As the sun slowly peered over the Excel Centre opposite our hotel, I woke after a night of fitful sleep, my stomach boiling with nerves. Mrs K assembled me and my kit and escorted me downstairs to reception to meet my Virgin Money colleagues Rob and Andy at 7:30am. She snapped some pics of us all pretending we were relaxed with assurances that if I didn’t see her at the finish line, I would be at St Thomas’ hospital. We headed out into the blindingly bright cloudless day for the (free) train, meeting the swarms of other runners heading for Greenwich Park. On arrival at Maze Hill station we climbed the hill to the Green Start (where celebs and Virgin Money peeps depart from) our nerves climbing along with us. After chilling out in the Virgin Money marquee, we discarded our outer layers and put our kit bags onto the trucks that would take our belongings to the finish line. We took some quick snaps before shaking hands and taking our places (Rob and Andy at the front, me at the back). The announcer started talking about the events in Boston but everyone kept chatting away, I wondered if they were listening. But as soon as the whistle blew for the 30 seconds silence for Boston, Greenwich Park fell silent except for the tweeting of the birds. Once the whistle ended our mark of respect, we were on our way.
I promised myself I wouldn’t go tearing off as I needed to keep things slow for the first mile or three. I have never ever felt so full of adrenalin and nervous energy in my life and even at that early stage, the streets were lined with spectators shouting out encouragement. After a while we Green Start runners were joined by the runners from the Blue and Red Start, which looked both times like an invading army of rival running clubs flooding in from the side roads. Running past my old place of employment in Woolwich, the crowds were now even thicker, adults and children handing out high-fives, sweets and shouting out variations of “Come on, Steve!” which was extremely helpful. I tried to keep to the side of the road out of the way of the faster runners who’d joined us, but to my surprise that was where people overtook. So I tried to stick to the thin blue lines in the middle of the road, marking the shortest way to run the marathon. As we approached Greenwich we ran past many of the fantastic bands, orchestras and sound systems that lined the route, some of which I really wanted to stop and listen to. Arriving in Greenwich was so exciting, running around the newly restored Cutty Sark, through the high street full of cheering, sweet-toting smiley people. After trotting through Deptford and Rotherhithe I felt like I was starting to flag, until I arrived in Bermondsey to see Team K perched on a wall with their RUN, FAT BOY, RUN signs. With that shot of extra adrenaline, I ran off down Tooley Street, where, spookily, someone shouted out “Come on, Biggles” (spooky as that’s my old school nickname). Turning the corner we were faced by the surprisingly-wider-than-you-think Tower Bridge, an amazing thing to run across, with me checking out my favourite buildings either side of the river. Turning right onto the highway, I saw Rob on the other side as he started his last three miles to the finish, two hours and ten minutes ahead of me (that sonic boom you heard at 12.51pm on Sunday was him crossing the finish line, the fastest runner from Virgin Money). As I hit the halfway point, I really started to flag – my adrenalin had drained away and my hips and back had started hurting. I grabbed the two Anadin in my bum bag, gulped them down with my ever-present bottle of water and pressed onto Docklands. This part was tough as the crowds thinned out in places and I was moving past a lot of people walking. I wasn’t tempted to join them as I was determined to run the entire 26 miles.
As we arrived in Canary Wharf, I found myself picking up the pace, bouyed on by the fantastic architecture (it was like running in a North American city) and the really funny crowds that I happily hammed it up for. Running past a battling Ed Balls, who I said hello to, I was then well into my stride and feeling good again. Just then, I heard two unbelievably strong Scottish accents from behind me. As these runners overtook me (annoyingly quite comfortably) I realised it was Muriel Gray plus friend. As they slowly left me for dust, I wondered if I’d have run better with a Scottish accent. Maybe next time. Suddenly I was at mile 20, only three miles away from Tower Hill and the remaining three miles of the home straight. Running past the Tower of London, the run just got more and more exciting. The crowds were shouting, screaming out any names they could see and the further I progressed into the last three miles, the crowd just got louder and louder. Everywhere you looked, there seemed to be a huge wall of people to your left, right and on all of the bridges above. The noise was so loud, like listening to a football match while wearing earphones, the kind of noise usually reserved for an elite runner miles ahead of anyone else, which is now how I felt, despite the fact I was surrounded by my fellow marathoners. As we emerged from the Lucozade tunnel (where they had speakers feeding in the crowd noise above) I could see the South Bank, my favourite part of London, which gave me another incredible thrill. And then I could properly see Big Ben, who was holding his hands at the quarter to three postion. As my halfway point time was so rubbish, how did I manage to get here quicker than expected? Had I become Scottish? Realising that if I got a shift on, I could make it under five hours, I paced myself up to Big Ben, turning the corner to Parliament Square and then turning on the gas, being careful to gradually increase it so I didn’t arrive at Buckingham Palace looking like a spare red carpet (ie red and on the floor). As I got faster and faster down Birdcage Walk (they really should rename it Birdcage Run for marathon day) the noise of the crowd had become like white noise in my ears broken by the shouts of “Go on Steve, keep it going”, “Run up Steve”, “Not much further” and “Look, it’s Mo Farah’s brother” (I may have have misheard that last one).
As I came around the corner in front of the Palace, I could see the finish line clock counting down. Running with all my might towards it (against all received advice “try and savour the last few moments, Steve” they said) I tried to pick out Team K in the Virgin Money Grandstand to my left. I just managed to spot them, give a manic wave as I sailed past only to see the clock hit three o’clock before I crossed the finish line three seconds later. Bugger, three seconds over! But all was not lost – as I had crossed the start line three minutes into the race, I therefore had a finish time of 4 hours, 57 minutes. MacBlimey! My chip tag was cut off my foot and I received my medal as if in a dream. I paused and looked back at the Mall, remembering an empty snow covered St James’s Park on 12th January 1987, when I was on my way to catch the last coach to Norwich after being told only hours earlier that my Mum had died from an asthma attack in the snow the day before. The person who told me was my late Uncle Brian who died of leukaemia last month. I wondered if they and my Mother-in-Law Pat, who died suddenly last year from brain tumour, had seen me finish. Hopefully they’d be happy with the money I’d raised for Cancer Research UK and Asthma UK. I’d like to think so. I normally never big myself up, but I have to confess I felt prouder of myself for running the London Marathon than probably anything else I ever achieved in my life.
After two ill advised attempts to stretch, I creaked up the Duke of York steps with my kit bag to Lower Regent Street and reality, feeling like someone in fancy dress among the Londoners that weren’t screaming their heads off at Lycra-clad looneys. I made my way up the Haymarket to Planet Hollywood, where Virgin Money had it’s free post marathon bash, and waited for Team K to meet me there. I compared times with Rob (his aforementioned PB of 2:51), Andy (another PB at 3:45) and stole a few hugs and kisses from assembled colleagues. When Mrs K and Eve and Joe arrived, I creaked up more stairs where Mrs K plied me with lots of food and beer. A great end to an incredible day.
As I write this, my lovely sponsors have smashed my fundraising target of £2,600 by an extra £874.21. But with Gift Aid I shall be sharing a pot of £4,297.52 between Cancer Research UK and Asthma UK. Thanks to everyone who sponsored me, advised me and generally held my hand throughout. And to Rob, Mr Fastest-Man-At-Virgin-Money, who has motivated me in all matters of code, tech and running. But most of all, thanks to my family, as without their support I never would have been able to complete my training and get to this impossible point where I actually finished the London Marathon the same month I started it.