My Old Man said follow the plan – a London Marathon guest blog

Marko says: Aye this is my blog but it’s not solely about me, it’s about the running I’m involved in and the people I run with too. I’ve been delighted to follow the progress of Mark “Ello” Ellis since he joined MAC, a top lad and someone who has improved so much over the last year. A grafter, never complains, head down and great to train with. I was sure he was going to have a special London Marathon this year and this is the unedited story of his build up and race straight from the horses mouth. I think we will all see a lot of ourselves in here. Thanks for sharing it mate (But I still think you should have called it Ello meets Nello):)

It was Easter Sunday, pretty much 7 days (to the minute) when I would be starting the London Marathon. I was weeding the front garden and in the midst of a slight dose of maranoia I managed to fend off the vultures circling above. Pull the weeds from the top and they just snap off leaving the roots behind (annoyingly), the strength is in the roots, these are their foundations. Even although I run every week, my training plan for London started officially back on the 6th January. A quick check of Strava and I can see my plan has come in at a total of 670 miles; Tuesday club sessions, early morning Thursday runs, long solo weekend runs, recovery runs, interval sessions, strides, one race (I think), the list goes on. These were my roots; this is where my strength lies. Trust in the training and in 7 days time I know I will be ready to stand on that start line and be ready to go.

It was also that same Easter Sunday, the same garden, the same weeds that I thought “I wonder if my friend and running chum would let me write a ‘Guest Blog’ about my London Marathon experience for his thousands of disciples?”. Well if you haven’t already worked it out, like the man from Del Monte, he said yes.

So here I am, another Mark (Mark Ellis), not quite as irritating (hopefully 🤣) but let’s just say borderline annoying. Another member of the Motherwell Athletics Club (MAC) runners who runs for the enjoyment and the satisfaction it brings. I’m English (not one of the dicky ones, I’m actually alright), from Yorkshire 😊 so if you remember me after reading this blog and you see me at a race in the near future don’t be afraid to come and say “E’yup”.

It’s now Easter Monday, 5.52am, been up for an hour already and no, I’m not at work today! From previous experience this is normal behaviour leading up to a marathon, sitting here thinking “roll on next Saturday when I will wrestle with the uncomfortable pillows of the Liverpool Street Travelodge whilst getting approximately 2 hours sleep!”. Who knows maybe this year will be different and I will sleep through my alarm and actually miss the start of the race! Don’t even joke about this! No run today and I only plan to run 3 times between now and Sunday. All easy runs with either some strides and/or a couple of marathon paced miles in there to keep the legs ticking over. My “Hi Tech” plan, as you can see from the tipp-ex has been an evolving one but pretty much made up by myself along with a little bit of guidance from a book that Mark leant me called ‘Advanced Marathoning’.

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Let’s not get carried away here, I am by no means an advanced marathon runner, but I have done 6 previously. My first was London back in 2016, just dipping under the 4 hour mark with a 3:59:16. My last, Manchester in 2018 with a target of running sub 3:30, where a pee stop and a stopped watch nearly cost me dearly, 3:29:55.

This years plan I hear you say? This is something I have wrestled with for quite a while, mainly due to self doubt and then the terrier in me that says give it a go. When I got the London place at the club presentation night my first thoughts were 3:15 and I will be happy. Is it realistic to try and knock another 15 minutes off your marathon time in just over 12 months? Since August 2018 I had lost near enough a stone in weight, was running the best I have ever run after PB’s at 5k, the monthly club time trial twice, and a hilly, windy and wet run with the wind half marathon, so why not? But in the weeks after this I thought about the Holy Grail of London, a Good For Age (GFA) time, which was only (only!!!) another 5 minutes. So here I am, with the ambitious plan of trying to become a London Marathon GFA runner and a target of 3:10. Is it possible? Well whether it’s a dip in self awareness or a peak in self confidence I will be giving it a go.

