Since January 1st, it’s all been leading to this. The London Marathon.
Months of preparation – of long runs, of runs on tired legs, races with bling, almost daily rolling and core, pilates classes and only a few trips to the physio. Tingles down the spine as it gets closer to the big day.
There is something special about running London – with 40,000 people who all have stories to tell, when with a clear line of sight you see thousands ahead of you.
It’s the crowds shouting your name, willing you on especially at those tough moments.
It’s the marshals and supporters from my club.
It’s my running buddy Mary meeting me at mile 21.
It’s the folks along the route offering jelly babies, crackers and cheese sandwiches.
It’s those that make a day of it sitting in their picnic chairs with a lager or glass of wine.
It’s runners supporting each other.
And it’s spectacular – running past the Cutty Sark, across Tower Bridge, along Embankment up to Big Ben and then the penultimate last few hundred metres along The Mall with Buckingham Palace in the background.
And the best way I can describe it – FRIGGING AWESOME!
And it went a little like this…
I arrived early with time for an expresso from a local cafe and a slow wander up the hill to Blackheath. I was nervous and twitchy along with thousands of others. I’d slept badly the night before, waking up every hour or so, unconvinced I’d slept at all.
The day was crisp and cloudy. Perfect running conditions. I had my plan to hand, literally. I’d written on my hand my target pace and where I was to see people I knew along the route.
Arriving early I had time to sit and to experience the atmosphere. I also got to meet the lovely Rohan who I’d been in contact with via twitter and Instagram. He’s got an amazing story to tell, running 12 marathons and 5 ultras this year in support of charities that have done so much for him – Mind and The Connection, a charity for homeless people in London. Go check out his blog here.
We chatted for a few minutes and then went off to do our own thing. Time to decompress.
I used the portaloos. Lined up again even though I didn’t need to – all good raceday routine! And then off to the bag drop where I was so nervous I was unable to speak in complete sentences.
Off to the startline. It was crowded as expected. This is a big race with three different starting areas. Within a few minutes we were off.
We walked slowly towards the startline. Jackets and bin liners used to keep warm beforehand thrown to the left and right. And then the run began.
I watched my pace. I was aiming at 10.45 min/mile for the first few miles. Runners were passing me on the left and right, eager to get going. I held my own. I knew if I went too fast in the first few miles I would really suffer later on. Where there were any foliage to the left or right, men peeled off for that last minute nervous wee.
A few miles in, runners converge from the different starting areas. Looking up roads, thousands ahead pounding the streets. It’s an awesome site.
Mile 3, the first of the water stations. I grabbed a water, careful of other runners and bottles all over the road. Water stations are danger points.
I was struggling to get my pacing right. I focused on breath and foot strike but so hard to not get carried away in the moment. I held my pace.
It was muggy and a few miles in, the sun came out. It was not welcome. There was a sharp increase in the temperature and I suffer in the heat. Then clouds again.
At mile 12 or so, you turn the corner and suddenly there is Tower Bridge. Ahead you can see thousands – the bridge packed with runners and crowds of supporters on either side. This is the moment that took my breath away. It’s a sensation hard to describe though just in writing this, I’m tearing up a little.
Across the Bridge, we turned right onto the old Highway. Half a mile further along were marshals from my club – I managed to high-5 many and welcomed the support.
I was starting to suffer a little at this point. My pace was slowing and by mile 15 my feet and lower legs were starting to hurt. Three miles further on it was my hips flexors giving me issues. There was some walking and a lot of thinking. I had a time goal for this race. If that wasn’t going to be met, I had a back-up time in mind. And then the third option…. It was sort of sucking at this point.
And miles 16 to 21 can be pretty grim. The support is fantastic, there are bands playing, but this is when it starts to hurt. My feet felt like they were bruising.
But this is the London Marathon. You don’t stop just because it’s a long way. I did see a couple of runners getting some serious first aid from St John’s Ambulance – they’d been placed in wheelchairs to get them off the course and were not looking good.
This is the point I had to suck it up! At mile 21 I saw my running buddy, Mary, who was on the lookout for me. I ran over – I wanted to swear very loudly but there was a woman with a small child so held my tongue. And what did I say? ‘When we meet at the end, I need a mocha with lots of caffeine and crisps, need salt.’ And then I ran off. Not my most polite and finest moment but at least I didn’t start crying (and I am laughing a lot as I’m remembering this).
And on it went, and on it went. To the Tower of London, when you hit that points the crowds are bigger and louder. ‘You can do it.’ ‘You’re amazing, keep going.’
Then through the tunnel up to Embankment where I heard my name shouted and looked across. Folks from my running club spurring me on, one running along the footpath to encourage me to keep going. The pain at this point was pretty intense – I couldn’t decide if it hurt more to run or to walk but I knew I was seriously flagging.
It was a walk/run effort. I knew I’d finish. I’d given up on Options 1 and 2 for my target time so was carefully calculating my pace to meet Option 3.
I could see the Houses of Parliament in the distance. I knew at that stage it wasn’t far to go but my legs weren’t having any of it!
And I don’t know how but I heard my name shouted, I’d heard my name shouted a few thousands times I think, but then turned to the right and saw the lovely Carl with a group of other supporters. We’ve never met but we know each other from twitter and blogging. Great guy with an inspiring story and you can read his blog here.
Then past Big Ben and along the side of St James Park. I kept willing myself to run this last few hundred metres but my legs just weren’t having any of it. A few steps of running. A few steps of painful walking.
Turning the corner to see the finish line is an awesome sight. I ran that last hundred metres or so. My mind was blank – I just wanted to cross that frigging finish line and finish I did!
And then it was over. 5:13:02 – not the time I wanted but given Parkrun hurt on New Year’s Day, something I can live with. And a PB by 35:13 – OK so this was my second marathon with my first being a frigging disaster.
Bling around neck. Obligatory photos with bling taken and off to bag pick-up and then to use the portaloos – my biggest fear was being able to stand again and get out!
I met Mary. She had the mocha and crisps in hand – all part of the all important recovery! Then where to? The pub of course with Mary and lots of lovely other folks!
And the day after… well now… this post sums it up!
Would I do this race again?
Yes, yes, yes!
It’s brilliantly organised and the crowds are amazing. I am so fortunate to have been able to run it twice, both times places through my club ballot for having marshaled.
And a huge thanks to all the organisers, the coordinators, the marshals, folks at the water stations, St John’s Ambulance and the crowds – this is what makes it such a spectacular day!
And I’ve learned a lot – I’ll be posting later on this.
And while you’re here
This is my #reasontorun – Free to Run. I feel privileged to have been able to support this amazing organisation whose mission is to use running and outdoor adventure to empower and educate women and girls who have been affected by conflict. They support those living within conflict areas as well as those who have been forced to flee their country and live as refugees.
Please support – any amount gratefully received whether it’s £1 or $1 or £100 or $100. You can go to my JustGiving page here.