When it comes down to it and your heart is punching its way out of your chest, your legs are heavy and you feel dizzy as fuck, the way I see it you have three choices:
- Drop out of the race, sacrificing your hard work fundraising for charity and that finish-line feeling, not to mention the medal.
- Push through, risking your health for the pride of a certain hour mark.
- Dial it back and make as much fun of the situation as possible, soaking up the atmosphere and the energy of the crowds.
Ian and I chose option 3.
About Our Targets
I’ve wanted to run the London Marathon for years – since about 6 months into taking up running. I’ve entered the ballot 6 or 7 times from 2009 and never got in, but when I decided to take on the 2018 London Marathon my focus was more on targets than on experiences. First of all the fundraising target, with £2,350 to raise for the Royal British Legion I knew I’d have my work cut out. But also the time target I’d set myself… I wanted those three little letters “GFA”.
It’s all in the Preparation
I’m not going to quote the cliche, but you all know what saying I’m talking about. We had a far from ideal lead-up to the marathon. I can’t pretend I’d been entirely on plan… my mid-week sessions took a backseat to CrossFit, catching up with friends and nights in on the sofa. The weather was tough, with snow way later than it should have been coming.
But then, after tackling Roding Valley and getting an unplanned PB thanks to some awesome pacing from Ian, our long runs disappeared completely too. My house sale completed and I had three days to clear my things from the house before the new owners moved in. This meant missing the Big Half. The following weekend clearing the boxes that had cluttered my flat for a week took priority over a 7-8 hour round trip for Lydd 20. Then Reading Half was snowed off.
Our next race in the diary was London Landmarks, but a drunken day of fun in London ended up with me throwing up in A&E while Ian waited to have his swollen ankle x-rayed. Yeah, we’re proper athletes!!
With just four weeks to go, we didn’t know what to do.
Four Weeks, Four Runs
I ran four times between Roding Valley Half and the London Marathon. One an evening 10k round my local area, two Spartan races in one weekend, and then a 2 mile test run the Tuesday before the marathon.
Spartan gave me a little bit of a confidence boost – I figured that having spent nearly 5 hours in one weekend on my feet and taking on obstacles and disgusting hills, the lack of specific marathon training might not have been such an issue. But then the 2 mile test run on Tuesday took me crashing right back down to earth. My legs felt so heavy and my chest tight. I couldn’t breath and wondered how I was going to make it round 24 more miles. But it was too late. No amount of worrying was going to help me – there was no undoing my lack of preparation, and no more time to train.
Now was the time to focus on experiences over targets.
Of course, after all that perfect preparation, 22nd April 2018 would be the hottest London Marathon on record! At 24.1 degrees c, with temperatures on the course likely to be even hotter because of the heat absorbed by the road and from other runners, this was not going to be a perfect race for anyone, let alone the severely undertrained.
Here’s a whistle-stop tour of my London 2018 experience:
After dropping our bags off we wandered over to the starting corrals, and over to the land of the porter loo – little tip, past the first set of toilets you see there’s a whole town of toilets with hardly any queues. Along the way we bumped into Nicki, who was pacing the 4:30 group. Ian and I had both put ambitious predicted finishes when we completed our race entries, so we were in the 3rd corral at the start. As we made our way towards the start line, the excitement really hit… we were running the London Marathon! We saw my brother and Leigh, who kindly let us stay at their flat the night before, and then as we neared the corner there was Claire waving us off with her daughter! Even before we started the support was there and it was so welcome.
Within the first half mile, my belt that I hadn’t actually trained in was already pissing me off! Ian offered to wear it for me and I was SO grateful – I genuinely think I would have chucked it if it wasn’t for him! We started off at a strong pace, on track for between 3:45 and 4 hours. I was feeling hot, but actually pretty good and as if the sub-4 dream might actually still be achievable. The crowds were already huge, and there was even a pony poking its head over a wall with its owners along the way! It’s funny what makes you smile when you’re running a marathon. What didn’t make me smile was all the marijuana we inhaled as we ran through some of the high street areas… seriously, take it away from the course please!
