Yesterday, I ran the London marathon for the 2nd time and it was amazing.
After my first marathon at London last year – which you can read about here – I thought I’d proven to myself that I could run a marathon and didn’t even enter the ballot for this year. However, London somehow lured me back. I accidentally entered a competition on Twitter (without realising) and heard in November that I had won a place in the 2015 London Marathon.
I was a little blasé about it this year, I confess. Because 2014 had been my first marathon year, the culmination of a dream I’d had for many years, this time round just didn’t feel as exciting. The fear that had shrouded my training for the first marathon wasn’t there either. I already knew I was capable, and so I wrote a training plan, and set about getting marathon fit again. My marathon this year became a bit of a joke amongst my friends when I told them I was doing it by accident, so I didn’t share my goal of a 4:30 marathon with anyone. I just quietly set about following my training plan, this time working hard on strength and conditioning, and nutrition, and doing lots of interval training. I only did 2 long runs this time round, of 18 and 19 miles and my other long runs were around the 12-15 miles mark at slightly slower than my half marathon pace, and lots of 8-10 mile tempo runs. I have to say however, I really enjoyed training this year, as many of my club mates were also training for half and full marathons, and company on those rainy, windy, winter nights made training an adventure, particularly the head-torch runs around our beautiful Lincolnshire countryside.
My friend Gemma was meant to come down to London to support me, but sadly she’s had the flu this past week which meant on Thursday I had to put into action our Emergency Babysitter Plan so my husband Dan could come to London with me instead. I couldn’t have gone alone, knowing how hard it was to hobble to the train station from The Mall last year, as well as my poor navigational skills (how would I have found my hotel??).
I started the race this year in Greenwich Park, with the masses (last year both Dan and I were in the smaller blue start) and the amount of people at the start was a shock to the system. It took me 15 minutes just to cross the start line (and I did manage to spot myself on the highlights amongst the crowds, thanks to the man next to me dressed as a giant orange tent!) which gave me some time to gather my thoughts, and have a clear plan in my head, which was to keep it steady at 10:15 min/mile pace for the first 20 miles and then see what else my body had left for the last 6 miles. I also had a fuelling strategy for this year. I had 9 SIS carb gels with me, and I planned to take one every 3 miles. I had taken an extra gel luckily, because from 17 miles I decided to take them every two miles as my body started to tire.
The first 6 miles were quiet. The spectating crowd was restrained as they scanned the runners for the people they were there supporting. This gave me the perfect opportunity to get into my stride. After 3 miles I had found a comfortable, easy pace to stick to.
I knew Dan would be waiting for me at the Cutty Sark and I found him easily although he hadn’t seen me. I stopped for a kiss, and to graciously accept a jelly baby off the couple next to him who wished me well, then off I went knowing I only had 20 miles to go …
Tower Bridge was the next big sight, just before the halfway point. I was really looking forward to getting there and I wasn’t disappointed. You approach Tower Bridge from a dark narrow street, and the bridge glistens tantalisingly at the end, in the sunshine. As you step into it, the noise is deafening! The crowd is 4 or 5 people deep and you can see all the sights of London. It’s truly wonderful. I had goosebumps as I crossed the bridge, and a huge smile on my face, and I felt very lucky to be a part of something so incredible once again. I knew I’d done the right thing, at that moment, coming back. As I turned the corner off Tower Bridge I soon passed the halfway point, bang on my target time of 2 hours 15.
Then my marathon had really begun. I ticked off 14 miles, 15 miles and 16 miles, mentally cursing each marker seemingly moving further away. I was looking forward to getting to Canary Wharf at mile 18 where I remembered the crowd being incredible last year, and more importantly marked two thirds of the marathon distance. I was not disappointed. Although building works this year meant the route through Canary Wharf was slightly different than usual, the whooping and cheering of the crowd echoing off the tall buildings is a real spirit lifter.
I was starting to tire now and wanted to get to 20 miles. I kept telling myself, ‘Just over an hour’s running left now, not long. Keep moving forward.’ I said ‘well done’ to a chap dressed as Pamela Anderson’s Baywatch character who looked like he was suffering extreme chafing at the thong of his swimming costume, and suddenly, there was the 20 mile marker. I couldn’t believe I’d got there so quickly. This marathon was almost over. Suddenly my senses were heightened. I was sensitive to everybody in the crowd, those whose eyes were upon me made an emotional connection with me for those last few miles. I’d catch someone’s eye, they’d send out some words of encouragement – ‘Looking good Michelle’, ‘Come on Michelle’, ‘Looking strong Michelle’, Keep going Michelle’ – and suddenly I was flying! I felt amazing. The crowd really does give you a boost when you need it most, shaking jelly babies, blowing whistles, playing music. I love how bands and Morris dancer come out to entertain runners and the spectating crowd, pubs employ their best karaoke singers, firefighters get their hoses out. It is one 26.2 mile long street party!
Contrary to last year, I had an enormous smile on my face for those last 6 miles. It still hurt, but somehow a marathon also feels good too. I always tell people to challenge themselves, in order to grow. And a marathon does this by stripping off all your layers one by one, like an onion. Insecurity. Doubt. Fear. Anger. Sadness. Guilt. Worry. Until eventually it is just you and the road ahead, and all you feel is intense joy and freedom. I can’t honestly express how joyful I felt yesterday, running along past the 21, 22, 23, 24 and 25 mile markers except to say I felt like the wind. I felt free, and happy. I had not a care in the world. I was fist pumping the air. I was so happy I wanted to cry. I saw the UKRunChat cheering point at 21.5 miles, and the Epilepsy Research UK team at 24.5 miles. And suddenly there was Big Ben. And I sped up. Where on earth was this energy coming from? I was overtaking people. I could hear the crowd roaring my name, like a celebrity, as I passed them. I turned the corner at Buckingham Palace, and gave it my all for that final 400 metres, crossing the finish line with an enormous smile on my face. I had done it. Again. 20 minutes quicker in fact! Last year wasn’t a fluke; I truly am a marathon runner. I had run it in 4 hours, 31 minutes and 24 seconds. I’m claiming it as a 4:30 marathon because of the smooch I stole off my husband earlier at the Cutty Sark … I am retiring from marathon running for a few years now, just like our own Paula Radcliffe, because training does take up a huge amount of time and I’ve been lucky enough to experience it two years running.
So this is where I pass the baton and set you all a challenge. If you want to feel superhuman, go and run a marathon. And if you want to experience Britain at its most generous-spirited, choose the London Marathon. The ballot opens on May 4th. Go and experience it for yourselves.
I’ll finish with something I said yesterday: Always challenge yourself. You are capable of extraordinary things when you believe in the impossible.
Thank you. My sponsorship page is still open and receiving donations: www.justgiving.com/beatepilepsy