Not sure whether to enter the 2019 London Marathon ballot? I’m here to persuade you to do so. Why would you even consider missing out on one of the best days of your entire life? Trust me, you will not regret it. If you need a little encouragement, have a read of my honest experience below.
How To Enter
Ballot entries close tomorrow (4th May) at 5pm. You can enter here. It’s free to enter initially but if you are lucky enough to be offered a place, you’ll need to pay £39 entry. You’ll find out if you’ve been successful in early October. If you miss out on a ballot spot, you can still run for a charity. Finally, if you are particularly speedy (and have run a qualifying marathon since the beginning of 2017), you may qualify for a “Good For Age” entry. More info can be found here.
The 2018 London Marathon
My alarm went off at 6am. I slept surprisingly well, considering the nerves/excitement (I’m losing the ability to differentiate between the two, these days). First things first: food. 4 hours before the start of the race, I have a big bowl of oats made with almond milk, topped with banana, PB and honey. All washed down with a glass of electrolyte water and an OJ. One final check of my bag and it was time to head to Greenwich.
Walking to the tube, I felt on top of the world. It was such a beautiful day with not a single cloud in the sky. Little did I realise how I would have done anything for a spot of shade just a few hours later. Walking down the King’s Road sporting my infamous London Marathon drawstring bag, a lovely man on his bicycle wished me luck. I felt proud, I felt excited and I felt so ready to smash 26 miles.
As always on London Marathon day, the tube is heaving. All runners get to travel for free however, which is a massive bonus. It’s only on the way to Greenwich that you start to understand the sheer scale of the event. Everywhere you look there are runners. More bananas and Lucozade bottles than you could ever imagine. Just getting to Greenwich is an experience in itself. The energy is insane.
Following the crowds to the Red Start, I took the opportunity to dive inside a hotel in Greenwich to use the loo. Even 20 minutes from the start line there was a queue of about 15 people, all crossing their legs, adamant they were definitely about to wet themselves. Bladder emptied, I headed to the start. I dropped off my bag at one of the transport lorries (they take your kit to the finish for you – it’s amazing) and headed towards the dreaded female urinals. Ladies, it’s time to let the dignity go. There are Portaloos, but the queue takes forever and I just wanted to get it over with. It’s not an experience I would like to repeat in a hurry, however.
At 9:45, I head to my assigned “pen”. 5 minutes to go and the nerves begin to kick in. However, there’s something about being among 40,000 people – all in exactly the same position – that makes you feel invincible. I’m still unsure whether this is a good or bad thing: while it gives me the confidence to believe I really can smash my goals, it also means I set off at 100mph. Classic.
1 minute to go. We all sing the National Anthem and I begin to feel emotional. All that training, all that hard work you’ve put in goes towards this one. single. run. The pressure!
AND WE’RE OFF. It’s a slow walk to the start-line due to the crowds of people, but I begin running straight away. There’s a fair amount of dodging in the first 5-10 minutes, so expect to run it fast. I ran my first km in about 4:15. OOPS! My GPS buzzed and I knew I had to slow down. However, the adrenaline and crowds makes that very difficult. In your head you’re thinking “I can easily keep this pace for 26 miles”, despite it being 30 seconds faster than your usual running pace. Watch your speed, people. We don’t want you to crash and burn 6 miles in!
The first half of the race becomes a bit of a blur. There are some hills you don’t remember seeing on the gradient profile, the hilarious middle-aged guy DJ-ing topless on his balcony, the incredible drumming group as you run under a bridge. For the first 10km or so, the crowds just take you along. Because of the weather this year, there wasn’t a 5 metre section in the entirety of the race that wasn’t filled with people cheering you on. A piece of advice: get your name printed on the front of your running vest: there is nothing like having strangers shouting your name like a proud mum or best friend. I remember at one point a girl shouted “Rachel, you’re incredible!” and I had a grin on my face for the next 20 minutes.
The Cutty Sark is definitely a highlight of the race. It’s about 10km in and attracts some of the best crowds. Make sure you take in the beautiful backdrop at this point.
