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London Marathon 2016


London marathon…..where to start…..it’s taken me nearly 6 months to make my peace with this race and write this report and I still don’t think I’m entirely over it! Let’s face it, it’s an iconic event, it’s THE marathon in the UK (probably the only one if you ask non runners!), I’d watched on TV since I was a kid and wondered how on earth anyone runs 26.2 miles and then I bag myself a good for age time in Manchester in 2015 so it seemed rude not to use it to run London.
Now Manchester marathon blew me away, I loved every minute of it (OK, maybe not that bit around 22 miles when I thought my toe had exploded), so London was going to be amazing right? People rave about it, the crowds, the route, the landmarks……by January I was counting down the days like a kid to Christmas!
So how did I fall out of love with London?
Well…..firstly a few days before the race there’s an announcement that for the last 2 years Manchester marathon was short on distance and hence for 2017 GFA times London will be adding 2 minutes to Manchester results from those years. This put my qualifying time over the limit which rather knocked my confidence and I half expected to turn up at the expo to collect my race number to find I’d been disqualified from running. We also had bad news at work with the death of a much loved colleague a couple of weeks beforehand and his funeral was the Friday before London so spending the morning in a Premier Inn reading Facebook tributes with a large box of tissues probably didn’t do much for my emotional state of mind.
I pulled myself together and headed to the expo to collect my race number on Friday morning (luckily didn’t get DQ’d!), had a look round and listened to some talks but wasn’t really in the mood so headed to my friends where I was stayed for the rest of the weekend.
Saturday I went back to the expo to meet up with Wendy, Jules and Mia and had much more fun doing some shopping and sampling and in true ERN style coffee and cakes! Also bumped into a friend of my brother’s which defied all odds out of all the people there so it was nice to have a chat with her after he’d been texting us both “training tips” all week. I spent the afternoon with my friend and went for a gentle walk to see Tower Bridge open and checked out some of the mile markers along the course…..one more sleep…..
…..race day…..
…..the plan was to take the DLR to Greenwich and walk to the green start from there. Except we thought we were in a tunnel and didn’t realise it was the station so failed to get off! No big issue, next stop was the closest to the red and blue starts so the train emptied of runners here. It’s a fair walk to the start and I was starting to feel like I’d done a half marathon before I’d even started! Past a man with a tiger on his back (not a real one, that would be ridiculous!), past a small group of portaloos with a queue of a few people outside, think it’s too early for a wee, I’ll carry on towards the green start….Had another emotional moment on the way as my friend texted me a photo of the kids who were already positioned in front of the TV holding a big sign up saying “good luck Auntie Emma, we love you!”. Aha….finally the green start is in sight!
….now the green (GFA and certain celebrities) start….it’s a smaller start zone than the red (charity places) and blue (ballot) and was rumoured to be an easier start due to the smaller number of runners and also have posher portaloos. Keen to experience said loos I joined one of the queues that was filling the entire start area. No sooner had I joined the queue than an announcement was made to say that baggage trucks were leaving in 3 minutes…..WHAT??? It wasn’t even 9:30 and race didn’t start til 10!! Exit loo queue and execute a change of clothing that makes me wonder if I have a career in triathlon…..joined queue of people waiting to hand their bags in as a guy came along, shut the sides of the trucks and told those of us who were waiting to leave them by the barrier and they’d go on a sweeper truck. Really wasn’t very happy about this and hoping my bag would make it to the finish added to the stresses of the day (on the TV footage the baggage trucks at the red start were still there when the race started!!). Rejoin loo queue……stand in loo queue……watch a man dressed in a giant bagpuss outfit attempt to get in a portoloo….stand in loo queue some more……see a couple of folk I know which was nice…..stand in loo queue a bit longer…..see Ben Smith of the 401 challenge, get a hug……stand in loo queue a bit longer, men starting to pee beind bins now…..bladder starts to panic…..queue still longer than the distance I’ve travelled since I joined it……people start doing warm up exercises in the queue……panic watch checking……women starting to pee in the middle of the field now too…..stand in queue a bit longer in eternal hope of everyone else suddenly not needing to go……decide there’s nothing for it…..if you can’t beat them, join them…..head to “changing tent” (empty marquee on grass) which has become the overflow ladies toilet. Suddenly very glad for giant plastic poncho I’m wearing to keep warm and even more appreciative of the runner who left a loo roll in there! Phew! So much for posh toilets!!
