This may be a strange way to start my post but I need to get it off my chest “I really do not like Marathons! Never have” – there I have said it.
I Love any distance up to 13.1, from fast road running to the Hellrunner that takes me up to my neck in freezing muddy water in January! I just love it but a marathon to me is a different mistress altogether. I don’t even like driving my car 26.2 miles as its too far so why the hell would I want to run it.
Runners like Leon Hicks and Richard Boese are incredible athletes as far as I’m concerned, totally bonkers but I’m in awe of what they do and achieve.
London 2017 would be my 3rd “never again” Marathon and would turn out to be one of the biggest physical challenges I have ever faced but also one of the most special days of my life.
I have tried to keep the story of my Marathon journey as short as possible so as to avoid the “come round to see my holiday snaps” syndrome but hope you all enjoy it my wonderful Sandhurst Jogger friends.
As that famous philosopher Billy Ocean once said “when the going gets tough, the tough get going” and this pretty much sums up my 2017 London Marathon Journey.
I last ran the London Marathon in 2000 when I was a much younger fresher faced Sandhurst Jogger. I was lucky enough to Marshall in 2015 and even luckier to get a Marshall Ballot place for the 2016 Marathon. Unfortunately after running the Loch Ness Marathon in 2015 I developed lower back issues which meant I had to defer my place to this year.
My lower back injury plagued me throughout 2016 and I had to withdraw from quite a few events because of it and of course my training also suffered badly. I would have periods where it was OK and I could train then for some stupid reason like reaching for my tooth brush (yes this actually happened) it would suddenly go again. Really, really frustrating but at least I had clean teeth.
Doctors are a real last resort for me but when my back went for the 3rd time during 2016 just after the Fleet 10K I thought I really need to get this looked at so I booked to see a Physio in November.
I also had another very good reason to get fit for London 17, I wanted to propose to my Partner Liz during the Marathon at mile 25!
On my first visit the physio banned me from running for the remainder of the year and gave me exercises to strengthen my core and get some degree of flexibility in my lower back , this was a big blow but for once I decided to be a good boy and followed her instructions (Take note Jackie Kent!)
Over the coming weeks there was a noticeable improvement and it was so hard not to go out for a sneaky run but I resisted and did my exercise religiously.
In January I was given the go ahead to do a gentle 3km to see how my back felt and if that was ok I could try a 5k Park run, both runs felt fine but she would not allow me to do one of my favourite events “The Hellrunner” and I also had to switch my Farnborough half marathon entry to the 5k.
It was now 3 weeks into January and I was getting seriously worried about my chances of actually starting London let alone running 25 miles to propose.
What happened next baffled even my physio. I had booked to run the Men only Brutal race at the end of January with Liz’s Son Olly and I had made the decision against my better judgement to run it and support him as this was his first Brutal.
I was in a lot of discomfort in the car on the way there but because it was a basically a 5k route you ran twice I thought I could always pull out half way if my back was hurting. After 5k my back felt remarkably good and the 10k passed without incident, even the walk back to the car was pain free-strange.
The next morning I had no back pain whatsoever. When my physio examined me she said my back felt nice and loose and the exercises she made me do were also pain free- She said maybe she should prescribe Brutal runs for her other patients (she was only joking).
It was now the beginning of February and finally I felt I could start putting in some miles ready for my big day. She told me not to get carried away so I withdrew from the Wokingham Half Marathon and set my sights on Thorpe Park Half Marathon on the 26th February but managed around 100 miles that month doing shorter runs.
Thorpe Park half went quite well with no back pain. London was back on and the race to fitness could start in earnest.
March was another OK month which included the Surrey Half Marathon, Reading Half Marathon and a longer 19 mile run but more importantly the back was holding up well with the increase in workload.
My plan was to run 10k twice a week before work, do the Park Run on the Saturday and my long slower run on the Sunday.
We were now into April, my weight had dropped to my preferred running weight of 11st 11lb, I had a 20 miler and a 22 miler under my belt, I had purchased my proposal gift for Liz that I would carry on the Marathon and our 4 children were fully briefed and very excited about my plans.
Then disaster struck. It was Sunday 16th April, my back had been fine since January, Liz and I had been out for the evening but in the car on the way home my back started to hurt. I woke up on Monday in a lot of pain and discomfort, I could have cried but I had come too far to pull out now and would walk/crawl the 26.2 miles if I had too as I had been planning this day for months.
The week leading up to London was spent nursing my back, taking pain killers and preparing myself for a huge physical and mental battle on the 23rd, all the time picturing myself standing in front of the woman I loved and wanted to spend the rest of my life with asking her to marry me; this would be my focus the second I crossed the start line!
I have run with Jackie Kent a few times and really enjoy running with her as we seem to run at a very similar pace so the plan was that we would run London together.
I woke up at 4.50am and gave Jackie the early morning wakeup call she requested then tried to get out of bed but my back was really stiff and sore so I spent a few minutes trying to loosen it up and popped a couple of pain killers, not a good start but as I put my kit on the pain killers kicked in and my back loosened up a bit, YES!! I could stand in what closely resembled a vertical running position – bring it on!
