I meant to write this nearly a year ago.
In fact, it was supposed to be the opening post of this blog. I was full of wisdom after a London Marathon that hadn’t gone how I’d hoped and I was trying to take the positives out of the experience.

Fast forward c. 350 days and I’m back on the train towards the ‘Big Smoke’ for London Marathon 2016. Those nerves are setting in! So what pearls of wisdom can I give myself right now?

1 – Don’t sight-see!
I was a proper bumpkin last year. Y’know, it’s cool, it’s my style. I am a bumpkin for sure. But there is a time and a place for the slack-jawed yokel; the days preceding your first London Marathon? Not ideal bud.

So I checked out the British Museum with my wife and her brother. We had already travelled to her brothers house, then back in to the city, then back out again. I was racing him up the escalators from the tube station with my rucksack on! Idjit.
This year: Expo. Brother-In-Laws. Marathon.

So, first London last year, my proud family wanted to make it an event. They came up on the Saturday and met my wife and I at the hotel, so had to carry all my stuff around London again. Then we had to travel to the Expo to get number, etc.
But after that, my parents, making a rare trip to London, had a few places they wanted to visit…
Now I love my fam and I was delighted that they’d spent their hard-earned pennies coming to see me but there was a point in the late afternoon where we were at a Whole Foods Market, (possibly at Piccadilly Circus), and I had a proper energy crash. My mood darkened, I stopped caring, I had to sit down! Tired legs, tired body.
This year my family couldn’t make it and my sister made her own arrangements, meaning I can just travel to the Expo, then travel to accommodation. No faff.

3 – Eat whenever you can!
Being vegans, and amateur athletes as it were, my wife and I eat all the time! When you are in a strange place for a couple of days relying on other people who have their own lives, it’s easy to lose that routine. Eating out is tricky and needs further travel, while snacking doesn’t really tick the box.

Last year I was doing all that travelling on foot and eating irregularly, certainly not as well as I would normally. My last evening meal was a box of mixed vegan stuff from the Whole Foods Market, followed by more trudging.
And come the next morning, with nerves and no hotel breakfast, I didn’t get much food in me until the last hour or so before race time. Not great!

This time we are travelling lighter but with a ton of food. Muffins, lentil dahl, fruit, nuts, oat cakes, nut and protein bars, the works. Oh, and some Rich Tea biscuits y’all. Plus a restaurant booked for tonight! Weight gain assured.

4 – Don’t fret over your pre-race sleep!

So the Saturday night my sister put us all in a nice hotel thinking it was exactly what I needed to get a nice nights sleep. I’m sure it helped as much as it could, we were en-suite, big room, clean, etc.

How did I sleep?

You know how I slept before you even read this…

It was a…tormented nights sleep. It was hard to drift off, I slept lightly and woke often, panicking I’d overslept. We set an alarm early to ensure we had no drama over the travel and it was nearly a relief when it went.
Do I think I’d have slept better anywhere else? Probably not.
Do I think it affected my race. Nah, not compared to all the above factors.

So this year I am not stressing. Will set two alarms, go to bed when I feel tired and not worry about the rest. Literally.

5 – Go easy on yourself.
Last year I got it into my head that London was the race. Honestly, it felt like London and my finishing time was the be-all and end-all, that I had to run the race of MY LIFE.
How did this happen? Was it the money invested in the race, travel and hotel?
Was it the time invested in the training (which was sporadic and…gentle). Was it the presence of my family far from home? I know I had unrealistic expectations based on a number I plucked out of the air, rather than performances.

Needless to say I missed my target; heck, I was lucky to re-qualify. From mile 21 I suffered from increasingly frequent and severe hamstring cramps which were so debilitating, any friends watching witnessed me limp across the finish line in a grimace, desperately trying not to cramp again.

I had started slowly in the cold and when I eventually started to pick my pace up, I tried to make up the time too quickly. By the half-way point I was on for a 2:51 finish, too quick too soon.

What was I thinking? This:

“I know this is a bit quicker than I probably need to do but what if I’ve got a stupendous marathon in me right now?! What if I slow down and miss out on the chance of glory?! I feel ok at the moment! Let’s just keep ticking along and see what happens. I am a good runner, I am a good runner, (repeats)…”

In the end I missed out on a sub 3 time. My last few miles were terrible, crushing affairs that I only remember as snapshots of being passed by a friend from Ryde Harriers, support from spectators and trying to stretch. Desperately. It is a blur of misery in my head.

This year I have trained better. I have learned. And my mindset is different. I know I have some great marathons in me. But not tomorrow. Tomorrow is not the last marathon, it is a step on the path. A step with thousands of supporters urging us on and a load of water stations. And Lucozade. And gels!

6. Enjoy
There is nothing like this in the UK, possibly most countries in the world too. I have friends running from other running clubs, friends from my club. There are friends running for charity. Even better, my training partner and constant source of motivation is there this year (running dressed as a beekeeper, orange coloured) after heartbreak last year when we missed out due to an email spam filter logistical nightmare.
There is nothing else like this.
There will be parts of the course where the spectators are 4, 5, 6 people deep. Where the noise will be a warm, welcoming wall of sound. Where you can revive your morale and feel like a celebrity with a well timed ‘conducting’ of a rowdy row of spectators. Where out of the blue you’ll hear a brief snatch of “go on Young Horse” (tip 7: have a distinctive nickname). Where you’ll hear a snatch of a familiar voice and see your partner/family/friend/clubmate roaring you on.
There is nothing else like this. So Paul:
Be grateful of your presence there. Be mindful and aware of the spectacle. Be kind yourself, you’ve earnt it! And enjoy, amigo!

And listen to ‘Witness The Fitness (1 Hope) by Roots Manuva on the drive t’station.