Monday, 23 April 2018

The Virgin London Marathon, 2018

We left the house early on Saturday morning to get the train to Waterloo, leaving L at home in charge of house and hounds for the first time (something he'd been looking forward to for ages and took completely in his stride).

The journey up was uneventful, except for the woman sitting knitting opposite me who coughed every other minute for the entire hour, and punctuated the cough with a sniff. I could have cheerfully strangled her, but reasoned my arrest for murder might put a dampener on M's marathon hopes :o)

Once at Waterloo we grabbed some sandwiches from M&S as M was supposed to be carbo-loading for Sunday and then headed down to the underground and then up to the Docklands Light Railway to get to the London Expo where the runners collect their numbers.

It was a vision of hell. People were queuing even before we got off the railway platform. And it was baking hot too. 



Still, it was all part of the thrill of the weekend and part of the experience (*note to self, in future, collect numbers from the expo on a Thursday). 




There were loads of stalls selling all things running in a vast, windowless space. We were both keen to get out of there as fast as we possibly could. On the way out we spotted our favourite bit of the whole place, a huge wall where everyone was scribbling messages of support for the runners....



Number and timing chip sorted, we escaped outside to fresh air, sunshine and fewer people and ate our sandwiches looking out over the old docks. Then we went to the Cutty Sark to have a look around. Originally, I was going to see M come past here, but the organisers warned it's such a popular spot that it can be hard to see anything, so we abandoned that plan.




We headed off to check out our accommodation, which had been booked on line and, shall we say, had benefitted from an optimistic write up and some artfully taken photographs. Hmmm.



Having a quick rethink, we decided to treat ourselves to a proper hotel stay as close to the finish as we could find. Lady luck fell into our lap and we were able to find a room here...


The Royal Horseguards in Whitehall. Absolute Luxury. I'll take one night in a super lovely place like this over a week elsewhere any day (two nights here and we'd have had to remortgage the house, sell the dogs and put the children out to work).

It was beautiful from the outside and it just got better and better. This was the view from our window...


The marathon runs it's final couple of miles along the embankment, and our room faced out over it. I could have watched the whole thing from the comfort of our room, had I chosen. That's the Thames glinting in 6am sunshine on a beautiful Sunday morning. Perfect.

Heaving an enormous sigh of relief at how peaceful and lovely the whole place was, we left our bags in our room and went to enjoy a wander round Westminster and the National Gallery. We then walked along birdcage walk, past the parade ground and up the Mall where the marathon finishes. This part of the course is closed to spectators on the day, so we decided F and I would watch M come past at the 25 mile marker which was just outside the hotel, then make our way to the park where the runners 'meet and greet' stations were and find M under one of the trees.









Although I am a confirmed country bumpkin, I was born in Westminster and it's the one area of London I have a deep soft spot for and as a result I love it there and feel very at home. It's a complete joy to visit. I don't go often, but when I do I love it.

Having realised that we'd walked ten miles by then and that M really should now be putting his feet up ahead of what was going to be, by all accounts, a very tough marathon the next day, especially with the soaring heat that was predicted, we went back to the hotel to drink tea, read our books and generally exclaim about how lovely the whole thing was.

Middle son F is studying archaeology at UCL and we'd arranged to meet to take him out to dinner. We decided to change plans and eat at the hotel, but not to tell him, so when we met at the Embankment Tube and said we were eating where we were staying he had no idea how grand the place would be. His face when the liveried doorman opened the door for him was an absolute picture! Then the entrance hall took his breath away...


Finally, he couldn't believe the view of the Thames and London eye lit up by night from the bedroom window. It's good to be able to shock your teenage children from time to time, isn't it? And to render them speechless is an added bonus :o) 



When we got back to the room to show F, one of the hotel staff was waiting with a bag for M. Inside it there were offerings to help with the marathon (water, jelly babies, raisins) and a green pen in a presentation box, because the Royal Horseguards was once the base for MI6, and M, (not my M, MI6's M) who was in charge of the service, always signed his memos in green ink. Wasn't that a lovely touch?

