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Paul Northup - VLM 2016 Race Day

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CLC Striders’ official club place ballot winner, Paul Northup, shares his race day thoughts.

My race day turned out to be two days long in the end! I was so hyped and full of gels and lucozade sport (both of which I’m not that used to) after the marathon that I didn’t sleep a wink on the night after the marathon and was still buzzing the whole day after.

Anyway, to the race itself …

For me it all started to feel very real when I met Juan on the steps of St Paul’s Cathedral at 7pm on the night before the marathon. I had his race pack. It was great to finally meet the guy I only knew as ‘Jesus’. He even had his disciples with him: his girlfriend, Geme, Rich Haslam and Dave Smeath. It was great to see friendly faces and connect with the outside world. But besides this brief contact with reality, I used the afternoon and evening leading up to the big day to be entirely selfish and focus on my own needs and routine. My family had stayed back in Cheltenham. I kipped on a makeshift bed in the little office where I work in London (surprisingly comfortable!). I ate copious amounts of pasta that evening. And then I laid my kit out, attached my race number, secured my timing chip. And then did it all again. And again.

On the day itself, once breakfasted (copious amounts of porridge), I walked across to Waterloo East Station. As I got closer to it, the streets began to fill with runners with their kit bags over their shoulders. On the platform, you could barely move. The buzz was building. Once at Blackheath station, we moved en masse up onto the heath itself, the northerly breeze carrying what felt like a few flakes of wet snow. But as we gathered and readied ourselves in the huge and well-organised race start areas, the wind seemed to ease and the sun began to melt the grey cloud cover. The temperature rose, along with our nerves. By the time we had stripped off and handed in our kit bags to the flatbed lorries that would take them to The Mall, it felt like near-perfect race conditions – chilly but calm.

As Tim Peake counted us down, our last-minute bin-liners, worn for warmth, were discarded. And finally, after all the weeks of training and waiting, we were off!

In pen 3 of the Blue Start, it was a minute or so before I even crossed the start line and my first mile or more involved a lot of picking my way through lots of slower runners, a few in incredible fancy dress. Perhaps it’s a good thing that I was hampered at the start, because it meant I didn’t set off too fast. Plus the fact I was reminded of just what a money-raising feat of mass humanity the London Marathon is. Humbling.

Slowly but surely I settled into mile splits that ranged from 6:55 to 7:08. I was steady and consistent for the first half of the race. My 5k splits and km/min times are testament to that: click here to view them.

Importantly (as someone who usually sails past the support stations), I made sure I took on water little and often and I had sips of the Lucozade sport every time it was on offer (every 5 miles). I did this from the beginning to end of the race and it made a world of difference.

At the half way point I clocked 1:33:24. A tad slower than I’d planned, yes. But I felt OK and I was ready to do it all again. Except, hopefully, a bit faster? That was the idea, anyway.

And that plan felt doable for way longer than I would have dared hope, to be honest. On all my previous marathon outings I’ve not been properly prepared and, once beyond 16 - 17 miles, I’ve begun to pay the price. This time, I felt much stronger. I was even enjoying the whole experience and atmosphere. Something I’d found myself almost resenting the first time I ran the London Marathon, to my shame. With my name on my Striders vest, I was getting a lot of encouragement and I tried my best to smile back and interact. Something I’ve never done before, being the introverted, serious sort.

All was on track through to mile 20. And then the last six miles saw me slow progressively, mile-on-mile, after an encouraging 6:44 for Mile 20. (On reflection, I got carried away during Mile 20, as we turned west towards central London from the docklands. It felt like the end was in sight and I kicked for home!) As you can see, the last six miles were where my pace and time unravelled a little.

Mile Time/mile
21 7:10
22 7:16
23 7:22
24 7:30
25 7:36
26 7:37

But, again on reflection, I should to be kinder to myself. Because at the time, it felt as if I were running through treacle! I would have expected these splits to have been much slower, given how I thought I was running. But the training and endurance I have now meant that even when it felt like I was losing form, I was still turning in semi-respectable mile splits. And oddly, that, I think, is the biggest encouragement that I come away with in all this: I didn’t completely blow up. Yes, I slowed in pace – but not disastrously so (as I have in the past). And I’m convinced that with better inure-free preparation I could afford to set off marginally faster next time round and could hold on for longer. I am sure I could. I want to try, at least.

A few takeaways:

• I enjoyed it, I didn’t just endure it.
• The miles in the bank paid off. I didn’t tire dramatically and my legs weren’t shot after.
• The thought of CLC Striders tracking me and rooting for me from home was a real boost all the way round.
• I’ve never run all the way in a marathon before. This time, the thought of a little walk didn’t even cross my mind!
• This was the first marathon where I felt like I began to do myself some justice at the distance.
• I feel like there’s more to come.
• I’ve made a mental breakthrough with the marathon distance now. I know I can run it. This counts for a lot. As much as the physical prep, almost.
• I got my ‘Good For Age’ time and so plan to enter again next year and to build on this year’s training and prep and lessons learned to try and run it better next time around.

I’ve run only twice since the marathon and have come down with a post-race virus which has made me feel like a zombie. But I plan to run the 10k at Berkeley on Monday and then in the Tewkesbury Half a week on Sunday. We’ll see how it goes. (Guess which one I feel best prepared for!)

I’d like to thank the club again from the bottom of my heart for the chance to run in the greatest mass participation sporting event in the world. It was a privilege, an honour. It was fun, too and exhilarating. And it made me feel proud of myself and for the club. To look at all our times after – from Juan’s blistering PB of 2:44:12 to Will’s richly deserved and hard-fought sub-3 hour PB, to my 3:10:06, Laura Gush’s amazing 3:14:26, Neil’s solid-after-injury 3:16:28, and Rich Haslam with his great marathon debut (after so much injury and doubt) in 3:41:43 – I think we all did ourselves and CLC proud.

I said to friends and family a few years ago when I was starting to get back into running again that I would like to run five marathons before I was 50. This one was my fourth. And, having enjoyed it, I’m now happy to bend my own rules a bit to plan to run my fifth one at the age of 51. I might leave it alone then. But right now, I still feel like I’ve still got unfinished business with the marathon.