Monday, April 25, 2011

London Marathon Race Report

Sorry it's taken me so long to post a race report on the London Marathon. I came home with a virus that kept me lethargic for a week. Anyway, here goes:

Friday. Salome & I arrived in London Friday morning, got to our hotel, the Crown Plaza St. James, near Buckingham Palace, and called our friends Bob & Melissa from Akron. We arranged to go to the Expo that afternoon. I love a big race expo for the sheer excitement of the crowd of pre-race runners. Not to mention all the race gear for sale. Both Salome & I dropped quite a few pounds on London Marathon gear. The Expo had on display some of the wildest costumes from prior years runners on display. The London Marathon is the biggest fund raising marathon in the world with most British runners raising funds for some charity. The most unusual costume on display was the deep sea diving suit complete with lead boots. Of course, the guy running in the suit took over 5 days to complete the course.

After the Expo, we hurried back to the hotel for the Marathon Tours cocktail party. In addition to Bob & Melissa, we reconnected with our friends Jerry, Lupe & Maggie from Albuquerque, and Linda Mueller from Chicago, and met several other fun and interesting people from around the US who traveled to London for the marathon. Like me, Linda was completing her tour of the World Marathon Majors. We also got to spend some time talking to our Marathon Tours guides Scott Guillemette and Jacqui Kaufman.

Saturday. Saturday morning I went for a 4 mile run with Bob & Melissa to shake the legs out. I always love doing a run of a city to get the lay of the land. After breakfast, Salome & I went for a walk around London with Bob & Melissa. We made it to the London Eye, but the line to get on the ride looked way too long, so we walked back across the Thames and towards Trafalgar Square for lunch at a pub. We returned to the hotel in the early afternoon and ate an early dinner at the hotel's restaurant. Then, it was off to bed.

Race Day. Race morning, Salome & I got dressed into our costumes. Salome was dressing up as a Hawaiian hula girl and I dressed up in my Wayne's World get up from last year's Paris Marathon run. However, without buddy Jacques "Garth" Watters to accompany me, my heart wasn't into the spirit of the get up. I did get into the spirit of fun in the lobby as we gathered with other runners to load onto the buses for the start. At the start area, we hung out with Bob & Melissa; however, since Bob was in a corral ahead of us, Salome, Melissa & I huddled together at the start. Our friend Linda from Chicago had a connection with a friend involved in race organization, and were given race committee vests that allowed them "backstage access" to wherever they wanted to go at the start. Little did they know that he had slotted them to walk the pro men to the start line. Thus, they got to see the elites start from a very nice viewing area.

As we stood in our corral, I offered to try to pace Melissa to a sub 4 hour marathon. As she didn't want to hinder my run, she declined the offer. This was a blessing as I thought I might be writing a check my body couldn't cover. As we stood waiting for the starting pistol to fire, I became too warm in my flannel shirt. Thus, just before the start pistol fired, I removed the shirt and threw it to the side.

Once the race started, it took us about 2 minutes to cross the start line. Not bad considering the size of the crowd. London splits the start into 3 groups starting on 3 different roads. Thus, the start isn't too much of a problem given that there are about 40,000 runners in the marathon. However, the crowd of runners was quite thick and the roads were fairly narrow, causing surges and slow downs as the various start groups converged at different points along the first 5 miles of the course.

By mile 1, I tossed my blow up guitar as being a nuisance to carry. Around mile 3, I found the wig was getting too hot, so off it went. I thought I'd keep the Wayne's World cap on, but found that it also made my head sweat too much. So near mile 4, I went to the side of the road and gave it to a young spectator cheering us on. Speaking of spectators, the entire course was lined at least 3 people deep the entire 26.2 miles of the course. If you like a good cheering audience, then London is the marathon for you.

Coming off my knee injury, I'd planned to take short walk breaks at every mile. However, with the severe crowding of the course, it wasn't safe to try to take a walk break. I didn't dare try until mile 8 for fear of being run over. From there on I did take walk breaks, but it was a risky proposition until the last 6 miles of the course. I'd have to say that as far as the size of a marathon goes, I think London reaches a tipping point where the size is simply too big. With so many runners on the course, you find it difficult to run your desired pace and are constantly being jostled by other runners.

