Posted by: pointlenana | November 18, 2013

London 2013

I’m pretty behind in my quest to document all my crazy adventures.  I got stuck with the Boston post – not too fun to write – but that’s behind me now.  On to London…

Sometime 9-15 months ago, I backed into a plan to run 4 long runs in 4 weekends in April/May of this year.  If I remember right, Janet and I signed up for Big Sur first in the summer of 2013.  Then Janet decided she might as well do Boston again.  Then my college friend told me that we were doing London this year, in his quest to run all the World Marathon Majors (Chicago, Boston, NYC, London, Berlin, and now Tokyo).  Finally, my friend Jeff talked me into entering the Miwok 100k (62 miles) lottery with him for May, and – surprise – we both got in.   So, I ended up with a plan to run Boston, then London, then Big Sur, and then to cap it off with a 62 mile run near San Francisco, in 4 weekends (23 days).

As I wrote about in the last post, the day in Boston ended like this for Janet and me:


If you follow a line from the policeman diagonally up to the explosion, you’ll see a woman in a yellow shirt, and then the top half of a woman with a light blue singlet, black arm warmers, and braids (just to the right of a guy in a white shirt).  That’s Janet.  I’m in that area too, hidden behind someone.

London was scheduled for six days later.  I spent the day after Boston working (or trying to work while emotionally working through the events of the previous day) at my friend’s house, before flying to Reykjavik that night on a red-eye.  When I was organizing travel I thought I’d take vacation during the week between Boston and London and found out that airfare on Icelandic Air was cheaper if I included a layover in Iceland.  Since I didn’t know when my friend Paul would arrive in London, and since I had never been to Iceland, I decided to stop over in Reykjavik for a couple days.

Things I remember about Iceland:  It’s like Hawaii – volcanic – only a lot colder.  It was kind of lonely being there, especially after what happened in Boston.  I spent one day driving the Golden Circle – a well-travelled tourist route to see waterfalls and geysers – in a snowstorm/blizzard on snow-covered roads with few other cars and no chains for my rental.  Two or three times I said “if it doesn’t improve in 3 minutes I’m turning back” and each time it got better enough to forge on (stupidly I guess).  I went for an incredibly beautiful long run along the waterfront to the northwest of town.  Oh, I know, the very best thing in Reykjavik is the public, geothermal-heated swimming pools.  I went to one in the morning one day when it was about 35 degrees and had a great outdoor swim.  Families were there, schools brought classes there, it was just a nice place to be.  Overall it was a place I’d like to go back to, and it was probably good to have some alone-time, but in the end I was glad to travel on to see people I knew.

First view of volcano-land, near the airport

First view of volcano-land, near the airport

At Geysir, where our word geyser comes from.

At Geysir, where our word geyser comes from.


Near downtown Reykjavik – snow-covered mountains in the distance.

One of the public pools - I saw a sign as I left that picture-taking is not allowed :-(

One of the awesome public pools – I saw a sign as I left that picture-taking is not allowed 😦

As I arrived in London on Friday, things were going crazy back in Boston.  On the train from Heathrow to London, the news talked about bombers being identified and for about a day there was constant news – shoot outs, lockdowns, manhunts.  It seemed remarkable that it was all happening so quickly.  I didn’t really want to watch but it was hard to look away.  Right after I arrived, my friends Paul and Amy had to endure a lunch with me while I did a brain-dump of our experience – what happened, how we felt, how I felt a few days later, etc..  After being by myself in Reykjavik that was my chance to let it out, and I appreciate them being willing to listen.  I also want to thank them for again hosting me very very comfortably.  Much better than the motel by the freeway I stayed at for Terrible Two last year.

Friday afternoon we went to the expo to pick up our bibs and shop.  I’m at the point now where I have way more running clothing than I need, so I made it out with just a shirt.  We also sampled the “hydration beverage” – something called Lucozade which is kind of like Gatorade.  As we wandered around I ran into a few people wearing Boston shirts and jackets – there were about 15+/- of us who did both Boston and London this year – and each time we had to swap stories about our experience.  The highlight of the expo was actually riding back on the Tube with one of those people – a guy named Greg Takacs who is trying to run all six marathon majors in one year all in 3 hours or less.  London was going to be the hard one for him, seeing as it came 6 days after he ran a fast Boston.  I was happy to see in the results after London to that he made it – and he just got #4 done in Chicago recently.  Greg will be the first to run sub 3-hour at all 6.  Good luck!

