Not everyone is lucky enough to run the London Marathon but I can now say I’ve done it. I’ve got the medal, got the t-shirt and picked up the inevitable post marathon injuries.
It was never on my radar to run another marathon, despite my first attempt being just 30 seconds over the 4 hour mark. I didn’t even enter the main ballot. I was lucky enough to be drawn in my club ballot for one of three places available and couldn’t pass up the opportunity.
I’m not a great long distance runner and I tend to get disproportionately slower the longer the race is. Despite training pretty well for 4 months, I was a stone heavier than my previous marathon and that was a big worry for me.
Another worry was the weather forecast. On arrival in London on the Friday we were greeted by 26C sunny, humid conditions with race temperatures predicted to reach 23C on the Sunday. We spent the rest of Friday at the expo before heading to chill out at the Comedy Store in Leicester Square. We hit bed back in the travelodge and my Garmin reported 14,000 steps. Not ideal preperation!
Saturday was another warm day around 26C and we headed out to recce the finish area around St James Park and The Mall, trying to envisage running down the final straights. The rest of the day was spent chilling watching the FA Cup on TV before heading over the road for some Italian carbs and our last meal. Another 10,000 steps today and the excitement and nerves had definitely kicked in. We eventually fell asleep well after midnight.
The morning of the race arrived and after grabbing a bite to eat we headed for our various start lines. For someone that doesn’t ‘do’ London I’d already got my bearings and found navigating to the start fairly easy. Luckily the planned railway strike was called off at the last minute and although busy, we found enough room on the first train to Greenwich.
The weather lived up to the hype. Even at 9am we were wary of keeping out of the sun as much as possible. Coming straight from training through the winter where training runs were rarely over 10C at best, this was a complete shock to the system. After a short wait in the pens we were finally underway, taking 13 minutes to cross the start line from start zone 3. I was in a group with 2 other members of our running club and the first 4 or 5 miles went OK, despite being a little quick for the conditions.
The atmosphere was unreal, it has to be said. The weather probably helped but it was just a wall of noise at times and several goosebump moments were experienced. My legs were not feeling that fresh in the early stages and I began to doubt they would get me round. Surprisingly I wasn’t the first of our small group to drop off the pace. He disappeared around the half way mark so we plodded on in the intense heat. The early quick pace soon deteriorated and quite quickly the 4 hour target time was slipping away.
Running past several people requiring drips, stretchers and oxygen, it became quite clear that the main aim of the day would be to get to the finish safely. The wheels fell off for me at around the 18 mile mark. Incidentally, that was the longest distance I’d run in training albeit on a significantly colder and wetter day! My quads suddenly felt like I was being stabbed with every stride. I knew the game was up straight away. I had a choice at this point, a choice I’d never had to face before. Pull out of the race or walk the remaining 8 miles with a muscle injury…
I hadn’t travelled all this way to give up though. I had to have a stern word with myself as the emotion welled up, standing there in pain as the crowds cheered next to me. This wasn’t the way I wanted 4 months of training to end, but on a positive, there were many people around me in the same boat. I attempted walking until the pain subsided slightly but any attempts to run only lasted around 20 seconds before the muscle pain returned. A long walk it was then.
Around the 23 mile mark I began chatting to another guy suffering very similar problems to me. Calf issues around 18 miles and he had also had to walk a lot from that point. Myself and Francis, a Scot living in Ireland, kept our spirits up while we passed the last few London landmarks on the course. We made a pact that we would both run together down the mall, despite our legs screaming otherwise. We both managed to run/hobble the final straight and crossed the line together. 45 minutes outside of my target time but I’d done it. I had the medal and the t-shirt and beers were less than 1/4 of a mile away!
Despite the hot conditions, the unscheduled 8 mile walk, walking around London for 2 days previous and the expense of train tickets, hotels, food and entertainment, the London Marathon is an amazing experience from start to finish. I had the honour of running alongside fellow club members and making a new running pal from another country, as well as a fantastic weekend as a whole.
The one downside to the London Marathon was the number of people requiring medical attention and of course the horrific news of the death of Matt Campbell, the talented, up and coming chef from the Lake District. Nobody should do something they love and not go home. Thoughts and prayers with Matt’s family and friends.
RIP Matt Campbell