Fast forward to Tuesday morning, 5 days to go, I’ve been up for most of the night being sick 🤢. My partner and her son had a sickness bug a week or so ago, along with some other family members, and I was hoping and praying that I would avoid it. No such luck! Only the way the day pans out will tell me how I’m doing but today was meant to be a run day (6 miles easy with some strides) that’s not going to happen! The mix of emotions that were going through my head each time my tired and aching body carried me to the toilet during the night was incredible, “oh no, I’m going to have to defer”, “how long will this last”, “do I cancel the hotel”……………it was not a nice feeling and I know I am not completely out of the woods here so I am keeping everything crossed!

Wednesday morning, I’m up feeling much better, not 100%, but I’ve had breakfast and my appetite is back, phew! Hopefully that is the end of that, a nerve wracking (for me anyway) 24 hours. A day of rest to get fully recuperated and try to fuel up on what I have lost over the last day or so. Well I’m feeling so much better that I decided to go for a run, nothing silly, a steady 5 miles with 5 x 100m strides and all was good. My legs felt fresh and everything seems to be in working order. If anything that run was for my head and boy did it work. What could have happened in the past 24 hours seems to have been put to bed and I’m surprised how quickly this bug seems to have passed.

Thursday morning, and I am definitely back to normal, it’s now 4.16am having woken up at 3.45 and I can’t get back to sleep……….never been happier to be awake early. 3 days to go. Last day at work, ha ha ha check me, one day week!

Finally, it’s Friday and time to catch a plane ✈️. An early steady 5 miles with 4 x ½ mile marathon pace pick ups, slight change to the plan again but its just the way things went this week. However, I am struggling mentally to believe that I have the capability to maintain my 7.05 – 7.10 minute mile pace for the full 26.2 miles on Sunday. The last couple of runs with MP miles have been difficult and this has knocked my confidence somewhat. I am trying to combat that by putting my faith in a 19 mile training run that I did which was in freezing, wet and windy conditions where I managed to keep the planned pace going for 15 miles that day as per the plan. The brain is a funny old thing 🤪

Now writing this on the Stansted Express Train heading in to London. Looking for a quick check in to the hotel and head up to the Expo to collect my running number tonight so that we (Debbie, Jude & I) have the day to ourselves tomorrow to do our own thing.

We made it up to the expo and I won’t lie, the butterflies were going walking up to the entrance. Straight in like a kid in a sweet shop and over to collect my number and tell them who I am. Joanne says”Hi Mark, you will be starting in the Blue Zone, that’s why you have a Blue rope on your kit bag. You are starting in Zone 1, you must be fast!”. Then it hits me, like a sledgehammer…………..I’ve worked bloody hard to get myself ready for this, believe in yourself! Joanne continues “What time are you hoping for?” 3:10 came my reply, “Wow! Really fast! Good luck, have a great race and enjoy the day”.

It was so exciting and the staff at the expo were absolutely fantastic. A quick scoot about, plenty of photos, had a look at the merch and picked up some very comfy sliders which will be a great memory when the marathon is long gone and I am enjoying everything the Playa Flamingo Beach resort, Lanzarote, has to offer at the all inclusive buffet!

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Saturday, a 2am wake up call as the Fire Alarm is blaring and we jump out of bed in a state of confusion! Legs feel like jelly as the adrenaline is pumping! Turns out to be a false alarm……………………back to sleep and a day sightseeing in the wind!

Sunday morning, race day, or is it Christmas Day?

Nearly 4 months of training and it all comes down to today………………..I thought I had slept fairly well, for me, but debs informs me that I’ve been up and down a few times during the night. All for a good reason as anyone who has run a marathon before will know how important it is to get the 💩💩💩 out of the way. Ahhhhh relax, but not too much! Kit on, gels and wine gums sorted and I think I’m ready to rock.

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I’m off, a short walk for a bottle of water and realise I’ve left my sunglasses in the hotel, it’s ok I probably won’t need them. Out of the Tesco and the sun starts peeking through the trees, I better go back for them. Quick phone call to debs and they are dropped out of the 3rd floor window and I’m off again. A short walk to the Docklands Light Railway and on to the train to Greenwich. Most people seem to be ignoring the instructions on the official marathon website about which station we should travel to depending on your start zone so I become a sheep and follow the herd………..baaaaaaa. Off the train and get talking to 2 ladies on the way up to the start, one of which is in the blue start, same as me, so we keep each other company and reassured that we will make it if we follow the other blue starters.

