What do you do two weeks after running 250k across the desert? Take on the London Marathon of course. You tell yourself it will be fine. After all, it’s only another marathon. Who cares if your feet are in tatters after the Marathon des Sables or you have been nicknamed “hobblelong” by your loved one, you’re gonna go out there and show that race what you’re made of.
Or maybe not. Let’s just say that the London Marathon 2015 will always stick in my mind as a bittersweet experience. Here’s why:
1. Running machine? I don’t think so
They say it can take up to a month to recover from something like the Marathon des Sables. And after five miles of trying to push myself hard and fast at London I understood why. It hurt. As in first-time-ever-marathon pain up and down my legs. From my calves to my hamstrings, every inch felt battered by the constant pounding against the tarmac. I was expecting the normal aches and pains of running a marathon but this was different – achy pains that plagued me throughout the race and pushed me to slow right down. No matter how much you want to perform sometimes the body rebels to remind you that a strong mind can’t always get its own way. You are only human after all.
2. Closing time for good at some of the old haunts
The times that I have run London, I always know that the partner (and poor supporter and running widower) will be standing just past Tower Bridge with an alcoholic beverage in hand from the local establishment. Shock horror when we realised on the morning of the race that said pub no longer exists. Where would I be able to spot him and shout something random at him like I do? And more importantly, where would he be able to both see me twice with the added bonus of alcohol? This definitely threw a curve ball into the plans as it meant I spent half the race trying to see his smiley face as I ran by. I did hear a “Bec” at around mile 20 but when I turned around, I couldn’t find him among the crowds.
3. There was no space to breath
In terms of both participants and supporters, this was perhaps the busiest marathon I have ever run. In fact, I found it overwhelming. I had just come back from running in the desert where you are surrounded by miles and miles of open space. There may be groups of people in front and behind you but you can get used to this space. Suddenly, I was there in streets so crowded that I was forced to run on the pavement and then there were supporters holding up banners and shouting enthusiastically. Part of me wanted to embrace it all but another part simply wanted to escape back to the desert. As much as I appreciate all the buzz from the supporters and the people you are running alongside, I felt like I was thrown in at the deep end.
4. The miles of nothingness
Admittedly I am harsh about London as I’ve never really had a good experience at the Marathon. Then again, I still go back for more. And by referring to mile 17 to 20 (the part of the race where you enter the Isle of Dogs to be faced with miles of tarmac and concrete buildings) as the miles of nothingness does nothing to help me with this fundamental love/hate relationship. Nevertheless, the miles of nothingness did not defeat me this time. Despite the heaviness in my legs, I saw it through and kept thinking of the finish line.
5. Surprise support
Granted, I was taken aback by the crowds but it was brilliant to see so many familiar faces during the race. I roughly had an idea of where people were standing so tried to pay attention at those points. You have no idea how much just seeing your friends out there can help. It really put a smile on my face and lifted my mood. More importantly I spotted them at key moments – across Tower Bridge, at Lime House, and at mile 23 when I was cursing silently to myself about how stupid I was to ever think I could run a marathon after the crazy race across the sands. Thank you for the boost along the way.
6. The magical finish
You win some, you lose some, you race some, you enjoy some and sometimes you just go with what feels right. As I was racing (or plodding) towards the finish of the London Marathon, a man grabbed my hand and we finished just like the winners of the inaugural race 35 years before #handinhand. I’ll always remember that finish in London as it summed up pretty much my experience of solidarity throughout my journey in the Sahara.
I completed the Virgin Money London Marathon in 3:38:39 which I’m pretty happy with.