Last Sunday, I ran my first marathon – the London Marathon 2017! It was painful, hard and emotional, but it was such an amazing experience.
I had been increasingly nervous the week before the marathon. Worried that something would happen to stop me running. Terrified of anyone who sniffed on the tube and on my taper runs I was worried I’d trip or fall over. I discovered that “taper madness” is something of a known phenomenon so at least I wasn’t alone in my paranoia!
We went to the Expo to pick up our race numbers the day before and it was really great fun. There were all sorts of running and sports brands you only ever see online like 2XU and Newton, people handing out freebies and demonstrating new kit. Then out of the blue, we saw Paula Radcliffe! We managed to sneak a photo with her before we were rushed along by the crowd. It was pretty amazing to see her in real life – surely a sign for good things to come?
We then spent the entire evening deciding what we would need at the different points of marathon day and what kit we needed. Organising the race gear the night before was a good plan as we didn’t need to think straight on race day, just get dressed and leave.
Clinton’s start zone was in Blackheath whereas mine was in Greenwich so we knew we wouldn’t be able to run together, but we had the same race plan. We both wanted a time between 3h30m-3h45m so we decided to aim for 3h30m from the gun, with the idea that we’ll have 15 mins to spare if we over-cook things. A bit of pre-calculation told us we would need to average 5:00/km, give or take a few seconds due to hills, water tables and turns.
Before I knew it I was heading to the starting area. I opted for the usual running playlist, filled with happy upbeat pop songs (for the record you can’t go wrong with Zara Larsson, Little Mix, Katy Perry and Spice Girls)! Having one ear free meant that I could hear the crowd shout my name, or equally, try to tune out and focus on my music.
I did a pretty good job of holding back and was hitting pretty much 5:00/km for the first 5km. Knowing I was pretty much on schedule I decided I didn’t need to hold back quite so much, so I went with what felt good and stopped concentrating too hard on my pace.
At around 6 miles I looked up and literally right there on the sidelines was Prince Harry, Prince William and Duchess Kate – all three of them, just 20 feet away from me, cheering on the runners. I knew they would be on the course because this year, their incredible charity, Heads Together, was a sponsor, but still, I didn’t think they would actually support from the sidelines! I was really tempted to stop for a selfie but then decided to carry on, I had to keep the perfect splits!
I have to say, the support from spectators was absolutely incredible. At around 10 miles I actually started getting quite emotional and I was running with a lump in my throat. Absolute strangers on the sidelines were calling out “Jess you can do it!” “Come on Jess!” “JESS!!!” This felt great and I found it really touching.
Shortly after I passed the 12-mile marker I saw someone running with what looked like a Highgate Harriers club vest. As I got closer I noticed it was Clinton so I surged forward to greet him. He yelled something about keep on going! So I did hoping that he’d be able to run with me. I went through halfway in 1h45m, so pretty close to schedule.
I continued to pass people and move up the field and as I got closer to the end, I found myself catching and passing people quite rapidly. I’d see them ahead of me and without too much effort, they’d soon be behind me and I’d have my eyes set on the next pair of heels ahead of me. This worked well to keep me occupied during the second half of the race in which I ended up continuing at about 5:00/km. I found out only after the race that I had overtaken nearly 12,000 runners during the race (and only 20 or so runners overtook me)!
At about 20 miles, I started to really struggle with the pain in my legs. I’ve never done anything over 20 miles so I was in virgin territory. The last few miles were definitely the toughest. There was no doubt in my mind that I would finish but I was certainly struggling to hold the pace I wanted.
At about 25 miles the pain in my legs and ankle got worse and I started getting weird tingling sensations in my arms. I honestly thought this was going to end my race. But with just one mile to go I knew I just needed to put my head down, maintain that forward momentum and push through whatever else was coming.
My final finishing time was 3h33m placing me in top 7% of women finishers! I didn’t quite achieve a negative split at the end but it’s still a GFA (guaranteed entry for next year’s London Marathon) and a Boston Qualifier, so I’m really happy.
To say I’m chuffed is an understatement. I’m over the moon. I’m particularly proud of my rock-solid pacing, holding back and staying strictly on target marathon pace.
I think sub-3.30 is achievable – I just need a bit more practice. After all, this is only my first ever marathon and the first time I had run 42.2km! And I could not have hoped for more. My training, diet, race plan, kit, hydration and nutrition all fell into place perfectly on the day. There was so much that could have gone wrong – I could have pulled a muscle, or tripped on a water bottle, or slammed into someone while overtaking, or caught some kind of flu/stomach bug, but I didn’t and I’m really pleased with that.
I think I can safely say that this will not be my last marathon!
Anyone who has read our blog will know how hard Jess has been working over the last four months. I’m so proud! She has been hitting personal bests all over and smashing the training plan to perfection. I remember the moment she passed me in the marathon, her pace at that point seemed achievable and she quickly disappeared into the distance.
How did it go for me? 4h20m, I would have liked to keep up with Jess a bit more than that! I was aiming to keep a steady pace of 5:00/km for the whole marathon and for the first 15-20km I felt very comfortable, but worryingly the pace I’d set in the opening few km (4.35/km) gradually slowed km by km until 20km where I ran 5.15/km. Halfway and I felt like I was hitting the wall. Revisiting my splits makes me think I might have gone off just a bit too fast (obviously?)
Things did not get easier for me. I’d run the first half in 1h45, but crossed the finish line in 4h24! Definitely not a negative split then. I was reduced to the walking/stumble jogging I had been trying so hard to avoid with all the gels, tapering and training.
Looking back there were an unfortunate number of missed training runs, particularly the longer ones like the Gade Valley 20-mile training event which I did a bike ride instead of. But also, when Jess was pacing out 7-15 km runs mid-week I was too often swimming or recovering from injury.
On the other hand! This is my personal best since the Lakeland trails Marathon I did years back in which I ran 4h37. Can’t argue with a personal best but I think I can do better!
Back to the drawing board. Next on the agenda is Ironman Staffordshire 70.3 training starts properly for that one from now!