In 2008 I started running with the BBC Running Club after the squash club at work closed. Late 2009 I found I had a place in the London Marathon, and the training started. Up until that point i’d been measuring my distance in kilometres, my maximum weekly distance was 12km and my longest single run was 10km. I changed my watch to track in miles and started increasing my weekly mileage.
From January through to marathon day I put in 165 miles of training runs, which is a lot less than i’d been recommended (i’d been advised that the 5 longest runs in your training plan should total 100 miles). My lack of training was due to terrible pain in my right calf muscle which I later discovered was due to the wrong pair of trainers. My gait was wrongly analysed in the shop and annoyingly it took me 2 months to associate the pain and the new trainers. Cue me spending over £300 on physiotherapy and then another £100 on new trainers when it was resolved.
Armed with the new trainers in late March I started training in earnest and put in an average of around 20 miles a week including the Silverstone Half marathon. I couldn’t ramp up too much too quickly with marathon day looming so my biggest run was a 15 miler.
The obligatory carb loading started on the Friday and with every huge bowl of pasta I felt increasingly like a goose being fattened for a foie gras fate. On the Saturday I went to a friends house who lived nearer Blackheath. That night when I closed my eyes all my preparation came back to me – the muddy cross country; the street runs in the snow and ice; the canal runs to Little Venice; the pain of my unnecessary transevatherapy; the fantastic words of advice from previous marathon runners; the added variety of NikeTownRunners nights; the Tuesday Trot organised by the BBC running club.
On Sunday morning my friend graciously drove me to within 500m of the start line and with surprisingly few people approaching from the Lewisham side and I got to the red start enclosure around 9am.
The organisation was fantastic and despite the short downpour spirits were high. My iPod was charged, my kit bag was in the truck to be taken to the finish line and I was in starting pen 6 ready to race.
At 9:50:24 I crossed the start line which really surprised me – i’d expected it to take 20-30 minutes following my experience back at the British 10k in July. At that point I was desperate to go for it, the crowd were cheering and I was full of adrenalin.
Within 0.5 mile I needed a Paula Radcliffe break but I was quickly back in the thick of it, and despite being constantly overtaken I was able to stick to my pace target of 10:18/mile (4h30 marathon). Around 15 minutes later I switched the iPod off and let the crowd support carry me instead. I was wary of this as almost all of my previous runs had been with a soundtrack, but my caution was unnecessary as I started hearing my name shouted out spurring me on. (The people with pints and bacon butties in hand at 10am did little to inspire me however!)
45 minutes into the race I took my first gel pack. I had tried and enjoyed SIS energy gels during my training and took 6 carried on my gel belt. (Top tip: at the marathon expo 2010, they were selling the marathon belt including 4 gels and an energy bar for £10). My next gel was at 90 minutes, and the remainder were every 35 minutes. I heartily recommend using these. Also, these specific gels don’t need to be taken with water making them more versatile, some others do so ask!
After 6.5 miles and just over an hour, I reached the Cutty Sark. Since the fire in 2007 she’s covered in scaffolding so the first highlight of the route was unfortunately not to be enjoyed. Another 6.5 miles, and around 2hrs 20 into the race I turned onto Tower Bridge. I’d been warned not to speed up with the huge crowds that line the road. With the volume of people and the fact i’d just run 13 miles, this wasn’t difficult advice to take.
Over the bridge the course turns right and the road splits down the middle, with mile 23 of the course coming in the opposite direction. This served to reinforce in me two things – 1) i’m not a ‘runner’ i’m a jogger, and 2) i’m only half way.
The route then wound around the Isle Of Dogs for several miles and I lost track of how many miles I’d completed after mile 17. I was pretty sure i’d passed the mile 18 marker and so was setting a faster-than-required pace when I saw in the distance the ‘mile 19’ marker. This marker turned out to be for mile 18 which was desperately disappointing to see.
At mile 18 the route goes underground for a few hundred metres and whilst out of sight of the spectators an increasing number of people opted to walk. Rather annoyingly people weren’t walking on the sides of the road so whilst I was attempting to run around them, I did end up bouncing into others like the ball in a pinball machine. Sorry about that.
I had completely lost my bearings whilst around Canary Wharf but when I came out at mile 20 I knew what I had left in store – 3 miles of the course i’d run in the opposite direction already, and the remaining 3 i’d done on the British 10k.
They say that a Marathon doesn’t follow the conventional rules of mathematics. That is, the first half of the 26.2 mile course is 21 miles. Perhaps it was the gels i’d been taking, or perhaps it was my water schedule – 2 or 3 sips at every water station, then ditch the bottle – but I didn’t find this to be the case. Judging by the increasing numbers of people walking i’m sure it’s more luck than training.
All along the route strangers were offering of jelly babies, orange slices, and towards the end one of the pubs was giving out small glasses of beer and rapturous applause for those willing to partake. I hadn’t trained with sweets and orange so I didn’t accept any, but those who did seemed grateful.
At mile 23 was the official cheer point for The Banana Army (the fundraising group for Leukaemia and Lymphoma Research) and with my name emblazoned on my t-shirt, the support was uplifting. This surged my pace and it dropped from an average of 10:30 down to 9:45 for about 10 minutes.
From Westminster I knew there was very little left to go and tried to keep the head up, feet moving and resist the urge to slow. At the 800m sign I had very little left in the tank, and from my training runs remembered that 800m is not as short as it sounds. As I turned off Birdcage Walk I saw the banner saying 365yds to go and I started to push. Every single person you overtake in those last few yards is one more person you’ve beaten and with the clock ticking in front of you the adrenalin pumps hard.
Arms held high I crossed the line 4 hours 46 minutes and 37 seconds after leaving Blackheath. A quick smile for the camera, the adrenalin vanished and the pain started. To remove the timing chip from your laces you have to walk up a small ramp (to bring your feet up to a reasonable level with the volunteers). This ‘small ramp’ at the end of 26.2 miles felt like Everest and I had to use the hand rails to drag myself up.
From there I was ushered in front of the photographers for an official photo. Whilst in the queue the women behind me eloquently described the pain we were all feeling, but I shan’t repeat the language here.
Realising a childhood ambition and being able to do it whilst raising money for a great cause made me quite emotional so I sat down to collect my thoughts for a few minutes before trying to stretch and realising just how immobile I was. After shuffling to the lorry to collect my bag and change my trainers for looser fitting ones I subdued the pain from my blisters and muscles with a pint of lager surrounded by family and friends.
A great day, and a fantastic 4 months training. I never gave up the alcohol during the training but I did pretty much reduce my maximum intake to the governmental binge drinking definition [shockingly low by the way, binge indeed!], and I’ve never felt better. It’s quite a buzz to wake up at 7am sober on a Sunday morning and go for a run and i’d recommend it to anyone – but get professional advice on trainers!
Will I do it again? Never say never.