It’s been a week since the London Marathon 2018. Wow, what a day that was.
In January 2018 I had applied to try to defend the Guinness World Record which I had achieved last year (Fastest Marathon Dressed as a Star Wars Character - Male), however as the weeks got closer to April the 22nd I realised that this was the last thing I actually wanted to do.
In 2017 I ran the race as fast as I was able to however, I didn’t really get to enjoy the race. I didn’t get to stop to thank my supporters or talk to people. It was all about the time. I was an emotional wreck at the end of that race and I didn’t need that again in my life. This year it occurred to me that I was never going to get more charity money by holding on to the title so it felt right to me that it was someone else’s time. Let another charity benefit from it. Pass the ball Jez! In fact my Guinness Record was the most popular attempt this year with at least 6 people registered to go for it. My plan was just to enjoy the race, my last Marathon as The Running Stormtrooper.
Below is a screen shot of an Instagram post I made the night before wishing another Star Wars runner the best of luck.
During the build up to the Marathon I’d had months and months of preparation, mostly in the cold and wet. My Reading Half Marathon had been cancelled due to the snow as had the Bath Half. The British weather had been typically dreary, however on the days leading ups to the big day it became apparent that Mother Nature had decided to up the stakes and change everything. Yes, it was forecast to be the hottest London Marathon on record! People were naturally worried, and truth be told, so was I. In this costume I am always hot. In temperatures as high as 24 degrees, i’d have serious problems.
Below is the message which I shared with everyone on my Facebook page the night before.
Fortunately for me in 2018 I had been really thinking about my fitness. I stopped drinking alcohol in early April in an attempt to get myself ready for my 100Km run. I also spent the whole week hydrating and topping up electrolytes with ‘Zeros’. I had been carbohydrate loading like a man possessed, therefore I felt that I was in the best shape I could be when race day came.
April the 22nd - Race Day. It was a scorcher. Unlike 2016 and 2017, I traveled on the tube and train incognito. No wearing the costume early on this day. I needed to remain cool for as long as possible. I still wasn’t sure if i’d actually start the run as the Stormtrooper, or just go for the run as me. I arrived at the Green Start and went straight to the Guinness World Record tent and informed them that I wasn’t going to be racing for the title. They thanked me and said that they were relieved. I then went up to as many Star Wars characters as I could find and wished them all the best of luck. I then found a nice private shaded area between 2 marquees and tried to stay cool. It was just gone 9.30 am before I finally decided to put my costume on. I couldn’t believe that some of the Fancy Dress runners had been dressed in their costumes for hours at this point and stood in direct sunlight, to me that was madness!
I had contingency plans in place just in case it became unbearable wearing the costume. My wife Jules, my daughter Imogen and my friend Stephen were waiting at the 12 mile point ‘Tower Bridge’ with some normal running clothes and some bags to take my armour away in, should I need to change.
Time to line up, show time! Straight from the start it was hot. My time was deliberately slower than usual. I needed all of the self discipline I could find to hold back the desire to run at my normal pace. This desire soon subsided though, as come 11am the sun was already roasting. I found myself having to stop for a drink every mile. That was my reward for each mile. Water became critical. If I ever had less than 2 bottles of water or sports drink in my hands I felt worried. I wanted the safety blanket of knowing I always had water on tap, excuse the pun. I didn’t see the point in doing what so many others runners were doing, which was to take a quick swig of a bottle and then discard it. There must have been thousands of wasted litres of water. I couldn’t see why people couldn’t run with a bottle. Oh well, that was their race, this one was mine. I didn’t throw away anything, I simply drank and ran and drank. As well as managing to hold onto up to 2 water bottles I was running with 3 packets of Blok Shot energy jelly/chews. I have always used these and get on great with them.
It was at about 1215 that I started having costume issues. I had fitted lenses/eye pieces to my helmet made from a black sieve. These make the helmet look better but as they were sieve pieces they didn’t fog up like normal lenses. The problem was that my helmet was getting so hot the adhesive on the tape started to fail!! At the 11- 11.5 mile point my left lense slipped and tape around it positioned itself perfectly like an eye patch. Then the right one started to slip. I took my helmet off and realised that these eye pieces had given up on their ability to hang on. So there you have it. The first official photos had me with lenses in but after Tower Bridge you can see my eyes. It was later in the race that my belt started slipping because the glue holding a velcro belt restraint to my plastic waist piece lost it’s stickiness!
