Stephen’s view

Acting as Coach for Lucy has been challenging at times – I’ve no training and am just relying on my own experience of running and of Lucy. External advice is very limited in value when it comes to marathon training for those nearer the back of the pack. How much do I push Lucy as a coach, how much do I sympathise with her as a husband. How much do I push her to achieve more, how much do I accept the limits of her desire to push?

I think we got the balance right on the whole, but it got more difficult in the last few weeks, as the injury constrained the ability to run long (or even run at all). I was mentally comfortable that running up to four hours was plenty and that the fact that this might be 24km rather than 30-32km that most marathoners aim for as their longest pre-marathon run was not relevant. I was comfortable that if Lucy completed the programme as planned, she could get close to 7½ hours which was my target for her, and with absolute certainty within the 8 hours that became her own target – I guess a part of me would have liked to see a little more determination to push the pace, but equally this was Lucy’s event, not mine, and her goal to “get round” was an entirely reasonable one.

So the inability to finish the training plan as intended, made things difficult for Lucy, but also for me – was she now being too modest in ambition, or sensible?

The morning started badly: distraction or inattention caused me to drive through a red light on the way to the station, and somehow (I still don’t know how) got us onto the wrong train. Among my many, many worries, was that Lucy was arriving at the marathon rather later than I would have been comfortable with, and putting her on the wrong train didn’t help with that, and it clearly very nearly prevented her getting to the start area in sufficient time.

For myself, I had planned a busy day, and was anxious about that – would I be able to get to all my planned spots? I knew there was potential for the very first transfer to be tight if Lucy was at all late in getting to the first point (most likely because she was later than expected across the start line), as the trains onwards were every half hour. If I missed any meeting points, would that leave Lucy short of nutrition (her mix of gels and chia bars)?

The police patrolling the course

I got off the train at Woolwich Dockyard and walked to the race route at about 3½ miles, located soon after the point where the routes from the three starting points converge. I was just in time to see the wheelchair racers go by, followed a little later by the elite women, one of whom pulled out just in front of me. There was quite a lot of quiet time initially, giving space to watch the police go past on their bicycles and a gradually growing mass of people supporting the woman who’d dropped out, who eventually walked away under her own steam.

The elite men start to go by

The elite men came past at about 1020, with then the fast club runners hot on their heels and a gradually growing band of ordinary runners. Lucy was due to set off at about 1045 and the Marathon app told me she had, but the Garmin tracking link didn’t come through – to become a growing frustration during the day as I’d expected to use it quite a bit to track her progress almost in real-time, but also for others to be able to watch, and they were likewise rather short-changed, particularly as the official Marathon app was overwhelmed and did not cope well with the demands on it.

My view for a while, before I moved

When I’d arrived at the roadside, I was alone, but later a group of four young women arrived – all four of them taller than me, wearing puffer jackets, and holding cardboard signs, the combination of which completely blotted my view of oncoming runners, who were coming towards me down a hill. Eventually I moved to gain any view at all.

Lucy passes me at about 3½ miles

I almost missed Lucy as she was slightly ahead of schedule, but fortunately it was quiet enough on the pavements that I was able to run alongside to speak briefly with her and grab a photo. I asked her to open up the Garmin app on her phone, in the hope that might stimulate the “LiveTrack” link to start working, but I wasn’t sure whether she’d absorbed the message. At the end of the day, I learned she had indeed done so, but there was no impact.

After the Marathon day, I did some testing, and found that if there is no Internet connection at the time the LiveTrack is started (for instance, when 50,000 more people than usual are using the available 4G/5G connections around Greenwich Park), then the LiveTrack will never be initiated – the Garmin system doesn’t appear to keep trying. I’ve found an alternative approach for next time. But today, we had to manage with the limited information from the Marathon app, and me occasionally seeking to locate Lucy’s phone.

Part of the queue to get into the railway station at Greenwich

With Lucy being a couple of minutes ahead of schedule, I had plenty of time to get back to Woolwich Dockyard, and had no difficulty getting on the train – but at the next stop, Maze Hill, it became full to bursting. I got off at Greenwich, where the queue to re-enter the station was perhaps 400 metres long, immediately giving me a headache to think about in terms of getting from here to the next point. While pondering that, I walked through the busy streets to the Marathon route, which was heaving with people. I decided that I might not get to the front quickly enough at my intended spot, and headed west where it was a little quieter, and found myself on a bridge over Deptford Creek which bounced and vibrated with the feet of the runners. I managed to wiggle my way to the front, perched on a narrow ledge between the barriers and the kerb. This time I was able to see Lucy coming and cheer her on, take a photo, and pass her some nutrition.

