Lessons from Mile 17

Back in 2007, I collapsed mid-stride while running the London marathon.

Rather than being tucked up with my medal in a fancy hotel near the finish line, I spent the night in a hospital outside the M25.

From my bed on the ward, I wrote about the experience here.

When I ran London again in 2010, I stopped at Mile 17 to take a photo of where I collapsed. Not sure why.

After recovering, I went on to complete a marathon a few months later, but for several years, I had lots of awkward conversations with the people who had sponsored me for London (I had been doing lots of fundraising and had asked everyone I knew).

I had plenty of time to reflect on what went wrong, and I still think about the lessons that I learnt that day.

These are some of my thoughts:

  • Starting too fast – I was running with a friend at the start and tried to keep up with him for too long when I knew it was too quick for me.
  • Racing Scooby Doo – somewhere in early stages, I saw a man in a Scooby Doo costume and decided that I should be going faster than him. Foolish.
  • Not having any concept of not finishing the race. I had never thought of any other outcome other than completing it, which was a big mistake. I remember thinking “the faster I go, the faster I finish”. As it turns out, this wasn’t true.
  • The heat – last time I checked, 2007 was still the hottest on record (which I am strangely pleased about) but I did not really factor this in.
  • Not stopping for water – obviously linked to the heat, but I ran through at least one stop in 2007 thinking it would slow me down. At every race now, I make sure I slow down to properly take on water at every stop.
  • The crowds – the shouts and the encouragement at any event are truly amazing – but these people aren’t your coach and they don’t really know how you are doing. I remember people shouting my name and I felt I had to go faster or keep running for them. You can take in their shouts as motivation, but if you need to take it easy or walk, then you should. The crowds have forgotten you as soon as you pass and they don’t have to deal with the rest of the race. You do.

    Relieved to have finally got a London medal in 2010
  • Bad decisions – when you are tired, it is like being drunk – you start making bad decisions. Recognise that you are tired and use that to make better decisions – like stopping at water stops or having gels/Shot Bloks when you said you would.
  • Not recognising the signs – I do remember thinking “if I just close my eyes for a bit, I will have covered 10m without looking”. I think I started doing this before I passed out – I must have been quite delirious by this point already. When I ran London again in 2010, I did not recognise a thing after Tower Bridge. I must have been in a daze for about four miles in 2007.
  • It’s all about the medal – times and PBs are great targets, but finishing the event safely is the only important thing.
  • You don’t have to tell everyone about your events. On one hand, telling people can ensure that you are committed to doing it, but on the other, it can bring more pressure. It’s a tricky balance, especially if you are fundraising, so I haven’t quite worked the answer to this one yet!
  • Setbacks can be ok – a few months after my failed attempt, I snuck up to Anglesey and completed the marathon there. A barn at Mona showground may have been a long way from the glamour of the Mall, but it was just fine for me.

I am sure there are more, and I like to think I made a lot of mistakes in one go. Having done so, I don’t want to forget them, as I would rather it didn’t happen again.

It’s now a decade since this experience, but I still think about it a lot during events and this definitely helps me make sensible decisions.

I hope it helps others too – let me know what you think.

6 thoughts on “Lessons from Mile 17”

  1. Very good advice for every runner – there’s no shame in walking now and then if it helps your body recover. The idea that you just have to “hit the wall” and run through the pain is pretty unscientific.

  2. Really interesting blog. Great advice for anyone competing in an endurance event. I would also add be realistic about the time you can achieve. So when you finish the event, even if it slightly slower than originally hoped for, you aren’t completely disappointed (which is me in practically every event I participate in).

  3. Thanks for writing this up as a blog. I’m about to run my first marathon on Sunday and the heat has me spooked, especially as I already have a tendency to run faster than I really should, so I’m taking your advice on board.

    That thought you describe — “the faster I go, the faster I finish” — is definitely something that goes through my head, but if I start thinking like this on Sunday I’ll be in trouble!

    1. Best wishes for Sunday! It is an incredible event and I hope you have a great run – do let me know how you get on! Thanks for the comment too!

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