I reflect on running the London Marathon.
Well I’m still getting use to the idea it’s all done and dusted to be honest. My legs well and truly know the big event has been and gone, but when I don’t have a run to do each day I just don’t know what to do with myself. I know some of you might be thinking ‘get out on your bike!’, but I know my body needs a good rest before I get back into training. So this week, whether I do some sort of sport or not, it will purely be for fun. No number chasing, just moving and taking the world in as I do it.
The closer London got the more difficult it got to concentrate on anything but something running related. What did I need to pack? Would we get down there ok? Would the hotel have anything I liked for breakfast?
A million questions going through my head constantly.
Someone wanted to test me before race day after a long list of things didn’t exactly go to plan. Trains not leaving stations, trains being cancelled, hotel rooms getting trashed so we couldn’t use them. It was just one thing after another.
After working out the maze that is the London Underground, it wasn’t until I had my number in my hand that I relaxed just a little. I was still nervous, but not flapping if I was going to get to the Expo in time or not. That’s one thing I will say about the many emails you get before the marathon, they like to be a little overly cautious. Apparently getting to the Expo at 12 the latest was needed if you were going to get your number by 5pm. Granted getting there the earlier the better, we got there past 12 and were out by 2.
That was something that shocked me to be honest. I went in with the agenda of getting my number and some marathon merchandise. After picking up my number and some New Balance kit, I found the whole thing a little overwhelming. I suppose that’s the competitor in me. I needed my own headspace before race day. I was also conscious at how long I had been on my feet. Although Ryan had already scheduled in our busy day into my taper week.
Back at the hotel after figuring out how to get to our pre-booked table at a local Italian by Bus, I was praying I’d be able to get some sleep. It’s rather stressful sitting on a bus in London having no idea where you are and having no idea where the bus is going. It felt like the crazy bus off Harry Potter…just not as fast but could turn a corner in the completely wrong direction at any second!
I quite like the night before race day, if I manage to keep the faffing down to a minimum that is. Laying my kit out checking everything is sorted. Pinning my race number on. It helps me get into the right head space. I did put off going to sleep quite a few times, but eventually I forced myself to sleep.
It wasn’t a completely undisrupted sleep thanks to the sirens and cars that come hand in hand with staying in London, but I woke up with the mindset of getting race ready. Food, plaits and kit. Ryan managed to push me out of the room on time and we got downstairs for a proper breakfast that I had to force down me. Race nerves and a big appetite aren’t things that tend to pair up with me. I’d picked up a reserve porridge pot in case I wasn’t a fan of breakfast at the hotel, so I managed that, a banana and then egg on toast.
Along with another runner nervous about relying on another runner’s taxi to get to the start line, we opted for the train which wasn’t too far from the hotel. We also played the system by getting on the train one or two stops before it got rammed. Following the sea of runners it wasn’t hard to work out where the start was.
Walking up the street Greenwich Park opened up in front of us. The bag trucks making up part of the barrier between spectators and the Blue Start Zone, it took me a while to walk in. This was it. Ryan would head off to mile 21 to be part of the Cardiac Risk in the Young support crew and I would soon be making my way around London. Emotions were high. I’ve always been the same. Would I achieve my sub-4 hour goal? Something I found to be quite ambitious for someone’s first marathon. Would I get around at all? I have been riddled with injuries all through training. Could I get round without walking? All of this going through my head making it impossible to go under the blue arch. It felt like the first day of high school all over again. Luckily, like back at the first day of Year 7 when my brother came to see how my first day was going, walking under the blue arch went better than I thought. Everyone was on a high and the general topic of conversation being on deciding whether we actually needed a wee or if it was just nerves.
