The Marathon

The wheelchair racers were away first while we were still on the train, followed a bit later by the elite women when I was changing trains. The elite men were at the front of the mass start at 1000. My pen was due to go at 1045-1048: we started promptly and almost immediately we were running past lines of people cheering us on and wishing us well. They say the support in London is second to none, and I can well imagine it! A recurring theme throughout the day was to be the amazing crowds cheering me on and shouting for me as if I were a rock star – I can see why the golden rule is to have your name on your shirt, as there’s no doubt how much it helps to hear people chanting and singing and urging you on.

Two miles in along the Green start

With the minor injury on the right leg, I had planned a slightly complex walk/run interval plan, starting with an hour of 90 second run 60 second walk intervals, and I was pleased that the leg held up well for this. After about 3 miles, the runners from the three start points all converged, and the route became very busy. This was good for the most part, as I had wondered at which point it might start to feel a bit lonely as I was expecting to be pretty slow. But with all the speedy runners weaving through our slower group it got quite exciting – I was nearly mown down by a large group clustered around one of the pacing runners! I was probably somewhat in the way with the walk run plan, but there were plenty of other people doing this too, and even the faster runners could cause issues, such as when a wheelchair just in front of me suddenly spotted his supporters and made a 90 degree turn which made me have to swerve suddenly!

I think most of the slower people had stayed on the right-hand side of the road as the routes converged, but Stephen had said he would be on the left at about 3½ miles so I gradually moved over and did manage to spot Stephen there, so he could cheer me on and hand me some more nutrition gels.

Rounding the Cutty Sark

As well as the general amazing crowd support, there were many bands and choirs and drums, and it wasn’t long before we passed a huge collection of tremendously loud drums making the most wonderful noise, booming out and carrying me along. I then moved to 80 second run 60 second walks, which took me through past 10K and around the first big landmark of the marathon – the Cutty Sark. It was really good fun jogging around this wonderful old sailing ship and remembering when we had been to see it, and how I had seen people running around it when I had watched the marathon on TV in previous years, and now it was my turn. That was past all too quickly and I saw Stephen for the second time shortly afterwards.

Approaching Tower Bridge

We all went onwards, now using my next set of intervals of 70 second run 60 second walks, which should have taken me well past halfway. Shortly before halfway came the next, and possibly biggest, iconic moment – the run across Tower Bridge. I was roughly in the middle of the road by now, and spotted the photographer so did the arms raised in triumph thing, which produced some wonderful photographs! I also took another selfie for the group, so they could see how I was getting on, as apparently the Garmin link had failed to work.

A quick selfie – a moment captured by the BBC on their stream from Tower Bridge
Tower Bridge is one of the highlights of the day, and great to get a celebratory photograph
Turning onto The Highway, almost at the midpoint

Shortly after Tower Bridge alas, my left leg (which had not had any trouble in training) suddenly started hurting a lot, and although I tried to keep on running, it was threatening to give way underneath me altogether. I had to slow to a walk, and for the next half hour or an hour I was unable to move out of a rather limping walk. I passed the halfway point and moved onwards, but it’s got to be said that between this 13-mile point and about 15 miles was where I did start to wonder if I was going to manage to get to the end. I know my friends would still think it was good to have done the half marathon, but it just felt so painful and so slow I was starting to think it would be dark before I finished. However, I was determined to do as much as I could, and furthermore I had all my finish items such as brand-new marathon brand hoodie, home-made flapjacks, my favourite comfy trainers and so on, all in my bag on the lorry at the end, which would have to be picked up, and so I would have to get to the finish somehow.

“Half Way” – hurrah!

A huge and most welcome surprise close to this halfway point was hearing repeated calls of Lucy, and suddenly registering that rather than some more wonderful random strangers, our friend Paul from Nailsea, who yesterday had wished me luck and said he wasn’t going to be coming in, had totally fibbed to us and was standing there with his ‘Go Luphen’ sign which with he has wonderfully and regularly supported both me and Stephen around various parkruns and races around the country. I later learned that Paul had already been at Surrey Quays and Rotherhithe, but had failed to spot me – when Stephen ran the London Marathon, I think he missed about six sets of family and friends consecutively, even when he had a fair idea where they were (unlike today when I thought Paul was watching from afar).

Paul pops up and surprises me.

