Digested read: I’m in London, it’s Saturday night, tomorrow is the London marathon and the past couple of days have been an emotional roller coaster. I’m scared of the heat, I’m overwhelmed with the challenge ahead, but I’m grateful for the support that’s got me to this place, grateful for the opportunity and although I really doubt myself right now, I’m also determined to give this my very best shot. Tomorrow tea time will come whether I get round or not. It’s just one foot in front of the other after all, how hard can it be? Eek.
London bound. Geronimo decided to stick with the daisies.
The day before the morning after. I’m writing this on marathon eve, Saturday 21st April 2018. This time tomorrow I’ll know it I thought I could and did …. or not. Eek
I am going to write this post, but I haven’t decided yet whether or not to actually publish it, as it may just be an indulgent pity party which you dear reader, do not deserve to be subjected to. On the other hand, the reading of this is not compulsory. Also, I suppose it’s just possible that all I’m experiencing is completely normal self-doubting angst, the apex of maranoia, that many marathoners forget all about after the event and so those of us going through it imagine we are the only ones hitting this level of anguish and despair. I will say one thing though, however events unfold, I’m still glad to have made it to this point, and I would be devastated if now something were to happen that meant I couldn’t run. As has been said before, by me very often after events and experiences that were less than joyful contemporaneously, ‘I’m not sure I enjoyed myself, but I’d have been dead pissed off to have missed it.’ Maybe this pre-performance angst is just part of the whole London marathon circus. It happens hot weather has given me a particular focus on which to hang my many and multitudinous anxieties, but if we didn’t have the predicted heat wave and warnings of ‘the hottest London Marathon on record’ then I’d probably find something else to worry about. Sock choice, or unflattering photos, or wetting myself with excitement or crapping myself through fear. I still have all those worries for the record, it’s just they are way down the list of things that make me want to curl up in a foetal position and sob. Right now it’s the heat. Oh my gawd, this London heat. Aaaargh.
Still, not all bad. I’ve always aspired to looking hot whilst running, maybe tomorrow will be my moment? I live in hope.
The journey to London began yesterday. I’d always planned to go down to the Expo on Friday to avoid the madness of a Saturday in London the day before an event as daunting as my first (and at this rate last and only) marathon. I got to the station really early, time for a coffee and a read of the Metro which managed to panic me further. Don’t even think of running in fancy dress and have you heard how hot it’ll be on Sunday the paper told me:
Happily, a quartet of us heading down for the Marathon travelled on the same train from Sheffield. Two supporters me and a fellow Smiley, but one who can run really fast unlike me who is the other end of the running continuum. Me and my fellow marathoner (do you have any idea how strange it feels to be saying that phrase!) sat next to each other, and basically simultaneously broadcast marathon anxieties at each other the whole way down to London St Pancras. It was immensely reassuring. Even though she is a ‘proper’ athlete, she like me, was also consumed with anxieties over everything from how to deal with the weather to how to source a bespoke breakfast and how to hydrate. She isn’t used to drinking on runs and hasn’t been in the habit of carrying water, so that’s a biggy, I’m worried about absolutely everything, but mainly the sun. I get nauseous and heat stroke really quickly in direct sunlight and heat. I swear I must be from vampire stock. I never venture out in the heat of the day. It was basically great to spend time with someone who couldn’t escape, but also, genuinely could engage with the whole maranoia chit chat.
Top tip for anyone around people building up to a marathon, sometimes we just need to off load and voice our concerns. We aren’t seeking reassurance or even advice (though confusingly sometimes we are just to keep you on your toes), we just want to get it out of our systems and also just articulating things can help you process strategies or just put worries in perspective. In the presence of another empathetic angsty marathon runner no concern can be too trivial to merit many hours of earnest consideration. Having said that, many of my Smiley comrades; parkrun people; monday mobster buddies and other runners aplenty have given bucket loads of advice, support, and inspiration, for which many thanks. A special place in heaven must be reserved for the Smiley who responded to my panicky Facebook message on Friday morning about where Smiley Vests chafe most for people of my body shape – I’m currently thinking the unthinkable, wearing my vest without a t-shirt underneath despite being hugely self-conscious about exposing myself in that way, but I’m moving into unknown territory there. Kit change and risk of sunburn versus risk of over-heating from too many layers. It’s an indecisive person’s NIGHTMARE I tell you, add in running novice and it’s no wonder I feel I’m about to implode. I’d be having a meltdown even without this heat. The other pre-departure angst was centred around constantly packing and unpacking my stuff to check I’d not forgotten anything. Then worrying that in the act of checking my passport and registration form and running shoes and giraffe were all ready to go, I’d taken them out and forgot to put them back. STRESS!