In to the Start zone and a quick catch up with Alison and Stewart from MAC, good luck’s all round, how you feeling etc etc but we all know we just want the race to start now. Off to the bag drop and a quick check that I have everything and I’m lighter. Imodium instants taken, we don’t want any Paula Radcliffe nonsense going on during the race! The messages of good luck start to come flooding in on the mobile, a nice distraction but it does start to bump up the nerves. The best advice comes from my long time friend Steve , he writes “U’ll b nervous but u’ve done the training 2 allow u 2 run well & enjoy it. Don’t wish it away pal, it’s the best day ever 👍🏼”. Once I’ve read this I realise how lucky I am to be there and tell myself to enjoy it no matter what.

I’m in the start zone now (zone 1 remember?) and I can see Kipchoge and Mo Farah warming up. A little stretch of the legs myself and the countdown is on……….5 minutes till the gun goes. Pee number 7, 8 and 9 done, closely followed by number 10 and “a nothing but dribbles” number 11, I’m empty. For anyone that knows me they know I need a pee quite a lot, last year at the Stirling Marathon I had to stop 3 times during the race. I was praying that I wouldn’t need it this year on the quest for a pb but knew that would not be likely. Looking around and the conditions are pretty much ideal, dull and overcast (the return visit for the glasses probably wasn’t needed but they are on the cap now) around 10 – 12 degrees, the weather gods are shining down on us, metaphorically speaking, even if the sun isn’t. Had it been last weekend we would have been lining up with blues skies, scorching temperatures and the thought that a PB would not likely be a possibility. Are the planets aligning?

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The gun sounds and the elites are away, never to be seen again, or so I thought. The marshalls start moving the barriers, we start edging forward closer to the start line. A quick check of the Garmin and the GPS is ready, I’m all set, over the line…………I’m off! Thank god I hear you say!

Here we go, a few waves to the VIP guests like I’m some sort of celebrity and a massive smile comes across my face, all the nerves and apprehension are gone, the legs are moving, the Nike Zoom Fly’s are turning over and I quickly settle down and focus on my race pace. To run a 3:10 marathon you have to be hitting 7 minute 15 second miles………but it’s pretty much guaranteed that everyone will run at least another 0.2 of a mile at least further than the 26.2. So, my race pace is to try and hit as close to 7.10’s as possible. My pacing is usually pretty good so I was confident that as long as the legs and body were willing I could make sure that I hit my marker. First few miles went by in a blur……..7.07, 7.08, 7.03, 7.06 & 7.09, vital few seconds in the bank as the mile markers compared to my Garmin were already slightly out. Over to the Cutty Sark and the first real ‘roar’ from the mass of spectators lining the streets. I’m genuinely humbled by the amount of spectators that are there on any event I do and always acknowledge them with a thumbs up or we are not worthy gesture to show my appreciation. The more I do it though the more people shout, ‘“Ello Ello” the first one of the day with many many more to come. (Ello being the nickname my under 10’s football manager gave me which has stuck ever since).

Miles 5 to 10 and I get my head down and just focus on ticking off the miles, I feel a slight tightness in my right Achilles and calf which had been twitching the past few days and thought the worst. I was gonna get cramp about 12 miles in and my chance for a pb had gone. I had a little word with myself, told myself it was the same feeling I got towards the end of running the Stirling marathon last year and I never got cramp then so this will be the same. I took my mind off it with a few hand slaps and high 5’s to the kids lining the streets keeping a smile on my face. Hearing them shout “yay” to their mums and dad as I pass makes me happy knowing how excited they must be just watching total randoms out on a Sunday morning jog.

