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London Marathon 2019

With a week until London Marathon, I still have a very tight calf (I pulled it in Brighton Marathon a week earlier). It is tight enough to feel when I am walking. Quite regularly, for no particular reason, my stomach tightens, and I get scared. A hundred thoughts rush through my mind in a second;

“There’s no way I’m pulling out of the London Marathon! What if my calf tears at Mile 10, or Mile 5? I will look stupid infront of thousands of people. I will let down everyone. I will tear my calf just to get a terrible finishing time. I won’t be able to run again for months…”

…And on and on. The only important thought amongst that minefield of negativity, is the ‘There’s no way I’m pulling out of the London Marathon’ one

Every time I feel my mind starting this negative barrage, I just repeat to myself, like 50 to 100 times;

IcandothisIcandothisIcandothisIcandothisIcandothisIcandothisIcandothis

Repeat it enough, and it eventually drowns out the gloomy guy. He forgets what he was saying.

I am going through this internal struggle till about Wednesday, by which point my calf does feel much better, and I have brainwashed myself so completely that there is no negativity at all. I am just walking around every single day believing;

IcandothisIcandothisIcandothisIcandothisIcandothisIcandothisIcandothis

On the morning of the race, I have gotten myself to a point where I am thinking about my right calf as much as I am thinking about my left elbow. I’m not thinking about my left elbow at all, haven’t thought about it in years.

It is not until mile 15 that I start to notice tightness there (in the calf, not the elbow, dummy), the group I am in have just gone through halfway in 69.30, which is 5.18 miling, it has been feeling great. But then, for some reason, they make a surge, and get a gap on me. I am confused, I feel like I’m going plenty fast enough, and when my watch beeps at mile 14, it says 5.13. I am annoyed. I have lost contact and yet I have gone too quick, they have gone too quick, there is no need for this kind of move yet.

I don’t know if it is because of the surge, or because I get stressed, panic abit, or just because I have run a sub 70min half, but my calf starts to demand attention. It is turning into a brick, my running action is getting laboured, losing my pop. This is the first time I have considered my calf in days, but here it is, back to remind me, that will-power doesn’t always transcend the realm of the physical.

My next mile is 5.31. The first time in the race where I have dropped below target pace…I want to hit the pause button right there, as the Americans put it.

…This is an unknown for me, I have never successfully wiped an existing injury from my thoughts before. I suppose I have been worried about this exact predicament. What happens if all you envisage is success, and then something goes wrong? How do you handle it then?

Pretty well, it turns out. Rather than get all;

I knew this was going to happen, why does this always happen to me? I was so stupid to think this was possible. I hate my life

Instead, I stay calm and take stock of where I am;

Relax and Respond. You have just run a great half, you can slow down to 5.43 milling and come away with a 2.24 finish time. Still 4 min quicker than Brighton. Manage it. One mile at a time.

…So, back to the race. This is my new plan, get through each mile in under 5.43, and take it from there. With the pressure off, and the pace slower, I am still 100% believing I will make it. My mile times are around 5.25. But now, that feels like a success, rather than a failure. Slower than the 5.20 that I initially wanted, but that goal has adapted, and we are now going much quicker than our new 5.43 goal.

I am relieved to get out of Docklands, it is windy and slightly soulless. People are coming past me, but I can also see people coming back to me. One mile at a time. You can do this.

Calf goes.

If I am being honest, it didn’t go bang out of the blue. It started to get really tight and painful mile 21, I tried to slow down (5.51 mile), but that was not slow enough.

It feels sharp, like it’s going to tear. I have to stop. As soon as I do, the crowd go nuts. Like roaring, deafening. It is crazy. I feel embarrassed. Ashamed. I don’t deserve it. I badly want to drop out. There are so many people everywhere, no gaps to duck under. I don’t think I can climb the barrier. Runners are starting to overtake me. I see if I can jog. Just to get away from these strangers howling at me. I can, very slowly. The crowds roar even louder in approval. It sends tingles down my spine. It is amazing, but also excruciating…

I am going so slowly, it feels like I should just get out of everyone’s way.

It’s all very well your cheering guys, but it actually fucking hurts.

I am going so slowly, it feels like I should just get out of everyone’s way.

So, then it becomes, just get to mile 22. I am actually quite impressed with an 8.30 mile. Time has never been more relative, it feels like the slowest mile I have ever run in my life. Runners are streaming past me now. Loads of them offer words of encouragement. Kevin Quinn, who had been in the same group as me south of the river, when everything was going swell, comes past and literally grabs me.

“We’ve got to finish! We’ve got to finish!”

“My calf is gone Kev”

“My bloody hamstrings are gone!”

I promise I will finish and let him go ahead. I see him get about 10m up the road, do a little jump, and grab his hamstrings. Then he starts running again. It is quite funny.

