Race Report: 2018 London Marathon
I’ve always been a fan of the Race Reports on the ARTC sub-Reddit so I decided to take a couple moments to dump out my thoughts on how I fared at the London Marathon. I’m not an elite and nowhere near it so it might not be of interest to too many people but I’m grateful for anyone who reached out with good luck messages or congrats before and after the race. As Frank Shorter once said, “You have to forget your last marathon before you try another.” So this has been an exercise that I’ve done before.
April 22, 2018
Set a new personal best and run sub-3:37.
After running Berlin and New York eight weeks apart in the fall, I decided to take a nice two-week break before re-focusing on marathon training for London. I started doing some Tuesday night speed workouts with the Brooklyn Track Club under coach Steve Finley (former OTC Elite runner back in the day) just to stay a little sharp at shorter distances. During the “indoor season”, I decided to hop in a 600 and mile for fun but my training still was building up for London. Working out in New York City can sometimes be tough in the winter time but I wasn’t unfamiliar with marathon training in the cold. In 2016, I was preparing for the Boston Marathon and was blessed with an unusually warm winter. This winter wasn’t too bad so I was able to get out for 16 to 18 mile runs regularly. I’ll admit that training was more consistent ahead of Berlin because it is easier to get out the door in the summer. However, workouts were faster ahead of London. The confidence booster was being just 13-seconds off my personal best at the NYC Half because it was much faster (and on a tougher course) than my half before the Berlin Marathon. My 20-miler in March was also a big boost as well. I definitely felt fit and ready to rip in London.
I arrived in London on Friday, picked up my bib and did some sightseeing with two of my college buddies who tagged along for vacation and support. I went out for an easy 30-minute shakeout run on Saturday, which was a great decision because my legs were definitely needed to wake up from the travel. The shakeout also reminded me that allergy season was in full effect so I took medication to squash any symptoms. A lot of the pre-race talk surrounding the race was centered on the hot conditions. It was projected to be around 75°F for the race and an advisory email was sent to all the participants. I wasn’t freaking out much because I’d fared pretty well in the warm 2016 Boston Marathon, which had similar conditions. I was super calm and relaxed even on the train ride to the starting line. ‘Record-setting heat? It can’t be that bad,’ is what I kept thinking.
I arrived in Blackheath at about 7:30 a.m. and the race didn’t start until 10 a.m. so I had a lot of time to kill and no friends chat it up with! Before the New York City Marathon, me and my best friend Pete Cashin joked around from 6 a.m. to the start. I was surprised when I got a text from him while I was chilling in one of the changing area tents. He cracked a joke about the 69°F “PR weather” conditions projected for noon in London and then said “Well, the lights are coming on at the bar.” I was gearing up to run 26.2 miles and they were finishing up their beers. It’s amazing how time zones work.
And then, it was race time.
I started with the second wave of runners at 10:15 and actually didn’t have to weave through too many runners who may be going at a slower pace. Usually, I’d be a little upset about getting passed by some costume runners but I knew the London Marathon usually has some impressive Guinness Book of World Record results from people in superhero and other obscure costumes. I passed Paddington Bear in the first mile and said a little prayer for the person in that costume who had a long way to go.
London’s course is flat and my plan going into the race was to cross the half marathon mark anywhere from 1:42 to 1:45 pace. It felt easy…too easy. It was warm and by the second mile, I decided to take precaution by starting to douse myself in water to keep cool. I knew I wouldn’t be skipping many or any water stations today.
My college roommates were tasked with handing me pre-prepared bottles with Maurten drink mix along the course. The night before the race, we mapped out points after 10K, 20K and 30K where I’d be able to snatch them and drink. Well…I didn’t realize how popular London would be for spectators so I was unable to spot them at 10K and missed the first exchange. Called an audible and fueled up with the sports drink available on the course. Didn’t panic because this also happened in Berlin. Luckily, I spotted leftover elite bottles from the corner of my eye around the 10-mile mark and snatched one that belonged to 2015 world champion Ghirmay Ghebreslassie. I felt better but the heat started getting tougher to handle.
Tower Bridge was electric and it’s probably the loudest point in the race. From watching the race over the years, I knew I was almost at the halfway point and I was still under 3:35 pace. The most exciting part came shortly thereafter. I had Twitter alerts set to my watch for some people that I knew would be live-tweeting the elite race so occasionally I’d sneak a peek to try and learn what was going up ahead of me. I think it’s a nice way to get my mind off my current state. I knew Kipchoge hit halfway at 61:00 but there’s a point along the course in Shadwell (after the half) where you can see the elite race passing 35K. I veered over to the left to get as close as possible when the leaders came through. Kipchoge looked so strong and just one other runner was left on his heels. I was psyched up and even picked up my own pace. A few seconds later, Mo Farah passed in third place which was also cool to see.
I still had another 15K to go before I could get to their point so I got back into my respective race pace. All was going well until the 17-mile mark. It started feeling really hot. I managed to snag my second bottle from my friends and tried maintaining my one-minute lead on 3:35 pace but the slowing started.
By mile 20, I came to terms that maybe I was a little ambitious with the first half and the weather conditions may not be conducive to a personal best.
