I’ve decided I’m going to call this post “the least timely race report of all time”.
It’s a post I’ve nearly written a few times and almost finished once, but after a hard drive failure this is a whole new piece of writing…
As you might have guessed, I went into the race weekend feeling somewhat underprepared. The weekend before Matt & I were up in the Lake District and my knee was fine on our climb up Scafell Pike, so I was hopeful that it would hold up in London too. My overall fitness on the other hand… not so much!
We got to London late on the Saturday morning and intended to head straight to the hotel before going to the Expo to collect my race number. Unfortunately (and I put this entirely down to nerves as I’m usually very good at London navigation) I managed to get us to the wrong tube station and a couple of miles walk away from the hotel. Given that my anxiety levels were already pretty high, this was not helpful. The weasels were enjoying pointing out all of the ways everything could go horribly wrong, and I only just managed to hold it together.
Sufficiently warmed up, we dropped bags at the hotel and headed to the Expo, which was another short walk and a cable car ride from the hotel. I’d ridden on the Skyline before, but it was new for Matt, and evidently for the ladies who we shared a car with, all on their way to the Expo as well and chattering nervously about being so high up and hoping the “rope” didn’t break.
The Expo itself was… beyond my powers of description, honestly. The enormous hall was seething with people, it was hot, sweaty, loud and absolutely buzzing with excitement. I collected my race number and chip without incident (and somehow also without a queue – massive kudos to the organisers, it was truly impressive). It was immediately clear that we would not be able to see everything the Expo had to offer. Already tired from an early start, standing on the train into London and walking halfway across the city to the hotel, I was fading fast and knew that I really needed to rest. That said, I loved all of the official merchandise, and could easily have spent an absolute fortune there! The charity section where you could enter little contests to win extra sponsorship and have your photo taken was our only other stop, and then it was back outside to the relative calm and to the hotel to rest. I spent the remainder of the afternoon resting, eating pasta and laying out what felt like a mountain of kit for the morning. This was it…
As I was getting ready on race morning I checked on my sponsorship page and found that it had just ticked over my £2000 target, which seemed like a good sign! By this point my nerves had died right down (for some reason, I’m always worse the day before a Thing than the day of the Thing) and breakfast was uneventful, although I was amused at the sheer amount of porridge, Weetabix and bananas the runners were going through! You could spot a spectator a mile off – they were the ones loading up on the bacon and eggs!
The hotel was a short walk from the race start, and as we approached I watched so many other runners and wondered what their stories were. Were they prepared? Nervous? Was this their first marathon or their tenth? Who was walking beside them this morning? As we headed into the park I said to Matt “my ankle hurts”, and although I was dead serious, we both laughed at the clear manifestation of pre-race paranoia… (insert ominous music here).
I said my goodbyes to Matt and headed into the start area, which much like the Expo was impeccably organised and absolutely full of people. It was warmer than I expected so I ditched my kit bag early and grabbed a coffee to drink while I queued for the portaloos (and yes, those queues were just as epic as everyone says they are). I tried to absorb as much of the atmosphere as possible, listening to the buzz of chatter from other runners, looking out for other Team Mind members and enjoying spotting the more ridiculous costumes.
In the crowded huddle of the starting pens I checked my watch, started the GPS tracking, tried to ignore the fact that I needed a wee again, and ran my fingers around the 5 hour pace band on my wrist. I had to stand on tiptoes to see over the crowd, but the 5 hour pacers were a good way behind me. Good, I thought. My mission is to keep them there for as long as possible. With some rather distant sounding fanfare, we started gradually shuffling forward and then finally broke into a trot as we came round a corner to the start line. I fought back the urge to burst into tears, hit start on the Garmin and started to jog.
I don’t remember much of the early parts of the race. I remember the point where the runners from the other start merged with us, and what already seemed like an impossible number of people became twice that many. I remember thinking “hey, my knee doesn’t hurt” and a creeping sense of dread because “hey, my ankle really hurts”.
I got a boost around mile 8 where the main charity cheering station was, and was focused on mile 10 as I knew that’s where Matt would be. Sure enough, there he was, waving madly. I charged over for a hug and a gel, and was stunned and delighted to see that two of our friends – Suzy and Chris – were with him. At this point I was still ahead of the 5 hour pacer, and my friends sent me on my way with a renewed spring in my step!
Just before halfway, the route crosses Tower Bridge, and I can’t imagine a more iconic moment. So many people were stopping to take selfies on the bridge, and I just laughed and accelerated round them, such was the energy there. It was just a tunnel of noise and colour, completely overwhelming. I thought back a few years when I crossed the bridge as a spectator wondering how the runners felt. Well, now I know.
