In this podcast episode we bring you the long awaited race recap of the 2019 London Marathon. We’ll tell you all about our trip to the U.K. and what it was like to run this amazing race. This is a beast of an episode so kick back and enjoy!
The 39th edition of the London Marathon was held on 28 April, 2019. This marathon has been continually operating since 1981 and this year there were a record of 42,906 starters (414,168 tried for a ballot place) and 42,549 finishers on The Mall. Hugh Brasher is the race director and the marathon has raised 1.3 billion dollars for charity since it started. Their tag line this year was “thanks a billion.”(3) After several years of not getting in through the lottery system we were very excited to get charity spots with the UK based John Muir Trust and to raise money to plant trees on a property they manage in Scotland.
Trevor’s dad flew out from WA state to watch the boys while we were gone and we’re so grateful to him. However, our trip got off to a slightly rough start when I came down with the flu 12 hours before our flight went out. One of our kids also had the stomach flu the day before. Fortunately my stomach was fully recovered by two days before the marathon and sickness didn’t slow us down on our site seeing. Here are some of the things we did while in London…took walking tour of London, toured Westminister Abbey, Churchill War Rooms, The Tower of London, and the National Museum. We also went all over using public transportation including riding the Emirates Cable Car which went over the Thames River.
The Race Expo (aka The London Marathon Running Show)
The Running Show was located at the ExCel building in East London. They were open to runners and the public from Wednesday through Saturday before the marathon. You were required to pick up your bib using ID and the email bar code sent to you and to test out your timing chip. If needed you could designate another person to pick up your bib. There are three colors of bibs with three corresponding starts (red-charity, blue, green) and the zone that you line up into before the marathon.
The race was good about sending out pre-race emails and there’s a ton of information about logistics over on the website. They allow ballot and age qualifiers to defer their entry one year before the deadline if needed (this is not the case with charity spots). They also have an app so that you’re able to track family, friends, or celebrity times that you’re interested in.
They had a variety of games, motivational posters you could sign, and a treadmill set at world record pace (to see if anyone can run that fast for 400 meters). You can view the video above.
MTA Meet Up:
We had our MTA meet up near the expo on Saturday for an afternoon British tea which consisted of tea, sandwiches, and a variety of deserts and scones. Had a great turnout…list names, sound-bites… Thanks to everyone who came out to meet us! In fact, the MTA podcast was dubbed “The People’s Podcast for Running” by Phil Shin, one of the runners at the meet up.
The London Underground offers free transportation on race day when you show your bib, which is a very nice touch. One thing to be aware of is that not all underground locations are open on race day so you want to carefully plan how to get to your particular start line (for us it was in Greenwich Park).
It took us an hour and a half to get from the hotel we were staying at to the start area via public transportation. There was also nearly a mile walk to get to the corral area. You also want to allow for time to get your drop bag to the appropriate location (they provide specific clear plastic drop bags), use the port-a-loos (long lines, bring your own toilet paper), and get into your assigned starting corral by the time limit (although some volunteers were letting people into their assigned corral after the deadline.
Race morning logistics can be a bit more challenging at large marathons, especially since at London there are three separate start areas. The baggage drop was efficient. Another thing to remember depending which coral you are in is that it could be up to an hour or so after the official start before you cross the start line. This is important to consider when it comes to ditching throw away clothing and doing last minute nutrition/hydration.
The London Marathon is known as a flat and fast, point to point course. It has blue lines painted on the course which would be the exact marathon distance if you were able to follow it directly (the tangent). However the reality is that you’ll end up weaving around other runners a lot of going further than 42.2 km/26.2 miles. The course was clearly marked with both kilometers and miles and there was a timing mat every 5k.
Pace Teams: According to the website there were 65 pacers from the Runner’s World x New Balance Pace Team, ranging from 3:00 hour to 7:30 pace. Pacers were carrying large flags displaying their times and were available in each of the three starting areas. However, I noticed that the 4:00 pacer for the red start disappeared at mile 5. Trevor finished before the 4:30 pacer (in 4:38).
