Yesterday I ran the London Marathon. It was an amazing, brilliant, wonderful experience. I loved it. I’m still grinning.
The Clapham Runners’ cheering spots at miles 14 and 21 could not have been better placed – I needed those cheers. In fact the support since deciding to run another marathon has been unreal. I had emails, texts and calls wishing me luck, motivating me, convincing me I would smash it. It was perfect weather (for runners, if not spectators!) – cool, grey and cloudy. I joined the hoards of runners and supporters setting off to Greenwich full of race day nerves and anticipation. I was determined. I knew I had done the training miles, and I was ready to take this on.
The three start zones means that all runners are on their way within half an hour, and the merge at mile 3 is well managed. I started with the tail of red zone 8 (of 9). The course felt quite spaced for the first six miles and I comfortably kept to my target race pace (10.40). I let out an involuntary cheer as we turned the corner to see the magnificent Cutty Sark. From here my race was a constant memory game – at mile 7 I would see my parents and Tracy on the left, mile 8 was a gel (miles, 4,8,12 etc), mile 9 was water and a lookout for Julia, and so on. The time passed so quickly that even as my legs grew heavier, I didn’t want it to end just yet – this was my London Marathon dream, and I was running consistently and in control.
I’d done half my training around Greenwich and Isle of Dogs, yet I had butterflies with every glimpse of the shard or Canary Wharf. The route means so much, and with every step you are taking yourself one step closer to the Birdcage Walk and the finish line in front of Buckingham Palace. I had been told about the wall of sound crossing Tower Bridge – but for me, the crowds at Canary wharf (mile 17-18) and Blackfriars (23-24) were breathtaking. London feels like it is geared for the masses as much as the elites – the crowds were three or four people deep in places, and lined the entire route. Incredible. I was so proud to be cheered on by friends, family and strangers – I loved my high five as I started on Tower Bridge! It was a family affair for us – my parents found me and my brother (also running) twice, but even with the website tracker and careful planning, I missed seeing my bro (who had finished in an impressive 3h14 and come back to cheer for me), housemate, Holly & James who had waited for an hour, and Cat who ran with me for the best part of mile 25 – I must have been seriously focused!
Running with the masses both helped and hindered. There is no room to stop when you are elbow to elbow, but for miles 12-15 when the road narrowed unbearably, we were bunched so tightly I knew it wasn’t worth the energy to weave. I accepted the 12 minute pace when I could have gone faster. Swings and roundabouts – perhaps that was what saved me enough to run the last six miles non-stop. I knew that sub 5h was mine to take but it was not yet in the bag. 40km – 4h45 on the clock. I had to keep going. Another day, maybe – but after 25 miles it took me 15m55. Perhaps I could have sprinted sooner, but I didn’t want to blow out and walk the finish. I chose to continue, steady, smiling, taking it all in. You make a lot of decisions on race day and for once I have no regrets.
Race day is part of the journey. My story began with missing the 5h mark by seconds, twice, after a return to running from injury. After a brilliant day at the Clapham Runners’ support station in London only a week later, I added a caveat to ‘never running again’ – ‘except if I get into London’. If I were to ever beat my time, it would be at home, cheered on by everyone I knew. Fast forward six months to the ballot rejection magazine, followed by a twitter competition obsession (17 entries in total) and then came the magical tweet from @prod_running guaranteeing my entry. My excitement was uncontrollable! My brother won his club place a couple of weeks later, and it’s meant so much to be able to share training plans and practice races, and to spur each other on. I met fellow runners at the London Marathon workshop in February, and I left the March Adidas bootcamp (another prize!) feeling totally inspired by Steve Way and Liz Yelling (and a lot of Adidas freebies). I took Liz’s advice to run slow, slow, slow, and the next day’s long run was my turning point from run-walker to slow, steady runner.
I was lucky that my training had gone well, injury free, and I’d fitted in intervals and track with the club most weeks, alternate parkruns and hills, long runs, plus the odd swim or spin to balance things out. It did take over but I was happy to give it my all, one last time, to see what time I was truly capable of. I went into that race knowing I am in better shape than ever. I’ve pulled off PBs on every distance from track through to half marathon over the last 12 months – I am faster, fitter, stronger. I had meticulously planned my meals, race kit, nutrition, hydration, arrival at the start. It worked. In previous races, I’ve reached breaking point. Mile 21 in Paris was a memorable low – I had mentally composed the text to ask my Dad to walk me to the finish line. That didn’t happen this time. 18 months ago, running a whole mile was an achievement. Yesterday I ran the whole way except for four x 1 minute walks. Phenomenal.
London was my best race ever, and the one I have most enjoyed.
I’ve run four marathons. That is amazing. Three of them since being told I might never run again (netball knee and ankle injuries). I haven’t met my sub 5h goal, and those all important seconds matter to me – but it’s my disappointment, no one else’s. I had the chance to give it my all, and I really, really did. If nothing else I’m consistent – London 2008 (5.02.52), Berlin 2013 (5.00.25), Paris 2014 (5.00.09), London 2015 (5.00.55).
For me, London 2015 outshines every other race. Berlin is wide, flat and the one for a PB; Paris was beautiful but hilly and lonely; London is home turf and has a sense of ‘fun’. The organisation is unparalleled, and meant I could just focus on my race rather than logistics. Maps, signage, marshalls, energetic guys on the loudspeakers, ample portaloos (just an 8 min queue at the start line), free travel, extra trains, water, lucozade, gels handed out on the course, an electrifying expo that builds your excitement.
I love marathon day – as a spectator, volunteer and runner over the years, it is London at its best – vibrant, buzzing, supportive. Steel drums, samba bands, strangers shouting support, determined runners with personal stories, the world’s largest fundraising event, all manner of fancy dress.
Today I am doing the post-marathon walk of pride, and I earned every step of it. I’ve treated myself to a post-race massage, a free GBK for finishers, and there’s bubbles waiting in the fridge at home. It’s a great feeling. I am grateful to everyone who wished me well, everyone who wanted this for me as much as I wanted this for myself, everyone who spent a chilly Sunday lining the streets to make that day magical for me and 38,000 others. Every runner has a story. This is mine.
I am proud. I will be proud forever.
Siobhan. Four time, 5hour, marathoner