Running 26.2 miles takes a long time – in every sense. There’s the 3h 28m 17s it took me to complete the London Marathon route, of course, but also more than half-a-year of training, build-up, anticipation and preparation. Crossing that finish line on The Mall was the end of a long journey.
Conversely, then, the actual Marathon seemed to pass by in a flash – even if my aching legs currently remind me otherwise. As anyone who has run a marathon will probably attest, it is an overwhelming experience, a physical, mental and emotional experience unlike anything I have ever done before. The physical effort was a long grind, but by the time I had finished it was hard to believe it was over so quickly.
Frankly, it was almost too much to take in. Which is probably why it’s hard to really piece together my London Marathon memories as one long, continuous event in my mind. Instead, it’s a series of fragments and moments. To avoid an overwhelming download of memories, I’ve split this into two posts. Here’s the first chunk, largely focused on the first part of the race.
The first tube
My journey to the marathon started by taking a bus from my house to Richmond Station, to catch the first District line tube of the day, at 7.22am. Arriving at the station and finding a platform almost full of anxious runners, all waiting for the same train, really demonstrated just how big this event was.
Before the start
Again, this was on a scale that’s hard to comprehend – but so well organised. The pre-start zone in Greenwich Park was huge. Bottles of water were offered, toilets were plentiful (as previously noted, needing the toilet before a run can be a major issue…) and there was even free tea and coffee. Well, almost. The only complaint about the whole even I could make was that they’d run out of coffee by the time I got there. They did have decaf coffee, but… well, if there’s no caffeine, what’s the point of a pre-run coffee?
I was in pen four of nine at the Greenwich Park ‘red’ start. I could see crowds ahead and crowds behind. It was only watching it on television later that I realised quite what a mass of humanity was behind me. Again, it’s a scale that’s hard to comprehend.
As for the start itself – what a feeling. Approaching the line was quite the moment. Real excitement mixed with trepidation of a voyage into the unknown.
No, not that wall. More about that wall later.
This was a wall near the end of Greenwich Park that a lot of runners – those who’d got themselves in the pens early and hadn’t partaken in the pre-run toilet run – used to relieve themselves. Quite the sight about less than half-a-mile into the race.
The mass of runners
So many runners. I was pleasantly surprised at how quickly I was able to find some space to run in – I’d feared being blocked in at the start and unable to run at my pace, but there was no real problem. That said, it was far busier than any run I’d done before – I was never alone on the course.
I was just becoming used to the crowds a few miles in when I reached the point where the red start course met with the other two courses. My course went down a slight hill and turned onto a dual carriageway, with the runners from the other starts streaming along the other side of the road. I had to readjust my sense of scale yet again.
Oh, the crowds. All those cliches about a ‘wall of noise’ are completely true. Spectators lined virtually the whole route, cheering and clapping while offering high fives and sweets (clearly, that whole rule your mum taught you about never taking sweets from strangers can be suspended for marathons).
There were bands playing, people playing music from their balconies, spectators in fancy dress. There were people drinking beer and champagne while watching a marathon at just gone ten in the morning.
The enthusiasm really did carry me along, even if it was somewhat overwhelming. Occasionally, the few points where the crowd thinned out provided a welcome relief for the eardrums.
A lot of the spectators held up signs. Many were for individual runners, or charities. Some offered encouragement. Several made me laugh. The one that made me chuckle the most? The one that read: ‘Run like you’re running away from Donald Trump.’ I wasn’t expecting topical humour on the marathon route.
Oh, I also liked the person holding what appeared to be a homemade flag with a tin of Spam on it. No idea why.
Read part two of my London Marathon moments here.
I ran the London Marathon to raise money for the South West Children’s Heart Circle, a small charity that helps children undergoing heart surgery. The marathon is over, but it’s not too late to donate – click the ‘Just Giving’ button below for details. Thanks!