Marathon Blog: The Big Day

EMILY MARCHANT, a few weeks on from completing the London Marathon, reflects on the blood, sweat and tears of her experience.

Emily Marchant Lucozade marathon Save the Rhino underground

READ Emily describe her preparations in Part 1.

The big day arrived in a haze of Lucozade-fuelled delirium and before I knew it I was on the train to London at 7.30am. The panic started to set in as I realised I was surrounded by other runners clutching the sickeningly familiar red kit bag. Every single one of them had the tanned-skin, tight-muscled look of a seasoned runner, and I found myself feverishly comparing trainers in an effort to ascertain my suitability for this increasingly terrifying task.

But as the train reached London Waterloo, the real scale of the event started to excite me. There were runners everywhere, and there really was a huge variety of people: all ages, shapes and costumes imaginable. Contrary to the usual Underground etiquette, people were talking to each other, which made it much easier for inexperienced and solitary runners like me. From chill and excitement, every patch of bare skin on show was covered in goose pimples.

After dropping off my kit bag and waiting an inordinate amount of time for the Portaloos behind Sonic the Hedgehog, I joined the hyperventilating mass of people lined up to start. With 36,500 entrants, it took 25 minutes to cross the start line after the race had begun, and I spent the time talking to the runners around me, many of whom were first-timers too.

The nerves dissolved as we started running, and I realised that all I had to do was keep going, no matter what. The roads were lined with supporters, and the first ten miles flew by as I took in the atmosphere and tried to pace myself, slotting in behind one of the Save The Rhino runners in his cumbersome costume.

Having never done any length of race before, however, I started a little too fast. By the time we ran onto Tower Bridge at mile thirteen, I’d started to feel really disheartened and was starting to neglect the mental battle needed to keep going. Seeing my friends in the crowd was an amazing boost, but with the day getting hotter, blisters nagging inside my trainers and dizziness setting in, I knew something had to change if I was going to finish.

I decided to sit out for a while, perform some rudimentary first aid on my feet and give myself a stern talking-to, and after half an hour on the kerb, I was up and running again, determined that I wouldn’t stop until I reached the finish line.

After this trough, I started to enjoy the feeling of running on tired legs, because I knew that was the challenge I’d signed up for. No matter how long it took me to finish, I would get there. Sweet relief from the heat came in cold showers at the side of the road. Around me, other runners had started to show the strain, but supporters lining the streets kept the cheering going throughout the hardest part of the course, the seven-mile loop around Canary Wharf.

The last six miles are a blur. I had already run five miles more than I’d ever felt comfortable with before. All of my mental energy went into finding games to pass the time and stave off negative thoughts: assigning a 100m checkpoint at that supporter wearing a red afro, or repeating the words ‘Lon-don Mar-a-thon’ to the rhythm of my own feet. All of my physical energy went into maintaining momentum as every muscle in my body screamed to stop.

By mile twenty-five, elation set in and I no longer felt exhaustion. Seeing the London Eye across the river pushed me on. I knew the end was coming and all I was in that moment was a single, gasping, determined thought.

At mile twenty-six, as I turned onto the Mall for the last 350 yards, I felt better than I’ve ever felt before. I knew I hadn’t trained as much as I could have, and I knew that there were thousands of runners ahead of me who were better, faster, fitter, whatever. But that did not matter, and I can guarantee that it didn’t matter to one other runner crossing the line. We had done it.

The ballot for next year opened this weekend, and I’ve signed up, before the blisters have even healed.