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What it's like to RUN London

My name is Rob, and I'm a marathon runner! I've run 1 marathon. London, in support of The Avenues Youth Project (you still have time to sponsor me).

This is how it went.

(And if you want to know how my training went, part 1 is here, part 2 is here, and part 3 is here)

20th April - T minus 19 hours, 18 minutes, 23 seconds

And so, with a 3.22km run, the training’s done.

All in all, I don’t think it could have gone much better.  A cold near the beginning and a cold at the end, but at least the core of the training went well with no injuries .

Barring tripping over on the way to the start line tomorrow, it feels like I’ve got there. I was lucky, and I feel for those friends who haven’t managed to make it - but I know you’ll get there in 12 months time.

Overall, I managed to run more, and longer than the original plan.

750 kilometers in 125 days - an average of 6km a day - closer to 10km during March.

Or - the distance from London to Skye.

I couldn’t really have asked for more.

Graph of number of KMs run each week, Jagged, but an increase from 40km to 75km before dropping off to nothing
Look at those lovely kilometers

Despite not running this week, it’s been full.

The club track relay marathon on Tuesday (club runs a marathon distance, as a relay of 400m efforts).  A great opportunity to congratulate those who ran Manchester and Brighton the week before, catch with those doing London this weekend and get sage advice from all those others who aren’t running this year but have done it so many times before.

From Luc’s “You know you didn’t need to run as much as you did” to Susan’s “Don’t go off too fast” and so many people saying “Don’t forget to look up”, I feel fully mentally prepared.  The support in the club has been astounding.

Then Thursday to the expo to pick up my number, marvel at the amazing design by Emma, spot ‘celebrities’ in a box, and mooch about not buying things with other marathon runners, grab my t-shirt and skulk back onto the tube fully masked up in true mara-noia style.

Bill O'Connor, in full colour hologram form, stuck, forever running, in a box
The legend that is Bill O'Connor

To sorting out my kit, going through every last detail, making sure I’ve got everything I need and nothing I don’t.

A most sensational and expertly produced kit-lay - bananas, energy gels, nipple lubricant, everything you need for a fun day out.
Kit-lay away!

To finally now, the day before.  Eating pasta for lunch, having a really relaxed 20 minute jog out to loosen everything up and plan my tea for tonight (Domino’s Pizza, and as much as I want), breakfast for tomorrow (soft boiled eggs on bagel I reckon) and what time I’m leaving, for what train.

Basically, just trying to distract myself so I don’t get over excited.

Oh, and of course…  entering the ballot for next year…

21st April - Race day!

08:15 - T minus 2 hours, 40 minutes

Here I am, sitting on the tube.  The other people on the tube are all running the marathon too.  Who else would be travelling from Willesden Green to central London at 8:15 on a Sunday morning?

I've already had my first “hey” from a random other runner and bumped into Dustin doing his Sunday slow long run” at a pace I can only dream of.

The well wisher messages are coming thick and fast now, which is so lovely.  The support has been amazing and I haven't even started the race yet!

The nerves are kicking in and breakfast is sitting heavy, but deep down I just know that sticking to the plan will work.

It has to.

Breakfast-lay!  Bagel, 2 soft boiled eggs, 2 oranges, orange juice, strong black coffee, vitamins and cod-liver oil
The french are wrong. One egg is not une oeuf.

8:45 - T minus 2 hours, 10 minutes

Looks like I'm going to get to my start area at least half an hour early!

Does this mean I went out too fast?

As I was getting of the train at Blackheath station and heard someone say “I’m a bit worried that everyone else seems to have their number and a kit bag”.   Oh man, that would be truly awful - not going to pick up your number and not being allowed to run.  I just can't think about it.

9:30 - T minus 1 hour 25 minutes

Ok, maybe I got here a bit early, but I'm loving the “festival of running” vibe in the assembly area.

Even just walking down from Blackheath station into the start area was insane.  Of course it is - there’s more than 60,000 people running!

Looking up from Blackheath station towards the heath on the main road.  The road is closed and there are people everywhere.  Mix of runners and spectators.
That's a lot of people

There’s a big screen and the BBC coverage of the elite ladies start comes on and that music starts blaring out.


10:15 - T minus 40 minutes

There’s loads of trucks here to take our kit bags to the finish line.  Mine’s leaving in 5 minutes apparently - so annoying.  It’s bloody freezing and I really don’t want to have to take my hoodie off just yet.  Ah well, time to kit up.  Layers off, HR monitoring strap on, anti-chafing cream applied.

The app has just calmed down after going crazy with all the top level QPH club runners starting their runs.   So proud to be part of the same club as such amazing runners!

