The London Marathon 2017 – marathon number four and my fourth attempt at going under four hours – surely it was meant to be?! Having completed London as my first marathon in 2015, I knew it would be a special experience, but I guess I had some doubts in my head as to whether it could be just as good second time round. Would that magic still be there? Would I feel so passionately about it? I also was questioning whether I could run a sub 4 hour time. Deep down I was quite confident. My training had gone very well, I had worked hard, I had exceeded my own expectations, I had remained injury and niggle free, and standing on that start line I knew I was probably in the best shape of my life; healthy and strong. A marathon is never guaranteed though, and alongside the pocket of confidence I had were also the doubts. I had said from day one though, that whilst I wanted to try and go sub 4 hours in London, I would not sacrifice my enjoyment of the day for a time. If I could manage both then it would be a dream; if I managed neither then it would be a nightmare…
Walking into the Red Start at Greenwich Park amidst hundreds of fellow runners on Sunday 23rd April I had tears in my eyes. I felt so emotional and could not really pinpoint it to anything other than the fact I was so happy to be with all these people. I looked at them all and thought of the weeks of training they had gone through, I could imagine the struggles and challenges they had faced, the personal victories they had notched, and also the charities and good causes which were benefitting so greatly from their efforts. The magic of London was starting to hit me already. Compared to 2015 I was much more confident in the pre-marathon ‘logistics’, I knew what I needed to do pre-race; get in the toilet queue, dump my bag on the baggage truck and then get into my pen. Time went quickly and it seemed before I had even had a chance to allow myself to get nervous they were giving us a five minute countdown to the gun.
Crossing the start line I actually did not feel too emotional, just determined to run well. The first three miles then sped by in a blur, although I was pleasantly reminded straight away of the immense level of support to expect. A huge number of people were already enthusiastically lining the streets even in these early stages, and many looked to not be supporting anyone in particular, just us as marathon runners. I also sped through the first three miles a little bit too quick. I wanted to start easy and try avoid too much struggle at the end, but even though I felt like I was running very comfortably I was still ahead of my target pace (8.40 min/mile), instead running more like 8.20 min/mile. I kept thinking of my friend who would be tracking me, and had to give a wry smile as I passed through the first set of timing mats, knowing she would be cursing me!
I settled down a bit after the initial miles and slotted in with a group of runners who all seemed about the same pace as me. I let the miles tick along, running very specifically it seemed between 8.38-8.43 min/mile pace. It was not long before I hit a tough patch though. Between eight and ten miles I was overcome with lots of doubts. Why was it feeling tougher already? Why am I even doing this? Can I actually do this? It seemed much too early for things not to feel comfortable anymore, and I was starting to convince myself a downward spiral was beginning. I tried to focus on the crowd and everything around me rather than on my body, but I was worried. Something lifted me though and that was spotting Jacquie Millet, an incredible runner who I follow online and has now completed over 100 marathons. I ran beside her briefly, I didn’t say anything as she would have no idea who I am, but it really boosted me.
Passing ten miles I felt more relaxed, despite having had a worrying spell, my pace had not dropped and I was doing well. I started to look forward to Tower Bridge arriving. Ask anyone who has completed the London Marathon and they will tell you Tower Bridge is so memorable to run across, the atmosphere is just electric, and I couldn’t wait to soak it all in again. As in 2015, I turned a corner and suddenly the bridge was in front of me. I cried when I saw it (there is a theme developing). Running across the bridge was just incredible. I hugged the left hand side as that’s where my friend was standing, and the amount of people who screamed my name was almost overwhelming. My smile was massive. I spotted my friend; I can’t even remember exactly how I reacted but I know I went crazy for a bit, and then ran on with an even bigger smile on my face. This joy filled me for the next couple of miles, which included passing half way.
I braced myself for the next part of the course as I remember it being a tough section when I ran in 2015, fearing the slightly thinner crowds and fewer distractions. I was wrong though, the crowds were immense, even better than I can remember. People bellowed my name; I honestly thought some of them must have known me through the sheer enthusiasm in their voice. London crowds are simply amazing. Hitting mile sixteen my quads were starting to get really sore though, the course was a lot more undulating than I remembered; not hilly, but just constant little up and downs which I really began to notice. I felt I was running better on the flat, inclines hurt and downhills were no real relief either. With ten miles to go I just prayed the pain would not get any worse. The crowds definitely helped me cope and the pain remained a relatively constant level too which mentally I could accept and I just learnt to deal with. I also started a mantra in my head. My pre-race goal was to get to 20 miles in 3 hours, and then be in a position to attempt the final 6 miles/10k in under an hour. So over and over again I just kept saying to myself – 20 miles, 3 hours, 20 miles, 3 hours…. It sounds a bit mad but it distracted me from my quads and kept me focussed.
