2002 London Marathon Race Report

(Apologies if anyone is reading this in the future, specifically September 24, 2013. What’s the future like? Are there flying cars? Is everyone wearing silver jumpsuits?)

Getting to London
Thursday, 11 April 2002 – Friday, 12 April 2002

In order to prevent jet lag, I had this brilliant idea of going to sleep at 7 p.m. on Wednesday night (that’s 1 a.m. London time), waking at 3 a.m. (that’s 9 a.m. in London) and then pretending like it was the beginning of the day, so that when I got on my flight from Detroit to Amsterdam, it’d be “bedtime” and I could fall right asleep.

Well, everything went to plan, except for the “falling right asleep” part. Of course I didn’t sleep on the plane. I never have, and extreme tiredness (not to mention a tylenol pm and half a mini bottle of wine) didn’t guarantee it this time either. Oh well. Actually, that’s not right. I did manage to grab about 90 minutes worth of fitful snoozing. Not helped by the flight attendant coming on the intercom, yelling about someone smoking in the lavatory. They didn’t catch whoever it was, I don’t think.

Anyway, I arrived in Amsterdam at 5:30 a.m., and my flight was to leave for London at 7:30 or so. Now, I’m sure Schipol is nice if a) there’s anything open b) you have euros to spend c) you’ve slept at least a little in the past 24 hours but as none of those applied to me, I found it hellish. And I wasn’t any happier when I found out my flight was delayed a further 2 hours. So I was hungry, tired, and had nothing to read, as I’d already finished all three books I’d brought with me.

Finally, finally, finally, our plane left Amsterdam and I arrived at Stansted. I still had about 2 hours of journey time ahead of me, but the home stretch! Fantastic! Grabbed the bus into London and watched the city go by. God, I love London! Every little bit of it. The suburbs, the parks, the grafitti, the traffic, the high streets, the pedestrians, everything. I get to the hotel, struggle up the steps with my huge suitcase, and nearly get jammed in the too-small revolving door. (Hey, this is a fancy hotel. Why isn’t there an easier way? Bizarre.) A bellhop takes my suitcase, and I check in. Get my key, go upstairs. Chris and Rebecca and Julie are already there. Okay, so I’m 3 hours late. They don’t mind. I take a shower (whew! I stunk!) and Chris and I head out to the expo.

We take the train to the expo. I point out some of the sights to Chris, and we see some of the race course. The expo is huge. We get our numbers and chips and are disappointed to note that we haven’t gotten a free t-shirt. What’s up with that? But we stop at the huge merchandise area, and I buy two t-shirts and a Flora London Marathon pint glass. (God, I love England. I must’ve missed the marathon-themed cigarettes, but surely they were there somewhere.)

We head down to the main area of the expo, and wander around a bit. We buy some Lucozade Sport so we can try it out, if not in training, at least we’ll know what it tastes like. Very sweet, as it happens. They’re also giving out samples of different flavors. The mixed berry flavor is quite nice, but unfortunately, it’s the orange they’ll be giving out at the race. We see the Runner’s World booth, and the Penguin was there. I was excited about that, but too nervous to say anything. We picked up an information sheet about the “Get you around” pacer (the Penguin, as it happened) but the time for that group was 5:30, a bit faster than my anticipated pace. No matter.

We only stayed at the expo for a little while. We were both tired and jetlagged, and a bit punch-drunk, so we left. On the way back, I decided we should get out of the tube at Westminster, so I could see Big Ben. It’s my favorite symbol of London, and I wanted Chris to see it. We wandered around that area a bit, and caught a bus back to Victoria. I couldn’t help peeking into the Waterstone’s in Trafalgar Square, but I paced myself – didn’t buy any books that day. Although I really wanted to.

Made it back to the hotel, where Chris and I soaked our feet and rested our weary legs. A little while later, we headed off to another hotel for our tour company’s welcome reception. Although it was only a maybe 10 minute walk there, I got us lost and it took closer to thirty. Ah well, at least we got to see Buckingham Palace and the finish line. So we found the reception, and got a glass of wine and basically stood in the middle of the room, awkwardly. We’re both sort of shy, so we decided to wait until someone came and talked to us. Fortunately, someone did, a woman named Pam (“I like your name,” she said. We had nametags on.) from Minneapolis. She was very friendly, and was with a group who had done the Paris Marathon the week before. Crazy!

