A day after the London Marathon and it feels like time to reflect on a massive achievement. I barely slept the night before, with a mix of excitement and trepidation as to what lay ahead. Breakfast was a struggle, had to force it down me, knowing it was going to fuel me for the day.
We travelled to the start in a group, 4 Hatchies for the Red ‘mass charity’ start, 1 for the Green (good for age, celebrity and smaller start) and 1 blue (club place). It was a pretty slick operation but still took almost an hour for a 20 min journey, followed by a long walk to the start area. First job, to queue for a loo! Then dropping off our baggage on the truck and time to get in our start pen. 2 of our group were in pen 9 but I was in pen 5 with one other HWR (Craig). It did seem like a massive difference between the pens, with us being only just behind the iconic Greenwich Park gates! Suddenly it all felt rather real!
And then, before we knew it, we were underway! I was running the LONDON MARATHON!!!! I planned to try and run around 9 minute miles to halfway and see how I felt. First few miles were broadly ok, but my hips hurt, legs felt heavy and the crowds were big on the course. We merged starts at around 3 miles, but somehow we ended up with the 4hour red pace group merging with the 4:45 green… Not a match made in heaven. It meant the green group (about 1-1.5 mins slower per mile) were making keeping our pace going on the racing line very tricky.
Reaching Cutty Sark was my first big landmark, just as the course gets really narrow, and the throng of runners slowed. A traffic jam ensued and I got tripped and caught 3 times in a matter of 200m. I still can’t work out how I didn’t end up face down on the floor! Shaken and out of my rhythm I was glad to get back on the wider streets of South East London. Not exactly a scenic area, but needs must!
I knew some of my friends were planning on being in the Surrey Quays area which was about 9 miles. Unfortunately it seemed like half of london thought that was a good idea too! It was absolutely rammed!! Huge crowds on both sides of the street became a blur. I had no chance of seeing them. Then suddenly, right next to the 9 mile marker I spotted one of their faces light up when they spotted me and started screaming my name! I flew past them, bolstered by their support, and instantly burst into tears!! I just lost it completely… Sobbing like a baby!!!
I managed to get my emotions under control and focussed on the next key landmark, Tower Bridge. An iconic section of the marathon, marking almost halfway and the move from South to North of the Thames. Running over Tower Bridge, the crowds, noise and scenery were immense but suprisingly not overwhelming as I had feared.
The turn away from the bridge joined the dual carriageway where the faster runners were passing on the other side, around 7 miles ahead. For me it was a great chance to watch the fast male club runners whizz past, then I noticed a rather familiar face in the middle of one group. Paula Radcliffe!!!! I actually was able to watch her on her last London Marathon, flying past majestically. What an honour to share the course with such an amazing runner and ambassador for pure running achievement. Such a boost!
At the far end of the dual carriageway were the HWR cheer squad, complete with so many of my loopy gang and Nik on his microphone….I knew I needed a boost, my legs were tiring and I kept an eye out for our flag. And there they were at 14 miles! Waving and screaming like mad, looking proud and screaming loud!
Then we headed into the start of the Isle of Dogs/dockland area. This was the section I was dreading. I remembered watching the marathon as a child, year in year out, this was where the crowds died out and the pain began. Now the crowds seemed to have grown and were encroaching onto the road and it became really claustrophobic. I wasn’t happy. At 15 miles I met Rose, who was running for Diabetes UK too, and I had met at the Meet the experts event in Feb. She was roughly my pace so I knew it was going to help me crack on with the next few miles if I could hang on. We ran together, chatting and giggling for 3 miles. We even managed to get a selfie at 17 miles without dropping pace! But 18 miles was a slight incline up to Canary Wharf which hit me hard. I lost Rose in the crowd and was alone again. Suddenly my legs were getting heavy and my calfs were starting to cramp.
Every step had become a struggle, it was hurting and the blisters that had started to form on my feet at about 10 miles earlier were irritating me. Then at 19 miles I saw the 4:00 pacers go past. I had watched my pace start to drop but I had really hoped to keep them behind me, I had already accepted that sub 4 was probably out of the question, but I was now literally seeing it disappearing into the distance.
I knew I had two more miles before I would see the HWR cheer squad again so it was time to draw in deep, and find those things which were going to get me round. Obviously the charity fundraising was a major part of it, but actually the little pink ribbon I attached to my race number proved more of a motivator. I was wearing it in honour of my cousin who has been kicking breast cancer. I knew that despite her brave face that times had been tough for her, but she has been getting on with what she needed to and focussing on the end goal. The mantras I had in my head needed to come out now, “this girl can!” And “time to shine!”. Repeating over and over, step after step.
From 20.5 miles I was looking at every corner for the HWR flag. I needed my mates more than they realised. And then I could hear them, see there hopeful faces, beaming at me from the side of the street! The look of pride on their faces was just what I needed. I was hurting like hell but couldn’t let them see I was weakening. Giggling to myself I was remembering this picture from the Expo on Wednesday
Time to SUCK IT UP PRINCESS!!
Soon I was back past the Tower of London, with the city front of me. Surely the Embankments wasn’t far. Through the streets, under bridges rammed with spectators cheering, waving and shouting your name. The cramps were worsening in my calfs and now my quads too. Each step was hurting but I was only 5k from home. We entered a tunnel filled with loud music, disco lights and tonnes of runners stopping to stretch away from the gaze of supporters.
Out of the dark tunnel we were suddenly on the embankment, and , as if to bring my head back to reality, I hear a loud pop. Then I could feel a cold wetness spreading between my toes. The blister that had been plaguing me most of the way had burst! I wasn’t sure whether it was fluid or blood soaking my shoe, it just felt awful! I could see the London Eye, though, so I realised I was only a mile or so from my family and friends. Head down, time to just get on with it.
The crowds on the embankment were massive. Numerous charities had the cheer crews lining the road, and the noise was immense. I had to try hard to stay focussed on getting to Westminster and Big Ben to see my kids! I suddenly seemed to have a second wind (although the stats seem to dissagree). I was running strongly with the miles finally coming to an end. Just before the the turn at Westminster Bridge I spotted Iwan Thomas…. Passed him (smug face at overtaking an Olympian!) and then they were there! My family, my best mates and a gang of friends from work! This was the moment I had been dreaming of and was expecting to be in floods of tears. The time on Big Ben was even the same as in my dream – 2:10pm. But I wasn’t crying I was grinning from ear to ear. I was in the last mile of the London Marathon!!!
Birdcage Walk was brilliant, the crowds blurred, and I was focussed on the end goal. This was for Megan, for all Type 1 kids, for Sharon and the ladies she has shared her journey with, and for me. Proving I could run this far. I could overcome the rough patches, and I could accept that plan B time when sub-4 was gone. I was elevated as we took the final corner onto The Mall. I remembered what the Finish Line director had said at the Meet the Experts event back in February… I looked around me, who did I want to avoid sharing a finish line photo with? Where was the space to have a clear run in? Breathe it all in… This was the end of almost 400 miles of running.
I expected tears, they haven’t come. I expected a tinge of disappointment that missed 4 hours, it didn’t happen. I thought my foot was a mess of blisters… Sadly it IS revolting!! Today we have spent recovering and celebrating. Without the blisters I would have run a gentle run tonight. Instead I popped out to see the group and give my thanks to the cheer squad who did us proud. For now it’s time to rest.