My London Marathon Experience

“You did it, even when it was against everything that makes you feel safe.”

Such wise words from my friend and all-round awesome person Jo, as I struggled post-marathon with feelings of bitter disappointment, embarrassment and regret.

I’ve said for a long time that I’m a 5k girl through and through and that I don’t think marathons are going to be my bag. With that and my bucket list in mind, I wanted to make sure that if I only ever did one, it would be something huge like London and I’d want to enjoy it. Because what’s life without stepping outside your comfort zone?

But there’s stepping outside your comfort zone and there’s running 26.2 miles away from it. It’s probably obvious from the start of this post that my marathon didn’t go to plan. I always knew I was going to have an uphill battle to the start line, going from nothing to marathon in 10 weeks thanks to injury, and having to manage that with some serious anxiety in crowds, exacerbated by 2.5 years of not even having caught a train, let alone been in a group with 40,000 other people plus thousands of spectators. But I had one of my best friends with me to support me to the bitter end, and we were dressed in costume and had raised a load of money for Blood Cancer UK. I thought that I had done everything I could to feel safe in a situation that I was frankly terrified of.

But despite all of this, I still couldn’t have predicted how spectacularly things were going to go wrong on the day.

In the lead up to Sunday, my most pressing concern was my gastro issues. I get so nervous before big running events and that stress and adrenaline always hits me right in the gut and has caused me a lot of problems in training. But apart from that and the 6 weeks missed through injury, I had done all of my long runs without any major issues and had even done just shy of a solid half marathon a few weeks back. My sleep before the marathon wasn’t ideal, with two nights in two different beds, and being woken up consistently the night before the marathon by those in the apartment above us and trucks outside my window. I was awake at 5:30am after less than 6 hours of sleep (but I don’t think anyone sleeps well the night before a marathon). But thankfully on Sunday morning my stomach surprisingly wasn’t that bad, and we made it from our apartment to the start line without any issues at all and I felt really good about it. And the crowds at the start (in our pens etc.) weren’t as bad I thought they’d be. I did get crazy tense in the 30 minutes before we started as my bladder decided that my two pre-race pees were actually just the support act and I was suddenly bursting with no place to go, so it was a speedier than ideal first mile to reach the first portaloos on the course. But after that, we found our pace in the crowds and settled in around the 8:40 per mile mark.

Before things all went a bit wrong

At around mile 5, I suddenly became very aware of the heat, and the cool breeze gave me a weird sensation of being both hot and cold at the same time, almost feverish, and a brief sinking feeling about the whole event came over me before I forced it away. So on we ran, passing the Cutty Sark (me: “where?” Pete: “literally there”) and going over Tower Bridge, hydrating and taking on gels just like we had in training. We saw the super speedy runners who were coming past us in the other direction and kept an eye out for any of our club mates (sadly to no avail), and it was at around mile 15 that I started to get what felt like a stitch, and a tingling feeling under my big toe that felt suspiciously like a blister despite wearing socks that have accompanied me on my long runs with no issues whatsoever. The sun was beating down on us, and that first moment of doubt slipped in.

It never left me.

The first tears came at mile 16 as the pain in my side increased to the point where I couldn’t breathe properly, and nothing was loosening it. I tried different breathing techniques, stretching (usually guaranteed to shift any stitches I get) and changing my cadence, but it had me in a vice-like grip and the more frustrated I got the more tense I was getting and the more I cried the more I couldn’t breathe properly. It was like my mind and body just stopped communicating and rather than simply accepting the fact that I had pulled something (obvious now due to the pain still being there as I type this) and allowing my body to tell me what it could do in that moment, I fought against it, devastated that all I wanted to do was run the last 7 miles, no matter how slowly, when in fact all I could manage was a few hundred metres at a time between regular walking breaks, the only thing that would stop the excruciating pain under my right ribs.

And during all this, I was acutely aware of the fact that it wasn’t just me going through this, but I was derailing Pete’s run as well. He deserved better from me. He did everything he could to calm me down but I had lost the mental battle, and I kept thinking about all those people who had said to me “you’re stronger than you think you are” when I had never felt so weak and pathetic. But another thing Jo has pointed out to me post run (damn her for being so wise) is that my ego was playing a part. I’m used to performing well at running for the most part, but I started thinking about all those people tracking me on the app and witnessing my complete and utter disintegration in real time, discussing what might have gone wrong in my race, not to mention the London crowds seeing me sob as I ran walked through the streets. I felt humiliated.

