I guess I should start with how I ended up going from a casual 10k every now and then to training to run 26.2 miles. I think the London Marathon has been on everyone’s bucket list including my family and friends, I also know the probability of securing a place is very slim so I thought I might as well sign up as chances are I won’t get it anyway. Well in 2016 I was right, both my partner Sam, my brother and I were unsuccessful. It just so happens that on the day of the 2017 marathon I was in London, I remember watching hundreds of runners going past me near St Pauls Cathedral, I was in awe, I couldn’t believe how far so many people could push their body and I remember feeling so overwhelmingly inspired.
So it was time to enter the ballot again, I thought sure why not I won’t get a place but I’ll try, I honestly expected nothing, so much so I didn’t pay much attention to the form, lord knows what I put down as my expected finish time! Then on 2nd October something very surprising happened, I got a letter confirming my ballot place in the 2018 London Marathon. Being completely honest my initial reaction was “oh F**K!” I signed up thinking I’d never get a place and suddenly I was racked with guilt, I knew people like my boyfriend had signed up year on year to always receive disappointing news and they might appreciate my place more. Over the next few days I was genuinely thinking how can I transfer my place so my boyfriend can run instead? Then Sam told me he was going to apply for a charity place so we could run together, I was thrilled albeit still very scared.
Like any rational human I couldn’t help but be very nervous, the furthest I had ever ran in the past was no more than 15k, originally I was considering signing up to a half marathon to challenge myself now all of a sudden I was meant to be running double that…DOUBLE?!
I was really pleased I had Sam as a training partner and my brother, who is a PT, had agreed to put together a nutrition and training plan for me. As you can probably tell my main goal was to just get round the course, timing was not that important to me (although I would be lying if I said I didn’t have a time in mind). The marathon seemed far enough off and I was told not to start training until December so you don’t burn out too early – fine by me I’m still in denial and addicted to the gym!
We started off slow, building up the pace week by week and back in February we set out to run my first ever half marathon. I knew it was going to be hard as this was going to be the furthest I had ever run before but I was also excited, I was starting to test my body and irregardless of timing it was going to be a new PB for me. It all started off well, I felt good despite my tight calves and the rain, I’d created a game – squirrel watch, which was in full force and I was distracting my mind from running. It was quite a miserable day and both Sam and I needed to stretch at the hallway point as it was starting to get hard, I was becoming way more dependant on the songs blasting in my ear to keep me going and I was hurting, I thought the pain in my calves would ease mid run but instead it was getting worse. When we got home I pretty much collapsed in a heap on the floor before checking Strava, turns out we hadn’t calculated the distance properly and instead of running 13.1 miles we had just done 14.7…no wonder it felt hard.
Training has been tough, I don’t think I fully appreciated the number of weekends I had written off having signed up for the race. Suddenly Saturday nights out were a thing of the past and ‘Sunday run day’ was a phrase I knew all too well. That being said I’ve learnt an awful lot about myself and managed to push my body to limits I did not think it could do. However, the main thing I’ve learnt is on long runs I’m an emotional wreck. You see I appear to go through a few stages, first I set off all excited full of energy and happy, my mind is engaged, I am chatting away and regularly participating in squirrel watch along the river to entertain myself. Then as the exhaustion starts to set in I get angry, like full on if you say one word wrong I will rip your eyeballs out angry! I remember this one 20 miler Sam and I were on, it was pissing it down with rain we were jumping puddles every 5 minutes and I was fuming, Sam had been hungover on the gloriously sunny day before so we postponed our run, naturally 15 miles in this mutual agreement no longer mattered in my head and boy if looks could kill, well sorry Sam!
The next emotion I succumb to is tears, there have been times I’m not sure if it’s been raining hard or if I am genuinely crying. And of course let’s not forget the moment I crossed the Cranleigh 15miles finish line and burst into tears…okay this was mainly due to the overwhelming pain in my hip from running but still.
As race day drew closer I couldn’t help but doubt my training, had I done enough? Have I done enough gym sessions not just long runs? But what about that time I tried to run 16 miles home from work and only managed 14.5? And my pacing was all over the place, 9 minute, 10 minute miles I could not get an average pace right without Sam by my side. He won’t be with me on race day, not at the start anyway, what if I can’t find him on the day? It was suddenly becoming very real and it is really hard not to compare yourself with others, particularly when they seem to all be running like all the time. The hot weather started to creep in and I became scared, I’ve been training in the cold when it’s been snowy and horrible how am I meant to deal with hot conditions? I started reading online top tips no one tells you before race day, I think I read every article under the sun on marathon tips, so much so when my family started to tell me a few they had seen on the news the day or two pre-race I could tell them the rest!
