The Greatest Marathon in the World
Saturday 12th April and I’m on my way down south for my first ever marathon. Not just any old marathon mind, the greatest marathon in the world apparently! My train was on time and I arrived at Kings Cross just before 1pm. The journey down had been pretty uneventful, sitting on my own until Darlo where a guy sat next me and simply said “marathon?” It turned out he was from Shildon Harriers and was doing it as well, also his first full 26.2 miler (he was called Eddie Murphy!).
I was met off the train by my sister with whom I would be staying and after quickly dropping my bag off at hers it was off to the Expo to register and get my number. Travelling around London is all about trains and after a combination of The Underground and DLR, we arrived at ExCeL. I was expecting it to be very busy, which it was but registration was very well organised and in no time I had my number, kit bag and timing chip. We had a wander round some of the many stalls but I managed to resist the urge to buy stuff that I didn’t really need and so we made our way back to my sister’s apartment in Oxford Circus. The rest of the day was spent eating, a bit of sight-seeing and more eating before retiring for an early night.
Unfortunately I found it difficult, bordering on the impossible, to get to sleep so excited was I about the big day. Anyway, I managed to get 5 or 6 hours and that would just have to do! I woke full of nervous excitement and after getting my race gear together I had my usual breakfast of porridge and blueberries (with a banana stuffed into my kit bag to have at about 9 o’clock). It was then back on the tube for the short journey to Charing Cross and then onto the train to the blue start at Blackheath.
The start was unlike any other I had experienced before with hot air balloons and of course thousands and thousands and thousands of fellow runners. I had a last few gulps of Lucozade Sport, ate my banana and put my bag on the baggage truck. It was then off to the toilet queue which was massive and of course all the other queues seem to move faster than the one you’re in! I then made my way to start pen No. 4 (of 9) and despite my best efforts, I couldn’t spot either of the other Blyth runners, Dave Bradley and Paul Knight (Karen Singleton was at a different start).
Pleasantries were exchanged between fellow first timers while we waited and then suddenly we were moving forward and although I couldn’t hear the klaxon, it was obvious the race had started. It took me 2 ½ minutes to get over the official start line and the crowds in the grandstand gave me my first taste of the amazing support I was to experience over the entire 26.2 mile course.
The first couple of miles were slow, I even had to walk for a short while after a mile and a half because of the sheer number of runners. This would do me good in the long run I told myself. A few quicker miles followed as the starts came together and by now it was beginning to warm up, my hairless head starting to wonder why on earth I hadn’t put a hat on! The crowds were phenomenal with plenty of encouragement and kids holding out their hands for high (and low) fives.
I decided not to bother with the early drink stations (undoubtedly a big mistake) and had the first of my 4 gels just before Cutty Sark. I felt that I was moving fairly smoothly at this point, just soaking up the atmosphere and the sun’s rays!!
Somewhere between 10 and 11 miles I could see a Blyth vest up ahead and it was Dave Bradley. I caught him up a few minutes later and at about the same time I spotted Brian Singleton looking resplendent in his Tri-Northumberland colours. Dave and I ran together for a while, over Tower Bridge and then onto the half-way point. It was here that we saw the elite men on the opposite carriageway who were approximately 8 or 9 miles ahead of us. There was, of course, another slightly more famous first timer running the same race and it was amazing to see Mo flying by within feet of me although it was obvious that he was a fair distance behind the leaders.
It wasn’t long after this that my race started to unravel. I seemed to begin to struggle pretty much all of a sudden and it took me completely by surprise. I’d taken 2 gels by this point as well as water and Lucozade Sport and until now I really thought that I’d judged it pretty well. How wrong I was! I started having stomach cramps and all my strength just drained away. It quickly became both mentally and physically very tough indeed. This was it - I had hit the wall.
Running through Canary Wharf was amazing, the sky scrapers and crowds breath-taking in equal measure. I could hear lots of shouts of “come on Blyth” and “well done Blyth, keep going”. I guess I must have looked as bad as I felt! Unfortunately the temperature seemed to increase at this point too and I was now in a pretty bad state, wondering how on earth I would get through to the finish. I can honestly say hand on heart though that dropping out never once crossed my mind.
From that point it all became a bit of a blur to be honest. I had taken my third gel at about 16/17 miles but didn’t seem to get any lift from it. I started chomping on Jelly Babies and by now was stopping at all of the drinks stations (thankfully there were many) to take on fluids. The showers were also very welcome.
At roughly 22 miles I felt a tap on my shoulder and it was Paul Knight asking if I was okay. No was the reply but I waved him on saying I would make it to the end eventually. By now my right ankle was adding to my problems (I’d gone over on it slightly a few weeks earlier) and soon after both quads decided they could really not be arsed anymore either and were cramping badly. If this had been a boxing match, the referee would have stopped it!
However, shortly after the Lucozade station at mile 23 (apparently staffed by Leigh Halfpenny, Chris Robshaw and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain – not that I noticed!) I seemed to rally a little and felt as though I was running a bit better. Running along Embankment was memorable and I knew that I didn’t have that much further to go to reach the finish. From there the course turned right with Big Ben and The Houses of Parliament up ahead, along Birdcage Walk and it was at this point that I passed Paul, much to my surprise (I later learned that he’d had a cramp attack). I could now see Buckingham Palace to my left and the arch across the road signalling 385 yards to go. This gave me a massive lift as did the finish line that I could now see further down The Mall. Thanks to friends in high places, my sister and her partner were in the grandstand at the finish and I spotted them jumping up and down as I ran by.
Crossing the finish line was a massive relief and somehow I had still managed to get under 4 hours (which was actually my original target before I got carried away!) despite my problems. My timing tag was cut off and medal placed around my neck – what a feeling! However that feeling soon gave way to another and like the soft so and so that I am, I needed a spot of first aid.
What a day though and what an experience. Sure I’ll change a few things next time – and there will be a next time before you ask!
For the record – Dave Bradley 3:39:53, Paul Knight 3:54:53 (he had taken longer than me to get over the start line), Karen Singleton 3:56:58 & me bringing up the rear for the club in 3:57:43.