London Marathon – Race Report

Binita and Unnati partying at Ciro’s Pizza Pomodoro

Binita and I arrived in London on the morning of April 21. The race was on April 24. I thought 3 days would be adequate time to relax and get rid of jetlag. I thought wrong. I was sleep-deprived on race-day. On the first night, I got about 4 hours of sleep followed by 5 on the second night. I did get some sleep in the afternoons. The night before the race, it was all race-nerves; this meant very little sleep! To make things worse, I was constipated (TMI) for before the race. This made me anxious and anxiety is not good for sleep.

Buckingham Palace


Flowers in St. James’s Park

London was cold, rainy and windy throughout our stay (including race-day). Fortunately, Binita’s crazy and cool cousin Unnati lives in London. We went out on our own on Thursday evening and hung out a bit on Friday with the Indian contingent for high tea at Westminster Abbey. On Friday (April 22) night, we went out with Unnati to a couple of rockin’ bars followed by a loud and happening Italian place called Ciro’s Pizza Pomodoro. We started at a quiet yet swanky bar at 45 Park Lane followed by a “place to be seen” bar called Zuma before settling in for dinner. Out went my resolution of no alcohol for a week before the race. I had a strong Margarita and a shot of some fruity liquor. All in all, it was a very fun evening!

I ran a short 3 miles each day in London leading up to the race. The cold and wind refused to let up. Race day was the same!

My race start was scheduled for 10:00AM. I was in corral 5. Getting to the starting line was a simple train-ride followed by a short 1km walk. Since I had booked my London Marathon through Active Holiday Company and was officially part of the Indian contingent, our group decided to meet in the hotel lobby at around 7:30AM. It was nice to sleep in a bit longer instead of having to wake up before sunrise.

Indian Contingent day before the London Marathon

5:30AM: After light sleep (race nerves), I was up by 5:30AM. It was cold and windy outside. I had shaved the night before but decided to shower and stretch. Two hours flew by as I dressed, reviewed my race plan and got ready. Initially, I was targeting 3:45 for my finish time but upped it to 3:55 to account for wind and hills.

London Marathon Expo #whyirunldn

7:30AM: About a dozen of us from the Indian team gathered in the lobby. After a few formalities, pictures and restroom visits, we all left to the starting line. We had to walk to Waterloo station and catch the train to Blackheath. It was crowded at the station. Our group was separated with 6 people boarding the first train and 6 of us left behind. We managed to muscle our way to the second train a few minutes later.

Bib Number 60056 #oneinamillion

8:15AM: We got to Blackheath, used the restrooms again and walked to the starting line. There were thousands of us huddled like penguins braving the cold and wind. Hundreds of runners were standing in line for port-a-potties. A jumbotron showed elite athletes taking off just after 9AM. We cheered them on. They were sprinting out the starting gates. I ate a banana and sat down in a windless area near a changing tent to conserve energy. There were constant announcements with reminders of last-minute instructions. “Make sure you drop off your bags based on your bib numbers.” “Make sure you start in your own corral.” “There will be Lucozade stations at mile 5, 10, 15,….” etc. etc. etc.

Race Prep – London Marathon 2016

10:00AM: I was ready. I stripped down to my shorts, a long sleeve shell with a “G” t-shirt on top, my sunglasses, my Boston Marathon visor, a blue neck protector that belonged to Missy (my pup who recently passed away), calf sleeves, Saucony shoes and gear (Garmin, iPod and heartrate monitor on my wrist). I was in the blue start, corral 5. A few minutes after 10:00AM, I was off with thousands of other runners. I felt good!

The first few miles were slower than expected. There were a few places where we stopped to walk because of runner-traffic congestion. I expected it to be crowded, but not like this. Elbows flew everywhere; everyone was dodging and weaving through traffic jockeying for position. In the first couple of miles, the green and red groups merged in and made it even more crowded. I decided to take it easy and walk if necessary. I could see that crowd-support was thick, loud and wild. My time out the gate were slower than expected but this was not a race I was doing for time. It was for pride! It was for fun. I had Simi and Missy on my mind. My heart remains heavy since Missy passed away a few weeks ago. I took some comfort from the blue scarf around my neck. I will hang on to it forever.

10:30AM: I had hoped to run 3.5 miles in the first 30 minutes. I was not even close. It didn’t bother me. The atmosphere was electric. Everyone around me was happy. I was happy. I was running the third of six Marathon Majors. By the end of today, I would be halfway to my goal of running them all!

Miles 4, 5 and 6 were not much different from the first three miles. My rhythm was off because of the traffic. I didn’t have much of a mojo but I still felt good. I had already done the steep downhill portion where I was supposed to go fast. I couldn’t because of congestion. Oh well…

I ate my first Gatorade Endurance gels at around mile 6. I drank water whenever needed. I let the 3:45 pace group pass me. I was running my own race at my own pace. I high-fived a few spectators. I acknowledged their cries of “Go G Go” with a simple smile and a head nod.

11:00AM: I was short of my 7-mile goal in the first hour. My heartrate had been relatively well-managed. On the uphill portions it would flirt up above 145 only to settle back down into the low 140s on the downhill portions.

Much like the first 6 miles, the next 4 miles snaked westward against the wind. I was averaging almost 9 minutes per mile. I wasn’t happy about my speed, but kept a positive attitude. At this pace, I wouldn’t have a fast enough time but at least I wouldn’t flame out and bonk!

At mile 10, I drank almost a whole 380ml Lucozade Sport bottle.

11:30AM: All through the race, traffic was way too much to draft off someone. There was a striped blue line that served as a guide for the accurately measured shortest distance. Unfortunately, running on the blue line was impossible. I crisscrossed the line as closely as possible, but I knew I would run a longer marathon!

