After 16 weeks of dedicated training London Marathon day arrived. Time suddenly felt like it had gone so quickly, it seemed like only a few days ago I was searching for a hotel, planning my tube routes to the start line and generally prepping for race day, and yet now it was actually about to happen.
My Saturday night pre-race preparation was not the best – my hotel was next to a very busy A-road which meant I found it difficult to get to sleep until the early hours of the morning. That and the fact my phone kept buzzing with people wishing my luck! I had made sure I had got a lot of sleep in throughout the week though so didn’t let this affect me too much, plus the general pre-race adrenaline meant I felt fresh when my alarm did eventually wake me up at 6am. I stayed in Barking so had roughly an hours journey to the start line at Greenwich Park. I caught the tube at 7am, predicting it to be extremely busy and that the journey may take me longer, if not double the time. I was wrong, and a smooth journey saw me arrive at Greenwich Park at 8am – 2 hours until the start! This did give me time to try relax a little, eat my pre-race breakfast, and importantly get a few toilet visits in! The weather at this point was damp and cool – I was grateful to have packed an old jumper and also a poncho to keep me dry and warm – some runners were stood in vest tops for hours and were visibly shivering. I did get a little cold as start time neared, that and a mix of nerves which started to make my body begin to tremble.
Once we were able to join our start pens I began to relax a little with the pure excitement of what I was about to start – the London Marathon – taking over any fear. The anticipation from those around me was clear; we stood quite quietly, everyone going through their own pre-race thought processes, with just the bleeps of the numerous Garmin watches filling the void. As the race began this soon changed – people cheered, jumpers and ponchos were pulled off and thrown purposely to the side - it was time to run. I crossed the start line with a huge smile on my face, my first ever marathon had begun!
The first few kilometres were all about settling into the race. Taking in the sites of other runners, finding out how busy it would be, and beginning to enjoy some of the spectator sites on route. I loved the unofficial parties which were happening from people’s front gardens; DJ’s blaring music from flat balconies; people with buckets of oranges, bags of sweets and sliced banana on trays; deckchairs lining the streets with families and children longing for a high five. The weather was grey but there was no rain and it as just the right temperature – I was warm but not too hot. My watch was telling me I was running slightly ahead of my marathon pace of 5.40 kilometres, but I felt good so did not let it bother me. My first 5km I averaged a pace of 5.37, and the second 5.39. After the 10k point I found a runner to follow who seemed to be running the same pace as me – Katy from Hasting Harriers. I followed her right up until just before Tower Bridge where I knew my first set of supporters were.
My friend had text me to say stick to the left if I wanted the ‘photo of my life' – so leaving Katy I duly did. Running along Tower Bridge was amazing in itself – and I was already smiling as I scanned the supporters looking for my friend’s face. It was not her who I spotted first though, but my other friend who I spied leaning over the barriers and who I had no idea was coming down to support me! Seeing the pair of them and hearing them (literally) scream my name made me feel so overwhelmed and touched – the pictures they took show how just how happy I was. Part of me wanted to stop and go to them, but I knew I needed to keep going. That moment I passed them was so brief - I wish it could have lasted longer – but the feeling it gave me did last for the next few miles. I ran with a huge smile on my face, especially as soon after Tower Bridge came the half way point which I crossed in 2hrs 54 seconds.
Time had seemed to have gone really quickly, I did not feel like I had been running for two hours at all. My body felt good, although my left IT band had been slightly sore since the first km, but the race atmosphere and adrenaline had masked this. Shortly after crossing half way, I came to a point on the route as you head towards the Isle of Dogs where you see the other runners looping back. It was at this point Paula Radcliffe passed me – albeit on the other side of the road – but she still passed me! I remember pointing to her and shouting ‘its Paula!’ like some obsessive fan, but it felt so surreal to be running for a brief moment (kind of) next to the world record holder.
The Isle of Dogs was a tougher part of the race, quieter in supporters and when the second half slog begins to hit you. My 5km splits had slowed by now, roughly 5.46-5.48, but this still was not far of my target time so I was happy. Around this part of the route my left IT band started to get a lot tighter, although it was probably more the fact mentally I was not able to block it out as well. At the 17 mile point my charity vInspired had some supporters out, which lifted me briefly. At 18 miles my knee was very sore though and I had a tough few minutes afterwards were I really had to grimace through the pain. Thankfully my second set of supporters were soon to be spotted – lifting my spirits. My family had told me they were going to be around the Isle of Dogs, so having long since passed this section I thought I had missed them. But no, I spotted and heard them as I turned a corner. Again it was a brief encounter, one which almost doesn’t feel like enough to reward your supporters for standing there for so long, but it certainly helped me.
I hit 34km – the longest training run I had ever completed and entered into the unknown. My legs felt tired now, heavy almost and my pace continued to slow, although only slightly, to around 5.51-5.54 5km splits. It was these sections the crowd really helped me. Some other runners were beginning to really struggle and as I passed them people were shouting ‘looking good Alice’ ‘looking strong Alice’ This gave me confidence and I really dug deep to stay to my pace and not slow any more. The last kilometres did feel really long, with 5km left to go in my head I thought it would feel relatively easy from there – but no. These were the longest 5km of my life! I could even see runners ahead of me in the distance along the embankment and didn’t want to believe I still had to get to where they were! But I kept going and kept to my aim of not allowing myself to slow down.
