β˜… London Marathon 2013

London is one my favorite cities in the world and to be able run the marathon there has been one of my dreams for a long time now. Not anymore. I did it.

Here's the full story.

First off, you don't just enter the London marathon. It's sort of a lottery system, you enter your application and a couple of months later you get notified on wether or not you made the cut (there's different rules for UK runners and foreign runners, not important here). I had entered myself in 2012 and did not get selected then. This year, I didn't want to leave it up to chance. I found out that the marathon organization gives out numbers to a couple of travel agencies (one in most EU countries). So I contacted the Belgian travel agency well before they started taking applications (which was August 15th, 2012). It was a bit more expensive than I had originally thought but that's because you had to book the total package (eurostar + other transport + hotel + marathon race number). But I went for it anyway. (Spoiler: happy I did)

Because the entire trip was arrange and booked by the travel agency, it was sort of a group-trip as well. Nothing against that, just a little weird when you're used to travelling on your own.

Saturday, April 20th 2012

Up bright and early and up to Brussels South, where the entire group (85 people in total, not all runners) met at the Eurostar gate. Checked in, read a book, had a drink and at 8:52 we left for London. Once we arrived we all moved to the bus (going through St. Pancras International on a busy morning with 85 people takes some time). We got onto our busses and from there we drove to the Marathon Expo at the ExCel convension center. Here we picked up our bid number and our timing chip and we had on hour to looking around to do some shopping. (I got me a TriggerPoint Massage ball and some Union Jack branded RockTape)

Back on the bus and to the hotel. I stayed at the Bloomsbury Holiday Inn, near Russel Square. We collected our keys, dropped of the bags in the room and then I headed off on my own (the group was going to walk from the hotel to finish, which was at the mall, but I'd seen all those places before so I didn't join them). I toped up my Oyster card and jumped on the underground, first stop: Nude Espresso on Soho square for some coffee and cake. Then, up to Tapped & Packed, more coffee (both are very close to the Totemham Court Road tube station). More walking around in the sun (the weather was absolutely smashing, tshirt and sunglasses for the better part of the afternoon), went to St. Pauls, walked the millenium bridge, Thames side, etc?

P1030272-2

Back at the hotel by 19:30. Checked all my running gear put it all in the bag we received with our number. That bag had our number on it and it was to only thing we were allowed to take to starting area (we'd deposit the bag before starting and pick it back up afterwards). With everything packed, I took a hot bath (yes, the room had a bath) and went to bed around 21:30.

Sunday, April 21th (Race day)

Breakast at 6 in the morning, on the bus to Greenwich by 6:45. – wait, that sounds rediciously early? – Yes, it was. The start was planned for ? 10:00. But we had to be this early because the bus we were on had to be in and out of the area before they closed off the roads for the race. So, at 7:20 we arrived at Greenwich park and we headed to our starting zone (All of us were in the Blue zone).

Note on the starting zone and boxes

The London marathon has 3 starting zones for non-elite runners: Red, Green and Blue. All 3 zones are divided into "boxes" that indicate the pace and the target time of the runner. All 3 zones start at the same time but follow different routes until they converge on each other somewhere between 3 and 5km. This is done because otherwise there'd such a massive amount of people packed together that you probably wouldn't be able to run for the first 5km. By separating the zones, the crowd has tined out enough by the time they joined again.

With over 2 hours of waiting to go, a couple of us found a place in the sun and exchanged marathon stories. Time flew by and before we knew it, it was time to get changed and drop of our bags. A final gear check (food, water, music, chip) and we headed to our respective starting boxes. 20 minutes to go. Right before the start, there was 30 seconds of silence for the victims of the Boston Marathon bombing last week (30 seconds at the elite start and 30 seconds at our start). And then we were off, short spurts of running mixed with walking for the first couple of hundred meters until we cleared the boxes and turned onto the street towards the official start.

The weather was great, the sun was out in full force and around the 7km mark I was a little worried about getting a heat stroke as I wasn't wearing a cap or a hat (who'd have though the weather was gonna be this nice, probably the first sunny weekend we've had this year). Just made sure I kept drinking enough, got to stay hydrated. 15km, feeling good, not sure what pace I was at but just kept going.

Just before 20km, we made a right turn and there it was, Tower Bridge. The entire course had been packed with the people cheering us on but running across Tower Bridge, man, amazing.

Around 25km both my feet started to hurt really bad and I had to slow down. As I walked past a water station (drinking and running at the same this is not something I'm good at), the 3h45m pace-team passed me so I was well ahead of pace. From 18 to 20 miles I stayed with the 3h56m pace-team but they didn't run at a very consistent pace (speeding up and slowing down quite a lot) and at the 21 mile marker I had to let them go as well. By then the 2 blisters I had on both my feet had brusted and the pain in the feet got worse (and you feel that pain every time your foot hits the ground, tough but had to keep going).

This is where I want to say thank you to all the people who came out to cheer us one. Literally every meter of sidewalk along the course, on both sides, was packed with at least 2 rows of people. Holding signs, handing out candy and small pieces of fruit for the runners (first time I've seen that during a marathon). At mile 21 there was a lady with a huge sign that said "Finishing is your only fucking option". Damn right. Onwards.

Mile 24 and 25, running with the Thames on our left, surrounded by a mass of people, just passed 4 hours. Turn right at Big Ben, an even bigger crowd here. No 26 mile banner, just one that said "600 meters". 400. 200. Turning right onto the roundabout in from off Buckingham Palace, I stay left and got out of the pack. Another small turn onto the Mall and the finish line was straight ahead. Sprinted, all out, balls to wall as they say. Finished. 4 hourse, 8 minutes and 33 seconds. Bam.

