On Sunday 13th April I (mostly) ran the London Marathon. It was a unique and interesting experience. And I have no intention of ever repeating it.
What follows is a haphazard account of the build-up, the race and my thoughts and feelings.
I travelled to London on the Friday to give myself plenty of time to visit the expo to collect my number that evening, and have a relaxing day on Saturday. The plan worked out marvellously – Rose and I wandered through the expo without incident (and without spending very much – I just stocked up on gels) and I went to the Old Operating Theatre Museum on Saturday, which was marvellous and not too tiring. I volunteered to be the “patient” so the historian could demonstrate an amputation – I told her about the marathon though so she made sure I survived the procedure!
By Sunday morning I was feeling much calmer about the marathon and had decided that I wouldn’t try to do it in under 4:30. That just seemed silly and there was no need for me to go chasing after a time – it would be much more enjoyable if I just ran for the experience. I am glad I decided on this.
I got to the start area in plenty of time, coffee in hand, and straightaway bumped into my running club friends Emma, Jill and Graham who were helping out on the water stands. This meant we had a convenient meeting point so I also got to chat with Burjor, Jason and Kieran, and I spotted Lucy in the toilet queue.
The friendly faces, plus the masses of room in the park and the good weather made for a very chilled out 90 minutes before the race. In fact, it was probably the most relaxed I have been before a race! Fantastic!
In the start pen I bumped into someone I know online so more friendly chats to keep the nerves in check. And soon enough we were off. It took about 14 minutes to get to the start line, and straightaway there was plenty of support from the spectators lining the route. The sun was shining, music was blaring from various houses, and all was good with the world.
I really enjoyed the first few miles and couldn’t stop grinning. Here I was, my first ever marathon and I was running it in London. What a thing!
I stuck to my fuelling plan and avoided the temptation to drink loads at each water station. I ran just as fast or as slow as I felt like running, happily accepted jelly babes off firemen, high-fived various kids and did my best to soak it all up.
The miles added up and before I knew it I was running over Tower Bridge, which brought the first tears to my eyes. Soon after it was about halfway and I spotted the Kirkstall Harriers support crew on the opposite side of the road so gave them a good wave.
At this point the route starts to get a bit bendy, and I think this is where I began to lose it a little.
The noise was just phenomenal.
I couldn’t see more than half a metre in any direction except for straight up because of the sheer amount of bodies around me, both runners and spectators.
It was sensory overload. People were clapping, shouting names, whistling and whooping. Various styles of music came and went, from brass bands to Led Zeppelin.
Sweets were being thrust at me from all angles, and everywhere I looked there were crowds of people drinking, waving banners and jumping up and down.
I felt like a molecule of water being carried along with the current. I was simply a small part in a mass race and there wasn’t room, time or mental capacity to run my own race, let alone enjoy it.
I couldn’t hear myself think, and consequently I couldn’t concentrate on my form or even give myself a pep talk. Everything was INPUT INPUT INPUT, with so much going on externally that I couldn’t do anything about what was going on internally. Intense does not even begin to cover it.
I started to slow considerably by about mile 17, and from mile 20 onwards there was a lot of walking. This didn’t bother me in the slightest – I was glad to just be going forward and not fussed about whether it took me another hour or three to get to the finish line. Add in the fact that it got very narrow in places, and that a lot of other people were walking, then jogging a bit, and it made for a very stop-start final third.
I ran the last mile or so, doing my best to ignore the noisy crowds, have a look at the Tower of London, the Eye and Parliament and give Her Majesty a quick wave. I crossed the line in 5:27:29 and was absolutely elated. I shed a few tears as I received my medal and tried to comprehend what I had just done.
There were many times when I was enjoying myself. And many times where it really hurt. As usual, I put on a good show for the snappers and am smiling and skipping along in most of my official photos. I could grab on to small moments every now and then to relish the experience and realise what I was achieving, but as a whole the race went by in a blur and overall it wasn’t that much fun.
I just wasn’t a part of the London Marathon 2014. I was there in body, but not in mind. It was so lonely. I was simply part of something that was bigger than any of us, and as a result had no real individual identity in it.
It took me until Monday evening to properly look at my stats – I simply wasn’t bothered because I had finished it in one piece, and that was all that mattered. I did it and I am super proud of myself. But I won’t be running London Marathon again.
I loved the distance and I felt that I could have gone on running even longer had I needed to, so I have no worries about doing more marathons and ultra-marathons. But next time I need fewer people and greener surroundings.