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Virgin Money London Marathon - Run


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London, England
United Kingdom
Virgin Money London Marathon
60F / 16C
Sunny
Total Time = 2h 51m 49s
Overall Rank = 670/35766
Age Group = M45-49
Age Group Rank = 68/2926
Pre-race routine:

[Apologies: this is a bit long; I'm just writing it all down for myself while I can remember the day. Executive summary: awesome event, happy with the 8-minute marathon PR.]

I’ve been wanting to do this race (on and off) for 33 years. On a rainy day in 1981 my parents took me in the rain to watch the first London Marathon, as a 13 year old. I thought it was awesome. In 1982 and 1983 I was back in London, now running from point to point on the course to see my dad running in as many places as possible. I thought he was dreadfully old to be doing this — the second time around he was all of 40. I knew that I wanted to do this when I was old enough (age limit is 18), as I liked to run long, but wasn’t fast. Years later, I lost interest, first because I found that I was not actually genetically destined to be an ultra-runner, and then because after Boston ’96 I fell off the wagon, swore off marathons forever, and got heavy etc. Later in life, when biking and triathlon got me back in shape, my younger brother Robin (6 years younger) had also taken up the family pastime, and was badgering me from afar about his steadily improving times, which were always a bit ahead of mine. The family marathon record was a prize to fight over … as it was the only distance that another of our brothers hadn’t run, the one who was a 4:03 miler and left the rest of us in the dust (he’s adopted - sadly I have none of those great genes). So when Robin wrested the marathon crown from me, it was clear that we needed a showdown. A plan to do this in DC in ’12 fell through, but that got me an auto-qualifier for London, so we decided that London 2014 would be the designated duel. Best times ahead of this showdown: Robin’s 2:56 from London 2013, and my 2:59:57 from Marine Corps 2012.

I’ve had perhaps my best batch of distance training ever, surprisingly. Back at the start of November I wasn’t running at all, due to persistent achilles problems, but through a mix of exercises, Hokas, and luck I managed to kick the achilles problems, and since Thanksgiving I ramped up the mileage to a few weeks at 80 mpw. Also, since Thanksgiving I managed to lose around 15 lbs, which did not hurt. At peak I was running 20-22 on the weekend, and two runs of 13-15 midweek. This put me in good shape, and I knew based on recent times over 10-13 miles that I was in good form. But I didn’t know how far I could survive in a marathon setting. And I knew that in my last marathon things had fallen apart just a couple of miles from the finish when I got a huge cramp that reduced me to speed-hobbling the last 3 miles.

After arriving in London on Thursday I went to the huge race expo to pick up my number. There I met one of my boyhood heroes, Ron Hill (he won Boston in ’70, and is recognized by some as a former world record in the marathon. His epic 2-volume autobiography “The Long Hard Road” inspired me as a teenager, and I’ve wanted to meet him ever since.

Event warmup:

Well, I don’t really warm up much for a marathon. The main prep is to get the body suitably ready and emptied-out so that I can face 3 hours of running without a pit stop or stomach cramps. That worked only partly. Up at 4am after feeling like I barely slept. I was staying at a hotel near Trafalgar Square in the center of London (nice!), which was well placed both for the trains to the start and for the walk from the finish line. The train to the start was utterly packed. I managed to find a spot to perch on a luggage rack, Harry Potter style. It was a beautiful day, carnival style, as runners converged on Blackheath for the three start areas. Robin noticed the Irish guy who had pushed down the leader in the 2004 Olympic marathon menacingly dancing to Irish music close to the start areas. The guy had apparently tried to enter the marathon, but had been banned from being in London during the race. He was clearly looking to put up a fuss, and a couple of Her Majesty’s finest were keeping a watchful eye. We got to hang out in a special area for auto-qualifiers, which gave us more space, shorter potty lines … and a generally too-serious-party-pooper atmosphere. We were in the first corral of the Red Start, which was separate from the Blue Start, which is where all the marathon mega-stars were beginning from.