10:45 - T minus 10 minutes

We’re in the holding pen to get let into the start area.  You can feel the nervous tension.  It’s absolutely electric.

Don’t go off too fast, don’t go off too fast.

11:35ish - 35 minutes in

We crossed the start line late!

Only by about a minute or two, but still... I thought this race was supposed to be really well organised!

Things are going pretty well.

I’m sticking to my plan of running based on heart rate, although it’s proving hard to keep it low.  I’m going to put that down to a combination of the adrenaline of the day and the last vestiges of the cold and I spent the first 5km trying not to worry about it.

The body feels good and the strides are easy and flowing.  I'm not really breaking sweat and the breathing is far from laboured.

Splits are just under 6:00 per km at this point and the GPS still seems pretty accurate.  Over the next 5km the plan is to really focus on getting that heart rate down.

12:00ish - 1 hour in

Things are still going well.

I'm about 10km down and I’ve suddenly realised that we’re running alongside Greenwich Maritime Museum!  How did that come round so quickly?

The support has already been amazing and it’s starting to occur to me that I’ve just only really run through the quiet bits.  Seriously?  I know the Cutty Sark is just at the end of here, and that’s the first of the sights that have been giving me shivers in the lead up to the race.

I’m actually going to run round that corner in a minute!

I feel like I’ve managed to get a bit of a better handle on the heart rate.  It’s still a bit higher than planned but by a bit less.  I still don’t feel like I’m pushing at all - this is far easier than my half marathon pace.  Breathing is still just fairly normal breathing - no out for 4 steps, in for 4 steps or anything like that.

The pace has dropped slightly, but that’s OK, it’s intentional and still within my gold target pace.

13:00ish - 2 hours in


Honestly, I really should have looked more at the map - I didn’t realise how early on you reach this!

The support at this point has gone through the roof!  Far fewer gaps, and the highs are just SO LOUD.  It’s becoming constant now.

Running round Surrey Quays and Rotherhithe I was scouring the crowds to try to catch Jen and the family, but I didn’t manage to spot them.  Such a shame, I was looking forward to a short stop and a hug!

I did get an amazing reception from Gilly, Gabby and Georgie though.  So incredible to see them just standing there in a quiet stretch around mile 10 (was it Rotherhithe?  It’s all becoming a blur now).

Rob, grinning like a loon as he high fives hands coming in from the left of shot.  Somewhere random in Rotherhithe.
Give me that power up!

Such a boost.

I still feel like I’ve been doing a good job of managing the race up to now.  The right knee is starting to complain a little - the old injury that’s just a little bit of pounding damage.  Easily managed.  Keeping the toes up seems to help a bit.

The pace is remaining pretty constant - I think - the GPS has gone a little bit crazy - but it looks like just over 6:00 kms.  So far so good.

13:09 - Half way

First half done - bang on 2:09.

That’s a decent, but relaxed half marathon time for me - well worth remembering my first (Redcar) Half Marathon was just over 2:14 and I was in agony.  At this point I’m tired, but don’t have a problem with more running.

I also managed to spot Emma, Giles and Jojo as they’re running down the highway in the other direction, far far ahead of me.  I love these parts of a race - where you get to see and cheer on your club mates.

13:45ish - 2 hours 45 minutes in

Ok, the knee’s starting to complain now.

It still feels manageable, but I need to start taking care of it or I’ll be in a whole heap of trouble in an hour’s time.

I’m about 26km in, and there’s another 16km to go… at this point it’s really occurring to me just how far it is.  I really should already know that, right?

I had a lovely moment running along the top of Shadwell Basin.  Some of my fondest running memories are running at lunchtime with Garry and James, out from the city, past Tower Bridge, around the edge of St Katherine’s dock, along the ornamental canal, round Shadwell Basin and back .  It’s nice to see that turning spot again.

Pace has kept OK, but the watch has got really unreliable now.  I'm sticking to the mile markers to get a proper understanding of my actual pace, and I can see that my miles are now around 10 minutes - at least I think so.

14:10ish - 3 hours 10 minutes in

30km down and now I’m in no man’s land.  I’ve never run this far before.  Ever.  At this point my body is telling me why I haven't.

Both knees are now complaining - still manageable - and I’m really concentrating on trying to keep the knees and toes up as that seems to make it hurt less.  The effect is that I can start to hear the hips getting their grumble on.

I know what’s coming and it’s going to be painful!

14:45ish - 3 hours 45 minutes in

OK.  35km done.

I’ve never much liked Canary Wharf, but it’s a lot nicer when you have a lot of people cheering you on as you run through it.   That said, I’m glad to be out of it and away from the squiggly bit.

