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Alton Sports Ambassador – Chris Norkett’s London Marathon Race Report

The London Marathon is over for another year and I was a part of it!!

Let’s talk about a few of my training runs for a minute. Eight weeks out I did 18 miles with a wind chill temperature of minus eight Centigrade and it snowed half way through. Seven weeks out I did a recovery run on snow covered roads. Six weeks out and I did an eight mile run in thawing snow and ice. Five weeks out and the Fleet Half Marathon was rightly cancelled due to laying snow. Four weeks out saw me do my last twenty mile run of this training cycle in sub-zero temperatures. I definitely hadn’t trained for unbroken sunshine and temperatures which were topping out in excess of 25 Centigrade.

Blood Pressure tablets and porridge – the breakfast of champions!

 

London Bridge Station

 

The queue for bag drop lorries

On the day conditions were utterly brutal. I set off at my expected pace and was quite comfortable. At mile 6 I became aware that I was developing a headache which I’ve learned is a sure sign of dehydration. I pressed on and then became aware that my vision was going wobbly. I drank everything I had with me and drank liberally at the next water station. After that it really became a war of attrition to drink as much as possible without getting bloated. The water stations at miles 9 and 10 had run dry by the time I reached them and this was a major cause of concern because I was beginning to really struggle. My legs felt like lead. Not the way they feel when you “bonk”, but tired and unwilling. I had to start walking and soon concluded that I’d have to run in the shade, walk in the sun and just do my best to keep moving. I was drinking Lucozade Sport like it was going out of fashion because I’d run out of my electrolyte tablets by mile 12. On reflection I was quite focused and although I didn’t feel on top form, I was definitely in much better shape than many of the people I was with. I spent a lot of time encouraging people to keep drinking and to keep moving. Progress is progress. I must have got on their wicks something chronic!! If you were with the £&**#@ in the Pancreatic Cancer Action shirt, then I apologise.

The view from the back of Red Start, Zone 8

When you cross Tower Bridge and head East to the Isle of Dogs you run parallel with the runners who are leaving the Isle of Dogs at around mile 21 (ish). These runners were seven miles ahead of me and probably had at least two hours on me as well. But many of them were walking and some of them had a real “thousand yard stare” going on. To see proper athletes struggling like that was yet another wake up call and I’m very pleased that I heeded it. I kept drinking at every opportunity and even then the dehydration headache was never very far away. You get a bit caught up in your own thoughts and it’s very easy to allow your concerns and worries to spiral out of proportion when you’re seeing so many other runners getting in to trouble. I kept on having a word with myself, running an inventory of how I was feeling (calves OK, Quads getting sore, arms OK, shoulders sore but OK, head not feeling sunburnt etc etc) and doing my best to stay positive.

The start

At about mile 20 or 21 the sun went in and although the temperature didn’t drop, not having the constant glare of buildings reflecting the sun made conditions much more bearable. I had a very stern word (it really was very harsh) with myself and resolved to stop this jogging/walking nonsense and start running properly. I’ve done a lot of work this year on good running form. Running with my hamstrings not my calves, shoulders back, head up, hips forward, back straight, moving my arms straight and not across my body. I concentrated on these things and although it was slow, it was running. I blocked out the crowds and the other runners and just concentrated on one step at a time. I couldn’t maintain it endlessly and I did walk again, but I felt like a runner, and even though I was trying to block the crowd, I was aware that seeing me grind it out was making them really cheer me on.

And eventually, of course, the mile markers start to rack up. 22, 23, 24, 25 and all of a sudden The Houses of Parliament hove in to view and you’re on Birdcage Walk and turning on to The Mall. The crowds have really swollen again by this point and the noise is quite distracting. I headed to the right and although I wouldn’t describe my finish as a sprint, I did overtake a lot of people. It’s good to feel strong at that point in a marathon. It’s a proud feeling as much as anything. And then I crossed the line.

