Can I be honest? Please don’t hate me. The thing is, I don’t actually like the London Marathon. Oh undoubtedly it’s a great city marathon and I like watching it on TV and maybe if you can whizz through at 5 miles a minute or less it’s a nice course but otherwise it’s not much to write home about. And yes the crowds are plenty and loud but nonetheless, I don’t really like it. It’s just iconic and somehow a bit special but no.
Anyway, we had porridge and then slowly got sorted. Then we got the tube, then another tube and then a train to Greenwich to get Kath to the red start area. As I left her to continue on to the blue start we were both quite emotional and for the first time the reality of us running this thing separately dawned on me. I walked away with tears streaming. By the time I got to the start area I felt better, back to settled. I handed my bag in and found somewhere to just sit for a while. I had my wholemeal roll with peanut butter and then I lay back on the grass just drifting. After a while I thought maybe I should go for a pee. I headed over to the toilets, looked at the queues and instead decided to brave the female urinals. Let’s just say it involve cardboard devices and an ability to be fairly accurate. It was an experience. Just before I entered the start zone I went to the proper toilets which were almost queueless by then. I was ready to get going now. I chatted to a couple of runner’s around me for a bit, everyone playing it all down and just being there to finish etc. I don’t buy it. I know they have a time in mind and I know they are here to race – themselves if nothing else.
Then we are off. I set my watch to go and settle in. I’m going too fast as I am keeping pace with the 5.15 pacers. Let them go. I keep repeating that over and over. Just let them go and slow down. Just coming up to a mile I drop into run/walk. I felt ok. Not great but ok. I’m still going too fast. I spend the next few miles telling myself to slow down. I am still going too fast when I pass someone I know and say a quick Hi and tell her I’m feeling good and strong and urge her to keep going. I’m 5 miles in and everything is ok. I’ve let the pacers go and I am closer to the pace I should be at. By mile 6 ish I’ve got there. This is the right sort of pace to get me under 6 hours. I get to the Cutty Sark and gently run my way round the bend and wave at the camera. It’s all good. I’m beginning to think ahead. Only about 2 miles until I see Dad. I look forward to that. I keep plodding. I do a mental form check. I’m doing well. I see the Mind cheer station and get a really loud cheer and I see Dad at the end of the line. I run along it and high five everyone and give Dad a hug. As I run on and turn away from the cheer station I struggle to keep the emotion in check. I take some deep breaths and run on.
Mile 9 and a bit. There should be a cheer station by someone I know somewhere here. About ten miles I think. I look for it but I miss it. I notice that my tummy is crampy. I decide not to ignore it but stop at toilets. At just after mile 11 I see a short queue and join it. I check the tracker and Kath has gone through half way and shows on the map as around 26km. The woman in front of me goes into the toilet. She takes forever and comes out 7 minutes after in completely new kit. Something was wrong there, some sort of cheating but there’s nothing I can do and I have lost all the time I was up on my six hour goal. I set off again but I miss Kath. I have a little cry. My head is slipping. My six hour marathon is slipping away. I don’t like doing it without her. It feels wrong and I feel very very alone.
Twelve miles done. I keep plodding. The odd extra walk sneaks in and I am getting slower. I’m lonely. I try and get a grip. Tower Bridge. I wanted to run Tower Bridge because I felt too poorly to last time. I set off and then I stop. I want to enjoy it, take it in. I run a bit and walk a bit. I smile and I look around but it just isn’t the same. I miss Kath. I come off the bridge and turn right. I run a bit and walk a bit. I keep looking at the faster runners on the other side of the road. I don’t think I can get there but remind myself that I always think that. I keep hoping I might see Kath. I cry a bit more. I don’t want to do this without her next to me. I don’t see her. I keep plodding.
I come up to mile fifteen. I can see the marker on my right and have just come through a Lucozade station. ‘Shit that tarmac is slippery’ pops into my head as i find myself hurtling to the floor. I don’t remember much, just hitting my right knee and hip hard as I do a sort of undignified roll and bounce action and push off my left hand to get back up. Nobody stops, nobody helps me, nobody asks if I am ok. It hurts. I want to stop, just walk away, just fuck the fucking marathon. I don’t need to finish four. Three is just fine. It fucking hurts. I keep moving with tears streaming. I don’t really know why. Forward motion seems the best thing to do. No point in standing still. Nowhere else to go. I check my phone and the tracker. Kath hasn’t moved. I suppressed the panic. SHE HASN’T MOVED.
