Monday 24 April 2017

Race recap

Spoiler: I am still alive!  And I finished it!
But let's start from the beginning, in what is likely to be the longest blog post ever written.  On Thursday afternoon, I went to the expo with Iz and Toby to collect my race number.  It was pretty quiet - the quietest expo I've ever been to in fact - because at Paris and Dublin I had to go on Saturday due to arrival times.  Newsflash: getting to the expo early is a great idea.  We did some shopping including a fabulous new pair of trainers and a t-shirt that says "Marathon Queen" on it as a souvenir.  (This is a joke as I'm always saying I'm a bit of a princess - we figured that if I pulled this one off, I deserve an upgrade!)  This is the only photo we took at the Expo - I'm having a go on a treadmill thing where you can compare your pace to some top athletes.  I am not a top athlete and was not wearing a sports bra and I had my Converse on.  Needless to say, this did not go well....  Later that day, I also had the traditional nails-painted-in-the-colours-of-the-marathon.
On Friday and Saturday, I did my best not to move.  The plan was to stay at home and revise, but what I actually did was stay at home, obsessing over every tiny detail of the marathon.  I wrote a three-page typed A4 list of the plan, including timetables for arriving at the hotel, at 1am, 8am and after the marathon, exactly what kit I was wearing for each marathon, where all my spectators were going to be and a packing list that rivalled a two-week holiday.  After that I made 4 separate playlists for every eventuality.  After that I laid out all my running kit.... like I say, it was ridiculous:
On Saturday afternoon, Toby picked me up and took me to the hotel in Greenwich.  The hotel staff were both impressed and thought I was bonkers, but gave us a free room upgrade so not complaining!  We executed the plan: unpack everything, eat 2 portions of pasta, drink 2 glasses of red wine to aid sleeping at 9pm, go to bed at 9pm.  I think I finally fell asleep about 10pm.

My alarm went off at 1.05am and I was instantly wide awake.  We'd booked an uber for 2.10am so the next hour was a whirlwind of breakfast, putting on kit, making crisp sandwiches, drinking coffee and of course applying the customary glitter.  We left on time, scrambled into the car and were on our way.  It felt exactly like the backwards marathon last year - there is something gloriously bonkers about being all kitted out for a long run in the middle of the night that never gets old. 
We arrived at the start line and there were already a few people there.  We stood chatting for a few minutes and then Dave arrived, never have I been happier to see him!  He explained that he was happy to run at my pace which was a huge relief.  I had mentally prepared myself that everyone would want to run faster than me and that I was going to have to run the whole marathon on my own,  which was doable but psychologically far more difficult than having company. Over the next few minutes, more and more familiar faces arrived and by the time we set off we had a little PA crew, which was amazing - honestly I didn't think I could love this group any more but my heart swells with pride that I'm part of it.  You are all legends.  I've often said Project Awesome was the start of all the good things that've happened to me since I've been in London but this was the icing on the cake.
Photo credit: Donna Marsh
We set off at 3am after Big Ben chimed and ran along chatting away.  The 3am group was quite large - probably 40 people - but we soon spread out.  Donna was with us on her bike which made me a lot happier as I was worried that Toby would struggle to follow on the bits that didn't have cycle paths.  I remember being surprised when we got to Tower Gateway and saw the Mile 23 sign that we were already there.  I was particularly grateful that I didn't have to worry about directions because people knew the way, as last year we got lost a few times!  We stopped in Canary Wharf to visit the loos and found several had already had the cable ties cut, probably by the 2am group.  I ate some sandwiches and we ran onwards.  At the loop section in Aspen Way, about 7 miles into the backwards section, we could suddenly see all the runners behind us and I remember feeling totally exhilarated at what a huge and amazing undertaking this is.  I tried to take a photo but it came out like this, maybe you just had to be there!
We ran on, through Canary Wharf.  Toby took a photo of Ellie, Alfie and I as we turned the corner which I really like, it kind of shows how surreal it was:

We bumped into some very cold support crew at Tower Bridge, the halfway point, and they took a photo of us - Donna unfurled this poster from her panniers but I didn't even see it at the time (!) I only actually discovered what it said at Mile 21 of the forwards marathon!
We carried on.  I put on 80's tunes which helped with some of the boring miles after Tower Bridge, Alfie and Chris singing along and there may even have been a bit of dancing!  I can't remember much of this stretch. I remember taking paracetamol at one point because I felt it was hurting a lot more than I was hoping it would.  Although I had no doubt I would finish this marathon, I was already quite concerned about the next one.  I also knew I needed to finish in 4.5 hours or otherwise my carefully planned timetable wouldn't work - breakfast and physio were at 8am and I couldn't afford to be late for either.  We ploughed on without a stop until Mile 1, by which time myself, Chris and Pietro were a bit behind everyone else but they very kindly waited for us to catch up so we could get the traditional Mile 1 photo.  This photo was taken by a random stranger, unfortunately he thought getting the mile marker in was more important than a close up of our faces - oh well!
We ran the final mile together and finished right by the red start.  By this time runners and spectators are already arriving and there are too many officials around to be able to actually cross the start line, so we settled for a photo at the closest point we could get,  you can see the actual start line just behind.
Huge thanks to Ellie, Alfie, Dave, Chris, Pietro, Donna, Kate and Toby - you made this run way more fun than I was expecting it to be and it was an absolute pleasure to do it together. We completed the first marathon in 4:40 - I was aiming for 4:30 so this was pretty much spot on.

