So it’s taken like 9 years to get into the London Marathon. This has been a long time coming! Many of you know the frustration I’ve had with getting rejected every year. I even got rejected trying to get in through a charity a couple years ago. They had over 14,000 people apply and I didn’t get in. I remember thinking if I can’t even get in through a charity how in the heck will this ever happen. And then it did!
The story behind how I got in is a little complicated. I can talk about it now but will have to leave out a few details (like the tour group name). In Nov 2018, I got my rejection email again. I wasn’t surprised. Then a runner friend invited me to join a World Marathon Major Facebook group. A few weeks later someone posted that a travel group had openings available to book through them to get into this marathon. I literally dropped everything I was doing and drove home and booked it! I was so excited! It was affordable and it was finally my chance. A couple days later someone posted that the packages were sold out and now there was a waitlist for their spots but also that verbiage was changed on the website for this travel group and the packages were only for specific residents, definitely not Americans. This verbiage wasn’t there initially. Several of us in this group started talking amongst ourselves and wondered what was going to happen. It’s a newer travel group and they failed to do a few things before posting their spots.
We then got a few emails from the travel group asking some questions. This company realized they made a huge mistake and it could get them in trouble with the London Marathon. Luckily after a couple months of back and forth, everything seemed to be ok and I booked my flight. It wasn’t until February that I finally got word directly from the London Marathon that I was in their list of entries and that’s when I knew everything was ok and I could breathe.
After just coming off the Boston Marathon, I only ran a few times to make sure my legs remembered running and to loosen them up a bit, rather than just stopping all together like I normally would after a marathon. But also, I knew this could be tough for my body with a race 13 days later. Back to back races aren’t always that easy. For some people it seems to be a piece of cake, but I knew it was going to be a toss up for me.
After arriving to Gatwick Airport early, I used my prepaid premium passport control pass to get through and I’m so glad I bought that pass again! There were probably 300 people in line to get through passport control and I got to go in a special line and was the only one, so it took me less than 5 mins. I took the train and tube straight to the expo to get my bib and everything I needed. The expo is not in the center of London so it was an hour away. It’s a nice expo and many vendors. It’s also in a gigantic exhibition hall with restaurants, so if you’re hungry after staying a while, you’re in luck.
I stayed with a friend in the Battersea area of London Friday night and then made my way to the hotel that was part of the package. It was the Melia White House Hotel and it was quite nice. It was actually kind of nice to stay in a hotel (rather than an airbnb like I normally do) with free breakfast and other amenities for us runners. When I checked in I was the only one in my room of two beds. I didn’t pay extra to be a single so wasn’t sure if someone else would show up.
Saturday I had a laid back day and didn’t do too much walking to save my legs. I had time in the afternoon after going to the Queen Mary’s Gardens so I got all my gear ready for the race. I then met up with some friends for Italian food and had pizza and salad for dinner. My fave before a race. When I got back to my hotel I learned I had a roommate. Lana, from Russia, arrived and was staying in my room. Super sweet girl and was happy to have met her. We shared stories about how we got this package and our marathon journeys.
The morning of the race, I had breakfast early at our hotel. This was another race starting later in the morning so I had to eat twice. Then met up with Martin, Angela, Gina and Lana to take the bus to the start. We arrived three hours before our start time, so we had plenty of time to wander around, use the porta potties, even use the FEMALE urinals. Yes, that’s right! The lines were so long to the regular loos, that we decided to use the female urinals and that was interesting. You grab a cardboard contraption that you situate under your lady bits to pee into a urinal. Oh my, it wasn’t easy and honestly, I would rather just squat on the ground, which I did see many ladies doing instead.
It was a little windy and chilly but a tank, shorts and arm warmers were just fine once we set off at 10:22. It was exciting but there are so many people! I mean, this race is so congested from start to finish. I felt very good for half the race. My pace was awesome and I was trying to stay consistent. My split for the first half was 1:50. Everything felt fast and easy and everyone around me seemed to be running the same pace for the most part. The roads are narrow and it’s just packed full of people so if you come upon slower runners it’s hard to get around people without the fear of tripping or having to slow down. Maybe zig zagging around people took away some of my energy. I don’t know. I can’t really tell you why I struggled the rest of the race. Maybe it’s because I ran a race 13 days prior. My body didn’t seem tired going into this but the last half it sure was telling me I was a dummy. I wasn’t in pain, just the legs were tired, but not heavy. My shoulders and arms were tight. I felt like I was holding my arms higher than where they should be. I had to walk at times. It was dreadful. My watch lost gps signal around mile 13 or so and never came back on so I turned my watch off. I then depended on the km and mile markers to help me through. The miles felt long. I thought my time was going to be just awful. At one point a clock said 5 hours as I passed and I thought “WTF, how can that be??” And that really threw me off. I already knew my time was going to be terrible, but 5 hours?? About two miles to the end some spectators were holding out beers and I told them it was tempting as I ran by and then I turned around and took a swig! They loved it! They filmed me and took pictures. I actually felt great after too! I finally felt like I had energy again and ran the rest of the way. I got a little thrown off when they had signs saying 800 meters left, 600, 400…I don’t know how many feet that is but it felt long and hated those signs! The finish winds around a park and you pass Buckingham Palace. It becomes really wide also. And there were British flags flown and a huge red arch. It was fantastic!
