London Marathon … Hopefully the First Race of Many
By Hannah Thorpe
It was the London Marathon that started off my obsession with running, so it feels appropriate to write a little post about it…
Distance: 26.2 miles (more like 27 miles for those of us that don’t follow the shortest course line…)
No. of non-elite runners = 30,825
Winning male: Wilson Kipsang (2:04:29, a new course record)
Winning female: Edna Kiplagat (2:20:21 – 5 minutes slower than Paula Radcliffe’s course record, set in 2005)
My time: 4:01:57 – my GPS watch recorded my final distance as 27 miles so I count that as sub 4 hours
No. of SiS gels to fuel my run: 9
It was a fantastic day for a marathon. London was bathed in sun all day and the spectators enjoyed a sweltering (for English standards) day cheering the runners on…the runners on the other hand cursed the weather all the way round the course as a majority of our training has been through the English winter. However, a bonus was that the weather played a big part (along with the fact that Mo Farah was running his first marathon) in attracting a record number of spectators…in some places they were 10 to 15 people deep!
As a runner it is incredibly tricky to find a good option for a pre-marathon breakfast (carb-loading during the few days before is easy enough; gluten-free pasta, rice, or potatoes). But all breakfast recommendations online, in books, or in magazines consist of toast or porridge (I can’t even eat gluten-free bread as it contains eggs, and I am also intolerant to oats…!) My usual breakfast is a chicken breast (stuck in my paleo routine from University) and a banana if I’m going for a run, but protein was not what I needed before a marathon. So I settled for mashed sweet potato with coconut oil (prepared the night before)…not the most inspiring. I then had an Eat Natural cereal bar and a banana closer to the start.
I travelled with my Mum to the Red start (mainly for charity gold bond runners), by the time we got on the DLR it was rammed with other nervous runners carrying their red bags. Everyone was buzzing and talking about their training stories, whether or not it was their first time etc. I was at the start area with an hour to spare so that I had enough time to get ready, try and relax, go to the loo multiple times, find the luggage truck to hand my stuff in, and find my starting pen. Family and friends have to say goodbye at the entrance to the starting area.
The starting area was filled with an air of excitement, anxiety, dread, and from many people (including myself) thoughts of “why the bl***y hell am I doing this?!”
When I applied for the marathon I optimistically gave a predicted finishing time of 3:30/3:45…that was before I started training and realised that there was no way I was going to be able to run that fast with only 4 months to prepare! This meant that I was put in a starting pen (pen 4) filled with lots of rather speedy looking runners…where had all the nervous-looking people like me gone?! I was suddenly surrounded by confident and excited athletes and felt a little out of place… *
Soon enough we were off! It took me 4 minutes to get across the actual start line, and as soon as I started running I was buzzing with excitement…finally all of my arduous training had come to an end and I was actually running the marathon! I could not stop smiling. From the very start the atmosphere was so amazing. The pavements were filled with spectators spilling out of their houses; some camping out with champagne and picnics, kids lining the road waiting for high-five’s from the runners, others blaring music from speakers…there was so much to take in.
Luckily I had my Garmin GPS watch on so I could watch my pace and stick to my plan of 9:00 min/miles from the start…it’s so hard not to get caught up in the excitement and race off with the faster runners. Going off too fast during the first few miles can completely ruin the remainder of your race.
The first 10 miles honestly flew by…I hardly noticed them. I just couldn’t believe how amazing the atmosphere was. I stuck to the edge of the road and had so many people cheering my name (so glad I had it printed on my top) and giving me high-five’s, it was great fun.
It wasn’t all fun…the heat was pretty unbearable and I looked forward to each water stop (every mile) so I could throw most of the bottle over my head and legs…each time the water dried almost immediately. The amazing marathon organizers had also scattered showers at various points along the route which were a lifesaver…there were even firemen at two points on the course spraying the runners with their hoses – amazing!
Coming up to mile 14 I knew I would see a Parkinson’s cheer point, and then my Mum and Toby just after it…the anticipation of seeing friendly faces pushed me to run there even faster. It was amazing to see them. The Parkinson’s cheers were so loud it was great, and I was so so happy to see my Mum and Toby…I high-fived then on my way past and hoped they’d make it to the embankment in time to see me for the end stretch.
As I was preparing myself to move in to what’s supposed to be the hardest leg of the race (mile 16/17) I heard someone shout “Hannah Thorpe!!” – I glanced over to the other side of the road where I saw the sign below – my auntie Kate, Ste, and the kids were all there cheering for me (I had no idea they were going to be there…gave me such a boost)!
Thanks to the Collies!
Things got a bit harder around the Isle of Dogs…the lanes were narrower and there were multiple bottle-neck situations which really slowed me down. I was conscious of my time, although I was ahead of my plan I didn’t want to slow down when my legs were still feeling good…it was very frustrating and I could feel the frustrations of the other runners as we all slowed down to almost a walk.
By mile 21 I was no longer smiling; my quads felt tight and I was just pushing to get to mile 24 along the embankment where I knew my family and friends would be there to cheer me to the finish.
It was at this point that the runners around me started slowing down, or even stopping completely. I was in so much pain and it took so much determination to keep my legs moving…I knew that if I stopped for even a moment I would not be able to get my legs going again. Coming out of the tunnel on to the embankment, I knew there wasn’t long to go but that straight road went so so slowly.
Seeing my family at mile 24 gave me a well-needed boost, and I managed a smile and a wave for them – they said that I made it look easy even at that point…trust me I was dying inside…! I had been on track for a sub 4-hour marathon throughout the whole race but in those last 3 miles my pace really took a hit and I was struggling to stay on target. It was a sad moment when I realised that I wasn’t going to manage it…but to be honest at that point I knew I would just be ecstatic to finish.
Last couple of miles
The last couple of miles were a bit of a blur…my whole body was screaming with pain and willing me to stop. A friend from work was apparently shouting my name very loudly just before the final stretch but I was totally zoned out and completely missed her. So much was going through my head…I was thinking about how I couldn’t let myself down after all the training I had put in, I couldn’t let everyone that had sponsored me down, I also couldn’t bear the idea of telling people that I hadn’t finished/hadn’t run the whole way, and most of all I wanted that medal!
When the countdown started from the 800m mark I knew I was so so close to the finish…but those last 800m’s felt so much longer. I was hoping to speed up for the final stretch but that definitely was not an option.
I had nothing left in the tank.
It was pretty overwhelming to cross the finish line, and to have a heavy medal placed around my neck. I looked at my Garmin watch and my heart sank a little as I realised I was so close to sub-4 hours…4:01:57…but I was still so pleased.
I shuffled along the mall to claim my kit bag and forced myself to drink some lucozade. I’m not going to lie, I felt horrendous! My legs were so stiff, I could barely walk, I felt sick, and was dehydrated. My skin was covered in white salt lines from all of the sweat that had dried in the sun…very attractive! The last thing I wanted to do was eat anything, but I knew that was the one thing I needed most.
After putting on my compression socks, having a very painful stretch, and chatting with a fellow runner about how we were never going to put ourselves through that torture again, I shuffled to the meet and greet area to find my family. I was so happy to see them. We then headed to the Parkinson’s UK after party before shuffling home…where I forced myself in to a 10 minute ice bath!
It was the best and hardest day of my life.
I swore I was never going to put myself through that pain again.
By the next day I had forgotten all about the pain…and starting planning which marathon to do next!
…and I am now planning a 700km run across Spain.
Runners are mad!