Cue 18 months ago; I qualified for a ‘club championship’ entry place in London. Even back then I wasn’t sure if I wanted to enter it or not but hell it was a guaranteed entry in one of the most famous marathons in the world, with the privilege of starting just behind the elite men – was I stupid to not take the opportunity? Most people told me so.
Cue 6 months later; I chickened out, partly due to injury, partly due to a weak mind, partly due to my heart and soul belonging on the trails in the peaks.
Cue 10 months later; 2014, I had somewhat forgotten about my entry until I found my magazine, given I had been dancing on the moors for the past few months, galloping around Grindleford and tramping round Tiger Tor a.k.a falling over fell events.
So it was time to wake up to reality and face my biggest fear not arachnophobia but road-marathonaphobia , 26.2 relentless miles of concrete. Let the inevitable destruction begin. Last year I did my first ever marathon; on trail – the White Peak Marathon. I loved the solidarity of it for most of the way I was running on my own, with the odd dog walker cheering me on. It was hard, beautiful and savoury. Now it was time for something equally as challenging at the other end of the spectrum. I was going to conquer my fear once and for all.
However I bottled out a couple of weeks before and decided I really didn’t have the mental strength to power myself around the streets of London at some silly pace per mile. I had complete admiration for my fellow club members who had began their journey to London 4 vigorous months ago with hard core training schedules, running to their ‘predicted pace’, soft runs, hard runs, race pace runs, tempo runs, what are all the other names for these sorts of runs? (Easy Runs?) So I had decided to use London as a training ground for my big event – ‘The West Highland Way’ (WHW) a few weeks later and run round London with a rucksack full of WHW kit. What a cop out.
Cue the Saturday morning at Excel, home of the London Marathon Expo where 1000’s of want to be runners decent to ‘register’ and indulge in an ‘expo’ of noisy overpriced running gear with a one in a million chance to win a holiday to somewhere or other in order to give away your data to some random database company who will sell it to another company for millions of pounds – cynic.
If one thing that was to come out of this it would be my number, 155. Out of 35 000 people I was number 155. I was actually quite chuffed with that. 155, go on say it again just like Miranda would – 155, what a lovely number, 155. One Five Five. Plinth, Thrust, 155 what a lovely number. (One for Miranda fans there)
I queued up and spoke to Mavis and Bernard as I handed over my form only to find out that I had two numbers and two chips and wasn’t allowed any sort of obstruction to the number nor was I allowed any sort of logo on any part of my clothing bigger than 1mm by 1mm by 1mm – almost. English Athletics rules apparently for Championship entry. Naivety on my behalf. What a virgin marathon runner I was. Plan A (a.k.a ‘cop out plan’) has gone out of the window. I panicked – what now? what do I do? I hadn’t tapered properly for a ‘race’. I wasn’t mentally prepared to ‘race’ and I lacked the confidence, or was I just scared of failing myself and walking away from such an iconic marathon in disappointment? It was time to get to grip on this thing that had a grip on me for so long I was going to control this in my head, give this my best shot, this is London, wake up to reality and stop being such a dweeb.
Success in running means leaving your comfort zone, learn to love your discomfort zone – behappy.me
A free visit to the Olympic Park that afternoon filled me full of inspirational quotes of the achievements of 2012 and helped me to get my head around what I was about to do the following day. Walking round the aquatic centre, the velodrome and the park itself I talked myself into being able to get around. One of my friends had texted me ‘ don’t care about time or distance just feel warm and happy inside’. Yes exactly.
Cue the following morning I made my way up to the start at Blackheath, a sporadic splat of green green grass within the London boundaries, quite a sight in itself. Mr and Mrs Weatherpeople had brought this somewhat nice calm weather, if a little too sunny even at 9am in the morning. Little wind with a small spring chill in the air.
I shyly said my goodbyes to my friend and made my way into the ‘blue area’. After briefly speaking to super speedy Ben who was aiming for a sub 3 hour speed I made my way across to the ‘club championship’ area where I was just about let in, no questions asked. I looked around and began to panic again, my confidence had plummeted. In true runners style I went to the toilet about 5 times. This is one advantage of the club championship area, lots of toilets and very little people.
We were instructed to get our bags onto the lorry and to ‘warm up’. Whilst warming up I bumped into the only other club championship club member today ‘ Sarah’; who too was aiming for a sub 3 hour marathon. I suddenly felt way out of my depth. Sarah patiently explained to me what would happen, as this was her 8th time (8th time I tell you, 8th time…) at the London Marathon.
