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Marathon 2003 -
11/04/03 friday: Leaving but arriving home
Being this my 4th London-Marathon it is time for a few words about my love affair with Britain. More than once I wondered why I always feel like coming home when crossing the Channel towards the white cliffs of Dover. I just feel good being in UK. I think it is the british way of life as a whole: cream tea, considerately driving on the proper side of the road, roundabouts, the countryside and the National Trust, a pint of bitter in the pub, the vegetarian option on the menu, bed and breakfast, hillpaths without any signposts, football stadiums without fences, supermarkets with a perfect service, mountains without cabelcars, parks by Capability Brown ... There is much more I could come up with (carrot cake for instance), above all: Britain is different.
Once more we are lucky to stay at the borough's guesthouse of our twin town Barking and Dagenham. We even get the same quiet room as last year. Immediately we leave to go to the exhibition at London Arena. My worries about obtaining my number are blowed over rapidly. I didn't receive the final package by the organisers but by showing the first confirmation I got by december's mail I now receive the longed-for red number 35080 without any problems. There is not even a queue.
Enough time left for a relaxed shopping tour around the exhibition. Same procedure as every year - I can't prevent buying frenzy confronted with all this cool running stuff. 3 shirts, 2 shorts and a cap go into the plastic bags. That I finally forgot to pack all this into the suitcase when departing for home that's another story ... Before leaving the Arena I grasp a couple of Lucozade drinks to prepare my stomach for the upcoming sugar attack during the race. In vain we look for the stall of action photo to order the photos to be sent overseas.
Suddenly it is 8pm and no more time for travelling around the capital. We stay at the Isle of Dogs and after a stroll along the promenade at the Thames we find the recommendable Cafe Rouge near Canary Wharf to enjoy more pasta.
12/04/03 saturday: A day among friends - non-runners and runners
After an extensive english breakfast (certainly the vegetarian version, british sausages are not on my list of personal favourites) culture is today's programme. Together with friends from our twin town we have a look at Eastbury Manor House, which dates back to Elizabethian Times. It is now owned by the National Trust and managed by the Borough. Except for 3 employees the whole staff is provided by volunteers. Our guide Maurice is very enthusiastic to show the house to the group of visitors and it is a great pleasure to listen to him. However, for us it is difficult to catch all the interesting information he has to tell because of his original East London accent. The tour is followed by tea in the cafe garden and we keep sitting and chatting in the sun until afternoon.
Our small pre race pasta party is going to take place in Notting Hill. There is time to have a look around the place. A trade mark of the borough are the large private parks with beautiful old trees between the blocks of houses. Unfortunately they are fenced and locked to keep out the prowling tourists. Coincidentally we come across Portobello Road where the market is just about to close.
At the italian restaurant Casa Frattini we meet Rudi from Austria and his family, Arndt from Germany and the marathon novice Enno, who lives at Notting Hill currently. According to best masochistic tradition of long distance runners all kinds of possible or impossible horror settings of tomorrow's marathon are acted out. While the old stagers keep to asceticism Enno self-confidently strengthens himself for the next day by drinking red wine and a Fernet Branca.
Unfortunately the restaurant appears to be rather small and fully booked. When Martin and his family show up they can't find a place to sit. Some minutes later I am very happy to see Charlotte and her husband Steve popping by to say hello to us. It is a great pity they can't stay longer.
all photos taken by myself
into the warmth,
Early at Barking station, at 7.15 am, the runners are not to be ignored. While changing trains twice I am followed by two ladies who are unsure about the route. Debbie runs her 2nd London, she is wearing a Whizz-Kidz-cap. In our cabin the numbers of participation are compared. With the 4th race today I am a midfield runner, the top chap has 12 in the box.
From Greenwich Station onwards our way is marked very well. Additionally there are helpers at every corner. Arrived at red start meadow, after a first visit to the portaloo certainly, I stroll around the place to take some photos. You can see the result published here.
Even at the start the full range of drinks is provided, Vittel water, Lucozade energy drinks, tea and coffee. Just the queues at the portaloos become longer and longer. For my final pee therefore I prefer the park's fence. Finding my place in the men's row I am slightly astonished to see the ladies sitting in between like naturally. Emancipation has even overcome physical handicaps nowadays.
The sky is cloudless. Although it is still rather chilly, a warm day is to be expected. In the nick of time I change my shirt for a sleeveless one. Just 15 minutes before the start gun I move into my pen number 3 where 3:30 runners gather. It is not really crowded and I have no problem to weave inconspicously forward to the front of the pen. Finally I find myself standing beside a club runner from Berlin. He is 70 years old and as enthusiastic about the London-Marathon as I am. He even beats me, it is his 5th London in a row.
