After a breakfast of a bowl of granola, 2 bananas and a bottle of Lucozade sport, I headed off to Tonbridge station and caught the first train of the day to Charing Cross. Luckily it was on time, the 45 minute journey passed quite quickly and I was soon looking out of the window at the London suburbs we would soon be running through.
At 8 am I arrived at Charing Cross and met up with 6/7 others from the club. It was good to see the others and to be able to travel to the start with them as they helped me relax. So after another train journey back to Blackheath and a short walk we were on the common at the blue start. The weather, which had started wet windy and cold, had improved slightly to just windy and cold. Everything about the race, was organised to perfection so bag drops, last minute toilet stops etc were managed with ease. There were big screens so we could watch the start of the womens and wheelchair races, so the final hour before the start passed really quickly.
Just before 10 we all split up and headed to our starting pen. I was in pen 6 with Lauren and Anna from the club so we went and waited together. We were probably about a quarter of a mile back from the start line, and somewhere between the 4 hr 15 and 4 hr 30 pacers.
We spent the last few minutes discussing our race strategy (find a good bottom to follow to alleviate the boredom was one piece of advice passed on via another club regular). Finally, 7 minutes after the start of the race we finally crossed the start line and were off. I ran with Lauren and Anna for the first half mile or so and then headed off on my own. My plan was to run steady 8 min 45 second miles the whole way round and to finish somewhere under the 4 hour mark, but I found early congestion meant the first mile took 9 mins 15, 30 seconds slower than target. The congestion cleared slightly though and I settled into a steady 8 40 pace for the next few miles.
The first landmark on the route is at 7 miles when you run into Greenwich and around the Cutty Sark. The atmosphere here was incredible, with deep crowds on both sides of the road. Unfortunately I got stuck behind the 4 hour pacer, who had about 300 other runners with him so miles 7 and 8 were finished at 9 min 10 pace, some 30 second slower than planned.
After finally passing the pacer, again the race settled down and I tried to focus on maintaining target pace and relaxing for the next few miles through Bermondsey and Southwark.
Just after 12 miles the race comes to life. After a few miles of running through fairly dreary London suburbs you make a right turn and before you is London Bridge. As you come onto the bridge the noise and crowd levels increase and you get a great view of the London skyline. Just after the bridge I managed to spot my wife & kids on the side of the road that gave me a huge boost. I made it to the halfway point in 1 hr 55 mins and 25 seconds, at an average pace of 8min 49 seconds per mile. I was bang on target and feeling ok.
Next is a trip into and around the Isle of Dogs in docklands. I found it hard to focus on the surroundings though as slower runners kept getting in my way and there are thousands of drinks bottles on the floor to be avoided. Again the miles just ticked by, at and around my target pace. At around 20 miles you come off the Isle of Dogs and it’s a 6 mile slog to the finish. I saw my family again, another huge boost, and got to the 35km (22mile) mark in 3 :12 at 8 min 50 secs average. I knew that all I had to do was hold it together for 4 more miles and my target would be hit.
The next 3 miles were just a wall of noise, as I made my way from London bridge along the embankment, under Waterloo Bridge and to Charing Cross. I was running on empty and feeling sick but managed to keep going without slowing down too much. In the final stages the course takes you to the end of Westminster Bridge, around Parliament Square, along Birdcage Walk to Buckingham Palace and along the Mall to the finish. I was so pleased to cross the line in the time of 3 hrs 56 minutes and 19 seconds, a new personal best in one of the worlds best marathons.
Would I do it again? Absolutely. The positives were the organisation and the crowd were like nothing I ever experienced before. The only negative was the congestion caused by all the other runners, meant I found it really hard to settle into controlled running as I was forever having to weave around others and dodge discarded drinks bottles. In the end I ran 26.75 miles, half a mile longer than the shortest route.
Finally, I want to end this report by thanking Hedge End running club that awarded me the place in the race through the ballot and to everyone I’ve trained with at the club.