It was at this point I started to falter. My legs felt heavy, I was overheating and my chest was tight – my heart rate was ridiculously high. I said I needed to walk for a bit, so we did. I clock-watched for a little while, panicking that each time we walked it would ruin our chances of the race time we both wanted. Ian told me he didn’t think his ankle would hold up the whole way. We made little bargains with ourselves: “let’s run to the next mile marker, then we can walk a bit”. It worked, but it was hard. Neither of us are run/walkers in practice and getting started again once you’ve walked is hard (respect to anyone who does it!). We bumped into Tommy in the crowds and had a quick hug before pushing on. At mile 13 Tower Bridge was coming up and, as one of my favourite parts of London, I knew it would give me a boost. I also knew shortly after would be the first Royal British Legion cheer station. We ran the bridge and it started to feel ok again, until…
After seeing the Legion, we knew we were in the meat of the race. The section that leads out towards Canary Wharf is tough for many reasons – firstly you’re heading in the opposite direction to the finish line, secondly you know you’re halfway and have to do it all over again and, thirdly the support typically fades a little here. I was starting to feel really defeatist so when I spotted a dog with its owners I knew I HAD to stroke it… we stopped for about 10 minutes just chatting and stroking this dog! A little while later we noticed my friends Laura and Dave. Dave’s wife, Gemma, was running and they were looking out for her. We stopped and talked for a bit and when she appeared in the crowd Dave’s reaction was priceless! We ran with Gem for a bit, before stopping for a toilet break. We also saw Emma and Lucy along here, and then Nicki went past with her pacing group. We knew we were in for a long race.
It was somewhere along this point that we bumped into Ian’s cousin, Leanne. It was 100% NOT the best time to meet a family member for the first time, when you’re sweaty and probably a little stinky too… great first impression huh?! Shortly after this we saw Martin, quickly followed by the Cheer Dem Crew – probably one of the biggest and best organised cheer crews at the marathon! It was definitely a boost, despite not knowing any of the faces. We then bumped into Chris, who was volunteering at one of the water stations, and stopped for a chat. His surprise and joy at seeing Ian having made it so far with his ankle injury was clear and it was SO nice to stop and talk to him. Thanks for the Haribo too, Chris!
This probably should have been the hardest part of the race, but actually it went pretty quickly. Running back past the Tower of London and then down towards Blackfriars, we knew we’d soon get to see the cheer squad we’d been looking forward to the most. We came out of the tunnel, after a long section of stop-start run/walking, but we couldn’t see them. We searched the crowds, looked out for the unicorn and rainbow balloons, but nothing. And then they were there! Nicole, Matt, Ash, Lizzie, Mark, Becca, Hannah, Libby, Martina, Tash… I’m so sorry if I’ve missed anyone – it’s crazy how running can make you completely delirious! We stopped for lots of hugs (sorry for the sweaty cuddles guys!) and absorbed every ounce of motivation we could from those beaming faces. But we knew that the next face we’d see would be the most special of all…
Ian’s mum had brought his daughter down to the race to cheer him on at the final bend and it was absolutely beautiful to see his interaction with her as she was handed over the railings and into his arms. That final 600m or so would be the easiest we’ve ever run now, despite the miles in our legs. As we charged down The Mall we knew we’d done it. My watch was approaching 5 and a half hours, but we genuinely didn’t care. We held hands as we crossed the finish line, smiling with pride. It may not have been the race we set out to do back in Jan/Feb, but it was 100% the most memorable race of my life, and for all the right reasons.
I wanted to end this post by saying a HUGE thank you to everyone who supported me throughout my training – either through liking and commenting on my update posts, donating to my fundraising page, giving me words of encouragement and comfort, or even just listening when I complained about the snow or my achy legs. I also wanted to thank the Royal British Legion for not only giving me the place to run and fulfilling a dream of mine, but also for the support along the course and the amazing post-race reception – it really was the perfect way to regenerate after the race. And finally, perhaps obviously, I wanted to thank Ian for convincing me to run in the first place, and for making it the experience it was – I’m not sure I would have finished at all if you hadn’t been there.