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Race Report: London Marathon

Travelling up by train on the Thursday to get to our Airbnb accommodation was a great idea, much better than travelling with maddening crowds on the Friday/Saturday and we were able to acclimatise to the big city way of life. Thus, allowing us to get to the Expo early on the Friday, and down time for steak and beer in the evening. Leaving the Saturday for restful stroll before the big day......................

Race Report: London Marathon

Clive & Debra Gibbs

21 April 2024

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We stayed at Deptford, right near the Cutty Sark and round the corner from the start line. As the start and finish are at completely different locations, there is always a debate on where to locate your accommodation, the start, the finish or in between. We decided the start was our preference as we did not want to travel with the hoards on the tube in the morning to get to the start and we could also get an extra couple of hours in bed. This was confirmed when visiting McDonalds for a double espresso at 7am which was already rammed with runners having breakfast (what time did they get up to travel in?). With start times commencing from 10am, a long wait is not what we wanted, and we felt we made the right choice.

We started at different locations, in different waves and at different times, so we did not see anything of each other following breakfast and would have no chance until the end, but our experiences were very similar.

A short walk around the corner to Greenwich Park, where 50,000+ runners were amassing, was like a Brighton Beach in a heatwave; music festivals have seen smaller crowds and with less density. Different coloured starting locations, numerous waves within those locations, it takes a while to get your bearings. Then there is the search for finding the lorry among the convoy that will transport your kit bag to the finish for you with warm dry clothes and some snacks for the finish. By now your bladder is already bursting because you have been drinking water all morning and you must join the endless ant-like moving queues for the regimental parade of assembled portable loos. It is a site to behold, and we wonder if a social thesis has been written on the social interaction of people voluntarily forced into such a situation.

It is a cold wait, this wind can chill you to the bone, keep a throw away top on your shoulders until you start then throw it to the waiting hordes of Salvation Army volunteers collecting them all for a good cause.

The elite runners are sent off and the London Marathon has officially started. Now they are calling for everyone to start forming into their respective waves, one wave at a time, like cattle being herded into a market. Once in your wave, the tension builds and it is not too long before you are marched to the starting line, and suddenly, you’re off! It all comes very quickly after the hours of morning preparation and waiting around. Start your Garmin and away you go, hoping that your body will hold out.

It's all about consistency, this is what your training is about, getting your pace and stride into a comfortable manner that you can churn out some miles. However, this is quite impossible with so many other runners about, vying for position, jostling with each other, trying to find some space, trying to find cameras, spectators, loved ones.

It’s a manic first few miles. The support from the crowds is fantastic, it spurs you on even at these early stages, problem is you can go off too fast also, which most people do because of this reason. Eventually, it starts to settle down a little but that is because the road has widened. Then you have the two starting locations merging (yes, there are two separate locations for the start to accommodate so many people and they merge about mile 3), so the intensity of runners builds again, particularly as the streets start to narrow. A point of note here, is to ensure that you have your name printed on the front of your running top, it is essential. The amount of support total strangers give you is crazy, it helps spur you on, it feels they are there for you personally, it is an amazing feeling all of its own.

You manage to settle into your natural stride, what you have trained for, but the with other runners relentlessly darting about in front of you, you never really settle for long. We can only liken it to running with a swarm of wasps constantly buzzing about you; constantly trying to dodge them, but now and again you will get stung.

The crowds they keep cheering, the miles keep coming and this is where the seventeen weeks of training play their part. Tower Bridge looms and the halfway mark is nearing. Heading on to 14 miles your either encouraged or discouraged by seeing runners on the other side of the road already on their twenty second mile and you now have the long trawl down and wiggling around Canary Wharf before you get to that point. It is frequently these miles between 15 to 21 where the wheels can come off on anyone’s race. If you are going to hit that dreaded ‘wall’ this is where it will be, and while you have trained for this, what happens on the day will happen. The additional speed in the early stages, the constant dodging, and the added adrenaline, all use additional fuel that you may not have really planned for. While we did not actually hit the wall, Clive’s legs were aching like hell and a bursa in Debz knee decided it wanted to join the party and ‘popped’ which will cause issues for the rest of the race.

However, we were here to get over that line, and that is what we will do, kicking and screaming, walking, or crawling. If we can physically move, we will continue, nothing much but loss of limb will stop us now.

We reach that twenty-two-mile marker and are amazed by how many runners are still trawling through now at mile 14. The number of people in terms of participants and spectators is phenomenal. Just over four miles to go, doesn’t seem much but that is still around another 40 minutes of running and after already three hours plus in your legs, it’s time to dig deep.

You know what is coming, you have researched this, your next marker is the right turn past Big Ben but that seems to take for ever to get to. After that you know it’s down Birdcage Walk, around in front of Buckingham Palace and up the mall for the final few hundred metres. Doesn’t sound much, but all that seems to drag out and nothing appears as soon as you expect it to. When you do take that final turn and see the finish line, the time clock, the banners, even more crowds, the noise, you can hardly believe it is there. You know that when you reach that line you can stop this relentless stomp, stomp, it will all be over. So, leave nothing on the road and use every ounce of anything you have left.

You finally get there, somehow remembering to turn off your Garmin. The exhaustion, the euphoria, the emotion, it is something that will not leave you for days, maybe weeks. The memories will last forever.

Fighting the crowds to find each other and waiting friends was almost too emotional, like the scene in the movies where the lady boards the train and the man is fighting along the platform against the commuters all going the opposite way, all against him.

The idea of a well-earned beer was soon put to rest when you see the pubs so full that they were stopping anyone else from getting in. The masses would also not allow you get on a nearby tube to get back to your accommodation. A short walk up to Leicester Square, finally managing to get a pint and a long-awaited sit down. Perhaps the sit down was not a good idea as your muscles scream at you when you try to stand but we need get to a quieter tube station that will allow us to get back now the crowds are thinning slightly.

On arriving at our destination, a Tesco Express separates us from our accommodation and so picking up some beers and prosecco, we finally manage to shut ourselves away from the craziness that is London and relax.

Monday was always the day allotted to travelling home, it was something that had to be endured if we were to visit the big city. However, the day after was a relaxing spa day with a full body massage to help those muscles recover and prepare you for the inevitable return to work; normality resumed, physically but not mentally.

All in all, an experience often to be had only once in a lifetime and as we were both very chuffed with our results, we must say we had a fab weekend, and raising over £2,000 for St John Ambulance was the icing on the cake.

• London Marathon 2024:
o Debra Gibbs 5:03:51
o Clive Gibbs 4:00:41 (3min 58s personal best)

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