The London Marathon: Trading Trails for Tarmac

I’ve run/jogged/shuffled my way round several marathons.

But 2019 was the year I ticked the London marathon off the bucket list.

It had been like a ritual for as long as I could remember, the annual occasion of planting myself on the sofa to watch thousands of people toe the line, high five the procession of supporters along with the celebrities, running pandas, and men with fridges on their back to name just a few.

Every year I’d mutter “next year I’m going to do that” and after many many years of failing to act on my declarations, I finally actually entered.

It’s one of the world’s most popular races, and despite my dislike of crowds it was something I had to give a go…at least once.

To achieve a place is an achievement in itself. The ballot is a risky business so I felt very lucky to have a place on the start line.

It wasn’t until the morning of the race when I began to feel excited.

As I tucked into my breakfast, the marathon build up was on the news.

I had told my friends and family to keep a look out for me on the telly - I’d be the one in the shorts and t-shirt!

As a trail runner, I am usually in races alongside a few hundred others. Not 40 thousand others.

We were ushered towards the start line an hour before the race was due to start. It was then another 15 minutes of walking before we crossed the start line and the race was on.

Boom! I was off amongst the whistles and cheers from the crowd.

But I wasn’t going anywhere fast.

While some may argue that marathons should start slow and steady, I was cosily boxed in next to my fellow competitors and we simply shuffled along together. It was impossible to speed up due to the sea of people in front of me, and I couldn’t slow down as there were thousands of people backed up right behind me.

But it was fun.

The sense of occasion was immense.

I got chatting to those around me. People raising money for charity. People who’d never run a marathon before. People who’d overcome incredible hardship to get to the start line. One man told me his baby daughter had died shortly after birth and he’d taken up running to raise money for a neonatal unit. I was in awe.

There was so much emotion steeped along that course. What was incredibly obvious was that each and every person who crossed that start line had a reason to spur them to the finish.

And as the miles ticked past I felt pretty good, positive and enjoying the occasion.

The route was lined with spectators and supporters, it was like one big street party.

But as the miles went on, I started to wonder when the hill would come so that I could have a bit of a walk?

Whilst I’ve completed several trail marathons, I never run the whole thing. And at that moment, I realised there was a big difference between my version of a marathon and a road runner’s version of a marathon. Ok, so at mile 20 I needed to walk. I’d wait for a break in the crowd before I’d stop…mile 21….mile 22…where have all these people come from?! 

If I walked, I’d be shouted at to “keep going, you’re nearly there”…

So I didn’t walk, but my running progressively turned into more of a shuffle.

The final few miles seemed to last forever. I am sure the mile markers were moving further and further apart.

It was a push to the finish line, but once I got there it was like a switch in my mind and gone was the pain. I began talking to everyone in a state of elation declaring how much “fun” I’d just had. At that point, I admit, I was full of nonsense.

To any road runners - I have the utmost respect. To run consistently for 26.2 miles is impressive without a break for a flapjack, or a drink and a handful of sweets at a checkpoint.

But for me, I have learnt that I enjoy a hill or two. That bit of time to take a break from running, to have a walk and refuel my weary body.

So thanks for the memories London - you were fantastic! But I think I’ll head back to the trails where only the sheep know if I’m running, shuffling or walking.

Yes I was beaten by a man dressed as Big Ben, but hey it’s the taking part that counts…right?!

So, same time, same place next year then? 

See you there!

Written by Hannah McMahon