by Robbie Collins
This story began on a dark, dark, wintery November night in Liverpool somewhere along Otterspool prom where a local Triathlon Club were warming up for their sprints session. The weather was pitch black, rainy and windy so everyone was typically dressed head to toe in layers on layers on layers as they tackled the wind.
I was taking part, ticking along ahead of a half marathon in Conwy, my 22nd half but the first I’d done in a while. I was doing a pretty good job of pretending I was enjoying the sprints session – as you do! As coach Cooney rocked up beside me with the usual “Hey Robbie! Are ya well?!”.
We discussed the race ahead and the hilly Orme that we’d later encounter over the next few days, following this the race schedule for 2012 then became the main subject. I explained to Alvin I didn’t get pb’s anymore and I’d lost all confidence following heart problems throughout 2011 so getting to the sprints and back in one piece was a gold medal for me at that stage. We chatted for a few minutes as Alvin checked in with everyone for the session making sure everyone knew the script. I mentioned a few tri’s that may be of interest in the coming season but nothing major – a couple of local Olympics and that would be fine. My mantra was enough to “keep the belly off” would suffice and keep me in shape for my 2012 calendar shoot obligations.
We somehow got on to marathons and how I detested them having had a go before. I’d had a place for the 2011 event but deferred due to illness meaning April 2012 had a number with my name on it. Within 3 or so minutes Alvin had assured me he was of the impression I could run 3:10 “Jeez, no problem” he said.
As the Trinca train passed by and the session was under way the seed had been planted and my old mantra of “if others are doing it, why can’t I?!” I was more nervous as this stage than thinking I’d even make it round. So before I knew it I had placed all my trust in Alvin after all why wouldn’t I? We only have to look at him and think he’s been there and done it – and he still rocks up with a belly full of tea and pretty much smashes us all.
Fast forward 3 months and the New Year had begun, I’d become the first to receive a training plan from coach Cooney and my swimming and biking had become more regular – and I was actually enjoying it. It felt great to be back in the fold again and in every session the Mersey Tri massive seemed to grow a little bit more. I’d come away from each session with a new teammate and a ride or run organized for the next day or coming weekend. Amongst a growing amount of members over the last 12 months there was now a pretty tight knit group of amazing people.
Enough about them anyway – so with a base level of fitness in the tank the races began to appear and I had gained an awesome training partner in the form of Bryan Llorente. Things couldn’t have been better and I was content with my progress. “That’ll do pig” I said to myself and did an imaginary pat on the back.
Unfortunately Helsby Four Villages came around when I had picked up a wintery bug and my target of 1:25 had to be put on hold. I pretty much paced myself around some shorter distances ahead of the marathon in April. On each occasion I had Bryllo and White Lightning otherwise known as Ian Roche going full throttle out in front. I thought as long as I can see them I can catch them and if I do half of what they have it’ll be a respectable effort.
First up was …
Southport Mad Dog 10k – 39:48
(Running as Bryan Riley in this one I thought hopefully sub 40 will do). Great day out and a bit of speed work done too – Thanks Bryan! No Pb for me but Ian and Bryllo smashed it so it was smiles all round, huzzah!
Liverpool Half Marathon – 1:26:49
Originally I’d been hoping to run 1:25 here and beat my previous Pb of 1:25:50 but it didn’t come. Ian and Bryllo led the way once again about a minute ahead of me and were smashing it! Bryllo even equaled my own Pb. I was absolutely over the moon for these guys they’d put in the training and now it was paying off and I had a front row seat.
With these early season races out of the way, Bryan and I had strung a hand full of Thursday Night Tempo runs together and were a pretty good match. These runs then grew into doing our Saturday long run together as Bryllo launched his assault on his home Marathon in Madrid the same day as London (he would also eventually go on to enter Edinburgh – running a month after).
Bryan had lots of gears to be unlocked and I could see this early on and I wasn’t shy in telling him what I thought he could achieve. Even after running off the turbo on all of my long runs, I had felt good and I was shocked and thought this is too good to be true.
