by Chris Grecco
London, United Kingdom
April 25, 2010
Legs ran o’er London
Not so fast, though shant complain
Saw sights ‘n Chelsea win
(Editor: Umm, what is that? My race report. Editor: It looks sort of like haiku. Well, you told me to keep this one short. Editor: Yeah, the goal is to tell people about the race in a few paragraphs, keep it light-hearted, and put a few pictures in. Okay, I’ll add some pictures. Editor: Wait, haiku is Japanese, but you ran the London Marathon. Actually, I ran the Virgin London Marathon and since I’d never had the wonderful experience of writing haiku I thought it would be appropriate to do so for this race, thereby losing my haiku writing virginity. Editor: Wow. That’s really a stretch. Can’t you just write a few paragraphs for us? Sure thing, mate.)
Since it promised a fast and flat course and usually good weather, I registered for the London Marathon, sorry, the Virgin London Marathon about eight months ago. My goal, as always, was to PR and finish under 2:45:53. Having never been to London, I also had an interest in doing some touristy type stuffo, and hopefully getting a ticket to a Premier League soccer (err, football) match (preferably Chelsea FC, my new fave team).
First Paragraph: Part B
(Editor: Nice. Conveniently insert a “Part B” in there as foreshadowing to the inevitable deluge of continuous stream of consciousness writing that shall be now known as “The Longest Race Report Ever.” Ease up, trust me on this one.) For those of you who might be interested in running the race, the only way I found to register was through Marathon Tours (www.marathontours.com). Thus, while not the cheapest way to run a marathon, I found their staff to be competent, the accommodations to be suitable, and all of the logistics to be well taken care of. The fee you pay covers your race entry, a nice hotel in London for either three or five nights (you choose from three properties), race-day breakfast, and transportation to the race start. (Editor: And they get you back to your hotel after the race, right? Ummm, negatory.)
With the Icelandic volcanic ash blown to other areas the day before, I arrived at Heathrow Airport without any problems around noon on Friday. A quick train ride into London and a 15 minute walk to my hotel meant I was checked into The Cumberland by mid-afternoon. I had already decided that it would make more sense to get my race number on Friday and avoid the Saturday rush. The expo at the ExCeL Convention Center wasn’t exactly close to my hotel, but the tube and train ride allowed me to figure out the mass transit system and see a bit of the eastern side of town at the same time.
Second Paragraph: Part B
(Editor: Here we go again. Oh please, was that last one that painful? Editor: No, but this one could be, get me a Guinness.) The expo was large with booths from the usual suspects of running shoe and apparel companies, fine purveyors of nutrition and energy bars and gels, and sponsors of other races. After getting my race number and goodie bag and not seeing the race t-shirt inside I asked a volunteer where I would go to pick that up. She said, “At the end.” Since I was standing ten feet from the exit door I started looking around and said, “At the end, where?” To which she replied, “At the end of the race, after you run it, you know…26 miles?” and she looked at me like I was the dumbest runner at the expo. (Editor: You probably were.) So, apparently, they do things a bit differently in London Town. The other thing that was a bit different was that there was actually a can of cold beer (sorry, “ale”) in my race goodie bag and really not much else. I think it’s one thing to get a beer after a race, but these folks clearly mean beer business or maybe they just know what you’re in for when you run 26.2 miles and they figure, “what the heck, better start having these crazies drink the hard stuff now.” On my way back to my hotel, I met my new friend found from craigslist.com to purchase my Chelsea ticket, ate some fish & chips, and walked by Buckingham Palace. (“No, Mom, I didn’t see the Queen.”) A full day indeed.
Second Paragraph: Part BAM!
(Editor: Part BAM!? Yeah, that’s what it felt like to me.) Having been asleep on Friday night for a few hours, I needed to use the toilet (their word, not mine. I, personally, am partial to “loo.” Editor: Yeah, I bet you are.) Not bothering to turn the lights back on during my return trip to bed, I slammed face first into the corner of a half inch thick glass wall which had somehow magically appeared in the middle of my room. BAM! was the sound followed by blood trickling down my face. I was able to get the two-inch cut closed without a trip to the ER and henceforth had an interesting story to explain the weird line right down the middle of my forehead. For the next few days I thought all the ladies were checking me out, only to remember that what they were really doing was wondering why a degenerate looking hooligan thug was carrying a small digital camera, a Fodor’s London Tourbook, and a wide open, heavily used and abused, map of the London subway system.
