40. Mission Accomplished

It’s over, I’ve done it!

It’s mid Monday morning, and this time 24 hours ago I was lining up to start the London Marathon. And what a day it was! So much happened so quickly yet slowly at the same time. Lots of you kind people have been asking how it was and want to know all about it, so I thought I’d attempt to write about what I can remember of the day from a runner’s perspective…

A day in the life of a London Marathon runner:

5.20am – First alarm goes off. Oh goodness, it’s today. I don’t know what to do with myself. Quick twitter/FB post with the link for people to track me round the course. Right, no more phone use, I need to save the battery for RunKeeper.

5.30am – Second alarm goes of. Time to get up. Head downstairs to the lounge where all my kit is laid out ready from the night before. There is a ridiculous amount of stuff – a lot of ‘just in case’ things. I grab my clothes I’m wearing for the race and go and get changed.

5.50am – Breakfast no 1 – Alpen. Milk isn’t the easiest thing to transport so I save the dry breakfast for later.

6.10am – Final check I have everything. There’s probably something I’ve forgotten, but I’m sure I’ll manage. I have my Primark matching tracksuit on from when I was 14, ready to leave at the start just before we get going. I never want to see it again.

6.15am – Mum gives me a lift over to Sutton to get the train. Ashtead can’t manage trains early enough on marathon day. It’s pretty warm out already. Flip, forgot sun cream.

6.45am – Arrive at the station, and get my ticket. I have all the train times written out but they don’t seem to be showing on the screens. Bewildered, I stand looking aimlessly trying to figure out what to do, when I hear ‘are you going to the marathon? Come with us’ and I’m thankfully whisked away by three girls who are clearly much more organised than me.

6.55am – Sitting on the train with my new running friend Kate and her two friends, we chat away about how we ended in this mad situation. She had applied five times before finally getting a place this year. She’s aiming for 4.5-5 hours, so I’ll let her get on with that by herself! Turns out we are both in pen 9 at blue start. Amazing.

7.30am – Still on the train. We decide that if Mo Farah happens to not make it to the end and we pass him, we have to take a selfie.

7.45am – Working out what we need to do at the start. I declare that when we’re there I basically need to ‘sort my life out’ and empty the contents of my bag out.

8.02am – Change of trains and we are joined by hundreds of other runners. It’s a total mix of people; ages, backgrounds, reasons for running. I love it.

8.25am – We get off the train at Blackheath and are immediately greeted by marshals directing us to the start area. I’m impressed at how well organised it all is.

8.32am – We head over the hill and are met by clear blue skies and excited crowds of people. I suddenly have a brief moment of panic as I wonder what on earth I’m doing.

8.35am – Time for obligatory selfies with Kate and friends before we leave them and enter the start area. Point of no return.

8.40am – Wandering round the start area, we head for the toilets. We head in to the ‘female urinals’ and make a quick turn around – not happening. Speedy exit, and we manage to find the port-a-loos. Much better. We make the most of very short queues.

8.50am – We spy out a patch of grass to sit down on, and promptly make ourselves at home. The large screen to our right shows people sitting around, chatting, flicking between crazy costumes. The guy on the PA chats away. Then a pre-recorded message from Mo Farah for all the runners is played. And I quote, ‘Good luck today. Go big or go home’. Thanks Mo.

9.00am – Breakfast no 2 – honey granola bars. A bit dry to eat so I have water with it. Except not too much water or I’ll need the loo half way round, and I don’t want that.

9.15am – Time to sort my life out. Things I didn’t realise I’d packed came flying out as I started loading up my pocket, getting my phone arm case on, packing in energy gels, and sorting out my head phones. Kate has suncream, what a star. Tutu is on. And it certainly isn’t coming off easily, it’s what I call, ‘snug’. No, tight.

9.20.am – Calls for getting our massive red official kit bags to the baggage lorries are repeated over the PA. Should probs get our stuff handed in or they’ll go without it. Again, epic organisation is in swing as bags are put in sections according to runner number.

9.25am – Texts have been flying in all morning. Am so grateful for all the support, but trying not to use my phone. Sorry for not replying everyone!

9.30am – Toilet time again. Queues are now 30ish people long, but moving quickly with an abundance of port-a-loo’s available.

9.45am – Eeeeeek. Heading over to pen 9 (sounds like herding sheep, which it pretty much is). Once we’re in, we’re in.

9.50am – Brief chats with other runners. So many charities represented. Chuckling at some of the mad costumes. I have a golden apple behind me, Scooby Do to the side. Time to put Deep Heat on my knee, hoping it holds out for a while.

