First of all, a huge bunch of thank yous! Thanks to the club for having the ballot which allocated my entry to the Marathon after having my original entry rejected. Thanks to various people for dragging me out, or joining me for runs over the winter months to help me get trained for it (you know who you are!) Thanks to all the people who’ve offered kind words of support. And probably biggest thanks to everyone I’ve come into contact over the last 4 months for not getting too annoyed when I whinged about it all!
Training for the London Marathon was a lot more hit-and-miss than I’d envisaged, trying to fit it around work, weather and other family commitments at the other end of the country. At one stage, I was getting up at 5am on dark January mornings to squeeze in training runs. (Anyone who knows me well knows that I’m not an early morning person – 5am is a very alien place to me!) The weather dealt a few blows to my training, with snowfall leading to the cancellation of the Reading Half which was supposed to be a stepping stone to longer distances. Minor injuries played their part too, with minor calf strains coming and going – usually appearing at the least convenient moment! However, a long list of people did make the effort to go out on cold Sunday mornings or dark weeknights in the lead up to the Marathon, helping me get the miles in with good company. The only two lengthy runs I managed before the Marathon were the Coombe to Overton 16 miler (cross-country through snow and mud) and a 21 miler at 5am in the morning, (after an evening of beer and curry!), around my home town of Hartlepool. That latter one gave me a false sense of security, finishing it comfortably, feeling strong and uninjured. 26 miles should be a doddle, surely…
When the time came, the Marathon itself was a great experience. I was not alone in doing it: Thomas, Simon and Billy’s other half were all entered for the Marathon too and it was great to meet up with them either in training, or in collecting my registration the Friday before the race, or at the race itself. Race day involved another early start, zipping down to Basingstoke to join Thomas and a platform full of excited runners on the train to London. I was grateful for Thomas being there as I had no idea where I was going but to be fair, just following the crowds would probably have got me to the right place – the whole world seemed to be going in the same direction! At Blackheath, we bumped into Billy and Charlotte but there was barely time for a quick hello, application of Esther’s suncream, trip to the lovely portaloos and then before you knew it, it was time to get into the starting pens to begin the race.
Thomas was in a different starting zone to me, so was on my own when the race began. Barely after crossing the start line, I bumped into Simon and, aiming for around the same sort of finish time (just under 4 hours), decided to run together. We were sticking to the 4 hour pacemaker but because of the sheer number of people, that was no easy feat. The pacemaker seemed to cut through walls of slower runners like a hot knife through butter but I found myself slowed a lot, then picking up the pace to get by, then going slow, fast, slow, fast… Whenever I seemed to get close to the pacemaker, a wall of people would appear in front of me and in the blink of an eye, he’d be a hundred yards ahead.
Around what felt like the 7 or 8 mile mark, I lost sight of Simon who’d been ahead of me before that and the pacemaker was getting beyond my reach. I assumed he’d gone on ahead, while I was struggling to keep up. At mile 10, I was feeling overly tired and starting to realise a sub 4 hour finish wasn’t on the cards. I managed to keep on 4 hour pace till about mile 13 then, reluctantly, let the pacemaker out of my sights. By this point it was very hot and I was breaking with my usual habits by stopping at water stations and taking on water. I usually do without but if anything, I was going too far the other direction, guzzling water or energy drinks every few miles.
Mile 17 came and I was slowing dangerously to the point where I wasn’t sure I could actually lift my knees enough to keep running and my arms were too heavy to hold up. I was just about to grind to a halt when I saw Billy in the crowd calling me and about to take a photo. So I decided against giving in just there! However, barely a mile or so further, hit a wall where I just couldn’t raise my knees anymore and rather unceremoniously dropped back to alternating between walking and running. My family, who’d been following me online with updates every 5K thought I’d dropped off a cliff when I didn’t pass the next checkpoint and soon the phone in my pocket started bing’ing with concerned messages, replied to with blurry selfies of a tired looking face!
Having lost Simon earlier, I caught up with Thomas near mile 20 and we both had a similar problem – just unable to run. For the final 6 miles the strategy changed to walk half a mile, run half a mile – sometimes less of one and more of the other. In the final mile, turning your back on the Thames and heading for the Mall, you get the sense of excitement at being nearly there and I got a bit of a second wind. But while Thomas had probably being taking it easy to keep with me for the previous 5 miles, it was his turn to struggle. It was telling that we’d had a few other runners slow down to ask us if we were okay – think my wandering diagonally back and forth across the road, staring glassy-eyed at some invisible point on the horizon didn’t help!
And then with a few hundred yards to go, it was the final race for the line, crowds cheering (as they had been the whole way), medal, bag of goodies, bag collection and a desperate desire for a lie down which we duly did on the first available patch of grass! In the end, I think Simon, Thomas and I all targeted a 4 hour finish but all struggled and were the wrong side of 5 hours.
If you haven’t done it before (as I hadn’t) it’s a big event. Unlike other 5K, 10K, or even half marathons, the lead up and aftermath is a big part of it. Hours after crossing the line, eating icecreams, Thomas and I were still being congratulated by strangers on the streets of London, still tirelessly clapping runners on and the whole route was lined with well-wishing watchers. Even on the trains back home, kind people offered to give up their seats for us on packed carriages and miles from the event, you could feel it’s’ influence.
So would I do it again?! At the time I crossed the line, I said “never!”. 4 weeks on though, it niggles me that I never got it done under 4 hours, so who knows… Possibly. Maybe. Definitely!