I hit 20 miles in roughly 2hr 55mins – I was very happy. I could now feel my legs were getting tired and it was therefore a relief to be ahead of my time goal. It now meant I had some extra time to effectively play with and still be on track for that sub 4 finish. I didn’t let myself become complacent though. I started a new race in my head focusing on the next six miles, aiming to get to the final mile and still feel reasonably good for a strong finish. I focussed on each mile marker appearing, let the crowd buoy me along and simply dug deep, remembering all my training.
Entering the embankment I was now dipping into just over 9 min/mile pace, but I knew I was still on track and I just had to keep going. This stretch seemed never ending, but the further I crept along the more confident I felt. I spotted the BBC’s Colin Jackson stood at the side of the road, microphone poised obviously on the lookout for a celebrity, and I high fived him enthusiastically. Then I heard the familiar sound of my parents calling my name. I turned and waved at them with more gusto, so happy they had spotted me and had seen me running strong. The last time my parents came to watch me run I was walking the final mile of the Manchester Marathon in 2016, it hence meant a lot for them to see me running happily.
Turning by Big Ben, it suddenly seemed real. I was going to do this! My legs instantly felt a hundred times stronger beneath me, and an extra level of determination filled my stride as I entered Birdcage Walk. My friend was here supporting again and we spotted each other. Any form of grimace that may have been on my face was soon filled with a massive beaming smile; I clenched my fists and attempted to shout ‘I’m going to do it!’, and I could tell by the expression on her face looking back at me she knew I was too. As I made the final turn onto The Mall I cried (again). The sight of that finish is just so iconic. I always used to dream of running down there and now here I was doing it again. It was just such as special moment. I lost it a bit at this point - in a good way! I went absolutely mental at the photographers who were crouched along this finishing stretch, pumping my fists and celebrating in a style very out of my usual character – I wish I could bottle that feeling and share it with others. Overjoyed, I crossed the line in 3:51:03.
I cried (yes again) when I was handed my medal. ‘Are you ok?’ the volunteer asked. ‘Yes, happy tears!’ I replied. My quads were in bits but I did not care as I stumbled through the goody bag, t-shirt and baggage collection stations, looking forward to greeting my supporters. I found them, hugged them, and just felt a total mix of all emotions. A marathon requires such physical, mental and, as I found in this race more than even, emotional effort that upon finishing it’s like you do not quite know how to feel. Relief that I had cracked the sub 4 hours? Simple pride in myself? Gratitude to have such wonderful friends and family? Pure happiness? Probably it all at once.
The London Marathon in 2015 was very special. I achieved my lifetime goal of running London and I demonstrated to myself what I was capable of both physically and mentally. The London Marathon in 2017 was just as special. I achieved my sub four hour goal and confirmed to myself what an amazing and positive impact running has had on my life. I am also proud this year to have been able to support a charity –Project Africa Athletics –who share the same mission in changing lives through running.
On Saturday before the marathon I met Paula Radcliffe at the London Marathon Expo and had my photo taken with her and asked her to sign my race bib. I also listened to her talk about the London Marathon. One of the questions the interviewer asked her was how she treated herself after the marathon. Haagen Dazs ice cream, she replied, she had dreamed of it whilst running. When I arrived home from London after the marathon I lay on my bed with two giant bags of Maltesers – anyone who knows me knows how much I love these - and a bottle of Old Mout Fruit Cider by my side. This bottle was given to me by my friend before the Manchester Marathon in 2016, when I had hoped to go sub 4 hours. After an eventful race in which it basically did not happen, I could not bring myself to drink it. The bottle has sat in my cupboard for over a year, waiting to be appropriately opened. The London Marathon on Sunday 23rd April was that day. Cider and Maltesers – that’s how all the elites recover right?
Alice's Adventures In Running Land
Read about my adventures in running land...