Paul Walters runs the London Marathon

Report from Monday 23rd April 2001

I've run the 2001 London Marathon!

At the 20 miles point with Liz and Sam

At the 20 miles point with Sarah

At the 20 miles point - setting off again

I managed to complete the marathon yesterday, although it was one of the hardest things that I have ever done - to find out why, read on!

I was feeling more confident than last year in the week before the marathon, as I had only one concern injury wise, a problem with my hip. I felt fit enough to run the whole marathon, and the weather forecast was cold and largely dry, gradually warming with light rain appearing towards the end.

Although I planned to register for the marathon and go to the NSF pasta party on the previous day (Saturday), I was phoned by Laure Drouet of the NSF on Thursday to say that I was the only person going to the party, so it was cancelled. I immediately decided to go to the registration in that day, Thursday afternoon. This went as smoothly as can be expected.

On the Saturday afternoon, I spent three hours preparing all of my clothing, kit bag, things to keep me warm before the start, put the chip on my shoe, and so on. I had a large pasta meal for dinner, and a banana to go to bed on. I went to bed at 10PM knowing that I was fully prepared for the next day.

On the Sunday we got out of the door at 7:00 AM to drive to Purley railway station. Connex or Railtrack had decided in their infinite wisdom to work on the railway line between Redhill and Purley on the day of the marathon, so if we went to Redhill station, the choices would have been taking a bus to Purley or a train heading to Gatwick (the opposite direction). From Purley, we took a relatively empty train to London Bridge, and then I separated from my family to take an extremely full train to Blackheath - packed in like sardines!. On arrival at 8:30, it took quite a time to simply walk out of the station because of the volume of people, but I was soon walking the short distance to the "blue" start, out of "red", "green" and "blue".

On arrival at the start, I found a part occupied park bench to take off my track suit, apply Ibuprofen gel to my hips and knees, take an Ibuprofen tablet, put on nipple protection, put on an old tee-shirt, and wear two bin liners over the top. I put my kit bag onto the appropriate lorry, and made my way to the start.

From my number, I was supposed to make my way to zone 6 out of 9. Walking down the zones, I found the Runners World sub-4 hour pacer in zone 5, so I decided to start in zone 5 close behind the pacer. Looking around, there seemed to be plenty of people in zone 5 who should have been in later zones. I got to this point in plenty of time and so waited patiently 20 minutes for the start. While waiting, I felt increasingly warmer, so took off my bin liners and finally my old tee-shirt and discarded them ten minutes before the off.

We did not hear the gun, but a few minutes after 9:30AM, we started walking forward quite slowly. It seemed to take longer to cross the start line this year, and we seemed to walk for many minutes before even starting to run. I started my stop watch on crossing the start line.

Within the first mile, I realised that it was far warmer than the predicted five degrees celcius, and so I took off my NSF vest, took off my long sleeved running shirt, and put my NSF vest back on. This operation took several minutes, and was a disruption.

For the first six miles, I felt that I was running well within myself, but found it difficult to stay with the Runners World pacer. To keep to the 4 hour schedule, I had to take every opportunity I found to dive past runners. I remember hearing some good advice about concentrating on finding an efficient running rythm, but this was impossible if I was going to stick to the sub 4 hour schedule, seeing as my running was slow interspurced with fast bursts as I passed people. This was frustrating, because not only did it disrupt my running, but it also meant that I was concentrating on passing other runners rather than taking in the atmosphere of the event.

As usual, the crowd were great all of the way round, and the bands and music were on the whole entertaining and uplifting. I don't know whether it was because I started from the "blue" rather than the "red" start, but it appeared to me that there were fewer costumes this year.

As we headed towards the Cutty Sark at the six mile point, I felt a slight twinge from my hip, which at the time was surprising and dissapointing - I knew from that point that the writing was on the cards - that the pain in my hip would increase to the point where I could no longer run.

running towards the Cutty Sark, I noticed the BBC TV camera in it's usual location, and ran wide long side the crowd around the ship, to see my family in a similar place to last year. I took the opportunity to throw my long sleeved running shirt which I had been carrying to Sarah.

Well, from this point to tower bridge it was simply a matter of running on, diving through gaps as often as I could to try to progress so that I could try to acheive the sub-four hour time. We passed Tower Bridge after the twelve mile mark, and although Laure Drouet of the NSF was on the bridge, we did not see each other. I had however lost the pacer, simply because of the volume of runners.

I was still passing people who were completely not designed for running, with beer bellies, lolloping along the road at a very slow pace. Quite simply, there were masses of people who should have started at the back of the 10,000 plus runners at the blue start, who had started near the front. May be these runners do this in ignorance, but I'd say that the majority of the field in front of me were incorrectly positioned, bearing in mind that I had started at the 4 hour pacer point. I find this very frustrating, and next year I think that I'll just have to do the same thing just to give me a chance of acheiving a good time.

We reached half way mark with my time pretty well on track for a sub-4 hour marathon, but from this point I by-and-large forgot my time keeping, because I knew that I was going to hit problems - my hip was becoming increasingly painful. We were running towards the Isle of Dogs, and we could see the elite runners running back from the Isle of Dogs on the opposite side of the road. I decided to stop running through the field, and to run along side the returning runners, to watch them, and to see if I could see my brother. In the end I did see him, and was astounded and impressed with both his time and the way he was running. I gave him a clap and cheer, and then returned to concentrate on my own running.

My family were waiting at the fifteen mile point, but, just like last year, we missed each other. The pain in my hip gradually increased to the point where at eighteen miles I had to go into a St. John's Ambulance station. One of the St. John's Ambulance crew gave my leg a massage, and I set off again, just for another mile, and then I had to go straight back into a St. John's Ambulance station. This time I saw a medic, who stretched my muscles in my hip and gave me a massage, and I set off again, feeling better, but again the pain in my hip soon returned with avengance. I started running more on tip-toe, but I knew that this was inadvisable, and would probably ultimately cause me more problems.

