After boring you almost to death with word of my running exploits, recently in ever-increasing succession, I feel obliged to write about race day itself, though I would much rather just lie on my sofa and do nothing.
Kick-off was at 9:45, a time I was comfortable with. I got up at 7, had porridge and tea, and then jogged (to kickstart my metabolism) to the tube and changed to the train at Waterloo East. The crowds were already there. I managed to squeeze into the first departing train but being crammed in like a sardine for twenty minutes wasn't pleasant. The ride took longer than expected because of frequent stops between stations, presumable to wait for the train ahead to disgorge its millipedal load.
The crowds continued at Blackheath where a colorful stream surged in the general direction of the three starts. The Blue Start was a modern incarnation of a wild-west wagon fort, surrounded by twenty identical 18-wheelers that would later transport 20000 kit bags to the finish. As I am good for my age, I had what almost felt like a VIP starting area. Only 1500 people and one truck.
What began at the start gun can only be called a stampede. The road was hardly wide enough to hold all the runners that were jostling for position, passing each other, cutting left and right for water and often no reason at all. Three miles in, the course descended from the heath to the Thames, but there were so many runners I couldn't let it rip as I normally would on a downhill. Throughout the race, the crowd didn't thin appreciably. If anything, it got worse towards the end when people were delirious or surging or stopping. The running of the bulls in Pamplona can't be much different, except it's over after a few manic minutes.
I was running with a friend and tried to settle into an easy pace. Our goal was to get a negative split, that is running the second half faster than the first. The rational behind this is that if you start too fast, you run out of glycogen and fall off a cliff later. It almost worked for me.
The crowds that make running a steady pace nearly impossible are reflected on either side of the course. People line the streets densely packed, and they are loud. Running across Tower Bridge with thousands cheering was a special experience. Over the last five miles along the Victoria Embankment I felt like a racer on the last stage of the Tour de France, hammering up and down the Champs Elysées. The noise was deafening.
By that time I was already on my last legs. A mile or two earlier, I had suffered intense stitches and had to slow down to regain my breathing and drive the pain away. Now I was being rushed along by the frenzied excitement all around. It was madness. Turning the corner by Buckingham Palace, I knew I couldn't go much farther. I had no eyes to check whether our fair Queen was standing on her balcony, waving benevolently to the crazies below. She probably did. Such an event doesn't take place every day after all.
I crossed the finish line after 2:59:11 according to the chip on my shoe. The official clock, much to my dismay, passed the three-hour mark a few seconds earlier, in defiance of my final sprint that only served to drive up the goo and water I had ingested over the course of the race and splash it on the ground before my feet in fitful convulsions. Seeing this, the Queen turned in disgust and retired to her drawing room.
It was at the finish that the disadvantages of running among 35000 became obvious. There were no showers; how could there be in St. James's Park? Getting the kit bag from the truck took a good fifteen minutes of being jammed in among the sweat and smell of hundreds who had finished at the same time. There was no more support, no water, no food. The race was over, and good-bye. The Oberelbemarathon is certainly a much nicer experience in that regard, as would be any small, well-organized race.
Just a nick under three hours wasn't what I had imagined at the outset of the season, but preparations weren't optimal, and I can see the positive side of today's race. Last year's sub-three-hour finish was clearly not a fluke. There's nothing more to say now. From this afternoon, I'm officially a retired runner. No more of this nonsense for me.