After an amazingly short time, 40 seconds, I cross the chip mats at the start line. That's a record. And right from the beginning I can pick up my speed. With 7:28 clocked for the first mile my start was even too fast.
The Vittel water station at mile 4 is managed by Dagenham 88 Runners. Here Angelika is working as a volunteer. As we arranged she is passing out the bottles from the left side of the road. It is a nice moment as I manage to get a bottle from her. Later she shows her hands which are decorated by open blisters. The Dagenham Runners had 40.000 plastic bottles of Vittel water at their station. And every bottle had to be opened manually by the less than 30 helpers. That counts up to more than 1000 bottles per person! But Angelika insisted that the job was great fun.
I didn't plan to drink so early in the race. However as it is already very warm I am soaked with sweat after the first couple of miles. In this early stage I already feel that this is not the day to establish a record.
In Greenwich I try to count how many spectators there are. The crowd is really standing in 6 rows at both sides. And people make a noise like hell. Later it gets a bit quieter but never without spectators. Many of the runners use the provided shower tunnel to cool down a bit. Always when live music is around, and that happens fairly often, I have to concentrate not to speed up too much.
It seems to take long to reach Tower Bridge, but finally there comes mile 12 and there it is. The 20K-mark is right on the bridge. I would love to slow down for a while to take in the atmosphere. But I have to remind me that this should become a PB today. So I just set up a bright continuous smile and concentrate on placing myself properly for the photo which always is taken at the end of bridge. Successfully as you can see here.
The clock at halfway point shows 1:40:57. I am still well within my time schedule but I already doubt I can keep the pace. Somehow running is hard work today.
The helicopters are approaching. Beneath them the elite men fly by on the other side of the road just a few yards beside us. We give them a cheer and a big shout across the fence.
Entering the Isle of Dogs there is actually a quarter of a mile without any spectators. Though the best is to come. Canary Wharf was a popular place in recent years but this time the crowd is incredible! I even get cheered up in german ("Uli, mach weiter"). What means: Uli, carry on. Is it already obvious how I feel now?
The turning point down in Docklands gives some mental help. I pass the 30K-mark: 2:24 is the time, which lets 1 hour for the final 12K. This is 5 min per K or 8 min per mile. I know that I can't keep the needed speed any more.
Tunnel 1 at the end of the Docklands. In recent years it provided a pitstop for many. But today even here spectators are standing at both sides of the route. Every step is aching now. Mile number 20 appears to be my first one slower than 8 minutes. No faster one was to follow. A german runner is approaching from behind and commends my website (I have placed an advert on my back). Thanks and sorry, it is not the moment for small talk now.
Legs cramp, though the brain is clear
At the following water station I try to walk while drinking. Immediately both thighs start to cramp. Scared I instantly take up my (slow) speed again.
Tunnel 2 near Blackfriars Bridge. From now on the crowd is shouting at you continously. I am close to being annoyed by the non-stop roar. On the other hand I should appreciate the support now as I need it badly.
Mile 24: A cramp in the back part of my right thigh comes up. The heavy sweating is affecting now. But I can't imagine to drink more than today. Additionally I pour the water over my head, use the provided sponges and shower tunnels. I stop at the left side of the road to stretch the leg. Not enough. Same again. The support by the crowd is enormous. The sign on my chest showing my name is helping a lot now.
Mile 25: Another cramp in my left thigh. Another stop and stretch. Luckily this is the last stop I have to take.
Strangely I accept this little disaster fairly unemotional. I don't think about the time anymore. I just want to reach the finish in style. Once you have turned right at Big Ben you will make it, no doubt. Over the final mile I try to look around and take in the atmosphere as far as I am able to do so.
My watch shows 3:31:30 when crossing the chip mat at the finish. Two minutes missing to a new PB. But I am not in the mood to be disappointed. I just enjoy the moment of arriving, pose for the medal photo and thank every helper I come across.
It is weird, I have felt worse after former races. So it cannot have been that bad. Later on TV I watch Mouziz getting sick several times during the final spurt. Compared to him I felt fairly good.
There are a number of nice moments during the London Marathon. One of the nicest is when sitting on the meadow in St.-James-Park, having finished the race and looking at the scenery.
Hopefully I will be able to do this a few times more. Next year it would be a small jubilee with my 5th London Marathon.