A little late with my report on my marathon efforts, but here we are!
After one of the craziest weeks of my life, which involved not sleeping for 36 hours but ended with a friend having an amazing baby so it was all OK in the end, I had about a day to get my head around the fact that I’d be running the London Marathon on Sunday 21st April. Thankfully a lovely friend of mine lives just a few minutes’ walk from Blackheath, where my start was, and she kindly put me up on the Saturday night which meant I didn’t have to worry about getting over to the start from Ealing. There are three starts for the marathon – Red is for charity runners, Blue is for runners with ballot places and Green is for celebrity/media runners and those with good for age places (runners who have met a particular qualifying time in a previous marathon). Having been lucky enough to get a place via the hugely oversubscribed public ballot that takes place every year, I was in the Blue start – and you line up based on your predicted time so I was quite near the back, in pen 7 of the 9 pens! Chatting to the runners around me, we were all aiming for around the 4:30 mark, and we were all worried about the warm weather. Yes, I know to most people a forecast 14 degrees might not seem warm, but given the fact that we’d all spent six months training in sub-zero conditions, the sunny weather on marathon day was a bit of a concern!
So we all set off, and I was amazed at how quickly we got to the start. I’d been warned it could take 10 or 15 minutes – or even half an hour – to get to the start but in fact before I knew it I turned the corner and the start was there in front of me! I think I was only about seven minutes behind the runners in the front pens. And the first few miles breezed by. I had a whale of a time running around bits of London I’d never seen before, past the Cutty Sark, and through Rotherhithe, where I lived as a student. The crowds were incredible and it seemed like every time I looked up, I was approaching another mile marker. My plan had been to set off at 10-minute miles and see how long I could keep that up, but of course I got a bit swept up in the atmosphere and ended up averaging more like 9:45/mile for the first 10 miles or so. I made a conscious effort to slow down, but until mile 18 I was still having a brilliant time, breezing along without too much to trouble me except the fact that I was extremely warm. They have ‘showers’ – mists of water to run through – en route, so I made full use of those, and the fire brigade helped out by hosing the runners down at a couple of points! At mile 17 I saw my friends who live on the Isle of Dogs, and I’d already seen a few Ealing Eagles out and about on the course cheering the 25 runners who represented the club. Then I knew my parents would be at mile 20, by which point I – mainly mentally – was struggling a bit. The sun really started to affect me from about mile 18 onwards, and my mental state wasn’t helped by the fact that every time I went through a tunnel or under a big bridge, my Garmin watch lost its satellite signal and started telling me I was doing 12-minute miles. I knew I’d slowed down but I didn’t think I’d slowed down that much, and even though realistically I knew I was still doing OK, I started to believe that I’d messed up my race. I had a bit of a self-pitying moment when I saw my parents – who couldn’t understand what I was on about because I’d told them I’d probably be passing mile 20 at about 1.30pm and it was bang on 1.30pm when I arrived – but still I was saying ‘I can’t keep it up, I can’t do it, it’s all gone wrong’. Nevertheless, I knew I only had another three miles to go before I’d see the incredible Eagles cheering squad, who had set up camp at mile 23. So I soldiered on and tried to ignore the voice in my head that was telling me I’d be lucky to come in under five hours, let alone hit the 4:30 target I was aiming for. Seeing the Eagles was amazing and it gave me a huge boost – around 100 friends and supporters from my running club all screaming my name! That got me through the euphemistically-named ‘Lucozade Tunnel of Yes’ at mile 24, which was more like the Lucozade Tunnel of Wee as all the men took the opportunity to have a quick wazz while out of sight of the crowds.
And then I was on the Embankment and I could see the Houses of Parliament – and across the river, St Thomas’ Hospital where my friend had assured me that she and her brand new baby would be waving from the window overlooking the Thames! At this point I ‘only’ had a mile to go…but of course it felt like the longest mile of my life. At the ‘600m to go’ point I saw a man who had collapsed and was receiving treatment, and the thought of how awful it would be to have to give up having come so far spurred me on to what in my mind was a ‘sprint finish’ but what actually was just ‘lumbering along a bit faster than I had been before’. When I saw the official race clock was at 4:39 I knew I was OK – I hadn’t managed sub-4:30 but I was there or thereabouts. And as it turned out, my official finish time was 4:32.40 – not bad for a first attempt at a marathon! Talking to people afterwards the consensus was that everyone had been affected by the warm day and everyone had found the last 10 miles really tough, which made me feel a lot better! And actually when I looked at my official splits, I was extremely consistent until mile 18 and even after that my pace didn’t drop as dramatically as I’d thought at the time!
All in all, it was an amazing day – I couldn’t believe the crowds, the atmosphere and the noise all the way around the course! People who have run London in previous years said that this year’s support was the best ever, and it certainly felt like that. And I’m happy with my time…although I’ve put my name in the ballot for next year so I can try to get that 4:29!