Running the London Marathon has been on my ‘bucket list’ ever since I first conceived the idea that I might one day run 26.2 miles. I watched the London Marathon unfold on the television year after year as a child, scanning the crowds visible on screen, looking for interesting costumes or perhaps the glimpse of the familiar face of a friend or family member. My Mum and Dad ran the event together in 1985. They returned home triumphant, walking unevenly on sore legs, telling tales of roaring crowds, cobblestone streets, and the friendly comraderie of like-minded runners. They told us how they huddled together clad in black bin bags before the event, and then after the event, crowded onto the tube wearing their medals with pride, wrapped in silver mylar blankets that looked like futuristic space-capes. The silver space-capes were the best gift a returning parent could present to us kids after the marathon, fuelling weeks of imaginative super-hero intergalactic adventuring.
I have entered the London Marathon lottery 3 times in the past 4 years, but had never managed to secure a spot. Still, I was determined to run it someday, somehow. I had a partially formed plan that involved running for a charity – most likely for Guide Dogs – and had a vague idea that I would pursue this plan for either the 2016 or 2017 event. Running a marathon in 2015 wasn’t on my radar at all – between a new job, an upcoming family wedding and a variety of other commitments and plans, I had decided that running the 3M half marathon and the Austin half marathon was going to be plenty for me to deal with this year. And then in early January, the chance to run the 2015 London Marathon appeared on the horizon. When opportunity knocks, you’ve got to open the darn door. Never mind that my “long run” was only at 8 miles and we were only 15 weeks out from the event. Never mind that I wasn’t sure how I would get the time off work to participate. Never mind that plane tickets to London don’t grow on trees. I’d figure all that out if it meant I got to run London. There was no way I was going to decline. I said yes.
A plan formed. Me, Teresa, Jill and Christopher would run London. I outlined a training plan to get us up to 26.2 miles in time. Jill came up with costume ideas. Teresa proposed travel itineraries. It was all very exciting.
We were going to run the marathon!
When the alarm rang at 6.30am on Sunday April 26th I was already awake, curled up in a ball on the bed, peering out from beneath my duvet at the gear I had set out the night before. I brushed my teeth and put on sunscreen and liberally applied body glide to all the bits that are prone to chafing. I put on my super-cute Princess Anna race outfit. I ate a peanut butter sandwich and had a cup of tea. I gathered my kit bag and headed down to the hotel lobby with Teresa to meet Jill and Christopher at 7.15am.
By 7.30am, we were all piled onto red London buses and headed to the Green starting area in Blackheath. The roads we were driving on were lined with silver barriers as teams of people closed the streets in preparation for the marathon. We drove past the 12 mile marker and I did a quick mental calculation of when I might see that point of the course again – I reckoned it would be sometime around 12.30pm, which was quite sobering given that it wasn’t even 8am yet!
We arrived at the Green start around 8am. It was cold and drizzling and the grass was wet. I felt excited and nervous. We went over to the Guinness World Record area where Jill had her picture taken and signed autographs as Cinderella. Then we were able to get access to one of the tents, which was super awesome because it was a lot less wet and cold inside the tent, and the loos had a much shorter line. Yay! So with 2 hours to go until the marathon was due to start, we settled in to our tent to wait. I fiddled with my gear. I redid my hair 3 times. I snacked. I chatted with my friends and tent-mates and took a bunch of pictures. Basically, I did everything I could to not think too much about the run itself. Mark came by the Green start and I ventured out into the cold to see him briefly. I put my kit bag on the gear truck so it would be waiting for me at the finish line.
Finally, it was time. We lined up at 10am for a 10.10am start time. Oh the nerves! Ahhhh! So awesome! So scary!