10.00am – Go! Well, for the elite men at the start, anyway. We don’t even hear it. Everyone just knows that the race has started and it’ll be us going through soon.

10.04am – We start moving forward. This is it. People are dashing from the start line to the toilets and back. Clothes are flying everywhere as people throw off their top layer that was keeping them warm. It’s tricky trying to dodge round mountains of hoodies and trackies.

10.16am – I cross the start line. Except for I don’t actually know what time it is I start as I fail to look up. I’m frantically trying to get RunKeeper to start so I can record this. But it doesn’t work, I get frustrated and give up. Time to resort to music. Playlist goes on shuffle. Mumford and Sons kicks in, and I feel better already.

10.20am – Settling in, and smiling at the lovely people who are standing outside their houses cheering. Toilet stop on the left already, and there are queues. I just hope I don’t need the loo later on. I run through my first legal red light of the day.

10.28am – Mile 1 marker. Hang on, how long did that mile take? I have no idea. Then I realise I have no clue what pace I’m doing. I’m so used to RunKeeper telling me constantly and adjusting to what I want to be at, that I have no idea how fast I am going. But then I have to decide if I’m going to go as fast as I can until my knee gives up, or to slow down and try and get round with more running, but slower. I opt for number two.

Mile 2 – We’re joining up with the red start group now, and everyone is together. The crowds start to get bigger.

Mile 3 – Someone at the start said ‘I know it seems harsh, but don’t high-five every kid you see. You’ll go insane.’ I’m so thankful for this advice. It means I can stay focussed. And if I don’t high-five anyone then it’s fair. Sounds mean as a children’s worker, but sorry kids; any other day, but not today.

Mile 6 – 1 hour 4 mins I think. Is that quicker than my usual 6 miles? I have no idea, I can’t work it out. There’s the Cutty Sark. Love running round this bit, the crowds are mad.

Mile 9 – First time seeing supporters. Mum and Dad are there on the corner by the traffic lights. Time for paracetamol for knee pain. I’ve never taken it so quickly.

Mile 10 – This is a long mile. Really long. Random people shouting my name makes me smile, keeps me going. Right from the start I’ve had music playing, but even with head phones in I can hear them.

Mile 12 – Come on. Almost half way. Here’s Tower Bridge.

Mile 13.1 – HALF WAY! Right, I can do this. Oh no, that’s the 22 mile marker on the other side of the road, and there are lots of people going very fast in that direction. Focus, I’ve got a while yet.

Mile 14 – Left knee (the one giving me grief the last few weeks) is finally giving in. Decision made – if I’m going to get round to the finish, I need to walk. It’s heartbreaking – I was so determined to run the whole thing. That was until my knee issue. I’ve run 18 miles without stopping, why do I need to stop at 14? Frustration. First few steps of walking are strange but a bit of a relief as well. I’m not going for time, I’m going for finishing now.

Mile 15 – Pretty bad. Hard work, I swear these miles are longer than the previous ones. The sun is pretty strong, and the heat is getting to lots of the runners. I try and stay on the side of the road with shade as much as possible.

Mile 16 – Mum and Dad keep ringing, they’re around here somewhere, but I think I’ve missed them. Annoying, but it made me keep running – you don’t want to get to supporters when you’re walking.

Mile 17 – Joe just rang, interrupting Ant and Dec singing ‘Let’s get ready to rumble’ to me. I’ll forgive him.

Mile 18 – Mum and Dad are here again, I don’t see them but they shout at me. I’m walking (cardinal sin when seeing supporters). My feet are killing. Re-tie shoe laces tighter, so much better. Why didn’t I do that before? Why didn’t I check them at the start? Dad is pouring water over me. ‘Mind my phone!’ I cry. Time to re Deep Heat the knee in an attempt to make it through. A bit further on and Jill, Reb and Nessa are just on the corner in front of the steel drum band. Woohoo! Massive ‘GO MIM’ sign hanging over the barriers. It’s amazing what seeing supporters does for you. Quick selfie and time to go. Lyd, Mike, Sus and Joe are just further up. I spy them and run over. Another compulsory selfie and I’m off.

Mile 19 – Ahhhh there they are. Sam is up on a plinth with the camera and I can see him waving. Mel, Lizzie, Hannah, Oli, Sarah and Joe are all at the barriers, so excited. Sam gets a pic of us all, big hugs all round, lots of cheering. Hopefully see them a bit later. Text from Toby saying I’d just run past him. Oh no, rubbish. Will try again later.

