Wednesday, 6 May 2015

VMLM2015

The Job is Done.....well almost!

"For Lloydy, for you all"
As I write this 'London Marathon Withdrawal' has well and truly set in. The marathon becomes a big part of your life from the moment you find out that you have a place, so I guess it's only natural, that you feel a little empty after it's done. I have other challenges to prepare for in the coming months, which I love being a part of, but the marathon is a special day and anyone that's experienced it will know exactly what I mean.  Hell, if hundreds of thousands of people get swept away by the occasion, then that's all the proof that's needed. Personally, I couldn't sell the event enough, and if you could bottle the energy you are afforded by your own supporters and the crowds as you make your way around the course, you have the potential to cure most of the worlds ills! London Marathon Sunday is when London is at its most magical, and it's people at their best. It may seem a strange thing to say, but anyone who has to walk the streets of the city as part of their daily commute will understand what I mean!

The build up to the day is massive and you do feel like you're part of something truly special, and you'd be correct, you are. From the moment you walk through the Expo entrance to register and pick up your race pack, to the moment you meander back (slowly) to Horse Guards on tired, cramping legs, glowing in a mix of triumph and sweat, to be greeted proudly by those who've endured the journey with you. Oh its special!

"This is what makes all that training worth it"
That's two years on the trot I've experienced it, and it's hard to imagine not being there for a third!

My training and prep initially was a bit hit and miss, the knee injury set me back and at times I was so despondent about it, I wondered if I'd actually be running. But once I was let off the leash by Zoe (my physio), I got stuck in to the programme Yolanda & Mike Gratton set us. When I look back I feel I can be proud of what I achieved in a relatively short space of time. My training had gone so well in the last few weeks that I began to put a bit more pressure on myself to not just run and get it done, but to aim for a target where my runs were pitching in terms of predicted times. With last years marathon I figured out early on how important pacing is for 'slightly' older marathoners, and with last years as a marker, getting inside 3:45 became the revised target. When the application went in, I had initially put down 3:30 but had to reign that back in with the early setback with the injury. However, as Marathon Sunday edged closer, I began to believe that although 3:30 may be out of reach, a 3:3* something was possible. 

All week I pawed over facts and figures, just getting things straight in my head, by Friday evening I was in a relatively decent place, I'd settled on my pacing for the event and all bar a few niggles in the knees and legs, which I put down to nothing more than pre-race nerves, I was set.

On Saturday morning, I woke and the legs still felt a little stiff, even after a little loosener. After a panicked call to Blackberry clinic to try and arrange (and failing) an appointment with Zoe, I decided, just to be on the safe side I'd tape the knees up. A little panic visit to Sweatshop to buy some Rock Tape followed a carb and protein fest at Nandos, where for once I avoided the X-tra Hot, which didn't sit well with me, but was the sensible call! Ring sting marathon morning is definitely something to be avoided.......

Slipping in to an Epsom Salts bath and a carb coma mid-evening, the mandatory maranoia set in.......had I done enough training? Would my knees hold out? Had I got my nutrition plan right? Should I slap vas on the soles of my feet? Will my giant nipple plasters make me look more of a twat than just letting them bleed!? But that all melted away as I began to read the messages I had received throughout the day. Just before my single handed demolition of Nandos in the Hub, I'd put a plea on Facebook to help me get through my revised target of £2k, I was £55 shy just before lunch. By the end of Saturday I was almost at £2,500! I'm always completely and utterly blown away and humbled by the support I receive, remarkably together we managed to surpass 2014's total, there are no words to describe the pride I feel when I look at that total, and I can't thank everyone enough that made that happen. 


"You're all amazing, thank you xxx"
The support for me is what drives me on, and that comes in many forms, not least via messages from dear friends and family and you know who you are. To be honest I'd be here all day if I were to mention you all, but know this, without what you do, I would find things more of a struggle and you inspire me to keep going. I must reserve mention though, for young Josh Ford (ably assisted by his wonderful dad)  for their fantastic video message, which went in no small part to ensuring those last 10km didn't hurt quite as much as they could have done! I'll get to the rest of the thank you's later.........


