Monday, 18 April, 2011
The shoulders are tender, the legs part functional, but the medal hanging on the hook in my kitchen says I did it. The 2011 Virgin London Marathon was the toughest I have run so far. The cool early morning quickly made way for what felt, to the runners, like blistering sunshine. Not the best day to forget to pack your sunscreen. This was the first time I had started from the green start on Blackheath. It’s the one the celebs depart from. I walked past the VIP tent to see Cheryl Baker signing autographs, Will Young doing his best to ignore the screams from fans, Jack Tweed hovering sheepishly by the tent entrance, looking like he was wondering why he was there at all.Off we went in what was still reasonably cool weather. At mile two, the grinning face of MR contributor Mick Collins was there to greet me with his family, his giant Portuguese water dog Dora bounding around in Charlton Park. I felt as though I had similar levels of energy, and zipped through the 10K stage in 49 minutes.Two theories did battle in my head. One was that I was way ahead of 3hr 55mins pace and was comfortably building in slack that would allow me to deal with the inevitable slow down in the second half. The other was that I would pay in spades for going off too quickly. Approximately 100m ahead of me, I caught a glimpse of the 3:30 pacer and was both elated and concerned in equal measure.In Bermondsey, I met my family. My niece had made a cardboard cutout of my face. It was hard to miss; my napper is as big as most satellite dishes. Still well ahead of schedule, I stopped, chatted, quaffed some extra water and a banana and trundled on.I reached Tower Bridge looking for MR Art Editor, Pio. He’s 6ft 4ins and has a shaved head the size of Ecuador, but I couldn’t see him. The sweat was stinging my eyes. Just beyond halfway, which I passed in 1hr 56mins, I saw Claire, deputy editor on Women’s Running, who unleashed a scream that could have shattered crystal. She was, it seems, surprised and pleased to see me. The rest of the slog to Docklands was reasonably trouble free despite my much slower pace. I was still inside the 4hr time and trundled into Canary Wharf to enjoy the shade of the skyscrapers. My family was there again, and had collared the announcer from the Lucozade bus to yell my name. It was a timely boost, but couldn’t last long enough for me to cling on to the 4hr pacers who cruised past me somewhere between 19 and 20 miles. It’s a strange feeling when you know your target is disappearing over the horizon. Part of you is downbeat; the other decides just to enjoy the rest of the race as much as you can despite the tiring legs and plummeting energy levels.I hit the return leg of the highway, into the sun once more and wondered what toll it would take, but realized that, however bad I felt, the runners to my left, struggling towards the 15 mile mark with all that I had just negotiated still in front of them, would be feeling much, much worse.On to the Embankment, the cheering masses who have been credited with getting so many thousands through those last few miles over the years were out in force. Just ahead, a man in his 50s in nothing but a leopard skin mankini and running shoes plodded on. My enduring memory of that stretch will be those two wobbling, sagging buttocks staring back at me. Rounding Parliament Square brought the relief that the finish was almost in sight. I ploughed on to Birdcage Walk and was roared home by my family once more. As I turned on to the Mall, the announcer was calling home Iwan Thomas, the Olympic 400m runner who I had overtaken last year at Big Ben. He was hammering down the home straight leaving stragglers in his wake. I crossed the line exhausted, hot and happy to have got through the suffering, albeit in my slowest time yet of 4hrs 24mins and 38secs. Later, I looked up Thomas’s time. I had actually beaten him by 16secs – he’d just started ahead of me. Coyle 2, Olympic medalist Thomas nil, not that I’m the sort of bloke who likes to gloat, or will ever mention it to my mates over a few pints. That’s it for another year. The hottest I have run in and in some way, the most satisfying to have got through in one piece given the conditions.I should really turn my thoughts to other spring marathons, but it could be much cooler next year in London and my chances of a faster time, maybe even that sub-four PB, could come back into view.That’s the trouble with a race like London, once it’s got you, it just doesn’t let go.