It was something that had been on my bucket list for YEARS. But on Sunday 3rd October 2021 - I finally ran the 26.2 miles and completed the London Marathon. It was a long time coming. I applied for a ballot place back in April 2019 as I wanted to run the marathon for my 30th birthday. I found out in October that year that I'd unfortunately been unsuccessful and I was desperate to run it for 2020. I have worked with a lovely local charity called The Rossendale Trust for several years, and when my partner and I went to support their annual fashion show a few days later, they told me that they had some charity places available and would I like one? It was a definite yes!
First starting in London in March 1981, the London Marathon was also going to be celebrating its 40th Race too, so a very special year. Growing up, I always remember watching clips of the marathon on the TV, and thought that I'd like to do that someday. It always looked like such a monumental and incredible thing to take part in but I never seriously pursued it until last year, I remember talking about maybe doing it for my 30th a few years before, reading something somewhere that the peak age for a woman to complete a marathon is 30 (don't quote me on the accurateness of that!)...so this was it!
Training - Take 1
So, in January 2020, training began. I'm not going to lie - I didn't enjoy getting up at 6am, in the freezing cold, pitch black icy streets. I was quickly realising the sacrifice that comes with marathon training! But still, I got out there, stuck to my training plan and was completing 10Ks before going to work. I went on holiday (a last-minute cruise after my trip to visit my sister in China was cancelled) and remember running the running track on the ship every morning whilst watching the sunrise in the Caribbean (that WAS worth it) and kept my training going. Even when things started to look a little uncertain due to the pandemic, I continued with my runs. When the news broke that the Marathon was going to be cancelled, I did cry. A lot. I'd already put so much energy and effort into my training, had already organised and delivered some fundraising events and was starting to get excited. I was really disappointed, as so many were.
Like many people, my fitness and mental health took a bit of a battering in lockdown, and I really struggled to find the motivation to continue running. When the virtual race in October was announced, I still didn't want to do that, as I wanted to run in actual London with the crowds and the landmarks, so knew it was potentially going to be at least another year before I was able to complete it. However, the idea of training during the summer months was very inviting to me, and certainly provided that silver lining.
Training - Take 2
Luckily, my passion for running returned and my fitness got back on track - in January we decided to try and complete the Strava monthly 100KM challenge and Half Marathon challenge each month, I am proud to say that I have done this every single month (so far, only 3 months to go..!) and my fitness was building perfectly ready for training to begin.
Fast forward to June 2021 and the training resumed. This time I really nailed it. I followed my plan so rigorously and also started doing yoga and pilates classes twice a week to help keep injuries at bay. Yes, I had a lot of barriers that I encountered, some of them could have stopped me altogether, but I didn't let them get in the way. I was so determined to do this and wanted to make sure that I did it properly, giving the best effort as I could. Some days were really hard, I went out and five minutes later wanted to turn around and go home again - but I couldn't do that on race day, so part of my training was also resisting that feeling of wanting to quit and give up when it felt hard.
My most difficult training run by far was my 20 mile run, about 4 weeks before the actual Marathon. I ran on a great track, away from roads and cars and easy to go out and back - the first half I felt amazing, almost flying down the path and saying hello to everyone I ran past, but turning round and running back (which I thought would be easier as it was downhill) actually turned out to be harder. It was at this point I tried out some of my hydration and nutrition, I'd got a bottle of water that I'd been carrying the whole time, but it was hard to hold, giving me cramp in my arm and also leaked around the lid, so I had a constant wet hand too. I also tried taking some salt sticks, as 'tasty' as they were and kept my salt levels up, they do make you incredibly thirsty (who would have guessed it!) and I'd run out of water from my little bottle that I'd brought with me. I made it home but then downed about 2 pints of water...so remember to have water available if you're taking on extra salts!
Preparing for Race Day
It finally arrived, with several anxieties that we might go back into lockdown again, I knew it was happening when my kitbag arrived in the post about a week before. I packed some spare clothes (I've heard the marathon running horror stories - luckily the spare pants weren't needed!) and some electrolytes and a nakd bar (my favourite snack ever) ready to collect post-race. I travelled down to London on the train with my Dad and partner, and we got an Uber straight over to ExCel for the running show and so I could collect my bib and officially accept my place - exciting!
The running show was amazing - and if you're a runner, you feel a little bit like a kid in a candy shop. On arrival there was a giant treadmill going at the speed of some of the marathon world record holders - could you run for 400m at their pace? I am pretty competitive and was tempted, but still worried about an injury so close to the day so didn't give it a go. My partner, Lee - also a keen runner hopped on and ran his 400m, so he got to run at some point this weekend! There were then so much merch to shop from, t-shirts, running shoes, running belts, bottles, teddy bears. I didn't get anything, apart from some really cool barefoot running shoes (something I'm mega interested in - watch this space for the next blog about that!) which is going to be my next running challenge.
There were also loads of stalls with the history of the marathon, a collection of all of the race medals from over the years and lots of charity stalls giving away freebies and photo opportunities. After getting everything we needed, we headed back into the city and of course, managed to squeeze in a West End show (we saw Wicked...for the third time!).
Saturday night consisted of meeting up with the other Rossendale Runners for some carb loading at Zizzi's. It was great to meet everyone and find out that all of my worries and nerves were totally normal and that others were feeling the same way too. It was a lovely way to round of the training and preparation experience and give me that final boost before the morning. We got back to the hotel and ate more - mostly bread rolls and crisps and then I was in bed for 10.30.
