Matthew discovers the real message of the London Marathon

23 April 2018

Matthew Levine ran the London Marathon for Jewish Volunteering Network, an organisation that promotes volunteering opportunities throughout the UK. Here he tells us about his training and the gruelling day itself - the hottest London Marathon since it began!

When I was asked by JVN if I would run my second marathon for them I was in two minds. It was four years since my first marathon, and I'd believed that would be the only one! Still, there was part of me that wondered if I could shave five minutes from my time and break the four hours barrier. So, I said yes, which left me with four months to go from a regular once-a-week runner doing six or seven miles, to being ready to tackle 26.2 (you might think runners are pedantic to mention the .2, but believe me you don't take it lightly after the first 26!).  

Fortunately, I usually run with two or three friends out of a larger pool of Edgware runners, and this year 10 of us committed to the London Marathon. We started to build up our Sunday runs gradually, with an eye on entering the Watford half marathon in early February, a good preparation for the full distance. However, before I could register for this I came down with ‘flu. After three weeks away from running I didn't feel ready to face 13 miles.

Still, after recovering from illness I made steady progress. Edgware is a good location to live if you're a runner because there are many rural roads within easy reach. Less good is the fact that these roads are seldom flat - in fact there are some absolute killer hills - but at least that gave us a challenge that we wouldn't have to face on marathon day because the London course is pretty flat.  

On 25 March I ran my longest training run - 21 miles - in a little over three hours. This felt like a good sign in terms of achieving a sub-four hours marathon. From here on in, I was 'tapering' - running jargon for easing off the miles and letting the accumulated running build strength for the main event. When in Israel for Pesach, I managed to do three shortish runs, which provided a little exposure to running in the heat; not that I expected that to be relevant for the marathon given the snow's tenacious grip over the UK at that point.

How wrong I was of course! There were varying weather forecasts for Sunday 22 April, but in the end it was the hottest London Marathon since the event began in 1981. I was feeling nervous; all 10 of us travelled together, which was fun, but once you arrive in Greenwich, amid thousands of other nervous runners, it's hard to keep together. Suddenly I was on my own, queueing for what seemed like hours as the time ticked relentlessly towards 10 a.m. I finally found my starting 'pen' with about five minutes to spare and then was delighted when my training partner Daniel spotted me in the crowd. Then the Queen started the race, by pressing a button. There was a giant screen showing this but we were so far back that all I could make out was the colour of her dress!  

Despite the heat, the first few miles were relaxed and enjoyable. We got used to the amazing support, the crowds almost continuous along both sides of the road. Bands played, adults and kids stuck their hands out for high fives, and called out our names if we'd added them to our shirts. At the Cutty Sark, around seven miles in, I lost track of Daniel but was still enjoying the run and feeling strong. My pace was even on track for four hours. But somewhere around 10 or 11 miles I realised my pace was slowing, and by halfway I knew that I would run slower than four years ago. The question became instead, could I finish - and do so in a respectable time - in these conditions?

At 17 miles I spotted my wife Debbie, her brother, and my daughters in the crowd and went over to greet them before continuing. After 19 miles, the combination of heat, tiredness, and being on one of the quietest parts of the course meant that suddenly, without any conscious decision, I found myself walking for the first time. I was actually on the point of giving up, but that just wasn't an option so I kept on walking. And then I worked out that walking the remaining seven miles might take me about two hours, and the thought of another two hours out on the course was even worse than the thought of running... so I started running! And that's how I made it to the finish, walking out of exhaustion and running out of impatience. Even so, I'm not sure if I would have made it without more support from my sister, who managed to spot me at 21 miles.  

I'm proud to say that I ran all the way along Birdcage Walk and the Mall to the finish line. My time was 4 hours 39 minutes and 44 seconds. That's slower than my first marathon, but in some ways means even more to me, because in facing adversity I understood something about the real message of the London Marathon. It's an outstanding event because it celebrates both the individual and the community, both competition and the values that go deeper than competition.

Thank you JVN for persuading me to participate again this year. Thank you to the many people who sponsored me so generously, and sorry not to acknowledge your donations more personally. And finally, thank you to my family for putting up with my training (especially on Sunday mornings) and for your amazing support on the day.

If you'd like to donate to Matthew's cause please visit his page.

Matthew was given the opportunity to run the 2018 London Marathon for JVN through Team London. Find out more about what we do.

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