It’s about 6.30am and I have woken in my friends flat in Tooley Street to a load of clattering about. Making my way to the window, I can see that work has already started building the water station at the 12 mile mark. It must be time for the London Marathon!
I have tonnes of time, as I am not starting till 11am, so I wander to the shops and get some breakfast, chat to Andrew and Mark (who generously let me stay in their spare room the night before), get my gear ready and head out the flat at 0930 to catch the train from London Bridge to Blackfriars.
Making my way to London Bridge proves to be problematic, as I cannot cross Tower Bridge Road or Tooley Street cause of barriers, making it impossible to get to the station. I ask a chap in a high vis vest to let me through. He won’t, and sends me the other way to a “gap”. I go the other way. No gap. Ask another chap in a high vis vest, who sends me back the way I had come. Get back to the original chap, ask him again and he just flatly refuses. Clearly an NPC.
I decide to get brave and just jump the barrier. The NPC shouts at me, but he can’t catch me, I’m a marathon runner, and I am over the other side and on the way.
I ring my wife for a pre marathon chat, then realise that I have left my race belt (that carries my phone and gels etc) at Andrews flat. Ringing Andrew, I then have to run back to his flat where we face the same problem with the barriers (though this time I am on the other side of the road). I hurdle the barriers again, collect the belt, go back across the road, over the barriers AGAIN, and then a very fast walk to the station.
Arriving at London Bridge I go to the wrong platform, change platforms and miss the train. It is now 10am and I am supposed to be at my start gate at 1015!
Getting on the next train, which was at 1013, we make our way to Blackfriars. Except somehow the train goes to Lewisham and misses Blackfriars completely (I am with quite a few other runners on the train). We all get off, wait for the next one to Blackfriars, get back on and eventually I arrive at the start about 11am. No chance to make my alloted start time, so I just join in with another wave. Luckily, Suzie (fellow Daisy’s Dream runner) spotted me, so we started together.
The plan was 6 min walk 6 min run from the start, so that is exactly what I did. Suzie was doing a walk/run too, but 30seconds walk 30 seconds run, so we kept leapfrogging each other at the start as she moved ahead of me, then I moved ahead of her.
I felt good. The race was underway, my calf was feeling OK and I was going nicely.
Making my way through the first 10km, the crowds were absolutely phenomenal. Having a silly name on your top means a lot of people shout “GO ON SNOOKY” from the sides of the course. I made sure to give each one a fist pump or a smile or a “thank you” if I was close enough. It gives you such a boost when the crowds cheer you on.
At about the 10km mark I was still feeling good, so decided to switch to a 6min run / 3 min walk strategy. This worked well, and soon I was heading into the city and along Tooley street, past the 12 mile marker. Andrew and Mark were outside their flat to cheer me on, and as I rounded the corner onto the iconic Tower Bridge I took a quick video and sent it to my wife and Michelle. I then saw on my phone I was up to £4500 fundraising and I was overcome with emotion. My eyes filled with tears and with blurry vision I ran up and over Tower Bridge, people shouting my name all the way.
The race then turns towards Canary Wharf, and this is also when my race turned. At 25km I felt a little twinge in my calf. Nothing major, just a twinge. I stuck with my walk/run strategy and kept on going. I was paranoid as hell it was going to tear again. But I was more than half way done.
I saw my brother shortly after this. He was helping with marshalling at the race and I stopped for a quick chat and a photo. When he asked me how I was doing, I remember saying to him “It’s starting to hurt”. And it was starting to hurt. Leaving a voicenote for Cat and Michelle, I remember saying “this is where the marathon really starts for me. This is when I have to dig in”.
And dig in I did. Niggling pain I can deal with. Every runner does. Into Canary Wharf I went. Past the 20 mile marker. Just over 6 miles to go. And BANG!!
I felt my calf rip from the left to the right. A horrible feeling. I had been expecting it. It was incredibly unlikely that I would make the whole distance without it going again. I was pleased to have gotten 20 miles into the race before it tore.
I was about 4 hours into the race at this point, and figured that I would be probably another 1.5 hours to the finish now my calf had gone. I could manage a sort of shuffling run for about 3-5 minutes before I had to walk again. But this was just the beginning of my problems.
The pain started to wash over me in waves. Searing pain. It is hard to describe, but it was bad enough that it made me feel incredibly nauseous. I could not stomach any of the energy gels that I had with me. I could barely stomach any water. Running 1.5 hours, after already being on the go for 4 hours, with no water or fuel was going to be interesting.
