London Marathon: The Big Jog

I was disappointed not to run a London Good For Age qualifier last year but I was over the moon to be successful in in the ballot, it’s a rare occurance!  Last Spring, the Rome Marathon didn’t quite go my way so I made a last minute decision to enter Manchester 2 weeks later.  I ran better in Manchester, but it was tough knocking out that kind of distance again so soon and I believed myself when I swore I’d never attempt such a thing again.

Not expecting a place in London I had already entered the Brighton Marathon, but October rolled around and I came home to the coveted ‘You’re In’ magazine on my doormat…pain and consequence long forgotten, I wanted to do both.  Obviously.  Why It's Like A Dream

The London Marathon is hands down the best day of the year and if I’m not running, there’s nowhere I’d rather be than cheering on the sidelines.  I first ran London in 2011, it was my first ever marathon and is completely responsible for giving me the bug.  In 2013 I qualified for a GFA entry, I went off way too fast and suffered in the later miles, it was a tough run.

This year I really wanted to enjoy London for the spectacular 26.2 mile street party it is and I didn’t want my over ambitious dreams to ruin my enjoyment. The only way I could guarantee that was to make Brighton my A race because I really can’t be trusted!

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I’ve been in limbo the last 2 weeks, it’s odd trying to strike a balance between recovery and taper and in a shockingly sensible approach I simply listened to my body. There was a bit of running, a lot of rest, a lot of early nights and a lot of hand sanitizer, I was really fun to be around.

On Sunday I woke up to the best good luck message ever!  It immediately put me in a good mood despite the 5.45am alarm, how could it not be a good day? I was sooooo excited!

My new little niece Chloe. She’s going to be a runner 🙂

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The weather was pretty damn perfect.  It’s been getting warmer over the last few weeks and London Marathon day nearly always ends up just a bit too hot.  But it was grey and drizzly on Sunday morning, it looked ideal!  Zoe, my housemate, was running her first marathon this year so she was an excitable bundle of nerves, we made our way to the start at Blackheath in a sensible, calm manner…

It was actually pretty cold when we got there but there wasn’t too much waiting around after a couple of trips to the toilet and dropping off our bags. I met up with Laura who was in the same start pen as me and then it was time to line up. Whhhaaaaa, good luck!!

Me and Zoe before her first marathon

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I usually know exactly what I’m going to do on marathon day – what my goal is, what my back-up goal is, what pace I’m going to start at, what I’m going to do if, if, if… What was different about today was that I didn’t have a game plan. I really didn’t.  Today I was going to turn up at the start line and see what my legs would let me do.

Could I pull off another 4 hour marathon 2 weeks after Brighton? Maybe 4:15?  4:30? A bit slower?  In my heart I knew I’d be disappointed at anything over 4:15 but I needed to be realistic that it was a very real possibility, especially if I was going to achieve my ultimate goal of enjoying every second.  I wasn’t entirely sure how I would deal with a disappointment though.

Suddenly, the gun went off and we were moving forwards!  It only took about 2 minutes to get across the line and there we were, running the greatest marathon in the whole world!!

The first few miles are always quite congested but not so much that you can’t run, if anything, being held back slightly is a good thing.  I just went with flow and enjoyed the atmosphere, we’d only got up the road before someone was shouting, ‘3 cheers for Paula, hip hip…hooray!’

I didn’t want to go off as fast as I did in Brighton, I wouldn’t be able to hold it and I knew I’d be in for a tough ride later, but, although today was about having fun, I still wanted to do justice to all the winter miles.  As Paula said:

You can’t come to the London Marathon and not give it an honest effort

With the image of little Chloe in her ‘Go Auntie Katherine’ outfit firmly in my head, all I knew was that I needed to be able walk away today knowing I did the best I possibly could.  I didn’t want to feel like I let myself down and I didn’t want to be embarrassed by my effort.

I started off comfortably, I was running under 9mm but wasn’t pushing it.  After a few miles I  could tell my legs weren’t fresh, but I was still hitting a fairly good pace and I was happy.  I remembered to high-5 a few kids and smiled at everyone who cheered me by name. Fun, remember, FUN!

By mile 10 I knew I was running slower but it felt much slower than the 9mm pace my Garmin was telling me so I was quite pleased. 9.04, 9.02, 9.04, they kept ticking by consistently, hey, I was doing OK and I was enjoying it!

The crowd support is pretty good in the first half, but it really thickens when you get to Tower Bridge between 12 and 13, you really know you’re in London when you turn the corner and see that Bridge!  Running across the river is freggin awesome, the atmosphere is buzzing and I remembered to look up and take it all in, I almost forgot we were nearly half way already.  My legs hadn’t forgotten though, they were starting to ache earlier than I would have liked…I ignored them.

I knew the Chasers would be somewhere around 15 miles and I couldn’t wait to see them, there’s nothing like a Chaser Cheer to give you a boost and I really needed a boost.  Luckily there’s so many of them you can’t miss them and they let out a huge roar as I trotted past.

