London Marathon 2017

What an incredible day! I knew it would be amazing, but I wasn’t expecting just how exciting it would be. That’s not to say it didn’t suck at times too, but I’m really happy with how it went. I didn’t achieve what I was aiming for at the start of the race – but I also changed my goals partway through and smashed those. And from that run I can now say that I’m a Guinness World Record holder!

Despite the 10am race start I was out of the house at 6:45am so that I have my costume checked by the Guinness World Records team & get photos taken beforehand. On the way there I chatted to many nervous firt-timers in the tube/train, and then met Michael who went on to set a new record for ‘fastest marathon dressed as a star’! We spent the morning hanging out together, meeting other GWR hopefuls, and chatting with other AR runners. The atmosphere in the GWR part of the Green Start was incredible due to all the silly costumes worn. Everyone just wanted to have a good time and hopefully make history. It felt electric.

Because I had got there so early I was lucky in that I only had to wait a minute or two for a bathroom. By the time we were told to get into our pens though the queue stretched all the way from one side of the Green Start area to the other! It was crazy! However, because I was there so early and had drunk some of the free tea I now needed to go again, and there was no way I could queue. So when a lady squatted next to me in the start pen while covered in a bin-bag, I followed suit. I’m pretty sure I covered everything with my own bin bag (thanks Paris marathon!), but apologies if you were there and saw anything you shouldn’t have!

Since Paris hadn’t gone to PB plan, my intention for London was to try again. At the same time, I knew that my GWR time to beat was 4:30, so even if everything went wrong I would still walk away with a new record. There was a 3:30 pacer for the Green Start and I positioned myself behind him so that I could catch up, overtake and gain a few seconds. I also had decided not to run with a watch. I put it in my pockt just before crossing the start line – although I’d messed up & not given it enough time to connect to GPS! (That’s why my route on Strava doesn’t actually start at the start line)

I faffed around in walk up to the start line to deal with the watch (and seeing friends Kristina, Michelle and others) so it was almost a surprise to be in the race – I wasn’t even holding my pompoms in both hands! First thing: catch the pacer, then fall into a nice, maintainable pace.

The way the start of the marathon is laid out, green, blue and red all follow different routes before converging. After 800m or so green merges with blue, where all of a sudden you feel yourself pulling up because there are more people squished onto the road, and the pace of those around doesn’t necessarily match your own. Argh! Joining up with red a few miles later is thankfully not nearly as bad as it comes on a wide carriageway – I barely noticed it.

Once again I missed the first water stop of the marathon, this time because the lady who’s water I was reaching for gave it to the guy ahead of me. Luckily though London has water stops every mile or so, meaning it wouldn’t be long until the next opportunity. I did need a drink though – although the forecast had been promising tops of 14degrees it was already quite sunny and I was sweating more than usual.

One of the things I’d changed in my strategy from Paris was to fuel with more Shot Bloks and gels, and once I’d figured how to get into the pocked of my new belt one-handed (due to carrying the pompoms) I had my first block at 5km. My other major strategy change was not to hold back in the first half, but instead to run at a strong speed that felt good. This wasn’t something suggested by my coach (oops, sorry), but instead inspired by an article by Professor Barry Smyth on how to pace London. This meant I came through 5km in under 24min, and 10km at 48min something. My legs felt fine, but my brain was resisting a bit at the potential rammifications of the speed. I probably should have tested this strategy in training.

The bigger problem though was one I had expected, but also thought I had combatted. As we ran around the Cutty Sark with 10km behind us I all of a sudden noticed that my inner thighs were on fire. Despite having lathered them in BodyGlide to address the inevitable chafing issue, the balm seemed to have all disappeared. My naked thighs were now rubbing together with every step, and there were no shorts or leggings to stop it happening. Damn this short cheerleading uniform! It felt so bad that my brain was conjuring up images of my legs minus 8 layers of skin come another 32kms time…

At this point my whole attitude towards the race changed – thankfully early enough in that I was still thinking clearly. I made the decision then and there that time no longer mattered. I would likely get slowed down by the chafe and the mental demons who were already rustling. I didn’t want London to go as Paris had. I would keep running at whatever pace I felt like and coult manage, but damnit – I would have fun!!

Up until now I’d had some cheers but hadn’t done much pompom waving. So I positioned myself toward the edge of the runners field, plastered a massive grin on my face and solicited all the cheers I could get by shaking my streamers at the spectators. And it worked! I was still running well but now also happily, while people yelled ‘Go Julia’ and ‘Cheerleader!’ from the sidelines. This was how it was meant to be!

At 10miles the Green Start 3:30 pacer finally overtook me (jeez – had I set that much of a lead?) and I didn’t even care – just waved them off into the distance. In fact, I was so thoroughly pleased with my attitude that seeing him go made me feel even more satisfied than before.

My colleague James was waiting just past 11miles and I managed to give him a wave over my shoulder as I came past. The crowds along the whole route had been so dense that I was pleased to have spotted him. I did miss seeing a few other groups of people who had told me they’d be at the early parts of the race though.

Running over Tower Bridge was the most amazing experience, and probably why so many people run this race again and again. There are people shouting and screaming on both sides of the road, but more than that you get to run over the middle of the incredible structure. I stopped acknowledging the crowds for a moment because I wanted to savour the experience. It was just like the first time I ran over this bridge, in my first week of living in London – completely and overwhelmingly magical.

