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  • Writer's pictureDarren Last

London Marathon 2022 - Three Is The Magic Number - Race Report

Three is the magic number, as De La Soul rightly told us in the late eighties, and it was for me at Sundays London Marathon. Three seconds to be precise.

Three seconds below the huge milestone of 3:20 to finish in 3 hours 19 minutes and 57 seconds and three seconds that qualifies me for Boston Marathon in 2024 as 'Good for age'.

It required a (kind of) sprint finish which I have no idea where it came from. All I knew it was now or never. I just had to try. It was a day where everything clicked in to place.

Marathon is such a hard and mystifying distance. As runners, it is epic, it's Hollywood gold, it's the Crown Jewell's, Everest, it's the Holy Grail. You look for the perfect race from beginning to end. But it's not possible. It will drag you down eventually, taking you to depths in your mind, body and soul that you didn't know existed. It eats you up and spits you out. It's a roller coaster of emotions. It's like being hit by a bus and then dragged fighting. You enter the last part of the race, energy is low, the legs are failing, the body is depleted and the mind is struggling to compute.

Every rational part of you is telling you to stop. But you keep going, battling through, as best you can. If a marathon was 20 miles it would be manageable (just), you can race it. It would still be tough but would be possible without being taken to these depths. However, 26 miles is that distance that gets you. That last 6 miles, if you are lucky to reach that point even, where it becomes the epitome of hell on earth.

Look around at the other runners in the last few miles. There is NOT one single person who is NOT going through hell. Not a single person enjoying what would normally be the lovely run through the most amazing city and landmarks. But every single person is battling through, fighting against their rational, sane mind telling them to stop. Every single person has a grit and determination to get to that finish line. Every single person that crosses that line is a hero.

Keep going. Just another half hour. One foot in front of the other. Pick a landmark, get there, then pick another. The sooner I get the the end the better. Why is my knee pulsating? Why am I doing this again? Can I stop? I could? No, keep going. I can stop at the finish.

These are just some of the things going through my mind as I worked my way through the last few miles on Sunday.

At Blackheath ready for the start.

My race couldn't have gone any better. Everything just clicked. Just like football when every touch of the ball is instantly controlled, every shot or pass is perfectly struck, and each bounce of the ball falls for you. I would say luck, and could say luck. You need luck but with marathon but you make your own luck with training. Nobody can luck a marathon. Luck is when preparation and hard work pays off.

I started in the Blue Zone on Blackheath Common and got away at 9:44am just a few minutes after the gun went off. With enough room I managed to sit in to a comfortable pace. My strategy was to ease into the run and then see where it took me without paying too much attention to time but pushing enough to keep a consistent pace.

My target with for the marathon was as follows

1. Get round the first 18/20 miles without too much pain before the real hurt starts.

2. Next target was to get a sub 3:30,

3. Beat my current PB of 3:22:21 from Brighton earlier this year.

4. Run sub 3:20. The dream.

The first few miles went by and I was feeling good. I had a good pace below 7.5 min miles/4:35 min km and sat in. Before I knew it I was at Cutty Sark on the 7 mile point and running well. The section through Greenwich and Cutty Sark is where the excitement really starts to build. The crowds are packed solid and the noise is deafening as the roads thin around the famous landmark.

All is good round the Cutty Sark

When I last ran London in 2019 my race began to break down in Surrey Quays. It started to feel way too much like hard work early, it almost broke me at the time as I knew I wouldn't normally feel like that until mile 18, not mile 10.

This was an example of a day when things were not going for me (everything bouncing off the shin, to use a football analogy).

With this in mind I was consciously checking my running form and I was feeling good. Running smooth and fast (think Christopher McDougall's book 'Born to Run'. This is a great feeling. A runner's high when it all feels effortless......for now anyway. I knew this wouldn't last but just hoped it would continue for as long as possible.

Think easy, light, smooth, and fast. You start with easy, because if that's all you get, that's not so bad. then work on light. make it effortless, like you don't give a shit how high the hill is or how far you've got to go. When you've practiced that so long that you forget you're practicing, you work on making it smooooooth. You won't have to worry about the last one - you get those three and you'll be fast.

The wise words of Cabello Blanco in Christopher McDougall's Born to Run

The trick with marathon is to just hope that you can get as far into the race before the pain hits. Mile 18, 20, 21. If you get to mile 22 or later, you have divine intervention :).

Tower Bridge appeared, this is practically the half way point and is just exhilarating. You turn the corner and then suddenly there is this massive historic bridge with great big turrets. Everyone is buzzing and again the crowds are packed deep.

It's a great milestone, and if you have got here and still feeling good then you are doing very well.

