The London Marathon: The Race

My alarm was set for 5:30 – this is the earliest alarm in my phone, now whenever I have to scroll up that far, it is a reminder of what happened in London.

I changed into my running gear that was carefully laid out next to my bed, including 4 gels in my running belt. At this point making the decision not to carry my GoPro. It was a shame but I didn’t want to risk it in my belt where it might fall out or cause my belt to slip, spoiler alert, one of my gels did fall down a portaloo at the start. I also didn’t want to use the chest mount which would obscure my name.

Steve and Christine moved their things into my room which we had booked for an extra night so I would have a place to get a shower and we had somewhere to leave out bags.

The car park at Gravesend train station was almost empty and about 5 other runners were on the platform with their friends. There was a cold wind blowing which got me really anxious about being too cold. In my minds eye, there I was frozen stiff at mile 10, icicled hanging down my nose and elbows. All I was wearing on the run was my LGBT foundation vest. I knew that it would be warm enough when I started running but the anxiety was kicking in hard. I remember wanting the train journey to never end.

We got off at Maze Hill near Greenwhich and there were maybe 50-100 runners on the train, not many given the train was eight carriages long.

There were three starting areas for the marathon, Green, Blue and Red, above each area there was a coloured blimp, I was in Green the smallest area. We walked up the hill to the start zone and waited for a while before going in. I was nervous of taking off my coat and trousers but had brought a spare one to throw away at the start, the discarded clothing is all collected and given to charities. At this point we were stood between a person running as Big Ben -who would later be in the news for not fitting under the finish line – and someone running in a tent (tent man). There was also the rhino.

It was at this point I was missing my coffee, I had been too distracted to make one in the morning and I could feel its absence. Once I got into the start area however I saw a tent “for virgin staff and guests”. I wasn’t sure but went to the people at the front and gave them my name and they let me in. That was lucky, I wasn’t aware of this before but knew I might be a guest as our places were organized by virgin money lounges, who had given 2 extras to the LGBT foundation.

Inside I found fruit, lucozade, water and….. COFFEE!!! I couldn’t believe it. It was like being a VIP.

Whilst inside I rang my Mum and we talked for a while, we were both watching the various starts, wheelchair and elite women. Whilst talking I saw a lady wearing the trans pride flag I managed to talk to her after and she was running for Mermaids and a dementia research charity.

At 9:30 our start pen opened, there were 8 zones and I was in zone 2. Two ladies started talking to me which was really nice, there were helicopters buzzing around and at around 11 minutes past 10 I was across the start line.

My plan was to aim for 8 minute miles or 5:00/km, ideally starting with a 3hour 30 minute pacer and staying with them as if it was a club run. Unfortunately there were NO pacers in our starting block, I considered going back but after asking someone next to me they said they were aiming for 3:30 so I stayed put. Two ladies in the start pen started talking to me too, I think they could tell I was nervous, they had both got in through the good for age entry, which is v impressive. We talked about being nervous and cold.

Start -5k: 24:09

I stayed with one of the ladies for around a mile but slowly we drifted apart. The London Marathon starts from 3 different locations which then merge onto the main route. It was still impressive how many people had come out to cheer on just this start. I was about 100m behind Big Ben at this point, because he was going for a world record I didn’t think I would be able to keep up.

It was interesting seeing the other waves join us like tributaries. I was hoping to join with a 3:30 from another wave but only saw a 3:00 pacer so let them slowly drift ahead of me.

I was indeed finding it hard to slow down during the first 5k. Having tapered and carbed up this pace felt easy and it was my fastest 5k split in the marathon [24:09]

It might be surprising then to find out that I thought I was going to have to bail out at this point. After about 2k a pain started growing in the tendons of my left foot. I remember a run recently I had to cut short and rest for 2 weeks because of a similar feeling. My mind was in trouble because of this and I cant say with confidence that the pain really got worse or I just imagined it did. I remember seeing a medical tent at 4k and wondering if I should quickly get a paracetamol, maybe if I knock it on the head now it will prevent it from stopping me from running. I fully intended to walk the rest of the marathon even if I had to hobble. I passed the tent by.

5k-10k 24:30

There were some good signs on display, one that stuck in my mind, I saw a few times “Keep going! You are running better than the government”.