My mental approach to this marathon is the same as I tried in Manchester last year, where I broke it down in to a half, 2 10k’s and a little bit on the end. Rather than focus on the full distance which seemed daunting I adopted this strategy and it seemed to work well for me so it was time to use it again. The plan was to hit the halfway point around about 1:34. Mile 11 now and I am on track and coming up to Tower Bridge, I had arranged with Deb’s and Jude the day before that they would be standing somewhere between the North side of the bridge and the turn (somewhere on the left hand side). On to the bridge and I took out my earphones to fully appreciate the noise of the crowds. I cup my ear, as if to say “I can’t hear you” and wave my arms up and down to encourage more noise. They didn’t disappoint, a huge roar and cheer got the juices flowing again, as if they were needed, and I realise I still don’t need a pee, result! Over the bridge and I’m on the lookout for Debs and Jude, scanning, scanning, scanning but nothing? I get to the corner and know that this is my last chance to see them, but again nothing? Slightly disappointed I turn the corner towards the half way point and just hope that they saw me at least. It turns out they did, Debs was shouting like a loony from the right hand side, as it was impossible to get a spot on the left, but I just hadn’t heard her. Debs will tell you my hearing isn’t the best!

Through halfway, a check of the watch and I am pretty much bang on the money, 1:34:51, first part of the race done, settle down now and in to the next 10k. I keep a look out for my friend and fellow runner, Jim Hendry, who had messaged the night before to tell me he would be at mile 14 and 22 but nothing. No luck with anyone I know on the route. Through 14 and the elite runners I thought I had seen the last of approach on the other side of the road, Kipchoge leads in a group of 4 but no sign of Mo? A few more yards down the road and there he is with Callum Hawkins not too far behind him. I thought to myself “if I get a wiggle on, I can maybe just catch them 🤣”

In to the technical section of the race now, through Canary Wharf, a few changes in direction but nothing major. When I ran London back in 2016, my very first marathon, I remember how loud the crowds were running through here and thinking “god sake, can you just give it a rest for one minute!”. Not today though, the crowds were still as noisy as ever, but I just loved hearing them spurring us all along and keeping the masses going. The steel drum band pounding away as you head under the footbridge seemed louder because of the echo but it was a fantastic boost to keep me focused and still bang on target………….mile 16, 17 & 18 – 7.08, 7.09 & 7.17 respectively. Must have been a slight glitch in the signal during mile 18 as it came up slightly slower and mile 19 clocked in at 6.57 which evened itself out. However, mile 19 approaching the Lucozade drinks stop I thought “I’ll take one, I might just need it come the end”, so I did. One half mouthful and the rest of it over my hand, I adjust my step to avoid standing on discarded cups and whoosh, the first signs of cramp in my hamstring! Oh no, I carried on up the road and all seemed fine, convinced myself it was a result of over stretching to avoid the cups lying on the floor, but I knew it was starting to get tough now and I could feel the fatigue slowly creeping in. However, that next 10k was done and I had hit my marker again, another 10k and a bit to go, dig in Ello you can do this!

Miles 20 & 21 saw a slight dip in my pace by around 10 seconds per mile and it was starting to have an effect on my rhythm. Things were tightening up. I could feel my stride getting shorter and the bounce in my legs was starting to go. I kept telling myself “it’s only 10 seconds a mile slower”, if I can hit 7.20’s or 7.30’s all the way to the finish then it might just be enough to get me under the 3:10. A quick check of my pace calculator that I got at the expo showed I had a minute and a half up my cuff, I had enough time in the bank to get me there. Mile 22, come on dig in, hit the 7.30 at least and it’s another one done……………7.28, not bad. Not great but not bad, this could even work. Mile 23 and I’m getting worse, with the cramp sniper picking me off at regular intervals, I keep it in the 7’s but they are on the up, 7.42……….its slipping away.

