The Expo Bit
Andy and I were going to do this London just the two of us, and my Mum and Dad came to ours to have the kids for us (in 2017 they all came to see me, but we felt like it was too much stress to take them in this time).
We travelled in Saturday morning and drove straight to eXcel and the Expo to go and pick up my number. I was a little worried it would be absolutely crazy, as before i’d gone on a weekday when it’s quieter, so we tried to get there reasonably early. As things do, it took us longer to leave the house and we eventually arrived in East London around 10, parked and walked up to where we needed to be.
It was really exciting to share it with Andy, he’s so supportive but he’s never actually been to an expo with me. Think he was a little overwhelmed (in his nonchalant way) of how big and busy it was – and though they’re not all like this, London being a World major marathon certainly makes that known in the footfall that built up through the time we were there.
I went straight to pick up my number, feeling all the excitement that I had that first time, and finally storied to let people know I WAS going to be running, not just spectating! We worked our way round all the photo ops, met up with plenty of instagram friends and hoped we’d get to see each other again in the morning (lots of us were in the same start).
We were hungry and got a bit bored so we left the expo and headed to our Premier Inn to start chilling and working out what I needed where for the drop bag, working out my gels, tailwind, and where we’d see each other on the course. It was going to be a lot easier with just Andy, or so we hoped, and the plan was to put my concentrated tailwind into little fruit shoot bottles that I could grab from him on course, alongside my Hi-5 Mojito flavour gels that I would take at 6,12,18 and 24 miles (you can buy those, exclusive to Wiggle). I’d start with a bottle and he had 2 more in the rucksack.
Before we went for some carb loading, I had the small matter of a 20 minute shakeout to do. We rarely get to run together, as Andy usually has the kids while I train etc (yes he’s amazing!) so we both laced up for a swift out and back along the Thames, and the weather was certainly a treat. The end of storm Hannah pushed us right along the river, but sadly we had to fight our way back again with the wind right in our faces. Andy doesn’t own quite as much kit as I do so he was in his only running gear of shorts and a tshirt! He was pretty chilly when we got back! A quick change and we made our way down to the Beefeater at the Premier Inn before the hoards of runners arriving beat us to it!
For dinner I had a vegetable linguine with added chicken, something I then heard other runners ordering around me (there wasn’t much pasta on the menu and we didn’t want to travel into London now it was around 5.30) with a side of french fries, obviously. I also had A GLASS OF WINE. Shock horror, but let me just remind you, I am not a professional. And it seemed to work for me in Berlin. I was hoping it would send me off to sleep nicely.
The ‘morning of’ bit
Unfortunately, like the night before, I had a crappy nights sleep, tossing and turning all night, and woke up knackered. What a great start!! Alarm went off at 6am and I started to get dressed and faffed about what shorts I should wear. I didn’t feel massively prepared but with 5 previous marathons and 4 ultras under my belt, I sort of turn up to these things on a bit of auto pilot. I think also because I wasn’t going out to prove anything in the race, things didn’t feel too stressy at all.
Andy and I said goodbye and I toddled off with my bag to the train station, merging with runners from every which direction, Woolwich to Blackheath please.
The thing I love the most about the vibe before a marathon like London is the willingness people have to chat to anyone, to take their mind off what is about to happen. This isn’t common place in London so I lap it up on marathon day!
I love the platform conversations, boarding trains (for free!) packed with deep heat bathed bodies and listening in to reasons why and wished for outcomes. I made a couple of friends on the train, Mark and Roy, both doing their first marathons today, both with that tangible first marathon excitement. I loved chatting with them and we walked up to Blackheath together and stayed together for a while after arriving.
