This podcast episode is our 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 with lots of stories, tips, shenanagains and sound bites so kick back and enjoy!
London Marathon Race Recap
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.
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 Washington 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. 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 a walking tour of London, toured Westminister Abbey, The Churchill War Rooms, The Tower of London, and The British Museum, and ate a lot of great meals.
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. We had a great turnout and are so thankful to everyone who came out! The MTA podcast was dubbed “The People’s Podcast” by Phil Shin, one of the runners at the meet up. I think we’ll keep the nickname.
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 our hotel 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. Another thing to remember is that depending which coral you are in 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 and 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 but his official time was 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 the bottles before discarding so that they could be recycled. Sports drink was available at 5 locations (2 with compostable cups) and at mile 23 they had 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 water as needed. I didn’t use any of the sports drinks, gels, or other food on the course (there were lots of people handing out various items separate from the official aid stations). 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 enthusiastic crowds 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.
- 1st: Eliud Kipchoge (Kenya) – 2:02:37 (4th time winning London, beat his own course record and set the 2nd fastest time ever)
- 2nd: Mosinet Geremew (Ethiopia) – 2:02:55
- 3rd: Mule Wasihun (Ethiopia) – 2:03:16
- 5th- Sir Mo Farah (GB)- 2:05:39
- 1st: Brigid Kosgei (Kenya) – 2:18:20
- 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 Wheelchair:
- 1st: Daniel Romanchuk (US) – 1:33:38
- 2nd: Marcel Hug (Switzerland)- 1:33:42
- 3rd: Tomoki Suzuki (Japan) – 1:33:51
Women’s Elite Wheelchair:
- 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)
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 two person dragon, a two person dog, trees, a sleeping bag, a tent, a flip flop, a running shoe, a Mrs. Doubtfire looking old lady, a banana, etc..
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.
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 below). He was running for the UK Alzheimer’s Society and raised 5,000 pounds.
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).
Race Day Nerves
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.
The starting area atmosphere was exciting with lots of nervous chatter and the noise of announcers coming through the speakers. There was a screen close 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.
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.
Keep Calm and Carry On
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. There were spectators along nearly the whole route which always keeps me from zoning out. Despite the amount of runners on the course 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 by going out too fast. The British expression, “Keep calm and carry on” came to mind.
How Much Do You Want to Suffer?
By the 10 mile mark my right hamstring was making a few protests and I started dealing with some negative thinking. The marathon gives you a lot of time to think! 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.
Another interesting diversion was that there were a lot of costumes and the crowds were yelling the names of runners who had put their names on their shirts. There were also cheer sections for various charities stationed along the course and they made a lot of noise. 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).
“I’m Stronger After Mile 20”
The London course is nearly ideal since it’s 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 feel 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). Trevor also finished strong with a time of 4:38.
Also Mentioned in This Episode
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