Settle in, guys. This is a tome.
I’ll paint you a picture.
Last year, all I had to look forward to for MONTHS was VLM. So the day came and I loved every painful second. I HAD to enter the ballot for 2017. I NEVER expected to get a place.
But I did.
Yay. *pained face*
As this is an opportunity I’d NEVER pass up (because nails. And because biggest marathon in the UK) I gladly accepted and began training for my ideal goal time of 4hr30. I kept this secret. I’m glad I did.
Come December, things started to fall off and by March I had all but given up hope of even going sub 5.
Not to worry though, London is London.
However… The run up, fraught with stress and worry and pain, completely detracted from the event and set me up for a tough day at the office. In my head.
So. The day.
I nervously made my way to Kensington High St Station. Then to Westminster. Then London Bridge. Then Blackheath.
At London Bridge, I found myself walking beside a girl who looked excited and nervous. Her name was Rhian. It was her first. We immediately became Blue Start buddies and i answered her questions as best I could, kept her relaxed (which helped me stay calm!) and got her to the start line where we hugged and made sure we followed eachother on Instagram. (She had a blast and finished in 5:17. Absolutely incredible and so chuffed for her!!)
At the blue start, I happened to notice two 4hr pacer flags and finally (FINALLY) after all these years of twitter chat, met the beautiful, mental Susie Chan. Fresh from the Sahara after completing her THIRD Marathon Des Sables…. what. A. Woman. A runner so talented that she’s able to pace the 4hr runners home in 3:58 WITH A SORE THROAT AND COLD. Legend.
Last year, I was Red Start. It took 39 minutes for me to get to the start line. This year, at blue start, I was over in 12. I was running London. Again. It was AMAZING.
The blue route is different for the first 5km so it made for some newness and new distractions. I kept a good steady pace (apart from the woman who STOPPED DEAD right in front of me 500m from the start TO PICK UP A QUID.) and pretty soon it was gel time and timing mat time.
I felt good. Calm. Zen, even.
The first thing I noticed were the crowds. Last year it was cool but dry. There were many parts where there were no people. This was not the case this time. Every mile was 4-5 deep. It was oppressive at times. And often extremely claustrophobic. Sometimes it boosted me. Other times it made me panic. Hugely different experience! People will tell you that the crowd get you round. I really did need them several times, but I often felt panicky and freaked out by the sheer number of people. Hundreds of thousands. It was mental.
Also. It is true what they say about having your name on your top. I decided not to do it this year but I really think it would have helped me. Saying that, the girl running beside me for most of the race was called Jenny which sounds close to Ginnie so I dined off her cheers for a good while.
From 5km-10km, its busy but pretty featureless. It’s then on to Cutty Sark where the crowd was AMAZING. So loud. So so loud. I took on another gel. It didn’t sit right. I sipped water and decided to give it time.
Cutty Sark to Tower Bridge
After Cutty, 15km came round quick and I now realised the gels were definitely not agreeing. Same gels as always. Same frequency. New discomfort. I felt bloated. And I darent chance a fart. This was not going to plan. I had to quickly re-evaluate and come up with a strategy that would give me enough energy and salts (on a hot day) to safely get me round the course without becoming a Poo Statistic.
We jogged through Rotherhithe which was jam packed this year, and then to Bermondsey where I knew Michelle would be waiting. I didn’t see her!! I hoped she was ok. I’d never seen crowds like this and worried that the tube would be horrific.
As with every run ever over 10 miles, my hips were now starting to protest. It’s agony but largely I can shut up and push through it. But this time, however, every little niggle felt huge. For some reason my head couldn’t focus on anything positive. Just on how far I still had to go. And how much of a battle this was.
This was going to be a hard-earned medal.
My plan at this point was not to touch gels until after half way. I couldn’t risk it. I felt so sick and bloated and I had to try and settle my stomach, so I chose to sip water gently and held onto a bottle from a water station until just before Tower Bridge.
As ever, turning onto Tower Bridge road and seeing it looming over you is indescribable. I enjoyed the first half and managed to wrestle my phone out to film a bit too. Remembering the cameras at the end, I quickly shoved my phone back in my pocket and made sure I smiled and waved for the cameras. I didn’t want to be caught on film awkwardly shoving my phone into the pocket on the arse of my shorts. It would 100% look like I was sorting a wedgie.
Tower Bridge to Isle of Dogs
This year, I was over the bridge in enough time to watch the GFAs and super fast runners on the home straight at the Out-and-back. I’m not an expert on these times, but I do know that for 18-40F it’s 3hr40 and my god, I can’t imagine holding that pace for 26.2 miles. On a hot day.
The 3hr30 pacers sailed past and I clapped and cheered for the runners who all looked like they were really hating life.