I wrote my name on my bib after people said we should. The spectators yell, yell, yell. And they all yell your name along the way. These spectators were the loudest ever. Louder than Boston! So, so many people along the course. Sometimes they were well into the course area which made me nervous.
I drank water and Lucozade at every station. However it was a drag because it wasn’t on each side of the course so sometimes I had to dart over from one side of the course to get to the tables. And then the next aid station would be on the opposite side. They used bottled waters and electrolytes and it was such a waste. You only take a swig so there were so many full bottles of liquid everywhere. Plus, a lot of runners don’t seem to know what the etiquette is as far as getting the bottles out of the way of runners feet. It was so dangerous with bottles rolling around and people kicking them. Mile 23 we got to try the sustainable seaweed wrapped Lucozade filled pods. When they handed it to me it burst in my hand before I could get it all in my mouth, but it was interesting. And I like the idea of not using bottles.
The course is filled with charity runners. There are so many groups of spectators along the course with huge balloon arches and tables set up cheering all these charity runners the entire way. I have never seen so many charity runners in a race. They were not corralled toward the back like Boston or other races. To be honest, the way they do the waves and zones is very confusing to me. There are 3 groups: red, blue and green. We all started in different areas and each color group had several zones. A few miles in, we all merged together. It just seemed like a clusterfuck. I didn’t get it. I was told by someone that people often lie about their estimated time and put a faster time so they get in a different corral and can get away from all the charity and slower runners. Had I known this, I would have done this as well. There were also many runners in costume trying to beat different records, including Guinness World records as well.
My time was terrible again (for me). I felt so good the first half and then just hated most of the second half. But a lot of runners I talked to had similar experiences. Many runners also lost gps signal too. I think it’s the buildings and so many people around that caused that. My right calf had a funny tight spot in it that I didn’t talk about because I didn’t want to jinx anything. I think I tweaked it when I mowed my lawn last week before leaving. Thank god it didn’t hurt during the race or cause cramps but I could feel the spot. I didn’t listen to my music for about half the race. I just wanted to hear the noise of the crowd and the music. But then I got annoyed that my body was hating this, so I needed the music to get through. I actually remember the songs and it helped. I saw several people being carted off by EMT’s and there was even a spot near the end where they had part of the course blocked surrounding a person getting CPR. That was a little disconcerting. But I heard the person was ok.
I wouldn’t say this race is very scenic. You do pass Cutty Sark, go across the Tower Bridge, which was super cool…but you mostly wind in and out of towns and business buildings. Lots of twists and turns. There were areas of the race you go through dark tunnels or just very narrow areas where you all have to squish together to get through or slow down. That seemed dangerous and strange to me. At least at the end you pass the London Eye, the Abbey and Buckingham Palace.
After I collected my finish line goodies (you pick up your medal, then shirt, and post marathon food in a bag) and gear check bag I rested for a few on the curb and chatted with another runner that just finished. He had a similar experience as I did. He then asked if I wanted some pain meds. Haha! I don’t usually do that but why not. I wasn’t in pain but I’m sure it would help the soreness and uncomfortable-ness that comes with having just run 26.2 miles. I walked through Trafalger Square and went to Amira’s hotel that wasn’t far from the finish. When I arrived the whole lobby cheered for me and gave me a treat. It was so nice! Everywhere you went after, people would say “Well done!” (in an English accent of course) and asked “How did you get on?”
We also got free food! This is the only race that I know of where many restaurants will give you free food and drinks after the race. We went to a burger place called the Meat Market in the Covent Garden area that my friend Ian suggested and they gave us free burgers! It was so good! Then we had beers at the pubs. It was a lot of fun!
After several hours out, I made my way home after getting some chips, guac and salsa, and a tasty local bottled beer from a Chipotle (yes, I guess they have these!). When I finally arrived back at my hotel, the bar was giving us runners free glasses of Prosecco. That was awesome too!
I was one of only 1,433 Americans running, while 39,621 were from the UK. They let several more Americans in this year which was nice, but it’s always very difficult for people outside of the UK to get in.
There’s this high that comes along with marathon running. Even when you have bad races. As soon as I crossed the finish line I forgot about the struggle and the feeling of being defeated. I was just happy I finally got to do this race, even if my time sucked. And really, I had to put that into perspective. So many runners would kill for my time, just like I would kill for someone else’s. And going into this, I knew there were some disadvantages – running a second race in 13 days and running in a race of 42,000 people. OK, so maybe the few glasses of wine I had with my friends Friday night may have contributed. Or possibly jet lag, even though I never felt tired. It could be anything. I will never know for sure.
What I loved about this trip was that I got to see so many people. A lot of times when I travel alone to races I don’t know anyone. I got to see two friends from Sacramento that I haven’t seen in several years, that both live in London now. I got to see two runners Jennifer and Amira that I met in Boston. And I met several new runner friends that had purchased the same package through the tour group. It all made it a very special and awesome trip.
Running marathons is still a challenge and something I love, even when my race times don’t turn up. There’s a special community here of people that look out for each other, want the best for you, want to see you succeed, know what it feels like, and are joyous in your accomplishments. It’s about being inspired and staying focused and motivated, whatever your motivations are. It’s about passion.