Before last week’s 2018 London Marathon, 1,042,960 competitors had finished the race since it started in 1981. For the new total add to that the more than 38,000 who finished this year, despite the grueling conditions… a number than includes ME! Even though it was the hottest London Marathon IN HISTORY – and that even slight heat on a day when I’m pottering around is almost too much for me – I managed to get round the 26.2 miles to complete what will forever remain one of the most memorable events of my life.
I went into the day with a plan to enjoy myself as much as possible, and a loose/very adjustable time goal of around 5:15. When I realised we were going to be running in conditions resembling a sauna, I adjusted that goal to “5 something”, hoping to come in anywhere under 6 hours; I’ve ran one previous marathon – 11 years ago, pre-twins, when I was much fitter/slimmer than now! – and I did that in 4:36, so thought being in the one-hour-above bracket versus two meant I would feel less far away from that time! Saying that, I knew I’d be thrilled to finish at all, given the heat and the fact that I was only a few months back to running, but I was delighted to come in at 5:55, so was doubly thrilled to have hit my revised goal as well as have finished the thing!
It was the most brutal run of my life, and I saw so many runners collapse along the route and have to be tended to/stretchered off; I felt grateful that I got over the finishing line unscathed. Over 100 very seriously ill runners were taken to hospital during the race, with many more treated on the course, and it proved to be an even more mammoth task than so many of us had anticipated/predicted. A marathon is epic… A marathon in heat? Almost unbearable for many.
My thoughts – like so many others – are with the family of Matt Campbell who so tragically died just under 4 miles from the finish line. The ‘Finish for Matt‘ campaign will help to ensure that the legacy he leaves is a large one; at the time of writing this his JustGiving page – which he set up to raise money for Brathay Trust in his father’s memory – had reached a total of more than £327,500.
That spirit, which has led to a massive drive to remember him, was so evident on the day itself. As I approached the starting area in Greenwich Park the morning of the marathon, uplifting classical music blared from speakers, and I felt the first choked-throat moment of the day – what was the first of many!!
The atmosphere overall was fizzing… with nerves, excitement, goodwill, emotion… everyone felt part of something incredibly special. Here I am before the start, still relatively fresh-faced, hiding in the shade while I can!
It was great meeting up with other Great Ormond Street runners too. Hats off to this guy who ran in a costume that must have been baking!
After bag drop, and an epic loo queue, it was time for the national anthem, and the cheer when the queen hit the start buzzer at 10am was insane! This was actually happening!!
Us ‘regular’ runners were able to watch that part on screens as we were starting in waves after this point, and then it was our turn to line up in our relevant pens, ready for take-off!
I was near the end of the starters and looking ahead at 40,000 people – people from all walks of life with the same goal that day – was really moving, and I felt moments from tears several times.
The vests of the 3 runners in front of me said ‘In Memory of my husband’, ‘In Memory of my dad’, and ‘In Memory of my son’, and looking at those words – fighting back the tears – it hit home how for so many of us we’d already dealt with more than a marathon distance could throw at us, even in the heat. If we could come through what we all had, then we could do this!
I didn’t cross the start line until 10.50am, and with the heat and nerves I already felt energy sapping, but that soon came back as I crossed the start line to the cheers of the crowd, and we were off! Only 26.2 miles to go – easy peasy!!
The London Marathon itself is a jumble of so many things: crowds; people shouting your name; costumes; run-through showers; thinking ‘one foot in front of the other; looking out for friends and family; taking in landmarks; having an ‘OH MY GOD I’M RUNNING ACROSS TOWER BRIDGE’ moment!!’
Most people I saw were running in a charity vest, and it was so moving to think of all the reasons why people were running. My own – raising money for Great Ormond Street who treat my three-year-old son’s kidney failure – was something I thought about in the darker moments, reminding myself of everyone who’d supported my run and digging deep to push on, and thinking of how much GOSH will be doing for us in the coming years. Every time that voice said, ‘you can’t do this’, I thought of why I was doing it, and for who, and kept putting one foot down and then the other, and repeat and repeat.
It was great having people to look out for on the day, and what really helped me was knowing at what mile to look for people – the crowds are so insane, with everyone calling your name to support, that it can be easy to miss people you actually know! The spots my husband and friends went to were Mile 6, just round the bend of the Cutty Sark, around Mile 14 (top end of Narrow Street, which was a top tip from someone as a quiet-ish location, which it was!), and then Mile 24, just after the Blackfriars Underpass. Here I am then and I can tell you the smile here is all about seeing my husband/friends, and knowing the end is close, and not reflective of how I’m physically feeling at that point!!
And then it was on to the homeward straight! It was such a strange feeling at this point – my entire body feeling like lead, but the thought of finishing and the excitement of the crowds making the adrenaline pump. Running down towards the palace and around the corner onto the Mall, with everyone cheering, is seared into my memory as a TOP moment!! Just indescribable!
Here I am on the final approach… willing myself to get to the end, and get that medal!!
And then, the final part of a long journey… 26.2 miles, and 6 months of training…
A journey complete, and the running bug officially kickstarted again after it being pushed to the side (i.e. splattered with a sledgehammer!) since I had my twins almost 4 years ago. The past 6 months of training, building my fitness from scratch around an already hectic schedule, has seen me have to reach very deep and as well as feeling fitter and stronger physically, the same can be said for mentally and emotionally.
The London Marathon may not be a marathon I’ll ever have the opportunity or luck to do again – and it might be a distance I never get to repeat – but forever I’ll have the honour of saying I’m one in a million… a London Marathon finisher!