I checked the time and it was 7.40am.  The hotel was too far away for me to walk so I had a choice - run it or steal Toby's bike and make him walk it.  Guess which option I chose?  Roads were closed all over the show so I drove the bike over the grass (I am NOT a cyclist and had never ridden the bike before and the saddle was too high).  Confused, I stopped to ask some officials where the A2 was.  They told me, then laughed, "Cycling the marathon, are you?" and I said, "No, I've just run it and I need to go and get changed so I can run it again!" leaving them open-mouthed and unsure whether I was joking as I cycled off!  I arrived at the hotel at 7.59am, dumped the bike on a bemused receptionist, met Sally the physio and dashed up to the room.  Breakfast was already waiting, so I ate as much as I could and then hopped in the shower.  By the time I got out, Toby had arrived, having half-walked, half-run back from the start line (have I mentioned what a complete star he is?) and Sally got cracking on trying to fix all my broken bits.  My shoulders were particularly bad from carrying my rucksack with the speaker in it and my glutes weren't great either, but my calves were better than the last time we did this four weeks ago.  She managed to fit in about an hour of massage before I had to put my kit on and rush out the door. 

 I left the hotel at 9.48am - 12 minutes before the marathon was due to start.  I'd talked to Tom (marathon veteran!) at Brighton and he'd said it wouldn't matter if I was late because it takes so long to get through the pens so I trusted in this as I power-walked up the hill towards the red start line.  There were literally zero other participants - only spectators coming in the opposite direction - so I was a bit twitchy but as I got closer, officials told me there was no rush.  This turned out to be right because by the time I finally arrived at 10.11am, the pen was absolutely stationary like this:
 ...and I didn't cross the start line until 10.33!  My legs were feeling quite OK at this point and I felt suitably amazed to be running a marathon after already running a marathon.  I couldn't suppress a smile as I passed Mile 1, thinking, "I was only here a couple of hours ago!"  At around mile 3 I saw a man running backwards, I thought he was probably just stretching his quads or something, but as I got closer it said on his vest that he was running the entire marathon backwards.  Lots of people have joked to me about running the 'backwards' marathon backwards, well here was a guy that was actually doing it.  I looked him up afterwards, there's a video about it here, absolutely massive respect to this guy.   Quote from the video, which also applies to my race:

"All these things are predominantly 90% in your head, you can always get through them if you just refuse to stop and keep going and ignore the pain"

It was also a reminder that no matter what challenge you undertake, there's always someone doing something even more bonkers than you are.  He finished in an unofficial time of 8:17 - unbelievable.

Over the next couple of miles I met an amazing Welshman called Matt, who'd lost 7 stone to run this marathon and we had a lovely chat.  I also helped clear people out of the path of a wheelchair racer for half a mile until I couldn't keep up with him anymore!

The first person I was going to see was Lee-Anne at Mile 9, so I tried to just relax into it and enjoy the crowds.  I'd needed the loo for ages but the queues were really huge.  I kept thinking about doing a Paula Radcliffe (not possible in those leggings) or Charlie Watson's Boston solution (not really worth it when my predicted finish time was 5.5 hours!), so eventually I had a 'tree wee' behind an electricity box.  Not my finest moment but I felt a lot better afterwards!  The time passed quickly but I was really happy to see Surrey Quays coming up as I was excited about seeing a familiar face.  Lo and behold, there was Lee-Anne, who was more excited than I was!  From this point onwards, I realised that I was going to survive this marathon by getting myself from one set of supporters to the next.  Lee-Anne took this photo as I left her:
The next stop was my parents at Mile 11.  They'd kept the banner they'd made for me at my first marathon in Paris last year and brought it with them so I spotted them long before I got to them!

My dad took the other photo as I approached.  It was lovely to see them and even more lovely to be able to stop and have a hug, a jelly baby and a quick chat - in Paris I had a time in mind and barely managed more than a few words before racing off again.  I also had a couple of paracetamol at this point - I was feeling sore already and quite scared about how I was going to manage this whole distance again plus a bit more.  I really felt it was quite a ridiculous idea at this point given how much pain I was already in, I felt like I normally do in the last couple of miles of a marathon except I still had 15 miles to go.  Giving up was absolutely not an option though, so I thought I'd just keep putting one foot in front of the other until the next stop.  I spotted a lovely St John's ambulance lady who gave me some vaseline for my arm which was chafing a bit from where my rucksack had rubbed it during the backwards marathon, it didn't bother me again for the rest of the race.  What a star.  At mile 12 I saw the Guide Dogs stand and there was Dave, who gave me a quick hug and some much-needed encouragement.

