25 Not Out – Race Report – by David Goodwin
Back in 2010 I was lucky to be selected for the National Autistic Society team for the first Virgin London Marathon, as Flora left their sponsorship behind to the history books. Good news I thought as I couldn’t and still can’t stand butter or margarine URGH. It was my first marathon and didn’t really know any runners apart from Anne-Marie and to honest we were complete novices. I recall cruising til half way, we got halfway at 2h40 (I looked this up on old results – I ran with a £15 Casio stopwatch – no fancy Garmin! ) When we completed it in 6h8 mins limping over the line I remember not running for weeks and thinking yeah that’s it done it now. Google tells me that the lone Massey Runner that year was Dave Phillips in 4h27! Of course, when your feet recover, and the internet tells you to enter the 2011 ballot that’s what you do. Jammy gits we both got a place in the ballot and marathon no2 came along in April 2011 (5h27 woop woop PB), a few months after joining the red and white quarters of Masseys.
Since then I’ve done a few marathons each year and completed my 24th full in Manchester earlier in the month and whilst I didn’t get a PB, I was comfortable with a sub 5 and another amazing medal in the bag. Around the same time as Manchester, I had final confirmation that I had been selected to join the Runners World New Balance Pace Team for the 2019 race. I had seen these mysterious guys and ladies at the London Marathon before and thought these folks are true legends, how do they do it? What happens if they need the toilet? Can you get 23 runners in a portaloo and pick up the pace again? How do they track the time? Do they not get tired as well? Do they get a medal? So many questions!
I was offered the chance to run 5h45 with the team. Wow I looked and thought OK this is 13 min miles, 39 min parkrun, so “feels steady” of course its all relative. I dream of the day when I could keep up with the 4 hr guy so I felt confident that 13 min miling would be manageable and hoped that there would be plenty runners to support round the course. The buzz at the freezing blue start (WTF? London Marathon day is always guaranteed sunburn?!) made me realise this was still a popular time. In fact, the organisers had realised that 30% of the field was coming in over 5 hrs, hence the extension of the pace team in 15 min intervals from 5h up to 7h30 this year for the first time. So it was amazing to be a trailblazer for the steady paced runners.
The running element was of course important and not going off to fast key to the job, but the main thing I gave out at the start seemed to be “keep calm we got this” type advice. A lot of first-time runners were there, and the tension was palpable. I recall the same back in 2010, so its completely normal. I explained that between Daniel the Dutchman (my fellow 5h45 man) we would keep even splits and aim for a 5h44 finish. We started late around 11.05, and a few darted off into the trees and portaloos in the first 5k as the cold and nervous drinking of water had got to them. Unfortunately, the group broke up a bit by the time we got to Cutty Sark at around 10k. I was giving people an update on key landmarks and trying to break it down into sections. A marathon is like a whopping Sunday lunch 3 course meal, you can’t do it all in one go, but you’ll get there over an afternoon. No point thinking about the coffee and mints when you’re only at the soup. Had a laugh with a couple of guys, I said look lads it’s a “big old boat” one of them said you’ve not met my mother in law. For interest of confidentiality I can’t tell you his race number. What goes on the long run stays on the long run (taps nose)
The crowds ebbed and flowed til we got to 12 miles and I warned people to keep an eye on the coming right turn. Yep its there! from south of the river the approach to Tower Bridge is something else, it just appears, and the wall of noise is world class. In fact, we slowed the pace back and let runners take the time to soak up the moment. It really is a goose bump moment. Turning right off the bridge and towards the Isle of Dogs, you see the runners on the left 8 miles ahead on the home straight. I saw a few of the other faster pacers on the other side. The nod and a wave across the fence was great. I imagine this is what bus drivers do at least 26 times a day, when they see a mate from the depot!