When we parted ways I went looking for some friends, and bumped into others! Seeing Han (@hannbeam) was lovely as I hadn’t seen her probably since Race to the Tower last year! She smashed it btw and BQ’d. I went to see Jordan in the Championship start (they get their own toilets, but she was still doing the wee dance in a queue like the rest of us!) and we had a little squeeze. I Love Jordan. (p.s she was my friend first but she’s also my kick ass coach, PMG Coaching)
We also chatted over what my strategy was, and we decided I would go find Paul (Addicott, pacer extraordinaire and fellow Brooks team mate) and join his Sub 4 hour #FUNBUS for the race.
Thankfully when you have a friend who is a pacer, it’s pretty easy to spot them! So I made my way to Paul and soon enough we were on our way to the pens. I bumped into Georgina and she had only run Brighton a couple weeks back, and wasn’t sure how her race would go, her plan was similar to mine, and just try and stick with Paul and see how things went for a bit! We all huddled together for a picture of the fun bus.
I’d been chatting with George right up to this being taken, and we sort of just jumped in in front of the camera. As soon as the photographer had taken the shot, I realised it was none other than my OTHER Brooks team mate James aka @morningcoffeerun, fresh from MDS in the Sahara. The MDS is the hardest footrace in the world, a multi stage event, and not one to be scoffed at. I was so excited to see him because safe to say, he’s a bit of a #runcrush of mine! This was only the second time i’d met him in real life, following our first Brooks #runhappyteam meet up in March.
We hadn’t planned it but we stuck together, chatting and catching up, trying not to get hypothermia with the Baltic wind that picked up at the start, shuffling forwards towards the line, eager to start. It was also James’ 20th marathon! Seriously go and follow him, he’s a proper inspo.
Right let’s get on with the race…
The race bit
We started all excited (mainly to be moving and getting some blood pumping again) – and spent miles 1- 2 embracing the speed humps in the road. The volunteers were shouting ‘HUMP’ as we approached and we joined in. Soon we decided it would be fun if we made it like a mexican wave type affair and we started to call the hump before it happened and as we reached its peak we threw out hands up like we just didn’t care. I mean, it really was fun and everyone seemed to join in… i think.
We moved slightly ahead of Paul – again, we’d not really planned it but i think both James and I wanted a little wiggle room. We’d both said we weren’t very good at following in groups so we sort of stayed just in front, but still in reach of the bants and the pace group.
The first point I was looking for Andy was at the 5km mark, as it was a stones throw from the hotel. High on life, I high fived him as I breezed past, so excited to be doing this amazing race again! I didn’t need to grab anything from him so soon into the race but I appreciated he’d got it all ready. Just slightly up from there I clocked Lou with her donut, and screamed my way across the road for a hug. I love Lou.
James and I carried chatting on and off, dropping back and then running side by side, it seemed to work, and other than one moment where I just HAD to pull over for a pee around mile 11 (James being a man peed much faster) I spent the next mile trying to catch up with him. Again, luckily, I was looking out for a blue pace flag to try and get back to him. I overtook Paul and the group, and EVENTUALLY found James and pulled up alongside.
I saw Andy around mile 12 and grabbed a new bottle of Tailwind from him. It was going pretty well taking supplies from Andy (I really had wanted to do a marathon sans hydration pack) and then we turned a few corners and it was time for Tower Bridge, the absolute best bit of London.
We pushed over the bridge and I honestly felt amazing. I was so happy. Nothing was hurting and I was feeling great. I remembered back to my first London, my first ever marathon, and the comparison was crazy. Distance felt different, shorter, more manageable. I suppose when you do enough distance races that sort of happens to you. It’s not easier but you manage it differently.
I ran past Alice, another Brooks team mate. She was struggling, so I checked how she was and if she needed anything. She was happy to see a friendly face I think, but gestured for me to carry on so I did, hoping that she’d get through the second half ok.
Everything was awesome, up until mile 16, when I was checking my phone for the next meeting point, my Tailwind slipped out of my hand. It was full and i’d only had it for a couple of miles. CRAP! I text Andy and he told me not to panic, he’d be ready near 30km with another one.
