Virgin Money London Marathon
Sunday 24th April 2016
Bill Shankly's quote about the beautiful game can seem like a pretty aposite way to describe how we relate to what we do. Running isn't a matter of life and death - it's more important than that. It gives us a centre, keeps us stable; it allows us to share our humanity and commune with our running tribe. We simply couldn't live without it, could we? Until you stop to think and view the absurdity head-on; the horrors happening every second of every day, usually somewhere else, usually somewhere far away if we're lucky. Going for a run can't matter a jot next to that stuff. But it somehow does seem to matter in a real way; it manages to create something quite profound when the circumstances are right. You only have to experience the London Marathon to appreciate what can happen when people come together to do something epic. Even in isolation, the sheer enormity of the running experience can bowl you over when the pain is greatest and the effort is unbearable; the shared purpose of London only amplifies it. Only our protective central nervous system separates us from tipping over into eternal oblivion as we punish ourselves, flirting with death in a way that can only ever be done in the flush of brilliant good health. It's an odd thing, but we seek it out willingly and none of us in our hearts needs to ask why (even if we do ask it with every hellish step from Limehouse to Birdcage). Many of you have wilfully tortured yourselves into the St John's tent at London and elsewhere; this year my brother, barely recognisable, and ghostly white on Whitehall as we looked for a medic, came back to us, via a restorative spew at Woking station. Passing by at 20˝ miles, several of you looked to be dangerously out of balance, but we knew better than to wrestle you off the course while still upright.
It was a particularly good year for C&C. Making use of excellent, cool conditions, many of our athletes left London with new PBs. Chris Darling led the way, running hard through the first half on sub-2˝ pace and hurting accordingly, but dug deep and held out for a stunning 2:37:50 on C&C début; 216th place. Awesome. You can expect Charlie Wartnaby to nail any London effort, and his even-pace 2:38:56 showed us how it should be done; 14th Vet 45 too. But Axel Finke can skip that particular lesson, having finished his 2:39:41 precisely three seconds quicker than he made it to half-way. PB for Axel, and a string of PBs around the 2:45 mark for Matt Slater (2:42:06) and Kevin O'Holleran (2:42:08), locked in mortal combat, then Paul Makowski (2:44:09) and Dan Hurst (2:46:57), all strong runs every step of the way, with Makka's negative split well worth tipping a hat to. The two Andrews, Shields and Gardiner, followed with 2:47:07 and 2:49:30, the former a shade slower than Paris but still worth 17th place in the Vet 50s, and chalking one up against category rival John Ferguson, despite Fergie's fine 2:50:56 PB. Not far behind was Nick Osborn (another PB, 2:51:21), who had clearly remembered somewhere mid-way that he'd left the gas on - a 161-second negative split. Neil White (2:53:47) and Alex Copley (2:54:03) had a good margin in hand before the three-hour mark, and Christof Schwiening (2:58:02) could afford to ease off a touch, but Mike Salter was on a plan which had no margin for error; everything had to go right, all day. 1:29:53 at the half was converted to 2:59:47. Joy unconfined. Contrast with Jon Anderson's equally brave 1:29:54/3:00:59, to go with 2015's 3:00:31. Old lags will recall Ish Badr's string of 3:00:somethings - back Jon to do it, as Ish did. Hopefully a bit sooner, please Jon...
The boys were swift, and the girls were too. Next C&C home was our quickest female, Katie Samuelson, whose endurance earned her a 3:09:10 a fortnight after running two seconds quicker at Manchester and representing England at 100k another couple of weeks back. But impressive as that is, our star female has to be Mary Twitchett, a big negative split for 3:11:16 and third - third! - place in the Vet 55s. Congratulations, Mary. Nick Mansley (3:14:41) fought out a sub-3:15 next, but it's back to the females for Katie Sherwood, formerly of this parish, who I am assured ran as a tortoise to 3:15:39. Wind-up, hallucination or London wonder? You decide. Becca Frake next, a quick, steady 3:21:27, Darren Gillman, a 3:26:49 reward for the usual gobsmacking prep mileage, and Harry Druiff, a handful of seconds getting away late on, but a nice 3:31:04 PB. Ben Chamberlain pushed Harry close with 3:33:43. Emma Cotton (3:48:41) and Harriet Woolley (3:58:37) found it tough in the closing stages, but still managed fine sub-fours, while Ian Richardson (4:37:03), Alistair Sim (4:40:10) and Sarah Lee all felt the wrath of the marathon; Sarah's London ended in the last few miles. Something to avenge next time.
All of our heroes came back safely, you'll realise by now, and my mortality metaphor is just a handy theme to hang a report on. But there was a supreme example of the marathon's strange life/death interplay; the awful loss of Captain David Seath of 29 Commando Regiment Royal Artillery, who collapsed at Southwark Bridge and couldn't be rescued; a strong, brave man who had seen the real horrors of Afghanistan, raising money for the wounded. But a more intrinsic comparison comes every year in the very lifeblood of the London Marathon, the many who carry with them memories of someone special, hoping to give nameless others a better chance. London is heroic, it's impressive, it's beautiful and it's selfish. It is life and it is death, and it's very, very important.
Next year's report will be about how the Marathon reminds me of funny cats on YouTube.