At the 20.5 mile mark, I saw my family again, and we took the pictures which are at the top of this document. Sarah gave my hip a quick massage, and I set off again, telling the family that I would be arriving at the finish rather late. Within 50 yards of this point, I started walking. Apart from running a few hundred yards, I walked the whole remaining six miles.

At the 21 mile point, I went into another St. John's Ambulance station for a massage, and this time the medic told me that she thought that the problem with my hip was deep, and to just concentrate on walking in. After stretches and a massage I set off yet again.

Just before the 22 mile mark, I walked into the crowd, found a wall, and tried to do some stretches. This was may be the lowest point in the marathon for me. I was convinced that I could not go on. Just walking along the road was really painful, and there was no sight of a St. John's Ambulance station to help me. I had a discussion with a young lady who helped me. She suggested using the St. John's Ambulance station which was way across the other side of the road for the runners in the opposite direction. This was a station to test blood sugar levels, which I had not noticed until she pointed it out. I walked in, and told them that I was on the brink of giving up. A really nice physiotherepist worked on me for about ten minutes, stretching my leg in all sorts of directions, and she finally told me that she thought the problem may have been in my tight ham-strings, but the problem came out in my hip. She gave my an ice pack, and finally set me off on my way.

I didn't know whether I had passed the 22 mile mark or not, but after 400 yards I saw it in the distance, and so although I was a little dissapointed not to be further along, at least I knew where I stood - I had to walk a slow and painful four and a bit miles. I think that the funniest thing of the day was members of the enthusiastic crowd shouting to me "not far to go now" and being generally encouraging. When you know you've got over four miles to walk slowly and in pain, it didn't see like "far to go"!

All of the runners that I had passed in the first half of the race streamed past me. Every single runner who was reduced to walking seemed twice as fast as me. I never passed a walking contestant once. This gives you an idea of the speed of my progress.

I took sweets from the crowd as often as possible. This was a welcome distraction, and provided some relief. I regretted not obtaining my long sleeved top from Sarah when I had seen her, and I was becoming concerned with the increasingly black sky. Any incline in the road gave me twice as much pain in my leg, so I was hoping desparately that there would not be any sustained inclines in the remaining roads.

While I was walking along the road, I had an opportunity to see another side to the marathon - the charity runners who were completing the 26.2 miles in fancy dress. You have to admire them. The rhinos, wombles, batmen, paddington bear, bob the builders, and so on not only had gone to the trouble of the creation of the costumes, but showed how fit they were by running in them, and of course the whole point was to collect funds for their chosen charities. I take my hat off to them.

I saw a few people I knew in the crowds while walking, which was encouraging. I saw two NSF runners too, which was also pleasing, bearing in mind that there were only ten of us.

While walking the last half mile, the marathon helpers were clearing away the barriers, and I was aware that before too long they would open up the roads, so I was keen to get to the end without having to walk on a footpath by the side of a busy road to complete the marathon.

The road was long and hard, but I finally started walking along Bird Cage Walk, and I knew that the end was fairly near. I still kept the ice pack pinned to my hip. I don't know whether the coolness was helping, the pressure I was putting on my hip, or my stance, but for whatever reason this seemed to aid me.

My walk-in from this point felt like it took an age. I really couldn't have walked much further at all. The crowd were still saying "not far to go now", so I informed them that I'd heard that for the last five miles. They assured me that it really wasn't far to go! Some joker told me to finish with a spurt!

I slowly rounded the roundabout infront of Buckingham Palace, and finally walked in with a time of 6 hours and 16 minutes. I even stopped for a minute just before the finish line to adjust the ice pack - I thought I might still need it to get home, so it was still important!

Throughout the whole experience, I had a good state of mind, and was able to be both lifted and entertained by the runners and crowd. My spirits were kept high. I guess this may be is what kept me going to the end - this and also the fact that I was running for charity, and that I wanted the photos and medal in the frame put in pride of place in my study.

In one way I feel a bit of a fraud. I didn't run a marathon yesterday. I did not acheive any sort of time to be proud of in the least. At the same time, that last six miles of the marathon is one of the most difficult things I have ever done, and was I think more than twice as hard as it would have been if I'd been able to run it - so in one way I feel no sense of achievement, but at least I can say that through thick and thin, I managed it.

I walked though the finish to get my chip removed, get my medal, have my photograph taken, receive a goodie-bag, and get my kit bag. It felt like it took me ages to walk to the "W" mark of the repatriation area to meet my family.

We went for a very welcome meal - I got very hungry towards the end, bearing in mind that I had breakfast at 6:30AM, and had not eaten substancially since, and it was about 4:30PM by the time I found my family.

It was obviously a dissapointing marathon for me. I knew that my hip may have caused me problems, because about four times previously this problem had emerged in training and stopped me. In hind sight, I should have sought medical advice on this problem a month or two before the marathon. I hoped that by stretching out regularly, applying Ibuprofen gel and just by the fact that the marathon was flat, I would get through without incident, but in fact this problem came on me during the marathon in a more pronounced way than before. I know better for next year.

This experience has not put me off - not for one minute. I know that I can run a marathon properly. Having had two years of runs far off my ability, I'll try for a good one again next year. Training starts next week!

The day after the marathon, the pain in my hip has subsided, and apart from some stiffness, I am walking normally again.

Many thanks for reading this and also for sponsoring me. I know that your money is going to a cause that helps some of the most vulnerable in our society, and provides support for their carers.

Back to my London Marathon home page