Finished it! I am a London Marathoner.
& what a medal it is. Chunky, gold-coloured & a good shape. It’s still in my handbag and might stay there for a while in case it comes up in conversation.
Disappointingly, despite the wonderful experience, fantastic support from the crowd & all my training, I didn’t catch the time I wanted and was quite a way off. It was going well but I set off too fast. I am disappointed, but there will be other marathons. Or perhaps I will stop running them.
What everyone said about the crowds was true, & whilst a quieter route would have saved me a few seconds of not kicking people in the ankle/being kicked in the ankle/tripping over people, running with so many others was amazing. The sound of the crowd at iconic parts of the route was so loud it was overwhelming. That definitely carried the last few miles when I was mostly miserable. I have never been so pleased to see the crappy Tesco Express next to Westminster, although I would have never guessed it is a mile from there to the top of the Mall. Distances become so flexible in your mind, a mile can fly by in a daydream and a few hundred metres can seem very far indeed.
So, mile by mile (almost):
Slept fairly well the night before, after re-reading the relevant chapter of Running Like A Girl. I first read this book before I had ever considered the distance & it is still just as useful. Breakfast was a slightly rubbish porridge pot, but went downstairs for a decent hotel coffee & found the hotel was providing bananas, porridge & water too. I still hate bananas but it’s a nice thought.
My cousin had booked us into a hotel near Tower Bridge to facilitate her own easy spectating, so I jumped on the tube to Charing Cross then a train to Blackheath. TfL is amazingly well organised for events like this & it was all absolutely seamless & cheerful.
Starting pens are always stressful. Held on to my kit bag for as long as I could & made sure I had all my gels and snacks. A few last minute additions to the playlist also happened at this point, & I also made some pals
Kat had never run a marathon before, but has run every London parkrun (which is now basically just a waiting game until another one starts up) and has embroidered the name of each one on her running vest. Rosie is a Six Star Finisher and has completed the Great Wall Of China Marathon. (She’s also Rosie Millard, & I didn’t realise this until the next day…) Half an hour of chat with these lovely women in the toilet queue was great for calming nerves & we stuck together until the starting pens separated us. However, we’ve all swapped details & have been checking in with each other for the last few days.
It wasn’t as chaotic as I thought it would be in the start pens, but it was cold & that made the waiting around seem longer. Kept my fleece on as long as I could before chucking it in the donation bin. The actual start & first few miles were a little underwhelming, like many races. The fun began when the starts all merged & it became busy. There is no room to move & get a clear path through. This is where I ended up going too fast, despite the crowds. Eventually I started to recognise the streets, the Cutty Sark loomed up ahead & the noise of the crowd was phenomenal.
Buoyed by this crowd noise & knowing my family were at Tower Bridge, the next few miles were fine. Managed to spot my family which was fantastic. Tower Bridge itself was wonderful to run over.
Heading towards Canary Wharf, I started to feel really tired. Looked at my watch and it wasn’t time for another gel, but I snaffled a couple of jelly babies and kept going. It was really quite difficult from mile 16 or so. Legs felt heavy, & the point where you’ve only got 10 miles to go is… not a cheering prospect. 10 miles is far. I gritted my teeth and sulked, knowing I would see people further along the route & determined to be going well when I saw them.
Canary Wharf messes up your GPS because of the height of the buildings. I’d heard about this but glancing at my watch & seeing it clocking 10 minute kilometres messed with my head. I knew I had slowed down a bit, but couldn’t gauge how much & this made me really miserable. The crowd support picked up again along the North Colonnade & it was way too loud for my mood. I ended up right in the middle of the road with a lot of space around me & paused my music as I couldn’t hear it. I did hear someone shouting my name with more enthusiasm than kind strangers, & looked up to see my cousin & her dad cheering & clapping. Definitely what I needed at this point, & easing into a slight downhill section here was also nice to get a bit of a speed pickup. Everything was hurting now, though.
I hung on for a few miles more, seeing my old Carers Trust colleagues who cheered me as loudly as their charity runners. The Run Dem Crew cheering section came up soon after & they are LOUD and amazing. I also spotted London Frontrunners & a couple of Glasgow Frontrunners, which was a nice boost but I was trying too hard to speed up & not look shit in front of club mates.
Coming back towards the Tower was a nice feeling, but after catching the tube from Tower Hill to Charing Cross earlier that morning, I knew that running that route would feel quite a bit longer so just got my head down. I don’t remember much about miles 21-24 except feeling sore & unhappy & worrying that I might have to stop and walk.
Three things happened in quick succession. I saw a Frontrunner pal cheering me on which was amazing; I saw New Scotland Yard & knew we were about to turn into Parliament Square, & despite the best efforts of the amazing marshals & first aiders to create a screen, I saw someone lying on the ground being defibrillated. At that point, nothing mattered more than getting to the finish line & seeing my family. I couldn’t stop thinking about the man on the ground for most of Birdcage Walk. There haven’t been any reports of deaths, unlike previous years, but the stark reality of the situation is still quite harsh. I very much hope that he is OK.
Right turn onto the Mall. Buckingham Palace to my left. Someone on my line of sight stopped to walk; I tapped them on the shoulder & said nah, not now. Run this now. I saw them vomiting at the finish line so I do feel a little guilty but always, always run the finish. More people screaming. My dad & cousin, somehow at the front of the crowd & smiling. & then the big red finish. It became easier to lift my feet & then walking was OK because you’re over the timing mats & it’s done.
Medal round my neck. Walking slowly & stiffly to the baggage lorries & being unable to recall my number or read it properly upside down, or speak in full sentences. Did I mention the marshals are wonderful & endlessly patient with the thousands of sweaty idiots stumbling around?
More slow walking towards the reunion area, more shouting ‘can you see a blue flag? I am under the BLUE FLAG’ into my phone. But suddenly everyone was hugging me and I had some water & put my hoodie on & then we went to a pub on Whitehall that was full of runners spilling out onto the street & it was lovely.
& it came in at 4:16:34. Basically the same as last year in Manchester, give or take some seconds. I am a bit gutted, & the post marathon blues are strong today as it’s no longer painful to walk down flights of stairs & people have stopped asking me how it went. I was rather well on track for a sub-4 until the final third of the race, so I am assuming I went off too fast & peaked too early.
So it’s over; it’ll never be undone. It was amazing, & it was really quite difficult. I haven’t entered the 2020 ballot but I think I might have unfinished business with this race. We’ll see.
Next is Edinburgh, in 25 days…