There was a point on Sunday when I genuinely didn’t know whether I would finish the race. It was at around the 9 mile mark. I had gone over on my ankle painfully on the 10km timing mat and the hip pain that I had plagued me through the last half of my training had started up at around 8 miles. It was getting progressively worse.
I’d been planning this race for nearly 18 months. Having completed the race in 2012 in nearly six and a half hours, walking the last 10 miles with an injured friend, I had always assumed that there was no way that I could be slower this time around. While I had taken the pressure off myself to complete the race in a particular time, in my mind there was no conceivable way that it would take me more than six hours this time. I had never even considered that I myself might pick up an injury that would affect my ability to complete the race. I was now facing that reality – there was every possibility that I might have to walk a large part of the 17 miles still left if I was going to finish. I just didn’t know if I had that in me.
I could feel the tears pricking in my eyes. I don’t generally cry easily but I felt truly devastated. Not even close to halfway into the race and my hopes and dreams were shattered. The tears started to flow properly and despite the hundreds of runners around me and the massive crowds lining the roads I felt very alone.
I left the road and hid behind a tree for some privacy, embarrassed to be in such a state so early in the race. I called my husband and told him what had happened. By this time I was sobbing. I spoke to him and also my Mum and they both spoke the words I needed to hear. Just keep moving, it didn’t matter how slow and they would see me at mile 14 as planned. Just get to mile 14 and then I could decide what to do.
The day had started so well. I’d had a great night’s sleep and was well rested and prepared. I’d had a good breakfast and made my way to the start on the DLR chatting away to other runners on the way.
It felt a bit strange to be waiting in the start area on my own – last time I ran I had company which took my mind of what lay ahead. I missed that this time. But by the time I’d dropped off my bag and queued up twice for the loo it was time to get into our starting pens.
I was in pen 9 at the back of the blue start, where everyone predicting a 5hr + finishing time starts from. There was a good atmosphere in the pen, I got chatting to lots of people around me, most running their first marathon so I had loads of questions thrown at me when they realised that I was a ‘veteran’. It was a great way to distract each other and it felt good to be able to offer some advice about not going off too quickly and re-assure people that they would make it around.
I’d decided to stick with the run/walk pacer who was doing 12 minute miles. Walking for 5 minutes and running for one, slightly different to how I’d trained but close enough that I wasn’t concerned. The plan was to stick with the group until around 18 miles and then see how I felt. 12 minute miles was slower than I thought I was capable of and my optimistic side said that if I was feeling good at 18 miles then I could push on if I felt like it.
It started well. Miles 1-5 passed comfortably. The pace felt slow and comfortable and it was good to have people around me following the same strategy. But then at 10km I somehow managed to twist my ankle on a timing mat. I have no idea how it happened – I could see it on the road quite clearly but I obviously put my foot down awkwardly and I felt a searing pain. I pulled up and slowed to a walk while I assessed whether the pain was going to pass. It had shaken me up – this wasn’t in the plan at all. I started running again gingerly and while it felt like it was going to be OK, my pace had slowed and I could see the pacing group edging further away from me into the distance.
My heart sank a little bit but we were soon into Greenwich and heading around the Cutty Sark where there were huge crowds. I thought this would give me a lift. It didn’t. Losing pace with the group had really knocked my confidence and while my ankle was feeling just about OK doubts had started to creep into my mind. So when my hip pain reared it’s head at mile 8 it was enough to send me into a very negative headspace. And then came the tears.
Getting off the phone to my family I decided that I’d start moving and make my way to mile 14. Without the pacing group I’d lost my method of timing my run/walk intervals so I switched on my Gymboss and tried my regular 4 mins running to 1 minute walking. I didn’t even make it to 3 minutes of running before the hip pain got to the point where I needed to stop and walk. This approach wasn’t going to work. I fought back more tears.
I decided that I’d just run for as much as I could and then walk to ease off the hip pain. I could do that for the next 5 miles and get me to mile 14 and my family. Once I’d made this decision I managed to calm down a bit and tried to focus on the support from the crowd, which was incredible. I tried to acknowledge everyone that shouted my name, to immerse myself in the carnival atmosphere that is marathon day in London. And it kind of worked.
By mile 12 I realised that my pace was only about a minute and a half per mile behind where I had planned to be. Despite the pain and the far more regular walk breaks I was managing some consistency in my timings and that gave me a boost.
Then I was onto Tower Bridge, for me one of the most iconic parts of the marathon. The crowds were immense and I lapped up the support as I crossed the bridge and turned right onto The Highway and towards the part of the course that I call home.
By the time I’d got to halfway I was actually enjoying myself. I was managing the hip pain and my pace was still consistent. I could see that many of the much faster runners coming back down the other side of the road looked like they were really hurting. It was a hot day making for tough conditions. Marathons aren’t easy for anyone, they are tough and that’s why only 1% of the population choose to do them. I’d already completed one and wasn’t about to let my second one defeat me. I was going to finish.
By the time I turned onto Narrow Street and got to mile 14 I had a bit of a spring in my step. Apart from my hip pain the rest of my legs were feeling pretty fresh and my energy levels were good. As I spotted my family in the crowd in the distance I gave them a thumbs up to let them know I was OK. I stopped for hugs and took the ibuprofen and gel that they’d brought out for me. With their words of encouragement ringing in my ears I set off again now feeling far far better about everything.