After leaving Greenwich, it’s time to head to Tower Bridge: I think most runners will tell you, the absolute best part of the London Marathon. I had family waiting for me and I couldn’t wait to see them. As you approach the river, the crowds build up and the screams get louder and louder. Make sure you take your headphones out, this isn’t something to miss. Turning the corner onto Tower Bridge Road, listen to those crowds roar. With one of the most iconic London landmarks up ahead and thousands and thousands of people cheering you on, the sense of emotion is overwhelming. I’m getting goose bumps just writing this. Whenever I had regrets about signing up or didn’t want to do my long runs during training, I would remind myself of that moment. Because honestly, it makes every second of hard work worth it.
You’ve made it to half way! Now for the slog to Canary Wharf. This part of the race lasts 15-20km and is admittedly, the most boring. There is not much to look at and the crowds usually thin out. If you time it well, you are usually able to see some of the elite men coming back the other way as they head into their final 4 miles (highly depressing given that they started at the same time as you). This year, I was lucky enough to see Mo Farah. You can imagine the crowds that came with him.
It’s around this time you may start to question yourself and your sanity. This is completely normal and probably the greatest challenge of running a marathon. Yes, running 26.2 miles does take a good amount of physical training, but there is a huge mental barrier to overcome, too. Whether its reminding yourself who you’re running for or why you’re running, I promise you, you will finish. You’re already a superstar for making it this far, don’t give up now!
This year, the heat became unbearable. While 24 degrees may not seem a lot, it felt like the bloody Sahara out there. The majority of us had spent the last 4 months training in near-zero temperatures, meaning our bodies were overheating and staying cool was extremely difficult. I made sure I took water at every single station. After taking a couple of small sips, I would poor the rest over the back of my head (avoiding tech), down my back and on my legs. I also made good use of the showers (and fireman hoses!!) en route. The organisers really did an amazing job. Apparently later in the day, they ran out of water but I was fortunate enough to not have any issues with hydration.
Once you’ve headed out from Canary Wharf, you’re well and truly into the final stretch. All that’s left is “just” 4 miles along Embankment up to Westminster. Running 4 piddly miles now may seem like a piece of cake, but trust me, those will probably be the longest 4 miles of your life. This leg also includes probably one of the strangest parts of the race: the tunnel. You briefly enter an almost pitch-black underpass where no spectators dare to go. It’s eerily quiet, with only the sound of running shoes hitting the ground around you to comfort you. Also, on a more unpleasant note, a lot of men unfortunately use the lack of audience as an opportunity to empty their bladders. It’s not that dark guys!!
As you emerge from “the tunnel of silence”, the crowds amass once again for the final stint to the finish. You’ll want to collapse in a heap at this point and most probably be on the verge of crying/a mental breakdown… but just keep going. Keep your legs moving and take each step at a time. You’re so close. A lot of the charities position themselves along the final mile. Hundreds and hundreds of them. It was in that moment that I realised the greater impacts of events such as the London Marathon.. While it’s an incredible physical achievement to have run 26 miles, it’s even greater to have raised more than £60mn for people, children, societies and animals in desperate need.
As you approach Westminster, you really start to believe you can finish. The crowds become the densest yet and your emotions are all over the place. One minute I was ecstatic, the next I wanted to cry in pain as I could feel the huge blister form under my big toe. You then start to see the distance countdown signs. 800m, 600m. Normally, those 200m intervals would feel like nothing. On marathon day however, they seem infinite.
And then the finish line appears. Miraculously you find the energy to pick up the pace to what feels like a sprint (but is probably closer to 8kph). You run through the glorious red arch immediately to people handing you water and congratulating you like they’re your best friend. As you stumble forward (the jelly legs are on another level), someone places a weighty piece of metal over your head that you could really do without.
It’s only when the crowds disperse that you really realise that you did it. You just ran twenty-six point two miles. There’s no point in even trying to explain how it feels. You just have to experience it. There’s nothing like it and it’s the sole reason I keep coming back for more.
London Marathon 2018, thank you.