The walk up to the Blue start area was a little daunting. The temperature seemed much hotter than advertised (max 14 degrees), and when we got closer to the start it was like being at an outdoor music festival. Thousands of people everywhere milling around whilst waiting for the main act.
Over to the Championship enclosure where we had the luxury of our own changing area and place to warm-up. The usual last minute checks - putting on Vaseline, a quick energy gel, a few mouthfuls of water, a final visit to the toilet, then time to get rid of the bag and do a quick warm-up.
I ran a very slow 800m or so. I've never been one for doing a long warm-up for a marathon - it's hard enough without handicapping yourself further. The short out-and-back warm-up was great - but there was a noticeable breeze on the course. Not perfect conditions but you'd take them pretty much every time.
Soon we were being called towards the start. Slowly we edged forwards until we were directly behind the elites. As it happened I was on the far left of the start and I found myself directly behind Marty Dent and Scott Westcott - 2 elite Aussies. I wished Marty well and then we were underway.
A little bit of congestion as you found your racing line but basically straight into your running. I was wearing a stopwatch (no Garmin) so there was the usual apprehension of receiving the feedback from the first mile marker and I settled into a pace that felt fast but comfortable.
Through the first mile in 5:37. Happy with that and a big sigh of relief. Target pace or thereabouts and there were signs that a nice group was forming. The magnitude of this race is like no other I have been involved in. The crowds were huge - and you find yourself running through constant waves of sound. It's hard not to get carried away but I didn't want to repeat my mistake of 2009 so I was trying to keep a lid on things.
The next few miles passed without incident (mile 2 in 5:38 and a quicker downhill 3rd mile in 5:25). Perhaps a little too fast but I was in a massive group of around 25 runners. Perhaps too big as you found yourself jockeying for position every now and then - especially when running through the water stations. Talking of which, my strategy was to take on a little water at every stop, and due to the heat I was also throwing water over the body to cool down.
I don't really recall any detail from the course at this stage - I was tucked into the group and we knocked out the next couple of miles in 5:44 and 5:34 respectively. Still inside target pace and feeling very comfortable. I had a brief conversation with a guy next to me who was running in an RAF vest. He mentioned his target time was 2:28 to 2:30 (as was mine) - perfect. To my surprise a few guys went off the front of the group and were then left running by themselves. To me that didn't seem like a very good idea and I remained in group company. Another gel at 5 miles and I was to repeat this every 5 miles at 10, 15 and 20.
I somehow managed to miss the 6th mile - not easy to do as they were very clearly marked. So a bit more of a wait until mile 7 but the split of 11:35 for the previous 2 miles was again about right. Continued jostling through the water stations but if anyone missed a drink there were always runners willing to pass on their bottles. Again detail is lacking but I continued to run well through miles 8 (5:37), 9 (5:35) and 10 (5:42) which had me at 56:27 for 10 miles.
The group had been whittled down a bit which wasn't a bad thing; I was still feeling good but it was still early days. I went into blinker mode and decided to re-evaluate the race at halfway. The next 3 miles were again notched off at target pace going through mile 11 in 5:36, mile 12 in 5:49 and then mile 13 in 5:42. It was during the 13th mile that you get to cross Tower Bridge - an incredible experience with the deafening crowd cheering you on. Then a right turn to head towards Canary Wharf and then the feedback of the half marathon split of 1:14:10. Absolutely spot on.
At this point it seemed like the group evaporated around me. A few guys went off the front, I felt like I was still running well but I was left in no mans land. The next couple of mile splits confirmed I was still running well reaching mile 14 in 5:32 and mile 15 in 5:35. Too quick if anything and I was left a little rattled.
Then time for a bad patch. The next couple of miles I continued to run solo and I was starting to do it tough. I knew I'd hit trouble but didn't expect it to be this early. I was really having to grit it out and I knew I was slowing. Sure enough the times confirmed this with mile 16 reached in 5:55 and mile 17 in 5:49. It was make or break time.
To my surprise I started to feel a little better. I knew I'd slowed but I was starting to overtake people. This was a good feeling and helped to spur me on. I wanted to run another mile at target pace and take it from there and I was moving in the right direction at mile 18 with a split of 5:46. Come on, get to 20 miles and see what you can do...
I was still running well. The effort level was up there but you expect that in the last third of the marathon. I glanced down at my watch and realised I'd missed another mile marker - not sure if that was a good thing or not but soon I was running through the 20 mile marker with a split of 11:33 for the previous 2 miles. A little slow but still within sub 2:30 pace.
The cumulative time at 20 miles read 1:53:44. I still felt that sub 2:30 was there for the taking. If I could run sub 6 minute miles from here I was in with a shout. The legs were very heavy and I was over-heating but the breathing felt good and the mind was still strong. This is what I'd trained for in the last 3 months and I was in my element.
Another missed mile marker. Just keep this going - still running solo but I must have overtaken at least 10 runners between miles 15 and 22 without being overtaken myself. That was great but the time was ebbing away. At mile 22 I had run 11:52 for the last couple of miles and I was really hanging on. I tried a final throw of the dice through the next couple of miles and managed to chalk up 2 more sub 6 minute miles: 5:57 and 5:50 respectively. Still there or thereabouts but any time in the bank was disappearing very quickly.
The last couple of miles down the Embankment were very tough. I felt like I was maintaining the same pace of the previous few miles but a couple of runners passed me with ease timing their run for home perfectly. I passed the 40km clock and knew straight away that I wasn't capable of running close to 7 minutes for the last 2.2kms to give me the sub 2:30 and that seemed to give me the excuse to back off slightly. Mile 25 with my slowest mile of the race of 6:13, with a little improvement as I hit mile 26 in 6:02. I was going to enjoy the finish and I brought out the now standard aeroplane as I weaved down the finishing chute to cross the line in 2:30:55.
After crossing the line I was in bits. I made my way over to one of the metal railings and spent the next 5 minutes doubled over dry-retching. I eventually forced down some water and hobbled over to have my photo taken and gather my bag.
I've had a bit of time now to reflect on the race and whilst I was obviously disappointed to miss out on the sub 2:30 by only a small margin, I had a great overall placing of 61st and I also managed 4th in the 40-44 age group (3rd Brit). The race itself was an incredible experience but I just couldn't nail the latter half of the race as I did in Dublin in 2010. My theory on that was the heat - as mentioned earlier the conditions were generally good but perhaps a little too hot to suit me personally. Nit picking really and when you hear of the tragedy that happened to the young girl at mile 25 it really puts things into context. Claire Squires - may you Rest In Peace.
My wingman Owen had a super run of 2:39:20 for a 3 minute PB. Similar to me he struggled from 20 miles in whilst being on 2:37 pace. Still a fantastic effort and much deserved. Well done in spades!
More stats, photos and thank yous to follow. I'll leave you with a sampler of a photo I found on the BBC website of me crossing Tower Bridge. I'm the one wearing the bright red and yellow stripes of my UK club City of Norwich: