So it’s almost 24 hours since I started the Virgin Money London Marathon (it’s taken my a while to find the time to finish this post) and I still can’t quite believe that it’s all over in a time of 4 hours 22 minutes. While it’s still fresh in my head it’s now time to reflect on the past day so I can remember this experience for ever!
With a day off work today I’m feeling pretty good. A bit stiff but able to walk which is always a plus and I still feel a bit sleepy, but definitely still on a high. I have a sports massage booked for this afternoon which should have me walking back to normal in no time.
So yesterday started off well after a solid 8 hours sleep, waking up at 5.30 but managing to fall back asleep for a bit longer. I woke up got dressed had porridge, raisins and honey as usual then headed off to the tube with my parents and around 7.30. The tubes were running well and I didn’t have to pay anything with a flash of my race chip. Once I was at the red start zone I said goodbye to my parents handed in my bag onto the lorry, queued up for the toilet, walked past Kelly Holmes and pinned my number on and it was time to get to my zone 7 starting pen with about 20 minutes to go until 10.10. I started chatting to a few runners around me and everyone was very excited making the typical runner joke of why are we doing this etc. I started off wearing cycling sleeves with the same clothes I wore for the marathon last year as it was a bit cold which worked out really well because as I got warmer once we got going I could fold them down half way to still keep me a bit warm then eventually I took them off and folded them into my camel back.
There was an MC on the mic getting everyone hyped up and there was a big cheer when the gun went off but nothing happened for a while. Eventually we started to move and I think I crossed the start line about 20 minutes after the gun. I was a bit worried that it would be difficult to move at my 9/10 minute mile pace from the start but everyone was moving at a reasonable speed which I was pleased with.
For the first three miles it was just red zone runners but there was plenty of support straight away. Soon enough we were meeting up with the other starters and by mile 4 everyone was running together but there was still plenty of room. There was great support the whole way through the first half, although I’m not exactly sure where we were most of the time there was still lots of people to wave at. The first landmark that I recognized was Tower Bridge which seemed to come around quickly just before the half way mark. We turned the corner and saw the bridge in front of us and I couldn’t quite believe that we were nearly half way. My parents and friends were standing around this point so I was keeping an eye out for them between mile 13 and 14 but as mile 15 soon came around I realized I had missed them. So slightly disheartened I carried on.
At this point I also knew that one of my friends from my ski season was supposedly around this point too but I didn’t seen him either. My other group of friends had text me to say that they would be around 24 km but I misread it and thought they would be around 24 miles so I thought I now wouldn’t see any supporters now until the very end. Just before mile 16, I could hear someone shouting my name just as we were heading into a big tunnel. Slightly dazed as I wasn’t looking out for anyone I turned around to see one of my school friends frantically running and waving like a mad woman at me, which was hilarious to see and all I could do was shout her name back and wave. I think for about half a mile after that I was laughing and smiling to myself as it was so nice to see someone I knew after seeing loads of other runners meeting their families en route.
After that it felt like we were running around Canary Wharf for a really long time. As I was aiming for a target of 4 hours 22 minutes I had decided that I wanted to get a head in the first few miles to give me some room for some slower miles later on. So for about mile 1-8 I was running close to 9 minute miles. At one point I was ahead of the 4.15 pacer, but as they were running a pace of around 9.45 minute miles the whole way around I knew I would struggle to keep that pace up after 18 miles or so, so I went ahead of them for a bit. When it got to 10ish miles I slowed down to 10 minute miles, keeping an eye on the time on my stopwatch as I crossed every mile.
The famous runner trick of thinking I had missed a mile marker occurred which I always seem to do, but this time I had actually missed the 15 mile marker. My watch was coming up to the time that I should have been hitting my next mile but it didn’t come and I was really confused then the next thing I knew the 16 mile marker appeared which I found amusing. Another funny highlight was when I was running next to two guys, one who I assumed was blind and the other was telling him how we were about to be overtaken by 4 runners dressed as the Jamaican bobsled team from Cool Runnings in a full cardboard bobsled and I replied saying well they are Jamaican so they’re bound to be fast which we had a nice laugh about around mile 17.
Between mile 16 and 20 I was making a real conscious effort to keep pushing as it was around this time during the Manchester Marathon that I really struggled. Last year at mile 16 I was so light headed and I saw my family and they said I looked awful so I wanted to get through this bit without hitting the wall which I did. Then I decided to keep pushing until mile 20 which I also managed to do.
We were coming around Canary Wharf again and I spotted my two mad friends again waving madly. I spotted one of my friends and had a nice wave and I could see my other friend running along to find a gap in the fence but she hadn’t realized that I had already spotted them so I was trying to get her attention while she was sprinting then eventually we waved at each other. I also saw another one of my friends, I can’t even think whereabouts it was (since writing this I have spoken to him and found out it was around mile 21) but he shouted my name and I saw him and gave him a hug and carried on.
After seeing my pals I bumped into a guy who was running for the same charity as me around mile 20 so it was nice to have someone to talk to for a while. We then saw another Hospice of the Good Shepherd charity runner go past and we waved at her as she over took us. It was pretty amazing to see two out of the 11 charity runners from the charity I was running for out of 37,000 runners.