The first 3km of the marathon are spent heading east from Greenwich Park and this is a good time to go with the flow and watch your feet with the large pack of runners around you. It can be crowded for the first 5 or 6 miles since all three starts merge at the 5k mark. This is the section of the course with the most noticeable downhill so you might notice faster splits during this beginning section.
At around the 10k mark the course goes by the Cutty Sark (a British clipper ship built in the late 1860’s) and this area has a ton of spectators (which narrows the course a bit).
Crowd support is amazing through the whole marathon but it quiets down a bit until 20-22km where there are more crowds and where runners cross the Tower Bridge and hit the halfway mark. It was here that there was approximately a mile section where we could see faster runners who were at the 22 mile point. One thing that struck me is that most of them looked like they were in a lot of discomfort.
Later on there’s the Isle of Dogs and Canary Wharf section of the course which is a bit quieter. The crowds pick up again around 35km at Shadwell and the final 5k passes some amazing landmarks including Big Ben and Buckingham Palace before turning into the finish line area at The Mall.
There were 19 aid stations on the route situated as follows: 13 had water in 250 ml bottles with a flip-top lid. They requested that you drain theses before discarding so that they can be recycled. Sports drink was available at 5 locations (2 with compostable cups) and at mile 23 the Ooho sachets which are 25 ml seaweed capsules filled with sports drink. They are edible and biodegradable, vegan and allergen free. You were supposed to consume them like a cherry tomato.
I really enjoyed having the small bottles of water because I was able to hang onto it and consume it as needed. I didn’t use any of the sports drinks, gels, or other food on the course. I brought UCAN bars with me and ate half a bar every 5 miles. Since the start time was later I was able to have a normal breakfast that morning and then just started on my fueling strategy during the race.
The finish line area was exciting with the crowds and the announcer as you cross the final timing mats. They gave out a nice medal with several of London’s landmarks on one side and the course on the other, the finishers shirt, and a bag of food at the end (included in the bag was sports drink, a variety of different snack foods, and a heat sheet). Then there was the gear check pickup followed by the meet and greet area which had letters of the alphabet in order to meet friends/family.
There was an incredibly strong elite line-up for both men and women going into the race. One interesting thing is that the London Marathon pays for pace rabbits for the elites for the first half of the marathon (you’ll see them dressed in the black and white stripped singlets). The regular pacing for the first half is one reason why there’s often fast times coming out of London.
- 1st: Eliud Kipchoge (Kenya) – 2:02:37 (4th time winning London, beat his own course record and set the 2nd fastest time ever). He told a reporter with the BBC “I’m happy to win on the streets of London for the fourth time and to make history. The crowd in London is wonderful, and that spirit pushed me.”(6)
- 2nd: Mosinet Geremew (Ethiopia) – 2:02:55
- 3rd: Mule Wasihun (Ethiopia) – 2:03:16
- 5th- Sir Mo Farah (GB)- 2:05:39
- Elite Women:
- 1st: Brigid Kosgei (Kenya) – 2:18:20, she ran a PB; “I am over the moon with that,” she said. “I always promise myself in the last mile that I would never run another step. But this is not my retirement.”