"Ready for the off"
Saturday evening, I set race kit out in the guest room, clipped my race number to my 'ABF' running vest and tied my timing chip to my running shoes. I packed my big red sack with all the other bits and pieces I would need and set the alarm for 0530 to get the 0627 train from Flitwick. At 0527 I was awake, wide awake, I think I'd spent most of the night like that.....there didn't seem much point trying to cram in another 3 minutes sleep, so I turned off the alarm so as not to disturb Caz and the littleman too much. 

Most that know me well, know I'm partial to writing myself a 'list', Sunday mornings list started with 'Zinc Oxide Tape the Nipps', remember 'Torq Energy' and 'Protein Shake in Fridge' and don't forget breakfast! My breakfast has typically become, live yoghurt (namely 'The Collective - Russian Fudge'), oats, chia seeds and a selection of nuts, seeds and dried fruit, which does get some funny looks when you're trying to mix it all together on the train in the morning! My morning prep finished with kissing the sleepy wife goodbye, looking forward to the moment I would be kissing her hello again at the finish!

Upon reaching Greenwich Park the Carnival atmosphere hits you straight away, on the DLR out, there's a real sense of nervous excitement, but that seems to evaporate as everyone pours off the tube. Greenwich is awash with colour despite the grey skies and the air is warm with good cheer, despite the cold - a far cry from Marathon Sunday last year (the weather that is), which was absolutely redders! This year for me I'm a lot more focused, I have a plan of how my day is going to go, which is 'tighter' than last years and I almost happen upon the Red Start, so focused am I on what I need to be doing before the gun goes off. 

"Sh*t just got real"
Inside the start, it's bag down, rubber gloves out, vas applied to those hard to reach places and biofreeze massaged into the legs, race trainers on and banana eaten. Just as I'm packing away I get to meet one of my fellow ABF Running Army Team mates, Jason 'Butch' Davies, and we natter for a bit, before I depart to dump my bag on the wagon, vowing to meet him back at the very same spot. We had both tried and failed to get to the 'communal' team meeting spot earlier on in the morning, but managed to get 'papped' before going into our pen. 

"A Gentle Giant and me, for the ABF"
I will reserve special mention for the Running Army at this point because it really has been an honour and a pleasure to be part of the team again this year. The guys at the Soldiers Charity (Sophie Coad especially) worked so hard to foster a real 'togetherness' among those taking part this year (of which many have become friends) and I only hope that continues to grow and develop in the years to come. I had suggested that my love affair with the London Marathon and The Running Army had run it's course (as far as taking part was concerned), but of course a wonderful and sympathetic wife and the ballot opening put paid to that, and once again I've thrown my name into the hat........


"......they DO need you!"
.....as an aside and I know I've alluded to this before, if you get an opportunity to run the London Marathon, please consider the ABF, especially if you have an affection for or an affiliation with the Armed Forces. They are a wonderful charity doing amazing things, and your support is massive in helping them achieve their goals - I promise they'll look after you and make you feel part of something special. 

Standing next to 'Butch' in Pen 4 we chat away until the pen begins to edge forward, Jason pats me on the back and wishes me well and I return the gesture. At 1013 I'm through the start and my London Marathon has begun. My first instinct was to dive into the bushes on Greenwich Common, just like everyone else that had been penned up for a while and not had that last 'shake', but I resisted the temptation and settled into my stride. I'd settled on 08:22 pace in the build up and 26 minute 5km splits, but by 5km I was well inside that and comfortable, I figured I'd get to 10km and see how I felt. By the time I rounded Cutty Sark I was feeling great and again was inside of target. I accepted at that point if I could get to half way feeling this good, I might slow a little second half but I wouldn't be that far off where I wanted to be. 

