Generally I'm not one for looking back, but now that 2016 draws to a close I wanted to take a moment and reflect on completing the six Major World Marathons. I thought that I might feel a bit deflated when I finished Tokyo in March, instead I felt like I'd achieved something very substantial like my Degree or getting a book published.
I've been writing this blog as long as I've been running the Majors, so I thought I'd gig out my thoughts at the time of the marathons. So this post looks at New York, Chicago and Berlin.
New York November 2010
There were two things that runners had told me about New York which were spot on...
The first one was that there is a lot of hanging around. I got up at 5:30am for a 10am start. I wandered over to the Staten Island Ferry with a bunch of other runners and started yapping to a runner called Dan. He’d run his first London in a dog costume with five other people which had become slightly fractures when their toilet breaks didn’t match up, mad man.
A ferry ride and bus journey later I was at the Runners Village and after some wandering there was the wait. Actually the wait wasn’t too bad, there were free newspapers, coffee and bagels. It was rather pleasant! (BTW Since I’ve arrived in the States I seem to have become ultra British; “Do you sell...Earl Grey Tea...? You Do! Marvellous! My! Haven’t the colonies become civilised!”) I was sitting in the sunshine enjoying the sunshine and just waiting for the race to begin. One piece of advice I was given was dress up in layers that you are happy to leave behind and donate to the homeless. At this moment there could be a homeless man wearing a Hoody bought in Primark in Cardiff, I’m so proud. As race time came closer I stripped off the layers until I was down to my running kit.
Finally “New York New York” (what else) sound tracked the start and we were finally off! What surprised me was that the route quickly thinned out. With the two London Marathons I’ve done the pack is pretty close together until at least half way through the race, but space appeared pretty quickly at New York.
I was hoping for a race time of three hours and thirty minutes and had worked out that I had to do eight minute miles. Pretty much from the start I had to slow myself down cause I was easily doing seven ten, but I don’t think I slowed myself down enough. Another mistake I made was to slap on the pain killer gel too early, the first moment I felt a twinge I slathered it on. Still, I was feeling good and enjoying the run, and the supporters are as high octane, over the top and wonderful as their city. In common with the London Marathon people hold their hand out so you can high five them, which really gives you a lift. Someone was holding up a sign saying “Run Shaps!” a bit of an in-joke which made me laugh. Two big differences between London and New York, is that you don’t see many people wearing MP3s on the New York run, or wearing costumes.
The second thing I was told by a runner who’d done New York was that mile 14/15 was a killer. You run under a bridge which is all up-hill for pretty much a mile and there are no supporters. It’s pretty tough. The cheers from the crowd are replaced by the groans of your fellow runners. Up to this point I was three minutes under my three hours thirty time, but it began to slip and I just couldn’t get it back. Until at mile twenty I was a minute or two over my time. After mile twenty I was just grinding it.
The last six miles were hard, the last three harder still and the last two I was just running on will power. I was determined not to stop even though my ‘running’ was more of a fast stumble. I knew that if I carried on I could still get a personal best, so stumble through Central Park I did. I do remember a sign saying “Pain is temporary, Pride is forever!” I tried to help that push me on. Then, Oh God, can that be the finish line? Can it? No! Fuck! It says Mile 26! Nooooo! Just one last push and I was over the line! I’d finished and at three minutes forty eight nearly ten minutes better than my previous personal best.
We were told to keep walking after the race, and we all twitched on like zombies. I picked up my Medal and met up with Sian, Jas and Debs for a beer which tasted fery fery good, even though it was a Budweiser!
After crossing the finish line I said no to a silver blanket knowing that I'd be meeting up Sian, Jas and Debs soon after with a change of clothes. However they were late and post marathon shine soon wore off and my temperature plummeted. I was a little worried but after everyone turned up I soon warmed up. I think it was around this time that I found out about the Five Major Marathons (as they were then) and thought, 'Well, if I've already done two...
Berlin September 2011
One of the other differences between Berlin and the other marathons I’ve done (apart from the lack of fancy dress and MP3 players) was that at the Water Stations the water was in plastic cups not bottles which made getting the drink and moving away very difficult. It was at a Water Station around mile 16 that the Balloon began to recede into the distance, and this time I couldn’t catch up with it. My legs had began to calcify and I remember thinking as I slid into a world of pain “Oh yeah I’d forgotten about this.”
From mile 20 onwards I was just grinding it, but I still managed to maintain a decent pace in the stifling heat (I never thought that Berlin at the end of September would be so boiling). It was a little unsettleling that the distance markers were in kilometers not miles but I did have my trusty Garman logging the miles.
I knew I wasn’t going to get 3:30 but I hoping to break my personal best of 3:48. In the last quarter of mile 26 I could see the Brandanburg Gate in the distance and a big blue inflatable arc, thinking this was the finish line I put a final spurt on, as did a lot of the other runners, but it wasn’t the end! The finish line was a few yards ahead of that! So with a groan I stumbled the last few steps and got in at 3:43. There was then a log jam to get the medals and no one handing out goody bags. I’d sussed out my exit route the before and on the day of course they were blocked off so I asked for directions in my pidgin German and headed back to my hotel for a cold bath. My ham-string hurt at the beginning of the marathon was a constant pain (like chavs) all the way through. The cold bath helped me be able to walk around and stuff the next day
Chicago October 2012
With a blast of “Born to Run” we were off! I was aiming for a time of 3:20, had set my trusty Garmin for the pace and planned to find a Pace Stetter and stick with them. I found a 3:30 Pace Stetter and hung with them initially. I thought, yeah I can handle this for 26 miles and maybe if I’m feeling good at 10 miles I’ll catch up with a faster Pacer. The first two miles were a bit of a blur as I spent most of the time coughing and spluttering, so much so that at one point I thought I was going to throw up, but thankfully it settled down. By mile eight I was feeling good and saw some Pace Setter signs in the distance so over the next two miles caught up with them only to find that inexplicably they were 3:30 Pace Stetters as well. I pretty much kept up with them for the rest of the race.
The great thing about running a Marathon in North America is the support you get which is always mental and over the top. However the Chicago Marathon more than any other race I’ve done had a lot of spectators running from one side of the route, dodging the runners, to the other side of side. I saw a few close calls. Amongst the banners were a lot of Christian banners, i.e "Run the Marathon then Run towards our Saviour the Lord Jesus Christ" which I’ve never seen at a race before, you certainly wouldn’t see them at the Cardiff half marathon.