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.

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