The next stop was Matt and Iz at mile 13.  I'd instructed them to buy a huge, ridiculous helium balloon so I could spot them as they were on one of the busiest parts of the course and they did not disappoint - meet Shaznay the Shark...
As I ran past mile 13, I scanned the horizon.  I muttered, "That's not Shaznay.  That's not Shaznay" until another runner looked at me in bemusement and I realised I was talking out loud!  Then I turned a corner and I could see this giant, blue, weirdly shaped balloon and I thought, "That's GOT to be Shaznay," and it was.   More hugs followed and Iz proffered the bottle of electrolytes I'd instructed her to bring.  I'd picked up a bottle of Lucozade Sport at the previous drinks station as I'd run out, after one sip I'd decide it was basically poison, but I'd filled my bottle up with it anyway.  I proceeded to tip it out onto the pavement and refill the bottle with nice electrolytes to Iz's great amusement.

At mile 15 I was seeing Toby for the first time.  Unbelievably he'd got up at 1am,  cycled the entire backwards marathon, jogged back to the hotel, packed all my stuff and driven it across London to another hotel near the finish line, then got on the tube to come and support me.  What a legend.  It was great to see him and he assured me he'd meet me again in a few miles.

I carried on.  This bit of the race was really hard.  I saw my parents again at 16.5 miles, I wanted more paracetamol but knew it was too soon and promised myself I'd hang on until I saw Toby again.  At somewhere around mile 18, a woman in the crowd shouted, "Keep going Alice!" and I don't know why but I stopped and told her it was my second marathon.  I kept saying, "it's so hard, I'm so tired, I didn't know it was going to be this hard," and I can't remember really what she said, just that she gave me jelly babies and urged me on, so I took them and kept running.  The kindness of total strangers helped so much in this race, but that was a stand-out moment for me.

Toby phoned me to try to tell me where he was but I was too tired to answer the phone (it requires effort to pull it out of my armband, but not much effort, so I must've been absolutely battered at this stage).  He texted me instead and I saw it on my Garmin.  By the time I got to him I was in bits.  He tells me I said, "I don't know how I'm going to finish this, I'm so tired, I'm just so tired," and that I thought I was going to be sick.  By that time I'd already had about 5 gels and (I've normally finished a marathon after 4), plus plenty of jelly babies and the revolting Lucozade Sport.  He gave me paracetamol and a hug and some encouragement and I gathered up my remaining strength, put my headphones on and powered onwards.  Not long after I left him, I overtook my 3rd rhino which gave me a much-needed boost.

And then I arrived at Mile 21.  Mile 21 was literally the best mile of any marathon ever.  First of all I saw the Project Awesome crew, waving the Alice sign, which I then actually saw!  They all hugged me and I remember feeling quite overwhelmed that they'd waited for me even though all the other PA runners must've already passed some time earlier.  Then they pointed across the road and I saw the Frontrunners crew, who I'd only told I was running the day before, and they'd ALSO waited for me! I was delighted and ran across the road, weaving around the runners to hug them too.  I crossed back to Project Awesome, who presented me with a chocolate digestive, then pointed across the road again and there were Midnight Runners!! WHAT?!  I weaved across the road again, for even more hugs from the crew, George was there and I told him, "I'm actually going to do this!" which I'm pretty sure he already knew, I may have also said, "I haven't walked any of it!" because my 'secret' goal was to run all of both marathons.  I think only George knew that as I'd deliberately not told anyone in case I couldn't manage it, but by Mile 21 it was looking like it was actually possible.  I carried on, with a massive spring in my step from all the love, which basically carried me through the rest of the marathon. I literally couldn't believe that all these people had hung around for an extra hour or so just to wave at me for 30 seconds, I was almost tearful, what an absolutely phenomenal group of human beings.  Don't ever underestimate what a difference you can make by supporting someone when they're pushing themselves to the limit.  Thank you all so, so much.

