I first applied to run the London Marathon 27 years ago, then 15 years ago. Six years ago, I made the decision that I would keep on applying until I got in as I’d heard that if you applied six years in a row, you’d automatically get a place.
Last October, I eagerly awaited my acceptance, only to be disappointed with yet another rejection, and another London Marathon jacket to add to my collection. Anyway, a couple of phone calls later, I had my acceptance email from London Marathon HQ and I was in! Not only would it mean I could fulfil a long-held ambition, but it would also co-incide with the launch of YFC Calderdale (a new local charity of which I am the secretary) and I could use it to raise much-needed funds.
However, it called for some serious training, so I booked some warm-up races – 10K in November, 10 miles in December, a half-marathon in February, the Kilomathon (26.2K) in March and another half-marathon at the end of March. Training went well until I sustained a a knee injury in March. It meant I missed several training runs, and then a couple of weeks before the big day I got a severe chest infection which stopped me running altogether.
On race day, Karen (my wife) and I had been staying at my sister’s in Catford (no more than a couple of miles from the start at Blackheath) so I was dropped off about an hour before the start. Then it chucked it down! I was really glad of the space blanket I’d saved from the previous half-marathon - it saved me from getting soaked.
Then we were off. At my level, you’re never quite sure whether a race has started or not - when there are 37,000 runners and you’re at the back, you are just vaguely aware of a gradual shuffling forwards until you suddenly reach the start line and can get running.
The whole course was a wall of noise. There were cheering crowds, and distorted sound systems blasting out Spencer Davis Group’s "Keep on running" or Bruce Springsteen's "Born to run". For the first few miles I wondered why everywhere seemed to be playing Elvis music - then I realised I was running behind an Elvis lookalike wearing a back-pack blasting out the music! Then I passed a man carrying an 18ft high model of the Angel of the North on his back.
I knew I was in trouble early on as my legs felt drained of strength by my illness, so just past Mile 5 I decided to take a walk break for a couple of hundred yards, then run for a mile. As the race went on, the walk breaks gradually got longer, until by Mile 23 it was all walking.
Round the course there were lots of bands – rock bands, jazz bands, steel bands, brass bands, marching bands, gospel choirs and all sorts of entertainment. I’d taken the decision to really enjoy the day and soak up the atmosphere, and as the day wore on, the aroma of barbecues became more prevalent as local residents celebrated the marathon in their own way. When my right arm was really aching the next day, I realised that it was from all the high-fives with the kids along the way – great fun!
Going over Tower Bridge was a highlight, and I enjoyed the Docklands section as I’d never been in that part of London before. Canary Wharf was spectacular. Reaching Embankment and seeing Big Ben gave me a lift, though by this time, I was starting to develop a blister on the sole of my left foot. The finish still seemed a long way away. I grabbed a couple of Jelly Babies proffered by a spectator and the sugar boost pushed me on. I finally turned the corner into The Mall and the welcome sign, “385 yards to go”.
Two women next to me were discussing their finishing tactics –
"Do we go for the sprint finish now, or shall we save it a little?"
"Sprint finish? I can hardly stand up!"
Suddenly, a gorilla burst through between us and did his Usain Bolt impression to the line. I knew I couldn’t match him for speed, but I decided it was time to at least raise a jog for the last few hundred yards. It got me past the gingerbread man who was stopped for an interview just before the line. Then, the finish process – having the timing chip removed, getting the medal(!), the goody bag and getting to the meeting point. Karen had thought to bring me fresh trainers and socks for the walk to the station which werevery welcome. What would we do without a support crew?
I had a brilliant time, though I was too disappointed with my time to even look at the clock. Lots of people have told me since that it took 6:10. The most important thing to me though is that I managed to raise over £1,000 for YFC Calderdale. My first experience of the London Marathon, and I’ll be first in the queue for next year!