Crossing the inlet to Limehouse Marina I saw my osteopath and sports masseur Glenn who had come out to support me. We had a quick hug and I told him what was going on with my hip. He offered to give me some treatment and the next thing I knew I was lying on my side on the pavement while he tried to relieve some of the tension in my muscles. It was painful but I knew it would help for a short while at least.
Off on my way again I turned onto the loop around the Isle of Dogs. This is where my race in 2012 took a turn for the worse when my running buddy Darin got his injury and when we realised we were going to have to walk the rest of the way. I thought of him at this point and felt incredibly grateful to be able to run, even if it were just for a couple of minutes at a time.
I absolutely loved miles 15-19 around the Isle of Dogs and into and around Canary Wharf. Apart from my hip I felt great and actually pretty strong. Most people around me were walking by this point so whenever I started running again I got massive cheers from the crowds. The support was fantastic, with loads of people shouting my name. It gave me a lift each time, I tried to smile and thank them all.
By mile 20 and into Poplar I was starting to feel the mileage generally. My hip was getting increasingly stiff and my running intervals were decreasing. The walking was starting to have less effect at lessening the pain. But I knew what lay ahead at mile 21 and the thought kept me going. The awesome tunnel of noise that is Cheer Dem Crew, followed by seeing my family for the second time.
I could hear Cheer Dem Crew, the cheering zone created by the London running collective Run Dem Crew, far before I could see them. The now legendary #mile21 is quite something to behold. When I’d passed this point in 2012 I’d never heard of them before and was quite puzzled by the massive street party that was going on at a fairly random point of the course. Since then I’ve got to know a few of the crew on Twitter and in person and couldn’t wait to get to this part of the course. Part of the crew or not the support they give is immense. I ran/danced my way through them, high fiving a few people on the way and generally feeling fantastic.
A few yards up the road my family were waiting for the second time. A quick stop for words of re-assurance this time from me to them that I was actually OK and enjoying myself and I was heading off towards the finish line.
Literally one minute later I bumped into someone I know through Julia’s Fat Burn Revolution. Baz, who was out marshalling the course. We had a big hug and he sent me on my way telling me there really wasn’t far to go now.
And he was right, somehow despite thoughts of not finishing at mile 9 I was now nearly at mile 22 and only 4 and a bit miles from home. I was feeling tired, but still able to run for short spurts and I decided to make the absolute most of those last four miles and enjoy them as much as I could.
I knew that there were another group of Twitter friends waiting at mile 23 and I decided that that was my next focus. Make it to them smiling and I would be down to 3 miles to go. People all around me were flagging badly and I felt grateful to still be able to run, even though it was for shorter and shorter intervals.
I saw Sian, Kiera and Mollie in the distance at mile 23 and it gave me such a lift. I was so glad they were still there. There were hugs and jelly babies and words of encouragement and random burbling from me and then I was on my way again.
The course goes through Blackfriars underpass, some people call it the tunnel of doom. So close to the end, yet still quite a long way and with no support I’ve heard stories of people losing it when entering this long dark part of the course. But not this year. The people at Lucozade had taken over the tunnel and had decorated it with inspiring messages while inspirational music played. I ran and danced through the tunnel to Born to Run and felt on top of the world.
Coming out of the other end I stopped to walk but then heard someone screaming my name from above me. I looked up and around and saw Elle waving at me like crazy. It was totally unexpected and again gave me another lift. I blew her a kiss and set off again with a spring in my step.
At this point of the course you know you’re heading towards Big Ben and the final turn up Birdcage Walk, but it seems so far away because of the bend in the river. For me it’s one of the toughest parts of the course. The crowd were amazing and again I got massive cheers whenever I was able to run for a while. I was aware that I was catching and overtaking quite a few people at this point and while it really wasn’t a moment to be competitive it did give me a lift to know that I still had something left in the tank at a point when most people around me were seriously flagging.
Thoughts of finishing time started to come into my head. My Garmin showed that I’d been running for just under 5hrs and 20 minutes. I had just over a mile and a half to go so decided I’d try and get home in under 5hrs and 40 minutes. Just to give myself a focus rather than because it really mattered.
As I turned the corner at Big Ben and onto Birdcage Walk I was on top of the world. Nearly at the finish line a song from my University days came onto my playlist – James ‘Come Home’. It seemed so appropriate that I stuck it on repeat and danced along to it until I got to the top of Birdcage Walk and saw Buckingham Palace in front of me. Nearly there.
I waited until I’d reached the turn onto The Mall and started my ‘sprint’ finish and crossed the finish line in 5:39:55 according to my Garmin. I was absolutely elated and relieved to be finished.
I found out later that my actual chip time was 5:48:10. I’d forgotten to disable the ‘auto pause’ function on my Garmin which had stopped every time I had along the way!
I’ve got to be honest and say that it’s taken me a while for it all to sink in and to appreciate what I achieved on Sunday. The day was a complete emotional rollercoaster. After finishing the race I started to feel disappointed about what had happened, knowing that I could have finished in a better time if it hadn’t have been for my ankle, my hip and the heat.
But the messages I got from friends and family in person on Facebook and Twitter made me realise that just completing my second marathon was a massive achievement in itself. To go from thinking I might not finish at mile 9 to having a brilliant second half of the race was a remarkable turnaround and it was me that did that. And that’s aside from the 40 minute personal best that I scored! The stats show that in the last 7km I passed nearly 500 people and only 13 people passed me. Finishing a marathon strongly has always been a dream – I think I can safely tick that off the list.
Yep the Virgin Money Marathon 2014 was definitely one to celebrate!