The weeks began to pass by quicker and quicker the days got lighter and longer and we were wearing shorts again – remember them! Even better than this my Spanish was coming on with every run we did and easily outdid my running ability. Muy bien I thought! Is rite.
4 Weeks to London
It was almost April and coach Cooney’s plan had brought me this far in great shape and I was even thinking (cloud above Robbie’s head playing montage) “I might even run a 3:30 at this rate but then again I really hate marathons!!!” and I meant it.
Last time I ran London in 2010 I’d hoped to run c3: 30 and had trained on 3 continents and clocked up about 70 miles a week for 7 months. The result was starting in the last thousand of forty odd thousand people and coming in at 4:43 and something. At no point had I done any 5-hour training runs so this was agony quite frankly. As anyone who’s had a bad run in a big event with such build up and prestige attached you get a massive lull afterwards and pretty much feel like a let down.
Back at casa Collins cleaning the trusty Newton’s in the sink (Missus shouting in the background “Not in the sink!”) I looked at the tread wear. Straight away I notice my gait had drastically altered and these shoes had only clocked up around 200 miles. New shoes at this stage and injuries, what!?!? Robbie and Marathons just don’t mix I thought.
I dealt with no running by copius amounts of cycling, getting the race position ready for Mallorca – Good trade I thought. I couldn’t run at all : ( I saw physiossssss, bought new shoes that I had ran in before - but Achilles, foot and ITB injuries kept coming and swapping places like football managers. After being told to rest most of the 2-3 weeks before London I missed plenty of long runs and 30 min runs were even a struggle and they were even niggling walking.
I rested and worried and rested and worried and worried and worried. Having shored up a pretty tight race calendar at this stage I had Mallorca 70.3 3 weeks after London and was hoping to run well off the bike, as my swim/biking is blahhh. Also, in the hysteria of a new marathon surge I’d signed up for New York Marathon too.
I switched on the telly and it was Friday 20th April 6:30 in the morning! Still trying to figure out which was the toilet and the sink my good friend Alan (Gidman) rocks up to take us to Lime St. Let’s go marathon boy he shouted from the driveway. (Voice in my head) “What’s Alan doing here?”
On the train at 7am and having slept all the way I pretty much didn’t know my name by the time we arrived at Euston and London would be quite overwhelming for the first day. People jostling everywhere and just a lack of space was something to get used to but in reality ideal prep for raceday. I also thought this is like a swim start, if anyone barges me I’ll swim over the top of them or twang their goggles.
Day One involved going to the Excel Arena at the London Docklands – home of the London Triathlon aswell. You get in there get your final instructions, race number, timing chip and then walk round all day whilst people try and sell you stuff and get your to sign up for their race ‘Norwegian Night Beach Marathon’ etc. Exactly!
A lot of charity stands are there running brands and famous runners and ex runners talking to the massive crowd from a big stage surrounded by the pasta party! Quite a few runners past and present were there even the likes of Colin Jackson were lurking. The expo runs the week leading upto London to spread out the masses arriving in droves.
I even saw Martin & Liz Yelling, Iwan Thomas (N.B just gave him the eyes and by the power of telepathy the message “You’ll learn!” in a whispery voice). As an avid fan of Marathon talk podcast it was good to see these in the flesh and see Liz ahead of her final pro race trying to qualify for the summer Olympics.
Apart from all of the running gear, massages on offer, scantily clad models selling some sort of running fandango I was relaxing with the guide dogs charity stroking golden retrievers staying off my feet whilst Alan did the rounds.
At this point it had all become a bit real but a part of me i.e. the runner in me didn’t even realize I’d be running in a few days time. The expo was great and you should take your time for this at least half a day. Even having done it before I’d enjoyed it and picked up a shed load of goodies.
About 25 tube rides later and it was Saturday Night. I dislike London as much as I dislike Marathons so I was doing well to have gone the distance in that respect. This is mainly due to the congestion and the lack of manners at times.
Al and I had spent the day staying off our feet well sort of. We’d walked about 10k including the last 2 miles of the course. To counteract this we got a Royal Box at the Lyceum theatre and watched the Lion King with actors even coming into the box to perform. All this was a great distraction and a good 3 hours or so to kick of the trabs and get the hooves up.
