Boston 2019 was my last marathon, 5 years ago now. The plan was to run the London Marathon in April 2020 and not run an autumn marathon in 2019. The pandemic changed everything. London was canceled (quite late). Last October I received an email from the organization that I had a starting permit for the 2023 edition! Postponed because 2020 was cancelled. I had completely forgotten about that so it was a big surprise!
After The Speed Project (relay race from L.A. to Las Vegas) I had a bit of a dip in my running motivation. Actually just cycled all summer. The weeks before I heard I had taken up running again and it went quite smoothly. The news about the London Marathon provided an extra boost in motivation. I steadily built up my volume again and it all happened quite easily and with great enthusiasm.
Caught a Cold
About three weeks before the big day I caught a cold. I wanted to continue training, especially because I had just started the peak weeks. In retrospect, this was an error of judgment. I should have listened to my body more. Although the training sessions went very well. In such cases it is better to simply rest until the cold has disappeared.
On Thursday I traveled to London. It is a great city and I also wanted to visit a good friend of mine who I had not seen for a few years due to Covid. Taking it easy with the focus on the big day. My girlfriend sometimes wanted to walk more, but then I chose to rest her legs. Did a short shake out the day before the race. There were plenty of shakeouts with groups, but it's always nice to follow your own plan so you can do exactly what you planned!
The marathon starts in Greenwich Park, which is in South London. That was quite a trip before the race, even though I had chosen my hotel for a good connection to the start. When you arrive at the starting area, you don't have the idea that you are about to participate in one of the largest marathons in the world. I had previously thought I was going to participate in a small local race. There are several starting lines that merge on the route after a few kilometers. As a result, the starting groups are also well distributed.
It was raining a little bit and it would stay that way throughout the race. I had taken off my long trousers and handed in my belongings about 45 minutes before the starting shot sounded. It wasn't cold so it was doable. At one point we were finally allowed to enter the starting area. I noticed that I was standing quite near the front. Not a disaster because I had a plan in my head how I was going to walk. I felt very confident at the start. Weeks before, several scenarios went through my head. The initial target was SUB3. The closer the race got, I started to think: "Isn't it possible anymore?" I felt good, what was today going to be like. The question would be answered quickly. The countdown had begun. 3 – 2 – 1 and the starting shot sounded.
The marathon starts with a descent. I've known that for ages. I want to immediately find a rhythm that is comfortable and at the right pace. I let myself be overtaken and don't let myself be driven completely crazy. Of course a little bit because it is the start and this is what I have been training for all these months. The beast can be unleashed, but in a controlled manner. Pretty soon I feel that my quads are already heavy. I don't know this. Never had that before with a race. What now?
There is no choice of course. Just keep going, maybe I'll figure it out and it was just because we stood still in the drizzle. I'm trying to pace myself and go a little slower now so that I might still have some left later. Mentally I'm having a hard time. Not for me because that is one of my strongest points. Because of my heavy legs I have quite a few negative thoughts and I have difficulty seeing through them.
What immediately struck me is that there are people everywhere, really everywhere. It's raining but all of London is out. It is also the first time since Covid that London is in April (last year it was in October). Fantastic to see of course. The roads are relatively narrow, especially in this first part. Not ideal but good. Despite the heavy legs, I occasionally have to overtake people. Actually, it comes with ups and downs. Sometimes there is a time it feels heavier and then suddenly it goes better again. This is how I progress until the half marathon. You have just crossed Tower Bridge. That was a unique experience. Really fantastic! I pass in 1.29, so I'm still on schedule for SUB3.
I discussed the route with my girlfriend and agreed where I wanted my second bottle of Maurten 320. That's around 25K. Things are still going well up to that point. She will be on the left so I have already crossed over to the left. There are so many people that it is difficult to pick people out. Suddenly I hear my name and there she is. I've just passed it, so I brake and quickly go back a few meters to grab a bottle and keep going!
After this point and actually a little before, I start to run a bit more slowly. I just can't keep up the pace anymore. Legs remain heavy. The second goal is to qualify for Boston again. This is in my head and if I keep walking for 4”30 or find something somewhere, it will work out just fine. Now that I run 4”30, I walk a little easier again. The legs are heavy but less heavy.
At some point a corner of my starting number was torn. Another corner later. I'll just stop for a moment before I lose the number. It's difficult, but luckily an English girl who was standing on the sidelines helps me. I can continue pretty quickly and my legs don't feel any worse after this short break.
It remains a matter of making do with how things go. It's just tough. The legs are now also becoming more tired and of course they were already far from ideal. At the RunDem cheer zone I find some energy and accelerate through the cheer zone. It's still around 10K now. The acceleration makes me think for a moment: “Maybe it is still possible?”. I manage to walk well for a while, but then I notice that it really isn't possible. From now on it's all about surviving and crossing the finish line. At such moments, the end times are actually no longer in your mind. Later I found out that a friend of mine had told me during the race that if I continued to run 4”30, I would get the Boston Qualifier (BQ). Unfortunately, you only see this afterwards and you do not receive those types of messages along the way.
The last 10K is just survival. Along the Thames, it's basically just straight ahead with a few tunnels. Only at the end at Buckingham Palace do you turn right twice. The crowd continues to cheer passionately. The marathon always claims victims, so I just overtake people. Although I'm going a bit slower, I'm in a good rhythm. It doesn't hurt much extra. That changes in the last two kilometers. Then you just have to bite the bullet. After the last bend it is still quite far. The finish will come after all!
Completely empty, I stumble through the finish area to my bag. I throw the foil you receive when you finish on the grass and sit down. Legs finally get some rest. A little dizzy so it's a good thing I am sitting down. I don't really feel anything about it. This was my first marathon since Boston 2019. I don't know how I feel about it. I stumble towards the exit and find my girlfriend at the agreed place. I actually wanted to go to Tracksmith afterwards, but I'm empty. I just want to chill on the bed in the hotel with a beer.
It was a great marathon with a disappointing result. You can't always roll the dice and get six. I've thought a lot about why my legs were so heavy at the start and I can't really think of anything. Did everything right days before. Taper, carbloading, drinking water, etc. Maybe stood in the rain with bare legs for too long at the start, but that seems likely to me (it wasn't cold). I'll never know how it happened either. All I can hope is that it doesn't happen again next time.