Monday, 18 April 2005

Good effort, but could do better

First of all, many thanks for your generosity. And greetings to the new recipients of this popular list. So far I have raised in excess of £1800 for the World Cancer Research Fund. You already know the story behind me running for cancer research, and it has been weighing on me and, I know, on many of my friends recently. Yesterday was a big day for the people at WCRF. This email is to thank you for your kindness, to recount Sunday's experience, to give you the results, and to offer a plea and guidance for payment.


Notwithstanding gloomy predictions early in the week, the weather, as you will have noticed, was fantastic -- it was sunny and cool and mostly wind-free for most of the run (it warmed up a little too much towards the end). At the mass start in Greenwich park there was a part-like atmosphere on the grass at 8 am, as runners dozed in the morning breeze, and others looked askance at where the old hands were rubbing their vaseline. Running does funny things to your head, as well as your hormones. Once hooked you become compelled, obsessive. Not only do you spend hours reading reviews of running shoes in the magazines; you think ignorance of heart-rate training methods is quaint; you even schedule days when you don't run with a watch and calculate your mileage. You twitch when someone calls it "jogging" (at 8+ mph?). But it also develops an extraordinary sense of camaraderie. You offer nervous first-time-marathoners your spare power bar or immodium (Paula was obviously out of this), pleased to meet someone who understands obsession. Everyone gazed around them and repeated, "it's the perfect morning ...." London is a beautiful city to run around -- even the Isle of Dogs looks good -- and the race is entirely efficient (no 15-min late starts like the Italians, or confusion about where the start is meant to be like the Welsh). It started at 9:45, after a mass rush from the toilets where we'd all been standing in line for about 20 mins -- as we hit 9:35 and were still in the queue stopwatches were being used to time each visit to the cubicle. I suppose it must be different at the elite runner's start.

One of the high spots was when I passed Paul Tergat and Stefano Baldini. The thrill was only slightly softened by the fact that they were running in the opposite direction -- at that stretch of the highway when I was at 14 miles, and they'd just passed 21. I didn't see Paula because she'd been given a 45-minute head start. Tower Bridge (at about 12.5 miles) is a breathtaking sight (ok I was out of breath for other reasons) when it's lined with a deafening crowd -- it's where the WCRF supporters were stationed, and I hope there's a decent photo to emerge from there.

35,000+ runners passed the start line. The pack never really thins out along the route -- even in the last couple of miles the limping and prostate forms of middle-aged men with surplus testosterone assure you that you're not alone -- so it's difficult to build up a rhythm, and the entire race is spent passing people and having to duck and weave one's way through. The spectacle and sense of occasion pushes you on and makes up for any minor irritation. In fact the only irritation was a triad of celebrities who seemed to be following my pace between about 16 and 20 miles -- the crowd kept on calling their names "James", "Dave" and "Willy" or something or other. I have no idea who they were, though I bet they were young. However, I wore my name on my shirt and learned to appreciate the cheers of the crowd -- you could really float on the crowd's support in the last few miles. The crowds were fantastic, and more or less covered the entire route. On my not floating, however, see below.

One of my co-runners for WCRF deserves a special mention. Tootus Maximus, the London Gladiator, has been wearing a gladiator costume for a month without respite. He's a trainee-teacher, and I guess someone pointed out that being a Gladiator carries transferable skills, at least in Tooting. He was hoping to run the race in about 4, but I passed him after about 8 miles (meaning he'd set off like a greyhound). Everyone should have a space in their life where they can strike hands with a man in a gladiator costume, shout 'strength and honour', and carry on running, all without the faintest hint of irony. As I said, it does things to your head.

Everything was going fabulously and according to my rigorous plan. I hit the halfway point at 1:38.11, a few seconds slower than I'd intended, but knowing for certain that a very modest negative split (i.e. running the second half slightly faster than the first half, because you're warmed up and intent upon emptying the tank) would achieve my target time of 3:15; and the next eight and a half miles sped past like an episode of '24'. Then just shy of 22 miles I felt a ripple run down my right calf, like a gentle wave. I shook it off, and a couple of minutes later it hit again and my leg momentarily froze. I stopped, and watched my time sprint ahead. I hauled over to the railings at the side and stretched both calves and the right hamstring. A nice lady there gave me a concerned look and enquired solicitously, "Are you alright Joad? would you like some water?"

I started off again, able to run, but within a few hundred metres the rippling effect was back, though without the tidal wave. So for the last four miles I couldn't pick up my pace as I had intended, but ran solidly on with distinctly odd form, my right leg rolling. The pain was like being in a tunnel, and I have little recollection of Buckingham Palace or the Mall. Though I do remember that that last mile was the longest 7'30"-er in my life. My stretching had taken only a little longer than Paula's 15-second squat, but the lost time, combined with my inability to run my projected 7'00" pace for the final four, meant that I missed my 3:15 target. But not by very much. I collected my medal. Lauren saw me on TV a couple of times at the end and says I looked cheerful. You never feel bad after a good run, they say. Tell that to the emaciated men supporting themselves on trees around the baggage collection area. I limped briskly to the WCRF's hotel suite and got a quick massage and showered, then sat around talking to the WCRF people waiting for the other runners to show up. London is completely consumed by the event -- you see the runners' bags everywhere, runners' magazines, empty water bottles; the area around Westminster and the Palace is a grand party, and even the public transport system is geared up to accommodate participants and spectators: it's hard to believe on a Monday morning that it's over.


This morning I checked the official results: 3:16.07.

I missed my target by 67 seconds. And this also means that I failed to qualify for the exclusive, fast-runners-only-please-we're-not-British Boston marathon by 8 seconds. Yes, that's less than 1/3 second per mile. When I thought I had missed by over a minute I was a bit upset. When I found out it was just 8 seconds, it seemed only funny. My overall position was 2,528; among male runners I was 2,364. Among people in their 30s I was 908. If anyone wants the splits in an excel spreadsheet, email me.

If I had not felt the eyes of absent sponsors, I might have taken a more lackadaisical approach. My thanks.


If anyone who hasn't sponsored me wishes to do so it's not too late. It's like a horse bet when you know the outcome of the race. If you knew the outcome of a race it might seem odd to bet on a horse that loses, but the WCRF is a very worthy outfit. You can learn more about their activities here:
I am still hoping to make my target of £2,000. You can sponsor me by email, and using the payment methods below.

Could I ask everyone who did sponsor me to send payment to me asap. This can be done a number of ways:
1. via the website:
You can pay here even if you've written your name on a sponsorship form -- obviously I'll cross-check. This method is fast and convenient, and you can use a credit card to make a payment direct to WCRF. Your name also appears on a very grand list (though you can also do it anonymously). The only problem with this method is that the site won't work with the Firefox browser.

2. by check, made payable to "World Cancer Research Fund - UK". You can send this to me at 68 Eden Street, Cambridge CB1 1EL; OR you can send it through the Cambridge internal post to Lauren Kassell at HPS or Pembroke; OR to me in the School of Literature, UEA.

3. by cash, in any currency, which you can give to Lauren or to me.

ALSO, for donations made by those who pay income tax in Britain, the charity can claim back tax (28%). In order for this to take effect, you need to indicate your willingness online or on the sponsorship form AND to give your address including postcode. So if you wrote your name down on a sponsorship form and didn't give this information, or if you sent me an email, please could you indicate to me if you are willing to allow the charity to claim the tax and give me your address including postcode at the same time you make payment.


Again, thanks to you all from me and from WCRF-UK for your support.

no. 49,356