After a 2 min “natural break” in the tunnel at mile 15 I was a touch behind the pace, however the time soon came back on track, I did get a few grumbles from runners “oi he’s going too quick” but I politely explained and they mostly laughed! Having ran the event before and stayed in the Canary Wharf area a few times I knew when I turned up towards Mudchute the race really started. Seventeen to about 21 I have always found any marathon a challenge as you are counting down in single figures, but the finish is still a way off. The original pack of runners had gone and it was Daniel and myself weaving round tired runners. I warned people to basically ignore the mileage on the watches from here on in as I knew the towers of Canary Wharf would screw the GPS.
Chugging into Canary Wharf around 19 miles I saw Katie and Jonathan Kingston, I pleasant surprise! But a delight to see some friendly faces and a sweaty hug – sorry. After tracking a 9 min mile #fakenews I knew them GSCE Maths lessons at Coundon Court in the early 90s had to be pulled from the brain archives. The watch was now useful for time only and the miles were way off! Reassuring the other runners, I then ran by feel and by the markers – looking at the splits afterwards on the 5k official marathon mats it all came off to plan (even tho my watch was a mess!)
21 miles through Limehouse was a massive highlight, the Run Dem Crew station was like a 200-metre visit to the Notting Hill Carnival fuelled by Red Bull. I defy anyone not to smile at this point, the energy and drum and bass was pounding, the confetti cannons were flying and the broken runners jigged and danced into a shuffle. I then saw my old boss from 15 years ago dressed in his QPR kit we had a man hug and I just couldn’t believe I was here. The last 4 or 5 miles I grinned the whole way, I was slowly picking people up like a rolling snowball. Admittedly some stuck for two lampposts, some for a half mile some looked p-ed off to see me, but hopefully some motivation was offered.
Out of the Blackfriars tunnel at 24 with the Embankment on the left, the noise really cranked up a notch. The New Balance cheer zone and the ripple effect in the crowd was something else. If anyone is still reading and gets a place to run – DON’T wear earphones, you will miss sooooo much. London for one day is your best mate and you must embrace it. Not long after that I saw the Kingston’s again, some banter about don’t stop you’ll mess up the pace, but another sweaty hug and I trundled on to see Jenna, Jo and Stu with the MEDAL! WOW had to have a touch of that. I went for the hug with J and J and was handed off with the DON’T BE SHIT sign and GO MASSEY. I wondered if there was a secret what’s app group going with the supporters with JK warning ahead – HES GIDDY AND SWEATY don’t touch !!
As we went through Parliament Square I remember being told one year that the last red phone box on the right was one KM to go. Thankfully, despite most UK citizens spending 21 hours a day glued to our mobile devices this unofficial marker was still there. Dutch Daniel loved this stat, shouted out and it pushed a few more on. The turn at 385 yds to go and wave to HRH on the left was again so special. The chance to soak it up for once rather than be pelting around the corner chasing a time was a real privilege. Knowing I had hit my pace time with a min to spare and again completed one of the 6 World Marathon Majors was quite emotional. Not in my quarters this time but hey I was a quarter of the way to the 100 Marathon Club. The finish zone was exemplary in its organisation, before you knew it you were at Admiralty Arch, every baggage truck volunteer shouted, “Well done Pacer” and you honestly felt like again everyone was your mate.
Wandered back to Runners World magazine head office to return the flag and they were over the moon with the team. The buzz and chat with the other pacers and head office team was pure running geekery and a glass of fizz and I was on cloud nine. Put my phone back on properly when I got the 4G back and it was facebook meltdown, I had only been spotted on the BBC1 coverage!! Unbelievable! My Dad rang me to check we were all ok, Anne-Marie got back to sweep up the last of the RW bubbles and the goodwill messages kept coming.
Then tracked down news from Stratford and was pleased to see Dave P the legend was 500 not out and the party was in full swing. I had just followed in the footsteps of Kipchoge running the second fastest time in history and been one of the record 42,549 finishers. Wow wow wow, just ran in the biggest London Marathon ever!
When I did my 1st marathon I had no idea I would be doing another one, never mind 25 (or 500!) so if you are unsure just give it a go, the challenge is quite addictive. The training is always harder than the race, the event is the victory lap.
I can’t wait til the Windermere Marathon in a few weeks’ time!