“It’s only 26.2 Miles…!!”
I wouldn’t say that it was a life time ambition, but running a marathon had slowly worked its way onto my ‘Bucket List’ over the years.
I think the real reason it had crept its way into my thoughts is that I had let myself go a little (a lot!) over the years since Initial Officer Training and focusing on something like a marathon and the enforced diet/ training that comes with it, was probably the kick up the backside I needed to shed those extra pounds that a decade of eating in-flight rations had bestowed upon me. I had managed to move up from a sleek 80kg in 2002 to a rather rotund 103kg at the start of 2012, so action was required, and anyway, it doesn’t sound very much, it’s ‘only’ 26.2 miles, what could be so difficult!? Right??
I made the decision to finally commit and I first started training in Oct 2012 for the Brighton Marathon in Apr 2013. Brighton is a week before London and is a really well organised event and a great weekend away; the sign-up fee is between £50-£100 (depending on when you sign up) if you are not doing it for charity, and I can recommend it for anybody starting out or looking to run a PB, as it is very flat and not too congested. Unfortunately I injured myself in the November and didn’t manage to do anywhere near the training I required (or lose much of the weight I needed to!!) in the early months of 2013. In typical Air Force fashion, I didn’t let this prevent me from running it, even though I should have done, and I lined up with 18000 other people on a cool Sunday morning by the seaside. This was a real lesson in how big a challenge running a marathon is. Not being as fit as I should have been, not having the miles in my legs that I needed, still carrying a bit too much ‘timber’ (91kg) and running with the remnants of the calf injury I had sustained in the November, I struggled my way round Brighton in some significant discomfort and finished in 4hrs 21mins, promising never to do such a silly thing again. It didn’t take long for me to forget the pain and suffering though and whilst sipping a recovery beer on Brighton Beach that afternoon, I promised myself that I was going to do another one and this time I was going to train properly, whilst losing the weight I had set out to in the first instance. It is about as close to me understanding why people get tattoos as I am likely to get. Ask anybody who has had one and they describe the pain as excruciating, and yet many people have more than one!! Due to a 6 month deployment at the beginning of 2014, I missed marathon season, but the opportunity to lose the weight I had promised myself was taken advantage of on my 6 month ‘fat camp’, and I returned from Qatar a lean 79kg and fitter than I had been in years. I ran, cycled and rowed regularly and cut down my calorie intake, which accounted for the drop in several jean sizes. If I could maintain the fitness from Jul to the following Apr, I was in the best shape to take on the 26.2 for a second time. I applied for London 2015 through the ballot and, like so many others, was unsuccessful, as the odds are about 1:10 who are successful. I applied through SSAFA to claim a charity place, but again, was unsuccessful as they were inundated with applicants. Not to be deterred, I identified the Rome marathon in Mar 2015 as a suitable alternative and it had the added bonus of treating Susannah to a long weekend away. My training went well, as I avoided injury and I built up from running 15-20 miles per week to between 35-50 miles per week. Having joined the Sqn a couple of months into my training I had made my new colleagues and boss aware of my plans, but OC14 clearly wasn’t happy with my travel arrangements and, setting me my first prioritisation challenge in my new role, sent me away on deployment at short notice at the end of Jan, returning in Apr…after the Rome marathon!! (I’m not sure he has apologised to Susannah yet for depriving her of the trip to Rome!). Fate stepped in on the day I departed for theatre, as SSAFA called me and asked if I would step in for somebody on their team for London who had picked up an injury, which I accepted. I hadn’t really thought about the short time remaining to raise the minimum £1800 pledge, but I had 10 weeks in which to work that out. Training over the 10 weeks away was tough, but I was lucky to have two ‘racing snake’ running partners in MAcr Spen Dawes and WO2 Chilli Palmer, who ensured I racked the miles up, including a 16 mile training run round a 1.5 mile loop and a 20 mile training run round a 3 mile loop…its enough to make you dizzy. I returned from theatre, fit, healthy and ready for London, and well on my way to raising the minimum £1800, through donations from friends and colleagues at home and abroad.
London had cost me £100 to sign up for, on top of the pledge, although depending on what charity you do it for, depends on how much you have to pay; through the ballot is a lot cheaper, if you can get selected. The Expo (where you go to get your race number and timing chip) for London takes place in the Excel arena and you can sign up from the Wednesday to the Saturday prior to the race, although it is significantly busier on the Saturday. If you don’t sign up at the Expo, you don’t run on the Sunday. I stayed at my sisters in Richmond on the Friday and Saturday night and made my way to the start via the underground on the Sunday morning, leaving Susannah and James (10 months old) to join me later at a suitable point on the route; all of the Transport for London transport is free with a race number on the day itself, which is a really nice touch considering what you are about to put yourself through. There are two start points, one for the elite and ballot runners and one for the charity runners. I was in the latter and took my place at the start line in the Red section with thousands of other people in various costumes and apparel and we slowly made our way from our starting pen to the official start line, which took me nearly 20 minutes. I did, however, manage to get my smiley face onto the BBC which made my son Morgan’s day as he watched from home.
The atmosphere around the route was incredible and the level of support from people was unbelievable. I had my name on my shirt and it is a real pick-meup, when complete strangers cheer you on as the tiredness and soreness sets in. I would love to say I admired such landmarks as the Cutty Sark and Big Ben as I made my way round, but the truth is, I wasn’t even aware that I was running past them. This could be down to the fact you are concentrating on your running, admiring the support from the crowds or in fact, that my wife is right and I just don’t pay attention! I do have photos of me running passed so that’s ok. I struggled with cramp along the way and had a couple of dark moments in the lead up to running towards the Palace and the finishing line, but it was all worth it as I crossed the same line that Paula Radcliffe had crossed (quite) a bit earlier and in a time of 3hrs 34mins, which was 47mins quicker than my previous. It was an incredible experience and one I would highly recommend to anybody that is even the slightest bit inclined. I have lost over 4 stone, improved my fitness exponentially, gained some fabulous memories and also raised £3000 for a very worthwhile charity. I have entered the ballot for next years London marathon, but in anticipation that I won’t be successful, I have signed up for the Athens marathon (the Original) in November and am beingjoined by a team from 14 Sqn, who all must be as mad as I am.
Thank you for reading and I hope that it will inspire some of you to take on the challenge. Best of luck to any of you who do and a congratulations to any of you who also took part this year, especially my old pal Sqn Ldr Dave McRitchie.