Lucy on the bridge at Deptford Creek in Greenwich

Everything had happened sufficiently quickly that I hadn’t had any peace to think about my onwards route. I walked towards Greenwich station, weaving through crowds while trying to study maps and timetables on my phone, eventually settling on a brisk walk to New Cross station – the roads and pavements were initially heaving with people, but by New Cross all was quiet and this was clearly the right approach. I got a train through to London Bridge, from where I walked back to the Marathon route at Tower Bridge. As expected, the crowds there were intense, thick and loud. I got a report from one chap that past the water station to the east it was much quieter. Making progress along the pavement was initially quite a challenge, but eventually I made my way to a suitable spot and awaited Lucy’s arrival.

Looking up the gentle incline to Tower Bridge, as I start to head east to look for somewhere a bit quieter

She was about half an hour, and during that time the crowds had thinned a little. The slower starters in the Green wave, such as Lucy, had effectively been given a “head start”, and so at Greenwich had been really in the thick of it, with peak runners and peak crowd. It also created the odd spectacle of the 5h30 pacers chasing down the 7h15 and 7h30 pacers. But by the approach to Tower Bridge, things were thinning a little, and this was to my benefit as by the time Lucy arrived I was able to walk/jog with her for a few metres, topping up her supplies, and offering a bite of chocolate which she declined – a rare occasion indeed!

Lucy as the crowds on and off the course start to thin a little

Bidding her farewell on her approach to one of the highlights of the route, the crossing of Tower Bridge, I retraced my steps to London Bridge station, interacting with Claire who was on her way in to London, initially to Limehouse and then hopefully to meet with me around Canary Wharf.

Crowds line the marathon course as I walk around the quiet northern side of Middle Dock

At London Bridge my day improved when I was able to go to the toilet (definitely a day to be a man, though making me wish the person managing the toilet queues had the courage and confidence to close the men’s toilets for a few minutes to let the women’s queue reduce closer to the size of the men’s queue). After that interlude I got the Jubilee Line to Canary Wharf. The queue to get into the station here was enormous, by far dwarfing that at Greenwich. Apart from my substitution of New Cross in my travel plans, things were going as intended, and as per that plan I walked around the north side of Middle Dock to near Westferry Circus, this having the benefit of being very close to a pinch point in the route and meant I could cheer on from the 15 and 18½ mile points while barely having to move, and then walk on to the 20 mile point easily too.

Paul’s picture of a puzzled Lucy

My next report was from Paul, with a photo of a puzzled Lucy – I’d been providing information to him on Lucy’s planned pace and splits, my viewing locations etc, but in the expectation and belief that it was just for enhanced armchair viewing from home, but he’d come to London and popped up unannounced, and continued to offer his support and shout occasional abuse over the course of the afternoon.

Still a bit of a smile, but a weary Lucy in some pain as her leg starts to complain around 15 miles

Claire reported from Limehouse at about mile 14 that Lucy was limping, suffering and looking fed up. Lucy’s pace of progress to me was then very slow, and indeed when she emerged from the tunnel and approached me, she was looking quite low, and struggling with leg pain. I urged her onwards, but suffered my own doubts as to when it’s time to say “enough”. I moved 30 metres to mile 18½ and got my chair out for the first time since mile 3½, and had a sit down for a little while, before being joined by Claire. When Lucy eventually arrived, she was clearly still struggling but had improved somewhat (though the photo I took doesn’t suggest as much).

At 18 miles, Lucy looked a bit stronger to the eye, but looks unhappy to the camera lens

Claire and I then walked over Westferry Circus to near Westferry station, reaching the Marathon route at about mile 20.3. In time, we got a photo from Lucy with the mile 20 marker, which must have been just out of out sight from us, around a bend in the road, and we expected her to heave into view at any moment. What seemed a prolonged delay then followed, and we were on the verge of setting off to walk towards her last known location, when she was spotted, once again struggling rather more, though the long delay had simply been a loo break.