I spent Saturday morning walking around the Houses of Parliament, touring Westminster Abbey, and getting lunch at an outdoor café in Soho. (Editor: Oh, very European of you.) I probably took in a little too much of the sights, but I was, after all, in London and I had no idea if I’d ever get back. I spent late Saturday afternoon watching footy highlights on a show, called, oddly enough, Soccer Saturday and then had a heaping plate of traditional British pasta for dinner. The one thing I noticed about the few meals I’d had so far is that it took the wait staff f-o-r-e-v-e-r to do anything and everything. Not that I was an American in a rush, but I was an American in a rush.
Third Paragraph: Part B
I awoke race-day morning to more than my usual back pain, got dressed in my running kit, and went downstairs for my complimentary buffet. I heard lots of conversations amongst the other ‘thonners, none of which was in English, American or British or Olde. The most recent email from the race had indicated, “The best pre-race meal would be a bowl of porridge, ‘a runner’s super food’.” Umm, I’ll stick with a bagel, energy bar, and a banana thanks, lest that porridge is nine days old. I boarded the Marathon Tours bus at 7:15am and was at the race staging area by 7:45am. From that point to the start of the race was pretty much like the U.S. marathons I’ve run: wait, stand in port-a-loo line, rub slimy stuff on various parts unmentionable, wait, stand in port-a-loo line, rinse, repeat as necessary. It did start to rain hard about 30 minutes before the 9:45am start, which was a nice added London-ish touch. Of course, at this point I had nothing but shorts and a long-sleeve cotton t-shirt with a picture of Santa Claus on it to keep myself warm and dry; I was left wondering when I was going to get my crumpets and why I didn’t bring my well worn woobie.
Third Paragraph: Part C
(Editor: Ugh. Shuddup.) The race started without much fanfare. Despite being in “pen” one (not named corrals there) of three separate starting areas there was a lot of crowding for the first six or seven miles. This didn’t slow my pace down considerably, but it did mean I had to work extra hard to find the right path, not step on someone, figure out which aid station to use, etc. At a time when I was supposed to be relaxing, I was doing a lot more thinking than usual. The middle of the race went fairly smoothly despite the temps starting to rise to the mid-60s. All of the fans kept telling us to “Go On!” as if we might just stop right there at mile 11 or something. I did see Deena Kastor at one point running the opposite direction and she didn’t look fresh at all. I yelled “Go Deena!” but she didn’t hear me over the din of the spectators who clearly came ready with copious amounts of vim. I thought a few mini-surges around miles 16-18 would give me a fighting chance to PR and I almost ended up running negative splits because of the early crowding, but it just wasn’t meant to be. I ran 2:48:19 finishing in 396th place out of almost 37,000 (splitting 1:23:40 / 1:24:39).
Third Paragraph: The End
In summary, (Editor: Finally.) the race itself is very well organized and the crowd support is phenomenal. The course is indeed flat, though there are a couple of minor hills here and there. The temperatures were probably a bit warm for a really great effort, but even then mid-60s weren’t too bad and the skies were overcast for much of the race. I’d say that if you were going to run it as a fun, vacation-oriented, race you’d have a really good time. Doing so, you’d still be able to take in the sights before and after, enjoy a flat course with great fans, and see some of London’s most famous sights along the race route. However, I’d think twice if you were going to try to use it as a way to run a really fast time. It may be fast for the elites, but unless you gain entry to the elite start you are going to be behind LOTS of other runners, even if you are in pen one. That, combined with the narrow streets in the early part of the race, makes it tough to really relax until you are almost an hour in. The final consideration for those of you trying to push the pace is the travel. I arrived Friday afternoon and it just wasn’t enough time to get acclimated to the time change. Arrive on Wednesday and you stand a much better chance. You also might be okay if you can run negative splits; I typically can’t.
Third Paragraph: The Real End
(Editor: So, you saw the Chelsea vs. Stoke match a few hours after the race. Did Chelsea win? Boy, did they, 7-0! Editor: I guess you went straight back to the hotel after that and slept. Actually, no, I went straight to a club to hear ex-Depeche Moder Alan Wilder give a “concert” and didn’t get back to my hotel until 11pm.) Then, on Monday, I took one of those big bus tours and got on and off at various stops around the city; even got a chance to walk around some nooks and crannies of the London streets and still saw some of the obligatory tourist spots. (Editor: Sounds like a good trip. Indeed it was and I was able to write it up in only three paragraphs. Editor: That was a lot more than three paragraphs. Get me another pint please. Hey, don’t blame me, I wanted to submit this missive via haiku.)