Virgin Money London Marathon 2018 – my experience

Approaching the start line I realised this was it… my marathon was about to start. I needed to start my watch, but I also wanted to film the start, start jogging, wave at TV cameras and get going. I was also supposed to start Strava but I forgot about that until a few minutes in!

The first few hundred metres were fairly sparsely populated with a few people, but then we came to the end of the green and the residential area and there were people everywhere. The Greenwich Green section was funny; so many people peeled over to bushes on the left to relieve themselves I didn’t quite know where to look!

I was jogging along, a gentle but happy pace, and was just hit by this wall of noise as I hit the residential area. Then the cheers and shouts started “come on Suze, you’ve got this Suze, go on girl” and it was just overwhelming. I was thinking “is it like this all the way? What’s going on?” Lots of people and lots of children with high 5s are my memory of this section.

I felt the first few miles went really quickly and it truly was overwhelming with all the people. Tim Ski had said he’d call me en route and he did, as I was coming up to mile 1 and I confirmed yes, I really was doing the marathon!

I found a pony spectating in this section and one hill where a woman was just before the crest of the hill cheering everyone on saying “nearly there, nearly there!”My 5km time was ok and it was not too long before I reached the dual carriageway section where the red route (me) merged with the green and blue routes.

The sound of music, clapping and cheering was incredible and the people handing out water, ice cubes, ice lollies, jelly babies, Haribo, mars bars, everything was plentiful. Water provided by the organisers didn’t start until mile 3 and I’d carried a bottle from the start with me, and whilst I believe in “nothing new on marathon day” I did eat 20% of an ice lolly offered as it was hot!

I knew that friends and colleagues (Jen, Sarah, Helena) were waiting at mile 6 and Jen called me to check where I was. In typical Jen style her description and directions were interesting; being at mile six and on the right hand side “after a bend near Costa” turned out to be on my left hand side, by Costa but nearly at mile 7! By this point I’d passed the Cutty Sark (overtaking someone round the outside…) and had a text and video from my brother to say I’d been on TV. To see the girls was great and just along on the same straight I found my Mum and the Marie Curie cheer station which was more encouragement. I’d texted Mum asking for a safety pin as one of my event clips had come loose and I was patched up and carried on.

By this point I was feeling hot and had got out my special towel (more a thin strip of material) which someone had advised in the London Marathon Training Support group on Facebook was good. When wet, it stays ice cold and I was using that to keep cool, but I felt ok. The miles were becoming slightly longer but I was happy with how things were going, until mile 9…

The number 9 is my lucky number, but I got to mile 9 and found they had run out of water. They promised there was more at mile 10. I got to mile 10, and no water; I’d been taking (and drinking) water at each station and saving a mouthful until I could pick up my next bottle, but by this point I was out of water. I forgot about the towel, I needed water just to fuel myself.

It was around this point I hit “the wall.” I know what the wall is; it’s my head going, telling me I cannot do it, and it’s mind over matter. I’d hit it once in training and knew it was hell, but this was the worst ever. I felt sick, I felt faint, I felt I couldn’t go on. I wanted to quit. I felt ashamed, a felt embarassed, I felt foolish, I felt useless. I didn’t know what to do. I texted my brother, Mark. Jen called to tell me where they would be next. I told her I couldn’t do it and in typical Jen fashion she said “oh it’s only pain.” She told me to get on with it and they’d see me at mile 12. I didn’t believe I could keep going, I had broken mentally. I can’t describe it any better, but I was gone, I’d lost my mind, I wanted out. I tried a few jelly babies, cried and carried on.

Not that far on from here someone offered me chilled water. I took it, took a gulp and found it was alcohol. I chucked it. I was angry, hot and tired. The next person to offer me water was questioned “is this really water?” and they said “but of course!” From then on I accepted water from strangers; I wasn’t to know it but I wasn’t to get any water from the course from miles 9 to 16. I will never know who helped me on Sunday, but I cannot say thank you enough. People were filling up bottles to give to us, children were offering to squirt us with water, people had bowls of ice cubes, hosepipes out offering to squirt us, cups of water we could sip on and pass on, jugs to refill our bottles; they stood there with suncream yelling as we approached “do you need suncream?!” and would then smother us and tell us how proud they were. The love and kindness of strangers will stay with me forever.

The route kept going through residential areas with pubs and music and more shouting and encouragement. I have to be honest and say from mile 10 ish when I broke to mile 12 at Tower Bridge, I majorly struggled. My brother Mark kept texting me “just following this long left hander you’ll be at the bridge” and so on. The seven hour pacer passed me. I stopped at one point near a Frankie and Benny’s to stretch my hip as they’d both gone (a problem from training…); my left hip popped (and the pain went!), my right didn’t change and grated with every step.

Somewhere in this section, I realised the physical and mental pain simply couldn’t be any worse than I was experiencing. I had two choices; to quit or to get on with it. I thought about why I was doing this, who I was doing this for, the financial support and sponsorship for Marie Curie and an email I’d received the week before the marathon from Simon Rowan. I kept going.