Run
  • 2h 51m 49s
  • 26.2 miles
  • 06m 34s  min/mile
Comments:

London is THE marathon do to in the UK, and at £35, it’s a bit of a bargain to enter. So it attracts a pretty deep field. Especially among old farts like me. So the first couple of miles were run in very dense traffic, something that I’m not so accustomed to these days. Robin and I crossed the line together, about 30s after the gun, and then tracked each other for about 2k, but then I got ahead of him through some gaps in the crowd of runners, and I never saw him again. My hope was to run 6:30 pace, and I wanted to place an upper threshold on the effort, such that I wouldn’t go faster than 6:25 pace, and I wanted to keep the HR at 165 or below. After what seemed like a painfully slow 6:44 first mile in traffic (I know that’s not actually slow — it just felt like it, given how the crowd was running), I already broke my rules in mile 2 with 6:20 and a HR that I was struggling to get below 170, although it felt really easy. That got worse in miles 3-4, which are generally downhill, and passed by in 6:13 and 6:09. I knew that those miles tend to be faster for everybody, but this was a bit much. Oops. That got me scared. After 3 miles we merged with the runners from the other starts, which added to the festivity.

5k split: 20:06

The next stretch of the route heads towards Greenwich and the big landmark of the Cutty Sark, a noted 19th century ocean clipper, which proudly overlooks the Thames. From mile 3 onwards, the crowds along the course were simply packed the entire way. I have never seen crowds like this before in a race. Boston is good, but London today was amazing. There are huge turn-outs every year, but with Mo Farah’s involvement and good weather this year, the attendance went through the roof. I worked hard to lower the pace over the next few miles, holding high 6:20s through mile 7. It felt easy, but I was struggling to get the HR down. Around mile 7 I saw my dad and (yet) another brother of mine yelling at us from the side of the road.

10k split: 40:03 (19:57)

The supplies along the course were outstanding. Not a whole lot of fancy stuff (sport drink every 5 miles or so, and I saw them handing out gels somewhere around mile 15), but the water supplies were just great. Stations every mile or so, water handed out in small bottles rather than cups (yay - that meant that I didn’t have to stop to drink), and volunteers passing them out from behind a barrier on either side of the road. That meant that they were all very well aligned, making it surprisingly easy to pick up a bottle as you went past.

By mile 8 I was already starting to feel a bit sore, which worried me. My feet were feeling tender, and the hips weren’t so great. This shouldn’t be happening so early, and I worried that I had over-cooked the early miles and it was going to turn out to be an ugly day. The next miles were in mid-6:30s. That was ok, but I was concerned.

15k split: 1:00:35 (20:32)

The next couple of miles left me feeling a bit better. I could start to see the tall buildings of central London in clear view, and I knew that I’d soon get a boost from crossing Tower Bridge to the north side of the Thames. I don’t remember a whole lot about that section, but I was averaging just over 6:30 pace, and I was trying to stay focused, constantly watching my HR, which only occasionally did what I wanted it to. Crossing Tower Bridge was as electric as advertised. The crowds were practically tumbling over the sides of the bridge. Happy to be this far along, but daunted by how many miles remained, and that meant that I was able to soak up the atmosphere less than I wanted. I had no idea where Robin was at this point, but apparently he had been tracking fairly close to my speed for all but the couple of silly fast miles early on, and at halfway he was just 45 seconds behind me. If I had known that I would have been quite worried.

20k split: 1:21:01 (20:26)
13.1 split: 1:25:25

As we headed east towards the Isle of Dogs (I’m not making this up - it’s the name for part of the London docklands, once rundown, now quite chic), the course fills both sides of a highway, with outbound runners at ~14 miles and returning runners at ~22 miles. I had hoped to see some of the leading men heading in the other direction, but I was there a little too early. I did get to see some of the later runners in the elite women’s race - they had started 45 minutes earlier, and some of them were having a rather lonely time out there. Well, lonely except for the hordes of people cheering for them. The next couple of miles I felt a bit better, with splits in the 6:20s. I was a bit sore, but not much had changed since mile 9, so I was happy that things weren’t going downhill. Other runners were starting to struggle more, and so I was picking off people fairly quickly. For running the pace that we were at, I was surprised how dense the field still was. At 25k my lead had grown to 1:11.

25k split: 1:41:15 (20:14)

I seemed to go through swings of better and worse patches for most of the race, and miles 15-18 were among the worse parts. I wasn’t quite sure of my mile splits, as we went through a tunnel and then past some tall buildings, so the GPS was off. But I was having stomach issues, and this made me tired, and worried that I’d need to dive for a bathroom very soon. I apparently passed my dad and brother watching again at mile 16.5, but didn’t see them. They said that I looked “very focused”. What they didn’t realize was that I was thinking, “Please, please don’t let me poop myself with 10 miles to run”. At 30k my lead over Robin was 1:54. I didn’t know it, but he was starting to really struggle.

