I can’t quite put into words how much running London Marathon meant to me. I’m sure i could gush for page after page but put simply, I fell in love with running in London and more than any other race wanted to run the marathon of my city.
I first entered the ballot in 2010, before I even ran, I did it because a friend was and I got caught up in her enthusiasm. It became a yearly tradition of entering, entirely forgetting about it for six months and then October approaching and wanting to race home to frantically check the post. 7 years and I became familiar with the thud of the rejection magazine.
Then on 26 January 2017 I received a message from Lucy Fitness that changed everything, would I like a place in the London Marathon. Cue squeals of excitement and a lump in my throat. The lovely people at KIND Snacks UK, who were one of the products in the finisher’s good bag wanted to offer us the Golden Ticket, as fate would have it I had eaten a KIND bar for breakfast that morning.
With only 12 weeks to go I was a little apprehensive, given that for Brighton marathon I had trained for 20 weeks but it was an opportunity that I simply couldn’t pass up and was determined to make the most of the training time I had.
The journey to the start line was rocky to say the least. A very bad half marathon race experience, the constant feeling I was way behind everyone else in terms of mileage and missed training. I had moments when I considered deferring but I had wanted this for so long, I simply didn’t want to wait another year. I normally get excited before races but never nervous. But from the Monday before I was jittery, had butterflies and lost count of the number of times I broke out in a cold sweat. I couldn’t figure out why, was I concerned that I wasn’t prepared or was it the anticipation of realising one of my biggest running goals.
When a race pack gets delivered its always exciting but going to the Expo was something else. My registration form accidentally got binned, the replacement got left in the office but the lovely people on the help desk sorted it instantly. Picking up my number on the Friday made it all very real – 58058 – it had a nice ring to it. Lucy and I had a quick browse and got some snaps but unfortunately it was far too hot to stay for any length of time.
On the Saturday I was a bridesmaid at a friend’s wedding. It was an absolutely stunning day and kept me well and truly distracted from any pre-marathon nerves. Sunday morning I was so nervous I had to force myself to eat my banana topped porridge. Coffee in hand, wrapped up with my throw away jumper, I set out to the start line in Greenwich, which luckily was a straight forward 40 minute journey.
I arrived at 9:15am, jumped in the queue for the toilets, which went surprisingly quick and did some gentle stretching. It was completely cloudy but I still decided to apply some Sun cream to my face, which I was very thankful for later on. I also bumped into a few familiar faces with kept the nerves at bay. Then before I knew I was in my starting pen, counting down to 10am and easing towards the start. It took around 16 minutes me to cross the start line and I was so overwhelmed by it all that I forgot to start my watch for at least a minute.
My goal, I just wanted to finish, uninjured. Ideally I would have liked to have finished in 5hrs 29 mins. So I set off wearing a 5hr 30 pace band, which equates to a 12:35 minute mile. The first 6/7 miles were relatively uneventful, I found my rhythm and was feeling good at 11:50 pace. I reached the Cutty Sark and the atmosphere was buzzing. This is when it really struck me. I’m running the London Marathon, I’m not sat at home watching or spectating but actually running it myself!
From Mile 7 to 12 my pace starting to slow but I was still running within 12:35 min/mile and more than anything I was enjoying myself. Rounding the corner of Tooley street, I spotted Alex and stopped for a quick hug, to grab some strawberry laces. Having seen me at a similar point in Brighton marathon Alex thought I was looking on good form and waved me off on to one of the points in the course I was most looking forward to, running over Tower Bridge. I was like a Cheshire Cat bounding along loving the cheers from the densely packed spectators on either side.
I came off the bridge, rounded the corner and headed towards the half way mark. I was feeling so much better than how I felt by this point in the North London Half or during a long training run. Half way point was marked with live music from coming from a London Pride Bus parked in the centre of the road and at this point I spotted some of my super speedy friends who were already at the Mile 22 mark.
As I headed towards 14 miles my hip flexors started to feel tight which became increasingly painful. A pain that didn’t go away until several days post marathon. Mentally it also hit me that I was about to embark on the hardest part of the course, Canary Wharf. I knew it was coming and I knew I was going to have to dig deep but when at Mile 16 my watch said I had already run an extra 0.52 of a mile and the hip pain was getting worse with every step I had to get really inventive. I had been trying to stick to the blue lines and decided to use them to pull me through this bad patch. Run for the distance between 26 lines then walk for 13. Mile 18 my headphones suddenly died. Mile 19 my watch storage bleeped as full and then died. I was in agony and had nothing to distract me.
But suddenly, with no headphones I started to hear the cheers from the crowd. Total strangers shouting my name, encouraging me along. I hit Mile 20 and kept saying out loud, just keep running, just keep running. Those miles felt long and lonely but this was London Marathon and I had long agreed with myself that my mental strength would pull me through when it really started to hurt.
I hit Mile 21 and Run Dem Crew had put on a fantastic cheer station. I must have looked rather pained because another runner turned to me and said its less than 10km to go, you’ve trained for a marathon you can run 10km.
Mile 21-23 I remember very little other than a little girl with a sign saying Jelly Baby fairy handing me a mini pack of Haribo, a lady I grabbed an orange jelly snack off and the man who thrust a very welcome Percy Pig in my direction. Fuelling strategy had all but gone out the window by this point and it was all about the sweets.
Coming up out of Blackfriars Tunnel and onto Embankment there was a massive lump in my throat, this to me was what London Marathon was about. Running down the middle of the road, spectators roaring, across the River from the London Eye heading towards Big Ben. I plastered a grin on my face and drew on the energy from the crowd. At Mile 25 I spotted Alex and two of my friends. I was somewhat delirious by this point but the fizzy lucozade and another dose of strawberry laces were welcome. All I remember was blurting out “BURGER”. I was really rather hungry but this point. My face says it all when Alex gently responded saying yes as soon as you finish the race, off you go.
My spirits were lifted and I plodded on towards the Houses of Parliament, were brilliantly placed right underneath Big Ben stood my parents, who had patiently been waiting for several hours. A quick hello and hug and they too told me to get on and finish it. The final mile seemed to stretch on forever and I focused my sights on chasing a bare footed man dressed as the purple triangle Mr Men who had managed to overtake me.
As I rounded that final corner, passed Buckingham Palace, and headed down the flag lined final stretch, I fixed my sights on the finish line I’ve been wanting to cross for so many years.
6 hours 18 minutes 55 seconds and proud.
Its a time that most would be devastated with but just consider how much mental strength it takes to keep going for that long particularly without a toilet break.
As that medal was put over my neck I could barely whisper thank you, I walked around in a circle disorientated before promptly being over come with emotion and I started sobbing. A lovely volunteer guided me to have a finisher’s photo and I stumbled passed the baggage lorries to meet my family and get my burger.
I was exhausted but it was by the far the best race I’ve ever run and I am so very grateful to Kind Snacks for the opportunity.
I’ll be back one day to do justice with a faster time but for now I am ecstatic to have ticked off the number one race on my bucket list.