Tower Bridge 😃

After the this the route heads back out east towards Isle of Dogs (mile 15) and exit Canary Wharf (mile 19/20. I want to get into the Isle of Dogs feeling good as I know that this is where the race turns. Up to this point everything is exciting, happy, smiley with the crowds.

I felt good going in to Isle of Dogs but I was starting the feel the legs. I put my ear pods in and put the music on. I am about to find out what I have in me for last third of the race.

I know this part of the route well and have run hundreds of times as worked in Canary Wharf. This helps as I know what to expect heading up Mudchute Hill. A right turn takes us through the big office blocks the wall of noise from the crowd cheering echoing off the tall office buildings. This is probably where my senses start to disappear as the crowds now become a fuzzy noise.

Out of Canary Wharf and through Poplar High Street is where it catches me. That's it. Hang on now. Countdown every mile/km. Focus on the end. 5/6 miles to go. I need to run within myself and I will make the finish line in good time. I remind myself it's just a standard 6 mile/10km run on a week day. Easy. No problem normally. Except you have not run 20 miles beforehand in the week.

Heading through Canary Wharf

This is what's known as the wall. I don't think I have ever got over, or through the wall. For me it's a case of hitting the wall and just keep going through it until the end. I am not sure anyone gets over it but that may just be me :)

I have done London 4 times previously so I know what to expect. I break it down; get past Poplar High Street, then to the highway that takes you down to Tower Bridge. This leg is long, this is where the pain sets in and wondering whether you will make it. Will you stop, will you walk? No, keep running.

Tower Bridge appears. Thank god for that! 3 miles, or 5km to go from here. Ah, that's just a Park Run. But it's not. It's a park run of hell.

Past Tower Bridge, though the City, Monument, Cannon Bridge and on to Blackfriars. Through Blackfriars tunnel and out the other side with less than 2 miles to go.

This is where I start to go through the severe physical and mental pain I described earlier. Up to this point I am still keeping up a decent pace dropping to just over 7.5 minute miles and around 5 min km's. It hurts. It hurts a lot. I know that a PB is on the horizon. I know there is a chance I could creep under 3:20 but I can't worry about that now. I also know I could blow up if I speed up. I keep plodding one foot in front of the other I will finish and that's enough.

I see Waterloo Bridge and set that as a point to focus. I reach it and then do the same with Embankment Station. I get there. I am still keeping pace (somehow).

Next target is Big Ben. The crowd is raucous and urging all runners on with incredible support. Again it's fuzzy noise. Less than a mile to go as I pass Big Ben and target the red phone box just before St.James Park. Got there. I look at my watch, it's gonna be around 3:20.

Birdcage Walk goes on forever, I'm speeding up slightly knowing the end is in sight, I get to the corner and see 400m to go. Nearly there. I look at my watch. Less that 2 minutes, I could go under 3:20. Wow. It's tight. But it's going to require speeding up.

Turning the corner round Buckingham Palace and the Victoria Memorial I can never remember how far the finish line is down The Mall. As I turn I am pleasantly surprised to see its nearer than I was thinking. I can do this. I can sprint (or try).

I sprint off the last few hundred metres. It's a struggle. But I am not thinking about that. It's now or never. I may never have this chance again. If I don't try I'll regret. One last push.

I get nearer, check the watch again. I'm going to do it. I am actually going to do it.

I cross the line, look at my watch and its 3:19:57. I have fecking done it. THREE SECONDS TO SPARE WOW.

Big Ben, Birdcage walk and the sprint down The Mall to the finish line.

Over the line I stop. Take a breath, then have a surge of sickness coming up through my body. I'm going to throw up. I move quickly to the side and bring up all the 6 gels and water I have consumed. Done. Feel better. Completely ok. Not sure where that came from. Actually I know where that came from, it was the final sprint after running 26 miles.

One of the best things about finishing a marathon is to actually just stop. Just stop. A simple thing. Something you can do at anytime in the 26 miles but you just don't. That's not why you run a marathon. Thats why marathon's are hard. Because you want to stop but you can't, or won't. You love marathons. You have to keep going. Its sadistic and for the most part it's fun. But that moment you stop and you take in the massive achievement that YOU have set YOURSELF you start to enjoy the ecstatic feeling and emotion.

I was overjoyed with Sunday, and I still can't believe everything went so well for me. I think of those 3 seconds. 3 seconds isn't enough for a toilet break or to tie your laces, or to stop for a moment to say Hi to a loved one.

There are good days and not so good days with marathon's (never a bad day if you finish). I have had a few of both. Today was a good day, no, today was a GREAT day made extra special by those 3 seconds.

Video of the finish line, you can see me (red vest) stop and promptly move to the right.

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