I have little memory of Saturday in London.  Quiet walk and lunch, maybe a nap?

We woke up to a beautiful day on Sunday.  Crisp and sunny.  Amy saw us off, and then Paul and I headed to the Tube.  We had to walk about a mile (2 kilometers?) to the Tube to get to the start.  It was kind of a greatest hits of London walk – Buckingham Palace (where we’d finish running later), Big Ben, Westminster Abbey.  We got on the train with a zillion other runners, and sat down with a 30-ish couple who were both about to run their first marathons.  After running 3 already, Paul was something of an old-timer, and I’ve run, well, a lot.  So we were calm.  The couple on the other hand were a great combination of excited and apprehensive all at the same time.  The train got to its station near Greenwich Park and we wished them luck.  We got off, and went for another walk this time through very narrow streets that probably see 6 people 364 days of the year and then 40000 on marathon Sunday.

Paul and I both ran London as part of the Whizz-Kidz charity team.  It is virtually impossible for non-UK residents to run the marathon except as charity runners.  Marathon Tours has a few spots and there may be a few available elsewhere.  Only UK residents are eligible for the lottery.  As a result I think more than half the runners are on charity teams.  So, to get in, we had to sign up with a charity.  Whizz-Kidz is a UK non-profit that helps provide mobility equipment, e.g. wheelchairs and the like, to kids who need it.  Among other things, this video won us over.  Although it was a bit challenging raising money for Dana-Farber and Whizz-Kidz for two marathons within 7 days of each other, I did reach my Whizz-Kidz goal.  Paul was awesome in his fundraising – he may have set a record for Whizz-Kidz.

When we got to Greenwich Park, we aimed for the Whizz-Kidz meet up area for the team picture.  I was a little surprised to see trash cans in our waiting area.  We didn’t have to clear security, at least initially and I was still very aware of places to put “things”.  Thankfully nothing happened – we took our picture, passed through security, and got to the next waiting area – with the inevitable porta-potty lines.  Having been through this a few times, I know that the first thing you do after arriving is get in a porta-potty line whether you need it or not.  By the time you get through the line, you’ll probably need it.  (After taking care of business once, it’s not idiotic to get back in line immediately – I’ve done that more than once.)  After taking care of that, we hung around, stretched a bit, dropped off our sweats bag and headed to the starting corral.

Boston was very much on people’s minds that day.  We were all wearing black ribbons that had been handed out with our bibs.  Just before the start, there were 30 seconds of silence – moving at the time, and still moving even as I write this.  I was a bit worried about having to rehydrate afterwards.

30 seconds of silence.  You can see Paul and I on the left, about 73 rows back from the front.

30 seconds of silence. You can see Paul and me on the left, about 73 rows back from the front.  You can also see (really, this time) the black ribbons on people’s singlets.

And we were off.  Amazingly, people were cheering us from the sidelines even before we got to the start line.  We had to walk/trot a few hundred yards to pass over the starting mats, and the moment we exited the chain-link fenced corral people were on both sides cheering.  This continued literally for 26.2+ miles with the exception of a couple tunnels.  I don’t think I’ve done a marathon where there was so much energy and crowd support.  Kudos to the awesome, wonderful people who came out and cheered us just 6 days after Boston.

Paul wanted to aim for 3:30.  Fearing how I’d feel during Big Sur and/or Miwok, I tried to negotiate him down to 3:45.  But in the end I said “ok”.  London has pacers, so for many miles we had the 3:30 pacer just behind or just ahead of us.  I don’t love running with pace groups – I did it once for Sacramento aka CIM since it was better than facing 20mph headwinds on my own – but in general they create clumps of congestion in the roadway and at the aid stations.  At least twice we spent a couple miles working our way ahead of the 3:30 group, only to lose focus and find the group slightly ahead of us again.

