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)