My Review of the London Marathon 2019.

Well, the day started really well. We woke up around 6am to the clanking of barriers outside the hotel, which on arrival the night before we found to be immediately opposite mile 14, making the event all the more real. Looking outside there was a hive of activity, as a water station was being set up, along with a number of charities marking their pitches for the day.

Obligatory coffee whilst attaching number to top, securing timing chip to trainers, showering, then re-taping knee, followed by copious amounts of vaseline, and more vaseline, just to be sure!

Forced down bowl of porridge, decided against two, whilst watching hubbie consume full English.

The Journey There

8am - a short walk to Limehouse DLR station for the short trip to Greenwich in a sardine-like train full of runners with the same goal in mind, finding the first toilet! The train was eerily quiet for one so full. Brief glimpses on the way of parts of the course, the task ahead began to become a reality.

A 10 minute walk with thousands of runners and spectators meant there was no need to worry about my appalling navigational skills – just follow the pink panther and minion in front. Walking up the hill in Greenwich we came to the red start area, where loved ones were left behind. It was here saying goodbye, with echoes of good luck and I’ll see you at mile 3, that tears caught me by surprise! I was on my own amongst thousands of people and rhinos!

Having told myself to get a grip and pull up big girl pants I arrived in the drop off area and found the nearest toilet queue, where I queued and queued for over 30 minutes. With time to spare I sat down and considered the fact that you can never have too much vaseline! Or too many trips to the toilet, so off I went, and queued and queued again.

15 minutes before my assembly time, did I need more vaseline? Yes, best had! Then I found the correct baggage lorry amongst at least 30, all marked with a range of running numbers. I handed in my kit. Did I need my headphones? Yes, no, yes, no, yes I will! Maybe I need to go to the toilet again just to be sure? The queue was enormous but was I brave enough to attempt the ladies urinals and the contraption of the ‘she-wee’ where the queue was much smaller? Going around the corner? No, I decided that was one step too far for today, so I joined the end of what was the longest queue I had been in that day, perhaps ever. Shall I leave it? Do I really need to go? Yes I do, no I don’t, best had. Panic set in that I would miss my assembly time until a marshall said to us at the end of the queue, ‘you do realise if you go around that corner, there are 50 toilets with no queues’! Mass rush down the park like teenage girls getting to the front of a One Direction concert, to walk straight into the marathon’s best kept toilet secret hidden from view by a row of trees.

The Start

Standing in our pens according to our predicted finishing times, with hundreds of different charities being represented, the atmosphere was electric with the anticipation of what was ahead. We watched the men’s elite race start with loud cheers for Mo. I realised that I wouldn’t even be past halfway by the time Mo was back, showered, changed and eating lunch! The buzz of conversation - random strangers wondering what would happen on the course, all with targets and times in mind, but with an overriding theme to have fun. I am not sure that ‘fun’ is quite how I would describe it!

Slowly, we were moving down the road to the start and off we went around 10.35am. The first few miles I settled into a pace comfortable at my target of 10.45-11 minute miles for the first half of the course. Crowds were lined around the whole of the courses. Bells, whistles, tambourines, children offering runners high-fives, two random horses peering over a wall and so many signs! My personal favourites: ’I’ve trained for months to hold up this sign,’ and, ‘The end is far,’ which made me smile at mile 1.

Next was mile 3, where I was due to see Trev. Much searching, then I heard a scream of 'Deb,' and there he was waving excitedly like I was Paula Radcliffe (which I'm clearly not)! A swift wave and smile, and on I went knowing that I would see him again at mile 9 and 11. Mile 3 is where all the starts merge and the course became increasingly congested with lots of running around people. The crowds were getting deeper with the crowd wanting high fives and children holding out sweets in sticky hands. My mind switched to fuelling - must remember gel at 4 and electrolytes at 6.

At 6 miles was Cutty Sark, crowds everywhere. I could see a steel band under a bridge along with bollywood dancers. Running around in the shadow of the ship with a strong smell of takeaways, whilst trying to undo a water bottle, get an electrolyte tablet out of waistband into water bottle and not tripping or spilling was a feat in itself!

I was comfortably running near the 4 hour 45 pacer and my mind moved to mile 9 where the cheer squad would be. My neck was aching at this point and I realised the bone conduction headphones I’d been so indecisive about using were tight around my neck and I hadn't actually used them. I decided at this point that music would irritate me with the background noise, but I could pass them to Trev at mile 9.

Mile 8, more gel. Mile 9 came and went, as I scoured the crowd. Mile 11 went too. I was becoming increasingly irritated by the headphones and the fact the next meeting point was mile 14, so I stuck one side of headphones down my waistband, which felt immediately better on my neck, although running was now accompanied by an irritating bump on my hip. But it was ok as I felt good, pace was on course and I could still see the pacer.

Mile 12 meant more gel, more electrolytes and Tower Bridge. Running over the bridge was a wall of sound, deafening and surreal the sides were packed with supporters. I geared myself up for the sight of the elite runners going the opposite direction on the home leg.

The Middle

Mile 13 I was buoyed by the knowledge I was halfway – 2 hours 22 and bang on course for a 4 hour 45 finish and my friends were waiting for me at mile 14.