It was remarkable in the circumstances I made it onto the train at all, but I did. We all did. Me and my fellow marathoner (get me, it’s quite fun saying that actually, though it might ring a bit hollow subsequently if I’m a DNF) chit chatting away. Sitting opposite us were two women who were lovingly colouring in a sign for some friends they were going to be cheering round on London. We didn’t particularly interact with them at first because we were too self-absorbed. But couldn’t not join in when they realised a slight issue with their sign:
They spelt Sheffield wrong! Hilarious, disappointingly, they chose to rectify this, and managed to fit in a sort of squashed L alongside a refashioned E, but it was a great moment. Plus, I feel we have new friends now, I’m going to try and spot them on the way round and claim their support for me too. I mean ‘Lisa’ is basically a misspelling of ‘Lucy’ after all is it not? No harm in me claiming that. I’m going to need all the support I can get and sometimes it pays to be direct and just ask for the help you need!
We arrived at London, waved goodbye to our supporters, who were staying elsewhere and amongst other things running Bushy parkrun for a fiftieth event celebration on Saturday (today) – see how colour co-ordinated they are, how lovely!
We wannabe marathoners (yep, coming more easily now) headed to the tube and joined the Piccadilly line, I headed off to check in to my hotel, whilst she went straight to the Expo. I have no idea how Londoners cope with the underground. Whilst it is undoubtedly an incredibly efficient way to get about, it is sensory overload down there. Super heated air, weird hot winds rushing through the tunnels, and the scream of trains compound the claustrophobia of being squashed up alongside sooooooooooo many people. On the other hand, I do enjoy how cosmopolitan it is, the multitude of nationalities, the range of types from hippies through to goths, school children in uniforms and besuited city executives all packed in the little cylindrical cans. You can tell the city natives, as they have perfected the art of ignoring their travel companions and gazing into space. Yet within that, there is clearly an underground etiquette, a woman with a pushchair got on and silently the carriage occupants rearranged themselves to accommodate her and her charge in an extraordinary display of collective spatial awareness.
One episode spun me out a bit though. A youngish couple got on, doubled up in giggles over a shared joke. The woman had the most extravagant long fake silver nails I’ve ever seen – I don’t know how you could function with them, she was also sporting enormous silver hooped earrings with considerable style. Her companion had stowed a ginormous spliff behind his ear. It was a creation of considerable skill, lovingly crafted into an even, seamless conical form, with the dry green leaves visible beneath the thin paper of the joint. As is the way on public transport, everyone ignored this, and they were a lovely cheery pair. But then, just after my marathon friend disembarked to go to the Expo, the woman lit up the joint and I went into complete panic mode. I’m not great in tubes, it’s like flying for me, I don’t worry about either traveling on the underground or getting on a plane in advance, but when I’m actually in them, it seems an affront to nature to try and navigate the earth in this way. Really claustrophobic. I vividly remember the Kings Cross Station fire for some reason – I think that was what led to the smoking ban on the tubes, a fire started under a wooden escalator and 31 people died, horrible. Therefore, in a completely spontaneous act, but a shocking breach of London tube-travel conventions I intervened! ‘Please don’t!’ I cried out, my voice activating before my brain so at first I didn’t even realise it was me speaking! I added, rather pathetically ‘you’ll set the alarms off, I don’t want to be stuck down here!‘ Yes, I’m embarrassed, but I’m also default British, there’s a certain standard to be maintained. Nobody is bothered by the illegality of the spliff, but to smoke in a non-smoking carriage! Outrageous! The woman, who in my estimation was way too young to remember a time when smoking was the norm on the underground by many a decade was actually very sweet. ‘It’s allright my lovely’ she said ‘there are no alarms, the train won’t stop‘ she laughed and they tumbled out of the tube at the next station, no doubt puffing their way cheerily along the platform. Even so, I was relieved. It’s one thing to die from heat stroke half way round the London Marathon in a glorious but futile attempt to tick it off my bucket list, but I really didn’t fancy being burned to death in the hell of a London tube.
