Having applied every year since 1999, completing the London Marathon has been a serious ambition of mine. So when I received official notification of my acceptance, I was completely shocked. Panic set in and I tried to read as much advice as I could. I settled for a training plan that began seriously in January 2005 and took me through until the race day. This included short runs, hill runs and quicker runs during the week, and some pretty tough long runs at weekends.
A couple of injuries worried me at times, but by the time the day of the marathon came, I was filled with confidence that I had done ample training to enjoy my day and comfortably complete the race with an anticipated finish of around 4:30.
With three or four days to go I was so excited that I could barely sleep. However, the sheer volume of people on the journey there confirmed everything I had read: that this was one of the greatest events in the annual British sporting calendar. Not only that, but my 25th birthday was to fall in the same year as the 25th anniversary of the great race. Beautiful weather and the incredible atmosphere on Blackheath put me in a relaxed mood and helped to calm my nerves. There was an amazing sense of occasion at this point that is hard to describe.
As a keen sportsman, the opportunity to play sport at the very highest level is rare. The opportunity to have Shane Warne bowl at me in cricket or to tackle Martin Johnson playing rugby is virtually non-existent and only available to sportsmen of the highest order. And yet, Paula Radcliffe was about to start, and Sir Steve Redgrave was a few hundred yards away and about to race. This must be one of very few events where you actually compete against not only the finest British sportsmen and women, but also some of the world’s finest. Although ‘competition’ is a very loose word in this case, you are still in the same race as them.
The first five miles of the race were comfortable and the crowds very noisy. The live music give this a real carnival atmosphere and the support around the Cutty Sark was a real adrenaline hit. At about nine miles I got a blister that started to get painful - I covered this in plaster and special treatments, nothing was going to ruin my big day. This was the worst moment of the race for me; I had not experienced blisters at all in training (even on a 20-mile run). To discover these after nine miles put serious doubts into my head before the halfway mark. As I reached Tower Bridge, the atmosphere totally changed and I suddenly felt that everyone was watching me and that I was the focus of thousands of people.
The serious trouble for me started at about 16 miles. The area around Docklands and Canary Wharf is a quieter spot and the temptation to stop and walk grew. As we headed west back towards Tower Bridge I had a phone call from my parents and girlfriend to say that they were around the 21-mile-mark and on the right hand side. This was a little pick-up and I promised myself that I would run until I found them.
Stopping to say hello nearly proved fatal; I felt physically sick and my legs began to seize up. The pain I experienced at this point was like nothing I have ever experienced before. To say this was a surprise would be a lie, due to the amount that I had read in books, but nothing prepared me for pain on this scale. At this point sheer determination and a few well-chosen words (regularly punctuated with very colourful language and a touch of French!) from a well-wishing complete stranger managed to set me back on my way towards the finish.
Towards the finish, the crowds along the Embankment were astonishing and it felt like I was winning the race just because of the sheer support. The pain completely flew out of the window for the last two miles, and it was impossible not to smile and simply enjoy the moment, soaking up an atmosphere that I will probably never experience again.
The Embankment stretch, as you approach Big Ben, was the best moment of the race. Representatives of MacMillan Cancer Relief, for whom I have raised nearly £3000, gave me an almighty cheer and round of applause as I came past Buckingham Palace and into the final straight. The last three miles has provided me with feelings and memories that I will take away and treasure forever.
If I don’t run the race next year then I will definitely watch, support and participate in what feels like a fantastic street party that would be hard to match anywhere.