Turning into the Mall was surreal. I had watched this so many times on TV and dreamed about running down there myself. My friends from Tower Bridge had got to the finish to see me, but I was totally zoned out at this point and didn’t register them, focussed solely on getting to the end. The clock was nearing 4 hours 10 and I thought to myself I must get under those ten minutes, pushing into my lead like legs I made in 4hrs 9minutes and 31 seconds. I crossed the line arms spread pumping the air, even happier than when I started some hours ago.
I stopped running and my legs instantly felt horrible. So sore already and my IT band close to excruciating – they actually hurt less when I was running than to walk. I shuffled/staggered to collect my medal, which the marshal had to put over my head as I physically could not bend to collect it! I shuffled further down to collect my bag, my legs very slowly starting to feel a little more normal then waited to meet my supporters. In this time it is hard to take it all the feelings you have - I think the physical and mental exhaustion is almost too much for your brain to compute. I was proud of myself, proud to have been my charity’s first ever London marathon runner and also a little overwhelmed at having such wonderful friends and family who came out to support, especially when I didn’t even expect to see one of them! The journey back to Lincoln allowed me to reflect a little more, whilst trying to stop my left foot from cramping (seriously what is wrong with my left leg!!) and it was also great hearing the stories of what my friends had seen whilst supporting and their experience of the day.
Today my quads are very sore and my left knee unsurprisingly no better! But as one banner pointed out on route ‘pain is nothing, 26.2 is forever’. I am now a marathon runner, and have achieved my lifetime goal of running London at 23 years old. I have shown to myself what I am capable of both physically and mentally, not just on marathon day, but in the sixteen weeks prior as well. I have also been able to support a wonderful charity and hopefully raised awareness of them further as well.
So my first marathon is over – however I can safely say it will not be my last!
I am not sure yet whether I will enjoy running a marathon... I will soon be finding out though! But what I am sure is that I have enjoyed marathon training.
I have seen a few quotes online and on various social media streams which states 'marathon training will take over you life' or 'marathon training will change you life' and whilst I agree it has, I don't agree this is a bad thing. Over the past sixteen weeks when I have been in full marathon training mode I have learnt a number of things which have really enhanced my marathon training experience and in their own unique way have added to my enjoyment levels of it all:
1) You can never have enough running gear
Seven pairs of running shorts and seven tank tops is perfectly acceptable when you are running so much (well in my mind anyway!) Plus I definitely did need that new running jumper, and that headband, oh and those gloves... A sale in Intersport will never be as exciting unless you are marathon training.
2) It's ok to run slow
Marathon training has definitely taught me you do not need to record a PB on every single training run, let alone every single race. Running longer and slower has allowed me to explore more of my hometown, take in the scenes and enjoy my surroundings - which is a lot harder to do if you are fixated by your Garmin!
3) There is more to eat in life than just beige food
Before marathon training my diet was literally beige, both in colour and taste. My food was plain and basic. However through absorbing all the nutrition advice Runner's World can possibly offer I have since been adding actual flavours to my foods! I am proud to say there are now a number of herbs, spices and seeds sitting happily in my food cupboard.
4) Training is better with friends
My friends have helped make my marathon training experience so much more enjoyable and also bearable. People who will listen to me recount both the achievements and struggles of my weeks of running, sympathise with the aches and pains in my legs, and offer that needed encouragement at just the right time. A text on a Sunday morning asking how your long run went as you lay collapsed on the sofa somehow instantly makes your body feel a little bit better!
5) You develop a love/hate relationship with your Garmin watch
An item so essential when training for a marathon but also so frustrating. Those seemingly endless minutes stood in the cold waiting for it to 'find location' at the start of a run. Then at the end of a run wishing those last few metres would count down quicker as you run up and down the same piece of your street. Then there are those extremely annoying times when you go to run and realise the thing you depend on so greatly isn't even charged...
6) There is no such thing as bad running weather
Gale force winds, sleet, ice, heavy rain... all conditions I would have never even dreamed of choosing to run outside in before marathon training. But I have happily embraced them and the individual challenges they chose to throw at you.
7) The treadmill is actually the dreadmill
Before marathon training I spent the majority of my time running on a treadmill. Now I can just about bring myself to do 5k on there. Staring at the same view, or watching some mindless TV gameshow literally does not even come close to the enjoyment I now get from running outside. Beforehand a lot of the reason I resorted to the treadmill was confidence, I didn't like people seeing me out running, but marathon training has made me feel proud to be out on the streets!
8) Sports massage is a pain worth bearing
Before marathon training the idea of having someone manipulate my body and squeeze my muscles to the point of extreme pain was definitely not something I wanted to do. But I plucked up the courage to invest in sessions during my training - which was a decision made probably more to do with the fact my calves were so painful more than my mind telling me it was a good idea! But I am so pleased I took the step and am now converted.
9) Skinny jeans are a struggle
The largest change I have seen in my body from marathon training is in my calves. They have definitely got bigger. Either that or the legs of my skinny jeans have all shrunk in the wash! Pulling jeans on over my calves literally requires me to sit down and is certainly not a graceful act!
10) Sweaty selfies
You don't have to look good in every single photo you take of yourself! I feel proud looking back at my - often very unflattering - sweaty post run selfies, as they all document the effort I have put in during marathon training to help me make it to race day.
Alice's Adventures In Running Land
Read about my adventures in running land...