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Running the TCS London Marathon 2023

Running the London Marathon

If you want to see humanity at its best, wherever you are on the London Marathon route, running or watching, all you will see is only good. The London Marathon is quite simply, a demonstration of us, the people of England, at our best. We runners, full of determination and grit, fitness, with a cheerful refusal to give up in the face of adversity and a sincere dedication to a quest, which more often than not is charitable as well as personal. Around those running, are tidal waves of genuine warm wishes, admiration and a sense of caring love shines through for a few hours, showing us all what our lives could be like, in this world of war, dishonesty, greed and self interest. People don’t set out to watch a big city marathon with anything other than a genuine enthusiasm to clap, ring bells, bang pans, wave signs (some quite amusing) and cheer loudly in support and encouragement. Nowhere do they do it better and noisier than in London. As I runner I found it deeply humbling.

Those running London for the first time will be swept up in the moment, of which there are many and an atmosphere unlikely to be replicated anywhere else. Quite simply the London Marathon start line is the beginning to what will be one of the best days of your life. This being summed up by a friend who also ran this marathon said in her blog "Winging my way round the London marathon"  "I smiled so much my face hurt. I used the tunnel section as an opportunity to rest and stretch my face"

So here I am, after 16 weeks of meticulous training, getting up in the early hours and going out running, often in the freezing cold, rain or storm force winds perhaps all three, well actually no not rain! Everything has been planned to the meticulous detail, for every possible eventuality, all leading to this one, big, day. I’m going to be running in the London Marathon, arguably the best marathon in the world. Actually no argument, it IS the best marathon in the world! Three years ago, running five miles seemed for me an unrealistic target. Now I am running a ******g marathon!

I’ve packed my gear – Check. I’ve packed toiletries - Check. I’ve packed all my food and supplies for the next two nights – Check.  Such is my all encompassing Maranoia (n) - Mental anxiety found in marathon runners, characterised by the irrational belief that last-minute disaster is imminent - in the preceding days, I made lists and I checked them twice, planned my routes from Victoria station to my hotel near Woolwich Arsenal and from there to Blackheath. For once, nothing was forgotten or overlooked.


I stayed in the Woolwich Travelodge, yet even at 4:30pm my room was "not ready - it was left in a bit of a mess" so not a great start. If you plan to stay there, make sure your room is in the building at the back named "The Bakery" apart from the odd plane, it is as quiet as it can be for a City hotel. I was given "free" WiFi as compensation for having to wait nearly an hour for my room (see my Trip Advisor review!). Amazingly, I discovered QPR had beaten Champions Burnley at Turf Moor which perked me up no end.

For those running the London Marathon, especially for the first time, it would be a miracle if you had a full night’s sleep.  Despite taking all manner of non-prescription sleep aids I managed around 3-4 hours sleep, as apparently most of those taking part did – such is the utter excitement and anticipation. I got up at 4:30am, had a coffee. Had a shower. Had my breakfast of cereal, banana, yogurt, and another coffee. Went for a walk to buy a Sunday paper. Surprised that everywhere in Woolwich was shut even at 6:45am! Having laid out my running gear the night before, I checked it again, pinned my number of my charity’s vest and sorted out my gels and packed my dump bag with track suit, cotton tea shirt, socks and spare trainers and something to eat. It was still only 7:30am, what am I going to do until it is time for the train at 9am, for 10am at my allotted pen, for the 10:55am start. Yet another coffee and my third toilet visit!

Oh the rain – why does it always rain on me?

Despite my meticulous planning, the one thing I couldn’t control was the weather. Will it be too hot? Unlikely. Will it rain? Well it was forecast and it bloody well did!  From the moment I left Blackheath station walking to the race start area it rained. I absolutely hate running in the rain, if this was ever in doubt, running the Fleet half-marathon the month before in rain confirmed it and that was only for two hours. I had at least come prepared, with carrier bags and rubber bands to keep my shoes dry, a warm disposable fleece and a disposable rain coat poncho and a Mary Poppins lady’s umbrella.  OK I looked ridiculous, but hey I was dry unlike most people, who many admitted to me that the brolly was a good idea – it usually is if it’s raining and you don’t have one! A few asked if I was going to run in "all that"?

Here we go, here we go!

I watched on as wave after wave departed to the start, and after what seemed an age, it was my time, Blue - Wave 13 - 10:55am. At the fence I discarded the bags on my shoes and took off my fleece and looked for the bin to "donate" it in. As we trundled through the start gate, cheers went up and we were finally GO.  I had planned to go slower for the first mile, still carrying my wet fleece and wearing the plastic poncho and with runners in close proximity, it was always going to be a slow start.

After about 500 yards, there was room to spread out and no sign of the charity bin so, although feeling somewhat guilty, I threw the fleece to the side of the road. After a mile, the first bank of toilets were in sight but with queues. I had availed myself of the facilities whilst in the pen waiting for the start, more for something to do but also having already consumed several coffees, a 500ml bottle of water and nearly another 225ml bottle (planning: "be well hydrated" was the advice!) also being in the cold and wet, it was a good idea. Nevertheless, I decided to use the next toilet if no queues. That was at around mile 3 and I also I ripped off my plastic poncho as I had warmed up, probably too much and decided I’d get as wet as everyone else.

Next up was Cutty Sark at mile 6 - a memorable landmark, with a close crowd and surfaces potentially slippery wet. I saw the chap from BBC Escape to the Country and I turned and said "I know you" and felt like an idiot. He wanted a chat by the time I realised, the opportunity had passed and anyway, I had my time to achieve.

