I hear the alarm in the distance. As I stir, I don’t know what day it is, who I am, or what I’m meant to be doing. Nothing unusual there, apart from a feeling in my stomach, telling my mind it needs to register what my body already knows. Marathon Day. Mar-a-thon Day. Instantly I’m wide awake. This is it! The day! The day I’ve been waiting for. The reason why I’ve only slept for four hours, tossing and turning in the depths of night. The source of my grumpiness and hypochondria for the last few months. The culmination of months of training, blisters and physio.
I jump out of bed. Kit is laid out. Everything’s ready. Keep calm Louise, have a leisurely shower, plenty of time.
Two minutes later. I’m out of the shower. Hair dripping, mind racing, now where did I put that bottle of water? The “lucky” one that I’m taking with me? Right, let’s just get changed first and get sorted. Stay calm.
Four minutes later. My socks feel tight. Why do my socks feel tight? These are the ones I’ve trained in aren’t they? Or was it the thinner, white pair? No, definitely the first ones. Why is my bra rubbing me? And where is that bottle?
I pull my running vest over my head, taking extreme care not to rip the number precariously pinned to the front. It’s not cold but I can feel myself shaking.
Therein follows a general palaver with my mum, who’s here for the weekend to support me. Both of us are nervous, but pretending not to be. I need her to attach my running chip to my trainer. “Left or right foot?” “I don’t know, what do you think?” “I don’t know.” “Well I’m left-handed, so left foot.” “Ok, take your trainer off, so I can put it on.” Two minutes later: “That doesn’t work, put your trainer back on.”
Running gear and mother sorted, cereal consumed and lucky bottle located, we arrive at the tube. Only two other runners are on the tube. Why’s that? Have I got the right route? What’s going on?
Thirty minutes later. On the tube with loads of runners. The fear has started and the doubt is creeping in. What the bloody hell am I doing? This is madness. 26 miles, 385 yards. 26 MILES 385 YARDS. I don’t know if I can do it. What if I can’t? What then?
I walk up the hill to the start area, the smell of blossoms, bananas and apprehension in the air. When I get there it’s like I’ve entered a music festival. Queues for the portable toilets, people lying around in the sun and megaphones and screens blaring. I wander around for a couple of minutes carrying my plastic bag, like a disorientated old woman. At least the toilet queues aren’t too bad, I think, as I nip in early. On my exit from the loo, a photographer is there. He’s right in front of me. Taking snaps of runners. I feel caught in flagrante, but I manage a weak smile and a wave, while silently swearing at him.
I must not drink too much water before the run. But must ensure I drink enough water before the run. Have I eaten enough? Maybe not. Frantic texting to my father ensues. “You’re fine, what you’ve done sounds ideal.” So I head to my assembly area and get a good spot in my “pen” right at the front. Excellent. But why isn’t anyone else here here? They’re leaving it a bit late. More fool them, I say, taking yet another swig from my lucky bottle.
Twenty minutes later, I’ve realised why. There were all at the toilet. Which is where I should have been. Instead, I’m back there now. Standing in the longest queue known to man, with just 20 minutes until the start. S**t
Eventually, the necessary is done and dusted. I shoot out of the toilet like Usain Bolt, sprinting back to my pen with two minutes to go. I’m definitely not at the front anymore. Too late to worry now. My music’s on, my heart’s racing, and we’re off.
The first few miles are a struggle. Everything feels a bit sore and stiff. Having been warned about running too quickly early on, I’m keeping a slow but steady pace. “No heroics”, I keep saying to myself. And yes, I’m aware I sound like the ultimate prat.
Four-ish miles in, and I’m bursting for the loo again. I can’t believe it. I consider squatting at the side of the road, but decide the chance of arrest and tasering by cops that Mr Blaring Megaphone Man warned about earlier is one I’d rather not take. So, once again I queue. I’m absolutely gutted that I’ve had to stop. Parts of my soul are being destroyed bit by bit as my fellow runners whizz by, while I’m stuck waiting for a German guy in a mankini to get out of the bog.
Toilet done (eventually), I whoosh out and slot back into the throngs. It’s thrown me slightly off-kilter, but before long I pick up and am feeling considerably better. The crowds are great, there are kids handing out sweets, people shouting my name. This is what it’s all about and I’m on top of the world.
Ten miles in, and I’ve moved from the water on to the energy drinks, my mouth eagerly soaking in the sugar as I run next to someone in a rhino costume. I like to cut down my running into six-mile chunks, so by now I’m getting close to the end of the second one. Another six-mile chunk to go after that, two miles to get to twenty, then…well, I’ll think about that later.
One of my running pals. Pic: Getty Images
Tower Bridge is immense. I feel like an Olympic hero approaching it, and the roar of the crowd is overwhelming. I also spot supporters from my charity, which gives me a great boost. And there are some amusing banners on display. “Toenails are so last year.” “Blisters are in this season.” “Press here for power” (with circle below it). “Shut up legs.”