I set my alarm for 7am and had my breakfast prepared - overnight oats with raisins, cinnamon and flaxseed and Huel. The butterflies were well and truly fluttering by this point. I didn't need to arrive at Blackheath park until 8.45, so left at 8am, not a great start as my nerves must've got the better of me and I got on the wrong train! But luckily navigated to the correct one (did you know that all marathon runners also get free travel on race day?) and by the time I arrived at London Bridge station, knew that I was in the right place, as the station was flooded with marathon runners.
My race start time wasn't until 10.05am, so I had lots of time to prepare and warm up when I arrived. I had no idea where I was going but the crowd of runners was so huge, I just followed them towards the field where crowds of thousands were buzzing, with two huge hot air balloons ready to set off too. As I waited in my wave pen, I got chatting to two minions - (I don't know how you run in a huge costume like that!) and talked a few pre-race rituals. They had both run before and gave me some great tips. Before I knew it, it was time and we were moved towards the start line. The excitement in the air was just electric and one of the most amazing atmospheres I've ever experienced. And just like that, we passed the start line and were off. All I kept thinking for the first five minutes was, 'you're running a marathon. You're running a MARATHON. THIS IS MAD'. It's such a famous term that we all often use in general speech to describe so many other things, but the realisation of what I was doing took a while to sink it.
The miles kept coming, the marshal volunteers were absolutely brilliant, so encouraging and helpful and kept you smiling all the way round. I felt great for the first couple of hours, heading towards tower bridge was the first 'big milestone' after passing the Cutty Sark (which was also amazing energy) and I had a text from Lee to say that he wasn't far off just after mile 13. I was also on pace, taking it super steady at around 6-6.20 minutes a KM and not in any rush to go faster. I managed to briefly glimpse at Lee and my Dad, but they were on the opposite side of the road, where the other runners (already at 35KM were heading back) so I could only manage a wave as I ran ahead.
Mile 18 was the wall for me. I had felt pretty good up til then, wooping and cheering at the crowds, feeling like a bit of a rockstar, (if you throw your hands up and woop, they just cheer at you haha.) but my legs had started to ache. Shortly after, both knees started to ache, as did my glutes... what the hell, I've never had achey glutes on a run before! But this was the crucial moment to keep going. I kept pushing to get to mile 20, as I knew then it was just like a 10K (technically 12, I know, but in my naivety thought that last 2K didn't count), so used that as my comfort to keep going.
Hitting mile 22/23 was reassuring, but this is the place that a lot of people start walking, around 50% of people around me were walking here, and I was tempted. I had a word with myself though. I'd not done all of this training to walk - I'd trained to run. I wasn't injured, my breathing was good, my energy was still there, I was just a bit achey, so had no excuse to stop running. I kept going. The next few miles were a blur. I didn't want to woop back at the crowd, I felt antisocial and started to feel like everything was just the same, like I'd seen all of these crowds before, the banners were all saying the same messages and the miles seemed to be getting longer (my pace had slowed right down to 7 minute KMs). I knew running down Embankment meant it was near the end, but it just seemed to go on and on.
Even when Big Ben was in sight, and those final miles (either 24 or 25, I can't really remember) it felt like the biggest effort in the world to carry on. But I knew I had to do it. It wasn't going to go away if I stopped, only if I carried on. The most comforting thing was seeing the countdown signs... 600 metres to go, 385 metres to go, and then I was outside Buckingham Palace running down the mall to the finish line. I'd felt quite emotional during the whole run and wanted to burst into tears a few times, but knew that it was going to happen when I crossed that finish line.
I made it. 4 hours and 45 minutes later. Status Quo's 'Rockin all Over the World' was blasting out and I burst into tears of overwhelm and relief. I remember my legs feeling a little bit like they belonged to the tin man, but I kept walking, sobbing, looking for my bag drop station. I called my Mum to tell her that I'd finally finished and she said she'd used up all of her data tracking me on the app. She burst into tears too (because of me, not losing her data - I think haha!) in some strange finale, there was then this hideous downpour (I'd been so lucky with the weather, conditions were perfect and we had a bit of sunshine too for a lot of it) so I just wanted to get myself inside and warm as soon as possible.
I had to idea where my Dad and Lee were, and as you can imagine the crowds were crazy, so we agreed to meet at Euston and get straight home. The underground was rammed, and walking down steps was interesting..! But I made it back to Euston and we had a celebratory dinner at Leon and then headed home on the train.
I have really enjoyed reflecting on the amazing experience that was the London Marathon. I definitely needed a few days to do it though. After the race I was overwhelmed and incredibly emotional and remember saying to my Dad when I saw him at the station 'I didn't enjoy that' - but I was soaked through, knackered, hungry and just run a marathon! On reflection - I really did enjoy it.
I would have liked to have gone a little faster - my 'dream time' would have been around 4 hours, but I am most impressed by the fact that I did run the whole thing, I didn't sustain any injuries (which was my biggest worry) and my recovery was incredible. The next day I woke up and was a little bit stiff, going down the stairs was interesting..! But I taught 3 fitness classes and only had moderate DOMS. Tuesday and Wednesday I was still a little sore, but nothing that stopped me from teaching my classes and a little post recovery 5K! So I'm pretty smug at how well my recovery went, and feel that is one of my biggest testaments to my training.
I also hit my fundraising target on race day too - by the time I was home and tucked up in bed, the final £5 for my £2,500 target pinged through. I was amazed that I'd achieved this too - I honestly never thought I'd be able to raise that much money. I'm still accepting donations and the page is still live, you can donate to the Rossendale Trust here.
So that's my marathon story - a true bucket list and once in a lifetime event ticked off my list. I am proud of the achievement and that I can say that I've literally run a marathon! If you fancy giving it a go, I'd definitely recommend it...here's your sign...go and sign up now!