Well, I did it - the most incredible, toughest, painful (and at times most emotional) four hours, 25 minutes and 28 seconds of my life. It was easily one of the most amazing experiences I've ever had, and despite being in some serious pain toward the end, I can honestly say I ran most of it with a smile on my face.
I was running for Mind, the mental health charity. In 2006 my Dad tragically took his own life after battling with depression, and I can't help feeling that if more support was available, or we'd known more about Mind, we could well have had a different outcome. Here's how it went:
With the loose ambition (delusions of grandeur in all honesty) of a sub-4:00 time, I headed to Greenwich Park with a fair amount of nervous excitement and anticipation. It's worth noting at this point that I got into the marathon through a Mind Golden Bond place that I found out about at the end of January - news that I followed with a pretty messy two weeks of snowboarding in France. Having done a few halves before, with 10 weeks of actual running, and a maximum distance of 19 miles under my belt, here I was attempting the London Marathon, wondering what on earth I was doing!
After the trip in from Abbey Wood to Blackheath, Em and I walked across the common to the Red Start. We really began to get a feel for the enormity of the event. We said goodbye and I queued for the toilet armed only with a tube of Voltarol and Lanacane anti-chafing gel, emerging 30 minutes later having emptied both. At least if I fell I could cover a few yards by sliding along the road! I was allocated Pen 7 so after the gun went it was 13 minutes before my pen had squeezed through the gates of Greenwich Park and over the start line.
The first few miles went well (albeit slower than hoped) despite it being very busy. The course was surprisingly tight and it was difficult getting past slower runners and even some walkers. A sub-4:00 time meant 9:09 per mile, and after four miles of 10-minute-miling I abandoned any aspiration of my first aim and set about getting around comfortably and enjoying the atmosphere, which was already fantastic. The DJs, bands, drummers, bell-ringers, fancy dress runnners and crowd support meant I was already running with a smile on my face and really enjoying it.
Through Mile 6 I'd settled into a 9:30 pace but it was still congested. Around the Cutty Sark in Greenwich, it seemed like the crowd were spilling onto the course as the run slowed to a walk in some spots. Shortly after, the crowd seemed to be in even better voice as they cheered someone running in a massive pair of butterfly wings - it wasn't until I got alongside him that I realised it was Richard Branson.
Over the next few miles I got a boost from seeing my 'Kerb Crew' and the Mind supporters at the Surrey Docks, and shortly afterwards overtook the world-record winning human caterpillar that included Princess Beatrice. Going over Tower Bridge was really something special and the crowd, as they were all day, were brilliant.
I started to feel the burn in my left calf and behind the knee shortly after crossing the half-marathon point (in 2:09) and put that to the back of my mind for a while. The next few miles seemed to fly past and before I knew it I was heading into a packed and very noisy Canary Wharf, where I got a much needed boost from the electric atmosphere and from seeing Tom (Em's brother) and his girlfriend Laura.
Heading out of Canary Wharf I went through Mile 19 with knee pain, calf strain and stomach cramp into thoroughly uncharted territory. Luckily there was plenty of water on offer, most of which was squeezed straight onto my knees, calves and hamstrings, knowing tough times were ahead. As I came along the highway toward the Embankment I saw a familiar banner and the welcome cheers of Mam, Al, Ad, Chris and Steppy, and at Mile 22 I really needed it! A particular highlight was the harpie-like screeching from Em that will hopefully feature in a Facebook video sometime soon!
The last few miles were strangely enjoyable despite the pain. After stopping for a quick stretch I came out of the tunnel at Blackfriars to the sight of Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament - nearly there, until I realised there was still over two miles to go as I passed the Mile 24 marker!
The last two miles were where the really hard work was done. I'd heard a lot about the crowd dragging you over the last few miles and they really do - all along the Embankment the crowds were phenomenal. With my name on my vest the lift I got from all the strangers cheering me on was incredible. The Jelly Babies from the crowd, the thoughts of all the support I've had from family, friends and colleagues, the money raised and of course thoughts of my Dad spurred me on around the corner past Westminster and towards Buckingham Palace.
My legs were numb and at this point and I was running on pure adrenalin as I passed the '600m to go' sign. Turning onto The Mall and seeing the finish line was a very special moment for me - I just about managed to muster the energy to smile for the cameras! Emotions overcame me at that point that and after such a massive effort and some pain, I don't mind admitting that I shed a few tears whilst picking up my medal.
Would I do it again? Definitely. Would I recommend it? Absolutely (just give yourself plenty of training time!).
Thanks of course go to everyone who supported me - through donations, e-mails, text messages of good luck and encouragement, and of course to Em (who has endured months of sweaty trainers in the hallway), Mam, Al, Ad, Gill, Dave, Tom, Laura, Chris (cracking hospitality made for a hassle-free Sunday morning) and Steppy who all made a massive effort coming to London to cheers me on. I couldn't have done it without them.