It’s taken me a little while to write this post because it hasn’t really sunk in yet that despite it being the hottest London Marathon on record, and me being an honorary ginger, that I completed my first marathon.
Let’s start with the Expo; the Expo opened on Wednesday 18th April but due to work commitments and London being a bit of a trek away, Chris and I didn’t travel down until Saturday 21st. We arrived at the Excel Centre for around 2pm and just about managed to find a parking space (£20 parking!). We entered the Centre and had to ask for directions to ensure that we were heading for the entrance and not the exit.
Upon entering the Expo, we had to find the correct queue to pick up my race number. After showing my ID and getting my running pack, we had to separate whilst I went and got my timing chip. We met up a little further down the hall where there was a treadmill challenge taking place on a giant treadmill – how long can you keep up with the pace; neither of us were brave enough to have a go in front of the gathering crowd.
We were then presented with the huge New Balance shop, where Chris bought me a commemorative t-shirt – the Union Jack made up of the names of landmarks and places on the marathon route. We then entered the main Expo hall, which was filled with companies advertising their products and services, free giveaways and competitions. There was also the main hall area where there were a number of guest speakers talking about the marathon and providing race and recovery tips. We were there when Martin Yelling was on stage. The last part of the Expo consisted of games and competitions in order to win £5 donations towards your fundraising page; dance contests, air hockey, bowling, table football, etc.
At the very end was a giant medal where you could have your photo taken for free and were provided with a free photo print.
Not wanting to spend too long on my feet, we decided to cut our Expo visit short and try to find our hotel. We had opted to stay at Ibis Greenwich – we were originally staying at The Pilot Inn but cancelled our reservation as Ibis was closer to the start area and we could pre-pay for parking. Unfortunately we encountered a few issues with Ibis; they charged my card twice a week before the marathon and I had to call up to request a refund, and they also charged me twice for my parking.
We arrived at the hotel and got checked in. Our room was a little on the small side and it had cost us a fair amount of money (typical price increase as it was marathon weekend); we had no bath, spoons or bin in the room!
Not wanting to go out to eat as I just wanted to relax, plus everywhere local was costly, we ordered a Pizza Hut to the hotel. Whilst waiting for food to arrive I had a shower, filled out the back of my race number and attached it to my vest (I recently bought some run magnet clips, which are amazing as I don’t like using safety pins due to them leaving pull marks in my clothes), and attached my timing chip to my trainer.
We managed to get a lot of goodies from the Expo, from snacks to a razor and Epsom salts! The factor 50 sun cream was a nice bonus and I really loved the Apple and Rhubarb Cawston Press drink. The Expo goodie bag included some porridge, but we didn’t plan ahead and had no spoon so I decided that I would save some of my pizza for breakfast.
Food arrived so we sat down to eat whilst watching Britain’s Got Talent. Subconsciously I kept going over everything in my head, time to wake up (even though I knew I would be awake long before my alarm), time to leave the hotel, time to get to my starting pen, etc. I must have read the final instruction magazine about 100 times by this point. The magazine said that there meeting points labelled A-Z at the end of the event, and that these should be pre-arranged as phone signal can suffer as everyone tries to locate their family and friends; we decided to meet at the point labelled M (for Mind).
Shortly after watching Keith and Paddy’s Picture Show, I put my Garmin on charge and decided to try and get some sleep. It was a hot night and the air conditioning wasn’t working so we opened the window to get some fresh air and a bit of a breeze, but that introduced a lot of noise – sirens whirring by, people talking outside, and traffic. I knew that this was going to be a long night.
I lay awake at 6am, the alarm set for 8:30am. I tossed and turned but decided that I wasn’t going to be able to get any more sleep, so I read over the final instruction magazine one more time, just in case I had missed anything important the first 100 times of reading it. Chris woke up so we put the TV on and had a cup of tea. I wasn’t sure when to eat my leftover pizza – how long should I leave it before the race, as close as possible to the start or now so that it had time to digest? In the end, my hunger won and I sat down to eat at around 6:45am. After multiple toilet trips, I started to get ready. The first step was to plaster myself in sun cream! With us both dressed and ready we went over the pre-race checklist to ensure that we both had everything we would need. We then headed downstairs to the hotel foyer.
There were a number of other runners downstairs, so we decided to follow a pack towards Greenwich Park. I was in wave 8 of the red start area, which according to the magazine, would all be fully across the start line by 10:40am. There were marshals outside of the hotel directing people to their starting areas. The hotel was about a mile from the start point, so we had a slow walk into the park. We found the red area but Chris was not allowed past this point so we just sat on a bench and watched everyone getting ready for the race. Chris plotted his route to the British Museum whilst I did a few stretches and tried to let it sink in that I was actually about to run my first ever marathon.