30k split: 2:01:43 (20:28)

Fortunately, the feeling passed, and by the time we zig-zagged through the screaming hordes at Canary Wharf around mile 18, I was starting to feel more confident. 8 miles to go, and I could probably hold this together. I saw Robin’s fiancee Linda at around the 18.5 mile point, and she thought that I was looking pretty good by then. The tall buildings again messed up the GPS splits, so I wasn’t quite sure how I was going. I knew that I wasn’t fading too much, as I was passing quite a few people. By 35k my lead over Robin was up to 4:19. I wasn’t thinking about it at the time, but he was having a rough time.

35k split: 2:22:11 (20:28)

Passing the 20 mile mark felt like a major milestone, of course. But I started to go through another rough patch around then. Again it seemed to be mostly due to digestive issues. That might in part be due to those great drinks stations. I was able to take on water so much easier than I’m accustomed to, and it may be that I overdid that a little. Or, then again, perhaps it was just random. Around mile 21 I successfully picked my friend Linnaea out of the crowd. We had met up the day before for her local Parkrun 5k — a great institution in the UK that the it would be great to see in the US. It was good that I knew where to look for her on the course, as I had been hearing people cheering for a “Colin” for much of the way. In the US almost nobody has this name, but it’s quite common in the UK, and somebody must have been running with the name on his top. It was actually a little annoying to hear that for much of the way, though it shouldn’t have bothered me. Miles 21-23 are run along the other side of the highway that I had passed earlier, and now the outbound side was just packed with runners. It looked like a lot of fun over there. Frankly more so than all the serious dudes on my side of the street (myself included). I did pass the occasional runner in fancy dress, including a guy dressed as a toilet at mile 23 (he was raising money for a water charity), but it was generally just passing folks running in the team kit of various UK clubs that I knew of from childhood.

I got a lift at mile 22.5 as we passed the Tower of London, and I knew that all that remained was to run past the iconic sights of downtown London, the glory lap of the race. I was feeling relatively good, and knew the route much better from here on in. We ran down a highway between tall buildings for a little while, and we were relatively protected from the headwind. Then into a tunnel, which was pleasantly tranquil, as it was one of the few places along the route where there were no cheering supporters, then out onto the Embankment along the Thames, where I started to count off the bridges, and looking out as Big Ben appeared in the distance. Around mile 24 I was passed by Magnus Backstedt, a former Paris-Roubaix winner in cycling, and one big guy to be storming through the field at that point. But for the most part I was continuing to pass a lot of people

40k split: 2:42:55 (20:44)

By the time I got to 40k Big Ben was in plain view. I could feel that my quads were getting rather tender, so that they were vulnerable to cramp, but I was also confident that I could make it to the finish with little problem. My math wasn’t so great at that point, but I figured that I should make it to the finish in less than 9 minutes, which would be ok. I remember Paula Radcliffe pointing out that a particular red phone box on the side of the road was the 1-mile to go point, and I thought of how hard she would push it for that last mile, and that helped me to up my game a little. The crowds were even denser at this point, if that’s possible, but I wasn’t paying too much attention, to be honest, and I barely noticed passing through Parliament Square. The crowds thinned out slightly as we headed down Birdcage Walk towards Buckingham Palace, and I probably should have paid attention to the grand sights that I was passing, but I was mostly fixated on the signs that marked 800m to go, 600m to go, etc., which were quite motivating at that point. Rounding the final curve into the home stretch in The Mall, there really wasn’t very far to go, and I was able to up the pace a little further. I think that I was back to low 6:20s for the final mile. According to the race results, in the last 4.5 miles I passed 129 people, and was passed by only 5, so that's not too bad.

What would you do differently?:

Hard to say. I didn’t quite hit my 2:50 target, but 2:51 is really pretty close. I felt frustrated that the day was a bit of a struggle from early on, and that made it harder to soak up the amazing atmosphere, but don’t know whether I could have avoided that. I should perhaps have avoided the couple of too-fast early miles, but it probably would’t have made much difference. It’s possible that I could have pushed it a little harder during the middle section, but since I was living in fear of a meltdown, that would have been a risky strategy. I don’t think that I would change anything in my training, except that the brief flirtation with double days in March probably did more harm than good. contributing to knee troubles that were a constant source of worry for the past 6 weeks.