Chaser Support Crew…complete with Ingrid the inflatable Chaser (I find it best not to ask…)

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Before I knew it I was at mile 16 and I re-evaluated how I felt, it was getting harder but I was still OK, it was the the flippin London Marathon!  I was a bit slower by 18 miles but I told myself I absolutely needed to get to 20 before I could even consider a walk…I kept going.

True to my word, my legs made it to 20 miles and I rewarded them with a timed 2 minute walk, trying not to make eye contact with the crowd.  They wanted me to run, they didn’t know about the deal I made with my legs, they didn’t understand, ohhh the shame!

I saw the Chasers again around mile 21 and they had split into smaller groups so there were more cheers (except Gary, Gary ignored me to talk about bananas with a stranger, even Ingrid gave me more attention…)

It’s all mind games after 20 miles.  I don’t like 20 miles, it means there’s still 10 whole kilometers to go, I like 21 miles because there’s only 5 miles left…make sense? Of course not!  But, by the time I’ve worked out in my head how exactly I feel about having 5 miles left I’m at 22, and, today, that meant another teeny little walk.  Don’t judge me.

The walk didn’t last long, the crowds just wouldn’t have it, ‘you can do it Katherine, you’re nearly there!’, they didn’t come out to stand on the streets all day to watch me walk.  People at home were tracking me, they’ll see my splits.  Chloe’s wearing a special outfit, don’t let her down.  There’s a sodding TV camera in my face, OK, MOVE.

The next few miles were a bit of a blur but I didn’t stop running, I couldn’t, not only was it too hard to get going again, at this point absolutely anyone I knew could be on the sidelines and I didn’t want to be seen walking, it’s the friggin London Marathon!  The crowds are totally wild by this point, they cheer and shout and yell ‘go on Katherine, you’re looking awesome!’  Errrm, I’m really not am I, I’ve probably never looked less awesome, but thanks!

It was really starting to hurt along the Embankment but my legs were ticking over and I was still enjoying the atmosphere, I just wasn’t sure why the miles were getting longer, why would they do that?!  Eventually I turned the corner to face the home stretch along The Mall, it was the best sight ever!

The flags were flying high, the crowds were roaring and I could actually see the finish line. Just. Keep. Running. I finally crossed the line in 4:05:52 and was totally overcome with emotion, I don’t know how I got through the last few miles, I just wanted to sit down.

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Collecting my medal and shuffling along I quietly reflected on what I had achieved. It was slower than Brighton but it was well within ‘you-can’t-be-disappointed-with…’ time.  So why was I a little sad?  I really didn’t know.  It wasn’t a bad time, especially after Brighton, but I have so many fast friends it’s hard not to think you’re a little bit rubbish.

I’d really enjoyed the run, enjoyed the atmosphere and loved the Chaser support, it had been a brilliant day.  Plus, I genuinely don’t think I could have put more effort in, I couldn’t have tried any harder today, I had to be pleased with that.

I slowly made my way to the finisher area to wait for Zoe and hoped she would come in under her target time. When I saw her she looked in much better shape than I did at the finish and was really pleased with her time. I reckon she’s hooked!

Then it was a quick turnaround and off to the pub for Chasers marathon celebrations with cider and some sensible sambuka.  Another weekend, another marathon and another London medal, that’s pretty awesome right?!

Whatever happens, the London Marathon is always a special day.  It won’t be the last time I run it, not a chance.

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The day I ran a marathon and beat Mo Farah. 21st April 2013

The alarm went off at 5.50am but I didn’t mind, it was Marathon Day, the day I had been waiting for and training hard for since Christmas and I was so excited!   Marathon day is a funny day, it’s a day of possibilities & hope, of nerves & excitement, anything can happen.

Mum & Dad had been staying with me so they were already up & getting ready for their day in the crowd to cheer me on.   My kit bag had been laid out the day before so a bowl of porridge & banana later and I was ready to go.  Final check of the important things, race number, timing chip, black ribbon, Garmin, gels and I was out the door.

Walking towards the start line, which incidentally was up a massive hill which didn’t seem to end, I got chatting to a couple of friendly girls who were clearly experienced marathon runners.  I asked them if they would be running with music and they both said no, they didn’t want to miss the atmosphere and the crowds.  That was my decision confirmed; I would be running my first marathon with only crowd noise for support…they were going to have to be good today!

I was in the green start, the smallest start reserved for GFA and celebrities.   It really was small, all the runners around me had also earned their place on the Good For Age start line and I felt privileged to be there.  Runners at the green start are given as clear a start as possible, without getting in the way of the elites, champs and fast GFA’s who were at a separate start area.  I kept an eager eye out for some celebs but didn’t catch sight of anyone, at least no one I recognised in lycra.  Myself and Marie, one of the girls I had been chatting too, queued up for the toilet, sorted out our kit and fuel belts and headed to the baggage lorries.  This was it, no turning back, nothing left to do but grab a bottle of water and head for the start line.  It was really happening, marathon round 3.

The start line itself was tiny, I’m not sure where I’ve seen a start line so small and I’ve run a lot of races!  I waited at the front of my pen for a while before spotting the RW 3.30 pacer, Matt Dunn, heading for the back of my pen.  Decision time; I had been toying with the idea of trying to run with him part of the way, I knew I couldn’t go the whole way with him but if I could at least get half way I would be in a strong position and could then drop off.  At this point I figured I didn’t have much to lose, if I couldn’t keep up I’d drop back, no problem.  I know it’s not an ideal strategy, and one that would not go down well with Paula, but this was my race and I had to do it my way, even if I failed.