Callum Hawkins and the scary collapse at the Commonwealth Games started seeping into my conscious when I noticed how bad people were struggling around me. I was right there with them. I also thought about the Boston Marathon and how strong every finisher was in that monsoon. I had several friends who braved the cold, hail and rain so a little bit a heat wasn’t the worst thing.
Then again…dropping out also sounded nice. It was mentioned to me several times throughout Boston Marathon weekend that one of the worst things about marathon training is that you can put months of hard work and then be dealt bad weather conditions on race day, which makes you question why you spent all that time on training in the first place. I cast aside the DNF thoughts by reminding myself that one of my goals is to complete every World Marathon Major. Dropping out of London meant I’d have to come back across the pond at another point and do it all over again. I needed to get to that finish line no matter what.
There was a point before the 24-mile mark where I was practically shuffling in place and I was joined by a runner named Jaime (I know this because it was on his shirt). He was disappointed in his race as well because he was shooting for sub-three hours. He was in the first wave of runners and it was looking like he was going to be over four hours on the day. I told him that unless I could pop a three-minute two-mile then I was also missing my goal of a personal best. We jogged together for a short amount before he had to stop to walk. It was at the same point where Tirunesh Dibaba had to walk in her 2:17 the year before, so even the best have their moments in that stretch.
Ever since the 2014 New York City Marathon (where I suffered a quad strain 16 miles into the race) I’ve been cautious about quad cramping in the late stages of the race. It briefly happened at 35K in Berlin but I was able to push through and still run all the way to the finish. Just before 40K, I was ready to celebrate no quad cramping and push to the end. Then my legs gave out.
Both calves simultaneously cramped up and I fell to the ground. The 40K timing mat was in sight. Luckily, I was running along the right side of the course and was able to hold onto one of the metal barricades in front of fans. I tried pulling myself up but my marathon training didn’t consist of too much lifting and it wasn’t happening. I was on the ground and just a few meters behind me a woman was being put into a wheelchair. Her day was over. I started thinking, ‘Oh no! They’re coming for me next! Get up! Get up!’ Telling myself was one thing but doing it was another.
Then two heroes from the Run Dem Crew in London picked me up and said, ‘C’mon, man. Let’s get you to the end.’ They put my arms around them and helped me get moving again. One of them started talking to me about St. James. I went to Catholic school from pre-K to college but I had no clue what he was saying. It stuck with me and I later read up on St. James the Greater as one of the patron saints of healing. The Bible tells a story about James being led outside of Jerusalem for execution when he passed a man on the side of the road asking to be cured of his crippling arthritis. James blessed him and the man was able to stand and ran to the temple to give thanks to God. To this day, I don’t know the names of the two members of Run Dem Crew who saved my race but they were able to get me off the ground and I was able to start running (slowly) again.
In that final stretch before the turn at Big Ben, I heard cheers for “Let’s go Chris!” and “You got this, Chris!” I thought I was hearing things but it was because a charity runner was on my left and his singlet read “Chris” so I told him I’d run next to him to feed off his energy from the crowd. He didn’t speak English and so he didn’t say a word back. I was feeling OK enough knowing that I was going to finish this damn race.
I made the final turn on the mall and Buckingham Palace was behind me. I looked at my watch and knew if I had a final sprint, I could dip under four hours but it would be super close. I emptied the tank in that last 200 meters but then I had one last calf cramp maybe five meters from the finish. I grimaced through the pain and ended up crab-walking it into the finish line for maybe the worst finish line photo I’ve ever had. I stopped my watch after crossing the finish line and it said I was at 4:00:09 so I was a little disheartened that I may have gone over by just seconds.
Two medics propped me up after the finish line. One of them said to me, “You know what you just did?” I replied, “Something like four hours on the nose?” He asked the question again. I replied with “Not my personal best.” After asking a third time, he didn’t wait for me to respond and said “You just ran the London Marathon. You should be proud of yourself.” Ehh…I was happy to be done but disappointed to have made such a long trip for an underwhelming performance.
I spotted our very own Jason Suarez perched atop the photographer’s bridge. I called him down and told him I needed a big hug. He was there for me at the finish line of the Berlin Marathon and gave me one of the biggest hugs after a personal best. I said to him, “Get over here, man! I ran that last mile thinking about that hug.” It didn’t disappoint.
I walked over to my get my bag and texted my coach, Mr. Dormer, about the disappointment. I came clean and said I ran the first half like an idiot. He replied, “Still proud of you dumbass.”
With just 5% battery left on my phone, I decided to check my unofficial result: 3:59:48 – not my best and not my worst. Given the weather conditions and the struggles at 40K, I’ll take it. My quest for another personal best will have to wait until next February. I have one last Abbott World Marathon Major left on the checklist and I’ll start training for the Tokyo Marathon in the late fall. After Berlin, New York and London in a span of seven months, I’m ready for a break from marathon training and focus on some shorter distances – starting with this weekend. I’ll be running the Redhook Brooklyn Crit 5K on Saturday. I’ll do the Brooklyn Half Marathon next month.
But my new goal will be to break five minutes for the mile. Middle school and high school kids do this with ease all the time but I’ve never done it! Running for me has always been about setting a goal and doing my best to accomplish it so we’ll take a 10-month break from the marathon to explore speed. I’m excited.