At the end of the bridge came the KenYan corner cheer squad, many of whom I knew, so I gave them a big pompom wave and got a roaring cheer in return. Soon after that came the halfway point, which meant it was only another 4miles until Sye + BodyGlide (I wanted it more than him at this stage!). Oddly enough I had embraced thinking in miles rather than kilometres for this race, and yet still expected a mile to feel as far as a kilometre, so in my brain 4miles didn’t sound so far at all.

Heading down the Highway towards Canary Wharf I was lucky enough to cross paths with the leaders heading towards the finish. They must have been ~22miles in, and the lead car clock read 1:47:XX. I remember thinking “there’s no way they can finish in the low-2hours”, but clearly I have no comprehension of their speed because the winner ran a 2:07! Crazy blazing fast humans.

We turned into Canary Wharf and I was counting down to Sye when a miracle happened. From the corner of my eye I registered running past some people in green with purple gloves offering something to runners, but it took me a few more steps to connect the dots. Vaseline! VASELINE!! The wonderful St John’s Ambulance volunteers saved me (as I told them multiple times) and with that I could run pain-free again. No more stopping at water stations to squeeze water between my legs (mutch to the confusement/disgust of the volunteers handing out bottles) for a few moments of relief. Yes, yes, YES!

Soon we had passed Crossharbour station where I’d agreen to meet Sye. I kept looking and looking on both sides of the road but couldn’t see him. Then we passed Surrey Quays and I was starting to get frantic, thinking I had missed him completely. I’d been holding on to seeing him here, and couldn’t cope with the thought that I might have run past him. I pulled out my phone to listen to my emergency playlist, thinking I would now have to go it alone. I was halfway through sending him a text when I heard my name extra loud – and there he was. Phew!

He and his flatmate James were standing behind another couple who refused to budge, so we eneded up having a conversation through the middle of these two – it was a bit odd. I topped up my vaseline with more BodyGlide, kissed him a bunch of times and then changed our meeting place from Mile 21 to Mile 24, hoping he could get there more easily.

The ’emergency playlist’ is a new idea I wanted to try to get me through the tough kilometres between 28 and 34 where I always seem to falter. I’d loaded it up with lots of my favourite jams, with the idea that maybe it would help me dance when I didn’t feel like running any more.

It definitely helped, and got me through to Mile 21 with only a few walk breaks at water stops. Once there was only silence coming through, I took the headphones out and stuck them in my pocket, ready to pay attention to the world again. I felt a bit bad because I’d heard a number of cheers for me in those music miles, but hadn’t done much pompom shaking or smiling at spectators. Now that we were in the final miles though there seemed to be even more people, and I was boosted along seeing the amazing Run Dem Crew cheer station and from getting some more cheers from the KenYan corner as the route crossed back towards Westminster.

I was stopping to walk less too now, and in the quiet tunnel at Mile 23/24 I told myself that this was the last one. It really wasn’t far left to go, and the best bit was about to come.

Mile 24: ADVENT RUNNING CREW!!!!! Oh wow, they were the best! I had the biggest grin on my face and looked like a mad loony as I sprinted past, but was just so hooked on the amazing vibe they were giving out. I even managed to catch up to a pacer I had been hovering behind for a while, it was a solid sprint! So much love for my brilliant friends, you’re all amazing.

Immediately after passing them I felt the sprint in my quads and aching feet and slowed back down to a more reasonable pace. There were thankfully only a few miles left though. I managed to spot Sye again in the crowd when he called out, but was already past and couldn’t stop. Mile 25 sign, and then there was Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament and we were heading towards Buckingham Palace.

That last mile though – damn it showed me how long a mile is! From 1km to go there were markers every 200m, but it seemed to take forever to travel from one of the next. I was so focussed now on just getting to the end though that I missed another colleague screaming my name. Oops, sorry Rob.

Looked up at Her Majesty’s residence as we rounded the corner to the finish line, then lifted my arms and legged it down the final straight. WOOOHOOOOOOOOOOOO! Done!

And even better – I was now a Guinness World Record holder! I had known the whole time that I would easily come in under 4:30, but there were definitely some moments during the marathon where I didn’t know if it would be sub-4. My 3:46:55 was a very pleasant surprise, and I’m proud to put my name and effort behind that time which will now be immortalised on the GWR website (and possibly book!).

London was great. It wasn’t smooth sailing – but what marathon is? The route was better than I expected, although also hillier than I thought it would be (at least in the first part and at Mile 18 were I walked up a particularly steep section and of course there was a camera filming at the top and oh god I hope that wasn’t on TV argh!). It had plenty of water, sufficient Lucozade stands and overall I felt like I had good amounts of nutrition and liquids throughout.

Mostly though I’m proud of how well I changed my plans, and for once didn’t beat myself up about time. Not wearing a watch seems to do wonders for me, and I really need to start forgetting about it in future marathons. It makes the whole experience so much more enjoyable when you’re not constantly focused on how badly you are, or could be doing against some chosen goal time.

After the race I met my colleagues who came to cheer, then joined the AR squad at Mile 24 to support the slower runners (and drink beer!). It was all fun dancing happy times, and a wonderful way to round out an incredible experience.

(You’ll notice that this post has ‘2017’ in the title. It’s possible that I might break my run-once rule and be back for more next year…)

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