Just another couple of stops and then to my hotel. My room wasn’t ready, so I just dumped my bags, refilled my water bottle and back into the horror of the tube. Gawd, sooooo hot, I was exhausted and sticky with sweat and grime by the time I made it to the DLR overground exchange of Canning Town and boarded the crush of the DLR train heading to the Expo. On the plus side, can I give a special shout out to the driver of the train that deposited us at Prince Regent about 3.27 p.m. He was hilarious. We got a running commentary en route, about the weather; how hot it would be; what fun we’d have he was great! Plus, when we got to the first stop Custom House for the West Entrance, he advised it was a half mile walk from there to the Expo, but up to you folks – the train was so crushed, many opted to alight and do the walk to loosen up the legs, but a few of us stayed on for Prince Regent. Our driver congratulated us for making a good call. We’d be at the Expo way ahead of them. Result. It was grand, it created atmosphere and helped this whole adventure start to feel real.
Getting off at Prince Regent it is a long walk to get to the expo. I went last year 2017, and I was so glad I did, the layout and talks were seemingly identical, so it made it easy to find may way around. Even so, I was starting to really feel a rising sense of panic. Even just travelling to the Excel arena had completely drained me, I was feeling stiff, tired, headachey and anything but springy and ‘ooh, wouldn’t it be grand to run a marathon in 25 degree heat in two days time’. Even though many people have warned me about this pre-event panic, and doubting yourself, and worrying about losing fitness the reality of it is quite devastating and debilitating. Looking about me there were loads of ‘proper’ runners, with athletic frames and focused expressions. I looked sweaty, shiny, frumpy and fearful. These are not desirable attributes on such occasions. It was still very exciting though, and emotional too, couldn’t believe I’d made it at least to this point. Even the ads were marathon themed!
Through the red archway:
Found the portal to my new identity as a marathon runner (hopefully):
There wasn’t even a queue. And I was welcomed with winning smiles (I was really, the photo doesn’t do the duo justice) and handed my pack, which delivered both a number, a final instructions leaflet, a kit bag, and an overwhelming neurosis that I would lose all of these things at some point in the following 38 hours! You pass through a little gate into the main exhibition, and as you do so there were lines of marathon makers who scan your envelope number and issue you with a shoe tag, which they place in your envelope so you can now worry about losing that as well. I took a photo though. This is real! Bit too real. Oh my gawd, why didn’t I train more, why didn’t I lose 3 stone during training; why did I tell everyone I was doing this; WHAT WAS I THINKING?! Oh well, at least I have a magic number now. Look! Isn’t it a think of wonder. Can’t believe I’ve got my hands on this. I’m so conflicted, this is amongst the scariest and most unlikely things I’ve ever done, but I know I am so, so lucky to have nabbed this opportunity. I think a lot of my angst is to do with wanting to do the moment justice!
In better news, I knew that my London Weekend running buddies were already here in force. So I could at least hook up with some people I knew. We met at a London Running Weekend in January and have been a Facebook self-help mutual support group ever since. How anyone could possibly entertain the idea of running a marathon without a buddy group like that I can’t imagine. I was soooooooooo happy to know they’d soon scoop me up. On the way in to the expo you pass through lots of tempting London marathon themed clothing. I wasn’t feeling confident enough about Sunday to buy any. I was tempted, but it felt like tempting fate, as I don’t think you can wear London themed clothes if you don’t complete. It’s weird though, as generally I’m not superstitious, but I am realistic. I really struggle with heat, this is an eventuality that more than any other factor could literally wipe me out. It was why I had to defer London last year, it was just impossible to train for the marathon whilst living and working in the heat of Cambodia. I never imagined it would be an issue on marathon day, especially after hours and hours of training in ice and snow. I didn’t buy any clothes, I did however buy a London marathon mug, after all I’m here now, however it ends. Also, i like the mug, and you can never have too many really can you? It’s nice too. It has a rhino fancy dress costumed runner on it amongst others. I can’t be bothered to do a photo right now, but maybe I will later.