- 2nd: Vivian Cheruiyot (Kenya) – 2:20:14
- 3rd: Roza Dereje Bekele (Ethiopia) – 2:20:51
- 6th- Emily Sisson (US) 2:23:08, made her marathon debut running the 6th fastest American time on an eligible course
Men’s Elite WC:
- 1st: Daniel Romanchuk (US) – 1:33:38
- Marcel Hug (Switzerland)- 1:33:42
- 3rd: Tomoki Suzuki (Japan) – 1:33:51
- Women’s Elite WC:
- 1st: Manuela Schar (Switzerland) – 1:44:09
- 2nd: Tatyana McFadden (US)- 1:49:42
- 3rd: Madison de Rozario (Australia)- 1:49:43
The Ever Presents are a group of 11 runners who have completed every London Marathon since 1981 (this was the 39th year). We saw a feature on TV pre-race about the oldest Ever Present, Kenneth Jones, age 84. He talked a bit about his training and goal of making it to 40 years in a row. He finished this year in 7:40. Another Ever Present, Chris Finill age 60, clocked a time of 2:59:46, breaking the three-hour barrier for the 38th time in 39 races. There will be 10 Ever Presents running London in 2020 as one didn’t finish this year. (7)
Slower runners treated badly:
The London Marathon is currently investigating reports that back of the pack runners were insulted (called fat and slow) while the course was being torn down around them. There are even reports of water stations closing before runners arrived and the clean-up crews spraying runners with cleaning fluid used to clean the streets. One woman reportedly came away with chemical burns. Elizabeth Ayres, one of the official pacers (of the 7:30 group) told reporters that the attitude and lack of support was the most disappointing part. She said, “The whole marathon was just horrible. I had runners that were crying.” She also said that she had encountered a number of issues, such as no water stations being available after the third mile, clean-up operations starting while she was still running and officials insulting competitors. She heard comments from event workers including: “If you weren’t so fat you could run faster,” and “it’s a race not a walk.” Ayres has done a total of five marathons has also run the London Marathon previously, which she said usually has an up-beat, “party” atmosphere. She was expecting that again when she set off on Sunday, but told CNN that “after about a mile, we didn’t have anything, apart from vehicles trying to knock us off the road,” and people telling the runners to “get a move on.”
Hopefully this very sad experience can be used so that slower runners aren’t treated this way ever again. If you advertize a certain course time limit then you need to keep full course support open during that entire time. It’s challenging enough to be out on a marathon course for over seven hours but to do it without support and that kind of negative pressure would be horrible. (5)
On a more positive note the London Marathon is known for lots of costumes. On the way to the race we talked to a runner who was carrying an ostrich costume in a bag. I later saw him at the start line. Other costumes viewed along the way included rhinos, a 2 person dragon, a 2 person dog, trees, a sleeping bag, a tent, a flip flop, a running shoe, a Mrs. Doubtfire looking old lady, a banana….
There were 38 official Guinness World Records set out of 78 attempts. The Guinness World Records has worked with the London Marathon for the last 12 years with on the finish line verification. This inspires some fun and creative costumes. We all know it’s challenging enough to run a marathon while not in costume so mad respect to anyone who attempts this.
The fastest marathon dressed as a love heart, run by Thomas Brockwell in 3:05:32. He was quoted as saying, “The last 800m were hell when I saw just how close it was. The legs are now fully dead.”
A married couple set the record for fastest marathon with two runners handcuffed together in an impressive time of 3:43:17.Rebecca, the wife, said: “We were alright until 20 miles and then my husband got a bit tired, so it was quite difficult at the end to be in sync and for me to motivate him. The chains were pulling.” Her husband said: “My legs were gone; my back had a spasm!”
Lukas Bates dressed as Big Ben to run the marathon hoping to run the fastest time for the Guinness World Record dressed as a landmark. The video of him trying to cross the finish line in the costume went viral (if you haven’t seen it do yourself a favor, stop everything and go watch it now). He was running for the UK Alzheimer’s Society and raised 5,000 pounds. Unfortunately his time of 3:54 wasn’t enough to break the record of 3:34:34. Then his day got much worse when his costume was stolen post-race when he stopped to get a drink at a pub. There’s been a reward offered for the costume’s safe return. (1)
As I mentioned earlier the week didn’t get off to the best start with my bout of stomach flu. Fortunately I was feeling normal by two days before the marathon but I didn’t run for five days pre-marathon. We ended up doing so much walking around London that I decided to give my body extra rest and call it good. I also tried hard to get as much sleep before the race as possible (which can sometimes be challenging in a different time zone).
One of the things that I always get super nervous about (especially during large marathons) is logistics. It can be a challenge to know how much time to leave to get to the start area. By the time we had arrived at Greenwich Park and had walked to the bag drop area I had basically 20 minutes to get into my corral. And of course I needed to use the toilet quite badly due to the amount of water and tea I’d consumed earlier in the morning. I decided that using the bathroom trumped getting into my corral on time. One thing I noticed was that it was difficult to hear any of the announcements in the bathroom lines. Thankfully I finished in the bathroom with two minutes to spare and hustled over to Zone 2 of the red start (charity runners). I noticed later that they were letting people in even after the deadline.
