London 2020/1

04/10/20 – Virtual Reality

It’s fair to say the journey to 2020 London Marathon has taken us along a wholly unexpected path.

It was just over a year ago that I learned I had been given a 2020 LM charity place from Alzheimer’s Research UK, Sue had been accepted a little earlier by Bowel Cancer UK. What has happened in the year leading up to the race has been beyond the wildest imaginings. Suffice to say, this is not the race we were expecting to run when we were accepted.

When the 2020 LM was cancelled for a second time, we did both think quite hard about whether we should even do the virtual version. We were again behind on our training plan when the news came through, for no other discernable reason than laziness, brought on from lack of motivation. It seemed obvious to us that the race would not go ahead on 4 October, but if it did, well, we knew we had a template for getting quickly back on track from our post-Australia experience.

On the other hand, we had already received loads of generous sponsorship for our lovely friends and family. Whilst we both should get to run the real race at some point in the future (currently this weekend in October 2021, but who really knows?), there was the lingering guilt that we would not really be making good on our promises.

In the end, it was a text from Marc – my good mate and running ‘guru’ who has a ballot place in the race – that swung it for us: “even if I walk it, the chance to get a medal for the 40th in such unusual circumstances is too good to resist, and you get to run it next year as well.” I’m almost ashamed to admit it was that text which sealed the deal for us. Sorry, sponsors – I would love to tell you that you were the deciding factor, but we must plead guilty to total self-interest.

From that point we had just under two months to get Marathon ready. My weekly “10 mile long run” regime, that I had been so fastidious about in the early weeks of lockdown had long since fallen by the wayside. A combination of injuries and general torpor had set me back. Sue has not enjoyed the best of health over the summer either (thankfully, not COVID-related). Neither of us were in shape to do much more than 10K continuously at that point.

Nevertheless, we got ourselves up for the Great North Run virtual at half marathon distance within a month. Our times weren’t exactly impressive and the post-race recovery took longer than usual, but we both got ’round.

It was after a long training run, when I was out for a slow 16 miler – route planning our virtual Marathon course – that I hit upon our eventual race tactics for this race. The rules of the race were that you have to complete the distance within 24 hours, but you can break this up. Based on my performance and quick recovery, from that 16 mile session, I proposed to Sue that we have an hour’s lunch break during the run, get properly fed and watered, maybe even a nice shower and change of clothes. We would try and run most of the 16 miles, then walk the other 10.2 miles after our break.

I consulted Marc to find out his plans, which were almost identical to ourselves. He confessed to also being under-trained and that this seemed the best way to get around. He was planning a longer break between the two sections, though, to do stuff with his children.

It will come as little surprise to anyone who knows Marc that, on the day, he didn’t follow his own script. Aside from a brief change of clothes at 14 miles, he monstered the whole thing in one hit and under four hours! He was feeling good, enjoying the warm reception from the Tonbridge locals and just felt like getting it over and done with. The Nutter.

Undoubtedly one of the factors in his decision to carry on was the weather on race day. I was, quite simply, appalling! It rained continuously the whole day, often times, heavily.

Starting out…

Sue and I set off at 9am, we had previously decided to run together and just enjoy the day without worrying about pace or time. A decision that certainly helped us through the occasional depressingly soggy moments of the day.

We started off by running down to South Norwood Country Park and doing a ‘parkrun’ around as much of the course that wasn’t flooded out! This accounted for our first five miles, the parkrun time was just over 40 minutes – which we were happy with given the conditions, just another 7 to do!

Once we got back onto the roads, it was clear that there was a massive amount of support from passing car drivers and walkers which was lovely and most welcome. We also saw many other virtual runners along the way, the first at the end of our road, was running for my previous Marathon charity: Independent Age, which was a heart-warming sight. As was the appearance of Sue’s Mum & Dad at the end of their road, about half a mile in, wishing us well on our way.

Our planned route took us up the Waterlink Way, through Cator Park and the River Pool walk and Ladywell Fields. We had a quick pitstop at Churchfields for gels and water, although given the amount falling out of the sky the latter was probably unneccessary!

The moisture began to play havoc with Sue’s devices, both of which stopped recording around about 6.5 miles and required us to have a brief unscheduled stop to reboot. Luckily, the official Marathon App on her phone restarted and managed over the course of the run to ‘catch itself’ back up with mine.

I had wrapped my phone in one of those bags they give you at the airport to put your liquids in and thus, had no such issues. Even the troublesome ‘moisture detection’ alert managed not to go off, despite it plaguing me with false alarms every day in the previous few weeks. The official tracking app worked very well for me, although, I’ve since seen a lot of complaints about it on social media about it. The only slight complaint I had was that despite turning audio off to save battery life, I still got very loud commentary after every mile.