I texted my London marathoners current and deferred and established they were indeed in the Excel venue and currently watching the presentations, so I made my way to join them. En route I did buy a new, white running cap. It is a risk, running in new kit, but I need something, and even I am realising my sun hat option might not be the best. the new cap is exceedingly white, and, of course, deeply unflattering, but anything to keep the sun off is worth a punt at this point. This was the other option, and I have to concede, it was probably worse:
By coincidence, I later found out my Graves marathon running friend made the same impulse buy, so hopefully we have both been wise in our choice.
I then ambled to the central area, following the sound of applause. I was just in time to see Paula Radcliffe being interviewed. That was great obviously, but I’m not sure her advice on what to do immediately after the marathon was entirely pertinent to my situation. Personally I’m not overly worried about factoring in all the press conferences nor prioritising getting into an ice bath, but good to know all the same. Then Martin Yelling did his motivational chit-chat, 99% of us will finish. The odds are in our favour, as long as we don’t do anything stupid and therefore die of either over or under hydration. It’s curious, his optimism and positivity are indeed reassuring and inspiring, and I’m not generally that lucky to win a 1% chance of a lottery prize or whatever, then again, I got lucky with the stats on my side for this London Marathon ballot place, maybe that statistical anomaly will mean I stumble into the 1% DNF for Sunday.
The Expo experience for me was a bit mixed. It was great to see my running buddies, it was exciting and terrifying to pick up my number and it was handy to get a running cap. On the other hand the mind games are really kicking in. My training feels lamentable, I’ve done practically nothing the last two weeks – legitimate decision with niggles and a temperature, but as a consequence I feel lard arsed, lethargic and a complete fraud. How on earth I shuffled round a half marathon a couple of weeks ago I can’t begin to imagine.
And the heat. Oh my god the heat. It was OK at the expo, but it was noisy and crowded and all a bit overwhelming. Up until it got so hot I was quietly confident that as long as I made it to the start line of the marathon uninjured, I’d get around. I know I’ve done the mileage and I’m tenacious, I might not get the best time, but it would be doable. It would be an experience, I’d never considered being a DNF if I got to the start. Now though, with this heat all bets are off. I avoid the sun always, and feel nauseous even sitting inside in a sun spot. If it is as hot as threatened I am really concerned I won’t make it round. It wouldn’t be a mental battle, it would be a physical impossibility. I know how bad heat stroke can be and it comes on quickly. There is absolutely nothing I can do about it, but it would break my heart if I don’t get round because of the temperature. It’s made worse because as a slow runner I’ll be out for longer and I’m guaranteed to be caught up in the heat of the day. My worse nightmare.
There are some perks, marathon support from my marathon BFF running buddy who has now sadly had to defer has now widened her remit to encompass the supply of popsicles en route. Even if I know in my heart of heats the crowds are such I may not see her, the thought that she is out there someone with an icebox and an ice lolly just for me is massively supportive. Also, there was a last-minute email from virgin marathon today (Saturday) saying:
We have increased the number of shower units on the course to eight. They are located at Miles 7, 9, 13, 15, 17, 20, 22 and 23 – remember to run through these if you need to cool down. There will also be showers outside the London Fire Brigade stations at Miles 5, 7.5, 15 and 23. Remember that as your running clothing becomes wetter, you may experience chafing. Consider taping sensitive areas such as nipples and using petroleum jelly to help prevent chafing.
Is it wrong to be excited at the prospect of firefighters on hand to hose us down. It isn’t clear whether they assist with taping sensitive areas or not, I’m guessing the latter would be more a St John’s ambulance remit. St John’s staff will also supply hugs on request though if it all gets a bit much, which is very good news. Whilst in ‘real life’ I’m not especially huggy, mid-race I’ll hug anyone, and it’s always best if they at least don’t recoil and you hit the jackpot if you get a marshal that will go with it!
We sat through some of the speakers and fraternised a bit with other people who were also there. I felt intimidated by everyone else around me who looked even remotely equipped for Sunday by dint of wearing active wear or other ostentatious displays of sporting prowess.
