Monday, 23 April 2012

I ran the London Marathon 2012 and I loved it

As I sit at my computer the morning after the marathon before I can't think of a part of my body that doesn't ache. My quads are screaming, my calves feel like rock, my back aches, even my eyes are sore. But I have nothing but wonderful memories of my first marathon.

After weeks of rather lazy training and days of stuffing myself with increasingly unwanted carbs I lined up at the start in Greenwich Park with some trepidation. All around me were a scary number of types I would describe as serious runners. The ones huddled in bin bags in their tiny shorts and running club vests, eschewing the newbie comforts of iPods, glugging down noxious looking energy drinks while sneering at us first timers clutching our free Lucozade and fiddling nervously with our headphones. 

Of course there was a smattering of the genuinely insane dressed as Wombles or pulling a sled, plus a very well built pair in tight fitting Tin Man and Lion costumes. The view was impressive as I trotted along behind them, before they accelerated out of sight flanking their very own Dorothy. 

It takes an age to actually get to the start line but once it was crossed we were off and running immediately. I had the mantra drummed into me by everyone who had ever run the London before running through my head: 'Don't start off too quickly'. I kept glancing at my Garmin to make sure I wasn't exceeding a stately pace of over 10 minutes per mile. It felt so slow as I saw Superman fly past me, but I wasn't going to be forced into making that rookie mistake by some over confident super hero. 

The atmosphere was amazing at the start where, despite the relatively early hour for a Sunday, the streets were lined with people cheering us on. Children held out their hands for a high five from the runners while it was disconcerting to hear strangers call out my name in encouragement. I kept thinking friends must be in the crowds, but with your name printed on your vest everyone calls it out to keep you going. 

I wish I could remember more detail of the race itself, but like all these incredible occasions it's all a bit of a blur in hindsight, but a few highlights stick with me. I loved running past the pubs where wafts of beer fumes and barbecue smoke billowed out, reminding me of more fun activities I could be indulging in on a sunny Sunday. The bands that played along the route were really uplifting. As they drowned out the music on my iPod I felt an instant boost. Even the ear splitting drums playing in the underpass just beyond Canary Wharf. 

Rounding the Cutty Sark at around the five mile mark was special. The elegant clipper sporting her brand new contemporary glass bustle was the first monument that reminded me what a great setting I had chosen for my first marathon. 

Next up was Tower Bridge, which seemed to loom out of nowhere. I knew it was around the 12 mile mark, but we had passed under the red and white balloon arch that celebrated that milestone what seemed like ages ago. Even though I am a Londoner I don't know this part of the city well and we seemed to be running through endless rather dingy backstreets without a glimpse of the river over which the bridge arches. 

But then we rounded a corner and there it was. Running under the majestic arches of the bridge, seeing the glittering ribbon of the Thames flowing beneath our feet, was an amazing feeling. I had been looking forward to scaling this iconic part of the race ever since I entered and the real thing bested my expectations. 

Then we ran along the part of the course where two very difference races converge. As we mid fielders plodded our way to mile 14, we had a great view of the real marathon runners struggling through mile 22. They were stringy with hard core training, drenched in sweat and the agony of sprinting the distance we were all jogging was writ large on their faces. 

I felt for the poor wretch who was walking dejectedly in his sweat soaked vest and shorts as his peers streaked past him at top speed. In the middle of the pack people were walking almost from the off, but amongst us charity runners there is no real shame in slowing your pace, but for him you could see just what it had cost him to pull up and effectively pull out of the race. 

As the mile markers inched higher I began to feel the strain, but I knew my family was waiting to cheer me on at mile 19 in the Help the Hospices stand at Canary Wharf. I wouldn't let my boys see me walking so despite an incipient stitch and legs that were beginning to think this wasn't such a great idea after all I soldiered on. 

When I saw my husband and my two eldest sons standing at the barriers it lifted my spirits unimaginably. I am sure I wouldn't have made it round without their support. I ran over for a quick kiss and a cuddle and my oldest son whispered in my ear 'I am so proud of you mummy'. I ran away with tears in my eyes but a renewed determination to run every step of the marathon. 