Mile 14 spurred on by a quick hug, photo stop, words of encouragement and finally getting rid of headphones. I moved on knowing I had more support at mile 16 and more gel – funny how the whole race became focused on meeting people and times I could have gel and electrolytes! But just after mile 15 I started to feel strange. I had a nagging pain in my side, which wouldn’t seem to ease. By mile 16 I realised it was a stitch and decided to walk whilst I had more gel to try to get rid of it. Big mistake - the second I stopped, the knee that I had been having problems with felt weak and the pain started. The stitch eased slightly, so I started again at a steadier pace. Fortunately the knee started to feel ok, but the stitch came back, so I stopped again and the knee started again. This was to be the course of the next 10 miles.

I managed to spot Trev in the crowd at mile 16 and the welcome, friendly face spurred me on for a while in the knowledge that he would appear again on the opposite side of Canary Wharf. Mile 17 and 18 were tough through the tunnel, trudging through points where so many had dropped gels that my feet were sticking to the roads. It was like being in a dodgy bar with sticky carpets! It was at this point I realised that my watch was clocking up more miles than the mile markers were showing, with all the weaving around people. The 4 hour 45 pacers were moving ahead and I resigned myself at this point to give up on this target and focus on finishing. This was feeling increasingly difficult as my mindset had changed. I plodded on and focused on the next meeting point at mile 19, where it was time for another hug, to raid Trev’s water supply and to admit that it hurt!

Mile 21 was where friends would reappear and was the point where I was close to giving up. Still annoyed with myself for slowing down, I felt I was getting slower (even if I wasn’t), but now also becoming frustrated by the constant chants and cheering. I ran straight past my friend, literally inches from me. As this was pointed out to me by another runner, a spectator commented, ‘that’s what you call focus.’ In my head it was, ‘that’s what you call having had enough and wanting to give up.’ A brief chat and apparently my words were, ‘I don’t want to play this game anymore,’ to be told helpfully, ‘you’ve only got 5 miles to go.’ My response was not polite at this point, but I was sent packing, and onwards I went, focusing on some 5 mile routes I did at home and picturing where I would be in that route.

The End is Nigh

Coming out of Canary Wharf the crowds increased and at times there was only room for two or three runners. I was at the point that I couldn’t face gels, electrolytes or water, so I tried a random piece of Soreen, which didn’t go down well. Around mile 22 a couple of spectators on a central reservation were standing with bottles of Lucozade. I don’t like Lucozade, so had taken none at any of the official aid stations around the course, but for some reason I decided it would be a good idea to befriend spectators and see if I could have one. Well, it was the best drink I had ever tasted! At mile 24 I had another one of the official aid station ones and hung on to it.

I began to look at time and put my goal to under five hours, which was going to be a scrape and focused on running along the embankment looking out for Trev again at miles 23 and 25. My watch by now was ticking the miles off half a mile ahead of the mile markers, which was disheartening, I realised that when my watch eventually told me I had run 26.2, I would still have half a mile to go. I missed Trev at mile 23, but did see him at 25 and he could see how disappointed I was in myself. He chose not to say anything for fear of being on the receiving end of my wrath, so we did a cursory wave and off I went again. The spectators and supporters were amazing, but at this point I didn’t feel amazing and had started to hate my own name. I just wanted some quiet after nearly five hours of constant cheering and noise, I tried to run in the middle of road to distance myself from the continuing chants of ‘Debbie’ and ‘you’re doing so well!’

Big Ben was a blur and past the Houses of Parliament I focused on the 800 and 600 metres to go signs. A brief wave and a nod to Liz, I found some motivation for the finish at that point. All I wanted to see was the 365m to go sign. However, you quickly realise that from this point it feels like forever!

The Finish

Running down The Mall is surreal – focusing on finishing and trying to find that photographer shot, which makes it seem like you did enjoy it, but also the relief and elation that after nearly five hours of running, you have done it! Over the line I went, thumbs up to the photographer clutching that bottle of Lucozade like my life depended on it. Incoherently mumbling to the lady with the medals, who knows what I said to her? Then the stopping and walking - I use the term “walking” loosely, to collect t-shirt and goodie bag. I was looking forward to the goodie bag - after that far, it would be good and I was starving! So I looked inside to find an apple, a bag of Lentil crisps, a beetroot and apple bar and a bottle of Lucozade! Hold on - where is the Mars Bar, if not a doner kebab and chips? What do I do with an apple and a fruit bar? I’ve just run nearly 27 miles!

I collected my bag and walked to find the others at our pre-arranged meeting point, I dutifully followed the signs and got lost. I ended up by Admiralty Arch, decided I was moving no further and rang the others to come and find me. Rescue me they did, armed with a hot cheese and onion pasty, Reece’s peanut butter chocolate, maltesers and bottles of full fat coke. Probably not the fuel of the champion athletes, but definitely my kind of fuel at that point! Do you know what? I tried that goodie bag bottle of Lucozade later and I didn’t like it!

In reality, I didn’t fare too badly. Only one blister and a swollen and twingy knee, but no chafing (vaseline paid off). I have some finishing photos I’m happy with which make it look like a lovely time was had, but some pretty awful photos, which show a very different story in the middle!

Would I do it again? The jury is out.

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