After attempting to look friendly after Pam left, but not reeling in any more people, we decided to leave, and head back to the hotel. One would assume since we got so lost getting there, that we’d be more careful heading back. But no, this time I got us even more lost. God only knows where we went, but we got a nice little tour of Victoria and its surrounding areas. Marianne met us at the hotel, and the five of us went to have fish and chips at a pub where Anne used to work. After dinner, we exhaustedly made our way back to the hotel, where Marianne and I caught a cab back to Islington. Best Β£10 I ever spent. But before we got in the cab, we were chatted up by some smooth East End gangster-types. Maybe I watch too many movies. Our cabdriver, as it turned out, ran the marathon himself eleven years ago. He gave me a few tips but said he’d never do it again. Very reassuring. One of the things I love about London is the cabdrivers. You never know what you’ll end up in an in-depth conversation about.

Made it to Marianne’s flat. Very nice. She shares a house with three other trainee lawyers, and I had my own room and half-bathroom. After making small talk with one of Marianne’s flatmates, who was also running the marathon, I went to sleep and slept for a good twelve hours. Zzzzzzz….nice!

In and around London
Saturday, 13 April 2002

I woke up on Saturday morning refreshed. Marianne and I made our way to the hotel, where we were going to meet the rest of the group for an open-topped bus tour. Michael, Marianne’s boyfriend, met us at the hotel and we set off for the bus stop. Got our tickets, and though it was cold and overcast, we sat on the top level. Well, you have to, don’t you? You can’t take an open-topped bus tour and sit on the bottom! So, freezing, we made our way around the tourist areas of London. Much of the tour went along or near the marathon route, so that gave Chris a chance to see parts of the city that’s we’d “tour” on Sunday.

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When the cold got to be unbearable, we got off for lunch. Had bangers and mash (my absolute favorite British dish and perfect for such a day) at a warm pub on the south bank of the river. I was getting nervous because we were meeting some people for dinner that evening, and I always get nervous meeting new people. Not that they were new, really. It was Mike and Ian and Uli (and their respective partners), other runners who also had websites about their training, and we’d been swapping tips and stories for months, throughout our training. I was excited to be meeting them after all this time, but still nervous.

After lunch, we got back on the bus, and froze again until we got to Embankment, where we disembarked to go on a river cruise. I’d never done that before. It was fun, we went all the way to Tower Bridge and back. Nice to see the city from a different perspective. Plus, it was warm inside the boat. πŸ™‚ After we were nicely thawed, we got back on the bus, with the plan to ride up to Marble Arch and walk down Oxford Street to the restaurant where we had dinner reservations. We got a waylayed at Trafalgar Square, where there was a huge (but thankfully peaceful) Palestinian demonstration.

At a hotel giftshop near Marble Arch (one of the areas, incidentally, where Marianne, Kristina, Anne and I lived for a while) Marianne bought me a London Underground game. A “running the marathon” present. Tee hee! I love the Underground. We played it later that night. πŸ™‚

We made our way down Oxford Street (foot traffic, miraculously, wasn’t too bad for a Saturday afternoon) to Regent Street and went in Hamleys, a huge toy store where Chris and Rebecca bought a gift for a friend’s baby. We almost lost some of the group in there, off playing with the toys.

We got to the restaurant at 5:00 on the dot, and Ian and his wife, Jacqui and Mike and his wife Ruth and his son Thomas were already there. I made Chris walk in first. πŸ™‚ Everyone was, of course, really nice, and soon Vicky and her husband showed up, as well as Uli and his partner and another pair of runners, whose names I never caught. (Well, they were at the other end of the table.) Everyone got along well, even though the runners were all pretty nervous. Vicky wasn’t running the marathon, but she had done the Dublin Marathon, so she was able to give us first-time marathoners some advice.

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Yummy food was eaten, but wine was not. Too bad, it smelled really good. I’m not even a big wine drinker, I guess it’s only because I couldn’t have any. Ha ha. So after a few hours of chatting, eating, and having a grand old time, we all headed off, back to our respective beds to get ready for the big day ahead of us.

The Big Day. The Race. 26.2 Miles.
Sunday, 14 April 2002

After tossing and turning for several hours the night before, I finally managed to sleep for about two hours, before my alarm went off at the ungodly hour of 5:00 a.m. I needed to be at Chris’s hotel at 6:30 so we could get on the bus to the start that was arranged by our tour agency. So I showered, attempted to eat some toast, had some tea, and set off for the rather long walk to the tube station. I got mildly lost on the way, which panicked me slightly, but that was nothing compared to the shock I received when I finally did get there.

There were no Underground trains running until 6:59 a.m.