30km! that was around 19 miles, and i’d only just passed 16 miles. I turned to James and said i’d need to do a gel early to make it to the next lot of Tailwind (I sip it at each mile marker) and we’d been synchronised on gel taking to this point.
Somewhere in this mind melting mile, I lost James, his body was saying no to pushing and he dropped back (p.s HE still got a massive PB so soon after MDS!!!) But I was panicked at my routine now being compromised. It was working so well and you become dependant on the repetition of how you’re taking in your nutrition. Was this the end of my race now? Surely i’d blow up and not be able to hold on to a sub 4 without the Tailwind; it had become my security.
I took my gel just after 17 miles, and with one left in my spi-belt and 9.2 miles still left to run, i’d see Andy at the next meeting point.
Although I didn’t.
I missed him.
He’d told me where to look but I just couldn’t pull him out of the crowd. Faces blurred into each other and the 21 mile marker went past with me frantically scanning both sides of the road incase I couldn’t remember left from right (I couldn’t!). That was my last chance and now I had one gel to last me the last, draining, 5 odd miles.
I hoped and prayed that i’d taken on enough fuel throughout the previous miles. I played mind games, and pushed myself forward when Paul overtook me with the group. I couldn’t let him be in front, because for the quarter of a mile that he drew ahead I had a decision to make. Assume failure, or push on for the sub 4 that I wanted so much.
If he was in front, the temptation was too great to throw in the towel. It hurt now. I’d had 20 miles of great running but it was getting down to the wire. Losing the fuel knocked me, so I gritted my teeth and pushed back on ahead, closing in on the other 4hr pacer who was a few minutes ahead of Paul.
I split my one remaining gel over mile 23/24 and drank it down with sips of plain old water. I hoped it would trick my body into thinking it was still getting carbs with each mile that ticked by…
I played games up the flyovers, pretending they weren’t inclines to battle up. I tried to join in with the chants through the tunnels, tricking my mind that I was still present and confident. I knew the cheer squad would be on Embankment so I willed myself there. The best feeling ever seeing them, and I managed to pick out my lovely Sara, who gave me an amazing hug, and as I ran off (time was ticking) Becca fired me a confetti cannon! It was amazing I loved it SO MUCH. Just wish i’d been filming it! It gave me a massive boost and I focused on Big Ben (what I could see of him anyway) and running towards him, because then the finish was a couple of corners away.
I rounded onto Birdcage walk and shouted for James, he wasn’t ready for me, he was working his butt off, but as I put all my emotion and energy into calling his name, he saw me and shouted back “Go on Babe!”
The longest road. Those signs.
800m to go
600m to go
400m to go
Under the footbridge, 375m to go….
Past the palace. Didn’t look or care. What I cared about was turning that beautiful corner and pushing myself over that finish line. I was ahead of Paul. I was ahead of the second 4hr pacer.
I’d done it.
26.51 miles, 3:58:33.
It was over and it was SO WORTH IT. I’d given it everything. I’d been sensible in the first half and I didn’t wuss out in the second. It was a triumph in every way. Sure, it wasn’t a marathon pb. But my first marathon back, post injury rehab, on a less than ideal training cycle. I was over the moon. It was a HUGE LONDON p.b, from 4:23:17 in 2017 in my first marathon, to losing 25 ish minutes in 2 years where i’ve mainly run ultras and I haven’t exclusively worked on speed. Oh and after the last DNF marathon in Switzerland (I should really blog that…) my FIFTH road marathon.
Assuming my GFA is valid for next year, i’ll be back London. Because I know I can still do more with you. And you’re so awesome!
The only thing left to do before trying to find my husband in a sea of like 100,000 people was thank Paul for helping me get my sub 4, wrestle myself into compression leggings in a portaloo, chuck on my oofos and go for a medal shoot (much to andy’s dismay!)
I bought myself two doughnuts, walked around London for a nice flush of the legs and thought about just how lucky I was to have done another marathon. Can’t wait until next year.