I was watching big ben pull very slowly ahead of me, maybe 300 meters ahead now. The pain in my foot seemed worse, I was also running awkwardly to try and minimise and protect it. This is never good as running awkwardly just gets you an injury elsewhere. It wasn’t that the pain was bad, it was the worry that it could get worse.

I remember the advice from Didsbury runners, to be mindful and enjoy the event. I may never get to do it again. Distracting myself was pretty easy to do given I was running the London Marathon and looking at the landmarks, runners and crowds of supporters really helped take my mind away. I even saw some of the landmarks I had looked up before the race, but mainly the insane people cheering us on. I have talked about my experience at the great north run where people were laughing at me, but here I was getting a tonne of “Go Sofie!”. Every now and then I would make eye contact to the people cheering that and it was super nice. This was where I realised leaving the camera was a good idea, the “go Sofie” cheering was repeated all the way to the end I am so glad my camera wasn’t obscuring my name.

One of the main bits I remember from the start is running around the cutty sark. The crowds were amazing. Although the pain/worry was there I was finding it easy to take my mind away. As well as some television cameras on giant arms there were a lot of bands too and the drums would give me a real adrenaline boost.

I was getting emotional every now and then and almost crying, the support was so great and it was beginning to hit me that I was running the London Marathon. The thing I have watched so many times through my life and been inspired to do what those people on TV were doing. After a number of years of also being depressed seeing those people and wishing I could do it, drinking away my feelings. I was here, doing it, inspiring people. It was emotional.

10-15k 24:33

OK I wanted the pain gone in the marathon and now I am writing this I want it gone here too, so I will show what is going on and let you know that after passing the London bridge, it was gone completely.

Here is a graph of the ground contact time balance, the ratio of how long my left foot was on the floor compared to the right. You can see that red dip near the start. My left foot was only down 47% of the time because I was compensating to protect it. Its quite a useful graph because you can see where the pain was during the race.

I remember hoping that I could run the race free of injury and deciding to just take my mind away from it so that hopefully my form would return to normal and as you can see on the graph, it did.

I think it was on this stretch, nearly at 10 miles that I passed tent man, the bananas in pyjamas accompanied me instead. I was holding steady compared to big ben too, he was still about 300meters ahead of me.

Generally through the whole race, people were overtaking me. Not whizzing past but I was definitely slightly slower than the crowd. I was OK with this and tried not to block the route. I would find 2 people running together and follow them. Some time later I would be on my own. I would find some other people to follow. Its surprising how in a crowd of 1000’s of runners, you don’t often come across people running the exact pace you feel up to. But it was nice, I felt like an island or a cruise ship, sometimes out at sea, sometimes docked up taking in the landmarks.

15k to 20 24:42 to halfway (21.1k)

There was a marker at every kilometer and every mile and at the 10 mile marker someone who looked like a body builder and sounded like a personal trainer shouted “10 miles now everybody remember to fuel up, take a gel”.

I remember thinking, that person must be shouting the same thing every 20 seconds or so. I was grateful and did obey though and had my second gel, or third if you include the one that fell down the portaloo in the start area.

The closer we got to 20k the louder the support was, I was still crying at parts but around 19k you could no longer hear individual names being called, it was constant cheering and banners and people.

About 100m from the 20k marker I heard someone shout “almost halfway now come on london bridge just ahead”. I was approaching a moment that will be stuck in my head forever.

We turned a corner and london bridge was ahead of us. The cheering got louder, I was now on London bridge and it was a roar. I started crying on london bridge. I was mindful, I looked at the bridge itself, realised how unlikely it would be to get to run down the middle of it again. How nice it looked. Heard the roar of humanity urging us on. This must be the feeling you get in the olympics when a stadium of people if urging you on.

I was smiling my head off.

Halfway to 25k 19:46

Just after the bridge you hit the half marathon point. It was here that a few vans passed on the other side of the road going in the opposite direction. I looked over a few moments later and there was Eulid Kipchoge. He was looking over at us as we cheered him on. The look of concentration in his eyes was so inspiring and the reaction from everyone including the runners was crazy. I wasn’t running now, I was flying. Anything felt possible.

25 -30k 25:51

This is where I could see the wall approaching. I tried to run through it like harry potters platform 9 3/4. It almost worked.

Spotting Phil and Laura after hearing a Sofie brought me some more speed. Thanks both for coming and offering a place to stay as well as showing us the start area in greenwich.

