This is another post which has been a long time coming. Almost four months after I completed the London Marathon, I feel I may be able to write about it. It was an amazing, agonising, uplifting, and strangely addictive experience. And, quite possibly, completely indescribable. Hence me taking so long to attempt this!
My mum and I were running for the Heads Together/Best Beginnings team, the main charity campaign for the Virgin Money London Marathon 2017. I had never run further than 10 miles before signing up, and that 10 miles had almost put me off running for life (note to others – don’t pick a run through the Cairngorms for your first 10-mile experience). I came last in that 10-mile race. Actually was the last person to cross the line. I know someone has to be, I just wish I hadn’t been SO far behind, as everyone was waiting on me to start the prize-giving ceremony. Needless to say, I didn’t get a prize…I almost didn’t even get a goody bag!
Maybe a marathon wasn’t the best idea then. But I was running it for charity, and a cause I wholeheartedly believe in – promoting mental health and wellbeing, perinatal mental health and a positive start in life for all children. It definitely helped to be running for a cause we held close to our hearts. It made all the training, fundraising and race day itself a lot easier. Not that any of it was easy! But we were well supported by our charity and the campaign, and I would thoroughly recommend it as a way in to the London Marathon if you are keen to run this iconic race. Just be prepared to work hard. But the rewards (raising funds for charity and a place in one of the world’s biggest races) are totally worth it.
The journey to race day was a long one. I found out I had a place in July 2016, and started my proper training in the October. As you can see from my blog history, I neglected to document the training process very successfully, though if you follow me on Instagram or Facebook, you’ll see I was a bit better at updating there. I tried to post a photo after training, to encourage myself and to encourage those around me to give generously. I was supposed to do four runs a week, though I often only managed three. This came back to bite me on the bum later…
The fundraising was possibly harder work than the physical training. Mum and I had to raise £4000 between us for our charity, and we wanted to do the best we possibly could. We ran a bake stall at a Christmas fayre, did three quiz nights with raffles and auctions, and my mum made enough tablet to sink a ship. This here blog also brought the attention of a corporate sponsor, and our fabulous family & friends donated very generously. We managed to raise over £4200! We were thrilled and knew our charity would be putting the funds to great use helping families across the country.
By the time we started to taper our training, we were part excited, part terrified about what was to come. I really struggled on the long runs I did in training. The 18-mile run was slightly better than the 20-miler. We ran from Dundee almost to St Andrews for our 20-mile run, and though it was a beautiful route, the heat made it extremely difficult. We ran out of water before Leuchars and had to ask some kind strangers if they would fill our bottle up for us at their kitchen tap! I wanted to give up at about 15-miles. But I knew every mile was a mile in the bank, so I kept going. I wouldn’t have if my mum hadn’t been with me. Thank goodness I had her to do long runs with, as she really made me keep going. As soon as my activity tracker told me I had done 20-miles though, I stopped. I could not take another step. I couldn’t envisage doing another 6.2-miles on top of that. I was worried. The only thing I could tell myself was adrenaline and crowd support on the day would help carry me those extra miles. It’s not like I had vastly under-trained, but I hadn’t done all I needed to and I knew it would be evident on the day.
The night before the marathon, I was a bundle of nerves. We had a pasta dinner and an early night, as we had to be up around 5am to make the journey across London to the Greenwich start. My mum, The Husband, The Munchkin and I were in a B&B near Victoria station. We had adjoining rooms, and I had decided it would be best to share with my mum the night before so I didn’t wake my hubby and baby with the early start (or spend the whole night wrangling a grumpy teething Munchkin). This was entirely sensible, but I had no idea how emotional I would be that night. I let my mind run riot, and long after my mum had gone to sleep, I lay there torturing myself with nightmare scenarios for the next day, each one culminating in my unfortunate demise. I even wrote a Facebook message to my husband with a note to my son about how much I loved him in case I died at some point the next day. Completely bonkers now I look back, and in fact it seemed so at the time, but I absolutely had to get down in black and white how I felt lest the worst happened. My poor husband. He must have thought the relatively sane part of my mind had finally checked out for good. But he never mocked or complained, and instead sent me funny videos and GIFs to make me giggle. He is a superstar!
After a fitful and short sleep, not to mention pitiful breakfast of bagel and jam, we got ourselves dressed to go. We carefully pinned our numbers on to our shirts and checked our kit bags. Then we joined the thousands of other nervous runners heading to the starting line. We were lucky enough to be in the blue start for the main charity campaign runners, which would have been great had it been easy to find or in fact anyone had known any details about it at all. We asked three event staff who didn’t know anything about it. We were starting to get anxious – we still had to drop our kit bags and go to the loo before getting to the appropriate starting pen. And the queue for the loos was huge!
