My VLM 2010: mattoo (3:58.37)

So, it has been and it has gone - an amazing experience which I shall try to recall in detail here but is still only really coming back to me. There was just so much to take in, but speaking to fellow runners and watching the race back on TV has helped.

On Saturday, the family and I arrived at the Expo in time for a nice lunchtime picnic before going in and really setting the excitement ball rolling. That said, driving through London and having seen the signs warning of road closures and various mile markers had already given me goosebumps.

The Expo was great but warm. I dropped muffins and Jelly Babies off at the Runner's World stand, bought new running glasses, met my charity, picked up my running number (obviously the best bit), had my photo taken with the official trophy, tried a little London’s Pride’and picked up my goody bag.

By the time we got to the B&B I wanted to go out and explore the starting area. Our accommodation couldn't have been more convenient- it was less than five minutes walk to Greenwich Park and 10 to 15 minutes to the starting area. Seeing the Red Start turned up my excitement-o-meter another notch to fever pitch - I'm sure you can appreciate how I was feeling, although I was also very calm (if you know what I mean...).

Come race morning, I had breakfast a little later than planned - a minor detail quite possibly, but not ideal for someone who had planned race day down to a tee (not just for me but for my OH and kids too). Setting off for the start was awe-inspiring - a sea of like- minded individuals swarming through Greenwich with red kit bags stretched as far as the eye could see. I truly believe I made it to the Red Start on smile power alone.

The excitement was tangible by now, and that didn’t subside all day. The tannoy presenter added to everyone's anticipation - there were people of all shapes and sizes, from knights in full suits of armour to people with giraffe costumes (complete with necks) preparing themselves for the big day. A short heavy downpour had everyone running for cover but by the time we were being told to enter our start pens it had cleared up and our expectation levels continued to rise.

After six months of fundraising and training, it was finally time. 35,000-plus runners set off for the 30th London Marathon, and I was among them. Amazing. It took no time at all to realise just how right everyone had been when they said how inspiring the crowds were - the cheer as we passed the startline set the tone for the rest of the day.

To compare the atmosphere of the first few miles to a carnival would be an understatement. I have never given so many high-fives or smiled so much during a race. The main things that stick in mind are: the pub with all the pirates outside; how pleased I was when I realised there were Vaseline points; and just how many people were stopping to relieve themselves already - the opening 200m was like a mass urinal at the side of the road! Maybe I’m ignorant but weren’t there enough toilets in the start area?

I had looked forward to the banter when meeting the Blue and Green Starts at the three-mile mark and was proud to start a few prolonged choruses of light-hearted booing and hissing. I certainly didn’t enjoy the increased difficulty to find a steady pace in the crowds of runners though. Thinking about it now,  the constant weaving and numerous bottlenecks, particularly in the first half of the race, makes it more difficult than other marathons although this may well be offset by the amazing support of Joe Public et al. Please forgive me now if I mention the tremendous support too many times!

With the convergence of all the runners, the next thing for me to look forward too was seeing the family and my charity (The Children’s Trust) at The Pickwick Pub, Mile 5. The cheering point was fantastic - the first of many - but panic set in for a few seconds when I didn’t spot my OH and the kids. I soon found them 20 metres further up the road, all be it with a hysterical-crying youngest. Lucky I know her so well - my suspicions were proved true at the end of the race, she had burst her supporters' balloon. No, I didn’t stop to enquire what the matter was, before you ask.

Heading through Miles 6 and 7 (averaging about 9:07 pace) my memories are numerous. Running round the Cutty Sark was amazing - the tight turn and consequent bottleneck were more than made up for by the first sight of a BBC camera and once again crowds that must have been five deep, and as deserving of a round of applause as us runners. Running past the Maritime Museum, I looked up towards the observatory and realised that despite the distance I'd covered I was probably only half a mile from the startline - another abiding memory.

