I can’t quite believe I’m typing this but I actually did it – I ran a marathon! After months of training, at 10AM on Sunday I found myself standing on the start line of the 2017 Virgin Money London Marathon. I thought I’d write about the experience but it’s turned into a bit of an epic so you may want to grab a cuppa before you settle in to read it…
Getting to the Start Line
I was a nervous wreck for most of last week. Every single time I saw a countdown post or someone asked me about the marathon I basically had a miniature meltdown. I went into London on Thursday evening to collect my race number and pretty much nearly burst into tears every time I spoke to someone. Honestly, I’ve never been more scared of anything in my life. Then we got to London on Saturday and it’s like my fear just evaporated. I was in my favourite city in the world to run one of the world’s most iconic races. I was being inundated by messages of love and support as well as by donations – and all of a sudden, after being scared and lonely all the way through my training, I felt like I was actually going to be able to do this. I’d definitely recommend getting all of your freaking out done in the week before a big race because it meant that I somehow wasn’t nervous the night before!
Race day dawned far too early – I was up at 6.30am forcing myself to eat porridge and walking the three minutes to Charing Cross to catch a train to Blackheath. The train was busy with other runners but nowhere near as crowded as I expected and then I joined the procession of other competitors heading to the various start areas at Greenwich Park. I was on my own but the atmosphere was really friendly and I managed to stick to my plans for more food and drink before the start. I even managed to find the other runners from RJAH for a photograph which was impressive considering I’d not met any of them before! Then, after the obligatory portaloo queue, it was almost 10AM and time for the start. Or rather for the slow procession towards the start to begin – it was probably about 10.15 before I crossed the line.
The Early Stages
Literally the only advice everyone gives you before a marathon is not to go off too fast. It’s easy to do when you’re rested and ready to go, particularly at a marathon like London which essentially has a downhill start! So that was my main focus for the first three miles – don’t sprint off, get into a rhythm, enjoy the atmosphere. There were crowds along the route from the first step across the line and, although everyone talks about the atmosphere in London, experiencing it was something else entirely. The sun was coming out, there was music playing at every other street corner, I was starting to settle into my running and realise what an amazing thing this was to be part of.
I’d read some good training advice from Martin Yelling on the London Marathon blog and I broke my race up into sections accordingly. Mile 1-3 were for settling in, the next milestone was Cutty Sark at around mile 6 where I was hoping to see some people from my running club. I focused on keeping a sensible pace, making sure I was hydrated and well-fuelled. I’d never seen Cutty Sark before so that was an awesome experience. I knew my parents and Andy were hoping to be at Rotherhithe which is around mile 9 so that was my next goal. Rotherhithe turned out to be surprisingly popular so, whilst my valiant support crew might have been there, I didn’t see them. I did however see an amazing sign that said “if Trump can run a country you can run a marathon” which made me laugh out loud like a crazy person. At mile 11 I heard someone calling my name with more than the usual level of enthusiasm and turned around to see Andy yelling and waving from the crowd. I was too far past to turn back and say hello properly but it was amazingly motivational to see him – although I did wonder where my parents had gone! Then all of a sudden we were speeding towards Tower Bridge and halfway. I knew the hardest part of the race was still to come but I was still really comfortable.
The Hard Miles
Everyone complains about having to come off Tower Bridge and seeing faster runners at around mile 21 going the other way but it didn’t bother me at all. Lots of other, much faster runners from my club were also competing so this was my only chance to see any of them on the course. This was at about 12.30 so the runners I was seeing were on for a time of around 3 hours – really amazing, speedy people! By some absolute miracle I managed to catch sight of Gaz, probably one of our club’s fastest runners, really close to the 3 hour finishing time pacer and gave him a huge cheer. Then I was past the switchback section and into Canary Wharf, passing my friend Duncan and some of the other members of the Huncote Harriers support crew at around mile 15. I also saw the 4.45 pacers from the Blue Start and wondered whether I might find Chris somewhere in the crowd but despite the fact we must have been really close he eluded me all race.
