Well, I've done it! What a day...
After a night's sleep interrupted by several wakenings to battle against the nerves, I woke at 6am for a good breakfast of oats, banana and toast with jam. It was going to be a long time before I ate again.
I set off just after 7am to catch a train to Waterloo where I met up with my great training buddies, Paul (Joycey) and Darren, so that we could continue to get nervous in company!
We were all part of Team Shooting Star - 55 heroes and a record high number of runners to celebrate the fifth anniversary of The Shooting Star Children’s Hospice.
The weather forecast was for a hot, sunny day with temperatures of up to 23 degrees and a possibility of heavy showers in the afternoon. Thankfully, all of that that did not transpire. It rained just before the race started at 9.45am and then was near perfect conditions for the remainder of the day. Good old forecasts!
Having originally put down a finishing time of 5:30-plus when I applied for a place in the ballot a year ago, I started the race right at the back in Pen 9 (next to the cup cake, Mr Pepperami and other runners in fancy dress).
Within the first few miles of the race, people were walking! I spent the next couple of hours meandering through a sea of runners and by the time I reached halfway, I had been running for two hours and 17 minutes - seven minutes more than my slowest half-marathon pace in training. "Not good", I thought.
I soldiered on, determined not to stop despite my mind, body and legs screaming at me to do so at times.
The sight of Shooting Star supporters en route was a welcome relief from the monotony of pounding tarmac step after step and, strangely, one of the most challenging parts of the race was just before Mile 24. Here, there was a tunnel of a few hundred metres. Oddly, about half of the runners who entered the tunnel decided to stop and walk. When I later asked a friend (who himself had stopped in the tunnel to walk) why he did so, he replied, "Because no-one could see me stop running or walking in there". I again fought off this dreadful urge and carried on running. Immediately at the end of the tunnel is the Mile 24 marker and, although I had never been beyond 20 miles in training, the sight of this marker was just the motivation I needed to help me get through the last 2.2 miles to the finish line in The Mall.
The next two miles or so were really tough and thoughts of my dad (who died 36 years ago the previous Saturday) and the children who have died at The Shooting Star Children's Hospice over the years kept me focussed on why I had undertaken this challenge.
With 800 metres to go, I tried to break into a mini sprint but my left knee muscle immediately told me that was not a good idea, giving me a twinge of warning that if I tried that again I would almost certainly be in more trouble than I could take on. So, it was a gentle run at a slightly quicker pace than in the last few miles which took me towards the finishing line.
The moment I reached that line will live with me forever. I'd run exactly 700 miles in the ten months since I started running to get me there and all the emotions, mixed with the exhilaration of completing the marathon in under five hours (4:44.34 to be exact) and without stopping, left me smiling through tears for the next 15 minutes. All of my targets had been met!
The only low I felt at that point was the fact that I had not seen my wife and daughter at either of the two points where we had agreed they would be (at 11.5 miles and at the finish area near Buckingham Palace). The huge crowds made it impossible for them to get a good vantage point.
I took on this challenge because I wanted to support The Shooting Star Children's Hospice, celebrating its fifth birthday since opening this year. The pain and perseverance needed to succeed, however, is nothing compared to what the children and families have to endure all year round. Thank you for listening to my story and for your support.