At mile 12 (ish) was Tower Bridge. The girls told me they were there, but I was almost over the bridge and couldn’t see them. I called one of them in a panic and I found they were just after the bridge. I saw them, we hugged, and I set off again crying. Then I turned the corner, and I can’t have gone that far. I remember thinking I’m nearly at mile 13 and Fi (Fiona Duncan) said she’d be there. I kept going and couldn’t see her. I thought she must have gone. Then suddenly I saw a green party and there she was, green Macmillan t-shirt, wig and all. I’m sure I screamed and she came running towards me shouting “I know I’m not supposed to be on the course but I’m so proud of you!” and I just burst into tears whilst she held me and I properly sobbed. She was telling me how proud she was of me whilst I just sobbed uncontrollably (I’m crying again just writing this!). I gave her Mum a quick hug, shook her boyfriend Wayne’s hand (I hadn’t met him before so thought he wouldn’t want a sweaty hug) and off I went again…

This section to start with was really good, because people 10 ish miles ahead were coming back down the other side of the street and they were shouting encouragement and my name. Then the streets became narrow, lorries were coming down to squash the bottles, I was on the pavement because the seven hour pacer had passed me. I felt so alone. I was weaving through people on the pavement, trying to focus on my Mum being at mile 18 but thinking how far away that was. I was trying to tell myself before I knew it I would be going down the other side of the road like other people and trying to work out how long before I was back at Tower Bridge…

Again, this section becomes a blur and somewhere in here I slowed down a bit and was asked by a woman also participating “are you ok Suze?” I said “yes, but there’s a wall there and I just want to sit down.” She said “we can’t sit down, we’ll never get up again, come on!” and off we continued. There was a really enthusiastic marshal around here near a hill, we kept passing stations and I thought can I just get on a train, nope must keep going. We were joined by a gentleman called Jake, we said hello, and kept going; left, right, left, right. I said to this woman (who by now I knew as Hilde) that my Mum would be at mile 18 and then (after what felt like forever) there she was, sat on a wall waiting and I waved and sped up.

It was somewhere in this Canary Wharf section that I started to see people with medals on walking back to hotels etc. I said well done to them, they said are you still going? Well done, keep going! And on it went. Mum said she would walk with us for a bit, and we got to mile 19. From here on in, it started to get harder to find the course; the mile markers were being removed, bottles were being swept etc. I felt disgusting by this point; the bottles being collected was horrible as they were squashed by lorries meaning flying obstacles (literally) and if a lorry did this at a lucozade station…well I won’t drink the stuff anyway, being covered in it and then attracting the odd wasp wasn’t pleasant. I thought about how it was my fault and my pace had slowed a little and things were unravelling, but I was still on to finish within cut off. People were messaging and being supportive but I couldn’t look at my phone; I felt I’d reached “survival mode.”

I asked Mum to text Matt (my husband) and my brother just to say I was ok, and then at about mile 19 Hilde said she wanted to stop. I told her no, we were getting to that finish, and from then on we held hands; only letting go to wipe the sweat from them every so often. The girls had called a few times and I knew they were at mile 23, I gave them my best estimate of time and told them to have a G&T or two and I’d be there when I could. We kept walking and walking, there were two gentleman and we talked about whether we should sing or what we should do to keep going. We learnt a little Bollywood dancing from one of them, Dipak. I moved my hips like he said, I learnt some arm movements. We exchanged greetings with people still sat in deckchairs drinking having been sat out all day. We had a heart to heart about why Hilde and I were each doing the marathon and what it meant. And Mum stayed with us, and said she wanted to be with us to the finish.

We reached mile 23 and the girls, and they said they’d walk with us to the end. We passed Tower Bridge and kept going, until we reached a tunnel and were told to take the Thames Path to Big Ben. In the middle of this, we found stairs – what a killer after that distance! I started adapting and singing football songs to keep myself going. Somewhere just before this my calf had “gone” and I gave in and took painkillers (something I hate doing!) and the singing was distracting myself, and I had reached the point that I didn’t care whether others enjoyed it or not.

Finally we reached Big Ben and turned right, and endured major crowd dodging on the pavements. My brother had called to check on me and had sent me a map to the finish as I’d said finding the route was getting harder. He’d also sent a long motivational text which I’d read to everyone (and cried again!). The course closing car had stopped and checked on us and stopped to check on us again, we told him we were getting to that finish line.

Finally, we could see Buckingham Palace. I tried to go onto the mall itself and asked two marshals if I could but they didn’t hear me/ignored me and walked off so me being me I decided to go under the barrier tape. I started off up the mall only for another official to start shouting “no you cannot go up there, it’s a construction site, you must come on the path!” so I went back on myself slightly and onto the path. I told Hilde (we were still holding hands!) that I wanted to run the end and tried to encourage her to join me. She told me to go for it on my own, she wasn’t running!

The phrase “finish line not finish time” is true and whilst I wished I could have finished on the mall, the fact Hilde and I made it together and worked as a team (with the huge support of many others including Mum, Jen, Sarah, Helena in person, lots of people via messages during the event, my brother’s texts, my Dad’s call 385 yards out which went something like “sod off I’m nearly at the finish I’ll call you later” and Riny and Martin’s motivational “nearly there video”) was something special.

And then, after all those miles and hours, I could see the finish line. I started jogging. I dodged people. I tried to open my legs up and run as fast as I could to that finish. Someone shouted my name. And then that was it, people were hugging me, a medal was put around my neck, and I finished the London Marathon.

To try and sum up some of my day, I’ve put a video together. It includes images and videos from the day, being overtaken by a minion, the spectating pony and more.

To view the video click here to go to YouTube.

Click here to sponsor me ā€“ thank you for your support!

A few images from my marathon:


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