The only thing that slowed me down were the blisters and considering that the farthest I'd run in training was 17km (that probably explaines the blisters), I'm very, very happy with my time.

20 meters past the finish line, staggering and swaying left to right, an official urge me to get out of the way. I stood aside and turned to see what was up: a guy had just proposed to his girlfriend moments after they both crossed the finishline, a crowd had gathered around them (myself included, I had to get out of the way because I was in front of the camera filming the moment). She said yes off course and things got very emotional after that πŸ™‚

I walked on, got my timing chip removed and collected my medal and my bag and then I made my way (slowly and not very steadily) to the overseas runners area, where the travel agency had set up a meeting point. That's also where I met up with my mom and my sister, who had come over to London for the day to cheer me on. Together we made our way to a first aid tent to get my blisters checked out. There was no qeueu (big surprise there) and I was in & out (and patched up) in 5 minutes. Then we walked over to Covent Garden where we ate something and headed back to the hotel after that. My mom and sis had to catch the train back to Brussels they couldn't stay long, we said our goodbyes and I headed to my room for a long hot bath. Exhausted and too tired to eat, I decided to have a quick bite to eat at the hotel bar. By 21:00 I could barely keep my eyes (I'd been up since 5:30) and turned in.

Monday, April 22th

Woke up around 6:30 (seems early but that ment 9 hours of sleep so that's not too bad), snoozed and dozed off again. Got up at 7:40, packed the rest of my things, checked out (left my luggage wit the bellboy) and had breakfast. I sat with our trip-organizer, a 72 year old man called Wilfried. Looking at him, you'd say he's 60 max. He attributes that to the 36 marathons he ran throughtout his life and by always being surrounded by active people. An interesting and passionate man.

After breakfast I headed into the city for some coffee. First stop: Nude Espresso on Brick Lane. Had a couple of espressos and starting writing this post. Meanwhile it's just before noon and I've move to "Look Mum, No Hands", a rather famous (in the coffee-lovers crowd at least :)) bike shop/coffee bar for lunch.

We meet back at the hotel at 16:45 and take the bus back to St. Pancras. We should be back in Brussels around 21:00.

Epilogue

This has been an amazing expierence and defenitly the most beautiful marathon I've run so far. The atmosphere on the course amongst the runners, the people beside the course cheering us on, the beautiful weather, ? And off course: London.

Thank you all for the support, both virtual and in person.

Jan

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β˜… Memories.

See alo Shooting film.

I’ve been shooting film on and off for a couple of months now. First with the Canon 1000D my aunt gave me (with a 18-55 F/3.5-5.6) and later with a Canon AE-1 with a 50mm F/1.8 (which was a gift from Manuel). The AE-1 is still in great condition, has a working light meter and it’s really fun to shoot with.

And this week I finally had my first shot developed. I had them scanned and put on a cd right away, since printing was/is a lot more expensive and I wanted them digital anyway (that’s kind of a weird twist right?). Picked them up last night and oh my, they are looking good.

The best thing about it? I shot these over a period of 6 months and I didn’t have a clue what I had shot exactly. So in a way, these images are memories. Where a digital camera gives you the immediate satisfaction of being able to (re)view your shot, an analog camera frees you up to be creative in the moment and not “worry” about what the photo is going to look like because there isn’t anything you can do about it, so you might as well shoot. Love it.

In this batch of film, most of the shots were from my 2 trips to London in September, you can find the full set here and some examples bellow.

CanonAE1 ISO100 2 3 2

CanonAE1 ISO100 2 5

CanonAE1 ISO100 6

β˜… New year’s eve in London.

The fact that I love London should not be a secret to anyone who knows me or who reads this blog.
So when Filip and Sara proposed to spend new year’s eve in London to watch the fireworks, I happily joined them. We left all met in Ghent around noon in Saturday and in 2 cars we headed for the Eurotunnel in Calais. A 35 minute train-ride later to the island and another 2 hours in the car and we had arrived in London.

We parked close to the London Bridge underground station and started walking towards the Thames. As we approached the Millennium Bridge, I proposed that we cross that bridge and continue on the other side. Crossing the Millennium bridge, with Tate Modern at my back and walking towards St Paul’s cathedral feels like “coming home” in London for me. Whenever we/I stayed in London, we slept at a hostel near St Paul’s and we would often venture out late at night to wander around the city. Crossing the bridge and seeing the cathedral would mean I had arrived back “home”.

London calling...

We headed towards Leicester square for a quick take-away dinner and went towards Victoria Embankment, opposite from the London Eye, where we waited to for the fireworks. If you thought we were crazy for driving to London? This is where it really get’s crazy: we waited for 6 hours. From 18h until midnight. At 18h there was plenty of room left so we sat down on the curb. By 20h things started to get crowded and everyone was asked to stand up (for safety reasons and such). At 22h a BBC Radio 1 DJ started playing some tunes a get the party started and by then the place was packed and the police had closed of the area so no more people could enter the viewing area. 6 hours is a long time but all in all, it wasn’t bad. It was pretty warm (10Β° and no wind, that’s pretty weird for December 31st) and dry (except for a few 2/3 minutes light rain showers) so no complaining there.

But when are you going to get the fireworks? Yes yes, here we go.

http://www.youtube-nocookie.com/embed/q1yLRK2M8YQ?rel=0&hd=1

Wauw. Really impressive. Wauw.

After the fireworks, the crowd thinned pretty quickly and we wandered throughout the city and back to the car. We caught the train back to Calais at 5h20 GMT, were back in Belgium around 7h30 CET and arrived back in Leuven with the from Ghent at 10h. While I slept a fair bit in the car, I was still exhausted. Exhausted but happy to have spent new year’s eve in the city that stole my heart and with a couple of good friends.
I couldn’t have thought of a better way to start 2012.