London Marathon 2023 race report
I was one of those people who wasn’t a runner, in fact I was a complete couch potato, who watched the London Marathon on tv every year and thought “I’d love to do that one day” but didn’t think I ever would. Then 7 years ago at the age of 46 I gradually dipped my toe into the world of running, thinking that parkrun every week would be enough for me. My running addiction grew and those weekly 5ks became 10ks, then the Great North Run, then I joined Kippax Harriers, and eventually wondered if I could try running a marathon one day. There was only one marathon I wanted to do so I entered the London Marathon ballot every year but along with just about everyone else I know, always got the rejection email. After the covid pandemic, and turning 50, I decided to bite the bullet and entered the Yorkshire Marathon in 2021 instead. Training went really well, but race day was so painful I swore I’d never run another marathon. Unless it was London!
So I continued applying to the London Marathon ballot, and the club ballot, and continued watching the race on tv, and still dreamed one day that I’d run London. Then on 6th December 2022 my dream came true, and my name came out of the ballot to run London in 2023! There followed 4 months of training, planning, questioning myself, worrying, being injured, visiting the physio, doing my exercises, training, planning, eating, and even more training. Several of my friends asked if they could sponsor me, so I chose to fundraise for the Dogs Trust Freedom Project, as I’m one of their volunteer foster carers.
As London was a once in a lifetime opportunity for me, we made a long weekend of it, staying in London from Thursday to Monday so I could experience as much as possible. On Friday we visited the Running Show at the Excel to collect my race number. I found my name on the wall of names, wrote a message on the Good Luck wall, took a ridiculous number of photos, browsed all the stalls, successfully avoided spending a fortune in the New Balance shop, but did buy some cheesy souvenirs from the official event shop!
On Saturday we went to Southwark parkrun, a good excuse to collect another point for the compass challenge (if you know you know!) and there was a massive turnout with a huge number of first timers there for the marathon like me, which made a for a really festive atmosphere. The RD told us that the first London Marathon actually used part of the park on its route. The team had put out posters of lots of the London Marathon landmarks along the route which was fun. I wore my new KH tshirt which sparked a couple of conversations along the way from other Yorkshire runners! After the obligatory post-parkrun breakfast in the local Wetherspoons, we found ourselves walking along part of the marathon route to get to the tube station, and I got ridiculously excited about seeing the road closure signs, the crowd barriers, the blue line on the road, the mile markers, and even the portaloos! Another good excuse to take lots more selfies! Later on Saturday we met up with our fellow runner and support crew (Liz, Graham, Zoe, Anna and Richard) for pizza, and we also walked over to the finish area which raised the excitement levels even further.
Sunday 23rd April 2023, the day had finally arrived, today I was actually running the London Marathon! I had a very leisurely start to the day which felt rather strange for a race day, as I was in a late start wave, and didn’t need to leave my hotel until 9am. I even watched some of the BBC coverage on tv while I was getting ready! Brian wasn’t setting off to spectate until later, so off I went by myself, with my kit bag loaded up, to start my big adventure. I wasn’t by myself for long, as soon as I stepped out of the hotel I could see other people walking to the tube with their kit bags. The tube staff waved us through (free travel for marathon runners) and the platform and tube were full of more marathoners. The atmosphere when we reached Cannon Street station was fantastic, with lots more runners heading for the special marathon trains, and the station staff wishing us good luck. The train was full of excited chatter, and when we pulled in at London Bridge station the platform was jam packed with even more runners. We all squeezed in together for the short journey to Greenwich Park. By now the rain had started, and as a huge procession of runners walked up the hill to the park, it got steadily heavier. I’d come prepared with my charity shop fleece and a poncho, so it wasn’t too bad. I dropped off my kit bag at the baggage lorries then headed straight to the queues for the portaloos. When I came out it had started to pour with rain, so I joined a group of runners who were trying their best to shelter under a tree. My feet were absolutely soaked through, I was cold, and for the first (and only time that day) I really questioned why I was doing this. A snack and another queue for the portaloo and then it was time to join my start wave. As we shuffled towards the start line, the sense of excitement and anticipation reached a new high, who cared about the rain?! At 11:09 precisely we were off, this was it, I was actually running the London Marathon!
