I must admit, I wasn’t the best prepared I’d ever been for the London Marathon. Injured for the second half of last year, and only starting proper running again in January, I was a long way off being fully fit. Then, a couple of weeks before London, I developed a horrible cold. I didn’t run for ten days before the marathon, and even considered deferring. But as it turned out, I don’t think anything short of a Kenyan training camp could have prepared us all for the conditions on the day anyway!
I travelled down from York on Saturday and went straight to the expo to sign on; a feat of endurance almost as challenging as the marathon itself! It’s a long, energy-sapping walk in a mass of people from the station to the bib pick-up and back. I didn’t spend much time looking around the stands as I didn’t want to be on my feet for ages. The weather was really warm, and with the forecast for Sunday the same I focussed on keeping well hydrated all day, drinking lots of water and High 5 Zero, as well as adding some salt to my food. After a pasta dinner in a restaurant near my hotel I got an earlyish night and actually managed to sleep quite well.
When I ran London last year I stayed in a hotel near Cannon Street railway station, jumped straight onto a train at 8 am and was at Maze Hill in no time. This year I was near Kings Cross, so the journey took longer. I had to take a tube from there to London Bridge, then transfer to a train. This took ages! There was a massive crush of people at London Bridge, with trains only about every 15 minutes. In the end I didn’t get to the Green start area until about 9.30. If I ever run London again I’ll definitely revert to the Cannon Street option! Luckily I didn’t have a bag to drop, so got straight into the toilet queue. It took me about 20 minutes to get to the front, by which time people were mostly in the starting pens. I had no time for a proper warm-up; I tried to do a few exercises in the queue, but it wasn’t ideal.
The Queen set us off bang on time at 10. The Green start is much smaller than the Red or Blue, so you’re over the line in just a few minutes. The weather was already warm, with the full sun blazing down and not a cloud in the sky. I was sweating in no time! I knew it wasn’t going to be a day for a PB, and was fine with that, but set off at my usual nine minute mile pace just to see how it felt. After the first 5K it became clear that wasn’t going to be sustainable in the heat, so I backed off a bit, figuring I’d be happy with anything under 4:30 on a day like this.
I’d never run a marathon in hot weather before, and found it hard to put a finger on exactly how or why running seemed much harder in the heat. Nothing really hurt, everything just felt like a massive effort. I was drinking and pouring water over my head at every water station, but the cooling effect didn’t seem to last long. As I took my first gel at an hour in, I realised I’d lost one somehow, so had to reassess my nutrition plan – not the biggest deal as it turned out, as my whole race plan went belly up anyway! I’m sure it felt the same for everyone; we’d all trained for months in the freezing cold and were then presented with what turned out to be the hottest London Marathon day ever! The air temperature rose to 24 degrees, but the crowds and the heat rising off the Tarmac made it seem like more.
I went through my roughest patch just before halfway. If there had been a car for me to stop and climb into I would have been really tempted! At ten miles I saw a man lying on a stretcher at the side of the road and realised pace didn’t matter any more because I didn’t want to end up like that; it was just a question of getting to the end and trying to enjoy it. The one benefit of the good weather was that it brought out loads of spectators. I was amazed by the numbers last year, but this year was just insane – there were huge crowds and a total wall of noise pretty much all the way round the course. This really does give you a boost, especially the points with bands or music, like the amazing Run Dem Crew and Run Mummy Run areas, as well as the many lovely local people giving out sweets, fruit and even ice pops. The downside to the chaos was that I had absolutely no chance of spotting Steve at Canary Wharf!
As the miles progressed, just putting one foot in front of another and keeping going turned into a massive challenge. I was literally jogging between water stations, then walking through them, then trying to get going again. I did enjoy it in a way, but was also very glad when it was over! As I turned into the Mall I could see Kathrine Switzer being interviewed on the big screen and suddenly wondered whether she was at the finish line. To my amazement, she was! I couldn’t believe it when I came face-to-face with one of my idols. Kathrine looked immaculate, and not at all as if she’d just run 26 miles in blazing heat. Exhausted as I was, I certainly wasn’t going to miss the chance to speak to a living running legend. I approached Kathrine when her interview was finished. All I could think of to say in my heat-fuddled state was “Thank you for making this possible for all women”. Kathrine was so lovely, it totally made my day. Unfortunately I didn’t have my phone with me, so there’s no celebrity selfie! I actually felt quite emotional at the time – I think partly because I was overawed to meet Kathrine, and partly sheer relief that I’d finished running!
Initially I was really disappointed with my time. I’d normally expect to take about four hours to complete a marathon, but eventually finished in 4:46. However, when I caught up with friends who’d also taken part, I realised that everyone had performed way below their best. Having trained for months in the freezing cold, we just weren’t prepared for what turned out to be the hottest London Marathon ever. Obviously the sad death of Matt Campbell has since overshadowed pretty much anything else to do with the day. When I thought about it later on, I came to the conclusion that everyone who’d managed to keep going and just finish will have become mentally stronger because of it; something we can all take into future events.
Did you run London last week? If so, how was it for you? I’d love to know.