The Big Day – Sunday 21st April 2024
The day that I have been looking forward to for so long is finally here. Having eaten my second dinner at 8 pm while watching the beautiful London sunset outside the window, I was looking forward to a good night’s rest. Perfect condition was forecasted for tomorrow: 8-11 degrees with sunny intervals and a moderate northerly breeze to keep me cool. I felt ready from the inside out. Staying 20-minute walk away from the start line meant I did not have to worry about any sort of transport on race morning.

My start time was 10:20 am, Bule zone wave 5, which meant plenty of time to get ready in the morning with no rush. The event was highly organised, with no big queues going to the toilet or bag drop off. Just after 10 am, I made my way to the assembly area waiting to start. At 10:19, with much excitement, I crossed the start line of the legendary 26.2-mile to crack on the longest run of my life so far. The first two miles I positioned myself near the 3:45 pacer. Pacing at around 8:10 min/mile, 5 out of 10 effort. Taking advantage of the downhill sections, I picked up some time and dropped the 3:45 pacer group. The atmosphere was unbelievable even from the beginning, especially the first spectator hotspot at Woolwich. I took the brilliant advice of writing my name with black markers both front and back on my bright yellow T-shirt and gained thousands of shouts throughout (the best tip ever!)

Regarding nutrition, in addition to the standard four slices of white bread, a bowl of white rice congee 3 hours before the race has been tried and trusted, helping with restoring carbon load as well as hydration, and also giving me extra warmth on such a chilly morning! A banana 30 minutes before the start is also my habit. Bringing with me two energy gels one energy bar for the first half, and three salt capsules, I planned to rely on the two gel stations during the second half just to minimise the weight I needed to carry. I ran a very steady first half in 1:48:18 (that even includes a 28-second wee just to make sure I feel good on Tower Bridge!) More on this later…

I signed up for the 2024 London Marathon back in summer 2023. A friend of mine from Sydney, with whom I raced Ironman 70.3 Melbourne 2022, encouraged me to run together with him (He is collecting his six stars and London was his 4th). Previously I have only done one full marathon, which was 4 years ago in 2020, in my hometown Nanjing, China (makes it quite a special one!) Having done very minimum training, my only goal was to make the 6-hour cut-off time. In the end, I finished ‘strong’ in a time of 4:52 by walking the last 1/3 at a pace of about 7’30 min/km, beating my initial goal for over an hour!

Fast forward to 2023, I have already competed in two half-ironman races, but have yet to ‘properly’ run a full marathon. I was keen to prove to myself that I too, can run a full marathon, and have my first taste of the ‘thrill’ of hitting that wall everyone talks about. Without much hesitation, both of us signed up via charity to beat the ballot rejection.

Travel and working placement over the summer months meant that my training was paused after a solid performance at Ironman 70.3 Staffordshire in June. I relocated to Gloucestershire in September 2023 and became a TTG member! Keen to pick up my training and take advantage of the remainder of the warm days, I picked up a new pair of Asics Gel-Kayano 29, the model which I have stuck to and trusted for the past six years. This time I made a slight change by selecting the wider version, since previously I felt that the front half of the shoe might be slightly too narrow. Not surprisingly after an extended period of training, I struggled with my sessions while my body was screaming to tell me it was not ready. Despite this, I ran the Oxford Half Marathon in mid-October as planned. Unsurprisingly I struggled after only 14km, and the final 5km was a nightmare, eventually finishing in 1:44, two minutes slower than the same race a year before. But what was worse, perhaps due to a combination of poorly fitted shoes and a sudden surge in training load, I developed ITB (iliotibial band) issues. At the beginning of my rehabilitation, I started to feel pain less than 1km into the run. I had the same condition once previously, so I did have some experience managing it. Meanwhile, I made the decision to change my shoe to Brookes Glycerin-20, which is also designed for overpronation, and it proved to be a good fit. After lots of rest, stretches, and jog-walk repetitions workouts, I gradually increased my running distance and by Christmas time I was able to run 5km pain-free. However, running a marathon would seem totally impossible at that point. The only thing that I could tell myself was that I still had time.