Then before I knew it I was ironing on Sam and I’s name to our race day vests and it was the week of the marathon. To say I was nervous would be an understatement, whenever anyone even mentioned race day to me I got butterflies and felt a bit sick. But my attitude had started to change, I ran my first ever park run which felt comfortable and quick, I was starting to feel confident in my training again. Next thing I know I was at the expo picking up my race number and frantically trying to find a hat for the big day.
As Saturday arrived I packed my bag making sure to include the gels, jelly babies and the all-important race number and secured my chip timing to my shoelaces. You’ll be pleased to hear I found myself a visor and, being the indecisive person I am, I packed both my leggings and shorts to decide what to wear on the day. I know they say don’t wear anything on race day you haven’t trained in but I knew it was going to be hot.
I felt nervous, so nervous, I hadn’t slept well despite being in bed by 9:30pm (I had read about this online…obviously…so had been trying to clock some extra zzz’s during the week) and I felt sick. I desperately tried to shove the porridge I had brought to the hotel down my throat but I couldn’t eat much. I was sitting in a room of people with their race number pinned to their vests in silence, we were all giving each other the same half smile knowing today was the day we attempted to tackle 26.2 miles.
So Sam and I set off kit bags in hand to catch the train to the start line, the streets were heaving with runners and my stomach was instantly filled with butterflies. We headed over the field to the coloured blimps indicating the start lines and, after hanging around trying to figure out exactly where we were meant to drop our bags, Sam and I parted ways. As a ballot holder I was to start in the blue zone and because Sam had a charity place he had to start in the red zone, so for the first 5K we would be running solo. I made my way into the blue area and found a spot to stretch, sip some water and watch the big screen whilst I wait (as we arrived a good two hours before we were meant to cross the start line we had quite a wait in store).
The longer I waited the more emotional I became, although I was surrounded by people I felt alone, nervous and scared. I was receiving lots of good luck messages from friends and there were moments when I thought I was going to start crying. Finally at 9:00 I dropped off my bag, at 9:15 after a mini stretching and warm up session I slowly headed over to my pen. Helicopters were flying over taking shots of all the runners for those watching at home. Sam and I had agreed we would follow the 4:30hr pacer in our group to arrive at our meeting point around the same time but I couldn’t find mine yet. Before I wasn’t worried about being in the pen by myself as I knew I’d soon make friends but when I was there it was like everyone knew one another, there were big groups of friends chatting away and I found myself clock watching and desperately messaging anyone who would reply just to take my mind off the approaching task. To make my anxiety worse I still could not see the pacer I had vowed to follow. To calm myself down I reread the text I had sent my brother, he had asked me to give him 10 reasons why I was going to smash it today, it sounds silly but it really helped, he made me properly stop and think why I was going to complete this race and do everyone proud. For the first time I really started to really believe in myself and my training. We started to move forward to the next pen signaling the race had begun, I reminded myself to take it slow, don’t get over excited at the beginning, everyone talks about negative splits and I need to meet Sam, so for the love of god go slowly. I wonder if I stuck to this a bit too much, everyone was zooming past me as I walked to the start line before I thought oh screw it and started running (slowly might I add) with everyone else.
Things felt good, and I could not stop smiling, “Oh my god I’m actually running the London Marathon THE London Marathon, how freaking awesome!” Crowds of people were lining the streets and I found myself one or two people who were my new pacers for the next 3 miles. Everything was going well, my pacing was on form, the atmosphere was amazing and I even saw the Tina Turner tribute act from the TV show All Together Now singing on the side of the road as I was going by. I was giving kids high-fives at every mile as my own mini celebration, it felt like I had found my stride and all of a sudden I had hit the 5K mark, I remember thinking my family will be able to properly start tracking me now and I was thrilled. Then Sam called, he was coming up to the 5K mark too, I had completely forgotten we were meant to be meeting up soon, I found myself standing in the middle of the dual carriageway desperately trying to keep out of runner’s way and spot Sam from the crowd.
Soon enough I saw his smiling face running towards me, I couldn’t help but beam right back at him, my biggest fear was having to run alone and now I knew we were going to be able to complete the race together. The first half felt like a blur, it was hot and the crowds had come out in their hoards. People were shouting our names and I was not disappointed with the screams that welcomed us runners round Cutty Sark, in fact I was so caught up in the buzz I didn’t even notice the ship to my left. After a bit of time I removed my headphones and started to soak up the London crowds grinning at whoever shouted my name.
