It had arrived, this much anticipated day. A day that had been a “secret” dream for so many years. A day that would have defied belief just 6 months earlier.
The London Marathon… The day I was to be part of this amazing event, as a participant, as a runner!
The day started amazingly calmly. I’d been incredibly calm throughout, landing in London just 2 days prior, and somehow managing to keep things under control. Focused, determined to not burn out emotionally, and to soak it all up.
A little parkrun outing on Saturday had shaken the travel from my limbs. I felt completely ready. I woke early, and I must confess to laying in bed a while just thinking “wow”.
But my race day and long run day routine kicked in, the habits I’d established paying off. Shower, shave. A breakfast of cereal, toast with honey, orange juice and a hot drink.
All consumed more than 2 hours before race start time. The usual routine, exactly as if it was just a training long run back in Perth.
Except this time, when I put on my running gear, the race number was for the London Marathon!! And instead of a hydration belt around my waist, I tied a rolled up Australian flag.
I checked, double checked and triple checked the contents of the kit bag. Tied it securely. Fixed the timing chip to my right shoe using the twist ties provided. Crammed the gels in my pockets… I was ready – as ready as I’d ever be anyway!
Off we set
leaving my friend Steve’s place a little later than planned but still on schedule. His house is pretty much at the 16 mile mark, but for now we would be taking the direct route, walking down the road and through the pedestrian tunnel, under the Thames to Greenwich.
As soon as we got to the street you could feel the atmosphere. A cop stood by the entrance to the complex where Steve’s house is, more cops down the street, barriers in place. We passed a large group of St John’s Ambulance volunteers and I joked that I would hopefully not be needing them later.
I was busy tweeting updates and photos. This nearly ended my race before it began. Near the entrance to the pedestrian tunnel I walked into a metal pole. Luckily no damage done, except to my pride perhaps. Still, it gave a complete stranger a laugh!
When we popped up in Greenwich the carnival atmosphere really kicked in. Crowds were established already, heaps of activity from police, marshals, outside broadcast teams from TV channels… It was all very different from the events I’d been part of in Perth!
But the calmness was still there
it was great walking up to Greenwich Park. A walk that was made even better because I was accompanied by two school mates. Top blokes I’d first met nearly 35 years ago. Steve (whose house I was staying at, and who has run the London marathon twice, the last time as part of a two man team carrying a surfboard!) – and Paul, who had travelled up for the weekend to watch the race, and was also stopping at Steve’s place.
As we got closer to the red start runners only entrance, there was a river of runners streaming up the hill towards the start areas. So many people – having company helped prevent that from being too overwhelming!
We said our goodbyes at the runners’ entrance. I’d be seeing the guys again, at about 16.5 miles – they would have the surfboard with my name on it so they would be easily spotted…
I walked through and headed straight to the baggage trucks, located the truck that had the number range that included my runner number, handed the bag over – easy as. Sorted. Now to remember what the hell I was supposed to do next!
I wandered around aimlessly for a bit, a little overwhelmed and nerves/butterflies starting to kick in. The sense of occasion starting to sink in, the tv helicopters overhead, the elite runners being shown on a giant screen just across the way.
The event I’d watched on tv over the years – I was part of it, I was here.
I had to normalise things a little, and did so by doing two things. Grabbing a bottle of water from some volunteers and noting the size of the queue for the portaloos. No matter the event size, location or “importance”, hydration and portaloos are constants lol.
I started to get bearings and located signs pointing to zone 9 – my starting area. As I wandered over I bumped into a guy dressed as a minion – a lucky sign for sure!
The starting area was mental – so many people! I started talking to Aziz, a bubbly guy who was dressed as a pink fairy. Conversations started with others stood nearby. Az the pink fairy told everyone and anyone that I was from Australia. Which resulted in discovering that I was stood right next to a runner, Vicki, who lives in the UK but comes from Perth. Not only Perth, but Maddington – about 5 minutes up the road from where I live – small world!!
Eventually we heard a cheer from way up front somewhere
we were off!
Well, not quite – what happened next was a half hour slow shuffle forwards. A party atmosphere, runners dressed in all kinds of crazy outfits, people talking, some were first time marathoners, time goals varied but the spirit of fun and camaraderie was amazing.
We turned left out through a gate and suddenly the start line was just about 100m or so away – I panicked, GARMIN!!!! Luckily the satellite was located in a few seconds, I pressed start just as I crossed that start line. The most amazing start line I have crossed to date. This was it, I was now running IN THE LONDON MARATHON!!!!
The run started off easily enough, there were plenty of runners around but no real issue with congestion, a brief stint or two on the pavement got me around some slower runners but generally speaking we had the full width of the road and things just flowed. There were spectators, maybe 5 or 6 deep right from the start – the course itself was through a regular residential area, people were watching from their gardens, driveways, upstairs windows… Children stood by the side of the road, hands held out to get high 5s – I passed one where a young girl was getting high 5s and her dad was keeping count – they were well over the 1000 mark when I passed them. Unfortunately I was too far over at that stage to add to the tally.