A little further on during this tricky period I spotted another friend Claire, and she said after I looked pretty fed up – but seeing her gave me a huge boost: it was wonderful that she had made the effort to come along. I nearly missed her too because of all the other people shouting my name!

Finding it tough through Docklands

After walking for quite a while, I attempted the run/walk again, which by this time on my watch had moved to 60/60 intervals, and although the run was really more of a shambling jog by now, I did feel it was a little faster than the walk and therefore helping the pace overall, which proved to be the case when I reviewed it all on my watch. I managed to do this for quite some time before the leg proved too painful and forced me back to a walk. Stephen, Paul and Claire popped up a couple more times to cheer me on, and I finally reached the 20-mile marker and took a photo for the WhatsApp group, just to show I was still making progress.

20 miles and time for a comfort break

By this time, I had been going about 6¼ hours, and as I suddenly spotted a line of Portaloos without any queue, I thought it would be a good idea to risk the possible disgusting state just to make sure I wasn’t desperate for the rest of the route. Luckily the loo I picked was in fair order though no loo roll of course, and I then sent the 20-mile picture saying I was plodding on to the group, as I couldn’t remember if I had already sent it. Unknown to me, Stephen and Claire, having seen me at 18½ miles had moved to near Westferry just around the corner from the 20-mile marker and were getting very worried at how long it seemed to be taking for me to get to them! It was lovely to see them both, and they started walking along on the pavement nearby and keeping me company which was lovely. Paul appeared again shortly afterwards: Stephen also hadn’t realised he was coming, and all three of them accompanied me onwards. I managed to find a third wind for some more slow jogging, and Stephen said it was making a difference and I’d sped up a little since mile 20 and it was worth doing, so I limped on as best as I could.

Paul pops up again, now with Stephen and Claire. Paul’s carefully worded messages yesterday, which neither of us saw through, said that if we saw him today we’d be hallucinating.
Passing 21 miles, and Paul gets a photo of me plus Stephen with the hand clapper that has seen some good service, originally from the Vienna half-marathon. His clothing shows it wasn’t very warm
Turning the corner at Limehouse, about to say farewell to Claire, as I enter Rainbow Row there is another of the bands, still going strong

We finally reached the 23-mile marker passing the Tower of London, where Paul had his variable message sign ready, now reading ‘just a parkrun to go!’ which was a lovely thought! I was walking again now and there was no chance of getting in under 8 hours, but Stephen reassured me I was in plenty of time to make the main finish on The Mall. Eight hours after the final runners start, they reopen the roads and move the finish to St James’s Park, which is obviously still a triumph for those finishing there, and a wonderful group called We Finish Together has worked hard to make sure it’s still a great experience for people finishing there, unlike many marathons where apparently it can be pretty disheartening to arrive to find perhaps one person to give you a medal and all the finish paraphernalia packed up and gone.

Emerging from the underpass just before Blackfriars, I was finding it tough and I take a moment’s pause to regroup before pressing on
The sights of London, including Big Ben where I will finally have finished with the Embankment

If I had been able to keep going at my half marathon pace, I would have been well under 8 hours, but my main goal was to finish on The Mall. Claire had to head off at Limehouse to catch her train home, after passing Stephen some chocolate for me to have later, and Paul had to leave soon after the long underpass at Blackfriars, but Stephen stuck with me although he had to sprint round several pedestrian diversions away from the marathon route.

Claire said later that when she saw me at 14 miles she wasn’t sure I was going to make it, but by the time she left she was convinced I would get there. For myself, by the time I had reached 20 miles I was certain I would finish no matter how much slower I might get. I gradually made progress along the Embankment, with the London Eye in clear view and Big Ben peeking out tantalisingly far away for my point to turn right towards Buckingham Palace.

Turning right into Westminster Square

After passing through Westminster Square onto Birdcage Walk, I could see St James’s Park, where Stephen sprinted across to try to photograph me at the finish, as the spectator stands were supposed to be open to the public by now, but they didn’t seem to be. There were lots of photographers at various points during this last half mile though, so I tried my best to break into a slow jog every time I passed one!

I grabbed a quick photograph of the ‘385 yards to go’ sign for the WhatsApp group, and turned away from the Palace and up The Mall with the flags flying to either side.

26 miles gone, just a little bit more.

It was a really thrilling moment to realise that I was finally at the finish and had completed a marathon, something which I never thought I would ever want to do or be able to do at all!

Onwards to “The Aftermath“…

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