Paul Walters runs the London Marathon

Report from Sunday 13th April 2003

I've run it!

Just after the Cutty Sark

Quick stretch after 15 miles

Still going strong at 20 miles

Finished - with my medal

I've still got some energy!

After a very restless night, we got up at 6:15PM, and I had a slight sore throat and stuffy nose. I quickly decided to plough on with the day regardless, however fool hardy. On the day I was worried because two days earlier I started a with a cold, in the last week before the marathon I got knee pains from over-training on an excerise bike, and of course my usual hip problems that often cause me grief. I thought that any of the complaints could cause me problems on the day, and half suspected that I'd have to pull out after a few miles because of painful knees.

I put on my running things, and went to the start with a tee shirt to throw away at the start and a woolly jumper to put in my kit bag, just to keep warm until the start. I had a big bowl of cornflakes for breakfast, together with a vitamin C tablet. Sarah and I had packed our respective bags the night before, and we were out of the door at about 7:15 to go to Redhill railway station.

We took a train East Croydon, and then changed to go to London Bridge. The second train was very crowded. As usual, London Bridge station was also crowded, full of marathon runners going to their respective starts (there are three, red, blue and green. This year I had to go to blue.) I was looking for a train for Blackheath, and over the tannoy they got the people waiting for a Blackheath train to switch platform, which we did. We could not however get on the train, because it was too crowded. I was standing with two fellow Reigate Priory AC runners. Then another train pulled in, and we ran towards the front of the train and dived on. I then found out that the train was only going to Maze Hill, so I jumped off again, but I've got a horrible feeling that my two running collegues stayed on the train. I had to switch platform again, and then got on a relatively uncrowded train.

On arrival at Blackheath, I walked to the blue start. I applied Ibuprofen gel to my knees and hips. I packed my jumper into my kit bag, and placed my kit bag onto the appropriate baggage lorry. I queued up for the toilet, but after the queue had not moved in 5 minutes, I decided to go discretely behind a lorry. I then made my way to the start. I was due to start in zone 4, but was standing in zone 5 by mistake. After realising what I had done, I moved forward to zone 4, and went as far as I could up it. After waiting for about 25 minutes for the race to start, we had a moment's silence for the founder of the London Marathon, and we then set off.

It was sunny and warm, and most runners were in a sleeveless top and shorts. I was wearing long trousers and a long sleeved top, and this did make me feel very warm, but I just thought that it'd be okay as long as I kept myself well hydrated. Also I felt that If I had started to walk, I may then find being overdressed very useful to keep me warm. I did sweat a lot in the first miles, but I did not find being overdressed much of a problem.

It was a little stop-start at the beginning, but we were fairly promptly off, within 5 minutes I'd say. I set off my stop watch on the start line, so I could pace myself.

I decided to run with a long stride behind me, but a short stride in front of me if that makes sense. This style of running can only be accomplished above a certain speed, and I was doing it to keep my piriformis muscles stretched and to preserve my knees, as this style of running does not bend the knees so much.

I felt a little dry in the mouth in the early stages of the race, which was not good seeing that I was running a marathon in warm conditions. At the first drinks stop I downed a whole bottle of water fairly quickly, and then after five miles I drank a whole energy drink. I decided to drink a whole energy drink every 5 miles, plus may be some water.

Apart from the odd slow-down, the race was fairly uneventful until after the Cutty Sark. Everything was going to plan, with no problems from hip or knees. I was doing approximately 9 minute miling I think. Before the Cutty Sark, a Reigate runner passed me who was flying a "Free Tibet" flag. I must remember to sponsor him. I saw my family at the Cutty Sark, had a quick photo, and then set off again towards Tower Bridge.

At the part of the run, I could feel both of my knees becoming increasingly difficult, and I thought that they may eventually make me stop. As the feeling in my knees became greater, I was also concerned from lasting damage too. For me, this was probably the most worrying part of the race.

It was fun as usual crossing Tower Bridge, and before we knew it, we'd reached half distance, which was a nice feeling, although it did feel that we had gone an awful long way already. We ran along side the faster runners returning from the Isle of Dogs, but I did not see anyone I knew this year.

I changed my running style slightly to try to keep my left leg straighter, and to put more pressure on my right leg than my left, as it was becoming clear that my left knee was really the problem. Although this seemed to work, I did not need to continue on with this strategy for long. I saw my family again at 15 miles, who had been joined by two friends, Darren and Lenke. I stopped to apply Ibuprofen gel to my knees and hips again. I had a quick stretch, and I then rejoined the race. I don't know whether it was the rest or the gel, but my knee definately felt better for a couple of miles.

The crowds in the Isle of Dogs were particularly noisy this year, which really rose the runners, who were getting tired as they had run between 15 and 20 miles. I was feeling surprisingly fresh. People had been passing me all the way up to something like the 12 or 13 mile point, but then the race dramatically changed for me, as I found that I was passing a lot of runners instead. From 13 miles to the end of the race, there was an increasing number of runners who were running slowly or walking. I also thought I'd seen more runners in trouble this year, either on the pavement being helped, or lying down in a daze, or whatever.

I saw my family at 20.5 miles, and I applied Ibuprofen gel to my knees and hips and set off again. It was looking very hopeful that I would get a personal best out of a race where I should have done very badly. From this point onwards, I forgot about my problems with my knees and potential tightening of the hip, and just decided to do my best to run in. My knee didn't feel so bad at this stage anyhow, and miraculously my hip did not seem to tighten up at any part of this marathon - may be because of my altered running style.

I realised I'd done something silly. I had not noticed the energy drinks station at 20 miles, and I'd then forgotten to ask Sarah for an energy drink (she was carrying some for this eventuality). There was no going back! I just had to carry on, although I was concerned that this might effect me in the latter stages of the race.

I was still running through the slower runners, and felt pretty fresh all the way up until the 23 miles point. I suddenly tired, and increasingly slowed down until the end. I did keep going though, and when it came, the finish was very welcome. The last few miles were very difficult, and it would have been very easy to stop and walk. In these situations, I find the trick is to say to yourself "only another 20 minutes" and "what will you think of yourself after those 20 minutes if you're walking!".

With a few miles to go I had a small drink of water. I felt that I could be dehydrating a bit. In fact I stopped to drink it, but after a minute was back on the route again.

Running down Bird Cage Walk, I could see the end in sight, but it was still hard just keeping going. I was resigned to the fact that I would not beat 4 hours 15 minutes. The turn towards Pall Mall somehow came unexpectedly, and I ran in down the Mall, trying to make sure I had nobody in front of me so that I'd have a good picture.

I finished in 4 hours 15 minutes and 41 seconds. This is a massive improvement on the last two years, and beats the year 2000 time and my personal best of 4 hours 24 minutes and 14 seconds. I still think I can achieve a lot better time given the right (injury free) preparation.

After recieving my medal, having my picture taken with it, collecting a goody bag and my kit bag, I went down to the repatriation area to letter "R" to find my family, friends and running club companions. I did some stretches, and we then walked off to find a restaurant. I was walking very well - better than after any of the previous 3 marathons, although I suspected correctly that a nail was probably coming off a toe on my right foot. I've also got two blood blisters on my foot too. I was fit enough to give my daughter Liz a ride on my shoulders- see above!

Over the next few weeks, I'll be finishing off my sponsorship tasks, and I'll have to decide at some point whether to run it next year!

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