The feeling was one of a carnival essentially
Roads completely closed, residents watching, handing out jelly bears and other snacks. I declined all such offers though, had my gels and wasn’t risking any untried fuel sources even though it was tempting to be part of all that. You realised too that you were part of the carnival, part of today’s “cabaret” entertainment. It felt amazing.
The first mile marker seemed to arrive quickly. I’d been holding a steady 6:50ish per km pace. Slightly faster than the 7 min per km I’d planned but not too bad. Seemed close enough, I felt strong and figured the taper had done it’s job.
This really was the pattern for 24km. Pacing very very consistently. Feeling comfortable as we plodded through suburban streets, high street shopping areas. We passed many many pubs, each featuring live music or a DJ. A lot of steel drum bands – think my favourite was the pub where the DJ was playing “One Step Beyond”, a classic hit from my youth and a great rhythm to run to.
The crowds were amazing, shouting names, encouraging people. The overall atmosphere really was carnival-like and the running felt relaxed.
At 6 miles (just shy of 10km) we swept through the crowds in Greenwich, where Steve, Paul and I had walked earlier. The crowds were packed, the atmosphere absolutely brilliant.
Just before halfway was the most amazing, hairs on the back of the neck, moment.
We’d been running through a more built up area, road signs had started to mention “Central London” and “Tower” thus and that. We went round a bend and there it was – Tower Bridge.
Iconic, exciting, the stuff of memories. It is impossible to fully describe the emotions, the tingly feelings and the atmosphere experienced, running over Tower Bridge. I had tears welling up. It was a moment I’d been looking forward to, and it was everything I hoped for and more.
Once over Tower Bridge we turned right, heading east once more – towards the Isle of Dogs, Millwall, Canary Wharf. By the time we looped back past this spot again, there would only be 4 miles left to run…
So we headed East, veering off to the right at one point, down a road named “Narrow Street”. It was narrow but the crowds were going wild – at first I just assumed they recognised me from Facebook, but the reason for the crowd noise soon became abundantly clear.
The man with the fridge…
Easily the craziest story I heard about this years race – this guy was running the entire 42.2km with a 42kg fridge strapped to his back. I know… Why? Obvious answer – for charity!
I passed the fridge at around 14 miles I think. Not sure how long he took, I will have to look it up!
For my part, I was still on track to smash 5 hours with an amazingly consistent pace. My focus on pacing was paying off it seemed. But by the time I hit 24/25km I started to feel groin and ab twinges a little. The heat started to get to me (I was hydrating well though) and things just started to hurt a bit.
I didn’t notice Steve’s place at mile 16 but did note the left turn at The Lord Nelson pub, and just up the road from there was Steve, Paul and the surfboard. It gave me a boost!
Apparently I looked strong going through, but I know that it was hurting inside!
A few miles or so later I just lost momentum and found myself walking. I was a little annoyed – regardless of pace, I had high hopes of running the whole way. This walking thing wasn’t in the plan and I was determined there would be far less walking than there was at Perth.
I eased back into a slow jog, slowly built the pace up and kept going until any twinge was felt. This really was the pattern for a while. I allowed myself to walk/run – the condition being that I was using that to recover enough to run the final section along the river, through Westminster and round to the finish.
At 22 miles I passed Steve’s sister Katy, who was a marshal. Said hello but kept moving forwards. By now it was all hard work, the crowds played their part but it all blurred is little as I looked more and more inwards to find what was needed to get to the finish. Battling negative thoughts.
Between mile 22 and 24 I think there was a couple more walking stretches. After the Tower of London we went through a road tunnel – booming music and a whole series of motivational messages (“pain is temporary” is the one that stuck in my mind) helped keep things moving.
We emerged from the tunnel into a built up area and large crowds. Eventually this became a riverside run down the embankment.
This is when I untied the Aussie flag and wore it like a superhero cape.
This drew the occasional shout of “Aussie Aussie Aussie” and “Go Aussie” from the crowd. Just the boost I needed. I started to settle into a steady run, the pace moving towards 7 minute kms. There was only a few kms left, the crowds were amazing but my mind started to focus on the finish line.
Big Ben up ahead. Oh my god this was it, I was going to finish this. Marathon number 2 would be chalked up, and in style!
I was in the zone, my parents, my sister and her family were in the vicinity of Big Ben. They saw me, I could only see the finish line in my minds eye!
Through Westminster and down Birdcage Walk
The crowds thickened. The noise grew. I started thinking about picking up pace, where and when I would start my strong finish.
Signs appeared. 800m to go. 600m. 400m. We swept right at the top of Birdcage Walk. Buckingham Palace was to the left but my mind was elsewhere. More cries of “Go Aussie”. I saw THE sign.
385 yards to go.
I removed the flag and held it aloft as I started my strong finish.
The finishing line was ahead.
The bright red gantries, the clocks…
My mind started to whizz through all the kms of pain, the effort to get here, of my family, the Facebook minions, grandpa…
As I crossed the line I felt like an Olympic gold champion.
I burst into tears.
Luckily I had my sunnies on – nobody saw…
I was a London Marathoner, and a dirty great big heavy medal around my neck proved it!