Many plates of pasta, chicken and other roughage we’d stocked up well and I thought whoaaa I’ve overeaten here I’m in the red, ah well! We were well-hydrated drink water and checking or wee like our life depended on it.
Up at 7am watching runners eat the worst brekkie going at a poor hotel, I thought good start but I had no expectations and my right ankle was already hurting and I hadn’t even tied my laces yet. No target time was on my radar as it had been throughout the training. I thought – void of confidence – have I got in over my head here and then tried to remind myself I’d run 26.2 before and on this course.
Robbie’s rules for race day + hotels.
Take your own cereal, for me porridge oats/dried fruit/nuts/manuka honey and a sports drink or water.
Insist you can get in the kitchen and use the Micro!
Brekkie done and following the crowd to the start at Blackheath I see a young boy with silver hair, “oh wait!” its White Lightning! I see Ian give him a big hug; wish him all the best and we continue onto the train. I can tell from Ian’s eyes he’s prepared like a demon and he’s all business. His words are limited and full of encouragement. I can see his focus so make my way onto the train.
Journey time is about an hour from our hotel to Blackheath and the tube is cold so I always take the oldest hoody, tights, wooly hat and loadsa race t-shirts that I will bin minutes before the start. You never know what you’ll find in terms of toilet facilities and weather so I always think failing to prepare is preparing to fail.
In the continuous blurr that is London Marathon we’d waited an hour for the toilet (Normal wait time) chucked our kitbag onto the lorry and moved about 200 yards to the blue start in the pens marked 1-9. Alan was in pen 6 as he was aiming to better his 4:28 by chasing the 9 min mile man in pen 5 ahead of him. I filed into pen 3 and sipped a gel and started taking a layer off every 50 yards, now I was race ready in terms of what I had left on anyway. Kinesio taped legs, Compression Socks, Shorts, Vest, Gel Belt, Watch, Road Id and Shades. Most important was tissues in case of a code brown emergency.
I spotted Ian dashing through a massive crowd as we all filed into placed at the blue start.
Blue Start is Elite, Club and Good for Age Start.
Green is Ballot places
The busiest of all the Red Pen – Charity places all your Scooby do’s and Giant Tigers etc.
So I’d seen Ian a handful of times and exchanged an enthused embrace with him each time. He’s was steaming with 3:10 or quicker and he was ready to roll! I worshipped him – ‘Go well Ian’ I’d shout on each occasion!
So as I stood at the blue start I heard the BBC introducing all the Kenyan’s and Pro’s etc. and I started thinking, “It’s quite good this isn’t it?” My thoughts were:
- Lost Ian before we’ve started but I won’t catch him anyway.
- Don’t shart or stop!
- Bugger!!!!!! Did I leave the Iron on..
- I’m hurting already how many painkillers have I had.
Boom Boom Pow! The Gun had gone and I had hit my Garmin, Crossed the mat and I was away.
After 5k I’d noticed a local guy Mark I knew from Liverpool and thought great I can run with him. It was paramount to not get sucked into anyone else’s race but I was pretty much overwhelmed and feeling edgy for the first 15k.
He was going for about 3:15 but I knew after 5k he was going to blow up. We chatted for the best part of an hour as I tried to get him to slow by talking to him. I had a giant 4:45km pace in my headlights (Alvin was in my head: Just pace it – You’ve got this!) but on some downhill’s we were easily hitting 4:20. I thought if Bryllo were here he’d be running this fast and that meant too quick for me especially at this stage.
Now Mark has done a handful of marathons and we were using the same gels at the same time etc so we’d done 10 miles chatting rubbish and keeping an eye on each other throughout. I thought he knows the script he can’t keep this up. I nanchantly said “First time at London mate?” he said tiring, yea yeah! And smiled like we were finishing at 13. I politely thanked Mark for his support and company and wished him all the luck and good legs for the remainder. It had been a pleasure to run with him.
