The day arrived, and what a brilliant morning! There was bright, spring sunshine bursting through the windows at 6am when the alarms went off.
My training hadn't been textbook, despite having all the books and magazines and emails from Runner's World. I had put a good chunk of mileage in, mostly by running the 7.5 miles from work to home two or three times a week, but I hadn't gone 'long' as recommended, and some of the races I'd planned along the way had been scuppered by bad weather.
On the day, the walk up from the station to the common was inspiring. There were lots of people making their way calmly to the start. Coffee shops were offering breakfasts and the day was warming up. There was a carnival atmosphere, with hot air balloons and a PA system playing music and chat. I decided I ought to queue up for a toilet, which took up 45 of my 60 minutes, but was well worth it.
If you haven't run in a mass-participation event before it's hard to describe what it feels like. The pace is slow to start, but that's not a bad thing with 26.2 miles to go. There wasn't much overtaking, everyone seemed to just go with the flow at about 11 minutes per mile, and the weather and the spectacle was amazing. It would have been hard to carry, but I regret not taking a small camera with me.
Slowly, the field started to spread out and the pace crept up to between nine and 10-minute mile pace. It was hot and sunny, but with no drinks station until mile three I was glad of my bladder-pack. The crowds were small and spread out to start with, but began to fill out as we neared Woolwich.
I made good progress and soon was approaching the halfway stage. Someone phoned and informed us that Paula Radcliffe had just finished in 2:17 (she did set off earlier than us, but not that much earlier!)
Around Surrey Quays I saw a woman in tears being helped by a St John's Ambulance volunteer. It reminded me that despite the party atmosphere we were in the middle of an endurance event and finishing was not a given. I ripped off one of the energy gels I had strapped to my backpack and decided to have one every hour, whether I wanted it or not.
Just before the bridge I called Al to let her know I would be there in about 10 minutes, but there was no answer. The approach to Tower Bridge was awesome. I spent most of it looking for familiar faces in the crowd, but with no luck. I was a bit deflated, but also relieved I was near the halfway point in a reasonable time, around the two hour mark.
The right turn towards the Isle of Dogs brought a mixture of emotions. The course doubles back on itself here and we saw sub-three runners coming the other way with only six miles to go, which was a bit depressing. In about another hour and half I would be there, watching some of the fun runners in the same place dodging the clean-up crews and road sweepers.
Time started to go more slowly from here, but I made it through to mile 18 before taking a stop - my furthest run ever.
It wasn't just me. Lots of people were walking now, but being passed by so many was a bit galling. And the more stops I had, the more difficult it was to start running again. My jokes about running like Private Godfrey in Dad's Army were coming true. Although the last few miles seemed to be taking for ever and I really had to grit my teeth, the Tower, Embankment and finally Big Ben slowly came into view.
My legs were just not responding at all, but I decided I was going to run the last mile whatever, and I stumbled into a run, which I managed to keep up until the finish. That last half-mile into the Mall seemed to go on forever, but I finished in a reasonable 4:43.
I'm not sure how I felt at that precise moment. I was very pleased to have finished, although a bit disappointed by the time. All I wanted to do now was meet up with Al. I called her as I was having my timing chip removed, picked up my goodie bag and kit bag and tried to fight my way through the crowds at the end of the Mall to Admiralty Arch. We finally met up, took some more photos, and then set off for Charing Cross and a train home.
It looks like I will have raised something like £700 towards a new wheelchair for Addie, my friend's child, which is great news. I am dead chuffed to have done my first marathon, but I think I could do it a bit faster with proper training, so this will not be the one and only one I do. The Kent Coastal Marathon is taking place in Margate on the 4th September. I booked a place on Tuesday. Bring it on.