I was feeling tired. When running long distances I tend to settle into it, and it can be a bit like sitting in a chair, your legs just do the work. This was true since the pain went. I was looking around a lot and seeing the sights and taking the crowds in. But now I was also thinking about the end.

I was actually glad to have gotten to 30k before getting tired in some of my slower training runs I had felt this way at 21k. What had happened was my muscled were coming to the end of their glycogen stores and I was transitioning to fat burning to keep going. I was becoming necessary to shift gears to eke out whatever I had left. This was the wall.

Again I spotted a trans flag and there was Christine and Steve cheering me on

30 -35k 27:32

Difficulties were kicking in and I was wanting it to end. It wasn’t that I didn’t have the energy, although I was tired. Instead my muscles were just not responding and that was causing me to run with bad form and slow down. This is what seperates the marathon from any shorter distance for me. In a shorter race I slow down because of a battle wit lactic acid buildup, or I have reached V02max, or I have run out of energy. In the marathon my muscles just stop responding, they don’t care if I feel like I can go on.

I knew this would happen however and my strategy was to enjoy where I am and what I am doing. The support was awesome, the sights were awesome and I knew so many people were tracking me at home and from Didsbury Runners. So thank you all because this stopped my pace from falling off a cliff.

35 – 40k

Almost there, as I passed the 37km marker I told myself “just a parkrun left, I can do a parkrun any day”. I had to be totally focussed on not stopping at this point. I am really happy how I kept my pace at 5:52 per k. This was my slowest pace during the marathon. It could easily have been below 6:30. The crowds were still amazing and I was really digging in. I didn’t have the presence of mind to appreciate my surroundings at this point, focussing on just running and not stopping was all I could do.


The last bit.

I was almost there.

My muscles were on fire, I was heel-striking badly because I couldn’t lift my thigh up, the muscles above my knee were red hot.

Somehow I sped up instead of slowing down to 5:45/k. I don’t know where that came from.

Everyone was going crazy at the side of the road. I could see famous london landmarks and couldn’t figure out what they were. I would be lost if I wasn’t penned in on all side with thousands of people to follow.

Once we turned onto the final few hundred meters I knew where I was. I remember seeing this on TV so many times and trying to will my energy from the couch into whichever runner was finishing. It was emotional. I was doing this. I saw someone being wheeled off on a chair, also a number of people being helped across the line. I can’t imagine getting so far to run out just before the end.

I used the rest of my energy ready for a sprint finish, but there was nothing left, I’d used everything.

Finished 3:38:20

Over the line.. Stopping was such a weird thing to do after running for 3:38:20. It was welcome though. One of the medical staff followed me and kept asking if I was OK. I felt faint and all my muscles seemed to take a rest, even the ones I hadn’t used. I kept telling her yes and smiling at her and thanking her but she followed me a while. I must have looked as faint as I felt. Through a funnel I went, picking up my medal and goodie bag.

After that I got emotional, it was as if everything I have been through over the past few years hit me. Fortunately I was too exhausted, so then did what I do after any good race, went and got lost. Faster than you could lose a pen or a hairbrush, faster even than I lost that screw bit one time. I had to ask for directions, my legs were failing, my temperature was plummeting, even though it wasn’t that cold. My other superpower is freezing to death in reasonably warm temperatures.

I found Christine and Steve and as I started to put my shoes back on I was stricken by the worst crampsatan could devise. I very nearly screamed and fell over, it went up my whole leg and then the other. I had to limp around and keep my legs moving to fend it off. Eventually we got the train back to gravesend.

I have come a long way and am almost not the same person.

I want to thank everyone who donated, which is what made this so amazing, raising money for the LGBT foundation, including Stafani who donated offline as well as all those below. Thanks also to the Virgin Money Lounges Manchester and Jennifer Quinn for giving places to the LGBT foundation for the London Marathon and providing lots of support with fundraising. Thanks to Solomons bar on Wilmslow road, Mary and Archie bar of Burton road Manchester for hosting collection boxes and being extremely nice as well as everyone who donated that way! Everyone who has supported me, Didsbury Runners and Cafe Diagnosis.

Thank you to all the staff and volunteers at the LGBT foundation for all of your support you are all amazing.