I sat back and hit 4:45 pace as planned, Mark ran off into the distance. Now c10 miles in and I thought my right foot injury had already hit the danger zone – and this had opened my left Achilles as I compensated for the right foot wobbling around and rolling. I winced at the thought of my right Achilles going and then I was all out. The pain was no better or worse running faster or slower and I had used Mark as a Rabbit to distract me from the growing discomfort.
I knew my lower legs were now swelling even through my sexy compression ensemble but I couldn’t look as I was just about trying to stay as relaxed as possible and thought I’m 4 gels away from an Ice pack.
Now I had already started a shuffle – like when people are doing an IM and they look like a stroke victim hunched to one side. What a sad state to be in I thought and as the mile markers passed I repeated Mallorca! Mallorca! to remind me of the priority – as it would have been too easy to try and be a hero and ruin my tri season with these injuries.
Just maintain, just maintain Robbie! Void of any confidence these were empty words! I thought what would Bryan Riley do? Therefore the next 16 miles I played every inch of the immense London crowds like I was composing an orchestra. Cupping my ears throwing my arms in a ‘let’s hear you fashion’. I must have easily had over 1000 “Come on Robbie”, “Go ed lad” etc all day long. What a treat! I don’t think the pro’s had this many cheers poor buggers. By the way, when they passed they were hurting but weigh the size of my ear lobe so don’t worry about them.
Before I knew it I was looking up and maintaining pace and I clocked a close friend Colin who’s ran 3:20 before and a pretty similar guy to me. Without another breath “Oi Col” ran over to him, hugged and then proceeded to wee through my shorts. He’s a good friend, but seriously I just needed a wee. So after the sprinkler finished I was pretty much wet through for the whole thing – as it was really hot the whole way – so I concentrated on cooling off so I didn’t waste any HR on my body’s cooling system.
Col towed me for a while and then he dropped by which time we passed Mark as well. Reaching 20 Miles I was in a bad way and only getting worse but with the help of the crowd and the support I’d had from the Club, the worlds best friends and my good lady I thought this is not good at all. Stopping would have been too easy and I thought I can hang in there with the best of them – let’s have it! Confidence boost number 1.
Through miles 20, 21, 22, 23 I had a bad spell where I was struggling to hold 4:55 and felt a walk coming on, but If I’d stopped at any point it was race over – after all I couldn’t walk only run. I’d now began to pick off all these runners who’s sped off at the start so I thought let’s dig in, get the crowd on my side and lock in 4:40/4:45 pace. Approaching mile 25 at embankment and Westminster I was in slow-mo but nobody was passing me – I felt like Usain Bolt. I thought if I wasn’t hurting or damaging myself so much I’d find this hilarious.
By now the road had just about thinned out, not something I’d seen at London before. I hung in on Embankment, hit right towards Buckingham Palace which would lead to the Mall i.e. Finish Line. Had a look at the Garmin and it said like 3:15’ish. Wowzer who’s Garmin is that I thought I’ve just been watching everyone for 3 and a bit hours. I’m now thinking I could fall over my legs were that numb and swollen.
With that magic number of 3:15 gone I was disappointed but thought hey lets see how I look like sprinting in this state. I put my palms out in front of me face down to feel how high my legs were coming, as I was numb from the atmosphere, cramp and all kinds of other stuff. I ran at 4:15 pace and thought 4min ks and I’m falling on my face.
It was at this stage I thought all that fist pumping and dancing with the crowd I could have shaved 5 mins off here but without them I wouldn’t have got that far.
I’d been before and walked the finish on Saturday so I cheered and thought well done lad, you did all right! And pointed to the sky as with all runs in remembrance of my dad. I thought I was too ill to leave the house when I deferred last April (2011) – so I’ll take 3:20 and bloody hell Alvin was right!
A busy marathon on a not so flat as it used to be course – 3:21:15 with crap legs. Chuffed!
So I’d done it. Targets were 1:25 half and 3:10 Marathon but injuries and targets aside I’d acquired enough belief along the way to know that a sub 1:25 half and a 3:00 marathon isn’t impossible and maybe even before the year is out.
Thanks to all my club mates who’ve helped me achieve this!
Medal, Pint, Train and back to the promise land!
Next stop Mallorca! All aboard
|name||COLLINS, ROBBIE (GBR)|