It’s the London Marathon this Sunday, one of the most famous sporting events in the world, and one of a handful of days where Londoners come together as one in the capital. With feats of strength and inspiration, sporting stars, celebrities and fancy dress masters, the general public put on their best cheer gear and shout, whoop and holler for a few hours on a spring morning. If you’re running the London Marathon this weekend – good luck!
It’s fair to say I’ve never been a natural at exercise. I was often picked last in PE at school (and I remember being slow clapped finishing the 1500m at sports day). I’m not technically gifted at any sports and I’ve had so many gym memberships that have gone unused I’ve lost count. Aside from a burst of activity in my late teens, I got to my mid twenties unfit, overweight and firmly out of the exercise habit.
And then the London Marathon came along. I can’t remember how it happened or really even why it happened, but in some weird peer-pressured 4am moment I entered the highly competitive ballot for the race. Even in my most fit moments I had never been a runner, and I hated running but still I found myself on The London Marathon website at 4am, signing up in April 2013. And then I promptly forgot all about it. That is until the September of that year when a magazine promptly forced itself into my house and into my life proclaiming loudly that I was “IN” and talking about training plans and nutrition advice and running shoes.
I don’t think I’ll ever be able to adequately describe the sheer terror that coursed through my body at that stage, but lets just say that my physical reaction was not a pleasant one. I’ll let you read between the lines on that. I was apparently running The London Marathon and I really hated running and had never run before.Running the London Marathon is a feat of strength, but it might make you fall in love with the cityClick To Tweet
Twenty six point two fucking miles.
It’s fair to say that I hated every last minute of the training. I had hoped that somehow I would become a natural runner, with long legs and a swishy ponytail, moving gazelle like through the streets. Instead I got injured, sick and extremely upset at the whole situation I had found myself in.
But that all changed on the day of the marathon. I’m not saying it was a picnic, it was quite literally a marathon. As I crossed that start line I started to cry, the enormity of what I was starting suddenly hit me. I was completely emotional, and as I checked my Garmin I realised I was going way too fast and slowed myself right down to my planned race pace of between 12-12.45 min miles. Slow sure, but the only way I had of ensuring I’d finish the race at all. I suddenly realised I’d ran a mile and I couldn’t believe how much I was loving it. It felt incredible.
And then I was overtaken by a camel.
Onwards then, through Charlton and lots of families coming out of their houses to support. I was surprised at just how residential this part of the course was, and that in reality I had no idea where I was. This was my London, my city and yet I’d never seen this part of town in my life. Not really knowing where I was seemed to be an occurring theme within the race, and I started to realise just how huge and diverse and crazy my home city was.
I passed through Woolwich then, smiling because it’s where my husband’s best friend lived (and was waiting for me), and was the location where I first started podcasting, a hobby which changed my life and my friendship group forever. I was still plodding along slowly, the amazing London crowd carrying me onwards to Greenwich where the crowds erupted in shouts and cheers like I’d never experienced. It was a wall of noise all through Greenwich High Street and I barely noticed I had almost done 7 miles.
And when I did reach 7 miles, the London payoff was huge. The Cutty Sark came into view – the enormity of what I was doing and how I was seeing London hit me again and again. Through Deptford and Surrey Quays and Rotherhithe until my eyes fixed on Tower Bridge. TOWER BRIDGE! I was running a marathon across one of the most iconic landmarks in London. I gulped a bit. It was every bit as magical as I hoped it would be. Not many people get to run across this historic symbol on London, and I tried to soak it up – I sped up, mainly because I knew I was so so close to the halfway point and I knew I was making good time.
At this point, I could feel my right foot starting to tingle – NOOOOOOO. Not a numb foot. I wondered if the heat was taking it’s toll on my foot and making it swell more. It hurt, but I decided to push through and if I needed an adjustment I’d do it at half way. I’m not going to lie, I was really hot now and the salt was crusting over my skin. It was edging closer to 1pm and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. I was burning as I crossed the bridge, fuelled only by the noise from the spectators lining the sides.
As I came off the bridge and turned right onto The Highway, I could see all the other runners coming back down towards Mile 22 and I envied them. This was a cruel reality check, and I tried to block it out and plod onward. As I crossed the halfway point, suddenly everything got so much harder. This was a quieter, more obscure part of London now and I didn’t have the epic London cheer squad as loud in my ears. The Isle of Dogs, Mile 15-17 were hell. My worst part of the race, and I still get a little shudder when I go there now. I didn’t want to give up, but I felt sick, sticky and dizzy and I had a growing need for a wee.
I was in Docklands Light Railway territory now – and having always been fascinated and sort of excited about riding the driverless DLR trains, seeing this part of London on foot from the road, not the monorail was not quite as euphoric as I’d hoped. As I followed each DLR station round the course, I pictured the tube map in my mind and tried to get my bearings. Again. God London was massive. At the moment, I wished it wasn’t.
I wove my way through the tall skyscrapers of Canary Wharf, enjoying the shade the buildings gave me, and thinking about the city workers that would be here the next day, oblivious to the feat of strength that had occurred mere hours earlier.
I’d already completed 20 miles now, and yet the finish line did seem so far away. 6 miles seemed impossible and it seemed so much further from my location than a mere 6 miles would tell you. I started to walk. I really felt like I had very little left in the tank now. Coming back down the Highway was a low low point and it was nearly empty of supporters at this stage. I hit 22 miles, and then I hit 23, and although I ran for a bit between them, especially at 23 where the crowds were good again and I could see Tower of London I knew the next hour was going to be tough. I closed my eyes, whacked up the music as the crowds were thin here and started to grind the legs towards the underpass at Blackfriars.
But as I re-entered the crowds on Embankment, I started to lift. I could see a bridge – Westminster! I’m so close. I walked some more and just concentrated on waving at the crowds and looking around me. As I approached the bridge my heart sank. It was Waterloo. Blimey the Embankment is long. So long It felt like it was taking forever. I promised myself I’d run to the end from Big Ben, so I dug in. I was going to run a marathon past Big Ben. Me! The person who got lapped in school sports day!
And there it was. Big Ben. Less than a mile to go – so doable.
I felt strong and decided to suck it up and finish it as quickly as I could. I started overtaking people and this made me feel great. All of a sudden my family came into view and they’d bagged an awesome cheering spot along St James Park which was a big surprise and they all looked so chuffed for me. They all told me to run – to go – to finish it and I was elated.
Finish strong I was told. I ticked off the signs as they came into view – 800m, 600m, 400m and then Buckinghams Palace came into view as I rounded the corner. It looked so impossibly large now, without all the tourists thronging around it. 200m. I didn’t know when to kick off for the sprint so in my head I thought I’d wait until I could see down The Mall.
I started to sprint, run as hard as I could and I must have picked off about 20 people in the end. The atmosphere in London was electric at that moment and I was crying. I wish I could bottle the feeling I had as I suddenly realised I was actually going to complete a marathon in the city I love most. Me – the one who was picked last in PE, the one who was mocked by sports teachers, the one who avoided sports at all costs. I raised my hands in the air, crossed the line at 6.23.57 and about 30 seconds later I started to cry massive heaving sobs.
As the marathon faded and I hobbled towards Piccadilly where the car was parked I felt numb. Am I a marathon runner now? I guess I am. That is surprising. The biggest surprise of all? I didn’t hate it. I think, on reflection – I actually loved it.
And most of all? I fell in love with London even more. Because the streets of London have experience my fears, my sadness and my elation. London now knows all my secrets.
Good luck if you are running the London Marathon this weekend!