Race Rundown: London Marathon, 23rd April 2023

I didn’t start running (semi) seriously until my early forties so completing my first London Marathon in 2020 was a massive achievement for me. However, like all runners we set targets and at any race distance there are the big “sub x hour/minute” goals. For me finishing my first marathon in 4 hours and 3 minutes always left me thinking about the “what ifs?”. What if I had have started faster, not gone to the loo twice or slowed to meet my running buddy, could I have gone sub 4?

This was all pretty irrelevant as although I had entered the London ballot for 2023 I had missed out. Well that was until Rory Letts picked my name out of the hat for the Harriers LDM place draw! Thanks Rory👍👍

(Now I will admit here that initially I thought this was a “free” ticket for the marathon. It’s not, so if you enter the LDM draw make sure you have some savings set aside…London is not cheap, especially on marathon weekend!)

Back to the running, with the draw made in December I had 4 months to get into some sort of shape. I had spent most of 2022 injured so I felt a million miles from the (relatively) decent shape I was in back in 2020. I didn’t really have a fixed training program in mind, my plan was to try to get to as many Harriers sessions as I could and then complete some longer runs on a weekend. Throughout January I was following Lisa and Mark’s training runs on strava and although kindly invited to join them I was nowhere near their pace, so I completed most longer runs solo.

Things were going well until I stepped up the distance too quickly and an 18 mile run to my Mum’s in Middlesbrough resulted in a foot injury… Disaster… It was February and I had to rest for 3 weeks until getting back onto the road. I’m sure nearly everyone has had this feeling, where you know race day is coming and you need to get the training in but training could result in making injury worse. I was gutted and pretty low… But through March I abandoned long runs and just completed shorter more frequent runs.

On the 2nd April I joined several Harriers at South Park in Darlington for the 20 mile race. This was a first for me and I was dreading 20 laps of the one mile circuit, the thought of the same lap 20 times! Eurgh! I was also worried that my foot wouldn’t hold up to the longer run. It did though and I was really pleased with my time of 2 hours 50 mins, well on target for a sub 4 hour marathon. I’d definitely recommend this to anyone preparing for a spring/summer marathon. Special mention to Jane and Lisa who lapped me several times on their way to 3rd and 5th places respectively👏👏

With 3 weeks to go I was on the down taper, so concentrating on attending Harrier training sessions with shorter runs on weekend. The week before the marathon was the inaugural Wynyard Parkrun, and as I live in Wynyard I thought it would be perfect event to run to and from. It was a great event with over 400 runners. Turns out it was 16km there and back, not a massive distance but enough to feel a little sore the next day. Sooo, I thought if I go for an easy 10k it will test the sore legs and I’ll be ok. Wrong…. The bruised/sore foot returned…What a muppet! What had I done….? I spent the week leading up to the marathon limping, regretting the stupid 10k and thinking I had ruined the marathon.

I travelled down to London with my wife (Lucy) on Saturday morning, still limping a little but with foot feeling better than earlier in the week. I spent the train ride rolling my foot on a can of ice cold cider  (Lucy’s not mine!) before getting to London and heading straight to the Excel centre to pick up race number and bag. 2 years ago this was a bit of an ordeal with huge queues meaning a 3 hour wait… This time it only took 15 minutes! Efficient! After grabbing a photo outside the centre our plan was to go to hotel, check in and go for a wander around the sites. However, my foot still felt sore and worse from the walk from station to hotel. Special shout for my lovely wife Lucy, her Saturday London sightseeing consisted of a trip to Tesco Express Covent Garden to get me a bag of frozen peas… I spent the rest of the afternoon icing foot on hotel bed and kicking myself for doing too much the previous week… Lucy was also not best pleased spending the afternoon holed up in the tiny room!!!

Later that evening we went to an Italian across the street and I loaded up with carbs, then for an early night. I checked the forecast for the morning it was not looking great, rain all day, but I didn’t mind that. The foot was feeling a bit better, it might be ok…. I set alarm for 6.30. Got to be well rested for race day!

April 23rd Raceday

02:56… That was the time when the hotels fire alarm went off… It took us a few seconds to work out what was going on, no lights in room other than a flashing red beacon in the centre of the ceiling and the near deafening screech of the alarm.  Lucy and I hopped around the room grabbing coats and slipping on shoes, just as we left  the room the alarm stopped. Back in bed just after 3, for 3 hours broken sleep until the my phone alarm went off.


Not the perfect prep! And although improved my foot still didn’t feel right. I wasn’t very good company for sure….

