Marc is ready to tackle his 20th London Marathon!
With the marathon just over a week away, Marc, our team Starfish runner looks back on the past 20 years of running in the London marathon!
It’s 6am, Sunday 21st April 1996, and my mate Pete and I are seeking warmth in the waiting room of London Bridge train station. Having been out in town all night, we are exhausted, sobering up, and feeling decidedly worse for wear. We fall asleep waiting for the first morning train to arrive…
Cue one hour later, and we awaken to footsteps, many, many, footsteps. I wearily open my eyes and see a blur of movement and bright fluorescent colours around me. I nudge Pete, and he awakens, looking a little startled. Unbeknownst to us, it’s the morning of the London Marathon and in the words of Michael Caine (probably), there are runners, hundreds of ‘em….
Salvation comes in the form of our train, and we quickly push our way through the fog of Deep Heat and get on. As we pull away, heading to a day of coma-like sleep, and gazing out at these amazing people, I have one overwhelming feeling: Jealousy.
One year on, my life had changed. Driven by that feeling of jealousy towards these smiling, fit looking, yet normal people, I had gained a place to run alongside them through a local hospice charity. I became a fully paid up runner myself, and was at the point where I no longer found the word ‘Fartlek’ funny. By the time I found myself in pen 9 on the Red Start, right at the back, I felt like I belonged. It took me 4 and a half hours to get round the course that year, and it began a love affair that this year celebrates its 20th Anniversary.
Yes, I’ve been running London for 20 years, having missed 2 through injury. Which some might say makes me an expert, but the truth is I learn something new every year, and the feeling of turning in to the Mall never gets dull.
Many things have changed since I first ran in 96. The Expo/Registration is no longer in a Town hall, and has become a wonderful event for anyone that loves health and fitness. The area around the Isle of Dogs was barren 20 years ago, but is now a real highlight, with large crowds and beautiful buildings. And the dreaded cobbles outside the Tower of London are no longer part of the course, thank god!
I have also changed. It’s been a while since I ran a race without a costume, and have been round dressed in my pyjamas, as St George, in the famous Rhino outfit and a giant 7ft Bagpuss, to name a few. I even broke the world record for carrying an 80LB Pack in 2015, and will be going for another record carrying 100LB this year.
As you might imagine, I have picked up a few pearls of wisdom, both from experience and handed down to me from fellow runners. You may have heard some of these many times already, and for good reason, because they really will make your experience both easier and greater:
1. Race Day is Reward Day. It is natural to be nervous and apprehensive, but remind yourself that you have trained, done the work, and that a glorious day is your just reward. Allow yourself to enjoy it.
2. Put your name on your vest. The charity has sent it to you, so get it on. More than a million people line the streets and they WANT to shout your name at you. So best to let them know what it is…
3. Leave the headphones in your kit bag. Music before the race is nice, and I still have a few songs I listen to beforehand to really get the emotions flowing. But even if you have trained with music, don’t use it during the race. Your experience is as much aural as it is visual, so don’t rob yourself of a major part of the day.
4. There’s no need to carry a drink, gels or sweets. Lucozade provide isotonic drink and gels on the course, and there are frequent water points. Little old ladies will hand you a piece of fruit and thousands of children will hold out sweets and chocolate. What’s the point in taking your own?
5. Arrange your family and friends on the course. It’s no good just saying ‘see you at Tower Bridge’. You won’t. Agree a good point away from the main tourist spots, and tell them which side of the road you will aim to run on. They will see you if you do this!
6. Don’t wear new trainers or kit. The smallest loose stitch in fabric can cause problems. Use what you know works.
7. Start slow, be consistent. There is so much adrenaline flying around at the start. Do not get carried away and run your first 5 km like Paula Radcliffe. If anything, run SLOWER than you should do until you’re comfortable with your pace.
8. Break the race down into manageable chunks. Don’t keep thinking 26.2 miles at the start. Think about the first point you’re looking forward to, such as where Red and Blue course come together, or Cutty Sark. From there, think about Tower Bridge and so on.
9. Take a bin bag to wear at the start. Your kit bag needs to be on the lorry early, and the best way to keep warm is a reliable bin bag with holes for your head and arms. Keep it on as long as you can at the start.
10. Finally, enjoy every minute. It may be a marathon, but it will be gone in a flash.
Good luck to each and every one of you, whether it’s your first time or you’re a veteran of many runs. May you inspire many more hungover 20 year olds like me next Sunday!