I positioned myself at the back of the championship crowd, as we were ushered to the start. I was metres away from the elites as they introduced the likes of Kipsang, Mutai and of course the legendary Mo Farah. Excited but also in awe of all of this my naivety of a large road marathon must have shown. Even more so when the other waves behind where led up to us and then let loose as 1001 big 6ft blokes of sub 3 status came hurtling between us. This was beyond the other side of the spectrum of little fell races with 50 people, man & his dog telling you to ‘off you go’. I was now officially scared as the gun went off and off we went.
I obviously had no alternative but to run….
The crowds were instantly insane. Cheering us all on as the sub 3 guys came hurtling past. I tried to move out of the way for them but one guy decided to ram straight in front of me and tripped. All was ok in the end as he picked himself up and flew away into the deepest depths of sub 3 hours.
Just remember – right, left, right, left….repeat. – Jordan F
I ploughed down through the 1 mile marker. Another naivety; I did not realise that every 1 mile there would be massive red balloon like arches with clocks on them, telling me that I had done the first mile in just over 7 minutes. I tried to slow myself down but it was like someone was pushing me to run. Ben and Brian fellow club members came hurtling past, we sent on our best wishes to each other soon to disappear into the deepest depths of the crowds. I was well out of my depth here, as everyone seemed to be passing me but a little home comfort sign as I glanced round at some of the other club championship girls who were still around me too.
The first few miles were quite what I may call ‘downhill’. By mile 3 the crowds were still roaring, driving me through mile after mile. I smiled, I laughed, I grinned. I stuck up my hand when someone shouted ‘go Sheffield, well done Sheffield Running Club’, in amusement that I was even here and even more amused that I was running quite well and actually enjoying myself. Yes I said I was enjoying myself, (repeat – I said I was enjoying myself!) I am on road in a city, running. Wow!. I was still smiling by 5 miles but knowing deep down that I was going out far to fast. I hit the 6 mile mark and glanced at the clock; 43 minutes and something, my 10km PB is only 42 minutes. This is insane. Slow down girl, slow down.
This is absolutely FABILOSIBISIBOS. – Miranda
I tried to ignore the noise and focus on my running. Round the Cutty Sark I didn’t even look at the masterpiece but just kept running. I was feeling strong until…there is always an until. The heat was beating down and even 50 or so minutes in people were beginning to feel the warm April heat.
Cue 7 miles. The intensity of the sun and the decibels of the crowds were beginning to leave ringing noises throughout my head. I was in the midst of 36 000 people yet prudently felt more lonely than running on top of Mam Tor on my own with only the sheep to speak to. It was time to get my head into gear and back where it was at mile 5.
I began to feel even more claustrophobic at around 8 miles, when the crowds got thicker. Squeezing liquid blackcurrant flavoured gooey stuff into my mouth, I treated this silly little packet like a 3 year old kid with a big bag of jelly babies, and in true 3 year old style spat it out rudely onto someone’s foot who was probably going to shout out how well I was doing. Blip.
The iconic Tower Bridge loomed up in-front of me, the electrifying support pushed me all the way across the bridge yet I am not sure whether I appreciated this masterpiece. My blip had got the better of me, I was struggling. All I could hear was a mass of shouting, with the odd ‘Sheffield’ ringing in my ears. I remembered the pounding of a drum band towards my right pounding right through me. A little bit of me yearned for the tranquillity of Redmires Reservoir in the Peaks.
Once again I told myself to get a grip as the miles ticked by. This was amazingly surreal but challenging at the same time. I couldn’t work out how I felt I just kept running, running away from all my fears from those miles. Mile 10 came and went, I got back into my stride and began to smile again. Mile 11 came and went, another big smile, keep smiling keep running. More big red shiny arches with random clocks which I had now lost total sight of more cheers. Mile 12 fellow club member Leanne gave me a massive shout out. I furiously waved back which set me out for the next couple of miles. Happy again and smiling again. It was just a blip back there. This was freakish, somewhat extraordinary, verging on the ledge of ridiculous. A mix of love and hate at the same time. The immensity of the crowds, the support yet juxtapositioned in this was the loneliness of the mass marathon itself.
The overwhelming support from the crowds is one of the great qualities of the London Marathon, but it can leave you with a case of runner’s agoraphobia. All you’ll want is a moment of peace and quiet – Unknown
I tried to ignore a tingling sensation which was gradually creeping into my quads. I could now feel the burn and I had only just passed half way around.
The crowds thinned slightly. At this point I was running with a Hallamshire Harriers boy and shouts for ‘Sheffield’ helped us both along. We lost each other in the midst of the busy one way traffic in Docklands and found our own way back to Sheffield via the finish, one would assume. Me by megabus him probably by horse and carriage.