Post race
Warm down:

In some ways I felt much more tired after I passed the finish line and started walking. They had an interesting approach to removing timing chips. You walked up a ramp to roughly table height, and then some volunteers who were sitting between the ramps were at the right height to clip off the chip. Then it was a loooong walk to the baggage trucks, and a loooong walk from there to the meet-up area, where our supporters were waiting. I started feeling cold fairly soon, but I couldn’t sit down to put on my gear, as I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to stand up without cramping. Robin showed up a while later. He had really suffered in the last miles, finishing in 3:01:47. Bad day at the office. Perhaps also reflecting insufficient training. We slowly hobbled back to the hotel: some went directly to the pub, though I had to clean up and refuel a little first.

What limited your ability to perform faster:

Perhaps the confidence hit in the middle of the race when I was struggling more than expected. But the correct answer for this one is "nothing". If I had known at the start of this cycle that I'd run a 2:51, I'd have been over the moon.

Event comments:

Wow, just an amazing event. I now see why it is so hard to get a place in this race. I keep reaching for superlatives after doing fantastic events, but this one is as good as it gets. And for £35 it’s a steal (… that’s for the locals, of course; adding in flights, London hotels etc. makes it a bit of a luxury item). Setting aside the cost of travel, the commitment of marathon training, etc., I’d do this again in a heartbeat.

And the standards are so high. My time would have placed me 4th in my AG in Marine Corps last year (field of 23,000 finishers), but in London (36,000 finishers) it put me 68th in M45-49. Robin’s 3:01 put him 328th in M40-44. That’s depth.




Last updated: 2014-04-14 12:00 AM
Running
02:51:49 | 26.2 miles | 06m 34s  min/mile
Age Group: 68/2926
Overall: 670/35766
Performance: Good
Course: Mostly flat with a few undulations. London in all its glory.
Keeping cool Good Drinking Just right
Post race
Weight change: %
Overall: Good
Mental exertion [1-5] 4
Physical exertion [1-5] 4
Good race? Yes
Evaluation
Course challenge Just right
Organized? Yes
Events on-time? Yes
Lots of volunteers? Yes
Plenty of drinks? Yes
Post race activities: Good
Race evaluation [1-5] 5

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2014-04-14 3:45 AM

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Master
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Subject: Virgin Money London Marathon


2014-04-14 7:16 AM
in reply to: #4981081

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Veteran
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Austin, Texas
Subject: RE: Virgin Money London Marathon

Staying in Trafalgar Square, an iconic race in a DEEP field and a smokin' fast time?  Sounds pretty awesome!

CONGRATS!

(and for me, 2:51 given the day sounds like you nailed the race)  

Matt

2014-04-14 7:40 AM
in reply to: mcmanusclan5

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Master
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University Park, MD
Subject: RE: Virgin Money London Marathon
Thanks Matt -- yes, I was pretty happy, and it was an amazing weekend. I'd love to go back sometime to do it in less of a hurry so that I can better appreciate the atmosphere.
2014-04-14 8:55 AM
in reply to: colinphillips

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Master
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Crab Cake City
Subject: RE: Virgin Money London Marathon
Colin

Congrats on the PR bud! that is an amazing time. Also, kudos for beating your brother Great race report as always and I am glad that you are injury free right now.
2014-04-14 11:03 AM
in reply to: #4981081

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Regular
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Washington, DC
Subject: RE: Virgin Money London Marathon
Congratulations! So impressive!
2014-04-14 12:33 PM
in reply to: dmbfan4life20

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Seattle
Subject: RE: Virgin Money London Marathon

I was tracking the race yesterday when I woke up.

I was:

A. A little bummed for Mo

B. Happy for Ryan Vail

C. ECSTATIC for you!!!!! 

Colin, this was a fantastic race! I already told you but your splits were just beautiful. You have accomplished a ton this year mainly by staying healthy. I think a lot of this is from what you have learned about your body and sticking to your guns about how you train (a whole lotta easy miles!) Love the comment about your "focused" look heh heh heh.

That is awesome they pass out bottles. What an amazing perk. My family wants me to do London at some point so they can tag along (like they need a reason.) So, I think I am sold on the event. Hmm. Maybe London 2015...

 

You AND Leo Manzano now, maybe there's some magic in those Hokas



2014-04-14 12:34 PM
in reply to: Asalzwed

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Seattle
Subject: RE: Virgin Money London Marathon

Also, YOU BEAT ROBIN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

2014-04-14 12:52 PM
in reply to: #4981081

Master
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Northern IL
Subject: RE: Virgin Money London Marathon

Great job Colin!