Sam and I were coming closer and closer to London Bridge, I started to get excited, I knew my family were around 13 miles and shortly we would have hit the halfway point. Running over the bridge was everything I hoped for and passing the NSPCC area where they gave us extra screams filled me with joy. As we turned the corner I started desperately trying to message my family as I searched for their faces in the crowd, I knew they were close and I really wanted to see them, but I had no luck, I even got a text from a friend who was screaming my name but in my daze I missed them all. As we came up to 14 miles my heart sank, it was going to be another 5+ miles before I would get to give them a hug and after seeing so many runners greet friends and family all I wanted was to see my family. Luckily we shortly entered the ‘Cheer Dem Zone’, it was so loud with music blaring, whistles going and names being shouted from every direction. Then the MC called out “Go on Sam and Becky look at you two you look so strong”, Sam and I looked at each other with massive grins on our faces, that was exactly the kind of encouragement we needed in this heat.
It was starting to get hard, the heat was getting unbearable and people were dropping like flies around us. Then Sam told me he felt faint and I started to worry about him, we walked for a while and made sure we were in the shade as much as possible and I used my water to cool him down whenever I could. After seeing so many people being tended to by medics I did not want Sam collapsing on me, not when we had worked so hard. In that moment I realised I did not care about my finish time I just wanted to cross the line safely. For the next few miles we took it slow, walking in tunnels to make the most of the shade, before breaking out into a gentle jog again. Then I heard someone shouting my name, it was one of my good friends, immediately I turned back on myself and ran to the railings to give her a massive hug. This boost made my eyes water, it was a gentle reminder that so many people believed in me and I was keen to press on.
Sam was starting to really struggle now, soon after one water station we were in need of another conscious that we had to run another mile before we could get our hands on more bottles. Even worse Sam had lost his ‘A’ and his ‘M’ I had ironed on last week, I was racked with guilt, no-one was shouting his name anymore and he needed the encouragement way more than I did. I texted my family saying we were in need a of boost, it’s then I got a call from my brother pinpointing exactly where they were, thank god they were close. We had a big hug and lots of words of encouragement, I was so happy to see their faces and to receive reassurance, after a good 3 or 4 minutes of chatting we carried on…no no, we hobbled on. If there is one tip I can give you it’s do not stop for long periods of time because my god I hurt, we didn’t even think that stopping would mean we would become stiff!
With the odd walk/run we were on the home straight, as we started to emerge from the tunnel along Embankment Sub 5 hours was starting to slip through our fingers. Sam told me to go on ahead as I would be able to make it but he just couldn’t carry on. Inside I was desperate to run and get that time but being the stubborn person I am I was adamant we were finishing together, after all Sam had pulled me through so many bad moments in training I was not going to leave him on his own now, not with only a mile to go. They had ran out of water at mile 24 so Sam had to grab one from a paramedic we were so close but it was so hot we were starting to struggle.
Despite my exhausted daze I heard someone screaming my name, it took me a good 3 or 4 seconds to realise that it was one of my work colleagues, again I was filled with drive, it is amazing how much a friendly face helps you along the way. At this point I tried to take in the sights, The London Eye, Big Ben – even if he was covered in scaffolding – then out of nowhere I felt like I was about to hit the dreaded wall. As my paracetamol had worn off the pain in my left hip was getting stronger. I began to grimace, desperately trying to hide this from both Sam and the crowds, I was determined to push on, we were so close! Then I saw the sign every runner dreams to see ‘385 yards to go’, I was going to make it, I was about to complete the London Marathon. As we turned the last corner and with Buckingham Palace behind us I turned to Sam and asked “What have you got left in the tank?” he told me he didn’t but I should go on, by now I knew he would cross the line and after double checking I pressed on for a sprint finish. As I drew closer to the line I had to decide which exit to run through, I chose right as I knew Sam would run through that one and I would find him easier at the finish line. People were throwing there hands in the air and as a wave of relief hit me I followed suit speeding my way past as many people as I could. Once I crossed the line I kept running, I wasn’t sure if the first line was the one that stopped my chip timer and I knew I had to get out of the way. A few moments later Sam had joined me and we were collecting our medals. My heart was bursting with pride as my medal was placed round my neck. We had a quick photo together and went off to collect our belongings before heading over to meet my family.
Once we had changed shoes, eaten a flapjack or two, we went to the NSPCC zone to get a glass of prosecco and have a well-deserved massage. I cannot describe how much better I felt after my massage and I even learnt from the masseuse that I was most likely hyper mobile – who knew? After finishing a bottle of prosecco and devouring a pizza we headed home, ecstatic and exhausted. I was on a high from the crowds, pleased that I didn’t burn out and in disbelief that my body had managed to carry me along for 26.2 miles. My 5:07 time might not have been the target time I was after but it was a PB none the less.
There is something incredible about running the streets of London and 1 day later I was already itching to run it all over again. It is safe to say I have finally been bitten by the running bug and, although I am excited for future races, the London Marathon will have a special place in my heart. For those thinking about their next challenge I urge you to do the London Marathon, the crowds are truly amazing and never ceased to amaze me, besides if someone like me can go from running 10K to 26.2 miles in the space of 6 months what is there to say you can’t too?