The starting area atmosphere was exciting with lots of nervous chatter and the noise of announcers coming through the speakers. One thing they did in Berlin that would have been nice in London was having big screens in every Zone so that we could see what was going on. There was one screen closer to the start line that was showing each wave start as well as drone footage panning the huge crowds. There were runners packed in as far as the eye could see in front and back.
Finally they released my wave and we officially crossed the start line to the cheers of crowds lining the starting area. It was exciting and a bit surreal to be running such an amazing marathon. And no matter how many marathons a person has done there’s always that looming question mark about how the race is going to go. Thankfully the weather was perfect for a marathon. It was overcast most of the day and cool in the morning (mid 40’s to high 50’s). There were a couple times when it started raining lightly during the race but it didn’t last long. I wore a throw away jacket to the start line, discarded it there, and quickly warmed up by mile 2. My John Muir Trust singlet and running skirt were just perfect for the weather.
I found the first few miles to be pretty congested and had to stay mentally focused to keep on pace especially around the aid stations and anytime the road would narrow. Plus, there were spectators along nearly the whole route which always keeps me from zoning out. Despite the amount of runners I posted fairly fast 5k and 10k splits which made me a little nervous. On one hand I was feeling mostly good but I was afraid that I’d get handed a piano later in the race. The British expression, “Keep calm and carry on” came to mind.
By the 10 mile mark my right hamstring was making a few protests and I started dealing with some negative thinking. Here are some of the things going through my mind (among many): How will I ever keep up this pace? If I’m hurting now, it will probably only get worse. How hard do I want to work/suffer to go sub-4? I really had to work hard to bring my thoughts into a more positive space and enjoy the experience and scenery around me. There were a lot of costumes and the crowds were yelling the names of runners who had put them on their shirts. I thought I kept hearing my name until I realized that there was an Andrew running around me. I realized that I was thankful that I didn’t have my name on my shirt because I find it distracting to get called out like that (but many people find it motivating so know what works for you).
Around mile 18 my stomach started feeling a little off (sort of like a rerun of my stomach flu feeling) and that had me worried. I decided to find a port-a-loo to stop at because you may have heard the advice, “never trust a fart after mile 18.” I stopped at the bathroom and everything was fine but it did cost me around 3 minutes as peeling sweaty layers down and up can be a challenge (I also managed to drop my phone on the ground).
Like I mentioned before the London course is fairly flat and the small hills were quickly followed by a downhill section which really made me feel like I’d achieved something. On the up-hills sections I reminded myself that I’d trained on much more challenging hills which felt like a mental boost.
I started looking forward to getting past the 20 mile mark and decided that my mantra would be “I’m stronger after mile 20.” I knew that with my marathon experience I could more easily push through the challenges and pain than many newer marathoners out there. I also started paying more attention to my mile splits and realized that I needed to keep my pace sub-9:30 if I was going to finish in under four hours. Chanting my “I’m stronger” mantra under my breath I really did feel strong the last 10k. In fact, there were many runners who would abruptly start walking in the middle of the course which made those final miles feel a bit congested. I had to do a fair amount of weaving around people to stay on pace.
As happens during nearly every marathon sometimes the last few miles of a race can feel like a bit of a blur. I remember going through a couple tunnels, running down the Royal Mile, and hearing the announcer at the finish line and the cheering crowds. I had a good burst of final speed to cross the finish line in 3:59:30 which made me surprisingly emotional. I didn’t realize it would feel so good to meet my goal and finish my first sub-4 marathon in over three years. I felt so incredibly grateful for my strong, healthy body and the good training cycle I’d had. It was great to get that medal put around my neck and be able to finish my 57th marathon (and 4th World Marathon Major). I collected my swag/food bag, got my checked bag, used the bathroom and tried to find the underground stop to get me back to our hotel. We had decided pre-race not to wait for each other at the finish. As I was walking I noticed a bunch of bicycle taxis and asked a driver how much it would cost to get me to my address. I decided to take the stress off myself of getting back to the room and enjoyed riding instead (which is quite the experience in London traffic). Plus, one benefit of marathons is the chance to support the local economy.