The miles much like last year just seem to whizz by, the support is beyond incredible and almost too difficult to do justice to with words alone, and that is felt ten fold as you take that first step on to Tower Bridge. You don't run across Tower Bridge, you float across, and for me I know at the end of the bridge I'm expecting to see my cheer squad, my wife and boy chief among them. I drift out to the left of the traffic hoping to spot the 'ABF' Cheer Point but it's nowhere to be seen, but just as I turn onto the A1203, I hear my wife and sister-in-law shouting my name and waving frantically, and it gives me another lift, so much so, I put in my fastest split to halfway! 

At halfway I settled back into an even pace and just concentrated on getting to the 35km marker with something left. It's a little bit of a mental battle when you're heading into the Isle of Dogs at 21km and watching the 'Championship' runners going through 35km on the other side of the road. However, you know once you've made you're way out the back of the Isle of dogs, it's only a few short miles (albeit the longest short miles you'll ever run). By 30km I'm still feeling decent but began to feel a little bit of cramp developing in my lower calves and my stomach was beginning to cramp a little too. I had tried to prise a salt tab from my pouch to head off the onset of cramp, but the fiddling to find one proved too difficult and I left them alone, probably to my detriment.

At 32km I dropped my pace to cope with and manage the cramp and just kept telling myself to keep going, there was no need to stop and just plod on and that's what I did. I remember feeling pretty rubbish as I went past The Tower of London for the second time and that feeling stayed with me until I made it out of the underpass onto Embankment. The crowds at that point seem to swell and the cacophony of noise is enormous. Whether that's because of the relative quiet as you make your way through the underpass or the sense that you can see the Wheel and it's not going to be long before Big Ben comes in to view, I can't say for certain, but the noise and the cheers from the crowd is most welcome and immeasurable for the lift it gives you.

"Rounding into Westminster - the Final Mile"
I wish on some level I could thank every single person that cheered my name along the entire route (I hope the thumbs up and smiles on all occasions sufficed), especially those along that portion of the course, and even moreso those boys in uniform who noticed my running vest as I made my way onto Birdcage Walk. There were so many points along the route that I felt a pang of emotion and more than a few times I had to pull myself together, and as I went past my incredible cheer squad on Birdcage Walk, it hit me pretty hard. I 'accidentally' put on a bit of spurt when I saw them, and instantly the emotion I was feeling was usurped by cramp smashing through every single muscle, making the last half mile a very uncomfortable but triumphant last few minutes. Nothing can describe that feeling of seeing your loved ones so close to the finish, so the pain is definitely worth it!

"Finish in sight - must buy better shorts!"
"There goes 20 minutes off last years effort"
The finish for many I guess offers a massive sense of relief as well as euphoria, well as much as the tiredness we all must feel will allow anyway. For me, for those few yards between the finish and receiving my medal it gives me a little chance to reflect and send a few words to Lloydy on the breeze.

When I set my mind to the first event I took part in (as part of a team of friends) back in September 2012 (Paras'10 @ Catterick), the objective was simple, keeping Lloydys memory alive by doing something he would have had to endure and raising money to help others. Sure, I had my own (possibly selfish) reasons for doing it, helping me with my grief chief among them.

I still feel that grief everyday, and my daily objective remains the same, keeping his memory alive and doing him proud. I know I have nothing to prove to him (or anyone else for that matter), but his last words to me were "don't go changing bro". The big brother he has knows no other way than striving to achieve, and that doesn't mean being the best at everything (because I'm not and will never be that), it just means being the best I can be, and right now, being the best I can be, is being the best father and role model I can be for my son, because that's the least he deserves and if I am that, I know Lloydy will be smiling.

Another 4 Paras'10s, 4 Fan Dances, a P2P and 2 London Marathons later, I hope I've done them proud, Lloydy and Charlie that is. Charlie I guess is still too little to know and understand what I'm doing, but I hope when he is old enough to understand, that he has something to aspire too, especially when we talk of his wonderful uncle, who he'll never meet, but will always be with him.

On a personal level though I'm proud of the achievement, I was so close to breaking into the 3:30's but for the onset of cramp I may well have got there, however, I smashed last years time by 20 minutes. Initially I was kinda stuck in the middle of being really chuffed and wishing I had those first 6 weeks back, now however, I know there's always next year! My supporters have certainly done Lloydy proud, with how much has been raised for the ABF (not just this year, but last year too) and this marathon is dedicated to you all as much as it is him.

