Passing the mile 7 marker, I was starting to flag. This was my first marathon, the Virgin Money London Marathon 2014. It was not looking good.
Two days earlier I’d stood at the counter of my local chemist. Was there anything else I could take? I’d asked in a barely audible voice having lost it after days and nights of coughing. I was already dosed up on paracetamol and cough mixture. This was following days of deep inhalations over bowls of steam and my chest and back being covered in Vick’s vapour rub. No, nothing, I was told.
I had a choice to make – to run the marathon or defer until 2015. After about 2 seconds thought, and keeping quiet about not feeling well, I decided to run. I’d raised money for St John Ambulance, had done all the training. After all, I didn’t really feel that awful and my voice was slowly returning. Really it was. How bad could it get?
The day started well. Me and a couple of people from my running club got there early – early enough that there we no queues for the portaloos. I dumped my bag and had a coffee and wandered around. I watched as runners arrived. The day was warming up.
Following a final pit stop, I entered my pen. I was excited, nervous and tense, much like everyone else. After what seemed like hours, the start gun went off and it began, me running with 36,000 others.
From the start line there were spectators crowding each side of the road, cheering and shouting names, kids excitedly leaning forward, hands out for high fives. People were drinking their pints and sipping wine, handing out sugary treats to runners, others were outside pubs where music and bands played.
The first few miles were fine, normal start of a run kind of fine, miles 3 and 4 a little rough but that’s normal for me. But it wasn’t getting any better. Usually I pick up by about mile 7. I’d done it many times in training. But I was starting to suffer, it was hot, my legs felt heavy. While I kept hearing shouts of encouragement, my smiles of acknowledgement turned to thumbs up – less energy required. And on it went, and on and on. High fives here and there to keep myself distracted.
At mile 14 I stopped to have a quick chat to marshals from my running club – big hugs and being told I looked in good form. And then it just got harder. I could barely run 500 metres without having to walk for a few minutes. The stretches of walking were getting longer. I was exhausted and waves of emotion washed over me. Seven miles later I saw the marshals again and was working hard to keep it together. I knew if the sobbing started, breathing would become an issue.
Miles passed. ‘Go Sophie’, ‘You can do it’, ‘Not far to go now’. All words of encouragement and support. I wanted to shrink and to hide and let people know that at mile 24, telling people it’s only another 2.2 miles is a perverse sort of encouragement. By the time I passed Big Ben, I knew it wasn’t far… I was about an hour behind my goal time, I was physically and emotionally exhausted but I was going to get to the end. I struggled to run that last 600 metres, past Buckingham Palace and along the Mall.
A clear thought entered my head as my right foot touched the finish line – when can I do this again?
So what did I learn?
- Running a marathon with bronchitis is not such a great idea;
- High fives with the crowd is a great way to pass the time;
- The all important long training runs – if I hadn’t had a few long runs that really sucked, and where I kept going even though I wanted to collapse into a dribbling heap, I would not have finished;
- In future I’ll do everything I can to avoid the portaloos along the route;
- I was told not to worry about my time as it was my first marathon. Still, I did. This is normal. It took me days to get over the disappointment of having taken so long, but I did get over it, sort of. When I’m asked about my time, I don’t give it. At least with it being so bad, I’ll be able to beat it easily next time;
- I’m pretty damn stubborn or resilient depending on your point of view;
- After a marathon, stairs materialise in all sorts of places to torment you (and if you’ve never watched a youtube clip of people going up or down stairs post marathon, please do if you need a good laugh);
- Even though so much of it sucked, there were lots of amazing moments – making sure I was gentle high fiving toddlers and babies, running past Cutty Sark, Big Ben and Buckingham Palace, the encouragement from friends, the crowds and other runners, the music, the atmosphere and excitement; and
- The most important lesson, sometimes running sucks, sometimes it’s great, and either way, it’s worth it.
And yes, already planning marathons for next year. I’ll let you know how I get on.
Update: While I haven’t run a marathon since, I’m planning to do the London marathon again in 2017.
Let me know if you have similar tales from races you’ve done.