Turning into the Mall

And that was my London Marathon. Brutal wasn’t it? But that’s only a part of the story. That’s the part which runners want to know about. The nitty gritty. The unpleasant reality. But what about the good bits? Were there any good bits? Of course there were. This is me writing this blog, not Captain Misery of HMS Dismal!! Read on.

The Expo is at The Excel Centre and is an experience in itself. You have to visit it to collect your number and drop bag. Needless to say there are numerous running companies represented there (Alton Sports at the forefront of course) and it really is interesting to wander around and see all of the latest kit that you’ve read about in Runners World. The Trail Running Association were there and I joined up. I am a proper gnarly hardcore ultra runner after all!! The drop bag you collect is the only bag which you can leave with the baggage drop on race day. It was plenty large enough for a hoodie, a pair of joggers, a gilet, a lunch box and a small cool bag. I’d have easily got a pair of trainers in it as well if I’d needed to and other stuff besides.

The travelling on Race Day is an experience. Coach Sandra took me to Guildford and I went to Waterloo from there. Then the Jubilee Line to London Bridge and then South East Rail to Greenwich for the Red Start. From Waterloo to Greenwich and back to Waterloo after the race was all free if you showed your number or finishers medal. It was hideously busy, but as you all have one very big thing in common, conversations started up very easily. The walk from Greenwich to the starting area was enjoyable in the early morning sunshine. I was able to nip into a hotel en route for a wee and once in the starting area I sorted all of my gear out, took my drop bag in, had another wee and then just sat in the shade until I went and joined my starting zone. I was pretty much at the back of the back. I was with a lot of fancy dress people and other exceedingly nervous runners who were happy to pass the time of day with anybody as a distraction from the matter in hand. And inevitably, in the end, you’re off. It was a very quiet start as there really were a lot of nerves about. I felt calm and happy and well up for the challenge. The crowds are awesome right from the beginning. Lots of noise and encouragement.

Before the start I took 10 minutes to re-read all of the words of encouragement and memories of Tim (my late brother) on my Just Giving page. It summed up my motivation in a nutshell and it was thinking about that which spurred me on towards the end.

I had a right laugh with a lot of people during the race. At different times I found myself keeping pace with Batman and Robin, two Pink Lady apples, The Wolverhampton Bobsleigh team, a dinosaur, a Dalek and two rhinos. The rhinos were top entertainment. The spectators were always delighted to see them and other runners cheered for them as they passed by. I stayed with them for most of the Isle of Dogs and they cracked me up. The language they used was very graphic and they made me feel totally at home with their relentless moaning. I felt at one with the rhinos!! In fact I think some people may have mistaken me for the third rhino.

I bumped into two people who were running for Treloars School at Holybourne. We overtook each other quite a few times and always slowed down for a chat. If anybody local knows them please say hello from Pancreatic Cancer Action man.

I wish I’d taken a couple of quid with me because there were numerous ice cream vans on the course and nothing would’ve given me greater pleasure than to run along with a 99 and a flake.

Little Niecie Alice and two of my brother’s greatest friends (Graham and Karen) came and cheered me on and I first encountered them at mile 12. I was running along and I went by this incredibly tall woman and I thought to myself “she’s tall, that could be Alice”. I slowed down and turned around and still wasn’t sure, but then I saw Karen so I went back. We had a good laugh but it shows how easy it is to miss people. I went past them at a range of 18 inches!! I saw them again at mile 18 and I have to say that when I left them that time I really felt quite emotional. Left to my own devices I’m OK, but when I’m suffering a bit and see somebody I know it has a tendency to set me off. And at that point I really was suffering!! It was good though, it really lifts you. On Tower Bridge the Pancreatic Cancer Action crew had set up camp and it was great to bump in to them and have glamorous young women fawning over you. I can personally recommend it as a boost to the ego.