Luckily, we found the charity meeting area, and were truly spoiled when we arrived. There were snacks, water, and INCREDIBLE toilets (you can take this as truth, coming as it does from someone with OCD). Actual, proper toilets. Not a portaloo in sight. Bliss! There was also a visit from royalty, as the Duke & Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry were the campaign founders. Nick Knowles was even there! All this excitement and the main event hadn’t even started yet. But as the clock slowly counted down to the start, I began to get twitchy. I just wanted to get going. I wanted to start, as it was the only way the end would get closer and I would get nearer to a cuddle with my boys. We were lucky to be given a priority start, being fed in to the main crowd of runners just after the starting gun at 10:00. So far, so good, but there was a long way to go…
And we started WAY too fast. The adrenaline, the crowds, the TV cameras! It all combined to make us commit the classic rookie error of starting too fast. To be fair, we were aware we were going too fast, but we were in a bit of a tricky situation. Because we had been fed in right at the start, we were surrounded by runners of a much quicker pace than ourselves. For example, we wanted to finish within six hours, but the folks around us were looking to do it in less than three. We were also planning to do a 5-minute run: 1-minute walk ratio for the duration, but it was difficult to pace yourself with ‘proper’ runners all around, everyone vying for space and to keep ahead of the game. We decided to keep with the plan and do the ratio, but to also keep with the pace of those around initially and we would adjust accordingly later.
We missed our first opportunity to see family at the charity cheer point at mile 3. Our cousin had made her way out to Greenwich with her boyfriend, but the crowds being what they were, we missed them as we flew past the organised charity cheer area. We did, however, clock the head of our charity and the photographer, letting out wild cheers and whoops as we passed to great applause. At this point, I felt we were kind of flying! The atmosphere was incredible! Everyone says this, and you cling to the hope that it really is as you don’t know how else you are going to get round this mammoth course. And it really is the most wonderful race for crowd support. There is not one point on the 26.2 mile route where people aren’t waiting to cheer your name and spur you on. That can go one of two ways, as I discovered later, when my pace had slowed to a crawl and I would happily have let the ground swallow me up instead of having these good people waste their time cheering on me. But at mile 3 I still felt good, and the negative frame of mind was about 15 miles away…
We seemed to float along in a bubble of crowd support and adrenaline until our first toilet stop at mile 8 or 9. This little break burst the bubble with the practicalities of sun cream top up and portaloo queues. As we started again, the first creeping doubts about the distance still to go flashed over me, but I tried to keep positive and keep going. I had read the best thing to do is smile as you run, as it helps you enjoy it more, so I smiled at the crowds, waved and thanked anyone who cheered my name. But I was internally counting down the miles until Tower Bridge and the halfway cheering point where The Husband and Munchkin were to be waiting for us.
Counting down miles is not the most positive or inspiring internal monologue though, and I was starting to tire. It was at the precise moment I was beginning to flag that I heard screaming and our names from the side of the street. It was my auntie, uncle and cousin! They had missed us earlier, but had managed to make it further up the course and were now there to revive us when we were starting to get a bit weary! We hugged and they shouted & cheered, told us we were doing great.
It really was just the tonic we needed, and got us from mile 11 to our next bit of kismet. This was an example of amazing crowd support which occurred, rather surprisingly, whilst we were waiting in the toilet queue just before Tower Bridge. A lovely couple (whose names I can’t for the life of me remember and I feel terrible about it) came to the end of the not insubstantial queue, and offered to let us use the bathroom in their flat just around the corner! Now, whilst that would be welcome by most runners, I’m sure, for a runner with OCD and more than slight anxiety issues surrounding the hygiene of portaloos, this was an incredible WIN. They explained they love the atmosphere spectating at the marathon, and when they saw the toilet queue, they knew they wanted to help runners if they could. And this was the perfect way. So, they spent the day letting runners into their home to use the facilities. They are angels! It was a lovely example of Londoners embracing the race, and locals getting involved. Which is what this race is all about. People go out of their way to support one another, and it really makes the day a special experience.
This unexpected luxury helped us get to the half-way point, the magnificent Tower Bridge. We knew The Husband and The Munchkin were likely somewhere nearby, so that brought an added dimension of excitement to what is generally regarded as one of the high-points of the race. It is a fantastic sight to see hundreds of people running along the bridge with you, and crowds of people cheering either side! Though I was beginning to wonder if we would see The Husband and The Munchkin amongst the crowds. Well, I needn’t have worried, as luck would have it the crowds seemed to thin out just at the right moment, and they came in to view on our right-hand side. Cheering and cuddles ensued. The Munchkin wondered what on earth we were doing, I’ve no doubt we looked quite mad to him. But he was enjoying the crowd experience of shouting and cheering and clapping.
I felt exhilarated in that moment, as it was such a boost to see my baby and husband. But just as quickly, I realised we couldn’t linger long. My husband told us to keep going, not to stop for too long so we didn’t lose the momentum. It was so difficult to turn away, knowing I had the same distance to do again before I could get another hug with them. It was then I began to question what I was doing, and whether I would manage it. Suddenly, it seemed a lot more serious and a huge undertaking. I turned to see The Munchkin for as long as I could, and when I eventually turned back round to face the direction of The City and The Isle of Dogs, I felt a wave of fear and loneliness set in, even though I was still with my mum. She tried her best to motivate me, but I was entering the second phase of my marathon journey…
Will I make it to the end? How many more toilet stops will I need, and will there be any other Good Samaritans offering proper facilities? (spoiler alert: the answer is NO) How far is the Isle of Dogs, does it ever end? Can I finish in time to get a medal and finishing time, or will all our efforts be rendered null & void by my glacial pace? When will I next see The Munchkin and give him a cuddle? Find out all this and more in part two of my Marathon Round-up!