The next few miles through Surrey Quays and Canada Water don’t bring back many memories but were the start of my quickest part of the race (averaging about 8:50 pace) through to Mile 17. Obviously one of the key points here was the anticipation of crossing Tower Bridge and catching my first sight of the Fetch support point as I travelled down the Highway and through the halfway point.

Tower Bridge was as good as I had hoped, although I don’t recall the slope, just the crowds (again) and the excitement of seeing another BBC camera. The reception on my first visit to the Highway surpassed all expectations - I solicited a fantastic cheer from the Fetchies and another Children’s Trust cheering point. Seeing the elites travelling in the other direction made me feel quite good about myself too - I thought "you may be fast but at least I look like I’m enjoying myself’" It didn’t occur to me that by the time I reached the same point as them I would not be enjoying the race quite as much.

After the euphoria of the Highway, passing through Docklands and the next few miles was quite calm with only a few long-lasting memories. The Runner's World support point was exciting - being passed my own personal chocolate muffin and a big smile made it all worthwhile. Also around Mile 17, we went through a short tunnel where the noise of the crowds was deafening. Obviously the acoustics of the tunnel helped but it was awe-inspiring and again moved the runners to applaud the support as one.

I can remember thinking around this point that things were going well but I would soon be in unchartered territory (20 miles plus). Looking back at my splits now I can see this was actually the point where I started to slow - running Mile 20 at 9:13 pace was my fastest mile in the last eight.

I certainly realised that it was starting to get harder as I headed into Mile 21. I started craving the next water point, a Lucozade station, the on-course shower and the re-appearance of the Fetch support point. I'm not sure what came first - the shower or the Fetchies - but they both had a galvanizing effect (albeit not for a prolonged period of time).

The Fetch point was a blur. I knew stopping would mean missing my sub-4:00 target so just crashed my way past grabbing a Jaffa Cake and a handful of Jelly Babies. I believe it was at this point that any rational thoughts were left in my wake. The Jelly Babies gave me a good lift but why I then decided to snatch any sweets offered in the next mile or so is still a mystery to me. The feeling of nausea caused by my gluttony will ensure, I’m in no doubt, that I never change my race fuelling strategy again.

It would have been easy to start walking  but the thought of a sub-4:00 time kept me going. The sight of runners still passing slowly through Mile 13 gave me the boost I needed to keep going and the crowds seemed to hone in on my increased discomfort and I heard (I think) my name being called more and more.

At this point I lost track of the distance for a while and coming through Blackfriars wasn’t sure whether I would see the Mile 23 or Mile 24 marker next. Imagine my relief and increased mental strength when it was Mile 24. It was clear now that nothing could stop me reaching sub-4:00 (except stopping) and I managed to start soaking up the atmosphere again as I passed along the Embankment. I do remember being disappointed with Big Ben because I already knew the time, pointless clock - as I said, rational thought was no longer with me.

All that was left to do was pass St. James Park, round the front of the Queen’s house and then the finishing line was in sight. As I ran up The Mall I glanced at my Garmin and was amazed to see that despite the fatigue of the last four miles I was suddenly running 8-minute-mile pace. I finished in 3:58.37 - job done!

Having the medal put around my neck was amazing - all that was left to do was have my official photo taken, pick up a goody bag, wolf down a Mars bar, pick up my kit bag and start the 10-minute walk to the repatriation area.

I am happy to admit that the look of pride on my OH and kids' faces when I met up with them was probably the best feeling I had all day. The round of applause I received when I was one of the first runners to enter The Children’s Trust massage area at the after-party was quite humbling. The rest of the day passed in a blur of burgers, beer and well-deserved bravado.

Monday morning, I had to walk back to the start area to see where it all began and was more than a little upset to see cars on my start line. My start line! My big adventure was definitely, maybe, over. All that remained to do was drive around the finishing area more than once - in a National Lampoon type moment - although we were lucky enough to see the heroic Phil Packer completing the last mile of his 26 miles in 26 hours. It was proof that anyone can do this, even if my blogs of the last four months haven’t persuaded you so already.

So is this the end or the beginning? I’ll see you soon…