Again, I missed Jen and the family.  I’m feeling for them now as I’m seriously worried that I’m not going to get to see them / they’re not going to get to see me - and I know that being a spectator at London is a NIGHTMARE.

I’m having to draw a lot of encouragement from the fact that this is the straight run home now.  Past The Tower, Monument, Blackfriars, along the Embankment, right turn, right turn, home.  It’s that easy.

At this point though, I’m in full management mode.

I don’t mind admitting that I’m run-walking now.  Every km I’m giving myself a break of about 200 metres to ease the pain before setting off again.  Each time, it’s taking more effort to get going as things creak.  The pace is down to the mid 6:30s, but I really don’t care at this point.  I’m not ‘resigned’ or anything, I just know that I need to do what I need to do to finish.

I’ve also broken my rule and started taking sweets from spectators.  Percy Pigs are the best.  You can suck them for ages and they’re a proper sharp hit of sweetness.  My stomach is appreciating that slight bit of solids.

14:55ish - 3 hours 55 minutes in

George!  And some others.  But I’m not sure who.  I can’t quite see properly any more!  Or think.

It still gives me a massive boost though.

15:20ish - 4 hours 20 minutes in

OK 40km - only another 2.2km to go and all this can end.

I’m keeping my eyes peeled now as I know that some other Harriers said they’d be around, though I can’t quite believe that anyone would be hanging around this long!  The first Harriers finished nearly 3 hours ago (to be fair, they did start an hour before me).

I’m managing to keep going with the run-walk strategy, and although the time spent walking is starting to creep up, the pace is still actually not too bad.  Hovering around the 6:35 per km.  If I look back to the start of the training, I’d have been happy to do the WHOLE marathon at that pace - so I’m not going to get disheartened.

That said, I’ve taken to running on the far side, away from the crowds and the ‘words of encouragement’ are starting to get a bit oppressive 😃.  I know what I need to do to finish, and I’ll do it, it’s OK!  They mean well, and they have been incredible... but if one more person tells me to keep running...

15:25ish - 4 hours 25 minutes in

Not far from the turn at Westminster I spot Gavin, Liz and someone else (sorry, whoever you were, I’ve completely forgotten) - and they spot me!  Another massive boost!

Hope they didn’t see me walking.

Smile for the camera, look strong!

Rob, running right to left along embankment doing a really good impression of someone who's NOT in agony.  Looks a lot better than many of the others in the photo
Arms in the air, like I just don't care

15:35ish - 4 hours 35 minutes in

I’m on Birdcage Walk and this is it, I’m inside the last 1km.  I can’t quite believe it.  Almost there.  Did someone just shout my name?  And ‘Daddy’?  YES! And there they are - the family - at the barrier. BIG hugs and kisses all round, and I nearly start to cry (not for the first time on the course). I can’t quite believe that I got to see them, and they got to see me.  So happy.

And so I continue on - just another 800m to go.

15:40:50 - 4 hours, 40 minutes and 33 seconds in

I cross the line.

With a smile on my face, running like Pheobe - like I promised myself I would.

Rob, crossing the line in a blurry CCTV style camera image, waving his arms about so you can see him.  It's all about him.
"Didn't you ever run so fast you thought your legs were gonna fall off?"

Official time is 4:40:33, and a pace of 6:13 per km.

I don’t feel I could have done any better on the day.

And then a couple of minutes later, Martin and Gildas catch up.  Cue big hugs and selfies…

Heart-warming selfie of Gildas, Martin and Rob, with the finish line in the background.  All three look so happy that they don't have to run anymore.
We're done, right?

Definitely there are lessons to learn on training and prep - but pacing, fueling, pain management - honestly, it all went well.  So much top notch advice on everything from all over the club - Gildas and Susan standing out.

I know that it was me who trained, and it was me who ran, but there’s no way I’d have got here without Queen’s Park Harriers - for normalising the idea of marathon running, for all the training, expert advice and encouragement, and for organising the place for me.  Everything I could have asked for.


Clearly not my distance.

Never again.

Well maybe one more, to get under 4:20...


Sorry to those I saw and didn't mention - I know I saw Charlie and Maciej, and I passed Maryam and Bill - but I really can't place where it happened - and obviously I'm writing this after the event. Things really did start to blur a bit in the last quarter! Rest assured - you were seen - and you were a boost - I promise you! Also, anyone who's given me advice, helped me along, said kind words about the diary. It's been great, you've been great, and I now have a great momento of the months leading up to the day - and the victory lap.

It's been emotional!


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