I have to stop before mile 24. I am on a tightrope, go slightly too quick and I will tear my calf. I start up again. When I get to mile 24, I do the maths, and I realise, if I run my next 2 miles in under 10min miling. I can still break 2hr40. At the time I am quite surprised by this, I honestly reckoned I would be lucky to break 3hrs. The amount of runners whizzing by me, it feels like I am going to come last.

Break 2hrs40, that is my new goal. I run mile 25 in 7min, a massive victory. With only a mile to go, I start to believe I can do this without tearing my calf. I run my last mile in 6.44. Flat footed and ugly, but covering the ground just the same.

So proud I finished. It feels so sweet to have the medal hung around my neck, knowing, I can just give it over to my kids, without any explanation. They don’t understand ‘calf injury’. They don’t understand DNF. It is beautifully black and white for them.

I am also proud to finish, out of respect. Respect for the event, the crowd, and all my friends and family who always support me. Also, respect for all the runners who beat me, I want them to fully be able to say they beat me. A DNF clouds the result a little. Also, I am proud I finished, as it feels like I took full ownership of my decision. Rather than pretend it never happened.

At the finish line, we are all waiting like a heard of cattle, for our bags. It takes forever for the helpers to find them. The crowd is growing bigger, and the situation getting more dire. I am getting crushed. No one needs this straight after 26 miles. I feel like I am going to pass out. But, somehow, I look back really fondly at that now. We are all in it together. The race is over, and we are all friends, doing a big group hug. Lots of people tell me they like my blog, I muffle my thanks, with my face shoved into someone’s armpit.

After Brighton Marathon, my head was all at sea, with how I was going to approach London. I had been promulgating the line Run the Marathon you know you can run, not the marathon you think you can run. But the runner I heard this from, also thinks this clip below is like the funniest thing ever;

I don’t find that even slightly funny. Which leads me to question every philosophy from that runner. Even if I respect/ value someone’s opinion, we might not have the same sense of humour. So, maybe our race strategies can differ too.

Early last week I was thinking, keep to the philosophy, but slow it down even more. In Brighton I was shooting for 2.22, that didn’t work, so go for 2.25 then. I can definitely run a 2.25. It made sense on Monday.

As the race got nearer, I got more and more unsure with it. This conservative approach completely blew up in my face at Brighton. I felt uncomfortable/ bored the whole way. Why set a goal that doesn’t excite you? Doesn’t get the system firing on all cylinders. This is the London Marathon. Do it. And do it brave. Or don’t bother at all.

The day before the race, I changed my approach to relax and respond. It really clicked with me. Whatever is going on in the race, the first thought is always relax. From there, I’m always in a much better position to make the right decision.

Running the marathon you believe you can run, is where the excitement is; where the mystery, the stretch goal, the dream is. The first half of this London Marathon was what I live for, absolute joy. To be on the edge of what I am physically capable of, and yet find a way to stay relaxed and focused. I went through halfway 2min quicker than Brighton, faster than any half split I have ever done, but it felt easy, smooth. So many good feelings came flooding back, feelings I thought I had lost after Brighton.

Brighton Marathon 2.28

London Marathon 2.35

There it is, in black and white, it looks like an unmitigated disaster. But I take full responsibility for both performances. Everything that happened was completely inside my control. There are absolutely no regrets. I am still living in my own Hollywood movie, and I am grateful for this latest Act.

You go all in, you always win.

What do you reckon? To the line above? It’s like my new mantra, and I’m pretty sure I made it up. It’s short, clear, it rhymes, and I really believe it.

I learnt a lot about myself in those 2 races, those 2 weeks. Trust your gut. Go with the goal that excites you, not necessarily the sensible goal. Keep with the positive mantras, even if they can’t heal your body, they put you in a positive frame of mind, which is always a better place to be.

Lots of this stuff, I just couldn’t have learnt without having gone through it. Which makes these 2 races a huge victory. Lots of it, can’t be written down, no matter how hard I try, but, hopefully, it can be expressed, next time.

Hopefully, you guys find some useful take-aways from this too!

Thanks loads to the people who helped make this possible (you know who you are). Thanks to Kent AC for being the best club in the UK. Thanks to ON and NoblePro for their continued and very valued support.

And a massive thank you to all you guys following the journey. I got so many positive comments, I read them all, sorry if I didn’t reply to them all, but really do appreciate it, makes such a difference!

Link to the incredible Let’s Get Running podcast here, where I am interviewed straight after the race. I’m a charming, funny guy.

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Russell Bentley
Russell Bentley
Track runner. Trained in Kenya, Won the Snowdonia Marathon 2018, PB Berlin Marathon 2:20:20

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