Well, it’s all over. HUGE kudos to every single person who ran, walked, limped or hobbled over the finish line of yesterday’s London Marathon. It was the perfect day for it – London in the sun at its best, with thousands of well-wishers cheering every step of the way. There’s a reason why this is one of the six World Marathon Majors – it is without a doubt one of the best races in the world.
The crowd support is phenomenal. From 26 steps to 26 miles, groups of people are cheering and shouting and encouraging you on. It doesn’t matter if you’re Mo or the guy with the fridge on his back or the woman in the rhino costume – you’re running, they’re cheering, and you feel like a hero. The music is excellent too – jazz big bands and lounge DJs, African drumming and bagpipers, it all spurs you on.
It’s impeccably organised. From the seamless process picking up your race number, the train timetables for getting there on the morning, the ease of bag drop and the militarily controlled start pens – it’s a smooth operation. Afterwards there is plenty of space to meet and greet. There are marshalls and first aiders and support crew all the way round, so you know you’re in good hands. Of course there are never enough portaloos at the start, but that’s part of the fun.
The route showcases London as its best. You start in gorgeous Greenwich Park, take in the sights of the south east, pass through the heart of the City, run over Tower Bridge, past the Tower of London, along the river at Embankment, past Buckingham Palace (I really hope Lizzie was at home because I waved furiously) and finish on The Mall, feeling like a champion. Inevitably the weather is glorious and warm – hard work for the runners but great for the spectators and celebrations afterwards. At mile 13 the course runs parallel with mile 22 for a while, meaning many runners approaching the halfway mark get to see the elites sprinting past in a blur. Mo appeared just as I reached mile 13 and the crown – and other runners – erupted in cheers. He was flying.
The runners are inspirational. There are people of all shapes and sizes, running for wonderful causes close to their heart. Since it started in 1981, the London Marathon has raised more than £600m for charitable causes. The elites are incredible but us normal runners are just as special. Each and every one has been on an extraordinary journey to get there. It’s not just slogging it out during the winter, it’s challenging your mind and your body, missing Friday nights out and Saturday morning lie ins, re-living thoughts of loved ones you’re running in memory of, pushing your body to the extreme. As they say, getting to the start line is 90% of the battle.
You’re chasing greatness. Every mile creates a new memory to replay in the days ahead and finishing the marathon is an incredible achievement. Less than 1% of the UK population has done it, so to complete London is something to be proud of. There are so many elements out of your control on the day – the weather, the crowds, injury, sickness, getting your hydration and nutrition right, whether your energy levels and muscles will hold you up. Getting your pacing right is difficult too. It’s hard not to go out fast when the adrenalin hits at the beginning – and you never really know whether you’ll be able to hold your pace until the very end. I was tempting to push things along at mile 10, feeling really good, when I heard one runner remark to his buddy “don’t push it – the race begins at 30km”. Sage advice and I’m glad I took it as the energy I conserved in the early miles served me well in the final six. It takes incredible mental strength to push through those dark moments when every muscle in your body is screaming and all you want to do is stop and sit down right where you are. It’s overwhelming when you’re so exhausted you feel like crying, but you can’t because people all around you are yelling at you to keep going. It’s scary when you see people around you zigzagging across the road and clearly not lucid as they force themselves to keep going. It’s frustrating when you just can’t make your body stick to the pace you want it too. And it’s truly awesome when you realise that you might actually smash your target time through the roof. The feeling of elation as you run the final two miles along Embankment, the never ending strip up the mall and that final blasted 375 yards to cross the finish line is unlike any other feeling you will ever have. They don’t call it runners high for nothing. Whether you finish in 2 hours, my new PB of 3’29’41, or 6 hours, you’ve achieved one of the greatest moments of your life – and that feeling will stay with you.
Fellow runners, I salute you.