The Journey to London – a first marathon.
Race Report by Alison Lowe
On Sunday 7th October I ran the Rugby 10 mile in a PB time and decided that would be my preferred long run distance from now on – not even halves The next day my ‘You’re in’ magazine dropped on the doormat – I had a ballot place in the London Marathon! So that meant a slight rethink – especially as I had not really thought about doing a marathon before. I was immediately offered loads of advice and support from other Massey’s who had run the race and started to feel slightly less daunted by the whole thing!
I knew I didn’t need to start training until January but booked a couple more 10 mile races for the period up to Christmas to keep the miles up. Having found a training plan I then spent a few weeks looking for races for my long runs in the spring (with the help of Cathy K, the race guru) and booked up a load – including a few with a Black Friday discount. That was time well spent as by the New Year the plan was sorted and I was all good to go – however the first week I hit a slight glitch having to rest up with a sore Achilles after having made my first ever trip to a sport physio. After then everything went according to plan – even the weather was accommodating and I felt very lucky to not have had any illness or family crisis to get in the way. By the time I was tapering I thought 5 hours should be a realistic target.
Not only was there training to do but for some reason I found I had loads of other things I needed to plan. I’d never really taken gels before so had to test those out to see if I could get on with them, I had to see what belt I would want to carry them in – and then there was the outfit! I can’t remember having spent so much time planning anything in so much detail – especially as running is such a simple sport regarding equipment.
Race day then came round quickly. We were staying in Kingston in Surrey only a short walk from the station – meaning a relatively easy journey to Black Heath via Waterloo. Even though it was 7am the party had already started on the train. Very rarely do people speak to strangers on London trains but most of the passengers were runners. After 2 pacers got on another runner came over and asked if either of them were the sub 2 hour pacers ! The banter eased the nervous tension felt by everyone. At Blackheath I followed the flow of runners towards the Blue Start – and one of the first people I saw was Rachael Allen from Sphinx. As she said her goodbyes to her husband I wandered over to the entrance only to bump into former Massey ,Vir ! Having got through the ‘check in’ area into the runners only area I then immediately saw Claire and her sister whilst Vir had to go off to the special area for Championship runners. Following our first loo visit we bumped into Anne-Marie from Badgers who joined our ‘picnic’ and soon after we were joined by Darren and Nicky and finally Dave in all his pacing gear. The it was time to put our bags on the lorries (after checking for the 100th time I had everything with me), then join yet another toilet queue. We watched the start of the main race then headed for our own zones – Claire and I were both in Zone 7 and we slowly made our way round towards the start . We started chatting to some other runners and we shuffled round – then all of a sudden the start was ahead and we were good to go – I think I shouted at Claire ‘ We’re about to run the London marathon’ – and we were off !
From the start there was noise! I had remembered I must not get carried away and go off too fast but we were at quite a steady pace – I had aimed to stay with the 4.45 pacer but they had got off ahead of us so I just kept them in my sights. The first surprise were the speed humps which went on for about a mile – each with 2 marshals yelling ‘hump’ ! After about 5km we arrived in Woolwich which is where the red start merge in – I was worried how busy it would get but was pleasantly surprised how the 2 groups of runners merged together on the wider road. Next highlight was Cutty Sark where I waved (no doubt fruitlessly) at a TV camera and the crowds were out in force and very loud. Lisa K had messaged me the night before describing the course in sections and I remembered from here it was on to Tower Bridge – trying to ignore that it was another 6 miles away. The course support continued to be amazing – pubs playing music, musicians and singers road side and jelly babies and ice pops on offer everywhere – the locals clearly love the race which makes up for the fact that these parts of London are not really that scenic.
This year they had changed the water station policy and placed them every 2 miles rather than every mile – their logic being it was easier to keep them well stocked and stopped people drinking too often. I seemed to take something from every station and it felt as if they were appearing very frequently so I was worried I might be drinking too much but as I was thirsty I thought I’d gauge it on whether I needed to toilet again – which luckily I didn’t! The rest of my ‘fuelling’ seemed to go ok and I remembered to take my gels as planned.