Then, suddenly, I was just exhausted, teary and overwhelmed. I was ready to go, but obviously, this was a historic occasion, I wasn’t willing to head off solo, firstly we had to get some compulsory cheesy ‘here we are at the London Marathon Expo’ photos. Fortuitously, there were plenty of opportunities to do so with props like picture frames and huge medals to be purloined. Unfortunately there were big queues we had to join to avail ourselves of these poses. We queued, we conquered, here’s the proof:
Aren’t we lovely.
I was nervous about getting my number out of the envelope just in case I lost it or accidentally used it to wrap up discarded chewing gum in or something. I remember from the Expo last year that the most common item of lost property is apparently kit bag with number in it. Can you imagine the horror of that. I think that would be worse than the other nightmare scenario I’ve imagined. Arriving one minute past the cut off time for registrations 5.01pm. It must happen to some people. Indeed, I heard an account of a friend of a friend who worked at registration for the London marathon one year. When the doors were shut apparently there really were runners outside pleading, crying and throwing tantrums, banging on the doors to get in to no avail. Heartbreaking indeed, and yet I can understand there has to be a cut off, horrific as it is. But that would be beyond terrible, to be turned away because of some unanticipated delay en route. I shudder at the thought. See, if there’s one thing worse than the apprehension of having to run a marathon the next day, it would be the horror of finding that you were no longer allowed to do what you’d trained for. Be on time people. Be on time!
Photos done, we traipsed to the tube together. It was absolutely heaving, I made it back to my hotel about 7 ish, feeling overwhelmed, stressed and ludicrously tearful. I have no idea where that came from. I expected to feel excited at this point, nervous yes, but not like this, this was nihilistic doom laden despair. After nearly a two-year build up, I was/ am fearing seeing this marathon moment slip through my fingers all because of the effing weather. It feels personal. I suppose I was exhausted, but it suddenly all felt futile. Who was I trying to kid thinking I would ever be able to run a marathon. it didn’t help that when I collected my left luggage from the concierge he accidentally rammed my case into my shins with such ferocity it broke the skin. It bloomin’ hurt, I felt hot tears welling up at the pain, but choked them back, a bit too effectively – he didn’t even apologise, I’m not sure he quite realised what he’d done. I hobbled off, thinking of the great irony of being the only person ever to miss the London marathon due to a suitcase related injury. It did sort of put things in perspective again though, in that I had a fleeting moment of thinking I really wouldn’t be able to walk – like when you hit your funny bone and are completely crippled fora few minutes – and i realised that however hot it is on Sunday I still want to be at the start!
In my hotel room I basically sweated and fretted. I did lay my kit out and tie my tag to my shoe.
There were some social media related perks. Case in point. I have a very fine friend and erstwhile flat mate of mine relocated to London literally on Tuesday this week. She told me her new home is somewhere on the course, but as I’ve not had a chance to visit her there yet I was thinking it was pretty unlikely I’d be able to spot her en route as neither of us really know it. However, she sent me updates indicating course setting up activity going on outside her new residence as she unpacked. The culmination of which was these two photos – from her kitchen window I think:
Is that not the most magnificent visual aid for spotting one of your supporters. If only my other friends who intend to be out their cheering en route showed the same dedication in providing visual clues for me to spot on the way round. This made me very, very happy. It also made me quite determined to come and stay with her next year over London Marathon weekend so I can watch the whole thing from the comfort of her flat. Wouldn’t that be amazing? Live action outside the window and TV coverage alongside plus no awkward loo queues and excellent catering made to individual preferences. Note to self, try not to wipe snot on her during any mid race hug scenarios, don’t want her to shun me on future London visits.
To ease my nerves in the evening I treated myself to a night nurse capsule to help me sleep. I know I shouldn’t but I sleep so badly I thought I needed a break.
Then it was the next morning. This morning, Saturday morning. Oh my life, I felt absolutely terrible, thumping headache, shivery like you get with heat stroke and my room was humid and horrible. I didn’t know what to do, I had a shower and washed my hair to clear my head, then I went for breakfast, but everything was sort of ‘wrong’ somehow. The baked beans were full of sugar, the orange juice wasn’t fresh, the coffee was rank, the scrambled eggs over cooked. I just felt out of sorts, irritable, and again, tearful. I’m not an especially tearful person, I felt I was going mad. I went across the road to get a paper, and decided just to try to drink lots and see if I could sleep off my headache by resting for a bit. I gave up any notion of a run. I feel I should have tried, but I felt so bad I didn’t think I’d achieve anything beyond a further drop in confidence if I attempted to run and it went badly.
