Crossing the line

From solo runner to marathon ‘camel’

There is a myriad of reasons why people are drawn to running 26.2 miles in a mass participation race. It might be to raise money for charity, conquer a time goal or just for the thrill of running with thousands of other people.

This year’s London Marathon amassed the biggest start line in the race’s 39-year history with 42,906 participants ready to take on the 26.2-mile challenge. Following a course that winds its way around London’s iconic streets, lined with spectators shouting words of encouragement to total strangers, the atmosphere is infectious.

The front of the field saw Eliud Kipchoge crossing the line in a super speedy 2hrs, 2 minutes and 37 seconds, the fourth time he has been the champion at London. Kenya’s Brigid Kosgei was the winning female in an impressive 2hrs, 18 minutes and 20 seconds and at 25 years old she is also the youngest ever women’s winner.

So, what is it like to run the London Marathon with someone else when the focus is on them and their time?

After swearing to never run a marathon unless it was London, my younger sister Hannah entered our run club’s ballot less than hour before it was due to close and was promptly announced as the recipient of one of the coveted places at the club’s Christmas dinner. I received this information via a text message that started with the words ‘oh no’ and ended with ‘please help me’. I have always been a predominately solo runner and having run London and other marathons before with the focus always being on achieving a certain time for myself, the prospect of pacing someone else was a touch daunting and something of a new challenge. Come January, training plan written, the journey to run a marathon together was on.

Saturday mornings started to begin earlier and earlier as the mileage for the weekend long run increased. We would often get up to run to parkrun, jog around at parkrun with the dog in tow followed by some more miles that often finished at the coffee shop. The long runs became the testing ground for fuelling strategies and getting to grips with playing the mental game that is long distance running. Turns out the magic formula for my sister was a combination of jam sandwiches (specifically white bread, salted butter and strawberry jam with champagne), pureed fruit baby food and following similar routes each week. I became affectionately known as ‘the camel’ with my little bag strapped to my back to transport the snack and water options.

After months of those long runs, race morning arrived, and I felt the familiar sense of excitement and anticipation that I’ve come to know and love before races but this time it came with an added layer of responsibility. What if I couldn’t make it round? What if I pulled my hamstring at mile 20? My biggest fear was not being able to find my sister at mile one as agreed after starting in different zones and I had nightmares of waiting there for hours while the race passed me by. The first challenge was navigating Sunday service trains to reach the start on time including piling onto packed trains from London Bridge all the while trying to eat porridge from a Tupperware box in the allotted pre-race time frame. Finally, it was time to run and luckily after 20 minutes of me waiting at mile one, Hannah appeared bobbing through the crowd and, reunited we set off for another 25.2 miles. Something of a rollercoaster ensued as is often the way with marathons; highs at seeing friends and family along the route were followed by extreme lows at the distance that was still left to cover as well as the battle with pain and tiredness. But before we knew it, the red carpet of The Mall was in sight and a sub five-hour finish ticking on the watch.

Running a marathon is hard no matter what time you do it in. From the speedsters pushing themselves to the limits of human endurance chasing times, to those on their feet for hours on end, not to mention those dressed up in hot and heavy costumes (serious kudos to the six-person Thunderbird collective who crossed the line in under six hours!).

The sense of pride and elation at crossing the line was not diminished by the time on the clock, in fact it may have been even more rewarding.

As we walked away from the finish line, my sister said she was never doing a marathon again. Later, after a well-deserved burger and chips (free for marathon runners, one of the perks of a medal!) and her mood lifted by messages of congratulations, she thought maybe. Would I run another marathon with someone else? Definitely.

We also caught up with Communications Officer Andrew Lawton from Resident organisation London Sport to see how he got on in the race and whether he’d do it again…

What was your experience on the day?

It was certainly a unique experience. The excitement beforehand waiting for the start and then the crowds of runners and supporters gives you such a buzz. The sheer number of people in London on the day is incredible and you really feel like the streets, communities and neighbourhoods come together. Those final few miles felt like a marathon in themselves but the joy of crossing the line at the finish made it all worthwhile.

Favourite part of the race?

My two main highlights were Cutty Sark and Tower Bridge. Both are iconic London landmarks and were absolutely packed with people. It really spurred you on as a runner and, as they were quite early in the route, you still felt relatively fresh and was able to enjoy it and soak the atmosphere in.

How did you feel the day after?

I didn’t feel too bad the day after all things considered. There was a lot of stiffness and pain but I was able to walk and got myself into the office.

What did you eat after finishing the Marathon?

For me, I needed to hydrate. Thankfully, there was a Lucozade in the post-race goody bag. Afterwards I went for a chicken burger, fries and a pint. It tasted great but I was so exhausted I think I would have eaten anything at that point. I didn’t have the energy to get too excited with post-race beers.

And most importantly, are you tempted to enter the ballot for the 2020 Marathon?!

I think I’ll pass on 2020. I think I’ll look to improve my 10k and maybe half marathon times a bit more before considering another 26.2 miles though I suspect that’s my one and only marathon.


Fancy giving it a go next year? Entries to the ballot are open now until Friday 3rd May at 17.00.

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