What did I do? Panicked, of course! Tried to find a taxi. No luck. Looked for a bus. No luck. They didn’t start running until 7:00. Finally, I got myself together enough to find a phone box and call Chris (naturally, I didn’t have the number with me, so I had to call information first. All this is making me panic even more.) I got through to him, and he assured me that we had plenty of time to take the train to Greenwich with all of the other runners. Besides, he reasoned, it’d be more in the spirit of things to have to go alongside everyone else. Good point. While I was waiting for the Underground station to open, another runner came by and talked to me. He seemed calm enough, which helped.

Finally, I made it to the hotel and met up with Chris. We got on the tube, and made our way to Waterloo to get on the train to Greenwich. There were tons of runners (duh) and we had to wait for the second train that came by to get on. A good idea, since we actually got to sit.

When we made it to the Greenwich station, we followed the mass of people and the signs to the red start. I’m not exactly sure what the significance of the different starts was, but I think overseas runners and charity runners were at the red start. Immediately we got in line for the bathroom, with about 50 minutes until the race was to start. Naturally, Chris, being a boy, was done in about 5 minutes, but I had to wait about half an hour. After that was taken care of, I put my number on and got my stuff together while Chris went again. That boy has the bladder the size of a pea, as we’ll see later. So then we dropped our kit bags off at the baggage truck and got back in line for the bathroom. This time, we only had about 10 minutes until the race started, and we barely made it in time to jog to the correct pen.

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There was a moment of silence for the Queen Mum, and then the starting noisy thing (I don’t know what it was) went off to signal the start. Woo hoo!

Naturally, there wasn’t any movement, just a slow walk, for a while. We checked out the costumes around us, including my favorites, Tick and Tock. They were two wristwatches (Timex, as it turned out) who were clearly not too hindered by their costumes, as we didn’t see then again for the rest of the day. Sometime around now, we were caught on camera by the BBC. Michael taped it for us and Marianne and I watched it later. Woo hoo! Good thing we wore those orange shirts!

So approximately 17 minutes after the gun went off, we crossed the start line. There were crowds lining either side of the road, and the huge smile that resulted didn’t leave my face for the next, oh, 24 miles or so.

The costumes we saw at the beginning were incredible. Rhinos, a huge cell-phone (who, judging by the shouts at the start, probably had to endure five plus hours of “ring ring” and “hey, turn that off and run!”), a red telephone named Dave (who we were with the whole time), a snail named Brian, Superman, two Batmans and Robins, a big furry creature called, I think, a Womble, some Teletubbies with buckets of money on their backs, and lots of others.

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It didn’t take too long for the crowds to thin out. Or, shall I say, for them to leave us behind. At around mile three, the Penguin’s 5:30 pacer group passed us. We were going to keep with them, but their walk breaks were at odds with ours. Plus, as I said before, they were going faster than us. Sigh. Anyway, I think it was better that we were at the back of the pack, because there really weren’t that many of us, relatively speaking. Therefore, we always heard our names being yelled. It was fantastic. There were little kids lining the routes, wanting us to slap their hands as we ran by. We obliged as much as we could.

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I sincerely thought that I’d remember every little thing about the race, every mile, but let’s face it, the first 8 miles or so really just blended together. Actually, the first 14. Make that 24. Well, I remember snippets of things, which I wrote down right after the race. I don’t necessarily remember when they happened, but I’ll try…

But first, the splits:

Mile 1: 12:21.57
Mile 2: 13:54.71
Mile 3: 13:24.54
Mile 4: 12:36.50
Mile 5: 12:33.37
Mile 6: 13:14.15
Mile 7: 16:57.12 (ahh, that’d be Chris’s first bathroom break)
Mile 8: 12:35.67
Mile 9: 12:40.16
Mile 10: 13:03.55
Mile 11: 15:17.70 (ahh, that’d be the second!)
Mile 12: 13:01.12
Mile 13: 13:04.87
Halfway:
Mile 14: 12:18.53
Mile 15: 13:24.79
Mile 16: 15:49.15 (bathroom break again, plus I forgot to hit my split button, as you can see from Mile 17. At this point, we decided it’d be wiser for me to walk on ahead while Chris used the bathroom, and then he’d run and catch up with me. That way, we didn’t lose as much time.)
Mile 17: 11:45.79
Mile 18: 14:02.31 (couldn’t possibly be another bathroom break could it? very possibly)
Mile 19: 17:01.50 (excrutiating blister popped. see below for story)
Mile 20: 14:20.48 (Had to walk because of the blister.)
Mile 21: 13:43.73
Mile 22: 12:47.31 (woah. speed demons!)
Mile 23: 14:38.24 (I think this was the cobblestones. I’ll have to check the map. Or a bathroom break.)
Mile 24: 13:28.77
Mile 25: 13:35.50 (digging deep. concentrating. sobbing.)
Mile 26.2: 15:57.01 Finished!!!