2014-04-14 12:55 PM
in reply to: Asalzwed

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Master
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Overland Park, KS
Subject: RE: Virgin Money London Marathon
Great race and excellent race report Collin. Your training has totally paid off, you've made our AG very proud! Ha, your average pace was faster than my 5K PR pace, VERY proud!
2014-04-15 4:33 AM
in reply to: Asalzwed

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Master
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University Park, MD
Subject: RE: Virgin Money London Marathon
Originally posted by Asalzwed

I was tracking the race yesterday when I woke up.

Colin, this was a fantastic race! I already told you but your splits were just beautiful. You have accomplished a ton this year mainly by staying healthy. I think a lot of this is from what you have learned about your body and sticking to your guns about how you train (a whole lotta easy miles!) Love the comment about your "focused" look heh heh heh.

That is awesome they pass out bottles. What an amazing perk. My family wants me to do London at some point so they can tag along (like they need a reason.) So, I think I am sold on the event. Hmm. Maybe London 2015...




Thanks! Your family is right: you should certainly put London on the list (though getting an entry slot as a furriner, even as a fast one like yourself, isn't trivial).

I suspected that there were folks tracking the race from afar -- and that certainly helped to keep me motivated, as I knew that I wasn't just another guy in the crowd, and that there would be some 'splainin to do if I slowed down too much. The first I knew of how the 'race' had gone was from friends in the California and Japan whose FB posts I was able to see once I got my gear bag.

(And truth in advertising: what I haven't done in more than 2 years is speed work in the normal sense of intervals, LT pace runs, etc. On this training cycle I did do a reasonable amount of running at MP or 10-20s slower, which isn't so slow. But I barely ever touched HM pace, and never did 10k - 10mile pace.)
2014-04-15 9:26 AM
in reply to: colinphillips


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Subject: RE: Virgin Money London Marathon

I really have to stop reading race reports. I've already added two "must do" races this week.

Great report and great race, very well run.


2014-04-15 12:16 PM
in reply to: colinphillips

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Seattle
Subject: RE: Virgin Money London Marathon

Originally posted by colinphillips
Originally posted by Asalzwed

I was tracking the race yesterday when I woke up.

Colin, this was a fantastic race! I already told you but your splits were just beautiful. You have accomplished a ton this year mainly by staying healthy. I think a lot of this is from what you have learned about your body and sticking to your guns about how you train (a whole lotta easy miles!) Love the comment about your "focused" look heh heh heh.

That is awesome they pass out bottles. What an amazing perk. My family wants me to do London at some point so they can tag along (like they need a reason.) So, I think I am sold on the event. Hmm. Maybe London 2015...

 (And truth in advertising: what I haven't done in more than 2 years is speed work in the normal sense of intervals, LT pace runs, etc. On this training cycle I did do a reasonable amount of running at MP or 10-20s slower, which isn't so slow. But I barely ever touched HM pace, and never did 10k - 10mile pace.)

Yes, yes! It's just more proof that different things work for different people and there are many ways to get to a goal. Imagine if things had gone perfectly and you didn't have any GI issues or high HR!!!!

 

2014-04-15 6:00 PM
in reply to: #4981081

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Expert
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Scottsdale, AZ
Subject: RE: Virgin Money London Marathon

Awesome job out there, Colin. Smokin fast! Loved the RR and just makes me want to run London that much more. 

2014-04-15 7:15 PM
in reply to: 0

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Veteran
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South Windsor, CT
Subject: RE: Virgin Money London Marathon
you are a....beast of a runner

so impressive, so terrific

I'm so very happy for you.


edited to add:
it's really a competitive race when 2:51 gets you 68 AG...WOW!

(but you are still a beast)

Edited by dtoce 2014-04-15 7:22 PM
2014-04-21 11:52 AM
in reply to: #4981081

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Expert
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Wilmington, NC
Subject: RE: Virgin Money London Marathon
That is a pretty splendid time for a old pommie fart

Congrats on a great race.
2014-04-21 1:19 PM
in reply to: qrkid

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Master
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University Park, MD
Subject: RE: Virgin Money London Marathon
Originally posted by qrkid

for a old pommie fart



And this old pommie fart couldn't wish for a warmer endorsement than that.


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