Out and back continues for a wee bit until you’re taken down into Limehouse. Just before the turn, the pain in my hips and the voice in my head forced me off the course into the longest queue I’ve ever seen for marathon portaloos. They are at very regular intervals but there were fewer this year despite over 40,000 entrants.
14.5 miles was where I deeply considered quitting. I stood in that queue and sobbed. I was in agony, my stomach was cramping, I was hugely uncomfortable and for the first time in an event, ever, I truly wanted to give up.
My head was filled with the negativity of a bitter, jealous “friend” and I could not shake the feeling that I was letting everyone down by running so poorly.
I decided to consult with some friends and family. After fishing my phone out, I texted mum and dad in our group chat and was instantly met with love and encouragement. I texted my hardcore friend who I knew would kick motivation into me. I texted my Marathon guru and dear chum who immediately broke the race down into sizeable chunks for me. I read all the incredible messages of support and genuine love on Facebook. I realised the love in my life outweighs the shit stuff and that I was DOING THIS. I COULD KEEP GOING. If you were one of the literally hundreds of people who took time to send me love and support, you genuinely made a difference to my day. You got me to the finish. Thank you. X
Phone back in pocket, horrific portaloo experience over (how do you get shit up a wall?!) and I was off again.
Running is largely uncomfortable for anyone and everyone in some way. Especially endurance. So by now I was sort of shuffling. But my pacing stayed fairly consistent. I knew if I could get to Mudchute I’d see Michelle. She’d asked me if I needed anything. I just said “a cuddle”.
Adding to my growing list of sore bits, my feet had now cottoned on to what was happening and I felt like I was developing blisters. Which NEVER happens.
The run from Limehouse down to the turn at Mudchute felt long. But when I ran up the hill under the 17mile marker and saw my friend I was elated. I then sobbed some more while she hugged me and lectured me on fuelling and forced me to gently and slowly take on a gel while she was there. “Just a little. You NEED sugar”
More words of encouragement given and popped under my cap and I was off again with renewed positivity.
Once you pass Mudchute you’re back at Canary Wharf. The buildings tower over you. There’s music and screaming crowds and it is an assault on the senses. But you know very soon it’ll only be 10km to go. So you just keep going. Relentless forward progress.
By now, with sore hips, sore feet and weary soul, I was getting hungry but gels were not an option. I sipped water and took jelly babies and tried them. No pain. Excellent. Orange segments. YES. Not sticky but sweet and refreshing. Then, a beautiful angel appeared from the crowd holding out a Tupperware. “You need this” she said. It was mars bar segments.
Oh. My. God.
If you asked me what my idea of race nutrition would be at 19 miles, I’d never ever say Mars Bar.
It’s officially Mars Bar.
I was saved. I nibbled it gently and kept taking on water with it. So tasty and easy to digest. For the first time all day I actually felt in control of the situation I was in. THANK YOU MARS BAR LADY I LOVE YOU.
After this, I largely grazed off food offerings from the crowd. Jaffa cakes (amazing), more orange, tangfastics. You name it. It was like a very long buffet and I made the most of it. I took on enough carbohydrate to feel like I had some energy again and then, sticking to my plan, stopped once I knew I only had an hour to go.
I don’t like the route after you leave Canary Wharf. It sort of out-and-backs through Poplar for ages and I tend to get a bit disorientated. You’re then in Tower Hamlets and almost back to the out-and-back at Limehouse.
Still crowds. Still cheers. So many people!!
Limehouse to Blackfriars
The run back along the course to Tower Bridge was tough. The other side was being cleared now. The sweeper bus was carrying VLMs victims and there were injured and broken humans lying along the pavement being looked after by medics. A reminder of how easily it can all go wrong, and how lucky we were to still be soldiering on.
I was reciting Eminem lyrics over and over in my head to keep a steady rhythm. I rarely run with music these days but I could have used some for this!
The party bus that choked me up with Fleetwood Mac last year was playing Calvin Harris – Feels so Close. I REALLY missed my iPod. Music was helping me so much.
Running back past tower bridge and the Tower of London, was incredible. Literally everyone lining the streets was pissed and hilarious. It was brilliant.
(Although – side note – please don’t fucking blow your vape smoke onto the marathon course. I really did almost puke)
As I passed the mile 23 marker I heard Michelle screaming for me! There she was! Another hug and a KEEP GOING YOU ARE SO NEARLY THERE.
Down into the underpasses and on to Blackfriars tunnel. The Somme of running. No screens or music this year in the tunnel. Just people walking, crying, puking, stretching amongst mountains of discarded Pukozade bottles.
The only thing I loved was the absolutely pounding choons that were drifting up the tunnel from the end. Chase & Status Blind Faith has NEVER sounded so good. And as we emerged from the dank depths of Blackfriars, like that scene in 28 Days Later, I finally got the adrenaline rush I needed.