Training scheme
It was not until mid to late January when I was able to run about 10k continuously without any issues. Even so, I had to approach my training very carefully in the fear of reoccurrence of injury. That marked the beginning of the final 12-week block. At that point, the mere thought of running 26.2 miles, which I had never done in my whole life, would scare me, so I knew I had to break it done into multiple manageable steps. Not long after I signed up for London, I registered for Cambridge half marathon, which takes place in early March, 7 weeks before London, as a testing/warm-up race. Therefore, my first goal was to complete a half marathon injury-free in 5 weeks’ time and go from there. During February I was able to complete a solid training block, with 12km and 14km single sessions which I had not been able to do for quite a while, a few interval sessions, and even a new 5K PB of 20’40 at Gloucester City parkrun. Although 90km a month was by no means a high volume, I definitely felt in good shape again.  By early March, great race day conditions enabled me to achieve 1:35 at Cambridge half, over two minutes faster than my previous best time. This unexpected PB was a massive confidence booster. My focus for the next 7 weeks leading to the big day was to build up distance and endurance and to work out a suitable pacing strategy. Trying to stay well within the safety margin, I decided to complete one long per fortnight, with parkruns and easy runs spaced in between. This would hopefully give me sufficient recovery time:

March 18th: easy effort 15 mile (24km) @ 8:47 min/mile (5:27min/km)

March 31st at Gloucester Half Marathon: mimicking race pace 17.5 miles (28km) @ 8:30 min/mile (5:17 min/km)

All went well and I had some ideas of race pace. The total distance during March reached 121km, the longest I had ever had. From April onwards, the final three weeks were reserved for taper. Only 43km in total prior to marathon day, with only one slightly longer run of 16km. Total distance from the start of 2024 to London Marathon: 308km (191 miles) When the race week finally arrived, I was well-rested and ready to crack on.

The Second Half
Completing the first half in 1:48:18 at a chatty pace, I realised that I was already 3 minutes faster than the first 13.1 miles at Gloucester Half, with even less effort. Things were looking good for a sub-4-hour time, although I kept in mind that anything could happen during a marathon. At 15 miles my legs started to feel ever so slightly less light, but maintaining the same pace was not an issue. Just before the 30k mark, I caught up with the 3:40 pacer group. Staying with the group while meandering through Canary Warf saved me quite a bit of energy. All was going exceptionally well, and I even thought: ‘Man, I feel like speeding up a little from here! And I may even smash a sub 3:40 if I can keep up with these guys! Next, as you can probably already predict, things took a big turn at the magically 20-mile mark. All of a sudden, my left knee started to feel weirdly sore. It was the same leg that I had the ITB issue which made me rather worried. I made the decision to let go of the 3:40 group and dropped to my easy run pace at 8:50 min/mile. Now I have come to believe what everyone always talks about only the last 10k of the marathon is the real part. Staying calm, I managed to maintain the pace and my condition was relieved slightly after one mile or two, or perhaps it was just my body had adapted to the discomfort. The best section of the course along the Thames was right in front of me – yes only one parkrun to go now! The crowds got even thicker and louder, making it hard to slow down! I even managed to pick up my pace a little after 38km – not by much, but certainly made it seem like, ohh yes, LOOK I am still in GOOD form!

The final turn at Big Ben saw me ‘sprinting’ towards the iconic finish line in front of Buckingham Palace, with a whooping 5:01 min/km pace for the last 1k, even faster than the first 1k! Well, this is the job done, the longest, toughest, and for sure most memorable run in my life, in a time of 3 hours 41 minutes 34 seconds (official results). And, remarkably, 71 minutes off my previous marathon PB of 4 hours 52 minutes (this will definitely be a once-in-a-lifetime achievement lol).

Final thoughts
The near-perfect condition, exceptional atmosphere and support throughout the entire course, and good preparation and mindset made my 2024 London Marathon a great day. Looking back on this journey, I am especially proud that with belief and perseverance, I did not let setbacks and doubts hold me back.

1. Training smarter rather than harder always wins! Sometimes less is more so listen to your body.
2. Resting is more important than training itself.
3. Enjoy the journey as well as the results.

Fundraising has been challenging yet rewarding. The amazing charity I ran for, Save the Rhino International made an amazing support team both before and after the event. We even had a tent set up in St James Park post-marathon for our rhino runners to celebrate and relax, with food, drinks, and even a massage! Our team member Chris completed his remarkable 100th marathon in a rhino costume (weighing 12kg!) and also holds the World Record for the fastest run in the rhino costume (an impressive 4 hours and 6 minutes!).

TTG has been my great support, both with fundraising and members tracking me via the app on the day. Fellow teammate Rich also achieved an incredible result of 3:50. With marathon season drawing to an end and triathlon season fast approaching, it’s time to shift gears and  I look forward to training, and racing with the wonderful crew!

Categories: Race Reports