Where do I start? I absolutely love running London Marathon which has a special place in my heart. This race was always an ambition of mine, and after years of trying to get entry I first raced as a rhino in 2011. 2013 was my next attempt and a massive PB for me. Then something special happened, I got entry as an official pacer.
I have never looked back and I will pace every year if I have the opportunity.
Some stats for you: this was my 23rd marathon (27th qualifying event for 100 marathon club when you include 3 100k and 1 Ironman). This was the 27th event I have paced at and the 7th time I have paced for Runners World (4 London Marathon and 3 Silverstone Half Marathons).
I always enjoy the excitement of the build up to London Marathon, but this year was extra special. It included me helping out at the expo with Fitness Rewards; meeting Dean Karnazes where I thanked him for my interview and he signed my book; and I attended the Running Awards for the first time. I won’t dwell on this too much here, but you can see my BLOG about it if you want to see more.
As always I laid out my kit the night before to make sure I had everything I needed. My essential kit includes: Adidas kit supplied to pacers (thank you guys it’s great); pacing flag; Racecheck visor; new gold CEP socks; pacepocket; pouch for phone (needed for running selfies); new Oofos for recovery ; Grub bar for pre race and biltong for post race snack.
Race mornings before pacing always start early. I always like to get there early anyway, but when pacing you are usually required to get there early for meeting/briefing/photo etc, and this was no different. As a pacer at the blue start it’s a little more difficult as we meet past the red start. I got there at the required 08:30 start and we stayed there until about 09:00. It was great meeting lots of familiar faces then we headed off to the start. Susie Chan was my partner in crime once again today and we got to the blue start for a quick bag drop, some photos and then straight into our pen.
When in the back of pen 5 I spent time chatting to runners, giving reassurances and letting everyone know our race strategy. We were moved forward a bit by marshals as us being right at the back was creating a large crowd blocking the entrance. So I went back to speak to the front of pen 6 runners as there were plenty there hoping to run with us. I could tell straight away it was going to be a cracking day, and it was full of lots of energy. There were nerves that I tried to help settle, and excitement that I encouraged. They even laughed at my jokes so I was happy.
One thing I noticed was that it seemed a lot quieter than normal. I may be wrong, but I paced the same pen last year and swear the start was busier. I was really surprised when we crossed the start line in only 4 and a half minutes, and we were immediately at the correct pace. Again last year it took longer to cross the start and when we did it was slow for the first few miles. This just proves that every race is different, no matter how many times you have done it.
My pacing strategy for sub 4 today was to run near 9 min miles. In London the course always reads long on the garmin as it is impossible to keep to the blue line. I find that running a few seconds faster a mile accounts for this and gets me to the mile markers in time. I like to be as consistent as possible, but also build a 20 second cushion at the start. This allows for any variance from unexpected delays, as I don’t want to be running faster later on in the marathon when my funbus may not be able to keep up. My measure of success is: 1) having a happy and confident group around me; 2) running consistent splits; 3) keeping lots of runners with me until the end.
We managed to build our 20 seconds in the first 5k, and as always I called out the desired time and actual time at each mile marker. This is made much easier by my pacepocket. In the early stages the crowd support did not appear as great as previous years. And everything did seem quieter, but let’s be honest it may be quiet for London but it was still excellent. The whole 26.2 miles had support, it is amazing.
As we carried on through the course it didn’t take long for the usual ambiance to return. In case I forget let me say a big thank you for every single person that makes this event the special occasion it is: the runners; the supporters; the volunteers and organisers. Thank you every single person who was part of London Marathon 2017.
I’ve ran in plenty of busy events, but London really is huge. For some it can be a little overwhelming. There is constant bumping of elbows and the water stations are difficult (especially as when you do fight your way over people often slow down or just stop in front of you). There is no space for you to race off, everything is just done gradually. When running in the correct pen the principle is that everyone in front of you is running faster so they should not be in your way. This is why there are some slow points at the start as people start to far forward, and in the later stages people start slowing down which has the same effect.
When you get to Tower Bridge you know you are almost half way there. You turn the corner and are hit by the noise. This is a fantastic part of the course, and the beauty of the city is really made special by all those on the Bridge, both watching and running. At this point it was great that I had most of the people that started with me still with me. I’m not entirely sure how many as some stayed close and others ran around me, all I know is there was a large happy funbus.
When I started off with my 20 second cushion Susie carried on keeping the pace to create a small gap. This was perfect to split the group and we ran the first 20 miles with about 30 seconds between us. This allowed us to run more freely and keep a larger number of runners with us. I kept the 20 second cushion throughout, and at most it was 40 seconds, and least 10 seconds. As we approached mile 20 Susie slowed gradually so we merged our groups. This was a perfect point as unfortunately many runners slowly slip off the funbus. We still had many originals with us, and many more for on the bus.
Throughout there were a few narrow points, some made worse by supporters pushing into the course making it more narrow, and there were plenty of places unsupervised by marshals and no barriers. The worse point was around mile 21 and this really narrowed and we found ourselves slowing much more than we should. Because we were slowing down so much Susie and I were forced to zig zag through the crowds, something I hate doing as you inevitably lose people. We had no choice as we could not sustain the desired pace and had to get though. Most runners kept up with us, and we ran a slightly faster couple of miles to make up for the previous delays. As I said before, it is hard accounting for unexpected delays and the cushion at this point was crucial. We built the cushion back up to 30 seconds as I had told everyone that my plan was to keep this cushion until Big Ben, this was about 1k from the end and the point that people could push on to have a fast finish.
The last couple of miles at London is always fantastic. Running past lots of iconic locations and the crowds here are fantastic. By the time I got to Big Ben I was bang on target with a 30 second and just over a kilometre to go. I had spent the last few miles trying to encourage everyone to keep going and join the sub4funbus. Some joined on and later thanked me for the encouragement, others unfortunately dropped into the distance. My family always wait in the same place in St James Park and I almost missed them this year. But I managed to come in and give both Benjamin and Amelie a high five.
The finish was amazing as always and I would like to think I encouraged many towards the end to give it a last push and get their sub 4.
It was fantastic and at the end I was greeted by numerous hand shakes and hugs. A highlight for me was a big man hug from a fella who said he had been trying to break sub 4 for 16 years. This is my #ReasonToRun and I’m so glad I was able to share this experience with him.
Everything about the finish was great as always in London. I finished just 11 seconds under, with lots of happy runners and kept a consistent pace. This is always the target I set myself.
The finishers medal was new this year and was lovely. The goody bag was decent with an unusual but high quality Adidas top. The baggage lorries were quick and so efficient. There is a long walk but this is lined with lots of happy supportive people. The phones are always bad at the end with signal dropping through overuse, and it is so difficult to get through crowds. Fortunately I had arranged to meet at the Runners World meeting point just around the corner so was able to grab a beer and wait for my family. What a fantastic race and one I hope to pace every year.
Check out more reviews of London Marathon at Racecheck.