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Iceni Magazine | October 26, 2020

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Run, Iceni, Run: My Virtual London Marathon Experience

My Virtual London Marathon Experience

To say I felt underprepared would be somewhat of an understatement.

My fitness levels of late have been poorer than I’d have liked despite three PT sessions a week and regular runs (albeit shortish ones). Having run every day in August, back then I felt I could take on the world. Unfortunately, injuries (yes, plural) struck, and I found myself becoming even better acquainted with my foam roller than anyone would like to admit.

Vick set her alarm for 6am. Unlike my last marathon, she continued to doze while I got up, prepared my porridge, and mentally started to psyche myself up for the immense task ahead. I was supposed to be running the Mammoth Marathon in May actually, but that was cancelled along with most other races. Having applied and failed to get into the London Marathon on several occasions, being offered the opportunity to take part in the virtual one meant at least I would be able to say I’d run it at least once in my lifetime. Yes, I knew it wouldn’t be the same as the ‘proper’ one, but the medal should be.

At 7:55am, Vick finally surfaced (I can’t blame her for being tired – she has started her doctorate this weekend and is shattered!) – I was planning to leave five minutes’ later. A quick good luck and kiss from her, and I was finally ready to go. The forecast was not good. 40% chance of rain at 9am, then 50% an hour later and finally, 70% for the rest of the day or thereabouts. I’m much more of a fair-weather runner, you may remember. The thought of completing 26.2 miles in the rain really put me off.

VLM Go Go Go!

I started the app, shared my location on WhatsApp (so Vick would know where I was should I come to any harm), and off I went. I hadn’t thought too much about the route I would take. I have a couple of nice 10k routes I do around Great Ellingham and Rocklands, but I wasn’t sure how much rain there had been recently and how affected those areas would be. So, I just went with my gut.

For about an hour, I was blessed with overcast skies with a cooling breeze. However, the clouds looked threatening and, unsurprisingly, the heavens opened. My feet quickly got wet. I hate running when I can hear and feel my feet squelching about in my shoes. However, I was able to put that to the back of my mind and focus on the task in hand.

After 18km, I arrived back home to refuel, and apply some liquid talc (the chafing was bad because of the rain!) and deep freeze. Oddly enough it was my hamstrings that were playing up at this point rather than any of the injuries I’d been fighting since September. Another kiss from Vick and I was back out again.

I hardly saw a soul. The experience couldn’t have been more different from the Yorkshire Marathon. Although I often prefer my own company, this time, I really was missing having people around me – the rain was the only consistent thing about this race. A smile appeared on my face when I spotted a familiar face around the corner. I often encounter a local dog walker when I’m out, and he popped into view. A few brief words exchanged, including him wondering why I had been out much longer than usual. It was good to talk (those of you who know me in real life will be shocked at that declaration!). I also had some clapping from inside a car that I had stepped onto the verge to let past. Vick had shared a post on social media about me doing this run and hoping for some encouragement; I think it worked.

With a shorter distance elapsed this time, I hit the wall and headed back home for a much needed refuel. Another bottle of Lucozade sport decanted into my bottles, a protein bar consumed, a massage to my calves and more deep freeze applied (this time to my calves!), it wasn’t long before I was pounding the pavements (all two of them! There aren’t many in the village) and roads. I was in significant pain by this point, and the rain was getting the better of me. I had known from the start that I wasn’t going to be getting a PB and would have been stupid to chase one. However, I had set myself a target of under 4:30 and I knew that was slipping away too.

Soon enough, the app announcement informed me that I had “just a little over 5k” to go. Motivation or dread? For me, this spurred me on. I knew I had it in me to go another 5k as this is the minimum distance I run on a regular basis. I started to break the distance down into 1k segments. Little did I know that Vick was tracking my progress on WhatsApp and wondering why the hell I was going out of the village rather than towards home? Unbeknownst to me, she was unable to accurately gauge the distance I had covered as the official VLM app had failed to allow people to track me (although I was tracking my own progress successfully).

Vicki and Colin

As I was finally coming round the bend into the village, I spotted the familiar blue running jacket that Vick wears. Relief washed over me as I knew that she would give me the extra boost and kick up the arse to make it to the end. Sure enough, running side by side and the motivational encouragement began. A friend in the village even opened her window to shout and tell me how well I was doing, but my head was down and I was flagging big time, so I didn’t even acknowledge her (good job Vick did!). What seemed like an age passed before I was down to just 1km to go. Due to the water covering my watch, I couldn’t relay an accurate distance to Vick (she hadn’t run a single mile since the beginning of September, so I knew she was working hard to support me and struggling herself!).

As we approached the last leg, Vick shouted out for me to continue up and back round to get home, while she took the shortcut. She wanted to film me finishing, just like she had almost a year ago in York. Because of the app problems, it blared out that I had finished, when my watch told me I still had a little way to go. As I turned onto our road, I could see Vick and a vehicle I wasn’t expecting to see. Jack, my PT, had shown up to watch me complete the marathon for which he had been a huge support.

Colin and Jack at the finish line

Still a little way left to go, so Vick joined me again, encouraging me to do a sprint finish. My legs didn’t want to work as hard as my brain was telling them to, but I eventually finished.

Watch time = 4 hours 36 minutes (official app time = 4 hours 53 minutes). Jack jumped out of his car, ran over and presented me with some beers (I know he’ll torture me for on Tuesday morning to work them off!). After a brief chat, it was time for me to see my old friend, Foam Roller, escape the rain and start my bath running.

Virtual London Marathon laps

All in all, this virtual marathon has been an experience, but not one that I’d like to repeat. The lack of crowd support and atmosphere impacted me far greater than I ever could have imagined. My marathon days are not over though… just no more virtual ones!

Current status: broken, but proud!

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