We ran up as far as Ladywell station on the Waterlink Way at 10.5 miles, before reversing course and running home for lunch stopping for another scheduled refreshment break at Catford Bridge Sainsbury’s. Now into our ‘second third’ of the distance, we started our run/walk strategy, at a 75% run : 25% walk ratio, which saw us all the way to lunch.

Nearing the halfway mark, we paused briefly to take the pictures below of a bridge which would have co-incided with the location of Tower Bridge on the actual LM course. The lack of photographs in this report are very much down to the rainy conditions and not wanting to mess too much with our phones in case it upset the tracker.

Sue’s Mum and Dad popped up again at Clock House station to cheer us on and we took advantage with a short walk to consume an energy bar each. Just after the 4 hour mark, with 16 miles under our belts, we arrived back at the house for a hot lunch, shower and a welcome change of clothes and footwear. Or not so welcome in my case, I put on an older pair of trainers, completing forgetting that they had no heel sole on one side after my May misdemeanour. Oddly, the inevitable blister turned up on the other foot!

I knew these old trainers were rubbing uncomfortably after 200 yards, but for some dumb reason didn’t take five minutes to go back and change. I don’t blister easily, I figured, and it’s only 10 miles. A classic example of how a Marathon can completely cloud the judgement and there ain’t no amount of training is ever going to mitigate that!

On the first mile of the second leg we received a little boost, Sue and I ran past a queue for the lights at Elmers End. One car started to beep at us and as we ran past more cars they all started to honk their horns. There was over twenty vehicles and the noise was absolutely deafening, god only knows what the residents must have thought.

Our route for the second leg was a return trip to our friends, Wags and Jen in South Croydon, just over 5 miles away. The original plan had been to walk this, but we both found we had enough in the tank to split the walk/run sections equally. Mind you, I quickly realised that I’d overdone the hot sauce on my lunch. Heartburn Central!

There was no sign of any let-up in the weather and the road gutters were now flooding. This led to several involuntary games of dodge the car-splash. We both exhibited a fair turn of pace at times, certainly quicker than the time we’d already been on our feet might have otherwise dictated.

The fifteen minutes break with Wags and Jen set us up nicely for the final push, unfortunately the weather had other ideas. The heavy rain, became torrential, the last couple of miles were tough going we were both completely soaked through and the slower pace mean the cold was setting into our weary bones. To take our minds off this we alternated between singing crap motivational songs and envisaging where we would be on the actual race. The Dragon statue outside the driving range at Shirley became Big Ben. The Bridge over the railway further along became Birdcage Walk. The roundabout entrance to Tesco’s became the final bend around the Victoria Monument. And, for possibly the only time in its history, Tesco’s itself, was re-imagined as Buckingham Palace.

It was difficult to properly envisage the Pall Mall finish line, however, as the distance was completed on a traffic island whilst crossing Elmers End Road! The exact same junction where we had received the acclaim of the queue, a couple of hours before. No horns greeting our achievement this time though, just a lot of thoroughly puzzled looks as Sue and I celebrated wildly together.

After crossing, we ran the final few steps as the official app also declared we had finished officially. We were about half a mile from home at this point and, simply kept running hand-in-hand, just anxious to get warm and dry. Just around the corner on Elmers End Green (thoughtfully positioned by the Doctor’s Surgery) was Sue’s Mum and Dad with a finish line tape for us to break together and an unexpected lift home.

The End. Wet, tired, but happy!

This run was never about the time. Even if we had been fully trained, you can’t go and set a PB when you have to wait to cross several busy roads. For the record, our official elapsed time, which took no account of any breaks was 08.15.37. Our actual run time as near as we can estimate from my Garmin watch, which behaved impeccably the whole way, was six and half-hours (I missed stopping it for a couple of the breaks).

So how did it compare to the ‘real’ race? Well, it’s unfair to even try, but I will say that the ‘love of the people’ which is a hallmark of the London Marathon was very much in evidence and the feelings of utter elation, pride and achievement upon finishing were not in any way diminished. And Marc was right, the medals, when they arrive, with be treasured just as much as those for London 2016 and York 2019.

Finally, a huge thank you to those you sponsored our London Marathon efforts over the course of this weekend it really does give us both an amazing boost. The sponsorship drive remains open until we run the race for real, hopefully, this time next year.

And so, our thoughts turn to next Saturday, when we shall both try to hit same the distance again in the Palace for Life Marathon March!