After months of training through a Sydney summer, about a month ago I made the trek back to the UK to run my first marathon, the Virgin London Marathon (VLM)
I was such a bundle of nerves for the weeks leading up to the race, so much time, effort and money had gone into this and I was terrified of something going wrong and missing the marathon altogether. Injury in particular. Of the 50,000 places offered in London, only around 36,000 people end up running and most of those missed places are due to injury.
It was not going to be me.
At the last minute I was offered a celebrity starting place because I have a really good friend who works in media who managed to get it for me. I don’t know how any future marathons are ever going to stack up by comparison because once you’ve done it in style there is no going back. I’m going to liken it to spending a long time traveling business class and then getting booted back to cattle class.
As my friend had pointed out, the best part of the celebrity start group is the toilets. Anyone who is a seasoned race goer will identify that portaloo’s at running events are the worst in the world.
So just in case you are wondering just how posh celebrity marathon toilets are, I took a photo for you. So posh!
The other good bit is that you get to see famous people while you wait for the race to start. Being Australian, I had no idea who most of them were but there were loads of sporting identities however unfortunately they all played for the wrong side (England) so I had no reason to recognise any of them. This person I did however. Chef, Michel Roux Jr. He was running his 18th London Marathon.
And he’s a lovely guy too …
Fast forward to the start and we were off. Because I was at the front, I was really aware of the hundreds of people flying past me at twice my pace. It’s very easy to get caught up in that and I have learnt from going out too fast before in races so this time I did as I was told and stuck to my goal pace.<
Nothing can prepare you for the crowd of the VLM. It really is quite insane. Close to a million people lined the streets of east and central London for the entire twenty six miles. To have strangers call out your name and cheer you on is so amazing and so encouraging. At times when I didn’t think I could keep running, some little kid would scream out “COME ON STEPH” and hold out their hand for me to touch. If you ever start to lose faith in mankind, go and run a marathon!
As experienced long distance runners say, a marathon doesn’t really start until 30km and they’re right. The first 30km were really great, nice easy paced running and I felt good. I soaked up the atmosphere and tried to imprint it all in my memory for later.
In the lead up to the race I’d always been worried about hitting a wall at around 32km because it was my nemesis in the 3 training runs I’d done to that distance. The difference being I’d only ever run 36km in training and no further.
So right on cue at around 33km I lost all my energy. I kept thinking what my friend Zoey had told me the night before “IT WILL PASS, THE WALL WILL PASS”. I’ll be forever grateful to her for that because it’s very easy to give up when you’re feeling like you’re about to die with 10km still to go.
From about half marathon distance the side of the road started to become littered with people fainting, falling unconscious, I saw people having fits, I saw MANY people vomiting. It’s a weird thing when you see people in need yet your instinct isn’t to stop but to keep on running.
The worst one I saw was some guy come up beside me really fast. He tripped on the kerb and went flying through the air and I could almost her his skin graze off his knees as he skid along the road.
>Not sure if it’s relevant but none of the victims I saw by the roadside were female. How freaken awesome are we?!
One of the other cardinal rules of marathons is never to try anything different on race day. Particularly anything you put in your mouth. Nobody wants a dodgy gut mid-race.
However when at around 35km I saw the Lucozade station, I grabbed a bottle and downed most of it because by that stage gels weren’t doing anything and I couldn’t stomach anymore of them. I was so desperate for fluid and anything that might the fatigue to pass.
It was also around this point I swore it was my last marathon. That it was a form of torture and that I was surrounded by crazy people!
However the Lucozade was the lift I needed and once I got to 39km the wall passed and I pretty much resumed my post half marathon pace and finished feeling okay. The sight of Buckingham Palace as the finish line was so welcomed and nothing beats running down the middle of the mall and onto the finishers carpet.
My official time was 4.27 .. although I was hoping for it to be 12 minutes faster, it wasn’t to be on the day and I really did my best.
Some days since the marathon I’ve struggled with my time and some days I’m cool with it but it’s the nature of racing and running – your greatest competition is yourself and sometimes I’m my own harshest critic.
So it’s not over yet. I’ll save that elusive 4.15 time for the Sydney Marathon that I’m doing in September. Apparently the 35km declaration I was never running that far again was forgotten by the time I crossed the line!