Mile 20 – Come on. Only a 10km to go. I’ve done this so many times before. A guy on a PA says, ‘they’ve run 20 miles, they all look exhausted, come on crowd, let’s cheer’. Yep, we are.

Mile 21 – This is where I saw everyone running in the other direction earlier. Now it’s my turn.

Mile 22 – Toby is right by the 22 marker. No missing this time! So good to see someone I know. I moan about my knee and how when I walk it’s harder to get back into the running rhythm. He says to just keep running slowly to keep it going. Round the corner and I hear ‘Mim’ louder than the crowd usually shout. What? Mel and Sam are there again! It’s on a wide corner so we were all running on the inside, but I head over to them, boosted by the surprise. Woohoo more excitement and I’m off again.

Mile 23 – Thanks Tobes, no more walking from now on. Head in the game, let’s do this.

Mile 24 – Head into Blackfriars Tunnel, greeted by huge lit up balloons and loud music pumping out. ‘Fight for it, fight for it’ is going round and round my head. Not gonna lie, it’s Palm Sunday today and this reminds me of telling the Easter story to year 6’s a few weeks ago. We told them how Jesus came in to Jerusalem to crowds cheering and shouting…was it something like this?!

Mile 25 – Mum and Dad again. Quick stop, and off I go. Past Westminster, looks pretty cool in the sunshine. There’s a line of runners on the right who are being massaged, two are on stretchers covered in blankets, poor guys. It’s a funny thing, the people you least expect to be injured and struggling can end up in the worst pain. I think a lot of people have been caught out by the heat, I’ve drunk far more today than I have ever done on a long run before.

800m – Come on, almost there. People are limping, bent over, doing all they can to get to the end.

600m – So close. A marshall shouts encouragement to two girls clinging on to each other as I pass them. ‘We’re almost there’ I say, encouraging both them and myself. Round in front of Buckingham Palace, I say hi to the Queen and I take a cheeky selfie whilst still running. I take my headphones out. I want to run up The Mall and remember this bit.

Finish – What’s that? The finish? THE FINISH! I’VE FINISHED! ‘You can stop now’ the marshall says as I keep going. Oh yes, I can stop. First thought: I didn’t need the loo at all, winner. I’m handed a goody bag, and someone comments how we are given such a heavy bag to carry after just running 26.2 miles. My timing chip on my shoe is cut off and the medal is placed around my neck. Oh, the medal. Proof that I have actually done it. It doesn’t quite sink in. Over to the left the official photographers are taking pictures. I do my practised pose – thumbs up. On a bit further and I hunt out my massive red official bag. I’ve been handed it before I’ve even got to the barrier. These guys are pros.

I make it to the end and out to find my amazing support group, and hear my name being called. It’s Toby, he happened to be walking past whilst trying to find the others. He takes my bag, what a star. We head over to ‘M’ in the far corner of Horse Guards Parade and are greeted by cheers, hugs and much celebration. Out comes the awesome cake Lyd has made and it’s devoured. Photos galore, I feel like a celeb. Well, I have just finished the London Marathon.

Huge thanks to all the bands that were playing, people out cheering, the woman who gave me an orange quarter which was the best thing ever, and all the supporters who came up to cheer 🙂

If I’m honest, it is all slightly surreal, and as much as I tried to take it all in, most of it is a blur of everything at once. I hope this captures a little bit of what it was like. Thank you all for your amazing support over the last seven months as I’ve trained for the London Marathon. Yesterday I ran it – and I have the medal to prove it 🙂

6 hours 12 mins 55 secs and I’m a London Marathon finisher!

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31. Far from ideal

Time for another update on training. A fair few significant points have been reached in the past two weeks…

Gym 10 – The gym routine has now become exactly that; a routine. I know what I’m doing on each machine and how much to push it. I’m kind of getting in to it…worryingly. This is not me.

FI 3 – I’ll be posting a more detailed blog on this session in a few days. It was really helpful as we discussed race practicalities for the up-coming half marathon that I had a week later. All the small details to think though which each contribute to making things a bit easier. It’s about controlling all the factors you can so you know you have done everything possible to make it the best opportunity for a good run. We reviewed my training so far and looked at pushing through these next few weeks to keep the training going in these middle distances.