And speaking of the spectators, I can totally see how people love London for the support they get as they’re running. But for me, I don’t think I have ever felt so overwhelmed in my whole life. The noise was relentless, with whistles, cow bells, air horns, clappers and more, sometimes right in your ear, and there were times when I thought I was going to go mad from it (overly dramatic I know, but I wasn’t in a good place at that point). It turns out I was right to be worried about my anxiety in crowds, but rather than it being from the other runners, it was from the spectators. On the train home Pete and I got chatting to someone who had been volunteering for a charity and she said that some of her runners had also struggled with it and that we shouldn’t underestimate the impact that Covid will have had on our ability to tolerate so many people and so much noise. With hindsight, I wish I had prepared myself better for that, as running with your fingers in your ears and your eyes screwed shut isn’t conducive to a cracking marathon.

Eventually we did finish, but I had failed on my two goals – I hadn’t wanted to stop to walk except for fuelling purposes, and I hadn’t wanted what was likely to be my only marathon to be a negative experience. And the negatives were all I can currently focus on.

I’ve found writing this to be really quite upsetting, but it felt easier to type it out rather than have to keep retelling it in person. I so wanted to be on a runner’s high right now, but instead I feel like all of my weeks of hard work, both running and recovering from my injury, were for nothing and I feel desperately flat. But deep down I know that I put too much pressure on myself to perform well in my first marathon, despite it being an event that goes against everything that makes me feel safe. I know deep down that I’m not a distance girl and that there was a time when it looked like I wasn’t even going to make the start line, let alone finish it. And I know I’m overwhelmed in crowds and generally avoid them like the plague, so in hindsight choosing a big city event for my first and likely only marathon crossed the line from brave to foolish. I’m just not suited to so many people and so much noise, and I don’t think I’d do any big city event again, regardless of distance. And I know that Pete was happy to just be there and earn an amazing medal and that my friends and family are proud no matter what but I feel like I let everyone down. But more than anything else I’m my own worst critic, and I’m so disappointed with the way I fell apart on the streets of London, and I’m not sure how long it’s going to take me to get over that.

But I’m going to try and end this post on some positives, because of course there were some.

  • Getting to experience such a bonkers thing with one of my best mates and realising that he’s a bigger legend than I ever thought possible
  • Raising a load of money for Blood Cancer UK in memory of two incredible people
  • Seeing Eliud Kipchoge and Paula Radcliffe at the Expo
  • Watching kids wanting to high five Pete before spotting his Wolverine claws and freaking out
  • Hearing all the cheers for Wolverine and laughing about how no one had a scoobie who I was meant to be
  • The love and support from friends and family, ESPECIALLY Rach’s flapjack
  • Seeing Pip’s beautiful happy face at the finish and her look of horror and regret when she hugged a very sweaty and emotional me
  • The free burger from Bill’s afterwards
  • The fact that I can do stairs again just 48 hours later
  • The fact that I can always say that I finished the London Marathon
  • The spectacular medal
  • The fact that I never have to do it again

I’m also highly aware of how lucky I am that I’m back home and safe with only bruised and battered emotions, sore ribs and a badly blistered toe after a marathon runner died after collapsing at mile 23 in the London Marathon. My thoughts are with his friends and family.

Oh my giddy aunt I’m running the London Marathon

Well hello there! Remember me? Slightly overdramatic running type with a flair for longer than average blog posts?

What a five months it’s been. Lemme do a quick(ish) recap for you as to how I’ve got to actually looking like I might be running the London Marathon in less than 4 weeks (gulp) and why I’ve once again been MIA from this blog.

