Marathon weekend arrives
After months of preparation the big weekend was finally here. With that feeling of the London Marathon always being something to look forward to, way in the future but never actually arriving, I was packing my bags with race gear and getting ready for the flight to London. A very early flight to London no less! The plan was to get to the hotel in Westminster first, check in, and head straight to the Virgin Money London Marathon Expo to pick up my race number, have a browse and soak up the atmosphere. On Saturday morning, apart from the usual pre-flight anxiety of forgetting something, everything went smoothly and we were soon on our way to the Expo, being guided by very efficient and friendly London transport staff who had to cope with thousands of people heading to the ExCel.
Saturday afternoon: Getting into a 'London Marathon mood'
At the show, first order of the day was to pick up my race number and clear bag that all runners were provided with to store their belongings whilst running. After only a short wait, and after being directed to pick up my race timing chip we were free to head round the rest of the show. At this point my excitement was definitely building! After getting a couple of pictures in front of the New Balance sign and wandering round some of the stands, we sat down at the main stage to watch some of the guest speakers for words of wisdom. Martin Yelling, a former International runner turned coach and motivational speaker, was one of the people trying to ease the runners nerves by giving us advice on how to mentally prepare for the marathon.
For example, he spoke about what to do and visualise when things started to get tough, as they inevitably would at some point around the 26.2 mile course. Advice that I really took on board was thinking about why you were doing the marathon in the first place, what it meant to you, all the hard work you had done in training to get to this point and what a future version of yourself would say to you when you were starting to doubt you would get round the course.
We whiled away the rest of the afternoon going around the various brand's stands at the show, watching people take on the “Eliud Kipchoge Challenge”; where a long treadmill was set up at his world record marathon pace to see how long people lasted (surrounded by crashmats for the inescapable moment when legs gave up), picking up some last minute “Beet-It” to have before the race, and enjoying the atmosphere and overhearing snippets of other runners preparations, nerves and excitement.
Sunday morning: The beginning of the end of my London Marathon Journey
The morning of the race had arrived and I felt relatively well prepared, albeit with a pinch of nervousness on the side, having had a lovely pasta dinner and an early night the night before. My long run breakfast of porridge and dried fruit and nuts was readily consumed, then we were off, joining the many runners staying in our hotel heading towards the three different start points. Again the transportation there was very smooth, and with free travel for runners we got to the green start point in Greenwich with no hitches. It’s always interesting to see everybody’s shoes and kit, and spot the ones which we have in work (geek, I know!), and this whiled away some time as we were travelling. I was running in my trusty Saucony Guide, Ronhill Infinity Marathon Twin Shorts, Ronhill Momentum Tank, Feetures socks and New Balance Windcheater Jacket in case of rain. I had various flavours of Torq gel squirreled away in a waist pack to keep me fuelled properly over the run (I used 5 gels along the route) and had my phone on me for tunes, connected to my trusty Aftershokz headphones, wireless bone conduction headphones that are approved for use in all road races by UK Athletics and the comfiest headphones I’ve ever worn! Finally I had my Garmin charged and ready to record the run, and guide my pace over the miles to prevent me starting off too fast.
The start line
As I waited to start there was a nervous energy in the Green Zone. Music blasted out of a PA system as runners were encouraged to drop off their bags in the baggage buses as soon as possible. There were huge queues for the portaloos and volunteers giving out bottles of Lucozade sport and water. Soon the front runners were corralled into the starting zones. I had predicted a time of 4 hours so I was starting about halfway back. We saw Sir Andy Murray push the button that officially started the elite men and the masses on a big screen in our area, then all we had to do was wait until it was our wave to start. The weather was pretty great for running, it was 12°C and dry, but just a little chilly for standing around beforehand. I got chatting to a couple of people round me, sharing running history and trying to stay warm, and before we knew it was time to start!
The halfway point
With the exception of an unscheduled portaloo stop at mile 2 (too much nervous drinking before starting!) all was going smoothly up until mile 3. At this point the runners from all three start zones converged and there was a bit more congestion along the route. After a few miles of worrying about time and trying to get past people I eased up a little bit and decided to relax and enjoy the run (as much as possible!), rather than stress about coming in under 4 hours. There was so much to see, from people running in costumes, to thousands of spectators with homemade signs shouting and cheering us on, to the landmarks of London, and the miles ticked away fairly steadily. Before I knew it we were at the halfway stage and Tower Bridge! Crossing the bridge was amazing, a beautiful sight and a massive milestone checked off. After crossing the bridge when we turned away from the finish to run out to the Isle of Dogs I had the smallest wobble - “how am I ever going to get round the same distance again at the same pace?!!”- but quickly dispelled the negative thoughts by recalling all my long training runs and what I had achieved so far. I also spent a couple of miles searching the crowd for by brother (who I did see) and boyfriend (who I didn’t) who I knew would be around certain mile markers, and this helped to take my mind off my legs.
The dreaded 18 mile mark
The hardest point in the only previous marathon I had done, Edinburgh in 2015, was around the 18 mile mark when I had to walk/run for a couple of miles, so I wasn’t looking forward to the same point in London. This was a part in London where there were fewer spectators too, but luckily my legs seemed to be holding out and I never had the urge to stop running. My running tunes, a better fuelling strategy and the cheers from the spectators had all definitely helped this time round! Before I knew it I was at mile 22 and heading past Tower Bridge again. The noise from the crowds from here to the end was almost deafening, and even if I had wanted to slow down or stop I couldn’t as weirdly I felt I would have almost been letting them down! These marvellous people that come out and urge us to keep going are the best part of the London Marathon and make it the most special race I’ve ever done. We were on the home stretch now, a flat part running alongside the Thames towards Westminster.
5k and counting
I started counting down the kilometres – only 5k to go, and telling myself that this is just a park run, easy!! I took my headphones out – the crowd were cheering so hard I could hardly hear the music and I wanted to soak up the atmosphere as much as possible. The hardest part was when we were almost at St James Park and there were huge signs counting down the distance to go from 600m – my legs felt so heavy and it seemed to take an age for every 100m to pass. However at this point you know you are going to make it and it gives you a massive boost. Before I knew it I had turned onto The Mall and urged my body to try for a sprint finish. I had slowed down a fair bit by this point so what felt like a sprint probably wasn’t, but I was doing it nonetheless, and with a massive grin on my face – I had done it!
The finish line
As I crossed the finish line a lovely volunteer placed a medal around my neck and said a warm congratulations, and I was overcome by an uncharacteristic wave of emotion. The pride, pain and months of training just hit me all at once and I have to say there were a couple of tears. I missed out on my projected time of 4 hours (coming in at 4:08:35) but I wasn’t overly fussed, I just felt extremely privileged to have been part of one of the biggest marathon races in the world!