A few miles later, and I’m struggling again. “Just get up to 20, get up to 20, and the crowd will carry you from there,” I’m telling myself. More energy drinks help, along with water, and a rendition of my name by some Cockney guys – “Lou, Lou, Lou-Lou, Lou, Lou, Lou-Lou, Lou, Lou, Lou-Lou Lou Lou LOU LOU”, to the tune of No Limit by 90s dance act 2 Unlimited. Eventually, mile 20 is upon me. I’ve reached the Holy Grail. So, what now?
Ok, so this was the really hard bit. Uncharted territory. To be honest, the next four miles were pretty horrific. I knew I had family and friends waiting for me at mile 23, so my thoughts and hopes were pinned on that. But having consumed a shedload of glucose-laden drinks I was feeling very sick, and started sporadically retching.
The crowd – up until then my faithful friends – were starting to irritate me. “Only six miles to go!” Er, no! I don’t want to think about six miles mate! Plus, it isn’t even six miles, there’s only five-and-a-half left now! Why are you giving me this misinformation? Shame on you. I am so angry and fed up.
Shortly before this the battery on my phone decided to die, bringing my music to an abrupt end. So now, in between trying not to vomit, the only sound I can hear is the voice of a guy dressed as Freddie Mercury carrying a giant hoover, a la “I want to break free”. Unfortunately he only knows the first line of the song, which he keeps repeating. And repeating. It’s funny for about a minute. But after 10, the only thing I want to break free from is him. I also envisage walloping him with his household appliance.*
Mile 23 and I’m STILL not at the Embankment. Why not? Why?!! They’ve lied to me. Liars, all of them. I hate everyone.
Then I see I guy in front of me. He’s got a prosthetic leg and is clearly struggling. As I draw up alongside him he turns and smiles at me. “Bloody difficult, isn’t it? Don’t worry, you can do it.” Suddenly, nothing seems as bad.
I’m now in a tunnel with huge illuminated balloons at the side of the road. “Keep going”. “Not far now.” “Don’t give up.” For the first time in a while, I start to think I might just be able to do this. The road slopes upwards and finally I’m running along the Embankment. I spot my brother. I’ve got enough energy to give him a high-five, before briefly grabbing my fiancé’s hand and waving to my mum and brother’s girlfriend. For about a minute afterwards I’m elated. Then it dawns on me, I’ve still got about a mile and a half to go. I can’t do this. I might have to walk. Imagine how rubbish I would feel if I had to walk now? Don’t do it, don’t do it!
Caught on camera – Mile 24-ish.
Going past Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament is a blur. All my efforts are focused on finding that finish line. As I get to Birdcage Walk I’m desperate for a glimpse of Buckingham Palace, but I can’t see it. It’s like a never-ending road to nowhere. Don’t stop. Just. Don’t. Stop.
I see the “800m to go” sign. My dad had warned me the end was still a little way from this, so I’m prepared. As I veer round onto The Mall, I realise the finish line is closer than I’d thought. Now I can hear the crowd, now I can embrace it. I can’t make out individual faces, but I can hear people shouting my name. Emotion kicks in. I’m going to finish. I’ve run 26.2 miles. The tears are running down my face before I’ve even crossed the line as I lift up my hand, punching the air. My feet hit the padded mats, clocking my time, and I’m hit with a wave of sheer relief and joy. I’ve done it.
I stagger forward, as my running chip is cut from my trainer, and the medal placed round my neck. A woman pats me on the back and asks me if I’m ok. I just nod and smile.
Running the marathon has been a wonderful experience. Without a doubt it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done. But the crowds and the people you run with are incredible. It’s an exercise in humility and a masterclass in humanity. The pensioner running with a picture of his wife on his back – “I’m doing it for you.” Another runner, raising money for the same charity, patting him on the shoulder and asking if he’s ok during an uphill part of the course. “Yeah thanks mate, just the hills that are a bit of a bleedin’ killer”, and they both laugh.
The woman I overhear telling another runner her baby died last year, so she was raising money for a charity that helped her and her family. The guy that was able to smile and give me a boost, even though he was undoubtedly struggling himself. People who have never met chatting and spurring each other on. That’s what it’s really all about.
I am really sore today, moving is difficult, and stairs are tough! I ache everywhere and am shattered. But I’m so pleased I’ve done this marathon and raised money for a wonderful charity. In fact, I’m already thinking about another one. I’ll never be an amazing runner and will probably never get a great time. But I don’t care. Being lucky enough to experience a marathon is what counts.
“It was being a runner that mattered, not how fast or how far I could run. The joy was in the act of running and in the journey, not in the destination. We have a better chance of seeing where we are when we stop trying to get somewhere else. We can enjoy every moment of movement, as long as where we are is as good as where we’d like to be. That’s not to say that you need to be satisfied forever with where you are today. But you need to honor what you’ve accomplished, rather than thinking of what’s left to be done.” – John Bingham
I ran the London Marathon for Prostate Cancer UK, in memory of my grandfather, Jim Hosie, and all others affected by prostate cancer. All donations are very much appreciated. My sponsorship page is: http://www.justgiving.com/Louise-runs-London Or text OVGF67 & amount (£1, £5 etc) to 70070. Thank you so much.