Just after 12 miles we turned onto Tower Bridge – which appears from nowhere as its not visible until you turn right onto the road over it. Its such an impressive structure and the support there (as expected ) was amazing. It seemed to be mainly charity cheer stations – I was expecting to see TV crews interviewing but saw none but the noise was still incredible. At the end of the bridge we turned right and headed back towards Canary Wharf. I knew this would be the hard bit as there is less support in this section and at first you see the earlier runners on the other side of the road heading towards the finish! I did think Sam, Jenna and Jo would be supporting from around now so started to pay more attention to the crowd. We passed over the half way mark at 13.1 miles and I was pleased with my time of 2.20 knowing I should still be ok for sub 5 as long as I kept going ok. However my legs were already feeling a bit heavy.
The miles continued on – I never did see Sam but I did see Elaine R where I grabbed an orange and then Maggie for a welcome haribo. The Kingston’s also gave me a shout out around mile 14. With the tall buildings and twists and turns the GPS goes haywire at this point so my watch started giving me funny split times which I had been expecting but it was still a bit odd to not be able to trust my watch any more for pace. From Mile 16 I just started counting down from 10 miles – I had run at least that distance every Sunday since Christmas so I knew I could do it now.
The outfits and costumes in the marathon are the most colourful you’d see in any race – for once my jazzy leggings seemed quite tame. I managed to see at least 4 rhinos, Big Ben (the one who got stuck at the finish), and the Thunderbirds ( who had been on the One Show the week before). I was on the look out for celebrities and managed to run past a couple of Eastenders actors running for Dementia Revolution.
At 35km as we ran past the end of Tower bridge again I saw the 7.30 pacers on the other side and did see the clean up people immediately behind them as has now been widely reported in the press.
Finally it was on the home straight and along the embankment and I knew if I could just keep going I should be able to sub 5 – although my legs were pretty sore by this point so I would take short walk breaks to ease them. I saw a lot of people who had stopped to stretch and now wonder if I should have done this too. I only saw the new Lucozade sport oohos very late on – these were the trial ‘balls’ using and edible outer so you could eat the whole thing but I could not face any more glucose when I saw them.
Having given up hope of seeing the family or the Massey cheer gang, just before mile 25 I could hear my name shouted and saw my husband and younger son as well as Sam, Jenna and Jo cheering me on. I couldn’t stop at that point as I knew I just had to keep going but it spurred me on to the end. I knew I had 3 right turns to go to the finish and the markers became more frequent – 1km to go then finally the 385 yards. Turning the last corner I forgot to look up at Buckingham Palace as I was just focussed on the line – trying to think what the best finish line pose would be and reminding myself I was about to complete the London Marathon! I went for arms in the air as instructed by Kelvin and was so relieved to go over the final timing mat to clock a finishing time of 4 hours 55 minutes and 21 seconds !
The finish was well organised so you could stagger down and deal with one thing at a time – so nice to have the medal placed over my head – but it felt so heavy! The baggage people then applauded us as we walked past them which was such a nice touch given they had had such a long day too. Goody bag collected too I posed with my medal for a photo – then came out of the finish section to work out where to meet the family. I was heading for the Asthma UK reception at the Institute of Directors – luckily they had guides to point the way and had already apologised for the flight of steps to get to Pall Mall where is was located!
Having met up with family I grabbed some food which the family ate as I couldn’t face it but managed a cup of coffee and also took advantage of the free massages on offer.
As the Underground was still so crowded we walked – or in my case shuffled – back to Waterloo station. Trafalgar Square was heaving still and there was a great party atmosphere. I did spot how a runner had obviously left the snacks from their goody bag outside the tents of homeless people. As we approached Waterloo Bridge we went over the Embankment and I was amazed how much support was still on the course for all the runners who were still coming through.
The whole event seems to turn London into an amazingly friendly carnival for the day – highlighted when at Waterloo a total stranger who had spotted my medal ( and no doubt my unusual walking style!) said well done to me as we went to board my train.
So the marathon event was awesome – but so was the journey to get there. I enjoyed my training and all the other events I did as training runs (Ashby, Banbury 15, Naseby 1645). The support and advice from the Massey family was also very much appreciated.