My spirits were lifted by what is my favourite part of the ‘London Marathon Day’, the trip to the start line at Greenwich Park.  After filling my boots at the breakfast bar Lucy and I left for a direct train from Charing Cross to Blackheath and the blue start area. I love the way the number of runners builds in the empty London streets, slowly at first from a handful outside the hotel, then to a few dozen walking into the station, then hundreds on the train. By the time we reached the Blackheath the short walk to the blue start line there were thousands of runners and supporters walking to the start line. It’s an incredible scene and great to be part of!

It seemed the forecast could be wrong as it was actually quite bright, warm even. Lucy grabbed a couple of photos of me on the heath.

I’m still worried about my foot, what happens if I have to drop out? How will we meet up? Will I get another chance to do London? Lucy reads my mood and quickly intervenes with a ‘man up and get on with it’ lecture.  After the not so friendly but much needed encouragement I enter the start area and get ready for the race. 10 minutes later it goes very dark, it gets cooler and cue the rain…. D’oh!

“Man up and get on with it Matt.”

It seemed an age until it’s time to join my wave and we are led to the start area before we walk/jog off the heath onto the road and past the start line. I start my watch, this is it… My foot actually feels ok! About 200m in and I even see Lucy in the crowds and give her a wave. 1km in foot still feels good, I could be ok here I think and get into a comfy pace. My aim was to go at about 5min/km to ensure by the time the wheels inevitably came off over the last 5-10km I could comfortably get sub 4 hours.

Through the first 5k in 25 mins, all good. 10k in 51 mins, still good. By know I knew the peas had worked a treat and my foot was healed! With added confidence and the amazing support through several sections of the route I managed to keep up the pace. I remember Tower Bridge being nearly bang on half way and I felt good passing that mark at 1:50 (although Strava awarded me a Half Marathon PB at 1:49! 😊). I’ll digress a bit…. Tower bridge is one of the 4 or 5 major landmarks I remember in the marathon. Others are:

  1. Cutty Sark – Winding through 90 degree turns through unbelievable crowds
  2. Switch back – Horrible on way out (13 miles) great on way back! (22 miles)
  3. Canary Wharf – The noise from big crowds in the shadow of skyscrapers is something else
  4. Westminster – Trying to still look like a runner on mile 25 as the crowds get bigger and noisier towards the mall

My previous marathon had taught me that the real half way point is at the 20 mile mark, which is just after canary wharf, I felt lifted by the crowds in this section and pushed on again. My 5k splits were still good, 30k in 2:37 and trying to take my mind off the increasing aches and pains I started to work out in my head how long I had left to run the remaining 10k in… I then used this as a comfort blanket for how slowly I could run the last 10k and still break 4 hours!

Heading back towards London city and the finish line now, the route joined up again with runners heading from the switchback into Canary Wharf. After what seemed like an eternity reached the mile 22 and the end of the switchback, it was sooo much nicer being on this side of the road!

On I pushed past the tower of London. I was beginning to feel tired now, and aches and pains were growing by the stride. Throughout the race there is so much noise an encouragement it’s hard to pick out individual comments, but it was somewhere near here that I heard a lairy spectator shout in a thick London accent “Come on Matt, your loving this!”… I can confirm I was not…. I had developed stomach cramps after the third gel and just wanted to get to the finish line. From the first time I ran London in 2020 I knew there was a couple of tunnels to go through at the embankment, then Westminster, then the Palace, then the Mall and then the FINISH! I was feeling spent at mile 25 as I passed by Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament but just kept thinking hold on for the sub 4.

I resisted the urge to walk as the crowds got thicker and louder, everything was becoming a blur of sound, aches and pain. Running alongside St. James Park and I looked at my watch 3.44…. Yes! Yes!  Less than 1k to go, I can do that in 16 minutes I thought. This is the point where I had hit the wall, at the weirdly marked out “650m to go” sign I began thinking I actually don’t need to run, I can walk… I should walk because everything is hurting…I slowed down took a few steps, gathered my thoughts, tried to settle my rumbling tummy. Then I came to,  just a few hundred metres and I would be over the line, MUST RUN! It wasn’t graceful but I was moving again.  Later when I met up with Lucy it turns out that she saw me at Tower Bridge and then at the 650m to go sign… She said she was shouting encouraging comments, I’m glad I couldn’t hear them over the noise form the rest of the crow.  In a 26 mile race I walked for 20 metres, and this was the part she saw me! Unbelievable!

As I passed Buckingham Palace I knew it was only a couple of hundred metres and I thought about crossing the line either with arms outstretched or with the Pete King Point™. Before I had made my choice I noticed the guy next to me was dressed as a very passable Mrs. Brown (without her boys though!). All I thought was that I don’t want him in my finish line photos! I swerved to the right of the course and picked up what pace I could muster over the line. Finished and sub 4. Watch said 3 forty something but I felt spent, dazed and had to thank a marshal for taking my photo, then guiding me too the medals area and getting me a drink and foil blanket. I looked again at my watch 3.48.38! I was buzzing.