My second thought about the race was that the first half in southern London could have been in almost any major European city. There didn't appear to be anything special about running in the neighborhoods in London south of the Thames. It wasn't until I approached the Tower Bridge just before the half-marathon point that I started to get excited and enjoy the course. However, crossing Tower Bridge was exhilarating. As you looked left, you realized you were running by the Tower of London. However, as I hit the half marathon mark, I noticed that I was a couple of minutes over the 2 hour mark. Knowing that I've never done a negative split in a marathon, I knew then it was unlikely that I would break the 4 hour mark. Thus, I decided at that point to pull back on my effort somewhat and try to make sure that my knee would not give me trouble for the second half of the race. From miles 14 to 16, you could look across the street to see the leaders coming on the return route of the out and back portion of the course. As all the guys that I saw were pasty-white Englishmen, I was pretty sure I'd missed the lead Kenyan and Ethiopian runners.

Meanwhile, a few miles back, wife Salome was having the time of her life running in her hula girl outfit. Her goal was to try to break 6 hours and thoroughly enjoy the crowds. She received many shout outs from the crowd yelling "Go Hula Girl!" and gave away some of her leis along the route to spectators. She even stopped to give a lei to a bobby doing crowd control along the course. Being further back in the crowd of runners, she saw more of the costumed runners who tend to run slower in their elaborate get-ups. She saw two guys running with a surf board and ran along with them to make the Hawaiian theme even larger. Of course, they declined her request to let her ride the board for a mile or two as they carried it as they ran.

Back up to where I was running at about mile 17, I was enjoying the running through the business district of London. I enjoy running through the business district, which reminded me somewhat of running through downtown Chicago during the Chicago marathon. On my return trip back towards Tower Bridge, I looked across to see if I could spot Salome on her outbound portion of the out & back loop. No such luck. In fact, at this point the only runners still on the outbound section of the course were runners in elaborate and most likely hot costumes.

The final miles along the Thames River heading towards Buckingham Palace were a jam of 5 to 6 deep crowds of spectators cheering wildly for all the runners. Given that most of the runners are local Londoners running for fund-raising causes, I'd have to say that the people of London support their runners in grand fashion. As I passed Buckingham Palace and headed the last couple of hundred yards to the finish line, I couldn't help but tear up a bit. As I said to a fellow runner after crossing the finish line in 4:20: "The only thing better than running a marathon is finishing a marathon."

Salome crossed in 5:48, a time with which she was thrilled. Since she had some issues in finishing her long training runs, she had doubts as to whether she would be able to run the last six miles. Fortunately, with the fun of interacting with the crowds as "Hula Girl," she kept a positive attitude and was able to run the entire course. While she had declared prior to the race that London was her last marathon, she has let the euphoria of her London finish cause her to rethink that decision. Rome next March anyone?

Post-Race. The biggest problem after crossing the finish line was winding your way the mile or so through St. James Park to get back to the hotel. As I walked though the park, runners were sprawled everywhere laying on the ground. While I was very tempted to join them, I knew that laying down meant that I would not get up for a couple of hours, so I kept doing my hobbled walk though the crowd of resting runners.

As I returned to our hotel lobby, I came across our friends Jerry & Lupe. Jerry had crossed the finish just a couple of minutes ahead of me. Jerry, who works for Intel, had volunteered to fly to Tokyo to help with post tsunami recovery work and had to quickly shower, change and get to the airport to fly out to Tokyo. Now, that's dedication to your work. Way to go Jerry!

Salome & I spent the next couple of days touring London, hitting a lot of the usual sights. With the royal wedding approaching, the line to get into Westminster Abby was long, but we had to go in. We hit several of museums and caught the Queen Rock-Opera "We Will Rock You" on our last night. All in all, a great visit. Salome is ordering her race photos, so I'll do a subsequent blog post to post some of her race pictures and some of our trip pictures.

Me, I'm just thrilled that my knee held up. I had no post-race swelling or soreness in the right knee, so I think the tear in my medial meniscus is healed. My biggest concern now is whether I've got sufficient time to gear up for Florida 70.3 on May 15th. With this virus, I lost this last weekend to train. Hopefully, I'll be fully recovered by this coming weekend and can hit the swim and bike hard enough to at least show up in Orlando in three weeks.


  1. Great time. I hate running with so many people. Hard to get into a groove. Good luck at IMFL 70.3. 18 year old neighbor kid is doing it so I will be online watching