My day in London was one of the most memorable experiences of my entire life. I took up running (or jogging as I then called it) 16 months ago in order to help me lose some weight and get fit. Very quickly I was able to lose 4.5 stone in weight from 16.5 to 12 stone.
My boss suggested I might like to take part in a 20k in Brussels last May in order to give me a goal to focus on. I spent 5 months training for it and was happy with my finish time of 2:03 minutes - by then I was completely hooked. Another half followed in August and it was then I applied for London, not even sure I would be capable of undergoing the necessary training.
I did another two halfs including the Great North Run and now had a PB of 1:47:17. At Christmas my focus switched to training for London and I used the Runners World Intermediate schedule from the magazine. I enjoyed the variety in the training, including tempo, hills, long runs and recoveries.
My training went really well and I felt really confident coming up to the big day and had even practised mental techniques such as visualisation and positive self-talk to help get me through any rough patches. I did all the right things, tapered properly, kept hydrated, carbo loaded, rested well the day before and felt confident, if apprehensive. The night before I ate my evening meal with two friends who would be supporting me on the big day, we planned for them to be at the 9-mile, 15-mile, 18-mile and 25-mile points and worked out all the journeys and roughly when I expected to pass each point. I laid out my race kit and then retired for an early night.
I set off on marathon morning with a good breakfast of porridge in my belly, a bottle of energy drink in my hand and an RW pacing band on my wrist. Although it was my first-ever marathon and I am a relative beginner, I was focussed on a time target of 3:40 which I believed I may be capable of. In the back of my mind, though, I had two other targets in mind, sub-4 and sub-4:30 just in case things did not go as planned. When I first contemplated the marathon, sub 4:30 was my expectation, so although I was aiming higher, that was the target that mattered.
The starting countdown soon came and then, we were off. I was mentally and physically focussed and the first 5 miles went by in a blur of excitement, I had my name in big letters on my T-shirt and it seemed everyone in the crowd was there for me, there were constant cries of "Go Andy", "Come on Andy", "Well done Andy" and so on.
I was high-fiving kids and winking acknowledgement to all my supporters; I felt on top of the world. My first objective arrived in the form of the Lucozade station where I gladly accepted a pouch even though at the time I didn't feel thirsty, I kept hold of the pouch for the next 2 miles, sipping as I went until I had finished its precious contents, I was puzzled at the sight of other runners discarding their pouches after only one or two sips of the fluid.
The Cutty Sark was an uplifting sight and then, just before the 9-mile marker there were my friends as planned. This put an extra spring in my step, and by the next Lucozade station I was right on pace and feeling good. Next came Tower Bridge and I felt like the king of the world, the crowds cheering my name, my spirits high, heart thumping and legs pumping.
I passed through halfway still right on target, muscles beginning to ache a bit but nothing serious to worry about. By the 15-mile mark I was drifting off my pace slightly, but the sight of my friends cheering me on at 15 gave me another lift. By 18 miles the heat was beginning to take its toll and I was further adrift of my pace plan.
My friends were a welcome sight at 18 miles and the Lucozade stations were an oasis in the desert. By now there was a constant voice in my head telling me to stop running. I was fighting the voice almost constantly, repeating to myself that I was strong, remembering my visualisations of running strongly for mile after mile.
My focus seemed to have turned inward: no more the big smile, no more the high fiving with kids, the banter with the spectators. Suddenly the supporting words from the crowd began to sound like criticisms, "come on Andy, keep your chin up", "not long left now Andy". I moved to the middle of the road to try to escape their voices, I looked at the pace band and ripped it off in disgust, the numbers on it were now a constant reminder of my own failure to stick to my plan, my shoulders were sunburned, my legs were aching... I was finished.
Then came the turning point: at just over 20 miles I began to win the battle against the voice in my head. "Less than 6 miles to go now," I told it, "no more than a training run." I refocussed on a new goal: I knew I could now run at over 10 minutes a mile and still beat 4 hours. The last miles were sheer torture; maintaining any sort of pace took every ounce of my mental and physical strength. Onto the embankment the crowds were roaring but I was in a different place fighting the hardest battle I had ever fought against my own body.
At 25 miles up popped my mate Rob again, all smiles, "You've done it mate, you've done it!" I beamed from ear to ear thinking, "he's bloody right, I have done it!". My stride lengthened, I heard a chiming sound and looked up: Big Ben was announcing the arrival of 1.30pm. It was a magical moment. The last half-mile was my fastest and I crossed the line arms spread wide all smiles for the camera.
I turned to the runner next to me. "Do you know something, mate?"
"What's that?" came his reply.
"We've only gone and run a marathon, haven't we?"
Even now, days later, every time I close my eyes I relive that moment at the 25-mile point when my mate Rob uttered those immortal words "You've done it mate, you've done it!". That is one moment I will never forget as long as I live.
•I think the keys to my success were;
- Train well and prepare well both physically, mentally, and administratively.
- Realise the importance of the mental strength required to succeed and practise techniques to get you through the hard times.
- Be realistic about your time expectations and have a fallback plan if for some reason your pace differs to that planned. In this way you are less likely to be demoralised if you start to falter from your original target.
- Don't underestimate the value of support from friends and family, for me it was a crucial factor in my success
- Start the race hydrated and take on fluids from an early stage, use the energy drinks provided and don't just throw them away after 2 sips, the energy drink pouches each lasted me a mile or 2 and I drank 5 en route.
- Break the race up into manageable chunks, for me the race consisted of; 5 mile run to Lucozade station 4 mile run to my mates Another mile to Lucozade station 5 miles to my mates (and more lucozade) 3 miles to my mates 2 miles to lucozade 5 miles to my mates 1 and a bit miles to finish In this way when things got really tough I never had more than 5 miles to run before getting a boost.