24hrs after finishing and I am still buzzing from finally ticking off the bucket list item of running the London Marathon. Yesterday was an amazing day and I was just so pleased it lived up to all my dreams.
After the joy of Saturday where I had the pleasure of seeing my youngest sister getting married (massive congrats Jo and Chris) it was time to put on my marathon face. I was so grateful to have had this as a pleasant distraction else I think I’d have gone crazy with the nerves. As it was I (as expected) didn’t sleep that well before a 5am alarm call on Sunday morning. I always struggle to eat on race days and this was no different and before I knew it my wife was dropping me and our friend off in town to catch the bus down. I had thought about trying to have a nap but that wasn’t happening so it was great to get to know a couple of the running club members (and have them try to persuade me to join up).
On arrival in Blackheath there was still time to spare so after a trip to a local coffee shop I finally headed to my starting area. I was in the Green pen which among many things was the starting pen for all the official Guiness world record attempts so I did feel a little under-dressed. I found a nice spot, laid out my bin bag and tried to sit and rest.
Eventually it was time to get into my starting pen and things started to feel real. Finally at 9:45:50 and after almost 2yrs and over 1000 miles of training (and a lifetime of wanting to run this race), my marathon journey was up and running.
The first section of the race however is actually quite surreal. When you picture the London Marathon you picture massive crowds at the Cutty Sark or Tower Bridge. Not a leafy suburb with smaller crowds. It was still great to see people out and cheering as the mantra of “slow down” running through my head as everyone I speak to talks of how you are bound to go off too quick.
Just before mile 1 we merged into the larger blue start and the roads got that bit busier as we headed up the brilliantly named Ha Ha Road (it’s as if the course knows what is coming!). I had made the decision that unlike what usually happens when I run, I wasn’t setting myself a target split. As long as I was within a window then I knew I was in the zone for a time I’d be happy with and I wouldn’t start stressing that I was too fast or slow. The early pace was good and as I went through 5k and we met the red start athletes, I was pretty much bang on the money and feeling strong.
My wife has headed down to London to watch me with Pete’s wife Becky. As I had snuck over £2,000 raised for The UK Sepsis Trust the day before and was running in Pete’s memory, it was so good she could be there. The first point we had planned to spot each other was just before the 5 mile marker. Shortly before the race started my wife had text me to say she was having train issues so I didn’t know if she would be there or not. Thankfully she got to the point 3 minutes before my arrival. Just seeing them gave me that lift that I think you need at that stage as there is still so far to go but your body is starting to feel the initial exertions after sailing through on adrenalin and free energy for the first stretch.
The atmosphere in the first few miles had been good but quickly took on another level as we passed under the Blackwall Tunnel approach flyover. The noise of the drums and the acoustics of the underpass were stunning and summed up what London is all about. The rest of the run through Greenwich was a little quieter but before long we were at the first of those iconic sections I mentioned above, the Cutty Sark.
Up to that point the crowds had been good but the tunnel of noise as we ran round the famous old ship was stunning. That single point on its own summed up everything I had always expected London to be. My legs still felt fresh and I had another bounce in my step.
Now a marathon is a long way and there are sections between these landmarks that just have to add to the miles. For me that was the next section through Rotherhithe. There were some great pockets of support but at other sections as you ran down residential streets, you did suddenly feel a million miles from Central London again. However, I was happily in the zone and the km were ticking over nicely and each time in that magic window I had set myself as we prepared for the next major point of the race.
I don’t think there is anything more iconic than hoardes of runners making their way over Tower Bridge on marathon day. As you round the corner and see the towers ahead of yourself you can’t help but smile again. The crowds were deep as we crossed over although being more open, the sound was not quite as all encompassing as it had been at Cutty Sark. The thing is you can’t get too excited as you still have just over half the race to go.
Coming off the bridge was one of my only downsides of the race. Nothing to do with the race itself but the feeling of annoyance. In my eyes the London Marathon should be about celebrating to achievements of those runners who have put so much time and effort into being there. It is not in my opinion the right place to be protesting or setting up just to heckle one of the runners. The fact these protesters monopolised some prime viewing spots here and on the last stretch up Bird Cage walk when all you need is positivity really riled me. Thankfully, very quickly we were back among the positive support.
As I crossed through halfway I was still feeling strong, my splits were consistent and I had the added bonus that as we headed down towards the Isle of Dogs, it was only some of the top championship runners coming the other way rather than masses of people which helped with the confidence that my race was going well.
The next point I was on lookout for my cheer squad was around mile 15 as we entered the Isle of Dogs. By now large crowds were the norm but as we approached Westferry Station and I could see how many people were there, I was worried I’d miss them. Thankfully I caught an early glimpse so was able to move across and get another big cheer. What was strange was a minute later being in an underground space with feet sticking to the floor as we’d just passed a lucozade cup station.
At this stage I did hear another runner near me say that this was his least favourite section of the course. It was a little quieter and I could see this being a tougher area if you are struggling. Fortunately I was still feeling good as we moved back into the towers and another rendezvous with my supporters at mile 18. Because of the tight nature of the course, it allowed them to get to a second spot much quicker. As it was they couldn’t quite get to the location I had earmarked so I had just given up on seeing them, and then I spotted them the other side of the road. I was still smiling and feeling good, a change vs how they would next see me! Canary Wharf was amazing for atmosphere as every shout, cattle bell and drum echoed around the buildings so you couldn’t hear. My GPS did have a bit of a mare so the next couple of splits recorded a bit fast but everything was still going to plan and I was starting to think about increasing the pace a little for the run home.
They always say that 20 miles is halfway in the marathon and I can now see why. As we started the run home and rejoined the runners who had just gone through halfway I was starting to feel tightness in my thighs. By the time I hit the Tower of London at 23 miles they were shot. It was now a real battle of mind over matter. I was determined that I wouldn’t stop but every step was coming harder and the splits were starting to drift. It didn’t help that the temperature was starting to ramp up a little and the wind was in our faces. Running through the underpass at mile 24 with no crowds really needed the mental drive.
My wife was at at about 24.5 miles and for the first time I wasnt smiling as I passed her. However, I started to call on Pete’s memory. In reality he’d have thought me crazy for doing this race but he’d have still been supporting me and I was not going to walk. Big Ben seemed to be getting further and further and further away.
I had hoped that Birdcage Walk would be a victory lap but instead I used the crowd to keep on pushing and was so grateful for every cheer. The Mall itself was then very strange. After a wall of noise, to then turn the corner to media and selected supporters, the quietness was deafening. However, with the line in sight I pushed on and crossed the line in 3:40:12.
I am sure that in time those 12s will haunt me as I am far too competitive. However, right now I know I left everything out on that course so I was very pleased with the time. I didn’t stop at any stage and could not have run another step! I wasn’t sure how I was going to feel at the line after everything that we have been through. Even now I can’t easily describe what I was feeling. It was probably a mix of relief and joy (and pain – with the leg pain I hadn’t realised I had the tell tail sign of looking like I’d been shot thanks to rubbing)
Having picked up my kit bag I was able to video call my kids at home and then headed to find my wife. Unfortunately despite organising where we would meet, we hadn’t quite allowed for the one way system so this took a little longer than we’d hoped but soon we were reunited and off for a recovery dinner of champions at McDonald’s!
Overall, even a day later I am buzzing. There is always the risk that reality doesn’t add up to your dreams. However, this was not the case with London. From the moment I started I was loving it and taking away the pressure on myself to aim for a time, I was able to sit back and enjoy. I’ve already been asked if I’ll do another marathon and I’m sure I probably will. However, you only ever have one first and I am so pleased that this was the one. Now I just need to recover!!