There was only one small problem with all of this luxury, which was that M and I had packed an absolute minimum of clothes because we'd thought I would be carrying everything round on Sunday. The hotel offered to hold onto our bags while M was running, which was brilliant of them, but it did mean we only had the clothes we were standing up in (and had been walking around London in all day and that I, at least, would also be wearing tomorrow) to have dinner in a 5* hotel. Luckily (and most unusually for me), I was wearing a reasonably smart dress and M did have smartish shorts, top and shoes, but, I only had my running trainers! Thank God they were the new ones and hadn't yet been through mud :o) And by happy coincidence they also matched my dress (and my watch strap, which I think you'll agree is going the extra mile when it comes to sartorial considerations and may have gone some way towards making up for the footwear gaffe)....




F was delighted to find himself the smartest dressed among us and (as he enjoyed pointing out) he was a student. The staff told me not to worry about the trainers, but I have to admit I did enjoy the initially perplexed and then acutely horrified glance my feet received from a very smartly dressed gentleman who was coming the other way when we were going into the restaurant :o)

We enjoyed ice cold, dry champagne in the bar and then the most delicious meal in the restaurant. I had steak and chips with watercress and tomato salad, M had a pumpkin risotto and F a burger in a brioche bun. I forgot to take photos of the mains, but here's one of my pudding (with what M called, in what I felt was a needlessly loud voice, a dribble of raspberry jam, knowing perfectly well it was a drizzle of coulis. Sigh. But then I suppose I did call the physalis syphilis).



After supper, we walked F back to the tube and then had a wander round the embankment. It was still very warm.




Back at the hotel we had a cup of tea while watching the barriers for tomorrow's race being delivered to the embankment at 11pm on the back of a huge trailer with four men placing them on the edge of the road. After that it was time for bed, although it's a well-known marathon rule that no-one really sleeps the night before. It was noisy (central London) and we never sleep with our window closed so I didn't get a huge amount of shut-eye. Before I knew it the birds were singing (a lovely blackbird in Whitehall gardens serenading us just beneath our window) and after that it was more or less time to get up.

M was raising funds for the Woodland Trust and had asked me to get him some green hairspray so he could vaguely look like a tree! He's a fast marathon runner and where he is in races the runners tend not to go in for fancy dress, but being an old hand at London he knew how much the crowd appreciated any attempt at it, and spraying your hair involves minimal interruption to the actual running bit. The problem was, the best I could get was turquoise :o). This is it on the way home... (thank God it all came out in the bath easily but didn't run down his face in unsightly streaks when he doused himself with water during the race).



So there we were at 6am in a beautifully smart hotel spraying his hair blue.

We went down to breakfast which was the most amazing spread you can imagine with everything under the sun offered....







There were several other runners there (who else eats breakfast on a Sunday morning in a hotel at 6.30am?) and lots of Good Lucks! were being offered around. We left the hotel at 7 (the staff doing a brilliant job of politely ignoring my husband's punk hair) and walked to the nearest tube where I said goodbye to M who headed off to the Red Start at Greenwich. I had a wander round the bit of the course nearest the hotel which was already busy with charities setting out their flags along the route. There was a real happy buzz about the place and the beautiful weather added to everyones' bon homie. London at it's best.







After that, I went back to the hotel to have my breakfast, shower, put back on the good old blue green dress (who was doing such sterling duty this weekend, being all things to one woman), and wait for things to start. At 9.30 I put the tv on and watched the build up, then for the next couple of hours I was swapping between tv, the marathon supporters app on my phone which showed where all my friends and M were on the course, and looking out the window. It was bizarre, watching the lead woman approaching mile 25 on the tv, then hearing the crowd outside my window begin to roar and finally seeing her come past in the flesh a few seconds later. A fantastic experience and one I've not had before.

I was keeping track of M and our friends and Mo Farah on the app and at 11.30 decided it was time to head outside...



I saw the lead male runner flash by and then we heard this tremendous roar as Mo approached....





That man makes marathon running look effortless and utterly graceful. He was amazing, and for those of you who don't know, came in third and broke the British record.

By now the crowds were huge, so I walked up to one of the road crossing places and then back down to the 25 mile marker where it was a bit thinner. I knew M would be looking for me on the other side of the road but there was no way I could get near the barrier on that side and I was worried I would miss him going by.






