I like people. And at London Marathon there are a LOT of people to like – 39,000 runners and even more spectators, all of whom I fell mildly in love with on Sunday morning.
Green start – I made my way to the Green Start alone, but never felt alone on the journey. I spoke to an older couple who had completed 4 of the 6 marathon majors between them, and sat on the tube near a guy in a full Stormtrooper costume. The journey was so much more companionable than your usual London public transport grim silence – there was an air of “we’re all in this together” – a kind of blitz spirit. It probably helped that so many people were from Up North too…
I’d been quite worried about travel arrangements, so ended up at the start area with nearly 2 hours til the start time. So, I did what any sensible runner would do – I stood in the loo queue, drinking water. For over ONE HUNDRED minutes. Every time I got to the front of the line, I went for a wee, and joined the back of the line again. I chatted to my fellow queue-mates, spotted some friends and had some blog readers come say hi as I queued and queued (HI BACK blog readers, thank you for entertaining me in the wait). By the time 10am rolled around I was super hydrated and pumped to go.
Miles 0-8 – I could feel myself starting out too fast, the standard rookie error, but the force of the crowds around me made it hard to resist. My aim had been for a 4:30 marathon but during this section of the race, I found myself hovering near the Runner’s World 4:00hr pacer – oops!
Miles 8-12 – My husband had said that he would be spectating at Canada Water, and we’d arranged for me to run on the left hand side of the road round there so he could give me a hug and a boost (and grab a race photo…) After running for a little while, I realised that I had absolutely no idea where Canada Water actually was. I knew it was in London, and South of the river, and that was about it. So, I moved to the left and started looking, and looking. It was like trying to find “Where’s Wally?” but the picture is being joggled past you at 9:40 a mile pace, and all the little people are jumping about and shouting your name as if they know you.
I didn’t find my husband (they’d moved to the right hand side of the road! Even if I’d known where Canada Water was, I couldn’t have seen them) but there were some people standing on the left who I did find very exciting. Firstly, Wills, Harry and Kate were right THERE, in the crowds – look at Kelly Robert’s now-iconic picture if you want to see how close they were to us runners, and then secondly I spotted fellow blogger Laureen in the crowds with her friends. It was SUCH a boost to see both sets of people – I got a real mental energy jolt from both sightings.
Which was a good thing, as the actual energy source that I had brought with me, my trusty Shot Bloks, were not going down well. I just didn’t want them. My plan had been to start having them at mile six, and then every two miles from that point have two blocks, the equivalent of two thirds of a gel. But they just didn’t seem remotely appealing, and I had already skipped the ones at eight miles, and only managed one block at ten.
(UPDATE – Found out the reason that I didn’t fancy my energy gels a few days after the marathon – I was pregnant!! Blog post here with more info)
Miles 12 – 21 -By this point in the race, I was quite overwhelmed by the crowds. Every time some stranger read my name on my top and shouted it in encouragement, I looked up and smiled at them. While this is a nice thing to do, I began to realise that it was very emotionally draining, and that I was going to need some reserves of resilience in about ten miles. I popped my headphones in and moved directly to the middle of the road, so I would be as far away from all those lovely, helpful, wonderful people as possible, feeling like a bit of a grinch. For this section, I just kept my head down and kept soldiering on. I missed my mum’s natter and chatter here a lot. Due to setting off at the beginning like greased lightening, my pace was getting slower and slower, but I decided not to beat myself up about it. I had always been in this race for the experience, regardless of finish times, and that’s the mental angle I managed to cling to – even if at that particular present moment the experience was actually pretending that I was anywhere but running this wonderful marathon.
Now, look at the photo below. Look how cleverly and thoroughly I’ve looped my bumbag under my race number, under the safety pins and secured it at my back. You can hardly see the thing. My carefully packed bumbag, with my fuel, water, headphones, tissues, paracetamol – every single thing I would need easy access to during the race. Look at what a stupid moron I am. While I’d diligently done my long runs in my whole race outfit, I’d obviously not practiced with a race number on. With my name being on the top of my vest, I’d ended up wearing my number lower, hence the thorough looping of the bumbag belt. This meant that I couldn’t just turn the bag around when I wanted something from it, but instead had to pull to the side of the stampeding hoard, stop completely still, and ferret in my bag for anything I needed. This started frustrating me the second I tried to have my first sip of water, two miles in and continued to enrage me through the race. By mile eighteen I could have happily just ripped my race number off and thrown it in the bin if it meant easy access to all of my stuff. Though if I’d done that I wouldn’t have that nice Buckingham Palace race picture below, so I suppose it was worth not throwing it away. JUST. Race number on shorts next time, I think.
Miles 21 – 26.2 – Every mile after 20 that you don’t hit the wall is a bonus, and I began to feel great at this point, though still wondering if the wheels might come off thanks to my poor nutrition earlier in the race. Spoiler alert – they didn’t! I think dropping the pace meant that I still had enough left in the tank for the last push. I got fully back into the swing of being part of London Marathon in these miles, encouraging other runners, dancing along to the bands along the route and waving to the incredible Cheer Dem Crew at Mile 21.
I had a cry at the lovely cheering section from Macmillan cancer care, thinking about all of the reasons that those people must have chosen to be part of that charity’s support group that day. In some ways, those last six-point-two miles of the race felt the easiest to me – I’d put the miles in behind me and this bit really did just feel like the home straight. I was incredibly loved up with my fellow runners, my husband who finally popped up at 25 miles, and every single spectator who yelled out encouragement for that last stretch. I even forgave the bloody Stormtrooper who overtook me towards the end…
I finished in 4:45 – my slowest marathon yet, but still exactly what I needed. I was so overwhelmed with emotion at the Macmillan recovery centre afterwards that I burst into great, wracking happy sobs and one of the volunteers brought me a cup of sweet tea thinking I was losing it. Maybe I was – it was just such a triumph, and I was bursting with pride. I’d proven to myself that I could handle a marathon solo, I’d raised nearly £1300 for charities that are so close to my heart, and I’d loved (almost) every minute of it, battling the demons of PB-comparison that suck joy out of happy times. Thanks for your support online and offline guys, and thank you for my incredible donations. I couldn’t have done it without you.
My London Marathon has also been fabulously supported by Pink Lady® Apples, who are the official apple of the London Marathon. I didn’t spot any of their guys on Sunday – did you see them running in their massive apple costumes? I’m sure they’d make an annoying bumbag seem not too bad in comparison…