Up until now the London Marathon was an anniversary of one of the hardest times of my life. In 2018 I was lucky enough to have a charity place and had raised over £3,000 for the Guide Dogs Association. I discovered I was pregnant several weeks before the race, and after consulting my doctor decided to still take part, but with several hours added on to my goal time. I dreamt of completing the London Marathon with our little baby growing inside me, something we would forever have done together. But just two days before the race I started bleeding. We watched the marathon on the TV, awaiting an emergency scan that would confirm there was no longer a heartbeat.
This was the start of this blog (you can read my first ever entry here, ‘The Beginning’) and a year long journey to make it to that finish line. After recovering from surgery I started my training again from scratch and went on to complete the ‘Yorkshire Marathon’ six months later, my first marathon. This meant a huge amount to me emotionally. It helped me reclaim my body and feel pride in what it could achieve. But London was still my unfinished goal.
In the build-up to Yorkshire I really struggled to control my emotions. I had so many feelings wrapped up in the race, and an overwhelming fear that, despite all the training, everything could fall apart again. But lining up in my start-pen at London I felt totally different, this time I knew I could do it.
After eighteen months of training, at 10.25am on the 28th April 2019 I finally crossed the start line of the London Marathon. It is maybe an odd emotion to pick out at the start of such an enormous challenge, but the over-riding feeling I had as I pressed start on my Garmin was relief. I was so relieved to have made it there. I couldn’t bring our baby back, but I did have a second chance to run this race and finish what I’d set out to do a whole year before.
So what is it actually like to run the London Marathon?
In one word: Incredible. It exceeded all of my expectations. It’s hard to sum up the atmosphere, but I don’t think I went more than 10 feet without someone shouting my name, not just encouragement, my actual name.
If you imagine you’re running down the road and you’re thinking about stopping, but then a friend sees you and starts yelling your name telling you you’re doing amazingly. Well you’re not going to walk then are you?! You’re going to smile and keep on running (at least until you’re out of sight!). It’s kind of like that, except it carries on, continuously, for 26.2 miles!
It was an unremitting tidal wave of support and positivity, which somehow means an awful lot coming from strangers. I honestly don’t think I stopped grinning for the entire race, although there are a small handful of photos that could be described as a grimace! The first few miles were spent just soaking up the atmosphere and really trying not to get carried away.
At mile 9 I suddenly spotted my Mum and Dad for the first time. I was hoping to look super chilled and professional but before I knew it I was crying “Daddy!!” with my arms in the air! Not my best pro-runner impression! I was so relieved they’d seen me as the crowds were a lot bigger than I’d imagined so it was no easy task. I was lucky enough to see friends or family about 7 times which really spurred me on.
One of my absolute highlights of the race was when a DLR train passed over our heads hooting its horn. All the passengers were at the window waving at us, we all waved back and it felt like the absolute epitome of the spirit of the London Marathon. What I didn’t realise at the time was my partner Tom and family were actually on that train waving at me!
I also spent a surreal 20 minutes running next to a giant green mug, meaning there were continuous roars of “MUGGY MUGGY MUGGY” answered by us with “MUG MUG MUG. Happily, this was captured by the Evening Standard – so here I am, famous at last (well, my right side)!
The second half
People often say a marathon is a race of two halves, and the second half starts at 20 miles. But I tried to ignore that as I passed the 13.1 mile marker! It was a big relief knowing there were finally fewer miles remaining than ran. By this stage I had quite a few niggles and aches, but I know from my training runs and my previous marathon that these often come and go, or at least don’t always worsen. I tried not to feel anxious about them and focus on my form, pace, and trying to run lightly on my tired legs. There was plenty to keep us going, with the ongoing support from the crowds and some wonderful music. I particularly liked the drumming – big drums makes it feel really exciting!
The hardest section for me was mile 16-21, at this point you’ve done a colossal distance, but there’s still a very long way to go. As expected, my Garmin was tracking quite a bit ahead of the official mile markers (the masses tend to run quite a bit over 26.2 miles as you can’t follow the direct path, I ran nearly 27 miles in total). I found it a bit depressing having my watch buzz to congratulate me on each mile about 8 minutes before it actually appeared.
Once I hit mile 22 I saw my family for the final time, and then it was head down to the finish. Although the last few miles were hard, by this point I had no doubt I was going to finish which was an amazing feeling – even if something really bad happens you can totally crawl 4 miles! The atmosphere in the final miles was electric. I remembered to really appreciate it, repeating “You are here, you are running the actual London Marathon”. I’ve been practicing mindfulness and I think this helped me to feel present in the event, and not let it all pass like a blur. I knew I wanted to remember the moment for the rest of my life.
As we entered the final kilometre – I see from the photos that this is against the backdrop of Buckingham Palace – definitely did not notice this at the time! – there were big red signs marking the distance left. I was feeling really strong so I gradually increased my pace with each 200m sign, and managed to overtake a lot of people (obviously I should have tried harder earlier on!). As I finally rounded the corner I put my arms in the air and broke into a sprint towards the finish.
As I crossed the line I felt sheer joy, and sheer relief.
My pregnancy loss affected me more than I could ever have predicted, I wrote more about this a few weeks ago here. But training for and finishing my two marathons represents something huge. My miscarriage could have completed broken me, and for a long time it felt like it did. But now I look back across this year and I realise the complete opposite is true. It has changed me entirely, without a doubt. It has made me more fragile, more anxious, more complicated. But it has also made me a writer, a public speaker, a fell runner, a run leader, a better friend, a better partner, and now a Double Marathoner.
It’s taken me awhile to process the whole experience, but I feel so much more relaxed in myself. I’ve been in training for London for over 18 months and now it is finally done. On the anniversary of losing our baby, I achieved something massive. I ran a marathon. I finished one of the biggest physical and mental challenges there is.
It’s hard to sum it up in any way, but when I crossed that line I felt as if I’d finally beaten something. Maybe as if I’d beaten the possibility that everything that had happened would beat me. This was the finish point. The London Marathon 2019 was the final battle in the journey, and I finished with a huge smile on my face. If that doesn’t prove to myself how much strength I’ve gained in the last year I don’t know what will!
I’m sure the London Marathon will always be an emotional anniversary for me. But I’ve completely re-written what it means to me now. It will remind me of something sad, but also something amazing that I am immensely proud of. I will never forget the support of everyone for getting me to that finish line; I quite simply could not have done it without you.
Between the Yorkshire Marathon, the London Half (dressed as giant Guide Dogs) and finally, the London Marathon I have raised nearly £4,000 for the Guide Dogs Association. If you would like to make a donation, the link to my fundraising page is here.