Then all I had to do was wait. You could hear whenever a runner was in trouble by the noise of the crowd. They were super supportive of everyone, but they made an extra intense noise whenever a runner was walking. Club runners at that position in a marathon don't tend to walk unless they are in real trouble. The crowd responded with a roar like I've never heard before. It was a wall of sound, as if it could literally lift that tired runner and carry him down to the finish. Lots of the exhausted runners responded to it and when they started running again the noise grew even more intense as people screamed their appreciation. It really was remarkable, I've never experienced anything like it before. M had told me the crowds in London make the race, but I hadn't expected it to be like that. The very finest things of the human spirit distilled into one giant mass of support expressed for all the runners.

I could see from my race app that M was approaching, but that his predicted time had slipped over the final 10k. Everyone's had. The heat was intense by now and after 25 miles everyone was looking knackered. Finally, I saw him, looking for me on the other side of the road. I screamed his name as loud as I could and waved and waved, but he didn't see me. I thought he was looking tired but OK. I found F and we headed down to the finish. After a few minutes M called on his mobile (when the mass of runners come in, between 4-6 hours, mobile reception drops in central London because everyone is using their phone at the same time, luckily, we were ahead of that) and I thought he sounded tired, but he's a very experienced marathon runner and he knew how to pace, hydrate and fuel for these conditions, so I wasn't overly worried.

We took a short cut to avoid the press of people and found him lying on the grass under a tree opposite Horse Guards Parade, looking done in but otherwise well. His legs hurt from pounding the tarmac for all those miles and when he got up he was hobbling like an old man, but he'd finished in just over three hours and come top 1300 in 41,000 competitors. I am immensely proud of him.


* But I'm not liking my hair at all in that photo. Middle-aged librarian instead of sassy runner :o(. Even M's looks better and his is classic Smurf, for heaven's sake :o).




Hope all are well? Next stop, my turn :o)

CT x

40 comments:

  1. Oh WELL DONE M! That's bloomin' good going, especially on such a hot day. What a wonderful write-up - I felt like I was there and got all emotional when the crowd was yelling and virtually lifting the tired ones over the line. Brilliant post and lovely to see you all, and so happy.

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    1. Thank you BB, it was a wonderful day x

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  2. What a fab post CT. You have encapsulated the day so well. It truly was amazing to be part of it. I'm not a city girl at all but just wow. Hope Mark is able to walk today after that sterling performance xx

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    1. I'm sorry we didn't manage to meet up- would have been a miracle with all those people! He's fine now, hobbled for a day or two. It was fun watching him trying not to show it with our new C25Kers last night :o) See you Sunday, fighting fit and raring to go..... XX

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  3. Wonderful post, so full of atmosphere, I felt the joy of the day with you. London is a fantastic back drop for the marathon, our DIL came over from Dublin and completed the race. Congratulations to everyone who took part.

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    1. Many congratulations to her. As far as I'm concerned, anyone who completed it in that heat is truly amazing.

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  4. WHOOP! Well done, M!!! I felt as if I was there reading your post, and (like BB) may have become a little teary eyed when you described the crowd cheering the runners home. Your second choice of accommodation wasn't too shabby! That dress did sterling work too - you did make me laugh when you paired it with your lovely trainers for 5* meal! Huge congratulations all round. xx

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    1. I was teary at the time. It was astonishing. People at their best. I couldn't believe it- gorgeous hotel and all I had for footwear was trainers! xx

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  5. What an amazing weekend for you all. Did think of you when I heard how hot it had been in London. Had a chortle with your trainers and posh hotel . Your husband sounds like my youngest over his couli. We once went for a posh meal when he was quite young. During the sorbet course between courses, he announced in a very loud voice ' could they spare it'. Needless to say it’s his catch phrase now. Bet you are getting quite excited about your imminent marathon, hopefully on a cooler day :). B x

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    1. Love the sorbet quote. I can always rely on M to lower the tone here! Fab weekend. How's your training going? xx

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  6. Well done M! Love the blue hair too. I really really enjoyed that post I really felt I was right there with you all. A brilliant day out indeed. And the medal! I love those shoes CT, they look really stiff and supportive which I what I like in a running shoe. Are you getting excited about your own race? xxx

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    1. You'd love it, Shauna, a really amazing experience. Yup, very pleased with the shoes, baptism of fire walking miles in London all weekend but they were comfy as. Haven't had much time to think about the marathon for the past week-just started C25K with our new runners and it's consumed my days. Tomorrow, marathon head back on! How's your running doing? xx

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    2. I have to confess to doing no running whatsoever. Life is disorganised at the moment and I can't join all the dots! However I have been dreaming about running so much. I will email soon and tell you all the news. xx

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  7. Totally wonderful in all respects. Well done M! x

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  8. Well done M
    What an achievement. My daughter in law completed it last year...so proud of her.
    Sounds as though you had the most wonderful time. Lovely to stay in a posh hotel. We all need a little bit of luxury sometimes.