Embankment to the finish
Ignore what everyone says. Embankment takes forever and you just want to lie down but you can’t because it’s almost time to finish.
Not to be flippant, but by now I just wanted to be done. I got unlucky. Despite never suffering with chafing and wearing the kit I train in comfortably, well…. I had chafed. In my special place. And I really just wanted to sit in a box of ice and re-evaluate my life choices. It was not ok.
Sure, it’s pretty epic to run along the Thames but I was conscious of all the sore bits. And that Big Ben should be there and it’s not. And not. And still not. And is that it? No. Still not Big Ben.
After about 18 years I saw him. Standing proud waiting for me. Beckoning me towards him.
(FYI Once you’re passing parliament, you need to try and smile here for the photographers.)
My next big surge of adrenaline came as we were funnelled through onto Birdcage Walk. I didn’t get the rush of emotion here this year. I just wanted to see the finish line. But it’s such a beautiful section of the run with St James’ Park on the right and leafy trees above me.
800m to go sign. Oh fuck. Nearly there. Smile for the cameras. SHUT UP LEGS.
*raps Eminem inside own head*
What feels like an hour later: 600m to go…
Round the corner to Buckingham Palace, under the arch to the golden Victoria Memorial statue, then…. the greatest sight you will ever see:
The Mall. One of the most iconic finish lines in the world. If not THE most iconic. Resplendent with its flags all laid out. The gangtry and cameras calling me home. I try and look majestic but really it’s a death-shuffle. And you’re done.
My watch showed a moving time of 5:16 but thanks to the toilet queue my chip time is 5:32. However, I was done. I really didn’t give a hoot about the time. A lovely lady gave me my HUGE medal and I was ushered over for a picture, then given my goodie bag and hobbled off to find my bag drop lorry.
I wanted to take a minute alone before I started making calls and went to find Michelle. So I found a tree and gingerly lowered myself onto the dusty ground beside it to stretch. I sat in the dust and gave myself a pat on the back. My third marathon. None of which have been easy (they never are. For anyone) but yet again I pushed through my mental and physical barriers and proved to myself that I can do anything. Is it hard? Fuck yes. Does it suck? Also yes. But does it make me feel powerful and strong? Yes. Yes. Yes.
The fact is that training has been hampered by illness and injury since December. Until yesterday my sum total mileage for the year was 154km. Since January. Most people run 5 times that to train for London. I had to rely solely on strength training and my inner fight. 25% of my annual mileage to date was done in one day. If that isn’t a testament to strength training, I don’t know what is. Huge thanks to my coach and dear friend, Jonathan Pain (of Painless Performance and Complete Human Performance) for his support and guidance.
There is no doubt that running a marathon in 2,3 or 4 hours is an incredible feat of athleticism and grit. To sustain that pace for that distance staggers me.
But. There is a great deal to be said for the 5hour+ runners. Who slog it out and enjoy it or hate it but get the job done with a smile. (Or in my case a hefty grimace)
Having to lay aside my aspirations was extremely character building. I am my own biggest critic and my only competition is myself. So taking 5 minutes to have a word with myself about what I’d just achieved, yet again, was important. No one could take this from me. I had earned this medal.
I phoned Brian to see how his 10 miler had gone in Edinburgh. I tried to stretch. I took my shoes off and slumped against a tree while my feet throbbed. I found salt and vinegar crackers in my finishers bag and inhaled them. Once I’d forced my swollen, battered (but weirdly not blistered) feet into my change of shoes, I painfully stood up and hobbled off to find Michelle.
There she was. Right in the meeting spot. With Tailwind juice for me and all the hugs. The meet and greet area was unbearably busy so we headed out to the street and wandered along for about a mile before hailing a cab successfully.
Back at the hotel, I assessed my limbs during a salt bath. I immediately spotted the bits I’d missed with the factor 50. I have two burnt rings round my ankles where there’s a gap between calf guards and socks. It looks silly. My right forearm is burnt and my left hand, too. I am a patchwork quilt.
Michelle was the absolute QUEEN of Bean-chaperoning. She ran me a bath and went out to get me food and Epsom salts. She then went for her own run while I tried to stretch and nap.
So. London. I wanted to love it. I didn’t, this year. It wasn’t hot by London’s standards but I genuinely could not imagine how tough that would be on a properly hot day. This year my mettle was tested. I was pushed to my limit. But I prevailed against my own odds and showed myself, yet again, that I’m tougher than I think I am.
And then there’s the bling. Always earned, never given.
Special mentions to the marshals who tirelessly stood and cheered for 40,000 runners. The organisers for yet again creating a slick event where I felt completely safe and looked after. And of course the crowds who came out in their masses and made the atmosphere electric. Thank you, London. X