It was a long drive back to Scunthorpe, and then to Skipton.

The nicest thing was seeing an increase in number of runners down the Mersey after the London Marathon. If you have been inspired to run by the London Marathon, I can recommend trying couch to 5k.

Thank you for reading and waiting, fortunately I got all the details down after the race, it then took me months to finish off but hopefully it has been worth the wait.

London Marathon: 1/2 Getting There

Wow, I ran the London Marathon! I was there! I will spit this up into the lead up and then into the marathon itself in the next post. It turns out writing about the london martathon is itself a marathon. I think splitting it up is quite helpful.

In the weeks leading to the marathon I began to get nervous, nervous about getting there, getting my race pack, getting to the start, running a marathon. I stopped going out as much, stopped eating properly. This is something I have always struggled with. The idea of getting to London and doing everything was scary.

I was really helped by the encouragement and donations from friends, I got lots of lovely messages, even from people I have never met. Didsbury Runners has been such a great group and a few weeks before the run I was featured in a runners spotlight which so nice it made me cry. I also just want to thank everyone who donated, it meant a lot and kept me going when things got tough.

I was incredibly nervous about getting to london so fortunately my brother and sister in law decided to come with me and support on the day. I met up with them in Scunthorpe and we drove down to Gravesend on Friday. We stayed in a hotel in Gravesend so that we had plenty of time to go to the running expo and pick up my race pack on Saturday. I was as nervous as I get, as if I had a job interview or exam.

We got the train the next day and ventured to the running expo. I picked up my running number and we wondered around picking up free things, including some deep heat I just gave to my mum and a bottle opener, some shoe laces, some Vaseline (I think!) and the marathon news.

We meet up with my friends Phil and Laura at a pub in Greenwich, it’s very nice to see them and after having the nicest veggie burger I have had, we head out to see the Cutty Sark, and wander through the maritime museum on our way to the Greenwich observatory. You can also see the start on the map below, I was in the green zone. You can see there are three starts to the london marathon and I will merge with blue around one mile, then with red around 3 miles.

On the marathon itself you run around the whole ship around the 10k point. As you can see the weather didn’t look too great the day before and the barriers were going up ready for the race.

Being in Greenwich was handy because it is where the marathon starts the next day. My main worries at this point it that I will be late, or I will freeze to death while running the marathon. It is quite windy but supposed to be calmer the next day for the marathon.

After getting back to the hotel fairly early I start worrying. I have some more of the pasta my mum had made, a good idea as you don’t want to risk much with food before a race and don’t want to eat too late if it is early the next day.

I then start to worry about whether to bring my gopro on the race or not. I realise if I wear my chest harness it will cover my name on my vest, but if I carry it in my belt I might lose it or drop it and it could become very annoying if it starts bouncing about. A little annoyance can become a big problem before 26 miles. I go for a test run with it on my chest.

I head out of the hotel and up a path I had seen, then just happen to find a nice running route behind the hotel. Theres a feeling I get before a race when I go for a run, I feel like I am completely unfit and unready. Because this has been so common and predictable since that first Manchester 10k 2 years ago. It no longer worries me too much, in fact, I am expecting it. I feel fine however. I don’t take this is a good or bad sign. There was another runner I am slowly catching up to and overtaking. As I do he talks to me and asks how I know the route. I explain myself. He seems really impressed I am doing the marathon and asks for advice getting into longer distance stuff, and says I look like an athlete! It is the first time I get a glimpse at what I am doing from the outside. He seemed really happy and inspired and I thought that is great, maybe I am inspiring people to run more. Since I started couch to 5k one of my missions has been to get people to start running. Especially those like me who have gone through life without trying it outside of school.

I turn around and come back, saying goodbye to my new friend. The purpose of this run was to get my legs to remember running and make sure nothing was aching, I had been in the back of the car for a long time coming here. It was also to see how I felt about the camera. I decided in the end to leave it and just focus on the run. This turned out to be the best choice as I found out the next day. Covering up my name on my vest would have been a bad move.

We were aiming to wake up about 5:30 the next day, I got all my stuff ready for just rolling out of bed. No need to worry about forgetting my race number or shoe tag, all my gels in my belt. I go to bed at 11 and lay there for 3 hours until I fall asleep.

So thats it, next will be the marathon itself. I have already written it up so it will be up tomorrow for everyone.