I thought I wasn't nervous before this race. I'd promised myself that if the sub three goal was achieved at Manchester then this one would be all about the enjoyment. My race aim was "keep running, keep enjoying".
Last year I did the MCR-LDN double but there was only 1 week in between. I'd not tried a double-up before, so those around me wisely suggested that it would be good to run London for fun so that I could finish marathon 'season' loving the race and not hating it because LDN was a grind. Since then I've done another double (Bournemouth / Garda) and I think we can safely say there's no danger of me deciding I hate marathons. Add to that the fact that this year's Manchester was a whole lot more fun than I expected and all of a sudden the reasons to coast around LDN were becoming less an less. My race aim was still going to be the same but the little competitive voice in my head kept nudging me. (Skip to the result here)
So, I thought I wasn't nervous. But then I started talking to other excitable runners and went to the expo on Friday and all of a sudden the adrenaline and nerves were back. I should probably have spent more time wandering around the stands to take in the atmosphere. I'm not one of those who is at risk of walking too much on the expo - I get expo panic and end up getting out as fast as I can. I completely forgot to visit The Flying Runner, Running Heroes and Xempo / Marathon talk but did see BenFP for a pre-race nervous splurge and game planning chat.
I went to collect my number only to be told that I had a boy's number. Apparently a girl's number should have pink stripes behind it - nice work VMLM. One of the volunteers who guided me through getting a replacement number and double timing chip (apparently it's because there's money at stake in the championship race) asked which club I was part of and expressed surprise that I wasn't part of a "proper" club. Apparently the BBC running club isn't proper! I'll have you know that we have one of the few remaining "ever presents" as a member - Steve Wehrle.
Anyway. Onto the the race. No lasagne for tea this time (I still suspect it may be the magic bullet) but pre race dinner was nutritionist-friendly sweet potato and chicken stew. Mr B and I were staying with friends and I think it really helped being with marathon-agnostics the night before. It definitely helped get it in perspective. I'd decided to go out aiming for 6'45/mi pace and see how long I could hang in there and enjoy it for, then see what happened.
Morning of the race, breakfast was my standard 2 hrs pre-start large bowl of muesli made with water and a splash of milk plus half a cup of coffee and some water (in case you care!). Mr B dropped me off just near Blackheath train station and I walked up amidst the crowds. It was still a good 50 mins before kickoff so wasn't in a hurry. Championship start was a new experience and I was glad that I was going to be meeting a friend (Lucy from City of London Ravens) who had started from there last year and knew the process. Our bibs were checked front and back and ticked off by special marshalls who also checked that we didn't break any of the rules about advertising on our kit and that we were wearing our club vests. I had to explain to one that I wasn't advertising the BBC but it was the club I was running for. All the more reason to do our little club proud.
Before we knew it we were in the starting area and in a change from previous years (so I'm told) the fast good for age group were brought up behind us. This meant for a very busy start. I think it was easily as bad as last year's good for age start. Lucy and I had bumped into some other Ravens and we agreed to keep it steady at the start. We needn't have worried, it was too busy to do much else. In contrast to MCR I noticed the miles a bit more - by 6 I was started to think about ticking miles off. Perhaps this was fatigue or perhaps better placing of the markers. Being responsible for the pacing of others helped me though and made me grateful again to those who have paced me. Still, 40min flew by and I wasn't hanging out for a gel, which was a good sign.
I think there was less cheering than last year when it was Paula Radcliffe's last year and in parts of the route the crows were on the roads with no barriers which made it quite tight. One of the Raven girls got her shoe caught by a runner and had to stop and catch us up. We bumped into Ben Rajan from AR who was just back from Boston and soon after that Sorrell Walsh, who was really the first lady who made me believe that my own Sub3 quest was not complete insanity. We all fell into step for a while and as we rounded onto Tower Bridge I was glad to be running with Ben who whooped up the crowd a bit. I think Championship start is a bit more serious so I missed that aspect of the race and felt a bit out of place when I tried to do it.
We saw the elites coming the other way as we came off Tower Bridge but at this point the crowds of runners were still big and I got separated from the rest of our little group. Now I was on my own. The Isle of Dogs always feels interminable and I knew that I was going to have to dig in pretty soon - not physically yet, but mentally. Up ramps, through tunnels, past people at mile 17 shouting 'you're nearly there (ha!), another gel at 1hr 20, sips of water, moments of heat, moments of rain, moments of wind and the miles ticked by, not fast, but they went.
By mile 19 I was thinking that it'd be good just to do a London PB (under 3:11). I decided to settle in and just see how it went. When I relaxed I'd see my pace creep up again. By mile 20 though I was really ready to get some support and whereas at MCR I went back to 1/2 a gel I decided to go for the whole thing this time. I had just remembered a technique BenFP had mentioned where you promise yourself to run at pace for just the next mile, then reassess, when I heard "Gill". I thought I was imagining it but it was the very welcome face of Roland from the AR crew. What are the chances of meeting at mile 20? He'd been ill the week before and told me he was spent (except he still did 3:08...if that's spent...), but when I replied that I was just hanging on he was having none of it! I started thinking about Mr B and also about how I promised myself I'd just enjoy and keep running. By 23 I was just waiting to see the AR crew who I knew were camped out at mile 24. I have to admit that a large amount my carrying on just then was sheer pride and wanting to be running strong when I passed them. I remember seeing Colin Jackson trying to interview people and mouthing 'ow!' at them as I passed. I thought I was fading fast (though looking at the splits I was still steady). I did think I was still on for just under 3 hrs, as my watch was still saying 6'49/mi but I wasn't certain as both 3hr pacers were ahead of me.
As I came down embankment I was looking for the 25mile marker, knowing it was the last proper one I had to see. I came to the Houses of Parliament and by now all I was thinking was 'just get it done and keep moving forward in some sort of way'. Again, I heard an unexpected "Gill". It was BenFP. It was brilliant to see someone I knew and hear a targeted shout from among the wall of sound. Also, particularly someone I wanted to prove myself to! Round the corner of birdcage walk and I saw Mr B. Hurrah! I did everything I could and heard the announcer call the 3hr group ahead over the finish. I thought maybe I'd got it and the pacer was still fast (he had been for much of the race). I finished happy and, annoyingly, still able to jog over to Mr B who was waiting at other side of the railings after the medal collection. 'I'm not sure, I might just have...?' He shook his head. 'Sorry, 3:00:16'.
So there it is, close but not there. I thought I was working hard over that last mile but Ben has since told me I looked like I was 'going for a Sunday stroll' (aka not going for it). He was right! My pace dropped hugely over that last mile and to be honest, the Monday after the race I got in a bit of a grump with myself for not pushing it harder. I'm annoyed that my mental fortitude wasn't there to grit and dig in but I'm determined that's not going to happen again. I don't know if I was right to go out so carefully. I wonder if I'd let myself fly a bit more in the first half whether I'd have made it. But perhaps I would have burned out and slowed even more. And what about that busy start? Of course it's possible I lost 16s there but then if you're going to run competitive races you have to expect to be around competitors. With races there so many what-if's but that's why I love it. There's be no reason to keep racing if you ran it perfectly. I can run 26miles on my own!
All in all I think I stuck to my plan. I write this 8 days after the race and if someone said I could race a marathon tomorrow I would. I'm going to take everything I've learned from these two and put them to good use for next time.
Next time? Well, what should it be? The next marathon will be my 10th. I'm open to suggestions.
ps. Huge congratulations to all the AR team for amazing runs. Also thanks to all the people from 'online' who said hi during or after the race. Lovely to meet you!