I had a target time of 4 hours 30 minutes, which was achievable from my training. However, another unplanned, unforeseen and almost unavoidable event was to not only put my finishing time in doubt, but 10 days before the marathon, it seemed unlikely I would be well enough to even run it. I got a really bad chest infection, my first since 2019! Luckily with antibiotics and steroids, I was able to at least do one last training run of 8 miles four days earlier, albeit with some difficulty.

Oh no disaster and not even half-way

So I wanted to give it my best, despite my recent illness, as I believe it is highly unlikely I would ever be lucky enough to run London again. Initially, I managed to dodge slower runners and use pavements when available as they were both dry and clear. Everything was going well and to plan up to mile 12, Tower Bridge and 10 minutes ahead for my target time, with the 4:30 pacer behind me. Then disaster struck, cramp in my left leg coming off Tower Bridge, whilst dodging yet another slower runner. It did ease but wary of a return I slowed my pace, but the cramp came back periodically.

At half-way, I wondered how and why these slower runners had been ahead of me, as it was clear that at their pace, they were in the wrong pen. A man with clogs was never going to finish in 4:30. Neither was the person in the giant inflatable Godzilla. Many were walking before they had even run 3 miles. I had not prepared or anticipated what it would be like to run in a marathon with 49,000 others. But this is the London Marathon. It should be viewed as a speedy parade not a quest for a long desired, finishing time. Amazingly several ran in costumes, such as Rhino-man and a lady dressed as a yellow duck, quite apt given the rain. I told her she was brave and she said thank you. At the finish, I saw a man who had pushed a toilet on wheels 26.2miles, raising money for charity.

I’m not certain that my cramp could be wholly attributed to swerving around so many slower runners and walkers. It may also have been partly due the standing around in the pen, the rain, dodging puddles or perhaps, as I subsequently found out online, a lack of sodium (salt) who knew? I didn’t, but I do now. My cramp and later a left groin strain pain were absolute. It became the theme for the remainder of my London Marathon. Run 200 yards then ouch the pain. Run a bit more, hey this is OK now, owwuch no it’s not!  I was timed at 2 hours 15 minutes at half way and finished with a time of 5 hours 20 minutes 40 seconds. My target time was 4 hours 30 minutes (or less – wake me I’m dreaming!)

At around mile 20, I took a pit stop at a St John’s and had a leg massage, so I could be sure to finish!  I had seen pacers for 4:15 and 4:30 pass long ago and on the Embankment, when I couldn’t even keep up with the 5:00 pacer, I knew my finishing time would be irrelevant, it was just a question of actually finishing.  

Nearly there  – one final push through the pain.

As I approached Westminster, I could see the London Eye and then Big Ben as the rain stopped and the sun started to shine for the first time and with wet pavements glistening, I started to bask in my imminent achievement. As little as three years earlier, I could barely run 200 yards, now I am within reach of completing a marathon for the first time aged 64!  As I passed Buckingham Palace to my left and ran up The Mall, I realised it would all be over soon, too soon, but the "385 yards to go" sign was still a welcome sight. Onwards I am running constantly now, although still in pain, towards the finish bridge. My finish time now irrelevant, thoughts turned to: What would the medal be like? Where do I get my T-shirt?  Indeed, the medal was surprisingly heavy and is now a highly prized possession. I have since made a medal rail for my growing collection!  As for the T-shirt, two months later, I am still reluctant to wear it for fear of it getting damaged in the washing machine.

A big thank you to everyone

All those who organised, supported, volunteered and looked after us mortals as we stretched to the absolute limits of our endurance. The support from the spectators who turned up in their tens of thousands to cheer us all on in the constant rain was indescribable. I twice saw chaps wearing QPR shirts and turned to sing "The R’s are staying up!" which led to several others joining in after Rangers (shock) away victory the previous day. The volume of the cheers often drowned out the music on my headphones, as did the several groups of drummers, the brass band on top of a pub and the steel drums. It was a very special experience. Everyone was so nice, cheerful, supportive and so kind. The London Marathon is exceptionally well-organised. I am grateful for their efforts in making this day so special for everyone taking part. I do think it could be improved by requiring substantiation of stated finishing times and a suggestion that those walking move to the left or right. Buxton supplied still water in 225ml bottles every two miles and somehow kept them chilled. Lucozade handed out energy drinks in cups, (not sure if cups worked) and their Gel was horrible (sorry but it was!).

In a world filled with greed, self-interest and even hate, we had a day, a window into what it could be like, love and kindness were everywhere. Even whilst walking around the streets looking for a toilet (yes far too much water during and after the marathon!) I came across some ladies who warmly expressed their admiration and awe of me as I proudly wore my medal having run 26.2miles. They offered a can of their gin and tonic (I politely declined as it would have sent me to sleep) and was given a big hug.

Running the London Marathon was a truly amazing experience, something that I would recommend to anyone. Would I do it again? YES in a heartbeat. I entered the ballot for 2024 that evening! This was truly, one of the best days of my life. As the announcer said at the finish "you have just run in the world’s best marathon" indeed I had and felt very privileged to have done so.

The day after the marathon was strange. Whilst travelling back and looking forward to reuniting with my partner after two nights away, my mind wandered to what next? What could top those emotions of achievement and the whole joyous experience?

I do desire a 4hours 30mins marathon finish time. At my age, the window of opportunity is closing with each passing year. I have booked to run the marathon at Goodwood motor racing circuit on 2 July 2023. Maranoia setting in early, as I am more concerned about it being too hot this time rather than rain. I am determined to (at least) run a sub 5-hour marathon. If not London, then Brighton next year, also now booked. The older I get the harder it will be, but do it I will.

I would like to thank my partner Ellen for putting up with me being a "marabore" for the last 5 months, my family and friends for their support and generous donations, the staff at St Wilfrids Hospice for giving me this opportunity and everyone connected with staging the TCS London Marathon 2023.

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