London sub 4, done! For now, marathons done!

My official time 3.48.01 a 15 minute PB!!

Special mentions to the 2 other Harriers who both finished with incredible PB’s.

David Bentley – 2.33.38 Pos 235 (out of 48,000 finishers), wow, just wow!

Lisa Darby – 3.13.58 Pos 5182, another race another PB. Great season for Lisa.

Last comment from me… Just to say good luck to next Harrier who draws the place for the London Marathon, enjoy! It’s a special race.

by Matt Cooke.

Race Rundown: Lambton XC, 14th March 2020

By Matt Cooke.

Hello Harriers,

Since the corona virus mitigation measures had put paid to my afternoon sitting in a cold, half empty football stadium I took the opportunity to complete a cross country race around Lambton estate in Chester-le-Street. My third XC in about 30 years…

Big thanks to Ray Carmichael for driving myself, David Walker and David Bentley up there and finding the entrance (which apparently had eluded many others). I managed to squeeze into the back seat along with David B and a large carryall with half a dozen pairs of running shoes. He justified the large selection with a great quote ‘bring all your weapons to war!’. Can’t fault that logic and it definitely paid off later for DB!

Anyway, back to the Lambton Estate. The course is 3 laps totalling approximately 11km and we arrived in good time and met up with the rest of the Harriers. On the way into the car park we saw two muddy sections of the course, spikes we all thought. It was overcast and cold with a light breeze. After a reccy of the starting area we saw a fair amount of tarmac and other runners suggested trail shoes were definitely an option.

But this was a race with XC in the title and I had invested for spikes for XC, I was wearing them!

Christine and Sue competing for the ladies

David Walker said he was planning on just ‘tootling’ around as he had the Thirsk 10 the following day. I was also doing that race so the ‘tootle tactic’ sounded perfect. Ray C also said he was taking it easy, great I thought I’ll just follow these guys.

As the slow pack huddled at the start there were shouts of ‘No Coughing’ and ‘Spread out, 2 meters apart everyone please’… The race started and we set off into a slow shuffle around the opening bend. So far quite muddy, spikes a good choice! Within about 500m we came to the first ‘track’ which was hard standing, spikes not great! I opted to head onto the verge where I stayed for majority of the lap. The course descended down a steep tarmac road (I’m on the verge again), I nervously crossed this before heading down a steep tiered grass bank, this was more like it! The spikes allowing me to speed up a little while the course headed to towards the banks of the river Wear. Then it was another tarmac/cinder path, and onto the verge. I was keeping pace with Ray and David but I had obviously misunderstood the meaning of tootling….They were going at a fair lick on this first lap!?!

The highlight of the course is the long hill back to the estate. It starts gradually but has a really steep finish and turns a corner into a shallower climb for another hundred metres or so; that final little climb really takes it out of the legs. The spikes were again great for this hill. The last third of the lap was also great for spikes, muddy paths and big puddles which saw other runners fighting for drier edges. I loved ploughing on through the middle. It was around here where we reached the fallen tree. There were only 2 routes, either around the edge jumping over the trunk, less muddy, or under the tree through a bog… Easy choice, XC shoes, through the mud!

As I rounded the final bend you were separated from the spectators at the finish area by a wall. It was a nice feeling to emerge through a gate and have the crowd cheering. Big shout to Chris and Sue cheering us on.

By now David W had tootled into the distance, Ray C was just ahead of me and I was trying to keep up. After more zig zagging across the verges we were at the hill again… This time I went a little too fast and ended up having to walk the steepest 20m or so.

The 3rd lap as ever in these XC events was a real challenge but I managed to keep pace with Ray until the last mile or so where he found another gear. Heading through the gate the last time was a fantastic feeling, great noise from the crowds really spurred me on to produce a sprint finish (of sorts)!

Overall spikes were probably not the best choice of footwear. Next time a decent reccy of the track and listening to other runners advice is required!

I was chuffed to bits with a 10k record time on Strava and beating an old school friend. There were some great Harriers performances leading to a 3rd place finish for the team.

David Bentley’s shoe selection must have aided a tremendous 12th place overall and 4th in the division.

Race Rundown: Thirsk 10 Mile, 15th March 2020

It’s taken me a week to get around to writing this and what a week it’s been… Crazy times for everyone…To be honest I’m using this as a bit of an escape from events in the outside world, which have turned our normal lives upside down.

So rewinding a week to what was a great day out…

I had previously organised a lift to Thirsk with Mil and David W. Mil said he aimed to get there in good time and we did! The sun was nearly up when he arrived at mine. I think we beat most of the organisers to the course but this did result in an A1 position in the car park!

