I’m hunched over with my hands pushing against a tree in the hope it will keep me upright. I try to get some deep breaths but it feels as though a brick wall is pressing against my lungs. I try not to panic as that will only make things worse. I tell myself I’m alright and I should keep moving. I wobble to the next tree where I hunch over again. I pass the time with some dry retching whilst looking down at this great big shiny medal that some lovely lady popped round my neck a moment ago.
I psyche myself up to move again and am handed a big (heavy) goodie bag. I wobble a little
further where a gent of a man spots my running number and hands me my kit that I left on the baggage truck 26.5 miles earlier. I immediately regret packing so many things when I find I can’t physically carry the two bags. I want to sit down and cry. I want to play the ‘I’m a tiny weak woman’ card and get someone to carry my bags for me. And then I look at my medal again. I remind myself what I’ve just done. I have a few bites of an apple and gather what little strength is left to shuffle to Horse Guards Parade. The journey is long and I break it up with tree stops, bites of apple breaks and the occasional dry retching stop.
So how the hell did I let myself get into such a state? In summary: I ran the race of my life. I knew my target of 3:15 was an ambitious one but what I didn’t realise was just how ambitious it was to run that time on that course.
I set off fast but that was all part of the plan. The first few miles are net downhill and I felt it was important to make the most of that, whilst still showing some restraint. But only a few miles in I was worried. Despite me being incredibly close to the front, the congestion was horrific. I was running fast but there were people behind me running faster. Some of them would cut right across me, forcing me to make the choice between slamming on or risk catching their trailing leg. I made an effort to run at the side of the road so that others could more easily overtake, but there were people ahead of me who had gone off too fast and were already slowing down or even walking by mile 5, so now I was trying to negotiate passing them whilst others were passing me. The running was physically exhausting but trying to race in this way was now mentally exhausting too.
But my spirits were constantly being lifted by the crowd. I can’t put into words how amazing they were. Every time a runner rudely elbowed me or threw their bottle of water at my feet, I focused on the support. Rather than get angry, I smiled. I got a little more settled in my pace and relaxed my shoulders a bit more. I tried to look up and look around me but unfortunately all I could see was the backs of other runners (short people problems, hey?!).
Water stations were difficult but the majority of runners were courteous. On one particular station the water was only available on one side and I was on the opposite side. I was sweating a lot and really needed to drink. I looked behind me and motioned with my arm that I was looking to move across but I made the decision not to bother as I didn’t want to risk tripping anyone up. A few seconds later, a chap was running by my side, handing me his bottle. “Here, take this. I noticed you wanted water but couldn’t get across, I’m done with mine.” I thanked him sincerely and made sure I repeated the good deed by giving someone else my Lucozade at another congested station.
And then came Tower Bridge. This is one of those experiences that’s difficult to put into words. After just fifty or so metres of running on the bridge, I broke down in happy tears. The wall of noise was like nothing I’d ever heard. You could see the sincerity on the faces of those in the crowds when they looked directly at you and told you how amazing you were, how well you’re doing and how you’re going to smash this. This was the most emotional point of the race for me, much more so than the finish. I’ll never forget running across that bridge as long as I live.
From about mile 18 onwards it became more of a struggle to keep pace. The first doubts started to creep in here. I thought about everyone at home tracking me. I thought about my family and partner who I knew were in the grandstand by the finish line, hoping that I’d get there by 3:15. That spurred me on and just when I felt I’d got a second wind by mile 19, the 3:15 pacer came whizzing by. Eh?! The pacer had started well behind me and I knew I was hitting a steady 3:13 pace, so why was he running by so fast? It really threw me and it was hard to keep motivated as he ran off into the distance and out of sight.
The struggle became too much at mile 23. I cannot tell you how close I came to walking here. I was aiming to average 7:20 minute miles and I’d just ran a 7:33 minute mile and knew I was slowing with every step. “Sod it”. I scrapped the 3:15 target and was now aiming for 3:20. I calculated that I could just have a little walk and then jog in to the finish. DING DING DING DING WARNING WARNING DING DING DING DING! The self pity alarm was having a fit. I knew I’d never forgive myself if I gave up like that. Yes I was in pain, yes I was shattered and yes my legs had filled with lead. But these are the moments that define you. These are the times you make the choice to give up or to fight for it.
I trudged on, no longer looking at the garmin and just giving it everything I had. I knew I was slowing down but I also knew there was a small chance I could still make 3:15. I sounded like a steam train, puffing my way down that final underpass. My stomach was cramping and I was getting a tingling sensation in my arms and legs. I was approaching the point of ‘this could be dangerous to keep pushing here’ but I know my body well and I knew I could continue for just a short while.
Along birdcage walk now and a glance at the watch showed I’d already run 26.2 miles….bastards!! I’d run a marathon in 3:12:06 but that wouldn’t count as following the blue marathon line was an impossibility with so many thousands of runners. The crowds were getting loud again as we made that final right turn onto the Mall. I knew my family were on the right hand side and I immediately scanned the crowd. I spotted them. I heard them.
Now it was a case of just finish. I felt like I had upped into sprinting pace, when in reality the final stretch was my slowest of the whole race. I was trudging through treacle…..but I was doing it. I raised my arms aloft and crossed that finish line. Official time: 3:14:16.
Mission accomplished. And in doing so, I’d bagged myself another championship start for next year’s London marathon. Honestly, I’m not sure I’d want to do London again. No, actually, I would want to run London again, I’m not sure I’d want to race it. Unless you’re comfortably a sub 3 marathoner, where there is a bit more room to run, it’s stressful and mentally exhausting trying to race further back. I hope I’m not painting this in too negative of a light, as the experience as a whole was wonderful but I feel it’s really important to be totally honest about how I felt. I feel honoured to have done it, I just think I’d do it differently next time. Or if I come back to race it, I’ll just have to make sure I’m a lot faster…..