Posted by: Leonie Brown28/04/2010
Seventy-two hours after the 2010 London marathon began and I can just about walk down the stairs normally again - the time seems right for some serious post-match analysis.
Mile 0: Things did not get off to a good start with a terrible night’s sleep, punctured by anxiety dreams about forgetting my trainers, or finding I’m wearing a posh dress watch rather than my sports watch, so have no idea how fast I’m running. As soon as I got out of bed at 6am though, the day started to improve. My lovely flatmate had left a bunch of birthday flowers on the kitchen table for me, and as I opened my cards over a bowl of porridge the nerves slowly turned to excitement.
By the time Caroline and I reached the start (after a trouble-free journey - another thing I was stressing about) excitement had almost totally taken over and I couldn’t wait to get going.
The London marathon attracts inspiring stories, but I found myself lining up for the start next to what must be one of the most incredible. Roy, 81, was running his 51st marathon and this was his 20th time in London. He’d raised £180,000 for charity over the years, he told me, having only started marathon running aged 60. That’s an average of 2.4 marathons a year. I couldn’t have asked for a better last-minute motivational chat.
Mile 1: So many people! Starting from pen 7, of 9, it took 15 minutes to cross the line and then it was impossible to run at my target pace.
At the 1 mile marker I was already 20 seconds down on my 9:09 minute-mile goal. I told myself I could catch it up later on and not to waste too much energy weaving through the crowds. In hindsight, the steady going early on was probably a very good thing indeed.
Mile 2: I’d been told this was mainly downhill, so was happy to see a long slope stretching out ahead and tried to pick up some speed. Hang on a minute though, what’s this equally long climb coming out the other side all about? I wasn’t warned about this. Humph.
Miles 3 to 5: As the red starters merged with the blues and greens the sheer scale of the event hit me. The atmosphere was incredible and the early crowds were doing themselves proud. I was still going much slower than I wanted, unable to settle at my own pace amid the volume of runners. But I was cheered by passing the 10 minute-mile pacer, only to come across the 11 minute-mile pacer just down the road.
Mile 6: The first hour was done almost without me noticing and I was feeling good. I took my first drink at 6 miles and got a slight stitch
- a problem I’d experienced in training and was worried about for the day. So I reined myself in slightly, decided not to worry about my split times and just to concentrate on staying calm and on finishing - 20 miles still to go.
Miles 7 and 8: Steady, but starting to really look forward to seeing my family and friends at…
Mile 9: I saw them before they saw me, thanks to the fantastic bright pink flags they’d made the night before. What a genius idea. They were perched on a ledge behind the 20-deep rank of spectators, so I couldn’t hear anything they were saying, but knew they’d seen me. The lift was incredible and for about 500 metres I felt like I could probably sprint the rest of the way.
Mile 10: I knew the plan was for my support crew to cross from the 9 mile mark over to 11, so there wasn’t long before I’d seen them again.
I passed the time by checking out my fellow runners - lo and behold there was Princess Beatrice in her caterpillar, led by Holly and Sam Branson. I had to cut across a grass verge to avoid getting caught up in the 34-strong group as it negotiated a particularly sharp corner.
And note to the tabloids: Bea is definitely no chubster!
Mile 11: Passed in a blur of loveliness as I saw one group of supporters, was joined on the course for a brief jog by another friend, and then saw a third cheering posse.
Mile 12: More support, but this time they missed me. Work-mate Sarah was busy preparing herself a burger from the BBQ, while close by, on the other side of the street, ex-work-mate Philippa stared expectantly into the masses as I passed her.
Mile 13: With the excitement of seeing my supporters and then crossing Tower Bridge behind me, I started to really tire for the first time and was disappointed with my halfway time of 2.08. I knew I could comfortably run half marathons much quicker than that and felt that the sheer number of people had really held me back. With nothing to be done though, I had to concentrate on staying strong and tried to relax by dropping my shoulders and shaking my legs out a little.
Miles 14 to 17: Things started to get tougher. Crowd numbers dwindled around the Isle of Dogs and the quads began to burn. I’ve noticed in training that different parts of the body hurt at different points during a run. To begin with it is the calves and ankles as they scream from the shock of an initial pounding. Then, as they get used to the idea, the stomach often complains after an hour of swishing around. As that settles, a sharp pain often develops in my tense shoulder blades.
But from around 15 miles onwards, it’s the leg muscles that take centre stage. ‘Hello,’ it’s as if they say, ‘what have you lot got to complain about? It’s us that’s taking the real strain, and we’re going to cause the overwhelming pain from now until this nonsense stops.’
Mile 18: I’d started to obsesses ever so slightly about when I’d next see some people I knew, so was really happy to reach mile 18, where my friends and family were planning to be. When there was no sign of them I tried not to be too despondent. At least the Hact folk gave me a loud cheer - much needed after what had felt like 7 lonely miles.
Mile 19: Oh joy, the familiar surrounds of Canary Wharf and the most fantastic crowds yet. Huge big up to my friend Hannah, who, on seeing me turn into North Colonnade, used her entire lung capacity to scream ‘Happy Birthday’. The crowd around her cottoned on and soon 30 or so people were shouting birthday wishes.
Mile 20: This was my lowest point. Exiting the incredible atmosphere of Canary Wharf, the streets were almost deserted and I felt broken. A glance at my watch confirmed that the hallowed sub 4-hour goal was impossible. From somewhere I managed to pick up the pace just a tiny bit, still hoping to break 4:15. That lasted for all of 100 metres before I conceded that, screw the time, just finishing now had to be my main priority.
Miles 21 and 22: Hard, hard, hard. Cheered only by watching the poor folk still at 14 miles on the other side of the street. Some fantastic costumes were on display by those bringing up the rear, including the two men in full-on suits, complete with bowler hats, umbrellas and picnic table. Respect.
Mile 23: Elation! The support crew were back and their numbers had swelled. Another huge boost and by this point, with just three miles to go, I knew I would finish.
Miles 24, 25 and 26: The final stretch passed in a blur of incredible crowd support, disbelief that I’d come this far and relief that it was nearly over. I spent much of this time running next to a giant London Pride bottle, which was very popular with the supporters, so I happily soaked up some of its glory. Passing under the ‘Only 385 yards to go’
banner I finally relaxed and even managed a bit of a sprint finish (for sprint read limping hop at a very slightly quicker pace) to bag a time of 4:24:03. And I didn’t walk once!
The aftermath: The very sore legs, which felt like they might collapse beneath me at any moment, lasted for 48 hours. The real sense of achievement, however, is only just beginning to dawn and will, I feel sure, last for a lot longer. From about halfway onwards, the words ‘never again’ rang in my ears. How quickly we forget though. I’m eager to be back pounding the streets, and to one day run the quicker time that I know is in me. Dublin marathon this October, anyone?
From Home run
Tracking the progress of Inside Housing staff and others running the London Marathon for the Housing Associations’ Charitable Trust