Join start pen….to be precise, squeeze into back of start pen while trying not to fall over people crouching to pee! (Sorry, the toilet chat ends now) Slight stress at this point as the 3:45 pacer was in the pen behind me and on the info it said they’d be in my pen. Have panic about my target pace now being behind me and what happens if they overtake me.
Finally…..we’re off! Green start is a narrow start but as its small it didn’t take long to cross the start line and we were moving at a jog as we crossed it. Through a residential area for about a mile then we joined the masses coming from one of the other start zones. I can only liken this experience to being how I’d expect joining a motorway from a sliproad on a bicycle would feel…..there were hundreds of them and they already had “right of way” on the road we were joining! Trying to settle down into some sort of steady pace was hard at this point, it was so packed with runners and there were speed bumps and traffic islands to negotiate which were hidden by the masses of people. I started to plan my tactics in case I tripped up and decided that rolling myself into a ball like a hedgehog until everyone had passed would be the only means of survival! I nearly got wiped out on the approach to a water station as one of the 3:45 Pacers and their hoard of followers crept up behind me and they moved in for water en mass.
…..5k, a parkrun down! Ahead I spotted someone I’d met on a Facebook group set up for London 2016 runners (he was wearing his club vest with his name on the back) so I caught up with him and said hello which made me feel a bit happier having found a friendly face. I was having a chat to Pat when a guy came along and asked if he could run the next mile with me…..strange request I thought, is this some sort of runners chat up line? It turned out this was Craig who’d decided to run his last marathon and wanted to run each mile with someone different and chat to them along the way. This was absolutely the most enjoyable, and I think fastest, mile of the run – had a great chat with him, then his watched beeped for the mile so a quick selfie and he was off to find someone else…..onwards through some residential part of London….
…..back into Greenwich and I got distracted trying to spot my friend who said she’d be out somewhere round here….turns out red coats are very popular this spring….next stop, the Cutty Sark (the bit they always show on TV!!) and the 10k mark….that seemed to come round quick, next stop Tower Bridge……through some more residential bits of London, nothing particularly of note although the water stations in the early miles turn this into something of an obstacle run due to the masses of bottles discarded in the roads……some good crowd support but some quiet sections too and still crammed in with runners…..nearly got taken out by a flying lucozade bottle just after a water station….onwards we go……right turn and here we are…..
…..Tower Bridge (also the bit they show on TV!)….expecting great crowd support here as many of the main charities set up cheer points and it didn’t disappoint. Tried to spot another friend I knew would be around this point but couldn’t see her which slightly disappointed me as I’d have liked a hug at this point…..right turn off Tower Bridge towards the east and there go the elite men heading towards home in the other side of the road. Spot Callum Hawkins coming towards me so give him a great big cheer and in return get some strange looks from people around me who are probably wondering which bit of my training plan went wrong if I know him (I don’t but you’ve got to support the local lads!). Past half way and onwards towards Canary Wharf….thought I’d know parts of the route along here as my friend used to live out this way so some familiar territory was good but didn’t last long.
Around mile 14-15 I started to struggle, not physically but mentally. If anything, I think I got a bit bored! Although it was busy with runners there didn’t seem to be much camaraderie or chat going on between them that I’ve experienced at other events. I thought I spotted the back of Robin ahead of me but as he wasn’t running in an ERN vest I couldn’t be sure it was him and before I could catch up I lost sight of him (from Sheila’s awesome online tracking commentary it turned out it was him!). Pace slightly slowed by the gel stations as the road after it can only be likened to the floor of a cheap nightclub at 2am….boosted by a couple of parkrun signs and cheer squads I ploughed on thinking maybe 5k isn’t so bad as a race distance after all. Round Canary Wharf it was quite quiet for crowds support but still busy with runners…..