When I crossed the finish line and had collected my medal and T-Shirt, I blundered around to get my bag and was pounced upon by Jenny from Alton Runners. She was there as part of the Alton Runners bag drop crew and she gave me a massive hug at a moment when a friendly and familiar face and a big hug were precisely what I needed. It was nice then to have a good old moan with the rest of the Alton Runners crew and shake a few hands and spend time with people who know what you’ve just experienced. Then I wandered off up The Mall and had the good fortune to find a chair belonging to the bag drop management team. They brought me a table over and I was able to rest my weary bones for a while. It’s very unusual for me to want to sit down after a run, I prefer to stand up and stretch and walk around and keep moving whilst my body gets back to normal, but after London I really needed a sit down. I was soon joined by another lady runner and we were able to indulge ourselves in a good old gossip, tell a few war stories and boast about our forthcoming races. Then Alice, Karen and Graham rocked up and we started the journey home. I was very grateful to them because they carried my bag and all I had to do was follow them blindly. My brain doesn’t always engage very well after long runs and I sometimes get a bit uncoordinated, so not having to worry about signs and times and platforms made life much easier.

And that’s about it. It was a fantastic experience which I hope to repeat in the next couple of years. It would even make taking a charity place a worthwhile proposition, but it’s also made me realise how wonderful racing off road is. If you want to have a marathon experience then run London, but if you want to run a chilled out relaxed marathon then head to the New Forest!!

My next marathon is The Hampshire Hoppit in June and then it’s my first Ultra of the year, The Serpent 50K in July. Many thanks for reading, I’m sure I’ll blog again soon. See you on the trails, best wishes, Chris.

 

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My first marathon – Brighton Marathon race report

“The last 10K will be the hardest 10K of your life” / “A marathon starts at 20 miles” / “Don’t start too fast or the last few miles will be bloody awful.”

Three phrases of advice from people who have run marathons! It’s kind of hard to take in those words until you actually experience a marathon though… but my god they were right. The last 10K were the hardest 6.2 miles I have even run. Let’s start at the start though, as it’s always a good place for a race to start from.

I had entered Brighton Marathon (my first one – read more about the training here) nearly a year ago in order to raise funds for a charity cricket trip to Uganda with Cricket Without Boundaries. Nearly 2 grand of fundraising, 600 miles of training and two months of no booze later – it was race day! I got to Brighton with my girlfriend on the Saturday to hit up the Expo and get my race number. I also popped into the Alton Sports stand to see the team and they were all very busy! After a day of carb loading, pizza and pasties being the food of choice, it was race day. I reckon I’d had a solid 4 hours sleep after waking up every 30 mins to check if I was late for the start. I am glad I got a safe 9 in the bag on the Friday night!

6 a.m porridge and a black coffee and I was good to go. Luckily I had been given a fast start at Withdean Park as I had ran a half marathon time in January of 81 mins. Very kind of them! I watched some of the elite lads and lasses warming up as I spent most of time anxiously wondering around not really sure what to do with myself. I managed a short jog, several toilet trips and many gulps of water. I bumped into a couple of fellow Vegan Runners and we made our way into the pen for the start. The starting klaxon sounded and we were off! A surge of adrenaline shot through me, not to mention emotion (definitely a couple of tears) and we started our very long jog down to the seafront.

I had never seen so many people watching a race! The only crowd heavy event I had done previously was the Great South Run in October. I had to cull my natural showing off tendencies and focus on the job in hand. I had set myself a target of a Sub-3 time… but it being my first marathon, I was going to be happy to finish the bugger and do my best. Training had gone well and I had ran the Cranleigh 21 mile race, 3 weeks previously, at 6:45 mile pace, which was my target pace for the marathon. I think it’s good to aim big but I didn’t want to be cocky and think I had it in the bag, as I knew it was going to be tough. The first 6 miles sailed by and I was through the 10K mark in 41 mins.. prob a min faster than I was aiming for.