The huge smile I had on my face as I crossed the start line stayed there for the whole race. I wasn’t interested in a finish time, I just wanted to enjoy myself, soak up the atmosphere, and make memories to last forever. Right from the start, the atmosphere was incredible with crowds lining the route cheering us on, bands, music, fancy dress, motivational signs, sweets and snacks, it was a wall of noise and support. It was really special when a complete stranger called out your name to urge you on. I started to get emotional when we got a couple of miles in and runners started to recognise their loved ones in the crowd and ran over for a hug, you could just feel the love carrying everyone forward. I had my first special moment at Cutty Sark where I saw Graham, Zoe and Anna, and the boost of adrenaline when I saw them was incredible. I saw them again later on the Isle of Dogs, where I also saw Judy after her stint volunteering on the baggage lorries, and later on I saw Samira on the Embankment. I can’t tell you how much of a boost it gave me every time I saw a friendly face, and I was also so pleased to see both Wendy and Val out on the course running.
Brian and I had arranged meeting spots, carefully planning it all beforehand using Google maps, Underground maps, and my expected running pace, and if all went well I’d see him at miles 9, 11, 15, 18 and 25. He did an incredible job of travelling around and getting himself in position and I saw him at all five places! The best thing he did was wear a ridiculous traffic cone hat, which made him stand out so I could easily spot him in the crowd!
I stuck to my plan of steady run 2 miles, walk 1 minute (perfect amount of time for a drink and a snack from my fuelling plan!) and I felt really comfortable. There was so much to see and enjoy all the time that the miles ticked by really quickly, and before I knew it I was at Tower Bridge. I’d been told to expect a wall of noise here and it didn’t disappoint! It was the same at Canary Wharf, at Rainbow Row and along Westminster by Big Ben, the noise from the crowd was incredible, and if I’m honest, a bit overwhelming!
I stopped for a few minutes to queue for a portaloo at mile 17, which also gave me chance to have a stretch while I was waiting and just take stock of what was happening! I realised that I was running well, and if things continued like this I might finish under 5 hours, which was my gold target but I didn’t think I stood any chance of achieving it. I decided not to push it and possibly spoil my experience, as I was having an absolute ball, it was like a grand day out, but to just continue as I had been doing and see what might happen.
I hit my rough spot around mile 20. I was continuing to run well, and still felt comfortable, but due to my late start wave I now found myself amongst huge groups of people walking and I was struggling to get past them at my comfortable running pace, and I started to feel really grumpy! The rain had stopped by this time and it was getting warmer, and I started to feel nauseous too. But I kept going, kept drinking and taking on electrolytes, and after a couple more miles I got back into the swing of it.
Before I knew it, I’d reached the Houses of Parliament and left the Embankment to run up Birdcage Walk to Buckingham Palace then up the Mall to the finish. I couldn’t believe I’d done it, and actually felt sad that it was all over; I was enjoying myself so much I could have carried on running! At the finish, I collected my medal and tshirt (very disappointed to be told they’d run out of XS tshirts!) then on to the baggage lorries to pick up my kit bag, all the while taking more photos so I’d remember this moment forever. I then headed to the Dogs Trust charity reception on Pall Mall, where I met up again with Brian and the rest of the support crew to celebrate.
Running the London Marathon was the most incredible experience, it was a privilege to represent Kippax Harriers and it was everything I hoped it’d be and more. I’m also proud to report that I raised £811 for the Dogs Trust Freedom Project.
Thank you to Kippax Harriers for one of the best days of my life! Would I run another marathon? It would have to be something special, but yes, I think I would, although maybe not for a couple of years yet!
By Annette McTaggart