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    1. There is something about the London marathon, even among those who run many marathons.

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  9. I really enjoyed your post this evening and huge congratulations to M, even though he's an old hand at this.
    Well done to you too for putting up with your second choice of hotel, it must have been a hardship. 😉 It should become a tradition now. Every marathon run deserves a fancy hotel. X

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  10. Fantastic, loved to read about the marathon and all the other bits of yourLondon weekend. Well done M, great achievement on such a hot day. Blue suits him! Your hair looks just fab, I like it xx

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  11. It looked all very British and beautiful. Loving the Blue hair. Beautiful hotel.
    Keep on having fun. Love London.
    xx

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    1. It felt that way too. Utterly fab weekend xx

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  12. What a fabulous week end. Well done M was sitting on the edge of my seat it was such a great description of something I will never experience.

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  13. A great account of the day. I had no idea watching a marathon race could be quite like that.
    I am left with the impression crowds and heat. I'd be exhausted just being a spectator. M did very well considering your activities up to the time of the race.
    Hope you didn't catch any bugs on the train. By the way I took some photos of the Vienna City Marathon which was held on the same day. It was also a warm day and 59 runners were taken to hospital after collapsing during the race according to a newspaper report. I actually saw one who looked like an experienced club runner aged about 35-40 at the 34 km point lying on his back in the road with first aid being given by a medical team and two ambulances were in attendance. He looked out for the count. A marathon in warm weather is clearly not for everybody.

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    1. Just read in the morning paper that a 29 year old TV celebrity had collapsed in the marathon and died later in hospital. A general tip for warm weather running: keep the head, the back of the neck, the top of the head and the wrists cool using water and a sun shade, and it goes without saying avoid dehydration. Take advantage streams, fountains, taps, etc.. and carry water if these are far apart. Take sensible precautions and you can safely enjoy running in the fine weather!

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    2. Really, really sad. And he was an experienced runner too. I guess something undiagnosed. His poor family.

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  14. Oh wow, what a fantastic adventure, and WELL DONE M, an absolutely brilliant achievement, especially in that heat. The hotel sounds wonderful, and what an amazing spot to be able to see it all from the window. Love M's blue hair, glad it didn't run though! Very well done to him, all that training really paid off, and well done on raising money for The Woodland Trust. I'm looking forward to your post this time next year. Same hotel? CJ xx

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    1. I couldn't believe how lucky we were that they still had rooms! Fantastic setting. Such a gorgeous weekend. Next year....xx

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  15. Glad you enjoyed the experience. Had to laugh at the hair colour! My son did 3 half marathons last year [including the Hackney one which goes round the Olympic site] dressed as a smurf..he gave up on the beard after the first one and we were finding blue paint for days after! Arilx

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    1. Top marks for doing it in fancy dress, I wouldn't have the patience! x

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  16. I love reading about your running adventures, even when you aren’t running. Huge congratulations to M, I feel proud of his achievement too, it was a tough marathon race on Sunday. Your stay in the posh hotel made me remember one of Churchill’s bon mots - it is always cheaper at the Ritz. And how lovely to push the boat out once in a while and impress the children at the same time.

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    1. It was such a lovely time and the hotel really made it. Thank you for your lovely words, Sarah x

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  17. Huge congratulations to M – what an achievement in hot conditions! I loved reading your account of your weekend, CT. Thank you for sharing your marathon experience with us and how fab to stay at a swanky hotel. What a treat. Lovely photos of you all, too. Hope M has recovered now and that you get a place next year :-) xx

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    1. The ballot opens April 30th.... 😉 xx

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  18. What a great day! Being that close to all of the action sounds fantastic, and well done to M for a speedy time in such tough conditions.

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    1. I really wasn’t expecting watching it to be such an incredible experience.

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  19. Congratulations to M...and to you for wangling a night in such luxury! x

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Thank you for leaving a comment. I always enjoy reading them and will try my best to reply to every one. CT x