The route was now taking us away from the busy crowd filled streets out towards Ovingdean / Rottingdean (something with dean in) and a few short inclines. I was still feeling ace and the ten miles sailed by and I was at my target time of one hour and seven mins. I love a chinwag whilst running and around the 12 mile mark started talking to a lad called Graham, who was also aiming for Sub-3. He’d done it on one previous occasion, four years ago, and was looking strong as we both ran through the half way point. I threw my sweaty gloves towards my girlfriend and friends (I am generous gift giver) and was happy to be through the HM at the 1:28 mark. Surely I could run a half in 1:32 and make my dreams come true?!

The good thing about Brighton is that there’s a load of vegans there. The support was incredible! I hadn’t written my name on my shirt as I knew that the shouts of ‘Go Vegan Runner’ would keep me going. My retorts  of “I’m doing it for the tofu” lasted until the 15 mile mark when I began to feel I was in a race. Everything was getting tighter and running was getting harder. I kept up my race pace and the odd few words of motivation with Graham before we lost each other around the 18 mile mark. I knew the run out to the Power Station would be hard but I also knew there was a VR stand with sweets and friendly faces. My friend, Goncalo, came out with a water bottle and ran with me for a 100m or so. He also did this on the way back! I couldn’t communicate at the time how much this meant but it really helped.

21 miles crept up to 22 miles and my hips were sore, my glutes were tight and my hamstrings were screaming. Was I heading towards the dreaded wall? I could feel my pace dropping and mile 21 was my first mile over the 7 min mark… two more 7 min miles followed as everything started seizing up. My back hurt! Why was my back hurting?! The Sub-3 pacers skipped by me at the 22.5 mile mark, telling me to run with them but unless they were offering a piggy back, it was never going to happen. The 24th mile was into 8 mins and mile 25 was a late 8 minute mile… I was holding on for dear life and there was no way I was going to stop. The Sub-3 dream had gone but I was still alive and waddling towards the finish line with a stoic grimace upon my face. I was too tired to even look at my watch! I could see the finish and my lactate heavy shuffle got me over the line in a time of 3:05:58. I saw Graham again, and he’d finished a minute before me. The Isotonic Alcohol Free Beer and water soothed my dizzy mind as I lay on the shingle for 20 minutes, soaking in the feeling of running a marathon for the first time.

When we left the beach, I am proud to say my girlfriend had to dress me as everything had cramped up. Two months of no booze meant an immediate trip to the pub with some fellow Vegan Runners. Poncy IPAs were quaffed, much food was eaten as we all revelled in our achievements of the day. My VR friend, Brendan, had come home in 2:34 and a solid 14th place! Another friend, Dan, finished just behind me in 3:08…his first marathon, too. A massive congrats to everyone that finished it – you’re all awesome.

 

So, was I disappointed? I had set a time of anything beginning with a 2 and I had missed it by nearly 6 minutes. I wasn’t disappointed though as I had ran as hard as I could! I told myself that I had only been running 18 months and nothing could have prepared me for the last few miles (except better preparation). I had only got as far as 21 miles on my training runs and this was only the third time I’d ran over 20 miles. I was happy! I’d ran a bloody marathon and had a great time doing it! 3:05 is a solid first time & I have only improved after running countless HMs and 10Ks. It also means I have to run another one now… I’m planning on Manchester next year and will try for the Sub-3 dream again. My plan is to add a few more 20 mile runs into training for it, as well as doing some strength & conditioning to make my little vegan hips and glutes a bit stronger. Maybe a 3 hour training run would help, too! Whatever happens, I am looking forward to another marathon for sure! I have to say, Brighton was super well organised, and a great event. If you haven’t ran it before, it’s now the second largest marathon in the country (apparently there’s a bigger one in London – who knew?).

The day after, I was in my local supermarket and Mark Owen strolled in. We said hello and I resisted the temptation to tell him I had just ran a marathon. I did tell him I was vegan though.*

Cheers for reading! Check out my Strava here.

Jhon Cosgrove 🙂

PS: I ran in Brooks Levitate Black – from Alton Sports of course.

*Not necessarily true.