James Kelly’s Marathon Blog
Know thine enemy
It became rather chic in the 1990s for civilians to read Sun Tzu’s The Art of War.
It probably appealed to the high-flying corporate types, but less so to school students, so I confess I missed it. But I gather some of the lessons in it are worth learning: after all, on 25 April 2010 tens of thousands of us will be doing battle with the streets of London. Who better to prepare us than the guru of warfare himself?
“If you know your enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles”, Sun Tzu asserts.
Well, we’ve spent the last few months of training getting to know ourselves and learning about our own strengths and weaknesses. Now it’s time to know our enemy.
The London Marathon, remarkably, began as recently as 1981 and we at Cambridge are delighted to claim its co-founder Chris Brasher as one of our own! Brasher and John Disley, both Olympic medalists in the 3000m Steeplechase – Brasher was Olympic Champion in 1956 – laid out a route based around the Thames that began in Blackheath and finished near Buckingham Palace. They also laid the foundations for one of the world’s most popular sporting events.
Happily the course has changed little since the race’s inception, and that helps the prospective competitors to visualise their own race. Visualisation is a crucial part of race preparation, and now is the perfect time to start living out every dip and rise, corner and cobble in the mind’s eye. Try to anticipate how you might feel on the big day itself so that every pain and every delight is familiar and comforting.
Now please excuse me as I let my imagination take over…
Loads of people here in Greenwich Park; the queue for the portaloos is endless – did you really need to hydrate as well as you have? Keep calm and prepare, concentrate on your own performance and don’t worry about what everyone else is up to. Maintain the pre-race warmup routine, get to the starting line in plenty of time, take a couple of deep breaths and listen to your heart pound as you wait an interminably long time for the gun to start you off. It’s time to begin.
The elite start and the mass start courses merge. Don’t worry, third Elvis is a long way behind! You’re settling in well and feeling comfortable; just make sure you aren’t getting carried away. Remember that the goal is to run the second half faster than the first, so keep something in reserve. Start thinking about the feeding station – do you need to take on a bit of water yet? Now turn westwards – you’re as far away from the finish as you’ll ever be! It all gets easier from here!
Past the Cutty Sark – or at least that’s what they claim is in that big box! Resist the temptation to look across the Thames to Mile 17 on the Isle of Dogs. Would it be less painful to swim…? No – mind back on track! You’ve established your pace, so now just retreat to that empty, mechanical and metronomic condition. Take a turn at the front of your group, but don’t accelerate, just work together. Misery loves company.
Tower Bridge is in sight, with the half marathon mark just on the other side of the river. It’ll be packed later on in the day, and you can’t help but feel that you’re swimming against the current at the moment with all the spectators crowding into position. That incline doesn’t look like much, but treat it with respect. The magnitude of the task is starting to become a little more obvious. The race is now broadcast to more than 150 countries, so smile, you’re on camera!
Now begins the most demoralizing part of the race, the long loop around Isle of Dogs and Canary Wharf. There’s usually some sort of squall that develops (possibly an old gift from the Orient that the old tea clippers brought back), and the course snakes agonisingly onwards. This is really the time for concentration. It’s time to break your rhythm and increase the pace – gradually and very slightly, but increased all the same. Time to think about some energy replenishment, and don’t worry if you can see the Africans looping round ahead of you. Run your own race.
Time to exit the loop and head for home! You’ve broken the back of the course – but has it broken yours? This is unchartered territory now, the period of the race that you can never fully prepare for. But don’t let that scare you. The mind is still strong, and the legs can cope. There are no more detours between now and the finish; let the wave of excitement from the crowd carry you onwards.
The Embankment at last and it’s packed with spectators and a few bemused tourists. What’s that, is it a tail wind? No, it’s just your second wind! No excuses from here onwards; you’ve put yourself in a position to hit your goal, and these last couple of miles can’t and won’t stand in your way. Give Gordon a wave as you zip past the Houses of Parliament!
Now the finish is well and truly in sight. From 1982-1993 the race used to finish here on Westminster Bridge – if only it still did! Enough of that, two more minutes and it’s all over. Push on past St James’ Park and Buckingham Palace (wonder if the Queen is watching?) and along The Mall to break the tape. You won’t find an atmosphere better than this anywhere in the world, so try to take it in. But don’t linger – there will be plenty of time later to revel in this collective celebration of marathon running. Go! Unleash the kick!
The Finish: Where’s that foil blanket? Now get out of my way, I want to lie down…