Total time: 5:57:38 by my watch, 5:57:36 chip time. Fantastic!

Splits as recorded by chip:
KM10: 0:00:00 (I didn’t think it beeped as we ran over it. Hmmm)
KM20: 2:47:37
HALF: 2:55:59 Ê
KM30: 4:14:49
KM40: 5:40:00 Ê
FINISH: 5:57:36

So that means the average mile time for the first half was 13:26.1, and for the second half: 13:51.2 for the second half. Not bad. But positive splits. Curses to the blister! I’ll blame that.

My memories of the race, not necessarily in order:

– After about seven or eight miles, another runner on her cell phone informed us that Paula Radcliffe had won, and that the world record had been set. Hmmm…that makes two races Chris and I had run in where world records had been set. I’ll bet we were the only two people there that were at both the Crescent City Classic and the London Marathon. Hmmm. Perhaps I should look into this, hire myself out as a good luck charm or something.

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– Marianne, Michael, Rebecca, and Julie planned to see us at miles 14 and 21. These points in the course were only a five minute walk apart (for them!) and they were going to hang out with Vicky from dinner. (I don’t think they found her. I think her friends passed by much earlier.) Anyway, we saw them at mile 14. Along with those guys was one of Marianne’s flatmates and her boyfriend and a couple of his friends. They were stationed outside of a pub (naturally) and boy, did they yell when we ran by! We had planned to stop and take a picture with them and say hello, but their yelling spurred us on to run by, victoriously, instead. It was a great feeling to see them, and that pumped us up for a few miles.

– There was a couple from New Zealand, Polly and Ron, who we stuck with for much of the race. And Dave the Telephone. And Brian the Snail. And Superman. We had our own little crowd.

– They gave out sponges intermittently, but they were always gone by the time we got there. We never got a sponge. Ah well. There were mist showers to run through a few times, though. That was nice and very refreshing. Especially since my quads were burning, the cool water really helped. It was actually much warmer that I’d expected. I never felt overheated or anything, but never cold either. The sun was out at the beginning of the race, which was nice, but there was cloud cover for most of the race, which is even better.

– I took a total of 6 gels throughout the race, and one packet of electrolytes. I usually took some of the Lucozade if there was any, and drank a little of it. I never had any stomach problems or anything. No dehydration, nothing. Chris, on the other hand, insisted that it was the Lucozade that made him have to pee five (that’s right FIVE) times during the race (compare that to my ONE, thank you) but he nevertheless picked up a packet of it every time it was offered. Men. Sheesh. And then had to pee five minutes later. (I should say, though, this didn’t bother me at all. In fact, I secretly looked forward to Chris’s bathroom breaks so I could walk extra.)

– Sometime after we passed the mile 18 line, Chris and I were running along, and I felt a very distinct “pop” in my left shoe. Sure enough, one of the blisters that I had picked up while walking around in the days before decided to commit suicide inside my shoe. Blech. It was the most disgusting feeling, and immediately, I was in excrutiating pain. Fortunately, immediately beside us were some (as you can see, very friendly) paramedics. They sat me down and took care of me (well, but a bandage on my toe, what else could they do? Chopping off the toe seemed like a good option to me at the time) and I was really, really worried that I’d either have to give up (no question) or limp to the finish line. Fortunately, I was able to ignore the pain after a little while, and soon enough, it went away completely. Who knows how. I was expecting to take my shoes off afterwards and find a lake of blood inside my shoe, but there was never any. Whew! I hate blood!

– When we got to the infamous cobbles at mile 23, the carpet was gone! Apparently, they lay down a carpet to shield you from the cobblestones in front of the Tower of London. By the time we got there, it was rolled up and off to the side. I thought that was appalling. The fact that many of the water stops were out of water, that I could understand. At least it was only every other water stop. But the fact that they rolled up the carpets and just put them off to the side really made me mad. Why would they do this? Mean. We had to walk through much of this stage, because running on the uneven stones would have either meant hurting my blister or tripping. Either one would be bad. There was also a part at this stage of the race where there were more tourists around than runners, and we had to dodge them. It was like a dream I had before the race, where I lost my way. I literally could not tell for a little bit of time where the race went. Found it eventually. πŸ˜›

– I don’t know if Starburst (formerly Opal Fruits in the UK) had some minor sponsorship going on, but almost every piece of candy that was given out throughout the race (and there was a lot) was Starburst. Strange. But good. I also got some gum drops at one point and a mini Mars bar later on. Yum.