I entered the red start area at around 10am to give myself enough time to find pen 8. Luckily there were plenty of marshals to ask as I was about to head in the wrong direction! I entered the pen and was soon joined by a couple of other Mind runners who were also running solo and looking for a bit of moral support. We chatted whilst listening to the commentary and waving at the helicopter that hovered above. At around 10:30 we slowly started edging forward for what seemed like forever – entering through some gates until we could see the start line. My stomach was turning and I was feeling the nerves. I started my Garmin as I crossed the start and off I went running. Even from the very start there were crowds cheering us all on. Getting caught up in the atmosphere I ended up starting a bit quick; I glanced at my watch which just turned to “1” in the distance field and I was feeling confident, but then I started to wonder where the mile marker was as it was nowhere in sight… to my dismay, I soon realised that was just 1 kilometre and I needed another 600 metres for the first mile!
Heading towards mile 2 and things were going pretty well. I was trying to keep a steady pace and not get caught up in the sea of runners that were around me. I thought I was going crazy when I heard a “naying” noise, but then saw other runners pointing at something to my right… I turned my head to look and was shocked at the sight – there was a horse standing with its owners on top of a wall watching all of us runners head past; you really had to see it to believe it!
Kilometres 2, 3 and 4 were all around the 8:30 minutes per kilometre pace that I had been aiming for, which was pretty good going for me, especially as it was the hottest London Marathon on record, and I usually struggle in the heat without running in it. 5 and 6 slowed to around 8:54 before speeding up to 8:47 for 7, 8 and 9. I encountered a young boy who was spectating the race with his family and who were giving out ice creams to runners. I ran past and he passed me a Twister ice-lolly; he said that I was his hero, but at that moment in time he was mine! I slowed back down for kilometres 10, 11 and really struggled at 12, running at 9:36. I pushed through and ran 8:58 for kilometre 13, but then I realized that I was really going to struggle, and with it being so early on in the event I was fighting both a physical and mental battle to keep my legs moving at all. I soon encountered a Mind cheer point, which helped lift my spirits and reminded me why I was running in the first place.
Just before reaching Tower Bridge, I really needed some more motivation as the task ahead really dawned on me, so I decided to use my phone to start a Facebook Live video; I had never done one before but thought it might help me to stay focused. I was recording what was happening around me and my Facebook friends were able to comment in real time so that I could read and reply. I hit the halfway mark and was around 15 minutes slower than my only other half marathon event. I thought reaching the halfway point would help me focus, but instead it just made me think about how I still had that distance to cover again, and by this point, I was so hot and already sore. There had been a few water stations in a row where the water had ran out, so I was clinging to my Lucozade, sipping at it and trying to run through every shower I could find to cool down.
My times start to increase into the 10 minutes per kilometre range, and for kilometres 25, 26 and 27 I was hitting the 11 minute mark. I gritted my teeth and fought through with my times creeping under 11 minutes for 28 and 29, before having my final strong recorded kilometre at the 30 mark, which was 9:05.
Unfortunately, my watch battery was extremely low, and I didn’t want to lose my run altogether so I decided to save what I had at the 32 kilometre mark. I was pretty gutted that I wouldn’t have a personal best for the marathon distance on Garmin or Strava, but it was still my furthest run.
No longer being able to check my progress on my watch only made things mentally harder for me as I had no way of knowing my pace or if it was possible for me to sneak under the 7 hour mark. I knew that I had slowed down dramatically, and the usual rule says that in order to predict your marathon time, you should take your half marathon time, double it and add 30-40 minutes; using this calculation it was going to be a real ask for me to finish under the 7 hour mark, especially with the sun blazing down on me. There should have been another Mind cheer point around kilometre 35, however by the time that I arrived at that point they had already left and headed to the post-race reception; unfortunately, that would all be over by the time I crossed the finish line.
I got talking to another two women who were also running for different charities; one had ran a marathon previously and the other was a first timer like me. They too were struggling so we stayed together for a while making small chat whilst trying to ignore the uncomfortable conditions and the pain we were all experiencing.
After around 4 kilometres, I decided to push the pace a little and headed off on my own. I reached the mini marathon point and the mile markers became very few and far between. At one point I had to ask another runner what mile we were at because I genuinely had no idea how far I had left to run.