Once I hit 20 miles I decided that I was going to walk for a minute to take on some water and have some energy tablets. My legs were so tired and it was around this point where a lot of people were struggling, some passing out on the side of the road and being carried off in wheelchairs and as I’d gained some time in the first few miles I knew that I would have plenty of time for a PB so just wanted to take my time towards the end to make sure I finished.
I had my name printed on my running vest but when I ordered the letters they came with only one S. I had planned to put Chess on my shirt but ended up putting Francesca which made my name a bit difficult to read. Whenever anyone did say my name though it made it extra special as I knew they would have had to make a bit of effort to read my name whilst I was running, especially seeing as the guy I handed my bag into at the start when I was standing still said “good luck Frances!”. I was very jealous of all of the Sam’s, John’s, Emma’s and Kate’s who were getting loads of cheers from the crowds with their easy to read names. Strangely enough though I did see two signs when I was going around that said GO CHESS on them being held by people I’ve never seen before which was very surreal.
For the last few miles I was just trying to move as quickly as possible. My camel back that I filled up with 1.5 litres at the start of the day was empty and was starting to rub my on my neck a bit which was annoying so I picked up some water from the stations and had the last of my Dextro energy tablets. I had checked my phone earlier and my Mum had said that they were standing near the 41km marker so I was planned to keep running until I saw them where I would stop for a minute.
When I got past mile 24 I was trying to focus on every face in the crowd on the left side of the route. I was definitely not going to miss them this time! I slowed down a bit as there were so many people to look at. To the spectators I must have looked like a kid lost in a supermarket with wide eyes looking frantically through the crowds as I was making eye contact with pretty much everyone there. It was actually a really good distraction looking out for my family and made the last mile go pretty quickly. We had ran past the Tower on London at this point and we were heading towards Big Ben, which I had been looking at from far away for the past couple of miles thinking the finish line is pretty much there.
Finally I saw a group of frantic arms waving over the barriers and spotted my family and friends. I was so pleased to see them and gave them all high fives as I ran along. I looked at my watch and realized 4 hours 22 was approaching fast and I would see my support team soon enough once I crossed the finish line so I carried on with an added boost from seeing everyone on for the final stretch.
Once I’d seen the last of my supporters it was time to just get it finished. I was so knackered at this point so I put both of my headphones in and turned my music up to help me finish. It still feels like blur. I can remember seeing 400 m signs, then 200m and then I finally saw Buckingham Palace and knew that we were very nearly there.
The new Wilkinson song- Hopelessly Coping was one of the first to go onto my marathon playlist and I had deliberately not listened to it that much so I wouldn’t be sick of it by the time the marathon came around. During training runs I always skip to a song I really like at the end of the run and say this will be the last song I listen to on this run and when this song is over I will be finished. I had already decided that this song would be the one for the marathon. Outside Buckingham Palace this song came on my shuffle without me even skipping through the playlist. It felt like fate, like it was some iPod shuffle God giving me a final nudge to the finish line I couldn’t quite believe it. It may sound ridiculous but those kinds of thing make such a difference around 25.9 miles.
So with this extra boost I did my best to run quicker to the finish line, I don’t think it would qualify as a sprint finish but I did it. Stopping my watch as I finished I knew I had done it and in a time I was really pleased with too. So pleased with it that I started to cry with a combination of exhaustion, happiness, relief and a huge sense of achievement.
I had pushed myself so hard the whole way around London and even with the training I had struggled a lot more to find the time this year and with the added pressure of meeting a fundraising target that I had to meet, everything about London was on a much bigger scale compared to Manchester. The fact that I had knocked 14 minutes of last year made me so proud of myself knowing that all of hard work had paid off.
Once I crossed the finish line and received my medal from a man who looked slightly concerned for my well being as I was crying, I reassured him that I was fine and went to collect my bag. I had felt a blister developing on my toe and could really feel it once I’d finished. It was almost as hard to walk as this point as it was to run but there was no way I was going run any more. Everyone was limping around the finishing area not quite knowing what to do with themselves, but knowing we couldn’t stay where we were. I was tempted just to sit down on the floor but I knew I would probably not move for a while if I sat down. Even at this point there were some people in a pretty bad way. One guy was screaming with cramp being assisted to by St John’s ambulance people and a few other people we’re being helped with their foil blankets. A couple of guys were trying to work out where to go and I heard one of the saying ‘I guess we just keep going’ and I replied saying ‘I thought we were done with just keep going once we crossed the finish line’ then we discussed how heavy the goody bags felt.
I found my friends easily enough in at the meeting points then we headed to the charity meeting point where I met the rest of my support team. I felt so stiff and hadn’t done any stretching at this point. There was a masseur at the place where we were but there was quite a long wait and I was conscious that my family had been hanging around all day so I found an empty gym area in the Naval and Military club and did some foam rolling for 10 minutes or so. Then I headed back home with a relieving feeling that I had done it and I didn’t have to think about when my next run would be, at least for a while.
Thoughts from the week after the marathon:
- Legs are doing fine apart from the big blister on my big toe
- I got my after run hunger about a day after the marathon
- My toes in general are still pretty sore, with a couple of toenails turning black
- First night out tonight post marathon and I’m looking forward to it
- Another week off from training next week before the 12 week bike training plan starts