Sunday morning: Marathon day. Doo doo di doo di dooo di doo dooooo, di dooo di dooo di doo dooooo. There are certain things a marathoner needs to take care of before the race starts; some are best accomplished in privacy before leaving the house, but the urgent need to pee is recurrent and regular if you're keeping well-hydrated and I was already squirming in my seat before the train arrived at Blackheath. Scouring the start for any signs of a portaloo (long queues/whiff of farmyard), I noticed these signs (left) and remembered giggling at the "P-Mate" leaflet in my goody bag the night before.
In for a penny (and desperate to spend one), I joined the queue, wondering if I was supposed to fashion a device myself from the leaflet and panicked that I'd made another foolish oversight in my preparation by not bringing it. Thankfully, courteous marshals were handing out the cardboard tubes at the entrance and I needn't revive a fleeting childhood obsession with origami. I'm not sure the inventors had accounted for running tights when they designed them and a certain amount of "exposure" was required to do the business. I'm pleased to report that the humble bin bag, worn usually for its thermal properties, serves well as a protector of modesty too - all the more reason to take one to future races.
On any given Sunday, I'd have taken the ability to pee standing up as a notable accomplishment in itself and demanded a medal, so the pressure was certainly on to top that; luckily, 26.2 miles of London streets lay ahead. The start was remarkably relaxed and eerily easy to forget where you were; normally, I would have watched the entire preamble on TV, cheered on the wheelchairs and elite girlies, before marveling at the men and masses making their way through; however, 9.45 am had arrived with little recognition of that and we were moving slowly across Blackheath towards the start of my 5th marathon on a very warm April day.
I think there's a whole other blog on ways to make marathon running as hard as possible for yourself, but I think I'd already spotted the winner in this category as we merged with the green start in the first mile: a man dancing his way around the entire course. I've since Googled his cause and you can find out more about Ben Hammond here. He was just one of many extraordinary people I ran alongside over the course of the day.
I concentrated on keeping a slow, steady pace in the first few miles, trying to ignore the rising temperature and taking on water wherever I could. Lovely boyfriend was ready at 8 miles to remind me to keep drinking as it was turning into a scorcher of a day. Turning right around the corner just after 12 miles to see Tower Bridge looming ahead was a truly magical moment. I nodded to the man next to me and puffed, "This is what it's all about," as a tingle went down the back of my neck. He looked slightly startled and cantered off to avoid any further such affirmations. I kept left to look out for my friends, but the overwhelming crowds made it impossible and I settled gratefully for shouts of encouragement from total strangers knowing that another friend, Amy, was volunteering at the Lucozade stand in a few miles.
Halfway was where the wheels startled to wobble on the wagon, much earlier than any marathon I've run before. I was absolutely roasting but risked popping if I drank any more water than I was already. As we turned into the relative shade of Narrow Street, I opted for some run/walk; a decision I was very glad of as I saw St John's volunteers attending to withering runners on the pavements. I kept this going until I saw Amy at mile 15 and stopped for a quick, sweaty hug before plodding on again.
Putting my name on my running shirt was one of the single best decisions made in preparation for this marathon. I guess it's not for everyone, but hearing even the surliest-looking teenager manage a "Gaaaaaaan Kaaaa-yeeeeee" as I lurched past was enough to keep one foot moving in front of the other. At one point a lady shouted, "Slow run is better than no run, Katie" and this became my mantra for the rest of the day.
The height of the buildings in Canary Wharf offered some much-appreciated shade, even if my GPS didn't like it, and I reaslied I could recognise some of the runners around me as the field was spreading out to a more comfortable population. I spent a while running with Batman, who never seemed to tire of being serenaded with "d-nur d-nur d-nur d-nur", and finally realised that the white-haired man in front of me, sending the crowds in to a frenzy, was That Chap from Emmerdale. By far the most popular runner was this man though.
(Picture by Ross Holdsworth)
Reaching 22 miles, I was back to scanning the crowds on the right for lovely boyfriend and lapping up the cheers from anyone who could decipher my name from the sweaty sign on my shirt, when I heard louder and more excited screaming than I'd experienced all day: one of the friends I'd missed earlier, Sadie, was on the other side, leaping up and down with the kind of energy I could only envy at that point. I stopped for another sweaty hug (I should really stop that or they may disown me) but made my excuses when I saw Pingu getting away.
It's hard to describe the crowds over the next 4 miles. Just when you thought they couldn't get any louder or more excited, the folks a hundred metres later would blow that away. I finally caught up with lovely boyfriend just before Blackfriars Underpass and wondered whether he'd placed himself there deliberately to indulge his love of zombie movies: dark, stinky and filled with the walking (jogging) dead, this was the only part of the course bereft of support and a friendly face before it was definitely welcome.
I know there are many other marathons, I've run and enjoyed a very small number of them, but I have wanted to run London Marathon for a very long time; I may have even watched every one of the previous 29 events, either on TV or in person, and failed to get an entry to at least 7. Forget the pain and exhaustion, I was determined to enjoy every single step of those final couple of miles. I attempted to say thank you to or at least smile at anyone that shouted my name because I was genuinely grateful for their help, for giving up their Sunday to watch this very special event. Turning the final corner, I could hear the commentator questioning the whereabouts of Callum Best and knew the finish was close: a short "sprint", an over-indulgent victory wave and I was there. 5 hours and 30 minutes (a new P.W.!) and a London Marathon finisher. Thank you to all who have supported, encouraged and even run with me to make this happen.
Have I already looked up when the ballot opens for London 2012? Of course I have.