I got to the rendezvous at Tower Bridge and reassured my wife and Stephen that I was fine to continue, slower than normal but fine. Stephen passed me a pre mixed water bottle which was supplemented with a ‘Zero’ to top of my electrolytes. I stayed with them for a minute or so and chatted. Then I was off again.
It was after this point that things began to really slow and I drank whenever I felt like it. I was so hot. It soon became apparent that I was drinking so much that my body couldn’t cope with it all and I needed to do what some people refer to as ‘a call of nature’. In all 3 of my previous marathons i’ve never needed to stop to have to have a wee. Managing to do that dressed as a Stormtrooper is a difficult thing to deal with so I always tried to prevent myself from drinking too much. However on April the 22nd 2018 all bets were off, I needed to drink and if it meant that i’d have to stop, fair enough. I had no idea though that come the end of the race I’d have had to stop 4 times!! Yes 4, I had drank that much water. When you think about how much I must have sweated under that suit it boggles the brain to come to terms with how many litres I must have actually consumed. In addition to the Blok Shots and water I managed to have 3 Ice Pops and lots of sweets. As a child you were always told ‘don’t accept sweets from strangers’ however on a day like April the 22nd, you need all the help you can get!
Around about the 14 mile point I started to feel the early stages of cramp in my calves. This caused my lots of concerns and I spent the rest of the race thinking about my stride, sometimes shortening it, sometimes walking at a fast pace but with an extended stride to try to stretch it out. I also focused on energy sweets and taking the gels which were occasionally on hand near the water stations.
I think it was at about mile 18 that I knew I could do it. I just had to keep doing what I was doing. Stopping, drinking, cooling, taking on energy and stretching. With regards to stopping to chat to people I did that a lot. The atmosphere at London is electric. I think as a runner it is equally as important to show your appreciation to the supporters as it is to be supported. For the supporters it was a long day also, so I spent most of my time with my hands in the air waving or High Fiving people.
The bands were brilliant. There were so many. At one point there were some random Morris Dancers who I had a jig with. I remember distinctly the ‘Run Dem Crew’ who were the best cheer crew ever, at the 21 mile point. Their music and energy was awesome, i’m sure they got everyone speeding up. And so my race started to get near the finish. As the miles counted down I was getting slower and slower, but it didn’t really matter. It was horrible to see the people falling to the side due to heat exhaustion or through leg issues. You tried not to focus on it but it still affected you seeing their race end in such a way. Lots of hearts were broken on that day. It’s so sad.
The final half mile was in my sights, the supporters continued to be awesome. It is the supporters who in 2015 made me decide that i’d run London again in 2016, but at that point I had no idea it would be as a Stormtrooper! As I rounded the corner of Buckingham Palace I put my hands in the air and made a heart sign to all of the supporters who were cheering everyone on. I had no idea at this point that a photographer caught that exact point and created a photograph which sums up my love for the London Marathon.
I crossed the finish line and for the was presented with my finishers medal by Andy Danson from ‘MyRace’ (Virtual Medals), he also presented me with a Last Stormtrooper Run Marathon Medal as well! This was a pre planned meet up as Andy had informed me that he was volunteering that day.
So there it was, the end of my race. For the first time ever I couldn’t wait to get the costume off. As soon as I got my bag from the baggage lorry I was stripping off and packing it away. My body was done in. I had lost a load of skin on my legs and was suffering from a fair bit of heat rash/stress. I also really needed a fifth wee, lol.
On reflection I ran the race I needed to do. Yes I was contemplating running without the costume but it would have crushed me to concede defeat to the weather. I promised everyone that I’d look after myself. It was a tough race but possibly my favourite marathon as I got to interact with so many people. I love the London Marathon.
This blog can’t be left without mentioning Matthew Campbell who sadly collapsed with 3.7 miles left to run and tragically passed away later that day. My heart goes out to his family, who I am sure were heartened to see the true #spiritoflondon over the following week by the overwhelming support to Matt’s charity and the thousands of runners who #ranformatt or #finishedformatt the final 3.7 miles. RIP Matt Campbell