In training, mile 15 has always been where it’s started to get hard for me and London was no exception. My back began to feel really painful as did old niggles in my knee and upper thigh. I walked for a bit to eat something a bit more substantial than an energy gel and tried to stop for a loo break but ended up carrying on because the queue just wasn’t moving. It was at this point that I stopped ticking off miles and just went for a strategy of running for 5 minutes and walking for one. This was partly to keep myself moving forwards and partly because my Garmin had started to deviate from the course markers which made keeping track of where I was at quite the mental challenge! I’d heard that Canary Wharf and the Isle of Dogs were a supporterless desert but that wasn’t the case – the streets were still lined with crowds of people cheering us on. I eventually got my toilet break in at around mile 21, which lost me another couple of minutes but meant that I could carry on drinking as I ran which seemed a bit more crucial in the 19 degree heat.
Getting to the Finish
Somehow, almost without realising it, I was past mile 22 and past the furthest I’d ever run before. Whilst I wasn’t exactly enjoying myself – the pain in my legs and back had been joined by an entirely predictable soreness in my feet – I was still moving forward at a reasonably consistent pace. I’d hoped to see Andy and my parents again at around mile 21/22 though and was upset that I’d potentially missed them again. Then all of a sudden, just before the 23 mile marker (and just after I’d realised that I was running past the Tower of London for the second time) they magically appeared by the side of the road. This time I’d spotted them in time to run across and give them all a hug, whilst simultaneously bursting into tears. I’d spent so long avoiding thinking about how far I still had to go that I was genuinely surprised when they all said there was only 5km left to run. Suddenly the finish line seemed, if not in sight, at least within my reach.
Everything started to look more familiar now as I passed Old Billingsgate (location for many a work conference), ran through the underpass at Blackfriars (which was the only place on the course with no spectators) and up on to the Embankment. Two miles to go. The crowds had been loud all around the course but it was like someone had turned the volume up as people were packed along both sides of the course. I saw another runner taking a selfie at the side of the course and realised she was being interviewed by Colin Jackson which was a little bit surreal. Then I was at Embankment tube station and there was 1.2 miles to go. Another running club friend was cheering for me here which was amazing and I could see Big Ben getting closer with every step. This was really happening!
The last mile was incredible – from running past the Houses of Parliament and Westminster Abbey into the wide boulevard of Birdcage Walk through yet bigger crowds. The trees of St James’ Park hid the finish line but the huge countdown signs made it feel tantalizingly close. 800M, 600M, 400M, then around the corner in front of Buckingham Palace and on to the Mall. 200M and I could see the finish line. 100M and I could sprint for the finish. I’d run a marathon, I’d run the best marathon in the world, and, best of all, now I could stop!!
Running the London Marathon was honestly one of the most incredible experiences of my life. The sights are incredible, the support is absolutely unbelievable, and, despite some difficult bits, I found the race a lot easier than many of my training runs. It would have been amazing to have got a better time but I came in well under 5 hours (4.48) despite the crowded course and the unexpectedly warm weather. Training for this marathon has been one of the hardest things I’ve ever done and, as much as I enjoyed the race itself, it’s not an experience I’m looking to repeat!
I am however absolutely blown away by all the support I’ve had despite the fact that I’ve done nothing but moan about running since January. I’m so incredibly lucky to be surrounded by so many amazing friends and family members – I absolutely promise to shut up about running for a while now! I’m also overwhelmed by everyone’s generosity – at the time of writing Chris and I have raised over £1250 for the Robert Jones and Agnes Hunt Orthopedic Hospital! Which is the best thank you I can think of for the new hip that enabled my mum to walk around London all day on Sunday cheering me on without any pain.
My fundraising page is still open so if you haven’t donated yet and would like to please go to https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/Claire-Edwards37 or text RJAH 77 £5 to 70070.