As the minutes passed I felt worse and worse. I don’t really remember anything about where I was at this point in the race. The mental battle was underway. I knew I could keep going like this, but if the calf got worse, or the tear became more severe, it would be race over.
Because of my shuffling, limping run and walk, my left quad cramped hard. I was really limping now, but the insane crowd just kept shouting my name. The atmosphere was electric and the noise was a cacophony of sound filling the air around me. I just had to keep going.
Shuffling on I passed my brother again (going the other way). I barely spoke to him at this point, other than when he asked me “how’s it going” I simply responded “bad”. I was very deep in the pain cave now. I had not been updating my wife on my progress. I had gone deep into myself. It is a strange sensation when you have to dig as deep as this. Like I was completely alone, even though I was surrounded by 1000’s of people. Like you are underwater in a way. Everything seems very surreal. The crowd kept shouting my name. I kept giving them a fist bump every time. But inside I was in real trouble.
Getting to the finish at this point seemed impossible to me. It was about 5km to go, but it may as well have been 500. Would my leg hold out? I felt so sick, the pain was getting worse. I started to mentally prepare myself that I might have to pull out of the race. Started to think how I would explain it to everybody. How I would tell you all I had let you down.
With a lot of mental wrangling I managed to snap myself out of this. No way I was going to quit. Stop being a fairy and get on with it. Pain is temporary. Time to dig in again. See what I am really made of. I have completed an Ironman. I have run 80km with 3 broken ribs.
But I had to be honest with myself. This was worse. Far worse. This was the most pain I had ever tried to exercise with. In fact, other than when my cruciate ligament snapped when I was younger, this was the worst pain I had ever experienced.
I remember nothing about the next 3km. I think we were on the embankment, but am not 100% sure. What I do remember is getting to the 40km marker. This is just 2km to go. At this point I realised I was going to make it. Even if my leg fell off, I would crawl to the line. Emotion washed over me for the second time in the race, and I just burst into tears. I was 2km away from the finish and I was crying like a schoolgirl. This just made the packed crowd shout at me even more, and I broke into the best running gait that I had had for ages. This was it. I was gonna make it.
Buckingham Palace soon loomed large in the distance and we had 400 metres to go. I couldn’t believe it. Over the line I went, in 5 hrs and 35 mins. Almost the exact time I had predicted when my leg went pop.
Immediately after the finish line I could not process the emotions I was feeling. There were too many. They were too strong. I phoned my wife and Michelle and they told me how proud they both were of me. I also phoned my mate Dave, who has been my running buddy for a long time. We have done a lot of fundraising together in the past and he is one of the most lovely people you could ever meet. Dave had been there every step of the marathon. He was texting me with updates, leaving me encouraging messages, and was my coach on the course. Thanks Dave, I owe you one.
So that is it. I have run and completed the London Marathon. This morning, I have also just gone over my fundraising target of £5000, which is simply fantastic. I am exhausted, in absolute agony (I can barely walk) but I just can’t stop smiling. What an achievement. What amazing generosity and kindness so many people have shown me.
London Marathon 2023 will stay in my memory forever. The hardest, but also one of the best experiences of my life.
PS – There are a few people who I owe a momumental amount of gratitude to.
First of all, to my fellow Daisy’s Dreams runners and Vicky. You guys are legends and I am so proud of what we have achieved together.
To my friends and family who have supported me and shown me so much kindness and encouragement. Thank you. It means more to me than you can ever imagine.
To Trevor. Without your guidance and your physio and coaching, I would never have made it round. There is nobody better in the country than you at what you do. I love you man.
To Michelle. For giving me the opportunity to run London on your behalf for such a wonderful charity. You are an amazing person and one of the strongest women I have ever met. Thank you for everything.
And finally. To Cat. My long suffering wife, who has seen me put myself though the wringer at so many of these events. Who never stands in my way, who is always there to take the piss out of me when I start complaining, and who shows me compassion, kindness and patience when I am at my lowest points. Thank you Doc. For everything. I love you.
5 thoughts on “London Marathon 2023 – The hardest race of my life!”
Absolutely incredible James! Your determination is incomparable. Congratulations on your achievement. We’re all very proud of you.
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thank you very much
That is some impressive stuff (both the run itself and the fundraising!)
No idea how you managed it, now give that leg some well deserved rest!!
Thank you Mike. See you at Brighton next spring?
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Currently bouncing between entering another marathon or not in my mind so who knows!!!
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