Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Virgin London Marathon 2011

Sunday. April 17th. 2011. The Virgin London Marathon. My big day: My first marathon... The Magathon!

When you put yourself on the line in a race and expose yourself to the unknown, you learn things about yourself that are very exciting. - Doris Brown Heritage

It was with nervous anticipation and excitement that I stood in pen 6 in Blackheath on Sunday morning. Fully prepared with porridge, tea, an energy bar, 500 mills of 'Nunn' converted water, loperamide hydrochloride tablets and two portaloo visits I was as ready as I'd ever be for the challenge that awaited me. As I struggled to get my warm-up trousers off my legs, whilst standing up, without removing my trainers, Speedy Paula Radcliffe and I made last minute plans to meet in Horseguard's Parade at the end; having orginially decided to meet at the letter Q, we overheard another conversation where someone else had exactly the same cunning plan to avoid the most overpopulated letters. Swiftly, we changed our plans, opting for a double bluff and meeting at J... there's no way all those Jones' and Johnson's would risk meeting at the most highly populated letter in Britain surely? No, they'd all meet at Q... so J it was. And then we were off.

Well, sort of. The first 1/2 mile was a bit like driving round the M25: run... walk...  run... walk... stop... walk... run... you get the idea. But by the time we hit the balloned arch of the first mile, I was running at my optimum pace and Paula and I waved goodbye to each other until the end.

The first 8 miles absolutely flew by. Joining the red start at mile 3 made for some humourous banter as chants of 'who are ya?' and good natured boos flew back and forth between the conjoining lines. A cacophony of noise greeted us as we ran through Greenwich, with so much support and cheering from the crowd the enormity of the event I was now a part of was really brought home. And it didn't stop there. The first 10 miles absolutely flew by with the course constantly lined with spectators cheering, whooping, and waving their motivational banners... 'Run like you stole something' was one of  my personal favourites. At mile 12, we turned onto London Bridge, and I actually gave a little gasp out loud; crammed with cameras, specators and runners, this iconic London landmark was a riot of noise and colour and once again, I was reminded of the huge scale of the event I was a part of; the very event I've watched, with awe, on television each year, and I felt choked with emotion.

As we ran towards Canary Wharf and reached the half way point, I saw Richard again; dressed as a Pink Lady Apple, we'd met when his green wave had joined my blue and had exchanged words of good luck then. Having been running now for 2 1/2 hours, the sun was sitting high in the sky and the heat from it was truly relentless. Richard, in his massive heated, foam apple dome, was suffering; being able to offer no more than words of encouragement and a friendly smile, I did that and carried on past... Richard... well done, and I hope you made it.

Nearing mile 14 now, a little shiver of excitement started to fuel me again. This was the point at which I was expecting to see my friends and family and as I turned onto Narrow Street, my eyes began darting back and forth amongst the faces of the crowd, seeking them out. It was my Mum and her friend Sue I saw first. Spotting my Mum's bright pink hair - yes, you read that right... and you were wondering why I was such a nutter! - I dashed over and gave them both a massive hug. Seeing them had felt great and instantly I was looking out again for Mik and Jay, who I knew were also planning on watching from Narrow Street. And just 1/4 a mile on, there they were. Once again, I flew up to them, gave Mik a massive sweaty hug and carried on running! For me, seeing those familiar faces and hearing their words of encouragement really spurred me on and I continued running strong for another couple of miles.

Some more running  and one unavoidable portaloo stop later, and I left the Isle of Dogs to return to the imposing office blocks of Canary Wharf, where at mile 19 I saw my friend Louisa. There in her official capacity of 'very talented proper press photographer', she was well hidden behind the rather enormous lense of her camera; but she wasn't to escape the sweaty hugs and she even took a couple of pics of me... proof I was doing well(ish) at mile 19...

Maggie at Mile 19; by Louisa Emery :-)

Running is real and relatively simple - but it ain't easy.  - Mark Will-Weber

By mile 20, I had to make a second portaloo visit and things were starting to get tough. Entering unknown territory, I knew that this was where the real challenge would begin and I tried to keep drawing on the strategies that had got me through so far: the buzz of the event, the determination of the other runners around me and the support of the cheering crowds. However by mile 21 I had started to find myself in another zone entirely. Mum and Sue had backtracked to this point to see me for a second time, yet despite their cheers and shouts of 'Maggie', I missed them this second time, completely zoned out from what was going on around me now. With the infamous 'Wall' rapidly closing in on me, it was Mik and Jay who were able to shout loud enough to snap me out of it and I'm sure their shouts and encouraging cheers held that wall off a bit longer...