…..back into civilisation, a 10k to go and heading in the direction of the finish…..realise my split times aren’t going to get me the sub 3:45 I was hoping for so didn’t push as hard as I probably could have done and figured it was now about getting home in one piece. Back onto the road where we’d seen the elites heading earlier and I distracted myself trying to spot Wendy, Jules and a few other folk I know who might be heading the other way…..never have I been so happy to see an ERN vest coming towards me! Can’t even remember what I said to Wendy but goodness I was pleased to see her, my legs needed a friendly face at this point!
….the road to home…..it’s pretty much a straight road west for over 4 miles which does start to feel somewhat like you aren’t getting any closer to the finish line….through the tunnel that Andrew had warned us about (not as bad as expected)…..out of the tunnel and my attention was caught by a swarm of police and paramedics to the side of me….then the less welcome sight of a runner being resuscitated at the side of the road (this was the soldier who sadly later died), and this completely knocked the wind out of my sails…..caught Trudy somewhere along this stretch too which was another relief to see a friendly face although she was clearly a woman on a mission and I’d given up on mine so I let her plough on….in hindsight, I should have tagged along and used her pace to keep me going……
…..finally…..the embankment…..the hoards of runners had thinned out a bit by now, crowd support was amazing, worked out if you run along the edge of the road people will read your name and cheer you on….ooh Colin Jackson (had a crush on him for years!)…..High 5 with the man himself….almost at the end of the embankment….it’s just a right then right again and we’re at the finish line right…..oh no…..it’s still a mile or so away…..argh…..head down, keep going legs…..ooh, there’s people with medals coming the other way now, we must be nearly there…..no, still no sign of B Palace….seriously, I’m sure all this park wasn’t on the route map…..past a couple of runners being helped by first aid at the side of the road (how gutted would you be if you’d made it this far and didn’t finish?!?)…..finally…..Buckingham Palace!! Queenie, get the kettle on, this girl needs a brew….road bends round the right and there it is…..the finish line…..thank goodness!! I’d read reports that it feels like another mile to get down the Mall but I actually found it surprisingly short! Quick pose for the photographers and boom, through the finish!
….wobbly legs, collect medal, me to medal lady “I need a hug”….medal lady obliges….there’s Trudy again….another hug…..she loved it, I’m just glad it’s over….collect goody bags….now let’s see if my bag made it…..so many baggage trucks, where is my bag….another mile later and it’s in the penultimate truck on the Mall….makes you wonder why it had to leave so early if it was last in the line of trucks! Take advantage of it being probably the only time I’ll stand on the Queens driveway in my underwear without being arrested so change into my finishers t-shirt and get some extra layers on, share my wet wipes with a fellow runner cos I’m nice like that and he looks quite sweaty….wobble towards friends & family meet point…..before I get there my friend texted to say she wouldn’t be there as the tube was really busy so rather than leave me waiting for her she’d gone pizza and wine shopping and headed home….best friend ever!! Managed to find some grass to have a stretch on then wandered back round onto the Embankment to cheer folk on as I walked to the tube….realised at this point I’d totally blanked Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament as I ran past earlier!
So why did I not love London….maybe it was the build up and hype, and expectation that this has to be the best race you’ll ever do….maybe it was the epic toilet queues…..I think mainly it was the sheer number of runners and I was genuinely scared of being tripped or pushed over for much of the first half of the race. I felt I couldn’t run my own pace or race and by the time I could I was so done with London I just wanted to see the finish line. I think I’m also disappointed as I felt I ran so much better than in Manchester the year before (my pacing was terrible!) yet I ran 10minutes slower – although I also ran quite a bit further despite trying not to weave too much. Yes, the crowd support is great and there’s some great London landmarks along the way (if you notice them – apparently the London Eye was in there too!) but early on and round Canary Wharf the crowds are thin and it was only in the last couple of miles I felt I could enjoy their support. On the plus side, I didn’t get overtaken by a rhino, anyone carrying a fridge or other domestic appliance, or any multi-person fancy dress outfits πŸ™‚
I feel bad for saying I didn’t really enjoy it, people don’t seem to understand why, but that’s my take on it! I’m not saying never again but I won’t be in a rush to enter the ballot for a few years, or if I get my GFA time back, and if I do it again I think I’d do it in a silly fancy dress, take my time and maybe get to soak in the famous atmosphere that I seem to have missed! Sorry London!

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