Thursday 11 May 2017

London Marathon

It's hard to put into words the magnitude of the London Marathon experience but I'll give it a go.

After 4 months of training made up of 69 training runs, covering 448 miles in a total of 64 hours I felt ready for the marathon!

I was given the opportunity to run London by the miscarriage charity Tommy's after Emily and I did Ride London to raise money for the charity last summer. I'd always wanted to do the London Marathon once and this was the perfect opportunity.

The training demanded real commitment and determination but also gave me the wonderful life-affirming experiences of running in Cape Town, the mountains in the Franschhoek wine region of South Africa, along the coastline in Lisbon, around reservoirs in the Peak District and on frozen pathways in the Cotswolds.

When I registered for the London Marathon I put my estimated finish time as four hours. But after training with Sheffield running club Steel City Striders I felt I could go for a faster time. Then I was set the challenge of beating the time of one of my best friends! James did the marathon a few years ago in 3 hours 33 minutes and 17 seconds. His dad said he'd sponsor me £200 if I beat his son's time! The challenge was set.

The problem with me predicting my finish time as 4 hours was that the runners in the pen I started in were too slow for the pace I needed to go of 8 minutes per mile. The course was so busy for much of the first 15 miles that it wasn't possible to run at my own speed. The packed course, an anxiety-induced tightness across my chest and the knowledge that I had so many miles still to run meant that by 18 miles in I was about 3 minutes down on the pace I needed to do to beat James' time. I resigned myself to not hitting my target, but to put that at the back of my mind and to enjoy the rest of the marathon. Thankfully it was at mile 18 that I saw my wife Emily in the crowd and ran over and gave her a kiss which gave me a big boost! I started to feel stronger and there was much more space on the course to run my pace. Then at mile 20 I saw Emily again with my good friend Dave who'd made me a hilarious banner to encourage me to beat James' time (see below)! I shouted to them as I passed, "I need to speed up" and they bellowed encouragement.

Having done lots of reading on marathon running I'd learnt that the final six miles is what makes or breaks a marathon - while some hit the wall because they have not taken in enough energy gels and liquids and haven't trained sufficiently, others are able to push on. Thankfully the hours of training paid off and I was able to speed up and overtake precisely 1,409 runners in the last 4.5 miles - with no one overtaking me! The 25th mile was my fastest, at 6 minutes 55 seconds.

Perhaps it sounds overly sentimental but I'd read that you should devote each of the last four miles to different people that are important to you to help distract you from the exhaustion and for me it really worked - repeating the names of the people I love over and over helped inspire me. And as I did, I was regularly checking my pace on my GPS running watch - it was dropping closer and closer to 8 minutes per mile. I was now confident I'd be able to beat my friend James' time.

Running along the Embankment the course swings right past Big Ben and with less than half a mile to go I happened to be on the right side of the road to unexpectedly see James in the crowd (the friend whose time I was hoping to beat!) I let out an almighty roar as he cheered me on. Then I just had to stay focused, passing Buckingham Palace to my left and then onto the Mall for a sprint finish. I finished in 3 hours 32 minutes and 13 seconds, 1 minute and 4 seconds quicker than James.

Crossing the finish line was the moment in my life when I felt the most proud of myself because I'd put so much into preparing for the marathon. To go from about 3 minutes down on my target time at 18 miles, to finish one minute ahead of it was particularly pleasing. I dug incredibly deep physically and mentally to achieve it.

Here's a short clip of me running and then finishing the marathon - look out for the maroon vest!
BBC Copyright

Just as an aside - something I'd not accounted for is that you actually run more than 26.2 miles when you do a marathon because you don't run the racing line. I ended up doing 26.4 miles and that extra point two of a mile added more than a minute and a half to my finish time.

Most importantly, Emily and I have been able to raise more than £6,000 for the miscarriage charity Tommy's. Earlier this year, I blogged about why I ran for Tommy's.

If you have a good level of fitness and you ever get the chance to run a marathon, I'd definitely recommend it. I shan't be doing another one though, the time needed to train and the potential for injuries means once is enough for me. I'll spare you the detail on the toenail I had to have removed a week after the marathon as I don't want it to put you off running a marathon yourself!

A big thank you to everyone who supported and encouraged me in my marathon effort.


  1. Brilliant account Mark- loved reading it !