Tuesday, April 28, 2015

London marathon recap

It's hard to start this post, because after months and months of training, it's difficult to grasp that the marathon is now behind me instead of still to come. Certain parts of the race seemed incredibly slow (basically all of miles 20 through 26.2), but now that it is finished, it seems to have happened quickly.

Pre marathon race pack

In the week leading up to the event, I had a few days of extreme excitement, followed by a few days of extreme nerves. Oddly, though, on Sunday morning I wasn't feeling much of anything. I have never before lined up for a run without the expected surge of adrenalin, and I'm not entirely sure why it was missing, given this is the biggest race I've been part of.

Starting area, Greenwich park
Whilst I wasn't nervous at the start, I was extremely cold. I'd brought a bin liner to wear and abandon in the start pen, but should really have kept some clothes to throw out as well, as bin liners can only provide so much warmth. It was about 5'C and grey and windy, so my running leggings and vest were not ideal attire. I shivered through the 30 minutes before I started, which I think caused me trouble later on.

When I did cross the start line (some 18 minutes after the official start, thanks to the enormous number of people!) I was able to settle into a steady pace and the first few miles went by smoothly. The London marathon course has three start areas and they converge at mile 3, which is when the crowds also became more noticeable and the atmosphere increasingly impressive.

Action photos courtesy of Mr Bite (I'm not in them - we missed each other)

Some of the early highlights were running around Cutty Sark in Greenwich, where the crowds are incredible and it's early enough to still have a decent amount of energy (6 miles), and crossing Tower Bridge, which one doesn't usually get to run down the centre of, and is in the lead up to half-way.

From around mile 15, my legs started to hurt. This is actually unusual for me - I get tired, and my knees and ankles can complain, but my upper leg muscles don't usually hurt until after I've finished running. I attribute this to my 30 minutes of shivering at the start line, and commencing the run with cold muscles.

I was hoping to see Mr Bite between miles 16 and 18, but unfortunately we never spotted each other in the crowds. There really were a lot of supporters, and all of the positive comments about crowd support are true. The bands along the way were a huge lift as well, and I was grateful to the spectators who had music blasting from personal stereos. It really does make a difference when you're struggling.

At mile 18 I passed the Beat stand, the UK eating disorder charity for whom I raised funds. That a was a mental tick point as I wanted to look strong as I ran past! I suspect that was about where my strength dwindled, as the rest of the race was increasingly hard going. Unlike my horrible training run in March, there was no sudden hitting of 'the wall', but rather an extended period where I felt like I was running on empty. From mile 22 onwards, I was having long arguments with myself about why I should / shouldn't walk. Part of me desperately wanted to stop for a break, but I knew it would be harder to get going again if I did, and I just couldn't bear the idea of walking. 

The hardest part was at mile 24 or so, when we briefly went through a tunnel. There were no spectators and no cameras, and lots of runners walked - presumably glad to not be seen doing so! I got through that stretch by telling myself I'd have to run another marathon if I walked some of this one. By this stage of the race I never wanted to run another marathon again, so that did the trick.

The last few miles are where my memory most fades. I was shuffling more than running by that point, feeling nauseous, and fearing the finish line may never appear. I am sorry not to have been able to soak up more of the atmosphere, because the crowds were particularly amazing there, and the cheering was constant. It was also surreal to be running in central London, in the lead up to Westminster and the Mall, but I didn't really have the cognitive capacity to take it in. I've re-lived it second hand through the TV footage instead.

By mile 25 I knew I would make it to the end, and make it without walking or throwing up. The sign for the final 800 metres was the most welcome sight imaginable, although that relief faded when I got to the 600m mark - I was sure I'd run more than 200m and thought I would be at the finish already. When the finish did come, I found a last bit of strength to pick up my pace ever so slightly, and finished feeling teary and with legs that wobbled when I stopped.

The finishers chute is kept separate from spectators, which meant it was a well-organised finish, with it taking just a few minutes to get my medal, finishers pack (including t-shirt) and bag that had been transported from the start. I then had to walk to the 'meet and greet' area to find Mr Bite, which was only about 5 minutes, but felt like an enormously long way. Seeing him was almost as incredible as seeing the finish line. It was also wonderful to sit down, stretch, and put some warm clothes on before I cooled down again.

I had hoped to run in the vicinity of 4 hours 30 minutes, and based on training times thought 4 hours 35 was realistic. In the end, I took much longer - 4 hours 47 minutes - but I also ran a mile further than the 26.2 distance. The exact route is measured precisely and marked with a blue line down the road, but if you don't follow it (and clearly I didn't!) and/or weave around people, it's easy to run a longer route. Thus, my pace was close to my goal, but the extra mile caught me by surprise.