Before the run, I had heard that the race really gets fun at the halfway point when you cross the Tower Bridge and get into London “proper”.  In some ways my experience was the opposite.  I loved the crowds during the first half.  Crossing the bridge was in fact great – I watched my first marathon at that bridge about 5 years ago and it started me down the slippery slope that I’m on now.  After that though we got into Canary Wharf and the City of London business district.  Although the crowds were still great, that section is incredibly twisty.  It felt like we were in there for hours, getting nowhere.  After about 10 miles (!) of twisting around, we came back out on a straightaway right next to a road where runners 10 miles behind us were headed in the opposite direction into the section we were exiting.  Ugh.  I got tired just thinking about how long it was going to take them to get to where we were at that point.   Paul had a similar experience.  That was probably the low point for us.

That was also around the time when we lost contact with the 3:30 pace group.  They just started creeping ahead and we weren’t able to close the gap anymore.  It was ok though because those last few miles were fun – even more spectators and energy.

About a mile before the finish, we came out from the buildings and started along St. James Park.  There were signs in the road saying “800 yards” (meters?), “600 yards”, etc. and as we ran I couldn’t help thinking about the equivalent place at Boston.  800 yards is approximately where you turn right on Hereford.  600 yards is the left turn onto Boylston – you come around the corner and see the finish line 600 yards ahead.  We hit the “26 mile/365 yards left” sign right around Buckingham Palace – the bombs blew up shortly after Janet and I passed the 26 mile marker in Boston – and I thought “here we go – I hope I actually finish this week”.

The last few hundred yards are on The Mall, between bleachers/stands on both sides.  I’m sure those were well-secured but nevertheless I appreciated people coming out and being there for us at the finish.  Throughout the race I had occasionally applauded and cheered back at the spectators, trying to show appreciation for them since it was mostly spectators in Boston who were affected by the bombs.  As we went past the bleachers I did that some more.  And then we were across the line getting our medals.  Oh, and we shook hands with Richard Branson too – it’s the Virgin London Marathon and he was standing there greeting runners as they finished.

"Oh, uh, thanks for sponsoring this marathon.  I need a space blanket now.  Bye."

“Oh, uh, thanks for sponsoring this marathon. I need a space blanket now. Bye.”

We finished somewhere around 3:36 – not quite the 3:30 Paul was hoping for but definitely not a race where the wheels came off completely and the cart crashed.

Tired and happy.  Note my red, white and blue shoes.

Tired and happy. Note my red, white and blue shoes.  My black ribbon is just peeking out from under my coat.

I mentioned this in the Boston post, but AP was watching for me and managed to track me down at the finish.  I did a short interview with them about Boston and my London experience – some clips about halfway through in this video here.   And as I also explained in the Boston post, I walked back along the course and gave my finishers’ medal to a girl named Ruby who was doing an awesome job cheering all of us as she waited for her mum to pass by.

Passing the medal on to Ruby who deserved it for being a great spectator.

Walking around near the finish, we got to see runners pass by in some great costumes.  The spectators and announcers really get into the costumes, and it seemed like 20% of the runners were dressed up.

A herd of rhinos finished shortly after we did.  I cannot imagine running 26.2 miles in that.  Hardcore.

A herd of rhinos finished shortly after we did. I cannot imagine running 26.2 miles in that. Totally hardcore.

After that, Paul, Amy and I headed to the pub.  Actually 2 pubs.  The first was standing room only – for some reason we felt like sitting down so we had a beer and then set off in search of something a little quieter.   The second one was great.  We sat next to a little group celebrating with one or two friends who had finished.  We also met a guy (I think his name is Sam Hull) who had just set the Guinness world record for fastest marathon dressed in a school uniform.  Very celebratory and a happy finish to the experience for me.

Rehydrating at the SRO pub.

Rehydrating at the SRO pub.

Rehydrating some more and resting weary legs.

Rehydrating some more and resting weary legs

Our brush with celebrities - the world's fastest marathoner dressed as a schoolboy.

Our other brush with celebrity – the world’s fastest marathoner dressed as a schoolboy, holding his record certificate from Guinness.


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