After all by this point I only had seven miles to go. A mere jog in the park if taken on its own. The energy given to me by my family pulled me through till around mile 22. Now I was deep into unknown territory as I had only managed to reach 20 miles on my longest training run. I felt OK, but as more and more runners started to walk it was becoming increasingly hard to run. I was so tired that dodging around the many walkers was hard work. 

By the time I reached the Embankment, the place I had thought would be the most inspiring, my eyes were stuck to the road. I didn't care about the gleaming capsules of the London Eye, or the Gothic magnificence of Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament. It was enough to just keep running. As the final miles ticked down, each mile marker seemed further from the next. 

The crowds at this stage were amazing. Screaming themselves raw to encourage us to just keep going. They thrust everything from glasses of Champagne to chocolate biscuits at the runners, though I couldn't eat a thing by this point. The yells of 'It's only another two miles' did help, though by this point two miles seemed like an eternity. 

Again I knew my boys would be at the end and I didn't want them to see mummy walking. I ran on and on as so many around me slowed to a walk. By the final mile along Birdcage Walk I knew I could make it. I could run this marathon down. I was quite literally swearing at the race by the end, at least inside my head. 

I scanned the crowds lining St James' Park as I knew this was where the boys would be waiting and then I saw them. My family, my fans, screaming 'Go on mummy' and waving at me. It was incredible - I had almost done it. I rounded the corner into the Mall and put my foot down. I sprinted across the finish line and burst into tears. 

I had DONE IT! Me, a 40-year-old mum of four who just 16 months ago was so morbidly obese I couldn't run to the end of the road, had run the London Marathon in 4hrs 33minutes and 38seconds. I have never felt more proud of myself. I had run every step and loved almost every minute of the gruelling race. 

As I was processed through the finish by the London Marathon machine tears were running down my face. As they hung the medal around my neck I was just so happy. My legs were aching, I felt horribly sick from all the energy gels and drinks I had chugged down on my way round, but I was beaming. 

When I finally reached my husband and my oldest son I could see how proud they were of me and I just felt brilliant. Despite having run 26.2 miles I was filled with a euphoric energy that is still buzzing through me today. The whole race was aptly bathed in sunlight for me, but then the heavens opened and we hobbled as fast as I could to get back to the car and back home to a bath and some well deserved Champagne. 

I suppose I could have summarised this post in three words - IT WAS AMAZING. 

Monday, 16 April 2012

Less than a week to go

Yesterday we went out for a drive to explore some of the route of the London Marathon and scout out the best spots where my loyal team of spectators can spot me on my way round. I was fizzing with excitement at the bright yellow plastic signs stuck on lamp posts announcing the road closures for the marathon. It hit me that this is finally happening.

This revelation has given me mixed feelings. On one hand I cannot wait for the big day, but on the other I am terrified. As we drove on and on I realised what a big task I have set myself. As we turned the corner at what will be mile 20 - the furthest distance I have ever run - I noticed with a jolt that there was a slight incline that went on and on. It is no steep hill, but I could tell that after 20 miles on my feet I will not welcome this increase in gradient.

I was once told that 20 miles can seem like halfway in a marathon, not a cheering thought. That said from that moment onwards there are so many treats in store that I am hoping they will keep me motivated to power through the home stretch.

There is a glimpse of HMS Belfast through a gap in the buildings, there is the Embankment snaking next to the glinting ribbon of the River Thames, there are the space age silver capsules of the London Eye, the gothic splendour of the Houses of Parliament. I am hoping the majesty of London will keep me going until I sweep around in front of Buckingham Palace to the finish line on The Mall.

For all that I know the marathon will be tough, I couldn't have asked for a better city to run it in. It always amazes me how inspiring a bit of pretty scenery can be on a hard slog of a run. The first half marathon distance I did was enlivened immeasurably by a gorgeous view across the city from Primrose Hill, while a recent tough hill run along the coast path in Devon was lifted to another level by the immense views across golden sandy beaches and glittering blue seascapes.

This week is one of rest and carb loading. It sounds like heaven after all the weeks of training, but actually I am finding short runs and eating lots rather dispiriting. I have put on masses of weight and, while I am trying hard to be sensible about this, I am hating seeing a higher number every time I step onto the scales. In fact I can't wait to finish my marathon and get back into training proper for my next half marathon in June - clearly I am a glutton for punishment.