Lots of the race passed by in a blur. Not all of it though.
If it is possible for a marathon crowd to have a sense of humour this one did. For 26.2 miles they were supportive and friendly. People encouraging you not to take things too seriously. To just enjoy it. The couples handing out jelly babies, the woman with the ‘touch here for more power’ sign at 19 miles, the children grinning happily as they high fived you, Queen blaring out ‘don’t stop me now’ at about 24 miles. There was quiet running through residential streets and countryside, and also moments when you were suddenly racing through a massive sunshiny crowd, a tunnel of noise and faces and joie de vivre, when you couldn’t help but smile and soak it up.
You train for the physical side of running a marathon but mental training helps as well. I wanted to be ready if and when any unhelpful voices turned up. So at 2 miles I turned ‘is that tickle at the back of your throat a cold coming through?’ to ‘no, you feel good, you’re running well, there isn’t a problem!’ A mile or two later ‘have you gone off too fast?’ became ‘stay focused, you’re fine as you are, keep it going like this!’ My sister had texted me saying ‘be your best self’ and that’s what I was going to do.
A few hours later round about 18 miles I was shocked that I had managed to keep going at what felt like a fast pace. Things were going better than I could have hoped for. And now in the latter stages of the race, people looked to be running out of fuel and hitting ‘the wall’. Chatter from other runners had given way to silence. People were stopping to walk. There were hushed voices from spectators. I was tired too. But not as tired as I thought I would be. And focused on getting through to the 20 mile mark. The route turned left and out into the countryside – there was a cooler breeze, some pylons, a horse in a field looking philosophical. Things started to get tougher. We turned right and up a small hill. There was a water station. Exhausted runners veered over to grab a bottle from the first couple of people. I could only have a sip of water before I felt like I was going to throw up. Heading down a little hill I regrouped, telling myself I was ok continuing to run, to find a pace I was comfortable with. I carried on. It was hard but not impossible. I went under a motorway bridge. A race official with a microphone was calling out runners names as they came through. I didn’t pay much attention. Miles 24 and 25 were the hardest. I felt like I was running in slow motion. A small rise near the 26 mile mark felt very tough. It took a lot of willpower to keep running. We turned right and in the distance you could see the Finish. The trouble was it didn’t seem to be getting any closer. I could see a woman about 50 yards ahead of me in a bright yellow jacket – one of the race crew – I could make it as far as her. And then as far as the tree with the blossom. Some time later I ran into the cordoned off finishing straight. There were massive crowds. I started to feel the emotion rising up. I tried to sprint but didn’t manage very well. There wasn’t anything left in the tank. I crossed the line and stopped my watch. It said 3:35 something. Then it sunk in. I’d run faster than my London time 11 years before. Even though I’d basically given up running a few years back and been trying for around 4 hours. Others had done it much faster but I felt real personal accomplishment. It felt like I’d been my best self.