Updated: Sep 28, 2018
Mayhem. Organised chaos. Unbelievable atmosphere. Iconic landmarks. Runners. Spectators. Crazy, crazy, crazy!
In the past few months, I have competed in two races that couldn’t be more worlds apart, while both hold the same prestige. From the big boulders, beech forests and the quiet peacefulness through Goats Pass, to thousands of people crammed shoulder-to-shoulder, yelling, singing and dressed in crazy costumes running through the streets of London. While you can’t really compare one to the other, at this stage the wide-open spaces of the South still hold my heart. That’s not to say I didn’t love everything (OK so maybe not quite everything!) about the race on Sunday though.
I thought I’d better write this while I still look like a spastic walking down stairs or running across the road, so as not to cloud my judgment in a few days time and do something silly like sign up for another one! Probably not the best impressions on my first day of work either. I still can’t grasp the number of people, both competing and lining the streets who came out on a beautiful sunny day to support this iconic race. London inevitably turned it on; it was probably the best day weather-wise since I arrived three weeks ago, with not a cloud in the sky. It was an ideal temperature too, although they did have plenty of water sprays along the way for those who were overheating.
I was feeling surprisingly calm during the days leading up to it. If I hadn’t just done Coast to Coast, I am sure this would have been a completely different story, but with my recent travels and change of scenery, I hadn’t really thought too much about it. A day of sightseeing with Flis and Sam on Saturday, a few sneaky red wines (they say not to change your regular eating habits), a yummy pasta for dinner and I was all set. I had picked up my race pack a couple of days before and attended the pre-race expo. Runner’s heaven! It took all my willpower not to purchase anything, and I came away with only a few bars and Gu Chomps for race day.
My track record with the trains since I have been here wasn’t that great, so I was more nervous about getting to the start line rather than the finish! While staring at the train map, a lovely lady must have noticed my bewildered look and told me the right platform to head to which was a relief. Once on board more competitors jumped on along the way carrying their red plastic marathon bags with their personal belongings. It took about an hour to reach Greenwich Park, the closest station, where I joined the masses heading to the start. Dropping my bag off on the truck with the right corresponding number (46964), I had just enough time for a last-minute loo stop before lining up on the street ready to go. Prince William is a patron for the London Marathon, so there was an announcement from him (ironically he was in NZ!) before the 10am starter hooter sounded.
And there I stood. It was another five minutes before I even started moving, and 13 minutes before I crossed the start line. From the very beginning, I knew this was not going to be a usual 42.2km run. People of all shapes and sizes, dressed in crazy costumes, singing and chanting, you name it, it was present. A guy carrying a fridge, a couple of g-strings, bananas in pyjamas, the list goes on. And of course the famous Rhino suits. Two were beside me while I was waiting at the start and for a split second, I thought it would have been cool to join them. Then I came back to my senses, and I decided my oversized blue rhino t-shirt was going to be painful enough!
Although I aimed to be part of the sub-four-hour club, I wasn’t overly confident. Running 42.2km on hard tarmac is very different from river crossings and boulder hopping on the more forgiving trail, and I wasn’t too sure how my body was going to hold up. Plus the fact that my longest run since mid-February was a 20km run down the Thames. Oh well, too late now, I was going to have to rely on my base fitness and determination. I set the pacer on my watch to 5.30min km’s, which would mean I would come in under four hours. I am pleased to say I was pretty consistent over the whole race, with my slowest kilometre being 5.48 and my fastest 5.27. I knew this steady pace would be crucial to how I felt through the later stages of the race and cracking that four-hour time.
The people. I know I have said it already, but it still blows my mind. I dodged them for 42.2km (my GPS on my watch said I actually did 42.9km) and stats on the website say over the last 7.2km alone I passed 1316 people, with only 22 passing me. It wasn’t until about the 35km mark that the road opened up enough to just run at a constant pace without too much lateral movement. Next time I’ll predict my time to be better than I expect so as to start in an earlier group (woah, what? Next time??).
Spectators were lined ten deep at certain stages with contemporary stands erected at many spots, screaming when they saw someone they recognised and just generally supporting those they didn’t. Many were holding banners and signs (personal favourite: smile if you’ve just peed a little) while orchestras and bands provided motivation to keep the runners going. Almost everyone had their names printed on the front and back of their tops so people could cheer them on. I ran for 41km without seeing anyone I knew so you can imagine my excitement when 1km from the end I heard my name and saw Flis and Sam yelling and cheering from the sideline. I may have done a very over-excited jump and fist pump (ha, I didn’t care as no-one knew me anyway) when I spotted them. I think I actually sprinted the last km to the finish line (the last km was my fastest!)!
I had been warned people were known to ‘hit the wall’ at Canary Wharf; luckily I had no idea how far along the route this was so I was waiting and waiting for this to happen, which thankfully it didn’t. I was presently surprised how I felt during this race, yes around the 30km mark I was hurting, but just in my quads and that was purely from a lack of training for long distances on hard surfaces. It’s amazing how quickly we forget the pain. While running I was saying to myself that I would definitely not do another race, I’ve ticked that box (almost). But I knew this would happen and have since googled races and events that I can enter over the coming year!
Running past Buckingham Palace and down The Mall to the finish I was pleased to cross the line in a time of 3.54.33, a couple of minutes to spare and now officially a member of the sub-four club. I managed to come in in 10164th place overall and 2093rd out of the females. Just (just) squeezing into the top quarter, I’ll claim that. The London Marathon was everything and more than what people had said it was, I am stoked to have ticked off a marathon with a race like this.
And lastly the main reason for running this race, to raise much-needed funds for Save the Rhino. A huge thank you to all that have bought tea towels or prints, or just very generously donated to this fantastic charity. I have successfully raised just over $2,500, so I am very happy to have helped out in my own small way. If you have been sidetracked and still want to contribute, I have a very small pile of tea towels left, with the closing date for fundraising the end of May.
The London Marathon is part of the World marathon majors, along with Tokyo, Boston, Berlin, Chicago and New York. If the opportunity arises to enter one of these races and a marathon is something you’ve thought about doing but never really got around to it, get amongst it! Oh, the mind boggles…