And then we were running! There were spectators lining the route beginning as soon as we exited the starting chute. Mark was at the very first corner, cheering us on and trying to take pictures in the madness of it all. I fell in beside Teresa and the two of us tucked in behind Jill and Christopher for the first couple of miles, following the wake of Jill’s Cinderella skirt. I tried to control my breathing and take it all in. My feet were completely numb from being wet and cold, but the rest of me felt pretty good. We ran through a residential area that had speed humps every few hundred meters, and each hump had a volunteer standing by it shouting “Hump!”. Eventually my toes defrosted enough to regain feeling. Unfortunately, once I could feel my toes, I realized my wet socks were bunched up and bothering me. I talked to Teresa and agreed that I would pull off to the side and straighten out my socks when there was an opportunity. We pulled over and I straightened out my socks as best I could, then jammed my feet back into my shoes and started running again. Teresa was right by my side, but Jill and Christopher stayed back to take a little walk break.
Teresa and I chatted. I was still feeling nervy. There were so many runners everywhere! Just an endless stream as far as I could see in front and behind! Then the Green start merged with the Blue start and suddenly there were even more runners! A river of runners, completely filling both lanes of the road, bouncing along on fresh legs. I tried to take it all in. There were just so many people. And even at this early stage of the course, there were plenty of spectators cheering us all on.
The next few miles are a blur of chatter and crowd watching. We saw all sorts of costumes – running beer bottles, running apples, running Spongebob Squarepants, a giraffe, a gorilla, all manner of sparkly dresses and tutus on both men and women. It quickly became apparent that as Princess Anna of Arendelle, my best audience was the under-10 girls set – they were the ones who called out and cheered for Princess Anna, tugging on their parents’ sleeves and waving enthusiastically as I passed by. It seems that the cult of Anna/Frozen has not yet reached the more mature masses. Ah, well. Teresa, dressed in an adorable Bambi t-shirt and wearing reindeer antlers on her head fared better with the crowd. She got a lot of “Go, Bambi!”, many “Go, reindeer!” and several “Go, Rudolph!”. Of course, Jill, running in a full-length hooped Cinderella dress complete with tiara and long white gloves was the smash hit! People loved Cinderella! As they should.
The London crowds were simply amazing from start to finish. They really cheer people on. Most runners had their names printed on their shirts, and the crowds then specifically cheer for “Fred” or “Mary”….or “Fat Paul” or “Baldy Bob”…..you get the idea. In the US there are lots of people with funny and/or encouraging signs, but they only really shout and cheer when “their” runners go by. In London, there were far fewer signs, but the crowds cheer for everyone, all the time. It’s like running through a street party at times – there were people dressed in tuxes cheering and drinking pints on the side of the road, there were families having barbecues and handing out sweeties. There was a non-stop soundtrack of pop music and brass bands and drum ensembles to go along with the cheering. It never let up.
We ran past the Cutty Sark and wound our way through the streets. We took a quick bathroom break and I took off one of my shirts, hoping to pass it to Mark sometime soon. I had no idea where we actually were, but I kept scanning the crowd and looking for a familiar face. Sometime around mile 9, I saw Mark and Derek and Indira cheering for us on the side of the road, but there were too many runners between us and them, so we just waved and kept on going. I took off my Anna cape and tied it to my flip belt, not wanting to wear it anymore, but unwilling to let it go. (Ha!). The mile markers kept ticking past until at a certain point things started to look a bit familiar. I realized Teresa had pulled directly alongside me and was looking straight at me. “What is it?”, I asked, looking around. And then I saw it. Tower Bridge was just ahead! Teresa knew it was coming up, but it caught me by surprise. The crowd on the bridge seemed to cheer even louder as we crossed. There was music playing and my heart just swelled with the enormity of it all. I was running the London Marathon. Right here, right now. And as I tried my best to drink in the moment, looking beyond the crowd and out over the Thames, my eyes filled with tears.
I felt a certain satisfaction as we hit the 12 mile marker just before 12.30pm, as I had predicted we would, and thought how slowly and yet how fast the time had gone between getting on the bus and getting to where we were. Almost half way! There were speedy runners going back in the other direction, going through the 22m mark as we approached 13m. They only had 4 miles to go. I had….a lot more…. But no sense in worrying about it. One foot in front of the other. More crowds, more cheering, more music. My Garmin buzzed and beeped and we steadily chewed through the miles.
