Way way back in May of last year, I got a bit caught up in the Facebook frenzy surrounding the London marathon ballot. Despite having decided I never wanted to run it again ever, I found myself filling in the form and clicking the 'submit' button. Instantly I regretted it, but consoled myself with the thought "Oh well, who actually gets in through the public ballot anyway?" It turned out that I did!! I had the choice to either give my place back or knuckle down and do some proper training.
So, I found myself setting my alarm for 5am on Sunday 23rd April after whining, whinging and moaning my way through months of training. I was feeling confident as my final long run had gone well, although my taper had turned out to be less of a taper and more of a 'stop running and eat all the pies' affair. My biggest concern of the day was actually waking up in the morning so I asked Nigel, a running club buddy, to ring me when he got up to make sure I was awake. He got a lift to the coach stop for his troubles! My kit bag was packed the night before so all I had to do was get dressed and leave the house.
Arriving at the coach stop, Nigel and I were met by all the other people taking advantage of the club coach to the start line. I have to say, this is such a fantastic thing that my running club provides, it really does make life so much easier on race day. I had my breakfast on the coach and we arrived at about 8am. We said goodbye to the red and green starters and headed off to the blue start.
Once inside the start area we found ourselves a patch of grass to camp out on and all began our preparations for our race. I couldn't decide how many layers to wear as I get cold much more than most people and don't warm up very quickly, so I fussed around for a while and eventually settled on just my guide dogs shirt which turned out to be the right decision. We dumped our kit and took one last not-so-quick trip to the loos, before heading down to the start line.
It only took us 10 minutes after the race started to cross the line, I kept my fleece on until the very last minute as I hate being cold! Nigel, another friend Leon and I all started together but Nigel and I said goodbye to Leon about half a mile in. Nigel and I had agreed we would start together but would run our own races, however we had had quite similar paces in the run up to London so we were hopeful we could stay together for a while. At mile 3, Nigel told me that he had something special planned with his family at around mile 25, so this gave us something to chat about for a while. We also took selfies and generally had a good time. I was able to marvel at the Cutty Sark properly this year, last year I was so intent on not falling over discarded water bottles on the ground that I didn't look up and didn't actually notice Cutty Sark! At mile 7 Nigel's old back injury started to slow him down. I was torn between staying with him to see his family surprise or going on ahead to follow my own time goal. In the end he persuaded me to leave him behind so we said our goodbyes and wished each other luck.
In the distance I could see a Sandhurst Joggers shirt so I made an effort to catch up. It was two of my running club friends who were looking very cool, calm and collected. I couldn't keep up with them so I said goodbye and watched them head off into the distance. At mile 12 I spotted the Guide Dogs cheer team. I was easy for them to spot as our Guide Dogs shirts are quite distinctive in a crowd, so for about 3 seconds as I ran past I felt like a true celebrity as they all cheered madly! Then they were gone and I was back in the masses again.
Half way came and went and at mile 15 I started really feeling the distance in my legs. I knew a couple of my running club friends were along that stretch somewhere so I focussed on looking for them and was chuffed to see them, although they only just spotted me as I screamed their names on my way past! My next focal point was looking for my niece at mile 17. It was nice to have the distraction as I felt the first of many toenails pop off at this point. I didn't see her at mile 17 but I knew she had a second option of being at around mile 19 which, I convinced myself, wasn't too far away. Another toenail popped along that stretch but I kept going and was rewarded with the sight of my lovely niece waving madly at me on my right. I was able to work through the runners and get over to her for a photo and a high five. She didn't seem to want a sweaty hug for some reason! She didn't let me stop and swiftly send me on my way, on to the 20 mile marker and into the final six miles.
The less said about this bit the better really. I'd had enough, my feet hurt, I knew I had blisters and loose toenails and my quads were calling me all sorts of rude names. However I hadn't got that far just to stop so I switched into 'mental marathon' mode and began the stern, drill instructor style talking that seems to work quite well. I can be pretty strict with myself when I need it and I was NOT walking under any circumstances! It also helps to be a bit of a show off, the thought of being able to tell my work colleagues that I ran the whole thing without stopping was a huge motivator! So with that and repeating a couple of mantras over and over again, I just kept on running until the end was in sight. With 400m to go I wasn't sure that I'd get my 'gold standard' target of 4:15 as my brain was beyond any mental arithmetic at that point and I couldn't work out the timings, but I was pretty certain that beating last years time of 4:18 was within reach. I finally crossed the line in a new personal best of 4:14:24 and was lucky to spot friends giving out the medals, so received my medal and hugs from them.
After that I had a hot chocolate and a sit down before joining up with fellow Sandhurst Joggers for the coach trip home. We shared our stories on the way home, congratulated those who had achieved goals and commiserated with those whose races hadn't gone to plan (although everyone had finished, so no one had had a bad race!).
Arriving back at the car park I regretted not thinking through my parking spot as my car was right across the far side of the car park. Having offered a friend a lift home I don't think he was too impressed at my lack of forethought at 6:15am that morning! Shuffling across the car park and getting into my car was mildly entertaining though.
My day ended with a Chinese takeaway, a beer, washing my bloody socks before they stained, a bath and an evening in bed catching up with all the Facebook activity.
Oh yeah, if you were wondering about Nigel's family surprise, well he proposed to his girlfriend!! His daughter videoed the proposal and he was annoyed later to see that he was overtaken by a Womble while he was stopped, however it was all worthwhile because she said YES!!