Now if this were a Hollywood movie, and you were currently watching Tom Hardy struggling through mile 23, you would see a close up of his face and a change of expression to show extreme determination when the dramatic music kicks in, the camera does a large dolly zoom and he starts to pick up his pace again, hit those 7.10’s all the way to the line and straight in to the arms of a waiting Angelina Jolie at the finish. Well I’m sorry to tell you, this isn’t Hollywood, I am quite clearly not Tom Hardy and there was no sign of Steven Spielberg or his film crew to capture the moment. I was spent, the body was running on fumes and I was starting to splutter. I knew the goal of 3.10 had now gone as there was no way I was going to be able to muster any mile sub 8 from here. It was all about just grinding it out and making it to the line, damage limitation and get as much of a PB as I possibly could. For as much as I wanted to stop and walk there was no way on this earth that I was going to allow this to happen. I had trained far too well, too hard and for too long to allow myself to give up now. Whatever you do you don’t quit, I just kept telling myself “it’s a parkrun” not long to go now.

I hit the embankment in stark contrast to running down it just a few weeks previous. This section therefore was familiar, I knew exactly how far this was. Approaching Waterloo bridge with the London eye and a scaffold clad Big Ben in the distance I had no choice but to get the head down and go through the pain.

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Right at Westminster and on to Bird Cage Walk, the 2nd place that I had arranged with Debs the day previously to see me. I made it, scouring the crowds I finally saw her and Jude bellowing their support and telling me how proud they were of me. I wish I could have been more grateful to them for the love and support they have shown me over the past 4 months but I barely managed a grimace and an ‘urgggh’ as I shuffled past towards the 800 metres to go marker. They did however raise my spirits and they knew it, I was nearly there and I knew that a massive PB was looming, likely to be sub 3:15 which is way beyond my wildest dreams. Past Buckingham Palace, the Union Jack was flying high and the Queen was in residence. I’m sure I caught her glimpsing round the curtains as I looked up. On to the final straight and I promised myself no matter what I was gonna try to whip up the crowd like I had done on Tower Bridge. They responded again with a wilful roar “Gaw on Ellow lappit app” was one shout I definitely heard. Not noticing at the time that I was running alongside Nell McAndrew I did my best to ruin her finishing photos, sorry Nell ! A glimpse up at the clock and it said 3:16 something or other, I didn’t care I knew I was home in under 3:15, well under and I was absolutely chuffed to bits. I stopped my watch at 3:13:49 and the very nice marathon people gave me an official time of 3:13:47. Just over a 16 minute PB from my Manchester marathon back in April last year.

Through the finish and get my medal, I do love a bit of bling and I will be honest when I saw the medal last year I wasn’t too enamoured with it but when the very helpful volunteer put it around my neck I fell in love with it. If you are still reading this, and I know that there may only be about 10% of people left who actually started it, I’m not sure if you are a medal lover or a couldn’t care less about it? I love the medal, surely it’s the “The End” Job done, complete, finito…….close the door on another chapter complete? As I make my way to the baggage truck a wave of emotion comes over me, hunched over with my hands on my knees for what must only have been a few seconds I see some tiny Adidas trainers meet mine, it was a volunteer “come on, give me a hug”. It was exactly what I needed to hear at exactly the right time………………..I don’t know who she was or even her name but I took the hug, composed myself and wandered off with hundreds of other delighted marathon runners all with their own story to tell.

Back in January, I ran 16 miles to get my dad a newspaper whilst he was in hospital as part of a Training run as he couldn’t walk the 200 yards to the shop. That day he told me, “Follow the plan, and you’ll be alright son”. Do you know what, he was spot on.

 

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Special thanks to Mark for allowing me to rabble on for so long and publishing this on his Award winning Blog, it is very much appreciated 😊

 

2 thoughts on “My Old Man said follow the plan – a London Marathon guest blog

  1. Great read Mark. Your journey to this fantastic PB just shows the benefits of a plan and personal determination. Loved the reference to your dad, bet he’s very proud. No one would have stopped reading this blog, sure 100% stayed to the end. PS I probably missed you at 14 & 21 miles as I was watching for a wee fat Yorkshireman!

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  2. Just had to read this again as I am having withdrawals from marathon chat 😂
    The proudest person at that marathon was me. Thank for taking me on your journey
    Love
    Debbie xxx

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