... But alas, not forever. By mile 22 I had now taken 6 Loperamide Hydrochloride (in layman's terms: imodium), and without offering too much detail, they weren't working... so, with portaloo stop number 3, I started to feel very sorry for myself. Taking a drink from the water station, I slowed to a walk, dropped my head and had a little cry. I can't say I'm proud, I can't say I was even aware of what I was doing, I can say I think I found the wall! As I wallowed in my own self pity, I lifted my head to take in what was going on around me and made eye contact with two girls sat at the side of the road. They'd been shouting words of encouragement to the other runners, cheering them on, enjoying the event and as they looked at me, one of them met my eyes, smiled and said 'Oh, Maggie...' and that was it. I was off. I gathered myself together, reminded myself of why I was doing this and ran. Just ran. Nothing else to it. And as I passed under the balloons for mile 23 I realised something about myself; I realised that there's a determination in me that was buried so deep, even I didn't know it was there.

Running is like celebrating your soul. There's so much it can teach us in life.  - Molly Barker

For those last 3 miles, I started again. I put out of my mind all the miles that had gone before. I pushed the pain back into deepest recesses I could find. I banished every doubt I'd ever had as to whether I could do this or not. There was 5k to go. I was going to do it. And I wasn't going to stop running until I had.

And then it all started falling into place; the London Eye came into sight, Charing Cross station, Big Ben and the Houses of Parliment. The roads, packed with people, became louder and louder and I just kept running. Turning down Birdcage walk I felt like crying; I was nearly there. I sped up. And as Buckingham Palace came into view, I sped up again. Now I could hear the loudspeaker announcing the finishers, instructing us to lift our arms high above our heads as we completed 26.2 miles of one of the greatest running events in the world. I rounded the corner, saw the finish boards and sped up again. And now, completely overwhelmed, I ran with everything I had left, tears streaming down my face, barely able to breathe with excitement towards the finish line. I lifted my arms high above my head and completed the London Marathon.

I love the marathon ... Its a challenge, and if you dont like challenges, something is wrong with your life. - Abdi Abdirahman

I can't explain the sense of achievement and pride I felt then, and still feel now at finishing the distance. It is, without doubt, the toughest thing I have ever done as it tested me both mentally and physically. Until you put yourself to the test, push the bounaries of your comfort zone, there's no way of knowing what you're capable of. I am not a natural distance runner. In training I struggled, losing speed, confidence and, at times, my enjoyment of running. But what I lost in those few months I gained back ten fold on Sunday. I finished the London Marathon in a time of 05:46:15. I pushed myself as hard as I could. I didn't give up. I wasn't fast and I didn't break any records, but on Sunday I discovered I have the mental strength, physical stamina and pure determination to run 26.2 miles. And that is something to feel proud of.

Running has given me the courage to start, the determination to keep trying, and the childlike spirit to have fun along the way. Run often and run long, but never outrun your joy of running - Julie Isphording


  1. Fantastic Maggie! Loved reading this. Brought a tear to my eye. You done good girl!!! x Lesley

  2. Congratulations, Maggie. This is a beautifully written race report - "and now, completely overwhelmed, I ran with everything I had left, tears streaming down my face, barely able to breathe with excitement towards the finish line" - I know I've been there! I hope you'll keep blogging with a new challenge :o)

  3. That is a lovely picture of you at mile 19, glad you got over the wall and reached then end. Congratulations.

  4. Fantastic run and great bloggage, very well done :)

  5. Excellent Stuff! Very Jealous!

    Ive never looked that happy at mile 19!

    What are you going to do with all your free time now this is over? Enjoy the rest!

    What happened at lap 23?

    Congratulations again & get a photo up of your medal!

  6. Thanks everyone!

    I'm definitely going to enjoy the rest for a while, although madness... I was running a mile on Monday to 'loosen' things off and had a sports massage yesterday!

    I definitely need a new challenge now though!

    As for lap 23 Martyn... my garmin suffered twice in London - lap 19 which was most definitely NOT 9.40 mins, especially as that's the lap I stopped for the photo, which was in Canary Wharf amongst tall buildings, and lap 23 which came out of The City via a tunnel! consequently my garmin seems to think I ran 27.3 miles instead of 26 and that lap 23 was almost 20 mins long!!!

    Pic of medal most definitely on it's way!! :-)

  7. I did notice you seem to have run an extra mile!

  8. How much do you want to go and run this again?!

  9. Oh my, I had a little tear in my eye when I ready about your wall experience. very well done that you got through it, awesome job you are truly hardcore. Your PRB kicked in for the last 5k as well I think!

  10. Sheri - Having looked at the garmin a little closer... it seems I took a little trip out into the Thames around the Isle of Dogs... that would explain the extra mile although I don't remember it at all!!

    Katie - NOT AT ALL!!!!! I am thinking some faster, shorter distances...

    Carla - Thanks... I agree, the PRB definitely kicked in... I'd have been lost without it! :-)

  11. Awesome awesome.
    I think running a marathon is amazing at the best of times, but in the heat last weekend too. Fabulous. Enjoy your rest and have fun cooking up your next adventure!


Thanks for reading... feel free to leave me a message. Maggiee x