London Marathon Race Report by Sarah Marshall
2022 started for me with two main goal races: Alloa Half in March and Stirling Marathon in May. I was feeling fit after a good winter of training and was confident that I could finally get under four hours at Stirling after missing my target by less than two minutes at Loch Ness in 2021. Unfortunately, due to a combination of catching covid two weeks before Alloa, the cancellation of Stirling Marathon and pulling my hamstring on my first post-covid race back, I was suddenly left with a very empty spring calendar.
After eight weeks of physio and easy running I managed a pain-free trot round at the Edinburgh Half in May – I was back in action! I spent the next few weeks thinking about a target for the Autumn: either another go at a marathon or perhaps another ultra? Then on the 1st of July I got the news that I had been picked for the club’s London Marathon place. I was delighted as I had almost given up hope of ever running London after being rejected from the ballot most years since my early twenties.
With only twelve weeks to go until race day I needed to get move on with training. After taking advice from some of my club mates I modified a Hal Higdon Intermediate training plan and optimistically started it on week seven of eighteen. The initial weeks were tough. I didn’t have the base that I would have wanted due to my injury earlier in the year and jumping in part way through the plan meant a bigger step up in mileage than was probably sensible. Fortunately, I got away it and gradually worked my way through the training, making it to the taper in one piece and with no more bad behaviour from my hamstring.
Marathon week arrived and I cursed my plan to fly down with no checked bags as I frantically tried to squeeze all my gels into my liquid allowance. I flew down to London on Thursday evening and on Friday morning set out from my Aunt and Uncle’s house near Richmond Park to travel across London to the Expo. I picked up my race pack with no queues, browsed the stands and managed to spot my name on the wall. It was suddenly all feeling very real!
Saturday was spent catching up with family, eating large amounts of food and trying to ignore the pre-race nerves. I checked the weather forecast repeatedly and although the temperature looked ideal for running, it seemed as though we might be in for wind and rain although the chances of this seemed to change by the hour. I slept surprisingly well on Saturday night and jumped out of bed at 6.15am for a breakfast of porridge and banana before catching a welcome lift to the nearest tube station with my cousin. As I made my way across London the numbers of runners on the train swelled with each stop until we all made our way out of the final station and streamed through the roads into Greenwich Park.
I walked up the hill towards the blue start eating my chocolate mini roll (second breakfast of champions) and marvelled at the organisation. Everything worked like clockwork despite the numbers of runners and supporters in the park. Once at the blue start, I whizzed through toilet queues, donned my charity shop joggers and ditched my kit bag in the lorry. The sky was overcast but there was no sign of the promised rain. I was lounging around on the grass by the toilet queues a little later when I heard my name being called and realised that fellow Harrier Emma Collins was standing in the queue next to me! Despite knowing that Emma, Gemma McKee and I were all running this year we had thought there was no way we would see each other in the crowds so it was a real boost to see a friendly face. Emma was running London as a warm up (!) for the Glasgow to Edinburgh Ultra in 6 days time and was planning to take it easy and start in a later wave so after a quick photo and a hug we parted ways.
Soon the announcer called the first few waves into our pens and in no time at all we were all chucking our spare clothes into the collection bins and jogging forward towards the start line. Music blasted as we passed over the starting mats and we were off! I had been a bit anxious about how crowded it might be but was relieved that there was immediately plenty of space to run and I quickly settled into a rhythm.
The first 4 miles were mainly downhill and I trotted along trying to remember to stick to my pacing strategy. I had paced Loch Ness badly on both of my previous marathon attempts – starting much too fast and having a miserable last few miles – and I was keen to avoid a repeat of this. My plan was to avoid running any quicker than 9-minute miles for the first half, to be fairly conservative until 20 miles and then to go for it after that if I was feeling good. I stuck to this despite the temptation to speed up down the hill and was soon rounding the Cutty Sark just after 6 miles. The crowds here were fantastic and I felt as though I was surrounded by a wall of noise.
The next 6 miles took us through Deptford, Rotherhithe and Southwark as we headed West towards Tower Bridge. I was feeling a bit more tired than I expected as the initial adrenaline subsided and, although I was managing to keep my pace pretty consistent, I noticed that my left hamstring was starting to ache slightly. My mood wasn’t improved by the fact that I was passed at this point by two men, one running as a giant gorilla and another in a huge Save the Rhino costume!
We turned right towards Tower Bridge after mile 12 and passed through one of the high points of the course. The spectators were crowded several deep on both sides of the bridge and the noise was incredible. I was keeping an eye out for my family who had planned to try and catch me there but wasn’t able to spot them amongst the hordes of people. Despite a bit of disappointment at missing them I was buzzing from the carnival atmosphere and decided I would just I hope to see them in the last few miles instead. I pressed on and turned right after the bridge to head towards the halfway point. I crossed in just over 2 hours and decided this would be a good time to make a start on the caffeine gels.
The course then took me East heading towards Canary Wharf. At this point we were able to see the fast club runners passing the other way and I looked on enviously – I had many more miles to go! The crowd support continued all along the highway and I started to feel the buzz from the caffeine kick in. I had to laugh as we went through the tunnel at Limehouse. There was a Lucozade drink station just before and the road after it was so sticky that my trainers stuck to the tarmac with each step. I was immediately transported back twenty years to the sticky carpet in the Factory at the Aberdeen Uni student union.
I had been warned by a friend not to trust my GPS on the way through Canary Wharf and true enough, I quickly realised it was jumping around. I tried to keep my pace consistent but soon found myself breathing hard and noticed that my heart race had crept up. I decided to just switch my garmin screen to show heart rate and focus on keeping it fairly steady until I was out of the land of tall buildings and this seemed to work fairly well. Despite warnings that the Isle of Dogs had some hills and poor crowd support, neither appeared to be true and I came through the 20-mile marker having enjoyed the cheers from the crowds all the way through.
At this point I was feeling great and decided to pick up the pace. I was soon delighted to catch up with and overtake both the gorilla and the rhino from earlier, as well as a man dressed as a crumpet. It was at this point that lots of the runners were starting to walk and there was a lot of stretching going on along the sides of the course as cramp struck. This was the only time that running felt a bit crowded as I dodged past the occasional walker in the middle of the road. At around 23 miles I suddenly heard a shout and saw my family waving madly from the side of the road. I waved and shouted back but there was no chance I was stopping now and I powered on along the Embankment. By this time I was in the zone and didn’t even notice the Houses of Parliament or Big Ben as I passed by. Before long, I was turning right into St James’s Park, along Birdcage Walk and, after what seemed a very long way, I finally turned the corner onto the Mall and attempted to sprint towards the finish. I crossed the line and within seconds had a text confirming my time of 3:57:29 – I had done it! I wandered through the finish area, collected my medal, goody bag and foil blanket and strolled along to sit in the sun in Trafalgar Square to wait for the family to catch up.
Now that I’ve had a few days to take it all in I am so happy that I had the chance to run what was definitely the most incredible race of my life. I have never experienced anything like the support and noise from the crowd at London; at some points it was loud enough to give me chills down my spine. I am really proud of how well I stuck to my race plan and that, other than a few miles in the first half, I felt great and enjoyed myself all the way through. I have learned from painful experience how unpleasant the last few miles of a marathon can be if you get this wrong! On reflection, I think I could probably have gone a bit faster if I’d been less cautious in the first half. However, I had a fantastic race, I’m delighted with my time and I wouldn’t change a thing about it. I am incredibly grateful to have been given the chance to run this year and I am so proud to have represented the best club in the world. Thank you Carnegie Harriers!