I ran with my brother, Mark, for the National Blind Children's Society and raised about £3,500. It was the first marathon for both of us.
From the beginning then. The forecast had said overcast and chance of rain, so it was a bit of a surprise when the curtains were drawn on the morning of the race and it was clear blue skies and sunshine. Fantastic for supporters, not so good for running (unless you're Paula Radcliffe and you start early and finish by 11....). As much breakfast as possible was eaten, despite nerves making the whole task quite difficult.
So off we set on the DLR from our hotel at Excel, towards Greenwich. Half an hour or so on a crammed train. Then a 20-minute walk to Greenwich Park where the start is, and an equally long wait at the toilets so Mark could shed a bit of pre-race weight. By the time we got to the start area the gun had already gone, so we hopped over the barriers and joined in the long queue to the start line. I'm sure some people would frown on that, but I don't think we gained any advantage from it! Fifteen minutes later we had crossed the start, and we were off! Five minutes after that I had taken my t-shirt off that was under my vest. It was going to be hot...
The race itself isn't entirely clear in my mind, but I remember some key points. The first of these were the first six miles, which were fantastic, the crowds were very noisy. That said, if I ever hear "show me the way to Amarillo" again I may well implode.
Mark and I had a game plan and it was all going well until the Cutty Sark, where the congestion of runners made it impossible to stick to any plan, so I told Mark to stop trying to make up time, to which he agreed and switched his GPS off so it wasn't a distraction. After that it was a case of settling in to the run, and taking on as much water as possible. It was really warming up by Tower Bridge, which was about half way, and after months of running in the cold and wet of Southsea seafront, it wasn't like anything I was used to and I was beginning to suffer a bit.
We made halfway in about 2:10, so that was okay for the 'roughly' 4:30 we were going for. Running over Tower Bridge and past the Tower of London, was awesome. The noise from the crowds was amazing. Surely there should be a better superlative to describe these experiences and emotions, but I can't think of one. Awesome is the best I think, although surreal comes close.
Our support crew of family and friends, wives and children, could write their own tale of trials around London yesterday, with three babies and millions of people to contend with, but at about 14 miles a cry of "HENDO!" went up, and there they all were jumping up and down and cheering us on. I took the opportunity to throw my t-shirt in their general direction as I'd been carrying it from the start, over the fast runners who were on their final few miles, running in the opposite direction. We were yet to do the Isle of Dogs and Canary Wharf....
By mile 15 my legs were really heavy, and no amount of water, bananas, energy gels or jelly babies (provided by the heroes of the RW support team) were waking them up. I had felt much better than this in training, but it wasn't 18 degrees and blazing sun in February. Mark at this point was keeping me going psychologically, and was a real help, even though he wasn't exactly feeling no pain, but was coping with the heat better than I was! Our pace dropped right down, but now it was about survival, not time.
The Canary Wharf section was hard, but the crowds certainly helped, as did the sprinkler tents they set up that you could run through to cool you down. I did wonder at one point if we'd ever get off the Isle of Dogs, but we eventually did, so at mile 20 it was a simple case of running the last six miles home. Just a 10K Jon, just a 10K.....
Moral of the story - never use the word "just" in the context of the last six miles of a marathon.
These last steps really are a blur. I just remember pain, short steps that felt like I was going backwards, and looking at Mark and thinking how the blinking flip he was looking like he'd just started the race! The crowds down this last section again did their job, and the idea of writing "Hendo 1" and "Hendo 2" on our vests was paying off as people were shouting out our names. My legs were a mess so there was some walking to regain some strength and battle on, then run, cramp, walk, run, run, ouch, walk etc.
I think we ran the vast majority of those last six miles, but we certainly ran the last one, turning off Embankment into Parliament Square (where the crowds were, well, awesome) for the final push. In fact there were lots of people walking in mile 25, but in that last mile pretty much everyone found some strength from somewhere to run home, it really was incredible to see (and experience) what human spirit and determination can achieve, even if it does mean you get overtaken by a camel. I seem to recall seeing some friends of mine along that bit too. I'm sure I said hello...
As we rounded the bend by Buckingham Palace, I saw my daughter Daisy's Pooh Bear being waved in the air, and my wife Hannah jumping up and down cheering us both on, then the last few yards down the Mall, and over the finish line. Four hours, 51 minutes and 18 seconds after crossing the start line 26.2 miles earlier in Greenwich Park. What a day!
If I knew then what I knew now I would worry less in the first half about pace and time, and just sit back and enjoy it more. When you cross the line it doesn't matter how long it took you or how much pain you're in, the pain goes away, the time is forgotten, what you will always have is the medal, and the feeling of so many people willing you on to succeed, which is exactly what everyone who crossed that finishing line did.