Run 53 – Time to break the half way distance, and go for 14 miles. Eeeek. Just about kept sub 12 min miles (11.58 to be precise) in 2 hours 47 mins 30 secs. Started out too fast but eventually got in to a rhythm even though it was a little bit slower than usual. Tried out new energy gels which were much better. New shoe lace tying also helped! First time for ages on a long run that I’ve got back and thought I can’t run any more. Totally spent. Became so engrossed on auto pilot to make my legs move constantly that changing speed is really hard work. Good run in sunshine, was blinding at points! Need to think about the weather – sun as well as rain – for the marathon!

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Gym 11 – It’s been taking a couple of days for my left knee to recover from long runs. The gym on a Monday is now low impact so I’ve got quite in to cycling. It’s a nice start to the week, sitting on a bike and letting your mind wander without having to think about steering and crashing in to anyone.

Run 54 – Hills: I was pretty stressed so felt like I needed to get out and run but was very distracted. Also didn’t have much time due to something coming up so was frustrated I couldn’t run for longer. It was a bit wet and windy, pretty miserable weather which didn’t really help that morning. It’s times like this that I’m glad I can actually get out and run though, channeling energy into something.

Gym 12 – Another resistance session. Starting to recognise people in the gym, but there is an unwritten rule of no talking/communicating; everyone acts as though there is no one else in the room. It’s a bit weird sometimes.
It was also the day to start carb loading for the half-marathon race. Trust me, it’s harder than you think to eat a mountain of pasta.

Run 55 – Human Race half-marathon at Lake Dawney, Windsor. This is my only opportunity to experience a ‘race’ environment before the marathon, so I really wanted to be able to use it well. I don’t run with other people so even getting used to other people being around and overtaking was really important. It was all very touch and go as the weather had been so awful with the flooding, that mum and I only made the final decision to run it on the morning. I think it was what you would call ‘far from ideal’ conditions! It was 4 laps around Lake Dawney rowing lake which is over a mile in length, with very short ends, and not the most breath taking of scenery to enjoy. We had 25mph winds the entire time, and as it was going across the lake all the time we spent the whole race leaning to one side then the other to try and stay upright! The whole thing felt hideous. It was a flat course so that helped – it would have been a nightmare with any hills in! It was such hard work to keep going, the wind was mad, but I stuck with the 12 minute pacer the whole time which was really helpful. Usually I would have been quicker but with the wind that was about as good as it was going to get! RunKeeper decided this was the perfect time to tell me there was no GPS so annoyingly I couldn’t record the race. However you get a tag for your trainers which records your laps, which turned out to be very equal splits. I did it in 2hrs 35 min 54 secs so averaged 11.53 a mile. It certainly wasn’t the right conditions to be doing a fast race, just more a keep going race!

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The closest I’ll get to being an Olympian…standing in front of the Olympic rings! // Some words of wisdom in the port-a-loo

Gym 13 – I’m now completely out of netball (as FI said it’s not worth the risk, and not helping with knee recovery) – sad times. Tried rowing for the first time as all the bikes were taken. 20 minutes flew by, and I quite enjoyed it. Maybe I’ll be back at Lake Dawney soon as a rower…or not.

Run 56 – Intervals – used a new road for intervals this time, a bit of variation; I live a wild life. Just makes training a bit more interesting and less predictable. It’s these hill and interval sessions which are hard intensity that really help build for the longer runs. So easy to want to bail on these sessions, but you just have to remember what it contributes to the overall training.

Gym 14 – Rowing was so much fun last time, I did it again. And some time on the bike. And the usual resistance machines. Man, I still have pathetically weak arms. Good job I’m not trying to become a weight lifter.

FI 4- It’s only been two weeks since the last time I saw FI, but it was good to go over the race and work out training for these last few weeks leading up to April…less than 8 weeks to go! We’ve switched up when to do the long runs and shorter-long runs, to get an extra one in. I wanted to be able to get to 22 miles which breaks through the 20 mile barrier, and on the marathon course it means you know you can get through the depressing bit round the Isle of Dogs and Canary Wharf and you are running back along by the river. I’ll crawl the last 4 miles if I have to. FI also went through some other gym exercises to make sessions more varied and to work on different things. Now to remember it all for Monday morning!

