Well, the London Marathon is a month ago now, and it’s an ephemeral thing, a huge, city-wide moment, gone before the people taking part have even started recovering from it. So I’ve got some old news for you.
On the day I had to use my old music player, with the same playlist it’s had on it for months, and after all these adventures in Spotify I was a bit gutted about that – but it’s a telling track list, and it worked a treat, so here is the London List, and what happened while I listened to it.
‘What are you afraid of – failure? So am I.’ What a great start! As we all set off, on the edge of panic, serious club runners jockeying for a few seconds’ space, this knowing, silly/serious song from the mighty Shat got me in EXACTLY the right mood – and made me think how little I relished the thought of this, or any run without music.
Perhaps more of a classic brace of running tunes next, with their steady old beats and blue sky-ish sound, these two really set me up for the next – first – few miles. I realised that, because of the old music player situation, I had heard these songs, in this order, whilst running in the Lake District a couple of weeks before. As the daunting distance ahead of me opened up, I could switch screens in my head to those raging rivers, mist-swathed mountains and limpid, dawn-still, mirrorlike lakes. It was an incredible boon.
Looking at it now, you can see most of my favourite running moods laid out right here; after that turn-of-the-’90s electronica, it was mildly-alternative ’80s – Heaven 17, Human league – PSB and Rush, bleep-rock psychedelia with cowbell… and of course The Cure and The Smiths. And from Just Like Heaven right through to Elliott Smith’s Son of Sam my head was spending a lot of the time in Borrowdale – notwithstanding the early staging post that is the Cutty Sark, where the significance of the incredible London crowds really kicks in for the first time.
So, before I knew it, phase one was over and I was heading for Tower Bridge. I was feeling quite high on the whole deal, and when To The Roof from the Bourne Supremacy (the track here is the closest thing to it) kicked in as I turned the corner to cross the river, all my hair stood on end and I grinned all the way over.
Clever readers will know this was because I was getting tired. I’d set off ridiculously fast – hey, everyone does – and as I headed for half way I thought I could find special significance in the 3-6-9 of Shirley Ellis’ Clapping Song.
As Won’t Get Fooled Again powered me into the Isle of Dogs I noticed I was slowing down – just a bit – and, with Gollum’s Song shifting my positive visualisation of running among mountains into the fantastical and Tolkienesque I noted to myself that I was feeling a bit odd. There’s a stretch of the marathon course, 15-16 miles-ish, where suddenly the crowds disappear, the onlookers are just blank-faced passers-by, and then there’s a proper hill. I was plodding on fine – fuelled by Basement Jaxx, Madonna, Fad Gadget, Radiohead and a couple of Starburst – but in retrospect I must thank the woman on the pavement in pyjamas. I’m running the best part of 30 miles and you can’t even be arsed to GET DRESSED?! That ire put a spring in my step, and no mistake.
I was seeing the Family Deering at 17 miles, just after Mudchute – ah, the romance. Last year, when I was still recovering from illness and injury, I knew at this point that I had nothing left, and that the rest of the thing was going to be an unholy slog if I made it at all. Looking, desperately for my supportive little crew, I had still somehow managed to miss them. These dark times hung over me as I got there this year; I was sure I was doing better, but no-one feels super hot after running 17 miles. As I approached them I slipped my headphones out – instantly hearing a brilliantly out-of-tune teen band playing for us all, bless them – and then there the Deerings were, large as life and twice as lovely. I kissed them all, but I didn’t break stride. The ghosts of last year exorcised, all I had to do now was… run another 9 miles.
I can’t believe I’ve had to put Ryan on here; it was Taylor on the day, and it was one of my musical high points. Style is fabulous running music – mid-speed, relentless, filmic… music to turn your run into a late-night drive in a red convertible, Hollywood back-projection and all. This was the way to start the second half. And if you’ve read All About That Bass, you’ll know that Climbatize really hit the spot too. Another Jason Bourne moment as I passed the riotously supportive Parkinson’s UK gang at Canary Wharf, and I was on my way home.
I’ve never noticed before, but it’s hilarious that, as you near 20 miles and come through not-particularly-prepossessing Poplar, you quietly turn and start running towards London. About time, guys!
My music kept on being fantastic. I knew now how stupid I’d been to think it would be anything else. The Smiths’ mighty Headmaster Ritual took me back to a sunny training run by the Clyde, Lemon Jelly said ‘Don’t Stop Now’ over and over again at the most timely moment possible, and the Flaming Lips, Leftfield and DJ Fresh all hit me up with beats so muscular they could virtually run unassisted. I was getting there.
I had promised myself I would run all the way – no little walky bits – and, although at the time I was a bit miffed with myself for slowing down quite dramatically by now, looking back, I never really wavered on that. The final 6 miles break down into when-the-hell-will-I-even-get-back-to-Tower-Bridge – 20-23 – and surely-I-can-make-it-from-here – 23 onwards. I was there. Recognisable landmarks bristled on the skyline. The crowds somehow took it up a notch. I had a great CHEER ME! moment with some people high above us on a bridge, seeing as I did so that I still had positive attitude to play with – and spare energy to do tough stuff like raise my arms. And the songs brought me home. Disintegration showed me how far I’d come since the Bath Half, where it got me over the finish line with it’s long, angry crescendo. Life During Wartime‘s funk groove could probably have propelled me through a lap of honour. Love Parasite‘s giant bassline was a ladder to climb to 25 miles – where I failed to spot my Mum – WH Auden and PSB laid down rails for me to steam past Big Ben (I know – St Stephen’s Tower then), and The Smiths – hello again – got funkier than at any other time in their all-too-short existence on Barbarism Begins At Home, each ‘crack on the head’ a crack of the whip for me.
So now I’m on Birdcage Walk, the finish line simultaneously just a couple of hundred metres away and an unimaginable impossibility. This marathon – my fifth in London – was the most I’ve ever enjoyed it, and I don’t think it was just me; the feeling on the day was just right. It got a bit hot as the morning wore on, but I was done before that became a problem, and I had to remind myself how hard the last few miles had been as soon as the race was done, otherwise my memory would cast the thing as a trot in the park, my finish time that of someone who hadn’t tried hard enough. Don’t do that to yourself Deering! The final tune, of course, fell to PSB; I was in the thrilling build of the middle eight thinking ‘she’s going to say ‘the finish is going to be exciting!’, and the band will rock out as I…’ but then I was over the line it was done.
Until next time…