I keep moving though. I don’t want to do this. I want to stop. Mile 16 comes and I’m still walking. I don’t even remember seeing Mile 18 to 21. It’s all a blur of missing Kath, trying to run just little bits and keep putting one foot in front of the other. In the previous three marathons I have doubted my ability to finish. It never occurred to me to drop out but the possibility of not making the cut off time or being pulled for medical reasons was always there. This time I knew that if I wanted to I would get to the finish. I just wasn’t sure I wanted it enough to keep going. BUT KATH HASN’T MOVED. Logistically, though, I think, the easiest way to get to find out what is going on is to finish this bloody marathon. I keep trying to convince myself that it is just the tracker, that Kath is probably fine.
Somewhere on that stretch the 6.15 pacers from my start come past and I try to stick with them for a bit. They had started not far behind me and I think that maybe, just maybe if I can go with them I could still get a marathon PB. But I can’t hold on. Or maybe I just don’t want to enough. I’ve had enough of the crowds now too. Yes the support is loud and people shout your name but somehow it felt edgy. Some of it was alcohol fuelled and aggressive. At one point I had a brat of a lad pint in one hand and megaphone in the other running backwards in front of me shouting encouragement. I didn’t have the energy to sidestep or comment so I just had to wait until he stopped and picked his next victim. The support at the Disney races felt somehow more real, more genuine, less of a game. There were exceptions to this. Somehow it felt like I knew when the shouts of encouragement came from other runners, there is a tone, an understanding, a real empathy that comes through. It says ‘I know that everything hurts, I know right now you don’t believe so let me believe in you for you’. Most of the support just sounded hollow to me. Like being loud and shouting supportive phrases was just some kind of sport in itself.
I pass Mile 22. I miss Kath more than ever. ‘Well you didn’t think you’d gt here, yet here you are, I think. I keep touching my tinker bell necklace and the little heron card Kath made for me so she could be with me in spirit. I know I can walk 4 miles. I know I can finish. I still don’t know if I want it enough though. Just 3 miles to the Embankment cheer station where Kath might be but I try not to think about seeing her. I try to go faster but I’m not sure I actually do. I get the the Embankment. I am hoping it will give me a boost. I feel nothing. I feel like I am done. A guy wearing a finisher medal walks along side me on the other side of the barricade. He is being lovely and genuine and I hate him. ‘Don’t give up now. You are so close, don’t you dare give up now’. He was of course right. Giving up now makes no sense. I’d have to cover the same distance to recover my bag – might as well do it along the proper route. My watch beeps for 25 miles. I am about half a mile up on the official markers so half a mile until I might see Kath. She’s not there. The Mind team gives me a little boost though. I run a few steps.
The last bit. I don’t know exactly when I start running but I suddenly realise that I could get round in under 6 hours 30 minutes if I push just a little. I tap the heron for power and set off. Everything feels like it might snap. ‘No faster’ I tell myself ‘just nurse it home’. I turn alongside Buckingham Palace. I keep my eye on the crowd. Dad will be somewhere on my right as I turn for home. I don’t see him. I must have missed him. Disappointment hits like a punch to the stomach. And then I decide I really have had enough of this marathon. I want it to be over. I don’t feel like I can run any further and the pain in my right hip and ankle are outrageous so I fix my eyes on the finish line and run. Not fast, not sprinting but gently speeding up with every step just willing the finish to come to me. That last hundred metres is probably the hardest fought 100 metres I have every run. And then it’s over.
I stop my watch. Under 6.30. I get my medal. I take a selfie and start the long walk to get my bag. I look at my phone. Kath had obviously tracked me and had sent me a text. I ring her. She’s waiting for me where I exit the runners only area. I mix my recovery drink and walk to find her. Only when I see her do I find out that she had finished. She’d completed in under 5 hours in spite of also having a pretty rough time. Our adventures are better when they are together sort of adventures. This was not a good adventure.
We worked out where the meeting point was where Dad would be together and made our way to meet him. We posed for a couple of pictures and then made our way to the restaurant by our hotel again. We wanted to be away from crowds and noise. We had a nice meal and re-lived bits of the race and chatted. Then we went to the hotel for a bath and bed.
And that was my 2019 London Marathon. I’m glad it’s over.