Before I knew it they were introducing the elites on the big screen, starting with Mo.  There’s been a lot of controversy around Mo’s decision to run the first half of the marathon and my thoughts on this are probably worthy of seperate blog post, but in short, he’s a double Gold Olympic medallist, let him do what he wants, he’s earned that right.

Then there was the 30 second silence in memory of those who died at the Boston bombings just 6 days earlier.  The bombings hit everyone pretty hard, but it struck deepest with runners.  This was an attack on our community.  This was an attack on a day that should have been filled with happiness & achievement, of celebration & joy, a day that brings people together.  In the heart of runners, all around the world, we felt it, and it was still raw.

The silence was pretty moving with everyone falling completely still. There were some tears in peoples eyes.  A few moments after the clock struck 10, the gun went off and we were on the move, we were ON THE MOVE!!

We started off pretty easy, the course was crowded but not so much that you couldn’t move through people and I kept steady with the pacer.  By mile 2 we seemed to be dropping pace, I think he was having trouble getting through the crowd with the group around him so I started to just run at my own pace.  Looking back this was an error, I accidently clocked mile 3 at 7.44 and mile 4 at 7.52, what the hell was I thinking?!  I needed calm down.

I managed to keep a steady 8mm pace until around mile 10 when I felt a twinge in my right calf, I guess it was telling me to slow down but I wasn’t too worried, I hadn’t had a problem with this calf before so I had faith it could go the distance.  I wouldn’t say I was starting to flag at this point but I was fully aware there were still another 16 miles to go and I couldn’t go on at the current pace, I had to drop it.

Although I dropped my pace, I kept fairly steady and took in the sights.  One of my favourites was the magnificent view running across Tower Bridge just before the halfway point, especially as this is where the crowds start to thicken and are going crazy.  When I say crazy, the crowds were immense, absolutely fantastic.  There’s constant cheering, noise, whistles, ‘go on Kat, you can do it’.  Don’t ever underestimate the power of your words to a marathoner runner.  We hear you.  We’re listening.  You really do keep us going!

It wasn’t until mile 16 where my earlier miles came back to haunt me, I knew I was going to struggle. What a surprise.  The sun was out, it was too warm, my calf was aching and I was losing energy.  I tried not to be too hard on myself, I knew the risks going off at that pace and I was fully aware of the consequences, time to suck it up and power on.

The miles started to tick by quite slowly but people kept shouting my name, telling me I could do it, offering me jelly babies & smiles, telling me that I was nearly there, and all those things that you just want to believe at that moment.

Mile 20 was a welcome relief, it was just 10k from here, my family & housemate Zoe would be at mile 22, friends from work would be there with a big ‘Go Frenchy’, banner, other various people I knew would be in the crowd, and I knew the finish line would be there…somewhere.

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Mile 22 passed and I knew I had to keep on the right if I was to see my family, the mile went on and on, 22.1…22.2…22.3…finally, at 22.6 I saw them, they were there!  My Mum, Dad, Aunt, Uncle & Zoe had all got up at the crack of dawn and stood for hours on end just to see me run past, just to support me in this moment!  It’s an amazing feeling.

I remember Dad standing there with a camera pointed at me and Zoe shouting ‘you’re awesome’ and I grabbed her hand.  It’s such an unbelievable lift to see friendly faces when you’re so tired, struggling, wondering if you can actually do it.  After that I knew I was so close, the crowds were absolutely insane, relentless, loud, shouting, willing you to succeed, to get to the finish line, how can you not find strength in that?

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Finally I was almost there, mile 25 had passed and I’d even seen my friends Theresa & James in the crowd shouting at me which was a great surprise.  Then the finish line was in sight, I’d rounded the corner on The Mall and there was one final stretch to go.  Glancing at my watch I knew I’d missed my PB but I was already over it, it didn’t matter, it really didn’t matter, I was about to finish my third marathon!!  This didn’t stop me attempting a bit of a sprint finish though, there was no excuse for a weak finish in my mind.

I went over the finish line in 3.50.39 and ran straight into Dickie.  You know, Dickie B? OK, you might know him as Richard Branson but me & him are mates now you see.  He shook my hand, smiled  and I even thought of giving him a big sweaty hug…don’t worry, I didn’t!

The rest was pretty smooth, tag comes off your shoe, medal goes round your neck, goody bag, photo and then you find the baggage truck with your belongings.  It didn’t take long to find my fabulous supporters, they were waiting in the ‘F’ section, as promised, with hugs and smiles and we all went to the pub.  A champagne cocktail, a chicken salad, a massage and I was happy!

So that was it. I had run marathon number 3.  Not only that, but I has raised nearly £400 for my charity, The Stroke Association.

I ran for Boston.  I beat Mo Farah.  I had a bloody brilliant day.  And I knew there was more to come, I’m not hanging up my marathon shoes yet.

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