropped below the average pace I needed to secure the record and there was no way I was going to recover that time I was continuing to lose. I was OK when the sun went in and in fact had a nice spurt through part of Docklands in the shade but as soon as I hit the sun it just sapped the energy from me.
I had a lot of time on the course to come to terms with the fact I wasn't going to beat the record but still had to concentrate. There was no question that I wouldn't finish but as I came past the Tower of London again and being mentally beaten I began to look up and enjoy the crowds. I would look for people that had spotted me and that had two free hands and I would stop for a while, ask them to hold the balls while I blew my nose and had a little drink and a rest. So I would like to thank all the supporters on the marathon course that held my balls while I got my breath back. You were a great comfort!
I was determined to finish strong so had one more rest on Birdcage Walk before passing Buckingham Palace and storming up The Mall. I was a long way short of the record but the urgency had gone by mile 16. A good finish was all that was needed now. I crossed the line and laid down in the first gutter I could find. An official brought me some water and shortly after another insisted I get up so he could look at me. Worried about my health he called over a St John's ambulance person but she and I both knew the only real damage was to my pride. I made my way through the finish area and met my wife and then caught up with a few of my club friends. Eventually I made it to The Crown and Anchor in Drummond St where one of my charities (Orchid Cancer) had a reception and a masseur lined up. She set to work on me and absolutely pummelled me. I was literally crying in pain and she said to me "Don't be a baby! You're a man not a mouse! I haven't started yet, I'm just warming you up". By the time she'd finished I didn't know whether to thank her or file an assault charge. I'm sure it's done me some good in the long term though.
There are so many people to thank. My wife first for putting up with me and my training and organising all the family support on the day including making t-shirts for the children. Everyone at Petts Wood Runners (surely the best running club in the world?) especially Karen Barritt and the rest of the Committee who very kindly gave me a club place for my record attempt. I'm just sorry it didn't work out. Special thanks to Mike Reeves, who everybody loves, for his track sessions and words of wisdom and thanks to every PWR who contributes to making the club the positive, loving and supportive place that it is. Thanks also to Jess and Collette at Carshalton Osteopaths who fixed me and reassured me after Toby punched me in the ribs (see earlier post!) and to Minni Gupta at Bromley Physiotherapy for all the exercises and work she did on me to get and keep me fit. Thanks to everyone else who supported me through sponsorship, messages, cheering on the day or just watching the race on the telly and thinking of me. And finally Thanks to my parents for coming down to support me and most importantly teaching me the importance of being a two handed player as a child.
|The only picture of me after the race. I wasn't really in the mood for photos.|