As I approached the Tower Bride just before the halfway point, the crowds thickened. Hundreds of thousands of spectators had lined up the streets cheering us on. I have to give kudos to the London Marathon spectators who had braved the cold and rain and wind to partake in the cheering. We runners need energy on marathon days and there is nothing better than having complete strangers yell out your name, “Go G Go” constantly!

As I crossed the halfway point, I was averaging just below 9-minute miles. The tough miles were yet to come. I resolved to beat the 3:55 mark but I knew that my chances were fading fast.

12:00PM: At the London Marathon, there are dozens of people running in costumes. A camel, a flamingo, Adam and Eve (complete with a fig leaf), Starwars characters, various ballerinas, Big Bird from Sesame Street, a Viking, Elvis (of course), etc. etc. can be seen all over the course. Some are hilarious, some are corny but all are ballsy! Marathon runners are nuts. Marathon runners in costumes are even more nuts.

I was feeling pretty good through the Isle of Dogs miles (14, 15, 16, 17). The course winds around and then doubles back towards the finish line. I saw the race leaders springing towards the finish. I heard the crowds cheering the leaders. Of all the marathons I have run so far (this is my fifth), the London crowds have been the most amazing.

I ate a Soleil peanut bar at around mile 15. It was sticky and gooey but delicious. I had managed my heartrate and nutrition quite well so far, but I still wondered if the bonk would come.

12:30PM: I was about seventeen miles into the race and the crowds now were even thicker. About 10% of the runners had started walking. The traffic jams continued at water and Lucozade stations. I saw a poor soul take a tumble as he weaved his way through to take a water bottle. He tripped on a discarded bottle and went down hard. There were oohs and aahs from the crowd. He got up right away and shook it off. Attaboy! The crowd cheered.

I swallowed a gel at mile 19 at the Lucozade gel station.

1:00PM: I wanted to walk at mile 20. The undulating hills continued throughout the course. My speed slowed on uphills and didn’t really increase on downhills. I was losing steam but found the energy to keep running. At mile 21 and 22, we were now on the homestretch as runners in the opposite direction (mostly walkers) had just crossed the halfway point. I knew that I needed a strong mind for the last 5 miles. I drew inspiration from the crowds. At mile 22, I saw a “Park Run” banner and thought of Chrissie. I smiled. She emailed me yesterday to wish me good luck for the race. As 4-time Ironman world champ, she must get loads of emails from fans. She always remembers to email me before a race. When a world champ is cheering you on, it’s special. Thank you Chrissie.

About a mile to go – London Marathon

1:30PM: At mile 23, I was on the home stretch. There were plenty of walkers by now. I counted my time, my pace, my distance and wanted to beat the 4:00 mark. I merely needed 9:30 per mile to do so. It shouldn’t be so hard but that’s easier said than done in the last 3 miles of a marathon.

I touched my blue neck protector scarf. I thought of my pups Missy and Simi. This was Missy’s scarf. She and Simi were with me as I ran. I was sad for a moment, but it gave me energy. I had a little burst of speed. As we turned to go South towards Big Ben, I knew I was on the home stretch. The road widened and the congestion cleared. I was running on air now; slow but smooth. I ate my final gel and ran towards the finish.

2:00PM: The final mile goes around St. James’s Park on Birdcage Walk before turning around to The Mall to the finish. I felt good and actually accelerated my pace on Birdcage. The crowds were deafening. Plenty of people were walking; catching their breath so they could finish strong on The Mall.

I made the right turn towards Buckingham Palace smoothly. I would come in about 30 seconds under 4:00. As I made the final right to The Mall right in front of the palace, I accelerated my pace again. I wanted to finish strong. I had enough left in me to do so. Right there, my right calf cramped up. Hard. I stopped in my tracks. Ouch! Where did that come from? That hurt! I hobbled, stopped, hobbled, stopped, held my right calf with my right hand, looked down at my watch, hobbled again and slowly ran-walked to the finish line. My smile was gone. I had a grimace on my face. I looked down at my watch as I stopped it; 4:00:03. Ugh! I was over 4:00:00. Ugh ugh! I stretched my right calf right after the finish line and the cramp loosened and vanished. I am generally not prone to cramping. This was frustrating but I was fortunate that I had less than 100 meters to go when I cramped.

In the end, I was happy as I collected my medal. 3 World Marathon Majors done, 3 to go. Berlin is next in September.

London Marathon 2016 Medal

As I walked slowly through the bag-pickup area and then back to meet Binita, I was slow and deliberate. A few folks of the Indian Contingent were there to welcome me and said, “Wow! How did you manage that? Exactly 4:00:00.” Cool, I thought. I didn’t come under 4:00, but I didn’t go over either! 4:00:00 is not a great time but this was a tough, undulating, crowded course.

Thanks to the London crowds for the inspiration. Thanks to Simi and Missy for the inspiration. Thanks to Binita for encouraging me. Thanks to Chrissie for wishing me luck. Thanks to all my running friends back in Arizona for putting up with me.

Binita and I made the slow walk back to the hotel. My legs are still sore as I write this a few days later. We flew to Rome for a couple of days and are en-route to Jordan as I write this. I’ll take it easy for the next few weeks before starting all over training for Berlin.

I’ll write a separate blog about Rome and Petra in the next week or so. For now, I will enjoy my time left on my vacation.

For anyone who ever wants to visit Jordan, I have to give kudos to the Royal Jordanian flight I am currently on. The flight attendants are superb, the flight is empty and the food is excellent.

I look forward to floating in the Dead Sea!


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