Sometime around mile 16 we ran through an area that was just a wall of sound – drums beating, people shouting. Then I saw Mark in the crowd. He was holding up the sign Alexander and Suzanna made for me, and I just lost it. By the time I got to him I was crying like a baby. Naturally, he found this concerning. “Are you alright?”. “Yes. I’m fine! I’m great! It’s just so amazing and overwhelming!”, I sobbed as I lobbed my sweaty t-shirt at him.
We ran through more neighbourhoods, more street parties, more friendly supporters. I joined the crowd in singing along with “Hi ho Silver Lining” which was blasting from a stereo system along the route. I accepted a dollop of Vaseline to quell some potential chafing under my arms, I accepted half a banana from someone and a handful of Jelly Babies from another random stranger . I was starting to tire. Unfortunately, without the pink cape, it was harder for my already limited fan base to identify Princess Anna. Teresa suggested putting the cape back on, so as to draw from its super powers. I did. I felt better.
Around mile 21 we saw Jill’s husband Dick on the side of the road. He gave each a hug, told us we were looking great and asked me how I was feeling. Apparently I told him I was ready to be done. I don’t even remember that, but I was speaking the truth.
Then we hit the point where the 12 mile marker was on the other side of the road. There were still a few people on the course, marching onwards as the marathon crew started their clean-up operations, collecting all the discarded bottles and gu packets and scrubbing the blue course guide lines off the tarmac. Gosh, those people still had a long way to go! I just had 4 miles to go. Just 4 miles. Still 4 miles. Ugh. I was tired.
We saw a golden retriever puppy in the crowd. Puppy!
We ran into a tunnel and Katy Perry’s ‘Roar’ was playing. “This is Suzanna’s favourite request in the car at the moment!” I told Teresa. I sang along. ‘Roar’ ended and “Eye Of The Tiger” started blasting. “This is Alexander’s favourite request in the car at the moment!” I told Teresa. “It’s like they are cheering you on!” said Teresa. And I thought about it and decided it was the Universe’s way of letting my children cheer for me from far away. And I cried. Again.
3 miles to go. Plod, plod, plod. The crowds were on fire with their enthusiastic cheering. We ran along Embankment, towards the picture postcard icons of London’s skyline – the London Eye, the Thames, The Houses of Parliament and Big Ben. Big Ben struck 3pm. 2 miles to go. An airplane flew overhead through the postcard setting. We turned right in front of Big Ben, and ran past Westminster Abbey. The church bells were ringing. It was like the entire city of London was putting on a show for us. It was amazing. I took deep breaths.
1 mile to go.
As we turned onto Birdcage walk, I realized that Buckingham Palace and the finish line were both oh-so-close, and I totally lost it. I was about to finish the London Marathon and I was so happy and so emotional and the crowds were cheering so loud that I cried. Again. And the more I cried the more the crowd cheered and the more they cheered the more I cried. It was ridiculous!
Teresa and I rounded the final corner together, and I barreled towards the finish line with the last of my strength. We held hands, raised our arms high, and crossed the line together. We got our medals. We did it.
I’d be lying if I said it was easy. It was not easy. But it was amazing. It was fantastic. It was one of the most incredible experiences of my life.
I am so thankful to Jill, Dick, Christopher, Teresa and of course Mark for the whole fabulous London Marathon experience. I’m thankful for all my AWDAT buddies who trained with me and made the long runs not just bearable but actually fun. I’m thankful for my parents for introducing me to the idea of the London Marathon in the first place and for taking care of my kids so Mark and I could be in London together for this. I’m thankful for my sisters and all my friends who supported me both in person and from afar with messages of encouragement.
And last but not least, I’m thankful for my children for bringing me cups of tea on the sofa after long training runs when I just didn’t want to get up. You’ll be pleased to hear that I brought back a silver mylar marathon blanket for each of my kids, and that the blankets are currently being used as props in imaginative adventures for superhero space travellers. Maybe one day they will run the London Marathon.