Jackie picked me up at 6.10 and we headed to the Sandhurst Joggers coach and it was great to meet all the other runners. The coach journey was good and we got to the start area in good time but my back was very uncomfortable.
Jackie, Leon and I were in start zone Blue 7 so we decided we would start the race together. I did a few laps of the toilet queue as always , took a couple more pain killers, put a heat patch on my back and before I knew it we were lined up ready to start. I was standing there thinking how the hell I am going to run 26.2 miles with my back like this but was hoping that once I started to run it would settle down.
Running through my mind was” I’ve got to get to 25 miles; I’ve got to get to 25 miles”
Liz and her two sons Olly and Jack and my two children Lewis and Molly were heading up on the train to meet me somewhere between miles 24 and 25, the children knew what I was going to do but Liz had absolutely no idea!
Earlier in the week my daughter had said what will you do if Liz says ‘No’? To be honest that scenario had not crossed my mind but I thought if she does I will probably do a Forest Gump and just keep on running.
10am and we were off. WOW the atmosphere was incredible and as I started to run the pain in my back eased considerably and for the first time that week I thought I may just do this.
Jackie wanted to do 9:30min/mile which I knew I could do but although my back felt OK I was still going to nurse it and this Marathon for me was not about time. Leon was starting at a slower pace so me and Jackie settled in to our pace enjoying the experience of a Marathon run with thousands of amazing people.
As we were running the sun came out and the temperature started to rise, this could well be as issue for me later in the race I remember thinking. After a few miles I told Jackie my plan to propose to Liz at mile 25 and she was really pleased and gave me a hug on the run which was nice. The early miles seemed to go quite quickly and we were on pace but after we had passed the Cutty Sark at around mile 7 I felt the pace was a bit quick for me and my back so I told Jackie to go on as she was looking very strong.
I decided to break my run into sections and my first check point was to see Smiffy at the 15km timing matt for the man hug he had promised me and before I knew it there he was with open arms. This does give you an enormous boost along with the amazing support from the crowd.
By this time things were warming up and I felt quite hot but I always carry my own drink (1.5 litres ) with me in my Salomon back pack as I need to drink little and often, stopping at the water stations doesn’t work for me because I struggle to take on enough fluid, I also take a gel every 5 miles up to mile 20.
Next check point was Andy Lambourn at the 25km timing matt, the miles were ticking by nicely, my back was playing ball and I was getting very excited about seeing Liz and the children. Another big hug from Andy at 25km and off I went to see Sara Lambourn at 30km high fiving the kids on the way.
The heat was starting to get to me now and at mile 17 I ran out of my drink (water with a High5 electrolyte tablet) so I started to drink the Lucozade sport that was being given out but I have never liked it and never trained with it because I find it far too sweet and little did I know that this would cause me problems later in the race.
With lovely hug number 3 in the bag from Sara my legs were feeling heavy but I only had 12km to go or just over 2 park runs which somehow made it not seem so far.
Miles 19 to 21 have always been mentally hard for me and I tend to go quiet and don’t want to talk to anyone and just want to get through them but today was different miles 19 to 21 meant that I was getting so close to seeing Liz and my big moment, the crowd were fantastic and the old back was hanging in there.
Oh dear, as I passed the 22 mile marker I started to feel really sick and thought the Lucozade sport may well see the light of day again but then I remembered something that Leon had told me so for the next mile I ran 100 paces then walked 50 and this seemed to work giving my body an opportunity to settle down and the nausea passed -thanks Leon!!
Seeing the 23 mile marker gave me a huge boost, come on Nigel you are so close I kept saying to myself when all of a sudden both calf muscles started to cramp up not totally but twinges so I slowed down altered my running and luckily it passed.
I looked at my phone and Liz had messaged me saying that they were between miles 24 and 25 along the embankment near some traffic lights so as I passed 24 miles I slowed right down looking at the crowd barriers desperate not to miss them, well there are loads of traffic lights along the embankment so I phoned Liz and she confirmed they were by Cleopatra’s Needle so nearer mile 25, great this is it I’m coming to get you girl!
As Cleopatra’s Needle came into view I heard “Nigel” and I could see Liz and the kids waving to me, I had made it! I felt really emotional as I ran over to them, the kids had their phones out filming as I lifted Liz over the barrier, got down on one knee and asked her to marry me to which she replied “Err I’ll think about it”
Haha only kidding she said YES and gave me a massive hug but what was really lovely was the way the crowd around us were all clapping and cheering, it was a very special moment that we will never forget.
I gave Liz the linked hearts Pandora charm that I had carried for 25 miles, a few more hugs and kisses and set off to finish this amazing wonderful event.
As I crossed the finish line I took a deep breath and felt very blessed and to top it off I received my medal from the lovely Debra Harris – perfect!
Will I do another Marathon-Never!! (Well probably)
Do I have any regrets, well yes I have 2…
1) I really should have taken Monday off work… but I can live with that.
2) If you look at the video just as I ask Liz if she can get over the barrier Orinoco the Womble overtakes me and beats me to the finish, now this will be harder to live with !
To all my lovely friends in Sandhurst Joggers, to all that ran or marshalled this awesome event I salute you.