I felt foggy after a couple of hours lounging, but rejoining Facebook to about 50 missed messages from my London Marathon Superstars group was a revelation. It seemed all of us were having our own meltdowns manifested in our own individual ways. From nearly leaving kit behind to panic over wrong shoe tags. One of our number, the hardcore superhuman one, actually ran Brighton marathon last weekend as a warm up for London (as you do) and posted her kit with her shoe tag for London on one shoe and her Brighton one on the other. I completely panicked thinking at first maybe I should have had two tags too, but i only had one, oh my gawd, panic PANIC panic repeat – not only me, others also. She reassured us, we laughed it was OK. Upshot, it seems we were all quite emotionally fraught and fragile. I’ve never felt like this before a running event. I only ever run for the experience and fun, and I’ve never considered the possibility of a dnf before. It’s not nice, but maybe it’s not all that uncommon either. For any runner tackling any unknown distance whether that’s a marathon or a 5k, it is the step into unknown territory, which is both the point and the source of terror. I started to question whether I should have ‘come out’ and told people I’d be running. I am tormented with visions of humiliation if I don’t finish, and the burden of letting down others who have supported me and urged me on. Objectively I know this is ridiculous, it’s only a run, but I suppose the point is at this stage there is no objectivity left.
So at this precise moment, I’m sat in my hotel room, I’ve eaten a bowl of pasta and I’m fretting about whether that was wise, I may have over-indulged and now I’m worried I’ve actually inadvertently altered my centre of gravity as a consequence – will that mess up my running gait? But you know what, I think I do realise that these are just thoughts, it will be a challenge of mind over body, the heat will slow everyone down. Much as I fear embarrassment and shame if I don’t complete, the far greater benefit of having told people I’d be here is the support I’ve garnered. So many messages of support I feel overwhelmed. Granted that may not carry me round the course quite as literally as I may have liked, but it certainly helps. I’m so grateful for all of them. Thanks to each and everyone of you who has given encouragement, solidarity, advice or simply shown interest in my progress along the way. I still want to do this. The heat will slow everyone down, and there has been so much coverage about the heat I think everyone’s expectations will have shifted downwards. It’s still going to be an amazing adventure. Plus, at least one friend has pointed out I have to do this, so that in future she can refer to me in conversations as ‘my friend the London marathon runner‘ and my that prospect makes me chuckle. My EWFM and daughter have promised to have photos taken wearing my finish medal if I get round and update their profile pages to make it look like they ran round too, just to see what the reaction is. That would be grand to see too. Worst case scenario, I get to keep the London marathon trainer tag as a key ring. That’s a start.
This time tomorrow we’ll know what a difference a day makes. I’ll cross the start line and from thereon in we shall see if I make it out the other side. There will be tears, there may be incontinence, but there will also be glorious adventures, memories and shared stories. Oh my gawd, despite everything I do not underestimate how very lucky I am to be here. It will be amazing, possibly type 2 fun, but an extraordinary experience to be part of. Also, I can’t be that crap a runner can I, because they’ve put me in pen 8, the last pen, the only explanation for this being that the overwhelming majority of the other participants need a bit of a head start. That Mo Farah must be extra slow, why else would they make him line up at the front if it wasn’t to give him a bit of an advantage over me. I still respect him though, very smiley, I like that in a fellow runner.
It’s just one foot in front of another. That is all!
Right now, I’m going to set several alarms for the morning, have a shower, go mad have a night nurse and head down by 8.30 I reckon. I’ll dream of crossing that finish to a ticker tape parade and fireworks over head. If positive visualisation can get me round, it’s a done deal!
Thanks to everyone who has helped me on my way. Whatever happens it’s been an extraordinary adventure, and you know what, just so we are clear about this, to the voices in my head that say I cannot withstand this storm of maranioa, running and heat I hear you, and yet I say
I am the storm!*
*though I might be whispering it a wee bit tentatively ….
Hi Lucy, My wife Cathy is running in the Marathon tomorrow and we have both just read your blog post with interest and s great deal of empathy. Hope it goes well for you. Looking forward to the post marathon blog!
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