"Cheese..." 
Medal hanging around my neck, I get my photo taken and pick up my bag. On the slow walk back I drain the lucozade in my goodie bag and bump into Mark Stuart, a fellow ABF runner, and we offer each other hearty (but tired) congratulations. The amble back to 'Meeting Point K' on Horse Guards was slow and laboured, I couldn't wait to see Caz and the Littleman, that's what kept me going between Tower Bridge and Birdcage Walk, but I couldn't move any faster.

I didn't have too many difficult moments out there this year, but when I needed it, them, Lloydy, all my friends and family and not least the crowd, gave me all the inspiration I needed and ensured the smile on my face masked any tiredness and soreness I was feeling.

Waiting patiently at Horse Guards I spot my gorgeous wife, picking her way through the masses to make her way to me. I head in her direction and as she spots me, she gives me the biggest most beautiful smile, the kinda smile worth running 26.2 miles for! She kisses me which couldn't have been pleasant, and takes my bag from me, telling me how proud she is of me. The walk back through St. James Park to the rest of the Cheer Squad is nothing more than a blur, I'm glad that the marathon is done and I'm sharing the final moments of it with Caz.

When we get back to meet the others Littleman is asleep and I gladly accept hugs, although I'm not quite sure how appreciative they all are of mine in return, I'm honking and my dear wife lets me know that. I read messages I've received most notably from Midds who's spent all morning chasing me around London, and missing me, much like Skipper who arrives just as the hugs are being given out. He'd also been chasing me around London all morning too and had missed me at every cheer point! I guess the training was spot on this year and testament to all those long and lonely miles through the winter months, next year they'll have to up their game! 

So that's the Marathon done (for another year anyway), it's fingers crossed time again that a ballot place will finally come in. I would love to do three years on the bounce and that would also tie in nicely to my training plans for next year and the culmination of my fundraising efforts and the 100 Peaks Challenge in 2017.

That for me is Lloydy's legacy it's a genuine attempt at something quite epic, almost extreme in its ambition. It encompasses three disciplines that are demanding enough on their own, but thrown together in an extreme triathlon, with the logistics of attempting to summit 100 peaks in 4 countries in 25 days, means it's a first. The Challenge target is to raise £100,000.00 for ABF the Soldiers Charity and Support our Paras, if we achieve that, then I know we have created something truly special in Lloydy's name and again something I can share with my son in the years to come.

I think that's a wrap all bar the thank yous of which there are many, I hope I have managed to thank everyone that sent messages, that donated. If I haven't please know I am so very grateful for every bit of support, and I'm humbled by it constantly. I know I've said that already but it's the God's honest truth, I'm very blessed to be able to count so many incredible and inspirational people as friends and family.

ABF the Soldiers Charity, Sophie Coad especially (who sadly is no longer with the Charity and is already sorely missed, especially by those of us she's engendered into this great team). Thank you for affording me the opportunity to pay tribute to Lloydy for the last two years, hopefully you'll have me back for third! And to the members of the team I got to meet and share the experience with, you all made this an extra special experience and I hope to get to do this again with you all.

My amazing friends and family, especially those that formed my cheer squad on the day, sharing the day with you all means everything to me. Words don't sufficiently cover seeing you all at the end, hopefully you're not too bored by the experience of it all, and have another year left in you all (if I get in)! 

My wife and my son, without who, I'd be much less of a man, thank you for always supporting my endeavors, and being my reason to keep 'fighting'. I know you get little benefit out of me putting myself through the training for these events and even more so with what is to come, but you understand completely why I do, and support me regardless, we're almost done I promise! You are my world, and that's as simple as I can say it xxxxx

Big Love to you all xxx

"My world"
And to the man who's example continues to drive me on, my little brother, my pride knows no boundaries when it comes to you, you are and will always be my hero and my inspiration to "go always a little further". Blue skies and big love little brother xxx