Run 57 – 16 miles. What? 16 miles? Errrr since when?! It is a bit out of body experience thinking about running that far. Obviously I knew I’d have to do it at some point; the marathon is an extra 10 miles on top! But some how it just seems so strange to think that I can actually run that distance now. However, it was a hard run, a bit of a mixed bag. It felt like the first mile was too fast, then I slowed up too much and couldn’t pick it up again. This is a bit of a recurring problem – my first 3 miles sets the pace for the rest of the run, and I find it almost impossible to change pace. Whatever I’m on by then I just keep going like a machine, so it needs to be right. It was lovely warm sunshine, then suddenly rained pretty hard around miles 10-12. Nice. Just what I wanted – wet feet, my fave. I was also wearing glasses so had to run holding them as I couldn’t see a thing (note, wear contact lenses even if it looks nice outside!) My thighs went numb in the rain and I couldn’t feel myself running. The first 7 miles were the hardest I’ve done, even more so than the crazy winds at Lake Dawney (well, in a different sort of way), but the last 5 miles were actually okay. By the end, even after a terrible start, I felt like I could keep going a little bit more. My legs just feel like they can’t stop. 16 miles, 3 hours 16 min 46 secs, 12 min 18 sec a mile. Slowest pace by a long way, but at the end of the day that’s still sub 5.5 hours for the marathon, which I’m totally down with!

And that’s the problem. When my legs stop, so does my entire body. As I sit and type this 24 hours after the longest run of my life, all my muscles hurt a lot, and it takes 10 minutes to go up or down the stairs. I have to use my arms to push myself up from a seat, my thighs just kill. Right now I’m not convinced I’ll ever walk properly again, let alone run!

But remember, ‘pain is temporary, quitting is forever’.

Assuming I’ll actually make it to the marathon, if you’d like to sponsor me for this madness you can on this page: http://www.virginmoneygiving.com/mimsmission

24. The Penguin Marathon Strategy

At the end of a busy term, I look back over the past couple of months and wonder how I’ve managed to keep this running lark up. But then again, I’ve had a plan all along – to tell people I’m running a marathon, then they keep asking me how it’s going, so I have to do some running to have something to update them on. And its worked (so far) – win! My pride would not allow me to back out now. It’s all or nothing.

I was doing a little bit of research recently about the marathon and looked up how many ballot applications there were this year, and found this out… 125,000 applications for the ballot were made in less than 12 hours! I have to say, I was not expecting that! I was clearly not the only one who set a reminder on my phone to apply as soon as it opened. I clearly didn’t think through the fact that as soon as I clicked ‘apply’, it did in fact give me the tiniest chance of getting a place. And that tiny chance could actually become a reality. I will keep reminding myself of this when I want to give up…124,999 other people wanted this place, but I got it. Don’t stop.

As some of you know (I keep raving about it) I’ve been reading Marathon Running for Mortals. There are some great words of wisdom in it, and anyone planning on or in the process of training for a marathon MUST read it! I am not an avid reader by any stretch of the imagination, but I have loved reading this brilliant mix of invaluable advice, personal anecdotes and good humour.

For those of you who don’t have time/patience/energy to read it, here are a few quotes that I enjoy…

  • If you’ve got this far [starting the race], if you are standing in the pack at the start of your goal race, you have already accomplished more than most. Take the time right there and then to congratulate yourself. For you, and the for the hundreds or thousands of other participants, the party is just about to begin.
    (NB. I might wear a party hat at the start of the marathon, you never know…)
  • Don’t try anything new on race day. Don’t try anything new on race day. Whatever you are feeling during race week, it’s normal. Don’t try anything new on race day.
  • When you get to the race site, immediately get into the portable-toilet queue. I’m not joking. Do not stop to talk. Do not look around for friends. Make a bee-line for the portable toilets. I don’t care how often you go to the toilet before you leave the hotel; you are going to need to go again before the race starts. Don’t take any chances. Get in the queue. When you’ve got to the front of the queue, then got in and out of the portable toilet, get back in the queue again. Trust me on this one. Stay in the portable toilet queue until you have to line up for the race.
  • Mile 20 is ‘the wall’. For many runner and walkers, this is where the marathon starts. As a friend of mine used to say, the marathon is 20 miles of hope followed by 6 miles of truth.
  • What you decide to do with that medal is up to you. We recommend that you wear it until you have annoyed everyone in your life. Wear it to work. Wear it to college. Wear it to bed. Wear it everywhere. Show it to everyone. Tell everyone how you earned it. And don’t take it off until someone pries it from your fingers.
    (NB. YOU HAVE ALL BEEN WARNED)
  • The gift of finishing is available to everyone standing at the start line. It’s available to everyone who is willing to accept who they are at that moment – not who they want to be or wanted to be, but who they are.
  • And finally – The Penguin Marathon Strategy:

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