I had a real rollercoaster of a run: my training had been cut short in mid-March from a horrid virus that laid me low for 2 weeks, but I had run up to 20 miles in training by then anyway, so I was determined to run.
I started well, not too fast, and paired up with a random runner, Rick from Lincolnshire, who was heading at my pace, about 8 minute miles. The downhill run into Greenwich was a blast - all the pubs with bands, music and punters cheering us on - "Go Nick & Rick!". Around mile 6 I saw my first casualty; it was to be the first of many casualties that I saw along the route, due mostly to the heat, and by mile 10 I'd made a mental note to slow down slightly - the words of my partner, mum and others ringing in my ears: Don't over-do it! Rick continued at his pace and I merged with the mass of runners around me.
But what astounded me by this point was that the spectators had thus far formed an unbroken line right from the start. The offers of jelly babies, quarters of orange, jelly beans and vaseline were unending. I had made a commitment to smile the whole way round, if possible, rather than scowling at the road in determination to beat it into submission. Head up, smile on, eyeing the crowd, I got cheers of "Go Nick!", "Well done Nick!" and similar all the way; I nodded, waved, or shouted my thanks back. The lift that the support gives is incredible. Just thinking about it now is heartwarming and I have goose-bumps!
The sun came out when I was at mile 8 or so, and by mile 15 it had started to tell on me. I stopped and walked for the first ever time in a competitive race. I struggled on through the heat, walking the length of each water station and running between them. My thanks go to the runner who grabbed my shoulder and urged me on, running with me for 200 metres. It helped enormously.
At Canary Wharf I got cramp in my quads - St John's were on hand to help. Ten minutes later, I set off again, feeling a little renewed, but the heat was relentless. I found myself following a man dressed only in red trunks, being wolf-whistled by the assembled female East End spectators. I felt nowhere near as attractive, with the sweat dripping off me!
The next few kilometres are a bit vague in my memory - I can't remember quite what happened, but I ended up with St John's again with my legs in pain. They assisted me down onto a stretcher, gave me some water with salts in it, rubbed my legs, and told me to take it easy. Twenty minutes later, I thanked them, and promised to walk. I managed about 100 metres before the urge to run grabbed me and I found myself shuffling along, gradually picking up speed to a slow jog.
I started grabbing jelly babies from spectators; they've never tasted so good! The fruity gels and Lucozade are grim substitutes. I don't recall running past the Tower - I was watching the hands of the crowd for the next person holding out food. By Blackfriars I was back on track; my pace was slow but steady, punctuated by occasional jelly babies and a continual stream of cheers and entreaties to keep going.
At Parliament Square the relief of knowing there was not much further to go helped spur me on and along Birdcage Walk the noise was deafening. I had an adrenaline rush and picked up speed - ignoring the alarm from my feet, ankles and knees. I chose an outside lane finish and apparently that meant I made it onto TV (as advised by two friends). Half an hour more than I wanted to finish the run in, but I had finished.
Now the real punishment began: a slow shuffle for the removal of the shoe tag, and to get the medal, the photo, and the goodie bag (heavy with water and isotonic drinks). Then a hunt for the baggage truck holding my bag and a walk along the Mall to the meeting point. So I ran 26.2 miles only to have to walk another mile to get out from the finish area!
All up, I have the hugest respect for the volunteers of St John's who were dealing with cases far worse than mine with dignity and professionalism. The spectators were amazing - the energy and goodwill neverending. But most of all, the other runners were incredible - the goodwill, the determination, the reasons for running on the backs of t-shirts, the wacky, the extraordinary, and the ordinary.
Result: one happy runner with finisher's t-shirt, medal, and a big smile. On Sunday, I swore I would never run another marathon. Now I write this... I'm not so sure!