From a chat between friends in a London pub in the late 70's, the London Marathon has grown to be one of the world's most loved sporting events with over 36,000 participants each year. It attracts a massive audience both along the route in London and worldwide, and raises millions of pounds for charities.
When looking for a new event to train for, this prestigious race was an obvious choice for me - a great way to combine a holiday with the challenge and achievement of running 42.2km around an iconic city.
Entries in this event are in high demand, like many of the major marathons (there is an online ballot for entry to the London marathon with a 20% success rate), so to secure my place I contacted Flight Centre Active Travel and booked one of their packages. As an approved tour operator, Flight Centre has access to a limited amount of guaranteed entries to many sporting events worldwide. I signed up, put my runners on and started training.
After more laps of Bowen Road than I care to remember, I arrived in London and checked in to the Charing Cross Hotel. The FCAT London Marathon package included 3 nights' accommodation at this hotel, conveniently located about 300m from the finish line of the marathon. I met my fellow marathoners. There were about 20 of us altogether, with varying marathon experience - some were running their first marathon, others were up to over 130 races - but everyone had a similar feeling of nervous excitement in the lead up to the race. We shared tactics, advice and stories over a carb-loading pasta dinner on Saturday night, then it was early to bed to rest up for the next day.
Compared to the start time at many running events, London was very civilized - 10am on Sunday morning. Our group made our way to Greenwich Park on the train, marveling at the beautiful weather we were experiencing. I had prepared myself to be running in grey, rainy conditions but we were blessed with clear blue skies.
Greenwich Park was buzzing when we arrived - full of runners stretching, chatting, fueling with water and energy gels, readying themselves for the grueling miles ahead. We gathered at the start and after a few last good luck wishes to my fellow runners we were off and racing.
As the race is a major charity fundraising event, many runners are participating on behalf of various charities and enjoy dressing up to attract attention to their cause - I passed the Jamaican bobsled team, a strawberry, and a guy with a fridge strapped to his back, among other colourful characters.
The course in London is lined with cheering spectators from start to finish, constantly calling out encouragement to every runner. When you've come from overseas, and most likely don't have any friends or family to watch you race, these spectators are just the support you need - their cheers, music and motivational signs ("run like you stole something", "13 miles until beer") provide that little bit extra that could take you through the dreaded wall.
After 4 and a bit hours of what felt like torture at times, I crossed the finish line, collected my medal, had my photo taken, and hobbled back to the hotel to celebrate with the rest of the group. Some had achieved personal bests, others didn't go as well as they hoped, but everyone was elated to have finished, and it was great to have a group of people to debrief with.
The 42.2km was not easy by any stretch of the imagination. It's a physical and mental battle, takes months of preparation, and the best laid plans can come apart on race day without warning. Blisters, sunburn, cramps, dehydration, overhydration - it's a struggle that only the committed (or crazy) willingly participate in. But the feeling when you cross the line and get your medal, knowing you've made it, is worth every second of effort. Now I just need to decide where to go for the next one!
By Ellen Cannon