She reached us and we decided to walk on with her – while there were still plenty of people on the course, and a good few on the pavements, it was no longer busy and it was quite possible as we moved towards Limehouse to parallel the route. Paul popped up in person, with his multi-message sign that, in various guises, has supported Lucy and me at a number of events.

Whether she found a third wind, or it was just the company, or the mental gains from heading more or less towards the finish, at any event Lucy now sped up a little – mostly walking, but with a little jogging which helped improve the average pace somewhat.

At Limehouse, a smile (just) as Lucy passes through one of the music areas, with stages just around the corner to the left

Claire departed at Limehouse, now confident Lucy would get there, and I continued to progress, cheering Lucy on, and occasionally reading her messages of support from the increasingly active “Lucy’s Marathon” WhatsApp group. While the declared intent at Westferry had been “we’ll walk with you to Limehouse”, I couldn’t see why I couldn’t continue onwards, and it seemed to be helping a little.

There were a few of these, taking me away from the marathon route, which added to my distances – I topped 30,000 steps for the day in the end

There were a few spots where I had to make diversions around three sides of a square and then catch up with Lucy, and I also stopped for what was my most expensive ever ice-cream cone at £7 – though it was very welcome and very nice.

Now that’s a good dark chocolate ice cream – creamy but with plenty of flavour as well

Around Tower Hill, I found Paul again, and the two of us continued on foot alongside. As we emerged from the twin underpasses just short of Blackfriars, Paul and I having walked through the northern one, the marathoners through the southern one, we waited for Lucy and when she got to the barrier between us, she slumped onto it. That was quite a low moment for me, as she seemed to be despairing, but she said she just needed a moment, and indeed she quickly found a fresh reserve of determination and set off again.

A tough moment, for both of us

Paul departed at Blackfriars to catch the penultimate train back to Bristol. Lucy now settled into a steady routine as we progressed along the Embankment, with some very vocal support from spectators – plus Marie Curie who were exemplary in their loud support for the slower runners, when almost all the other charities had packed up and gone home.

Listen to the crowds in Parliament Square

Eventually the corner was turned into Parliament Square, and the noise from the crowds of Londoners and visitors, more than 8 hours after the start of the race, was very moving and uplifting. I had to do some more wriggling around longer routes to follow through Parliament Square and the crossing of Birdcage Walk added quite a bit to my distance, but suddenly the markers of distance to go were in metres, and we were counting down, not up.

Approaching Buckingham Palace, my route was suddenly taken away, and while Lucy continued on, I broke into a sprint through St James’s Park, with a good deal of supportive cheers from others in the park as I raced by. I reached the end of The Mall and a view of Buckingham Palace and the Victoria Memorial.

Turning the final corner past Buckingham Palace and the Victoria Memorial into The Mall

Lucy jogged past – not exactly in a thick crowd but with a steady stream of fellow competitors, all getting lots of cheers from the crowd.

The finish is in sight!

She disappeared down The Mall towards the finish, and I sprinted off again through St James’s Park. Lucy had said that she’d been told that the grandstand might be accessible to all from late afternoon, and I tried to reach it, but it seemed still firmly out of reach, so I took a wiggling route through the park, parallel to The Mall, seeing a notification from the Marathon app that Lucy had finished, and as I tried to make progress myself, responding to what was now a never-ending flurry of supportive messages on the WhatsApp group.

Medal in hand – it was all worth it.

I got myself to the end of the closed-off section of The Mall and waited for a triumphant but weary Lucy to appear, and got a few photos of her with the medal.

A very impressive achievement – huge congratulations to Lucy on the effort and success of the day, but also the six months of training, a huge commitment and a testament to her determination and dedication to do the thing properly.

A physically and emotionally tiring day for me, but I’m so glad I was able to see so much of it. While I had planned to use public transport to move west from Westferry, in the end being able to move alongside the route and offer a little support and encouragement gives me so much more to remember of the day: of Lucy, of Claire and Paul, of the random strangers, of the crowds. What a day!

2 thoughts on “Stephen’s view

  1. An awesome report on the day Stephen you both achieved this really great accomplishment together. It’s Been fantastic to be a small part of it. Xx

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