Given the intensity of the last few miles, I am delighted just to have finished, and threw my time goal aside somewhere around mile 22. Nonetheless, I was glad to see I finished about average for my age category. Up until mile 20, I also ran a fairly steady pace, which I'm pleased about.

In terms of what I've learnt from this first marathon, there are things I'm glad I did, and things I would do differently next time:

Things that worked well for me:

  • Balancing moderate mileage with solid long runs in training. I trained to finish, rather than to be speedy. As such, my weekly mileage was at the low end of marathon standards (my highest week was 35 miles and most were 25-30). At the same time, I didn't skimp on the long runs and did two 20 mile runs and one 23 mile run ahead of the day. Mentally, having covered 23 miles really helped me. Physically, not running more frequently helped (I believe) with injury prevention and my general energy levels.
  • Even pacing. My pace for the marathon was inevitably slower than my pace for half marathons or shorter runs. I managed to not go out too fast, and I think that helped keep my running steadily up until mile 20.
  • Stretching and utilising warm baths post-race. My muscles are definitely sore, and standing up sometimes presents a challenge. However, I can walk and even navigate stairs (downwards slopes are a problem though!). Stretching and baths have felt great the last two days.

Things I would do differently next time:
  • Keep warm before the event. I would take clothes to abandon at the start line, and run with gloves I could throw aside once I warmed up (I am prone to cold hands at the best of times).
  • Try to follow the blue line more closely. As a non-elite runner you will never run 26.2 miles exactly, but I suspect I could have minimised my extra distance if I'd been more aware of where the official course was marked.
  • Be fit enough to stay strong through the final miles and soak up the atmosphere. I'm not sure anyone feels great at the end of 26.2 miles. However, I can imagine more speed training or just the experience of a marathon behind me might allow me to be more lucid over the final miles that I passed in a daze. I would have liked to take them in more fully.

Will there be a next time? When I finished, I thought "never again". That same night, I reflected on how next time I could improve on my time and learn from this first event. As I type, I am planning to enter the ballot for next year's London marathon, just to see if I get a place. So, who knows! It is a long way to run, but there is something magical and momentous about achieving it.

Thanks to all of you who supported me with kind words and/or donations ahead of this run. I am very grateful!


  1. oh well done!!!!! I was waiting quite impatiently for you to write about it. What a magnificent effort and I love the sound of the crowd support and bands! Heh, I like how people walked in the tunnel too :D Congratulations!!!

  2. What a marvellous achievement. Congratulations Kari! I love the idea of crowd supplied music. How wonderful you must have felt at the finish!

  3. Awesome job, Kari, congrats! It sounds like a wonderful atmosphere indeed. I know exaaactly what you mean about thinking "never again" in the aftermath of the race, but then having the wheels start to turn and going to sign up for more races.

    Good luck with your recovery!

  4. Great to hear how you went. What an amazing achievement! Sounds like a really great course to run past all those landmarks. Even if you couldn't appreciate them as much as you might have, I hope it still gives you satisfaction and pride to have run that route - and of course to have run such a distance. Hope you are able to take it easy as your body gets over it and enjoy planning the next marathon!

  5. Congrats on your marathon finish! Getting to the finish line when you've had to run through some rough spots feels great, but takes determination - I know because I experienced the same thing on Saturday!

  6. I'm so pleased for you, Kari. What a journey! You did really, really well. I can't believe it was that cold and yes, all the waiting around before a race is totally detrimental. When Alfie goes in a run, I get him to the start line well ahead of time but I make sure he is layered up because of the cold. Then just before the race I get him to throw me all his clothes. I guess you can't do that in a marathon but it's certainly not good to start a race cold. Well done on a great effort - I'm very impressed xx

  7. AMAZING!!!! I can tell you from four times experience that you NEVER feel good from miles 20-26.2, no matter how much training you do. So don't even sweat it. But you persevered and ROCKED it!

  8. Congratulations Kari!! I was watching on Sunday and thinking of you :) Just finishing is an achievement, let alone in that brilliant time and without walking at all! Fantastic to raise all that money for Beat too.
    I've gotten back into running lately and watching the marathon and hearing everyone's (mostly) positive experiences is definitely inspiring.
    Well done again!

  9. 4 hours of running, congratulations, Kari! You did a great job. And still was able to take some photos to share, so thank you!!

    Julie & Alesah
    Gourmet Getaways xx

  10. Congratulations Kari!!!! I would have started walking at about the 4km mark, so ths is an amazing achievement. Well done.

  11. Congratulations Kari! What an amazing achievement! (and one that I will never experience ha ha!) 4h 47 is a totally respectable time, especially considering it was your first marathon. I was thinking of you on the Sunday. I was out on a 26 mile bike ride and I just couldn't imagine ever running that kind of distance. Well done you! xx


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