I was expecting to see Matt at mile 14, and by that point I really, really needed him. My ankle was excruciating, I was tired and hot and my mind was beginning to wander. As you can imagine I was gutted when I didn’t see him, and had to fight back the tears at the thought of having to face the lonely miles round the Isle of Dogs without a boost from him. By some miracle, though, he’d found himself at mile 15 instead, and when I saw him I think some more tears may have happened! And Suzy and Chris were still with him! I was ecstatic. “How are you doing?” They said. “I’m slow.” I said, “And hot.” I took more water, another gel, and Matt cheekily hopped over the barrier to give my ankle a bit of a rub. They told me my parents were stuck on the tube somewhere and would see me at mile 23. Mile 23, I thought. Will I ever actually get there?
As I had expected the next few miles were hellish. By mile 18 I couldn’t run more than a few hundred yards without having to stop and walk. This was partly due to my lack of fitness, of course (my longest training run having been 14 miles, nearly 2 months earlier), but also my ankle. It was hot, stiff, swollen and hurt to put weight on. But I’m nothing if not stubborn, and I plodded on.
Somehow the miles passed, we went through Canary Wharf, and I was on the home stretch, going back along the Highway and towards the Tower of London. I was having to run/hobble a little way, and then stop completely for a few seconds to breathe through the pain in my ankle. It was like nothing I’d ever felt before. I saw Matt, Suzy and Chris as planned at mile 22. While I’d been occupied plodding round the City, they’d acquired coffee and sweets, and though poor Matt still looked on edge, they were in good spirits and seemed to be enjoying the atmosphere. I turned down more gel “I’m not lacking in energy” I think I said (!) “it’s just my ankle!” They gave me paracetamol and hugs, and told me that my parents were somewhere between miles 23 and 24. This spurred me on and I ran the next mile-and-a-bit without stopping. I spotted my parents before they spotted me, I could see them peering worriedly at a phone. They’d had quite a day, poor things, fighting with transportation! I got more hugs but didn’t stop for long, I’d got something of a second wind at this point.
Along the embankment the noise of the spectators increased again, and oh my goodness was it something! I passed another Mind cheering station, and their whoops and cheers as I jogged past were amazing. As I passed Big Ben I was just starting to reflect on the fact that I had pretty much completed a marathon, when I heard my name being shouted from the side of the road. This had been happening all day, since I had it written on my vest, but not with this much urgency. I looked over and saw Matt, Suzy, Chris, and a bunch of random strangers all waving madly at me! I bounded over beaming from ear to ear and got some bonus hugs and kisses which propelled me into the final half mile with unexpected vigour!
I will never, ever forget the finishing straight. As I turned the corner the voice of the emcee came over the PA system and said “the next song is up to the people in the finishing straight” and then said that we should raise one hand for some rubbish song or two hands for “Don’t Stop Me Now” by Queen. Obviously everybody raised two hands and so I got the thrill of crossing the finish line accompanied by one of my favourite songs of all time!
I was in a bit of a daze after I crossed the line. I hope I thanked the volunteer who gave me my medal, I certainly meant to. I wobbled round to collect my bag and somehow went to the wrong truck, but luckily another volunteer spotted me and called me over to the right one! I finally got my phone out and checked through the messages that had been coming in. A couple of speedy folks, who must have been watching me on the tracker, texted their congratulations before I’d even left the finish area.
I made my way over to the meet and greet area and, after a brief worry about whether I could remember the alphabet I found our agreed upon letter and to my delight, Matt, Suzy and Chris were standing there waiting for me. Many excited hugs were exchanged, tears were shed and the impressively heavy medal admired. I parked myself on the ground as standing up any more was out of the question! My parents found us a little while later, and I sat in the sunshine surrounded by love and feeling just a wee bit dazed.
After Suzy and Chris took their leave, it was a long, slooooow journey back to the hotel for the rest of us. I could barely put any weight on my ankle, so spent most of the time leaning on whichever of my family members were closest. My parents couldn’t stay for dinner as they had a train to catch, so we said goodbye to them, grabbed a quick shower and headed out for dinner. I had been craving Nandos, so that’s what we had. I was too tired to be very hungry, though, and we ended up back at the hotel for a reasonably early night.
I was utterly exhausted and slept pretty soundly, although I did wake up at about 3am absolutely ravenous. I made Matt fetch me a cereal bar (because my ankle hurt too much to contemplate getting up myself) and devoured it in bed – crumbs be damned! Apparently this hunger carried through to the next morning, too, as I scoffed an enormous amount of breakfast. It didn’t feel that much to me at the time, but thinking back there were at least 3 empty plates by the end of it!
We splurged on a taxi back to Paddington Station, as I couldn’t face the ankle-hurting shuffle that using the tube would require, but it actually turned out really well as the taxi followed a goodly portion of the race route and it was incredible to sit and watch the sights go by, being able to reflect on what had happened the day before. I was a marathoner.
Oh, my time? It was 6 hours, 13 minutes and some change. I lost the 5 hour pacer around the halfway point, and that was the end of that. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a bit disappointed with my time, but really all that matters is that I did it. For my friends, family, colleagues and everyone out there dealing with mental illness, I did it.