Photo credit: Máté Fülöp

I saw Matt, Iz and Shaznay again at Mile 22, by which time I was feeling much perkier.  Matt made a joke about how Shaznay was species-fluid and identified as a cuttlefish which make me laugh.  I kept going and not long after that passed Tower Bridge again.  By this time I only had about 3 miles to go, all of which was along a very familiar route which helped enormously.  I was excited about the tunnel under Blackfriars bridge because obviously I've never run under there before (it's usually full of cars!) and when I got there I was amazed that literally EVERYONE started walking because there's no spectators.  I even took a photo as I couldn't believe it!  I was on a high by then and ran past them all feeling quite proud of myself.
As I passed the 24 mile mark, I finally allowed myself to think, "I've run 50 miles today and I only have to run 2 more and I'm going to have done it, I'm actually going to do this," and again found myself welling up a bit.  It just seemed like such an enormous thing, but broken down into little stages it was actually quite manageable, and all those months of training did actually pay off just exactly like everyone said they would.  The crowds were fantastic at this point and at Mile 25 I overtook my 4th rhino.  The last mile is just a blur, I can barely remember it to be honest.  I turned the corner, and ran down the Mall:
I was holding up my fingers to spell out FIFTY-TWO MILES though I appreciate now it looks like I was being rude to the photographer, ha ha!  Thanks due to Toby (again) for very generously paying the outrageous cost of the official photos.

...And then it was over.  I finished in 5 hours, 28 minutes and I ran the entire way - no walking through water stops, no walking in tunnels.   I asked an official to take a photo, which was terrible, and I took the selfie at the top of this post.  
As I walked through the finishers area, I looked at my Garmin, which was just about to die, and it said I'd run 1538 steps.  What?  Oh, wait a minute.  I'd run 101,538 steps.  It had to roll over because it doesn't go up that far.  I have broken Garmin.  Unbelievable.  

Total distance travelled: 94.25 kilometres.  Calories burned: 7595.  Time awake: 21 hours.  Total running time: 10 hours, 8 minutes.  Funds raised for GSTT Kidney Patients' Association: £1741 (£2055 with gift aid).

Here's the Strava record from yesterday:
I met up with Matt and Iz, Lee-Anne, my parents and Toby in Duke's bar and drank champagne cocktails and showed off my medal.  

Later we went to Pizza Express and gave Shaznay away to a very grateful small child who couldn't take her eyes off it.  When we got back to the hotel, I heard a lady's medals clanking as she walked across the courtyard and so I called out to her - it turned out she had TWO medals.  One for completing London - and one for completing all six marathon majors.  She was 50, American, immaculately turned out and swore generously.  I was absolutely stunned by her achievement - and she was pretty impressed with mine too.  We had a lovely conversation, and this morning I found myself googling "Boston qualifying time" in bed.  Hmm.... seems like running hasn't quite broken me yet ;)

I'm pretty sore but I've managed to walk around a bit today and am having a sports massage tomorrow.  Here's a photo Toby took of me earlier today, wearing my Marathon Queen t-shirt and looking pretty much back to normal:
First of all, thank you to everyone who's still reading - I think you deserve a freaking medal!

A huge thank you to everyone who sponsored me, without you I couldn't have even attempted this and thanks on behalf of the GSTT kidney patients also.  You have undoubtedly improved people's lives.  Page is still open if you haven't got round to it yet! 

Thank you to Jacquetta, without whom I would have been too scared of the fundraising to even attempt this.  Thanks to Vik, who recklessly sponsored me £250 on Christmas Eve before I'd even mentally committed to this whole crazy ride, and kickstarted me into action.  Thanks to George for helping with my training programme and Robbie Britton who offered me training advice for free - your tips helped me make it through.  Thanks to my amazing running tribes: Project Awesome, Midnight Runners, London Frontrunners, Horsham Joggers - without whom none of this would have been possible.  Thanks to the Yes Tribe who were there at the very beginning.  Thanks to Sally for the physio and Emma Karembo Taylor for the massage. 

And finally thank you to my wonderful family and friends - my parents and Simon for their support, Lee-Anne for consistently championing me throughout.  Thanks to Jon, Karen and Giulia who put up with me going on and on about running on placement, and all my other friends from university and home who've tolerated my endless running ramblings.
A special thank you to Matt and Iz for understanding why I need to do this, not minding me parenting-in-absentia (too much), tolerating the never-ending mud being traipsed across the kitchen and turning up and making me laugh, I love you guys to bits.
And last but not least, thank you to Toby.  I hope you already know how much you've helped, but you have made this whole thing about a million times more enjoyable, supported me every step of the way in numerous different ways and been endlessly patient when most people would have run away screaming.  I couldn't have done it without you, I really couldn't.  Thank you so much xxx


  1. Amazing!! I read the whole thing and loved it, I am so inspired by you!!

  2. I've just met Lee-Anne in Sainsburys where we spoke about your unbelievable achievement, which turn lead me to here. Love your account and feel totally inspired. Very very well done!

  3. Amazing- The stats at the end really summarise what an amazing achievement is has all been. I'm so pleased to be a part of it and help you along the way. What a superstar and have loved reading your blogs! I look forward to hearing of more adventures no doubt ;)

  4. Loved reading this Alice, you're such an inspiration to me. You can, and you did! What's next? Xx