I finally reached the 40 kilometre mark and the enthusiasm started to pick back up. I was aching, hot and thirsty. My clothes were now starting to chafe from where the water of the showers had made my clothes stick to me – I was feeling very uncomfortable, but knew the end was so close. I started to feel a sense of pride, knowing that soon I would be able to say that I had completed my first marathon.
I was doing intervals of running and walking, however I had no idea how long my short runs actually were. I saw the sign for the last 800 metres and couldn’t wait to see Buckingham Palace and The Mall. It felt like the longest 800 metres of my life! Then I approached the infamous sign… 385 yards to go – the last .2 of my first ever marathon. When I first started running, I made a pledge to myself that I would always finish an event with a run for the finish line, and this was going to be no exception! I heard Chris cheering me on and that allowed my legs to keep pushing forward. Granted, it wasn’t a highly exciting or dramatic sprint finish that you would see on the TV, but I pushed myself across the finish line. My official time was 7:03:07, which took a little bit of the shine off my day as I was so close to being under the 7 hour mark, and if my Garmin battery hadn’t have died then I could have pushed a little harder as I would have known I was that close to reaching my mini goal.
It was then a struggle to walk the little bit further to get my medal, but I have never felt so proud and emotional; I had completed my first marathon, and the London Marathon at that! The woman put my medal around my neck and congratulated me. I had my photo taken with my medal and then limped on to collect my finisher’s bag – unfortunately they only had large and extra-large t-shirts left. I wrapped the foil blanket around myself (I usually get really cold after my long runs, even in the heat), and started to walk towards the meeting point. I had agreed to meet up with Chris at the “M” checkpoint – M for Mind, made it easy for us both to remember. I got to the point, but no sign of Chris. I tried calling him, but eventually he arrived behind me. He handed me a triple chocolate muffin, which I tried to bite into but soon realized that I wasn’t going to be eating anything tonight… my teeth were so sensitive and sore from all of the energy gels and Lucozade that I had been drinking on the way around, especially as there had been limited water to swill them out with.
We made our way, extremely slowly, towards the underground. Having never travelled around London before, this was an experience in itself and we had to stop a few people along the way to ask for directions. Luckily for me, I could travel on public transport for free by showing my medal or race number. Getting back to the hotel was easier than we expected, and I got congratulated by a handful of strangers as we walked through the streets; one gentleman even asked if I would pose for a photo with my medal, which I gladly obliged even though I hate having my picture taken.
Having reached the hotel, I couldn’t wait to have a shower. I really wanted a soak in the bath but unfortunately the hotel didn’t offer that facility. I called my mum to let her know how I got on, had a shower and then went straight to bed, after writing a Facebook post, of course!
The next morning we headed off back home, with me proudly wearing my oversized finisher’s t-shirt and medal. Originally I had only booked the Monday off from work, but had since decided to take the entire week off, and I was so glad I had made that decision. My legs, knees and lower back were in a lot of pain, and I was struggling to straighten up. We bought some herbal pain relief patches which really seemed to help ease the pain in my back and by Wednesday I was feeling a lot more comfortable.
I returned to work the following Monday, and although I was proud of what I had achieved, deep down I was disappointed to have not finished under the 7 hour mark. A lot of more experienced runners really struggled on the day, and some didn’t finish at all, so I tried to take that as a positive. I was left feeling like I didn’t give my best attempt at the marathon distance, and so I decided to enter the Blackpool marathon which takes place on the same day as the London marathon in 2019. Hopefully the weather will be on my side next year and I will also have a more organized training plan in the build up to the event.
Despite being disappointed with my finishing time, all-in-all the London marathon was a great experience. The event was well marshalled and the crowds were out of this world – people coming out to offer ice cream, ice cubes, water from kettles and hosepipes to soak runners. I’ve always felt moved watching it on the TV, so to experience it in real life, and for my first marathon, was truly breath-taking. Not having enough water on the course was a bit of a let-down, especially for such a large event when they had known that the conditions were going to be extremely hot for a while beforehand. I love the medal design and the quality of the items provided in the finisher’s bag, however the t-shirt design left a lot to be desired, in my opinion. It is definitely one of my greatest achievements, and I currently have the timing chip attached to my keys as a keyring to serve as a constant reminder of what I have achieved. I do feel like I have unfinished business with the London marathon and would like to run it again in the future, especially to see how much progress I can make in a few years in terms of reducing my finishing time.
I recorded just under an hour’s worth of footage which can be found here. I started recording just before approaching Tower Bridge. This was a Facebook Live video to try and get some motivation from my friends and family as I was starting to struggle with the heat.