The race is centred at Thirsk Racecourse and the organisation from Thirsk and Sowerby Harriers was excellent. Efficient marshals were directing us to get our numbers from the large board outside before heading to the repurposed bar to get our numbers. With race number attached I went back outside and met several other Harriers who’d had the trip for the harrier league event.

It wasn’t until 20 or so minutes before the race that Pete King “asked” me in his best teacher’s manner to write the race rundown for this event. As this would be my first race rundown (he asked about doing the Lambton XC race rundown the following day…) I felt additional nerves as we ambled/jogged to the start line.

It was a cool, overcast day with fairly strong winds in parts. I’ll come back to this later… Around a thousand runners gathered at the start line, on a country lane at the far side of the racecourse. I was really impressed with the number of clubs/areas represented; from Wakefield to Saltwell, Scarborough to Tyne Bridge, a real northern mix. It was also nice to see a few familiar faces from my old club ‘Swiftees’.

As we stood in the cold, hopping around to keep warm I could feel the heaviness in my legs from the XC race the day before. Two races in two days, what was I thinking…?!? My thoughts now were a steady start and if I felt ok later I could pick up the pace a little.

The first mile or so was run along a lane with high hedges either side, not much of a view but no wind either! I had a chat with Emma (Who was flying btw, well done Emma!) and Andy F as we headed through the first few miles. Just keeping up with them at this point hurt… Sam Rudd skipped past at about miles 3 on his way to great 10M PB. The soreness was still niggling and I just had to concentrate on knocking off the next mile.

Suddenly, we left the shelter of the hedgerows and entered the much more open land either side of the A167. Ahhhh, now the wind was there! Especially up a few of the long gradual uphill sections which were really hard going. I was feeling a bit better now though and tucked in behind Andy F and a runner from Hartlepool Burn Road Harriers.

We reached the switchback at mile 5 (which I hadn’t realised until later) and I saw the race leaders looping back onto the 167. Incredible to see the pace they were going at. A lot of people hate switchbacks but I’ve got to say I quite liked this one… on the way out I was watching for other Harriers and shouted them on – Paul Weir, followed by Chris Lines, Gary Auston and Byron Walker. Only a minute or so behind them were David Walker and Mil Walton. We reached the end of the switchback turned and headed back, now I felt like I was being watched and had to kick on. I felt good and started to pick up my pace. Now other Harriers were shouting me on which was great to hear and kept me going!

At the end of the switchback I had my lowest low and highest high of the race…. I heard a marshal shout ‘that’s 5 miles’. I had lost track of markers and thought she was saying that to me not the people entering the switchback. My legs suddenly felt like lead, 5 more miles… No way! I need to slow down or I wasn’t going to finish this…. But then almost instantly the 7 mile marker appeared. Get in there! Only 3 to go, I could do this! With this in mind I tried to keep up the pace with aScarborough AC pair as we went through the little village of Sandhutton.

It was when we reached the roundabout and joined the A61 that I realised we were close to Thirsk again. I felt good and was able to push on again as we entered Carlton Miniott. Even better the wind that was the bane of the first half of the race was now on our backs! As the traffic increased all the runners had moved onto the pavement so I was nipping on and off the road as I slowly reeled in runners from Stockton, Knaresborough and Richmond.

I’m blaming it on the tired legs but during the next overtaking manoeuvre I stumbled when going back onto the pavement, ended up arms flaying, full aeroplane style for a few metres before getting back into my stride. I heard shouts of ‘are you ok?’, I was too tired (and embarrassed) to turn around and just gave a thumbs up.

Approaching the racecourse now and still keeping up the pace. Paul Lee really helped with encouragement as I began to slow going up and over the railway bridge. Last couple of hundred metres and I expected to get caught by a fast finisher. I dug deep and held on, entering the racecourse, lots of noise, held the sprint up around the finishing hairpin… It was a strange finish but it worked.

I joined up with the other Harriers who had posted some great times, especially given the headwind at the start of the race. Sam Rudd’s 1.10, superb and Mark Chapman picked up another PB. I downed my water in a few gulps before heading off for T-shirt. The lady handing out the shirts was telling everyone they were small fitting. I asked if a medium would fit, she smiled politely and said ‘you can always give it a go…’ The cheek! Speaking of the T-shirt I will be putting it aside for the dark winter nights, it would be hard to miss its ‘migraine’ orange colouring 😊.

I really enjoyed the day and the race. Little did we know it would be the last one for the near future…

A week after the Harriers sessions have closed I’m already missing the hills on Tuesday and NetPark Thursdays. Which is something I didn’t really think I’d ever say! It must be the good company that keeps me coming back…. And on that note everyone take care and hope to see you all on the other side…. Whenever that may be…..Who knows maybe we’ll have our orange Thirsk shirts on!

Stay safe,


Results: https://www.ukresults.net/2020/thirsk10.html