Before I ran the Virgin London Marathon, I’d have told you that as a trail runner that I imagined it would be everything I love and hate in equal measures!!! Sure it’s an truly iconic route through the heart of London, taking in it’s most famous landmarks along the way and the crowd support is well known to be legendary, but it’s on tarmac, it means battling with public transport at silly o’clock in the morning, it’s harder to get into than an audience with the Pope and it means running with 40,000 other runners and spending a crazy amount of time just standing in a pen before crossing the start line!! But somehow despite all of this, I’ve always hankered after running the London Marathon!
So it was with a crazy mix of trepidation and elation that on 28th April 2019, on a rather chilly, grey and drizzly day in London’s Blackheath that I found myself crammed into a pen busier than Oxford Street at Christmas rubbing shoulders with a rather chatty Minion called Neil and feeling ludicrously excited waiting to cross the start line of the Virgin London Marathon!!
But the excitement had started long before that. From the moment I stepped onto the platform at Morden tube station and stood between a runner in a 6 foot Shoe outfit (on a mission to break a Guinness World Record for the fastest marathon dressed as a shoe apparently!) and a man in a purple Tutu I just knew that this was going to be a marathon like no other!
Now as a trail runner, running with more a than few people is alien to me, I’m not used to having to watch out for flying elbows or having to duck to avoid flying water bottles, queuing for portaloos or having to weave around hundreds of other runners, hell I’m not even used to running on tarmac! But despite all of this, People sharing their stories, supporting random strangers and the kind of crowd support that makes you realise that the spirit of London is alive and well.
I can honestly say that running over Tower Bridge to a wall of noise made me feel like Bono and the Queen rolled into one and bought a tear to my eye!
So as a trail runner, what were the challenges of running London? Well in all honesty not many!! Apart from my exploding running belt which was hastily repaired by a clever man form St Johns Ambulance (obviously a boy Scout!) who even as he made the repair was offering me water and Vaseline whilst I was waiting!! And the challenge of dodging the flying bottles and trying not to fall over those random runners who stop suddenly for a walk break, I really didn’t think that there were many challenges at all! In fact I felt that after all my training on the trails that in comparison the course was quite an easy one! It was certainly nowhere near as mentally or physically challenging as a trail marathon!
Running a marathon like this is a great leveller, only in this situation would it feel quite normal to discuss groin strain with a random stranger in the toilet queue (yes that did actually happen!) or to share your emergency loo roll supply with a random stranger (yes that happened too). And that’s what’s great about a race like London. It brings out the humility in everybody, because as you rub shoulders with Brian from Essex and Sandra from Devon, you’re all in this together. And nothing seems strange, even when I passed a couple of horses casually watching us over a wall in one of busiest parts of London, as if it was something they did every day, it just didn’t occur to me that this was all a bit surreal!!
Now for the nitty gritty!!! Did it hurt? Yes at times it did! As of course my knees really aren’t used to all that running on concrete! And it was a hell of a contrast to running along the rugged trails of the North Downs Way where my only interaction is with the occasional passing deer or random dog walker but as the course turned on the final straight and I began that final push along The Mall to the finish line, my only thought was I want to do this again, this is amazing!! And so it was that I crossed the finish line feeling far more emotional than I’ve ever felt in any other race to be given probably the loveliest medal I’ve ever had and to bask in the glory of running the London Marathon!!
Louise Phillips is a Cognitive Behavioural Hypnotherapist and Trail Runner who runs a thriving Hypnotherapy practice in Tadworth, Surrey. She works with athletes from all arenas of sport from amateur athletes to Paralympians and in her spare time can be found exploring the trails of Surrey!