London Marathon, how many miles?

The cruellest people on Sunday, the 25th of April, weren’t the old people with their arms out like pterodactyls, they weren’t the drunks offering support by getting lairy with crying runners, they weren’t the ones dropping their mostly full water bottles in the middle of the road or the ones walking with their friends side by side and blocking off most part of the course. No, none of them were the cruellest. The ones I’m talking about were the spectators handing out aniseed flavoured jelly beans. Joyful, gleeful laughter characterised these people as they stood with their outstretched arms offering black malignant little morsels of candy. I gave them evil glares and waited for the next person with the tasty Haribo or Jelly Belly treats. This was the first time I’d taken up the offer of sweets from the sidelines and I found it a fun little distraction to look out for the next bowl or outstretched hand. I was also overcome with a craving to consume as much as possible. A woman was eating a sandwich and I briefly considered how that would taste along the way. I didn’t reach for it though.

Random thoughts throughout the 05:10:11: I never want to see another woman’s bottom in lycra, ever. No more orange Lucozade (I left my last half-full bottle on the train). The Marathon goody bag was the best one yet. Could not believe people were drinking beer at 10 o’clock in the morning – all those supporters gathered around in happy socialness.

Most confused by people who would spot their friends, boyfriends, girlfriends by the side of the road and go up to them for a chat. Really? You have time for a quick chat? I found the surprise and discomfort on the spectators faces quite apt, they were there to support and wave but what do you say to someone who has rushed over? Quick conversations such as you’re doing great keep going. One woman rushed over to chat and hug her friends not 200 metres from the finishing line. We’d rounded the corner, the end was visible, I was counting down the metres and she veered off course with an enthusiastic yelp and rushed over. Insane.

There was a woman behind me at the toilets having a full on conversation on her phone. Is Aisha alright? is she not feeling well? put her on. Aisha? Aisha? hello? Aisha? I can’t hear her. I couldn’t hear her. If she’s not feeling well let her stay at home. Fair enough.

A couple of times I wondered whether I should have my name on my top. For the first half of the race it would have motivated me. For the second half, it would have distracted me from my little chanting mantra and brought me back to the pain-filled reality (over-dramatic cliche but a little melodrama about a 42km run never hurt anyone right?). I ran close to people with Jo written on their t-shirts twice and waited for the crowd’s support. It never happened and I went on and I ran by.

Dismay at realising that it wasn’t 42km and my last few metres had to be extended. The Garmin says 42.9km.

I ran my longest run three weeks before the marathon and on that day I was incredibly bouncy – so much energy that my thoughts would race ahead and I could ‘feel’ myself bouncing off walls and posts and everything in front of me like one of those Parkour people. At the end of 29km I could have kept going. At 25km on the day of the race I decided that I couldn’t.

As a strategy, because I knew I wouldn’t be stopping, I started counting down as opposed to counting up (1, 2, 3, 21, 22km…) until that point. I started at 17km went to 16km, 15km, then to 12km. 17km was a comfortable long run back home around the harbour and then up the Ashton-Pil path. I had run 10 miles the previous weekend and I had been disappointed that I probably wouldn’t even finish a lucozade bottle at such a distance. I did finish it but had not needed any energy gels. I knew I could run 10 miles. After those 10 miles it would be the last 10km and I could run that distance even feeling unwell. So getting to that point gave me an extra boost of energy. Once I got to 10km I started counting down to 100m and just repeating it over and over. 9.6, 9.6, … 7.5, 7.5, 7.4, 7.4, over and over.

My left knee gave me the most pain and I stopped three times to stretch out my legs.

I saw people (women primarily) with eight or nine energy gel packs attached to belts around their waists or to arm bands. One woman consumed one at 4km. I had two with me and I used one of those, and one Lucozade one, when I felt myself getting a stitch at around 32km and 35km. I drank a lucozade at the runner’s village when my attempt to buy some bottled water that morning had failed. It cost 99p and I only had 85p on me. Lucky it did really because I needed 30p of that money to use the bathroom at Paddington.

I picked up a bottle of water at the first table and then picked up a lucozade bottle at every opportunity after that. I had either one or the other (or both) in hand the whole way through. I had some worries about hitting the wall and felt pretty relieved once I passed 20 miles. With 2.7km left of the race I threw my lucozade bottle to the side and I felt pretty freaked out doing it. What if I needed it? what if I suddenly ran out of energy? well I had one last gel pack in the back of my running kit so I thought I would risk it. By the way, I now have a bruise where the two gel packs kept rubbing against me.

My left knee hurt from around 8km and I guess my right knee joined in at some point but it was never bad enough that a stretch couldn’t ease it up a bit. I was used to the knees but at some point and it really was all of a sudden, my right hamstring jerked into painful awareness. I stumbled, I hobbled, I felt a twinge and then I kept running. Twice before I’d had some sort of surprising issue like this. After the Bristol half-marathon last year, my right hamstring was the one thing that kept me from running for about three weeks. It hadn’t been a problem before and it faded soon after that. Two weeks ago I was running by the harbour and had to quickly side-step when passing a car park exit. The next step down was a hobbled one and I had to stop. Now, during the marathon it was only a twinge more than pain but enough to alter my running. I slowed down a bit, I limped a bit, I did my best to ease the pain a bit, and then I just kept going. It faded in and out of awareness and I lost track of it with my new pace of around 7:20/km.

The streets were crowded, at times I had to walk because I couldn’t run past. My vivid memories are of KFC ‘restaurants’ and the smell of BBQs.

When I approached the finish line I managed to speed up and crossed the ‘line’ (the foam mats) with a big smile. I got my tag cut off in a narrow little walk way and the woman in front of me, for some reason that nearly got her violently pushed over by moi, had to take out her shoe laces to get it off. We’ll cut it off said the woman collecting the tags, you can get new laces later.No, no, I’ll just undo this. I went back and walked through the next little walkway. The medal was placed on me just after the tag point and I didn’t take it off until I got to Bath. I took off my race number just past Reading and kept it on my lap from then on.

Today I ache but I’m happy with the pain as long as I heal well enough for the Bristol 10k on the 9th of May. I still don’t quite believe that I did it but the medal and the pain helps to remind me. A great adventure.

4 responses to “London Marathon, how many miles?”

  1. Brutally honest account Jo, almost sounds like you were disappointed by the whole experience, the New Years Eve of races?? I do the whole counting down and imagining a local run of the distance required to go too, definitely helps! Hope your knees feel better soon. X

    1. Interesting point Paul, didn’t realise it came across as disappointed. I was pretty bemused by a lot of it – but then putting thousands of people together for hours at a time is a promising way of creating some type of conflict. It was more a social event than a race but that’s probably because of my speed. Have your experiences been similar in any way? Thank you! My knees are feeling better already 🙂 xx

  2. Paul Pritchard Avatar
    Paul Pritchard

    I’ve never been in a mass start with more than 1300 people and certainly have never run in front of such crowds, my running is more off road biased as you know so I can’t compare my experiece with yours. I would really like to do a big city marathon soon though to see for myself what it’s like. Your knees must be better if you were prepared to traipse all over Bristol to find a lunch you liked today:)!! Xx

  3. […] ran the London marathon in 2010 and wore my medal nearly all the way home – over two hours. (Also, saw Alphabeat at […]

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