The weekend was brilliant right from the start: my twin and her husband arrived in the afternoon. It was really exciting packing our kit bags and planning over the phone with various family members where we would all meet up.
We got to Greenwich around 8ish, the sun already shining, though there had been a frost. Then I made a big mistake. Because we had forgotten the water, we needed to get a drink, but we didn't have quite as much time as I had hoped, and I needed the loo. So Gin went off to get drinks, and I queued for the loo - only we missed each other. And spent the last 45 minutes before the race started trying to find one another again.
I was absolutely hysterical, as Ginia has been my rock throughout this, and I couldn't conceive of starting the race without her. She didn't have a mobile, but I did - and eventually I got a message to say that she was at the pagola, which I dismally failed to find. Eventually, they were calling everyone to the start, so I just went to line up and miraculously there she was. So I promptly burst into tears in an emotional start to a very emotional day all round.
It took us 10 minutes to cross the line, and the atmosphere from the off was fantastic. People clapped and cheered, they played music, and we really felt we were part of something amazing. We walked for the first mile and then started running. I was desperate for a drink, which we got around mile three, but then I was equally desperate for the loo. Ginia had the bright idea of using a pub as the loos en route were so busy, and then we were off again. This being Sarf London, children lined the route offering high fives as we went - and there were families partying in their gardens from the looks of things.
Loads of the pubs had parties in them too, with bands or music playing. "Show Me the Way to Amarillo" was a constant theme and pretty good to run to! Unfortunately with the heat and the speed we ran to start with it all got a bit much for Gin, so she told me to go on at the five mile point and she would catch up. I felt OK and carried on, but I stopped for a while to go to the loo (this time there were some convenient bushes!), but she didn't come along so I carried on. Got to the Cutty Sark and felt really great, as I knew that was the seven mile point.
The next three miles to the 10-mile point were slow and steady, but I was pleased to do it in 2 hours - which was better then my training time. I then found I was running along a bit I had run when I did the Flora 10k about 12 years ago, which was great as its always easier to run when you know the way.
It seemed as though I had got to Tower Bridge in no time - and there was a subtle change of atmosphere - the cheering was louder and the crowds larger. It was a great psychological boost particularly as the halfway mark seemed a bit longer coming than I had hoped. I eventually reached it at 2hrs 36 - again better than my training, so I rang my mum who was at home looking after the little ones, which was another emotional moment!
Just after that I stopped to put plasters on my blisters, which had started a mile or two earlier. I had thought I could run through the pain, but then remembered that the advice was to get plasters on as soon as possible, which I did and it helped enormously. Though starting again was quite hard.
I then lost the plot a bit as Westferry road is extremely long, and I missed seeing the 15-mile mark. I was somewhat surprised to come across the cheering site set up by my charity.
"Where am I?" I said in confusion. They told me I was near mile 16, which gave me another boost as I was further then I thought. I was about to run on, when I suddenly realised they were all shouting at me to look across the road, and there was my sister Lucy waiting for me. Yet another emotional moment.
"Luce, I love you," I yelled, giving her a quick hug and babbling incoherently, before running on. Dave and the others were by Mudchute station, which seemed an unconscionable time coming, but I got there in the end. I spotted Chris first, and then saw Dave. The children were all sitting on the pavement, and I high-fived them all, kissed my lovely husband, hugged my bil, bro and sis, and was on my way again. I was probably still babbling incoherently, but it was fantastic to see them. When I got to mile 18, Dave rang to say that Gin had just made it to mile 16, which was a relief as I was getting a bit worried that she might have pulled out.
Mile 18 was my third five-mile break, so I did my walking bit, drinking my Lucozade Sport and eating my raisins. Starting up again was very hard, and this was the toughest bit without a doubt, as it was the five miles I hadn't done in training. Every mile seemed to take forever, and getting round Canary Wharf seemed endless, although there was one point when the crowds really geed me on - added to which I knew I had 8 miles to go till I saw everyone again. I did run, but at a really plodding pace, and by now had started to catch lots of people walking. The fact that I was still running kept me going - suddenly I understood the phrase digging deep. It was a bit like when you're in labour - I went somewhere very deep inside myself and wasn't aware of anything else but just putting one foot in front of the other.
The miles seemed to pass much more slowly, particularly after I had got to 21 miles. I kept thinking I must be near the 22 mile point,but it never seemed to come. This was the only place I contemplated stopping (Paula's collapse at that point in the Athens marathon last year seems all too believable), but I staggered on, and suddenly miraculously there was the Tower of London. I grabbed a drink, did my walking routine, ran again for a bit, found some loos under Blackfriars Bridge, and then ran off with renewed vigour out to the 24 mile mark.
From that point on, I can honestly say the whole thing became incredibly enjoyable. The crowds clapped and cheered all he way, and I seemed to be running faster then I had done throughout the race. Thanks to a writing friend I thought of William Marshall (a mediaeval Templar knight buried in the Temple Church) all the way along the Embankment, and then I was at the Houses of Parliament and turning right up Birdcage Walk. I was immensely grateful that Gin had suggested we ran this bit the other week, as I knew exactly how far there was to go. I was still overtaking people, which also felt good, and then I got to the fountain outside Buckingham Palace, and the noise from the crowd was deafening. My family were all cheering themselves hoarse but I didn't see them.
Then I was on the home stretch. The compere was saying that the 29,000th runner had just gone through and telling us all to cheer, and I literally raced over the finishing line. I promptly burst into tears, to the startled surprise of the chap next to me. I was so overcome that I had actually done it. I had my photo taken while talking to Dave on the phone. Then I rang my sil up after I'd collected my bag. Meeting up with Dave and the girls was fabulous and I cried again!
It was quite simply a magical experience. I wouldn't have missed it for the world. And yes, I would like to do it again!
Ten things about the marathon that you don't see on TV:
- It is really really weird running through red traffic lights!
- The sound of the slap slap of people's feet enters your psyche somewhere deep, so it ends up being the sound you hear when you go to sleep on marathon night.
- There are showers on route, which you run through when you are hot (which was very necessary on Sunday) and it is a bit like going through the human equivalent of a car wash.
- It is possible to run in time to whatever piece of music you hear en route. Any music at all immediately cheers you up!1
- The miles pass quicker then you think, except when you miss the mile markers.
- It is possible to still smile and laugh when all your muscles are screaming!
- I said to someone at the start that I'd done a labour of 26 hours - 26 miles can't be as bad - I was right.
- I feel like I did after I gave birth, but with the advantage that I don't have to get up in the night.
- I have never been in a crowd exuding such good nature and support.
- Nothing can compare to the magical feeling of finishing. I wish I could bottle it up and keep it forever!