I wandered round managing to find my bag drop trying not to get drawn into the amount of static stretching going on. Dynamic stretches are always the way to go. I made my way over to the right zone in some of Ryan’s Mum’s old kit over the top of my race kit to keep warm. Packed into the zone like penguins you could feel the buzz and anxiety floating around the group of god knows how many people. By chance I bumped into a cyclist who agreed with me that trying to cycle whilst marathon training didn’t really go hand in hand. I looked at the pacers dotted around, but could only find a 4 hour pacer. Thanks to Ryan’s advice I’d picked up a 3:55 pacing band from the Expo. His opinion was if I had a wobble on the way round I had 5 minutes spare to still get under 4 hours. The cyclist who I’d bumped into also said about not knowing how the pacers get you to the four hours. If it was go slow and speed up at the end…I would have been buggered.
Having the pacing band actually helped a lot more than I thought it would. Each mile I was chasing time for the next one, not the full 26.2 miles. It broke it up into doable chunks. Being a very numbers orientated person it just worked for me in that sense too. If I have something to follow I’m quite good at being able to dig deep and find the strength from somewhere.
Old clothes dropped in the clothing recycling bin, it was time for us to head under the big red arch that marked the start of my 26.2 miles. I knew round London it would be crazy and there would be people watching on the TV all around the UK hoping to spot their friends and family. But from this point to the finish line would be my experience of the London Marathon.
I was nervous about getting to the first mile and seeing how fast I’d started. At the various races I’d done in the run up to the big event I got into the habit of doing sub-8 minute miling for the first mile or two. When you’ve got 26.2 miles ahead and not a club runner, this isn’t something I wanted to be doing. Somehow it was like my body knew what it needed to do. It just kept ticking away whilst I ticked of the miles ahead of my pacing band. Meanwhile I was waiting for the Tower Bridge to come into view as I knew that would signal somewhere near half way. Right from the start we were running through a tunnel of people cheering their friends and family. I started giving high fives to all the little ones who had been dragged out to cheer, but soon realised I needed to focus on the task in hand.
I kept track of when I needed to take on board some sort of nutrition and looking out for the first Buxton water station. In term of nutrition I stuck to my tried and tested Clif Block and Clif Bar method. I saw people with belts full of SiS gels, but I knew my body would reject them after my experience of one in Majorca…
I thought when I was running around London I would be able to take myself somewhere else. Running down the lanes at home. Running with Jenson my chocolate lab. Swimming in Cadair Idris, but it was purely a numbers game that kept me moving. There’s so much going on around you there is a lot to take in. Like looking ahead to see where the course is going so you can find the shortest line round the corner. Looking out for bottles so you don’t end up in A&E with a broken ankle thanks to the many dropped bottles. Whilst I had to drop bottles I was making sure I finished one before getting another. I don’t see the point in picking one up taking a swig and dropping it. It’s just a waste. For your average runner anyway. The club runners sort of have a reason when they’re running sub-6 minute miles (probably quicker).
Sooner or later Tower Bridge came into view, but the finish line still felt like it was a long way away. I think it was mainly the uncertainty of if I could keep my pace up. After 6 months of training I desperately wanted to run sub-4. I naturally seemed to run at 8:30 to 9 minute miling, so I knew it was possible. It’s just if I was mentally strong enough to carry it off.
I say I could naturally run at that pace, way back in October 2 miles was a struggle for me. It wasn’t until Ryan bought me some Endura compression socks that I managed to up my distance and pace. It took me a while to get into my Marathon training, possibly down to the fact I didn’t know what I was capable of when it came to running. I was quite happy remaining in the unknown. Eventually 2 miles lead to 3, 3 to 6 etc. It wasn’t until I booked a 10km, half marathon and 20 mile race that I really got into it when I had milestones to hit.
Those first few runs around the village seem so long ago now.
If you asked me where I actually ran in London, I don’t think I’d be able to tell you. I don’t even remember running past Big Ben because of all the people. You only notice the Tower Bridge because of how vast it is. It was all about putting one foot in front of the other and ticking the miles off on my pacing band.