  • Enters London Marathon ballot in October 2020.
  • Actually gets a place to run in 2021. Panics slightly.
  • Defers to 2022 thanks to plantar fasciitis. Feels a little relieved.
  • 2022 comes at me full pelt. Suddenly sh*t gets real and I feel like I might actually be running London this year.
  • One of my best friends, Pete, gets a charity place to run so that he can be with me on the day as he knows how much marathons scare me. I both love and hate him for this. I have even more reason to do it now.
  • On very first interval training session for the marathon, something goes very wrong in my calf. I literally can’t run on it.
  • I cry. A lot. I can’t even think about running let alone write about it.
  • After 6 weeks of intense physiotherapy, osteopathy, acupuncture and an unhealthy attachment to my massage gun (don’t come at me if you don’t believe in this stuff. I do.) I’m able to run again, but I have a LOT of ground to cover. Literally. I need to get from 0 to marathon in just 10 weeks.
  • 6 weeks into training I finally accept I’m running London. Feel sick with nerves and excitement practically every hour.
How my face will probably look on marathon day

So there we have it. I’m actually running the London Marathon in less than four weeks and I currently feel like I’m in a cheese dream. I’m scared of marathons. Like properly sweaty palms as I’m typing, stomach-churningly scared. I’m a decent, experienced runner, but there is something about the longer stuff that I have always struggled with mentally. I just don’t believe that my 5k ability is going to translate to marathons and my brain likes to interrupt me at random, regular intervals across the day to scream “ARE YOU MAD? WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE TRYING TO RUN A MARATHON?” before doing a fun little visual montage of chubby younger me coming 2nd to last in the 1500m at school and more recent me sitting down in a grassy field dotted with rabbit poop and bawling my eyes out after a particularly difficult 5k.

(And don’t even get me started on the IBS.)

I feel a bit silly feeling like this. I’m in a running club full of people who run marathons. Some have done loads, some only one. Some get GFA times, some take their time on trail marathons. Some have only been running for a year or two before taking on this monumental challenge. And I am in AWE of every single one of them. Marathon training is really not for wussies, and to all of you who ever done one, I take my hat off to you. It is a HELL of a challenge.

I think ultimately, I’m scared of messing it up in some way. I’m still worried that my leg will give up on me in the next 4 weeks. I’m worried that I’ll get the fuelling wrong on the day. I’m worried I’ll hate the experience and that my only ever marathon will be a negative memory.

I’m worried about letting Pete down.

I’m worried about letting myself down.

But a teeny, tiny part of me is starting to believe that I can do this.

Running buddy Rob

I’m writing this the day after doing my second 20 mile run of my training programme (huge thanks to Charlotte for writing it for me – I just wish I could have followed it to the letter and done it justice) and I’m now entering into tapering whilst trying not to eat everything I can get my greedy mitts on. I have literally done my longest EVER run (20.05 miles to be precise) and I’m about to experience something that many people would love to get the chance to do, and I get to do it one of my best friends, someone who knows exactly what to say and how to distract me when the going gets tough (Quigley Down Under for the win Pete)! Plus I have had the most amazing support from my running buddies, especially those who have joined me on long runs when Pete has had to travel for work. Thanks Justin and Rob – I genuinely could not have done those without you.

This makes me extremely fortunate. And the best part of all? Pete and I are going to have a bloody good laugh, because we’ve decided we’re doing it in costume to raise money for Blood Cancer UK and to celebrate the lives of two people who meant the world to us and who we miss terribly – Pete’s mum Diane and my father-in-law Tommy. Crikey it’s going to be an emotional day in so many ways. Not least because of my decidedly dodgy interpretation of Rogue from X-Men in costume form. And yes, I will be dying my ACTUAL hair.

So whilst normally I would have blogged my way through training, this is a whistle-stop tour of my London Marathon journey so far. It has been far from conventional, but I guess the destination is the thing that really matters. Past me would not have believed I would end up doing this. Not for even a second. But what’s life without challenges that take us out of our comfort zone?

If you’ve ever enjoyed reading this blog, and have even £1 spare, please do think about giving us a donation. I know these are difficult times for us all but they’re even more difficult for those currently undergoing treatment for cancer. If you don’t have a £1 spare, do please just send me your encouraging words. They will mean the world to me.

And did I mention that I will be dying my ACTUAL hair? You can see a photorealistic image of how Peter and I will look on the day below. You’re welcome.