– At mile 20 or so, there was a tunnel to go through. At the entrance to the tunnel, there was a huge sign that looked like a brick wall (surrounding the tunnel) that said “What Wall?” Indeed. We never hit the wall. Amazingly enough. I loved that sign.

– Sometime around mile 15, we met Superman. He was running his 209th marathon, and he’d raised over Β£26,000 for charity. Wow.

– We took two minute walking breaks every mile. And sometimes on the uphills. But we made up for it on the downhills. Who said London was flat? Liar! It was most certainly not flat. Okay, I’m sure compared to other courses it’s flat, but to just say it’s flat, well, that’s not true. To be fair, none of the uphills were steep, but it was definitely a gently rolling course. That didn’t upset me too much, I liked the downhills. Everytime we got to a downhill, I’d hear Cilla telling me about the runners who do everything to maintain an even pace, even though that means slowing down on the downhills. Nutty! So I took her advice and cruised down those downhills, enjoying the speed.

The Finish

Throughout the race, I smiled. It was hard not to, with all of the cheering, the spectators, our names being yelled out. But I was a little concerned about the emotion, or lack thereof. I just wasn’t feeling any strong emotions. Fortunately (for my mental well-being) around mile 24-25, Big Ben came looming ahead of us. At this stage, I was already feeling tired. For the last mile or so, I’d been digging down deep to keep going. It wasn’t that I’d hit the wall or anything, I just needed to concentrate. So I’d pick a spot about 10 feet in front of me, run to it, pick another one, and on and on. It worked really well for me, even though I had to tune out the crowds and Chris, who uses an altogether more vocal method to keep himself going. Nothing wrong with that, it didn’t annoy me or anything, just a different style. So when Big Ben came up in front of us, and I was cruising along comfortably, I lost it. Not badly, but it hit me where we were, and how far we’d come, and I started gasping. If I hadn’t been running, I’d have been crying. Sobbing. But it’s hard to breathe and run and cry at the same time. So I just gasped and tried to keep myself together so I wouldn’t have to stop. It was all very happy and emotional, and my frown was one of pure joy. Snot was running down my face, too, but what could I do?

After we turned the corner heading up towards Buckingham Palace, I stopped sobbing. I was able to enjoy the crowds again. I passed someone I recognized (well, his name, anyway, from his website) but didn’t want to stop and say hello. As we ran down Birdcage Walk, along St. James’s Park, the crowds got thicker. There was a sign ahead that said “800 meters to go.” Hmmm. That seemed reasonable, until I realized that’s half a mile. Not that half a mile is far normally, but at the end of a marathon, it’s an eternity. And because I wanted to be able to run strong at the finish, I told Chris I wanted to walk a little, so that when we turned the corner on to the Mall at Buckingham Palace, we’d be running. So he obliged.

Then we took it home. We missed our group of spectators at mile 21, probably because of my blister, so we were hoping they made it to the finish.

Didn’t see them, didn’t see them, didn’t see them…oh there they were, at the very end, on the left side! Screaming our names, videotaping, taking photos. Unfortunately, I was overcome once more by tears at this last stretch, so that’s all caught on video.

As we crossed the finish line, Chris and I grabbed each other’s hand and raised it high in the air. And smiled.

After we crossed the finish line, a medal was placed around our neck. Our chips were removed. And a photographer took a picture of us. We got our silver blankets and goody bags. T-shirts! Yay! So the London Marathon came through with free (?) shirts, after all. Goody bags were fun. Apple, sandwich, fruit bar, Lucozade Sport (no thanks, never again!) and some other stuff.

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Chris and I went to the Overseas Repatriation area and waited for everyone. They showed up after a few minutes and Marianne broke out the champagne she’d brought. Yay! We hugged everyone and they told us that they’d nearly missed us. They only made it to the finish line literally two minutes before we turned the corner. Whew!

Exhaustedly, we dragged ourselves back to the hotel, where Chris and I soaked our legs in a tub full of cold water and Epson salts. And then we showered. I called my mom and Kristina.

Then we headed to a pub near our old flat in Kensington and had a pint there. I was barely able to drink it, I was feeling pretty out of it, so we went to the Indian restaurant next door and got a table full of food and refueled. Yummy! I only wish I hadn’t been feeling so weird, because I wasn’t able to enjoy my lamb pasanda as much as I usually would. Mmmmm. Love curry.

After dinner, made it back to Marianne’s (no idea how) and went to sleep. Slept like the dead. Wonderful.

The aftermath…

Sore on Monday. Stairs difficult. No black toenails, thank goodness. Blisters on right toes. Make left leg sore. Ah well. All is gone by today, Thursday.

Thinking…maybe again next year? yeah!

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