I guess it’s time to bring up how my reason for running the marathon changed. You’d think the only thing that happened over the past 6 months would have been completely running related, but life has to carry on I guess. Whether that’s positive or negative. Carrying the Cardiac Risk in the Young vest round London was certainly an emotional thing to do. It signified what had happened over the past 6 months. Ryan had come to terms with his Mum being diagnosed with a heart condition, only for him to find out he had one too at the start of 2019 after a free CRY screening. The cycling stopped for him and I turned to running to come to terms with it all. Something that hit me like a ton of bricks. I may have turned to running, but I still carried the guilt of still being able to exercise. So now I won’t be taking that privilege for granted.
That’s one thing that changed in me as a result of training for the Marathon. It taught me discipline. I dragged myself out the door in my running trainers whether I felt up to it or not. Some sort of run was better than no run at all. I eventually decided to raise money for Cardiac Risk in the Young as thanks to them I still have my partner in crime. And if people were willing to sponsor me, I wasn’t going to go into it without having given 100% commitment. If anyone who sponsored me is reading this, from the bottom of my heart I can’t thank you enough. It pushed me on when the going got tough. It helped me come to terms with what was going on, because I had something to focus on. The money raised could potentially save another young person’s life by not letting an underlying heart condition go unnoticed.
When it got to around mile 16 or 17 I was running to Ryan at mile 21. When I ran past Ryan I was running to my Mum and brother at the finish. Despite being riddled with calf injuries throughout training, my legs held up rather well up to mile 22. I was ticking off the pacing times well and it wasn’t until about mile 22 that my right quadricep started playing up. All I could think of in my head was ‘don’t give up now’. People were dropping like flies with injuries, toilet stops or just slowing down to walk. I desperately wanted to run the whole thing. I’d got this far matching my pace band well, so I wasn’t going to give up now.
Getting near Big Ben (despite not actually seeing it) was where it got really tough. I was so close. I just needed my body to hold on until then. I was so lost in my own mindset getting to the end I didn’t hear my Mum and Brother shouting me down the Mall. I wanted to pick up the pace but had nothing left. My pace had started to drop, but luckily my legs carried me across the line in 3 hours 57 minutes. The last 6 months caught up with me and I burst into tears.
It was done.
My life had been consumed by running for 6 months. I was one of the lucky ones who got into the ballot on their first attempt, but honestly I couldn’t have been more grateful for getting the chance to do one of the biggest running races in the world. It carried me through a rough patch I don’t think cycling would have carried me through. Running took me away from everything I was use to. It gave me an escape without noticing a space beside me. Running the marathon made me take my body to a level of discipline I’ve never managed before. I had a goal and I wasn’t stopping until I got to that finish line.
I’ve been saying this whole thing was a running race. Granted I wasn’t racing for a finishing position, but I was still racing. I was racing myself. I was giving myself the confidence in what my body could achieve.
I suppose this is where you expect me to say turn to exercise to find piece in yourself, but the reality is that it’s not possible for everyone. All I’m going to say is find something that makes you happy. If you’re blessed with a body that lets you do sport, do it for the enjoyment. If all you can do is a walk in the park, soak up those sunshine rays. The stresses we put on ourselves really aren’t worth it if we’re not happy. If you’ve got exam season coming up, don’t shut yourself away from the world and live in a book for the next few months. Get yourself out, even if its to the park for a picnic. Laugh more than you stress.
If you are a young athlete, for your parent’s piece of mind book onto a local CRY screening if you can find one. I’ve booked onto one in June and I would be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous about it. If the worst happens as a result, there’s always something else you can turn your mind to. Even if it takes a little while to adjust.
So I’ve ticked the London Marathon off my bucket list in circumstances I didn’t expect. I got the gold medal with the red ribbon, which is a small consolation for never getting good enough at a sport to go to the Olympics, which I always secretly wanted to do. I did the ‘people’s race’. It won’t be something I forget and I’m incredibly grateful to have had the opportunity. Ryan’s always said everything happens for a reason and I really think me getting into the ballot did happen for a reason.
I need to finish with a million thank you’s to everyone who has helped me along the way. I couldn’t have got to the finish line without you!
This has possibly been one of my longest posts, so I hope you didn’t have to get up and make another brew to get through it all. My posts should be getting back to bikes now Ryan has found his new role as coach. My legs are screaming already…
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