Each couple of miles were water stations, firstly they had water, a relief after the rather major mess that was the Sheffield Half a week before. The stations stretched out either side of the road so grabbing a bottle each time without being intercepted by another stranger was easy. More water was poured down the back of my neck and down my quads than down my throat as I was trying to ease off the burning sensation that was getting more intense as the miles went by.
For almost 500 metres somewhere in the midst of ‘docklands’ there was an eerie silence as the noise of the crowds were left behind. We were running through small narrow streets with a background buzz of the marathon in-front, behind and towards the sides but not right here, right now. I felt at ease again and settled back into my stride and my own little mindset. I pretended I was hopping down Higer Tor in the peak district, bombing down Burbage, fighting my way to Fox House. legging it around Longshaw, and ferreting through Frogget Edge. But yet I was in the midst of one of the biggest marathons in the world, one of the most iconic, with thousands of people cheering me on. This was unreal, insane, at the same time. Just enough time to let go of the noise and hear the silence in the city.
Mile 15ish, and to confuse me even more a few random km markers with beepy mats obviously for those people who were stalking me on the internet. The unexpected heat was taking its toll on more than just me by around 16 miles and people were beginning to hit the wall. Humpty Dumpty had wall issues too.
I began to over take masses of runners for the first time feeling that others had gone out far too fast. Another pair of trainers slowed down as I paced up. My first sight of a proper casualty at around 17 miles reminded me that the marathon had to be respected. I had lost sight of all time, the mile markers with their big colourful red arches and the clock time glaring from a distance just became a blur of numbers. I had no idea how well I was doing as miles 17,18,19 went by. So how long is this marathon?
There is no app for this, keep running. – Unknown
Mile 20, I had slowed down again, my breathing was steady but the air was clammy. The crowds were still going, completely electrifying, pushing me round. I was not ready to give up yet. With around 10 km to go I now began to over take more and more pairs of trainers. With a polite ‘You OK mate’ to fellow Sheffield Running Club member, I plodded on knowing my legs would forgive me eventually.
Some hit the wall some crush it – be great – Unknown
Somewhere around mile 21 through a tunnel we went. Even there the crowded noise could not escape, loud speakers pumped out chart music from the 70s – ‘ain’t no stopping us now, we’re on the move…’
Out I popped to a massive ‘heleeennnn – waaahhhhhhhh’ a friend of a friend who I had only met once before recognised me and gave me such a spur that I suddenly told myself I could do this, and I ventured on through the tarmacked jungle, 22 miles 23 miles….I was riding the burn trying to maintain an algorithmic running style somewhat gratifying to know I could finish this journey.
The most impressive thing about marathon runners is how they don’t check their phone for 3 plus hours. – Unknown
I was now on embankment. The rousing noise of the crowd still pushing me along. Run total stranger run. I visualised my run home from the delightful secluded beauty of the Redmires reservoir in the peaks to home, 3 miles to home this was just that downhill bit from Lodge Moor in Sheffield to Walkley via some pretty woodlands, easy, no problem and mind that little doggy in the window. The sheer beauty of London behind me and in-front of me the metabolic effect of running 20 something miles painfully leaking through my legs.
We run to undo the damage we have done to our body and we run to find some part of ourselves yet undiscovered . – John Gingham
As I ran down Birdcage Walk I missed the mile 25 mark (was there even one?) feeling almost hypnotised I suddenly found a burst of energy and felt my legs speed up significantly, digging deep into the concrete passing more and more runners.
I had under estimated the distance as the 800m mark cropped up before my eyes, equivalent to a half-mile left. Just half a little mile. Next minute 600 metres then 400 metres, then a corner, then a bottleneck. Don’t stop here I cried out to my surrounding friends. My quads were burning so much that smoke was pouring out of them and they nearly had to send in the fire brigade. I could see the finish line. Everything became a blur as I ran up to it and passed through the red ground to finish my first ever road marathon. Ok folks that was actually quite hard but quite enjoyable but quite insane at the same time. So that’s the Tarmacy flatty thingy done. And she ran happily ever after……
The big question is… would a tarmac cynic do it again? I would, yes. The three hours something of an experience around a capital city had been full of battling contradictions for me. It was overwhelming in both positive and negative ways. Of course I found it tough, mentally pounding the streets is something me and my quads are not used to, but to introduce a bit of tarmac back into my life has taught me that I shouldn’t be scared of a bit of road, it’s not my enemy I am my worst enemy and and that bit of tarmac has helped satisfy something within me, that warm and happy feeling.
Marathon: the Triumph of Desire over Reason. – Unknown