Imagine being on a dining table, taking the first bite of a juicy tasty meal, chewing on it and with eyes closed, somehow, something/someone stops you from the most important moment of enjoying the meal…swallowing. Well that was ‘me.’ London marathon 2017.Date 23rd April, sometime around 1pm London time. not eating but approaching the finish line. With every ticking second of the clock taking me nearer to the finish line while at the same time robbing me off critical seconds from my goal for this race. A marathon under three hours.
A few meters after taking the final turn of the race, I looked at my watch. I had looked at the watch many times before-In the first half of the race, I was checking to ensure that I did not move too fast but in the second half, I was looking hoping that the effort I was putting in the legs translated into a fast pace. This particular moment was however special. I was already approaching 2 hrs 59 minutes mark. In a minute, I would be off my target time for this race. I knew many friends were tracking all of us who were running. I had given my target as anything near three to avoid pressure that could arise. But sub three was the target I had set for myself. Some good friends had even predicted way lower time but I had decided to be cautious and try and join the sub 3 league first then get ambitious in future races. I had missed the sub ‘3’ target before in October 2016 and was hoping to redeem myself. That failure was however not in vain. I had taken the lessons from that race, used them in training and was hoping for a better performance.
As I crossed the colourful finish line, my Garmin read 2:59:53 and 42.38 kms. My watch was just a guide. The official time honors of which side of 3 hrs I was in fell on the official race tracker.Had I hit my sub 3hrs or had someone removed the delicacy from my mouth again when I had already chewed, closed my eyes and shifted gear to swallowing mode? I hoped that I had joined the likes of Waliaula and Nyingi (training buddies) who had done it before me? I had to wait for the tracker time. I knew guys tracking back home would have posted it on various mobile apps by now.
As I walked slowly away from the finish line to the left bags trucks, I looked back at the journey to London that had begun last year-Balloting for the Marathon in April 2016, not being successful and eventually getting a slot via a charity. The intense training, painful sports physiotherapy sessions, sacrifices and the fun. My last full marathon had been Nairobi Standard Chartered Bank Nairobi marathon in October 2016 where I had hoped to reduce on my earlier best time of 3hrs 14 min the previous year but failed miserably and finished at 3:17:47 a worse time than before. I had run the first half a bit too fast at 1 hr 27 min and from the 25 kms mark, my legs had become so tired I had to walk at some point after 30kms eventually doing the second half 20 minutes longer than the first half-a pathetic positive split. I had therefore spent most of the last 5 months working on my speeds and pacing and was able to do most second halves of the training races faster than the first. The real test however lay ahead.
A few days to the race, I had gone through my last few months of training analyzing paces in order to determine the pace that I was to maintain. My quickest 21 had been around 1:24:30 translating to a pace of about 4 min /kms.I decided and settled to maintain a pace of between 4:05/km and 4:15/km.I set this on my Garmin-A fast of 4:05 and a slow of 4:15.
Ndegwa my training mate from Heron court was also here and this was his third Abbort World major marathon (this one coming only two months after Tokyo). A big achievement. Also participating were our friends Wangendo, Mwai, Avani, Barbara and Edward. Ridu a teammate from Heron Court and my Son Alvin had also joined us and by default became our team managers. We collected our running bibs on Friday 21st from the expo wearing our team Kenya tshirts and were a major attraction there with lots of people asking to take photos with us owing to Kenya’s prowess in the marathons, did our last run in Hyde Park on Saturday 23rd then went for a Pasta party afterwards.
At the race start, once we bid ‘kwaheri’ to the support team, we went through our usual pre race drills, a visit to the bathroom every now and then to get rid of butterflies then some warm up. Ndegwa and I were starting in the same pen (Pen B).
The race organization was excellent. The entertainment and mood at the start lines, the distributing of runners to three start points, and the eventual joining up, the refreshment points, the crowd support, left luggage, the wash rooms etc. There were also lots of interesting runners on the route. One dribbling basketballs, another one dubbed Jesus carrying a cross the entire run, and one dressed like a giraffe amongst others.
Every so often in the first 21 kms, I would find myself getting the over speed alerts of up to 3:50/km but would quickly slow down to around 4.10/km. I knew and had experienced that those few seconds gained when you speed too much in the first half would end up costing one many minutes in the second half. I had decided to trust my training and hoped for the best. I crossed the half way mark at about 1:28:17.I had another 1:31:33 remaining to three hours but the distance remaining was longer- 21.2 kms.Every second counted. At one point when I saw some guys running to the toilets on the route, it triggered an urge to also go for a short call but I suppressed it. I even toyed with the idea of just doing it on myself if need be to save the crucial seconds. After all I was all soaked with sweat. Luckily away from the portable toilets the urge disappeared.
As the watch transitioned from km to km, the end moved nearer and nearer. Every time I crossed a timing mat, I knew that the many people tracking both back in Kenya and elsewhere would be excited and cheering on. Towards the 35 km mark, the speed started decreasing a little and the legs felt a bit heavy. I had been doing the initial 21 KMS under 4.15 almost effortlessly but now it was a task maintaining that speed. I had to summon a lot of effort to keep at it-the hard part of the marathon was here and it was what I had trained hard for.Eventually I crossed the finish line.
When I picked my bag from the left luggage trucks, I put on my phone and there were lots of messages on our run chat group and others. Clearly as expected, the whole team back home had been cheering us on. I looked at the official time posted by the guys tracking us and it read 2:59:47-thirteen seconds to three hours with the last pace average being around 4:16/kms. A nail biting finish but well within. I was elated. I had managed to nail a sub three.
That ‘kathought’ that maybe I was now too old to get into that bracket got a hard kick in the teeth. I had however not done it alone. It had taken the hand of God, my wife and kids who support and have to put up with peculiar runner’s routines, my extended family, special friends, my training mates, team Aero Atlas, physiotherapists,running colleagues who either chased from behind or moved too fast to keep me pushing, those who gave encouragement in one way or another, and all who cheered and shed tears as the clock ticked towards three.
Importantly this being the first major race for those amongst us who trained or interacted with Ryoba who passed on in Kilimanjaro Marathon earlier in the year, it was an opportunity despite the fears and worries of pushing our bodies to shed those fears and keep pushing at whatever level we are at like he always did.
With that race and target ticked, another challenge was already beckoning. Comrades 2017 up run on June 4th 2017.