nohtaraM ehT. Or, the anti-race

Long run

Off we go!
Bong, bong, bong, bong, and we’re off! It’s just gone 4am and the official unofficial London marathon is underway.

I’m in a group of about 30 people,
tapping out a nice 8m/m pace, and tracing the marathon route in reverse. The plan is to finish in Greenwich just in time to catch the crowds and wish them luck as they embark on the actual race.

With the SIPR and GUCR looming, this seemed like the perfect opportunity to get a long run in, without losing most of a day and hopefully having some nice chats along the way.

Sleeping’s cheating

Pre “race” day prepetrations went about as expected; slightly too much beer, not nearly enough sleep (a three year olds night terror episodes do not make for a restful evening) and a low carb meal. So leaving the house at 3am feeling rested on springy legs was an unexpected, and very pleasant, feeling.

The 5 miles to Big Ben took in a fairly standard early Sunday morning array of discarded chicken bones, drunken girls in exceedingly short skirts (am I turning into my dad already?), mini cab touts, night buses and the odd shift worker. Some abuse was expected but nobody even seemed to notice me, presumably I was just some nutter in bright green shoes and a running vest – I would’ve avoided eye contact too.

A little part of me still thought this was some elaborate practical joke (though quite who would bother hadn’t occurred to me) so there was a feeling of relief when I rounded the corner at Westmister to see a crowd of chatty runners stretching and looking sprightly.

Richard Cranswick, the man behind the excellent Social Ultra site, was even there with his promised mobile aid station, which was to be a very welcome treat at Tower Bridge at the half way point.


I first heard about this event on a train back to London from Sheffield a couple of years ago. I’d just finished my first ultra (the very well organised and highly recommended Dusk till Dawn by Richard and Wendy Weremiuk), and had got chatting to Robin Harvie who I’d ran with for 10 miles or so the evening before.

There was something instantly appealing about the idea of running one of the worlds biggest marathons, before everyone else starts and reversing the route. Slightly silly, a little bit subversive and a great opportunity to participate in the capitals annual day of race fever.

Sadly Robin couldn’t make it this year due to injury (James Adams took the organising lead) but I think he’d be very happy with the number of people who took part. In 2012 there were just 14, somehow I suspect next year will be even busier.

Too fast!
The first 10 or so miles went by quickly and my legs felt pretty good. As we rounded the bottom of the isle of dogs we saw four or five runners ahead, complete with rucksacks and determined expressions. “Weirdos” I thought, “what’re they doing out running at this time of the day”, it took me a minute to realise that I was also a weirdo, and that we’d caught up with the “4:30 target” group that started out half an hour before us.

Sore legs

Sore Legs? No! This couldn’t be! We weren’t even half way and my legs were sore.

Not good.

I eased off a bit and fell in with another group, it wasn’t long before someone commented on how well those on track for a 3:15 finish were moving. That at least explained the legs, and sure enough when I checked my split times later I was knocking out 7:20s, so easy to get carried away!


Somehow Richard had almost hidden himself and his cakes behind the corner of Tower Bridge, and quite a few sailed right by. Luckily I spotted the bottles of coke, cheese and pineapple on sticks, Mr Kiplings finest and mini sausages. Proper ultra style feed stop, what a star!

Hanging onto the blue racing line we zipped through the rest of the route nicely, and before long were able to run down the middle of the road and watch the race preparations get fully underway.

Of the people we saw most were surprised but encouraging, we were even given water towards the end. Comments tended towards the “you’re going the wrong way!” end of the spectrum, but one bus driver did give us the internationally recognised hand gesture for “fuck off you bunch of show off tossers”. I gave him a big smile and wave, it seemed the most appropriate response.
One lady shouted “good luck lads” very enthusiastically, I suspect she was drunk or half asleep.


Not surprisingly we weren’t allowed to cross the start line, but did mill around a bit chatting to official looking people and helped to lighten Richards bags of cakes. Rather than being annoyed with us, there was a lot of genuine enthusiasm and support. One amusing conversation went a bit like:
“Don’t you get tired when you run a marathon?” Yes, but most of us do ultras too.
“What’s an ultra?”
“Is it even possible to run X miles in one go”
“What did he say? What’s JOGL?” Pointing at Richard.
Lovely to see the sarf landan bored and dismissive attitude dissolve into curiosity, moving through incredulous and settling on bemused admiration.

Last leg
The plan was to go for a fry up somewhere near the cutty sark, but with family staying for the weekend I topped up my water bottles from the mobile reservoir and trundled the 5 miles home at an easy pace.
36.4 miles and home just in time for a big breakfast at 9, what a wonderful start to the day.

I can’t recommend it enough and assuming I don’t get a place in the official official one, will definitely be back next year.

Oh, my time for the 26.2 was 3:51, not a personal best but not too shabby.

Social Ultra – nohtaraM ehT

Strava log