After 6 months of training, involving more than 500 miles of running – on Sunday 23rd April the day finally arrived! The 2017 Virgin Money London Marathon has been reported as the biggest in its history. I wanted to share with you, my London Marathon race day experience.
Saturday – race day eve
Before you can run the race, you have to register at the expo. I set off from Norwich around 12pm and by 230pm I was at the Excel and collecting my race number. You also have to collect your running tag and a bunch of goodies! The expo offers a chance to find out info about forthcoming race events as well as discounted running related products. It also offers the chance to bump into the occasional celebrity, including a certain queen of British marathon running…
There are lots of interactive events at the expo with plenty of things to do. There are also lots of areas where you can get some commemorative photos with friends and family. Given that I was preparing to run 26.2 miles, I decided I’d rather save my energy and so headed for the hotel to check in. That evening I “carbed up” thanks to Byron Burger in the O2 and then spent most of the rest of the evening laying down.
My London Marathon race day experience
The big day was here. I didn’t sleep brilliantly, I guess many don’t, so making the 630am alarm was not really an issue. After a quick shower, I had an interview over the phone with BBC Radio Norfolk to talk about why I was running (read more here). It was now getting on for 730am so it was breakfast time. The hotel had catered well for the runners staying there with plenty of porridge, bagels, peanut butter etc. For those staying at the hotel who had been to see Bruno Mars the night before, there were slightly more exciting food choices.
A short train ride and I was at the start area, it was almost showtime! I was starting in the red area, which is the most densely populated area so when the klaxon finally sounded at 10am, I didn’t move very far! When I approached the start line it was around 1024am and now the real work began.
All throughout training I had run wearing headphones, so I decided that I would do the same on race day. What I found quite early on was that the wonderful crowd who lined the streets of London, largely drowned out my audio, so I turned it off. The first few miles were pretty simple, I’d run them plenty of times in training. When I cruised into Cutty Sark around mile 7, I still felt fresh. It was shortly after this when I caught my first glimpse of my support team. A quick high five of their excellent sign and I hit the road again.
Buxton Memory mile
After Cutty Sark you run through many of the less touristy miles of London. It was through these areas where the crowds really stepped up. There were people handing out sweets, one guy chased me to give me a jaffa cake! I think you would really notice it if the residents were not out in force through these areas. There are families on the grass verge and plenty of kids with their arms out waiting for a high five.
In theory, the next major part of the course is one of the iconic London Marathon landmarks, Tower Bridge. It’s not long after this that you reach the halfway point. On this occasion, I had something to look forward to before then, the Buxton Memory mile. I won a competition to allow me to run 80m of the course with a friend/family member. The idea was that just after mile 12, you peel off to the left and run parallel to the main course. This didn’t quite go to plan, they were not ready for me! Having run down the lane solo, I decided I wanted another go. I ran back and they had found my friend Geoff who kept me company as I ran back down for the second time! (see vlog below).
Tower Bridge is an image you will all be familiar with. Running across it is quite strange, it’s also really busy with spectators so the noise is awesome! BBC often hang out on the bridge picking our runners for a chat. Unbeknown to me at the time, I ran through the back of the shot of someone’s moment of fame.
It wasn’t long after the buzz of Tower Bridge when I had my next little boost. The Prostate Cancer UK team had people camped at miles 13 (ish), 17 and 22. Everyone seemed in good spirits which was great to see. One of the big psychological hurdles comes at this time. The course is set in a way that you run out of London and then back in again. This is managed with part of the course running parallel, at mile 13 you are on the right side of the road. On the other side, you will see the faster people, passing mile 22 and heading for home. You have to forget what others are doing and focus on your own race, people are naturally faster/slower than you – but I was not racing them.
As an unexpected surprise, shortly after the Prostate Cancer team, Tabby (@TakeHeart_blog) popped up! It was so good to see people I knew on the way around, but more so when you wasn’t expecting it! Thanks, Tabby!!
The final third
By the time you reach Canary Wharf, you have completed two-thirds of the London Marathon. It was around now where my legs started to hurt a little more. The occasional cramp in my thighs and general tiredness. I’d already been running for 3 hours, so it’s not really a surprise I guess. Heading into Canary Wharf I was a little concerned that it wouldn’t be busy because of restrictions due to building work. I need not have worried, it was rammed and with the buildings so close together and tall, the noise echoed throughout. I had another little boost from my support crew, this time a bag of pick n mix!
Once you clear Canary Wharf, you are heading for home. It’s now when you head to the point I mentioned earlier when you see runners going in the opposite direction. This time around, you’re on the best side of the road. I couldn’t help but feel bad when I saw people going out as I was heading home. As I stumbled my way through 22 miles, I took my final opportunity to soak up some support from the Prostate Cancer UK team. It was great to see them so many times and really helped break the marathon up for me into more manageable bites.
The final few miles felt like someone was messing with me. “How can this have only been 1 mile”, as I crossed off another marker. As you approach Embankment, another iconic area of the London Marathon, you are surrounded by spectators. It’s really needed by that stage, it was now where I finally had to ease off a little so that I could stretch out the cramp. I didn’t want to stop as I knew I would struggle to get going again, so I walked really fast for about 60 seconds. This gave me a chance to gather my thoughts, it also inadvertently generated a lot of support from the crowd so I stepped it up and powered on.
As I strode towards Big Ben and the final stages I had one final chance to run in and grab a hug from my support team, who were incredible on the day. Once you have passed Big Ben, which chimed 3pm as I ambled by, you move into metres to go rather than miles. Every single metre felt like a mile. At the one kilometre remaining mark, you are pretty much parallel to the finish line – but you can’t see it. The markers start to fall. 800 metres to go. 600 metres to go. 400 metres to go.
You’ve just finished the London Marathon
The finish line for the London Marathon is on the Mall, directly in front of Buckingham Palace. So you turn the penultimate corner, give the Queen a wave and take a deep breath for the final push. As you turn the last corner, you can see the finish line but it looks so far away! It was at this point where I just soaked it all in. People are cheering, I waved at random strangers. The closer I got to the line, the more my mind started to work. What the hell have I just done? Do I need to smile in case I’m in a photo? What will happen when I stop running? The metres tick away and before you know it, the big red finish line is right in front of you.
As I crossed the line and started to slow, my legs had no idea what to do. They were not running, but not really walking either. More wobbling really. Fortunately, the excellent volunteers are on hand to shepherd you in the right direction to collect your reward. Your medal!
Apparently, only around 1-2% of the population run a marathon. The feeling you get when you finish (and look beyond the pain) is enormous satisfaction. I was raising money for charity so pleased that I had done what I intended. I was also pushing myself to be better and I feel that I ticked that box too.
Would I run another one? Maybe ask me in a few weeks when my legs stop hurting.
If you would like to sponsor me, all donations are gratefully received and you can do so here
If you fancy watching my London Marathon highlights, I made a little vlog.