London marathon is special, as one of the leading World elite marathons and part of the Abbott World Majors series for elite wheelchair racers and runners, as well as being a world-wide favourite for mass participation, and in our home capital of London.
London was my first marathon back in 2015 where I sadly was unable to continue after a puncture, beginning my marathon campaign again after leaving the track post Rio in 2016, coming back to London and finishing last year was a really special moment. To return again this year has meant just as much.
I love wheelchair marathon racing, there is a camaraderie between racers and I get to see friends from all around the world and closer to home as we support and where possible work together while racing these incredible cities. It is a part of athletics I will always love.
I was pleased with my London prep in my week lead up, prior to that, training has definitely been tough with some earlier niggles and the weather making road training impossible, but with no Paralympic or GB pathway for me in marathon racing due to there being no class for me, I’m very happy racing with the T54s, pushing myself against the best and learning from the best, and making this marathon a much more personal challenge as well as a professional one. Personal reasons meant there were outside factors to be aware of for me this year and my race was not to be about times or placings, but doing what I love to the best of my ability, surrounded by friends and friendly strangers in the capital that I love. Having the sun pouring down was an added bonus.
The night before the race I didn’t get any sleep. I don’t sleep well before races anyway and with it being so hot in the city and in a small single room in the centre of Earls Court’s Saturday night, any chance of sleep was to evade me. I wasn’t worried about this, I knew I’d slept well all week and it was only a case of a couple of hours early morning pushing, I could do that in my sleep! (If only).
Early start but feeling good and happily riding the bus to the start with the other racers and my good friend Ian (Butch) who was here to support me and make sure I was well fed and happy before race day. This was in the form of Saturday night dinner at a fab little place we found in Kensington, called ‘Sticky Fingers’. It was Bill Wyman, off of The Rolling Stones fame’s restaurant and served awesome food and epic music and memorabilia to match! As we rode the bus, led by our police outriders, London was coming alive.
Just before 08.55 all the wheelchair racers were on the start line. We were off.
I quickly found my place with another racer who I’d pushed with before and found myself leading the two of us through the first 10k. We were later joined by a small group including the T52 men and my training buddy and friend Rob Smith, and then later catching another couple of racers, another of my Godiva Harriers track training mates, Sean and Nicky, who I’d planned to try and work with but she took a bit to rein in as she’s pretty rapid on her starts. It was so good to have people around to race with and people to chase, quite a new experience for me as I am often time trialling marathons alone, passing the slower racers and in the big races, not quite up there with the big fish, or leading my own with the smaller fields. We are all working hard but it’s amazing when you can say the odd word to each other and in yesterday’s case, point out the London sights and incredible crowd support while sharing it with those around you. Nicky and I worked well together taking turns to pull. Some point after the halfway point we all went into a very tight right hand corner together, unfortunately the marshal was a little late on informing us and Nicky skidded out onto the side of her chair, I wanted to stop and help but knew there was little I could do, but she was amazing, within seconds she was back upright and chasing me down, the quickest recovery I have ever seen, I hung back a bit so that she could get back on as we then worked to catch the second female in the pack, done fairly easily. We continued our push together for a few miles, every now and again Rob or the Portuguese athlete would sprint ahead playing cat and mouse with each other, one was quicker up the climbs, one down them.
Pushing through the Isle of Dogs was harder for us all to be close as there are so many twists and turns, speed bumps and bad road surfaces. I was leading happily as we made our way, though coming back towards the ‘mainland’ it had gone quiet behind me. I had a tricky tight roundabout to negotiate followed by a short sharp climb where I happily saw my friend waiting to cheer me on, he gave me a real boost as I pulled a face at him as I passed. The quiet behind continued and somehow I had lost all the other guys, I had no idea what had happened to them.
I was now alone on the road but in no means alone out there. The crowds were incredible! I swear I was smiling the whole way around that marathon, every person lifting me beyond measures. I couldn’t resist a wave when I was able, so grateful for their support and energies. Spotting one of my fellow racers family was another high point, little Daisy has the best cheering voice and I can pick her out from a crowd with much delight, thank you Daisy!!
As I pushed on, the remaining kilometres came down, I was nearing 30k, only 12k left. I had taken it fairly steady up until now and told myself I’d press on with 10k to go, saving my best til last. I could see the Chinese athlete Zou ahead and my plan was to chase her down. The gap continued to get smaller and I eventually caught her, she didn’t know I was there until one of the crowd very well meaningly shouted “keep going ladies!” At that point Zou looked back and saw she was not alone, I waved and smiled.
I think that gave her her second wind as she pushed on. I managed to take her and pushed on a gap through the next km or so but Zou eventually took back the lead and gave me a chase through the remaining kms of the capital. I could feel a strong headwind as I had 5 km to go, wishing at the time it was a tailwind, though now realising how hot it was, the wind probably did me a favour. On one hand I yearned for the company I had earlier in the race to distract me from my own head during the final stretch, but at the same time was still surprised and pleased I had managed to hold the gap and maybe I could all the way to the finish. I didn’t look back once, it didn’t matter, I was listening to the crowd and marshals, when they cheered and whistles blew, that told me how far anyone was away, I heard nothing. Now head down and coming into Birdcage walk I dropped down a gear to chase the Chinese athlete and finish with my promised effort.
The last km was a full on sprint, I felt fairly fresh, carried by the atmosphere and incredible day. A wheeled robot camera was tracking me up the red road of the Mall, I gave it a look and put in the biggest sprint I had to beat this robotcam, that was great fun. My heart rate was through the roof as I gave everything through the finish, there was no way I was slowing down now, especially as I knew I was so close to my Berlin marathon pb.
I had done it. My second London marathon finish, on my pb and my best London time so far.
I felt fine which surprised me most, I had paced myself and done better than expectations I had on myself. Coming out of Seville marathon, finding it tough, I had doubts coming into London, but I’d really surprised myself. I know there is clearly so much more to give and that really excites me in marathon racing, I have a few things to sort and am now really looking forward to coming back and taking on my next marathon, supercharged.
The hottest London marathon on record and in my opinion, the best marathon I’ve done so far. Amazing to share it with fellow racers and see friends achieving great performances and loving London.
I think the biggest thank you to all the crowds and supporters, they made me smile the whole way, they often made me nearly cry, they are what makes London special, and makes us want to come back and see you year after year. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.
I’d mentioned earlier in the week on my social media that this race was for some very special people. Meeting the guys at Men’s space St Richard’s Hospice, Worcester, a few weeks ago was an incredibly powerful and positive experience for me, all thanks to a wonderful friend, Terry Tromans. I told them that day that I would be taking them all with me around London, and that I did. They were constantly in my thoughts, Terry in his colourful Hawaiian shirt that I was tempted to swap for one of my medals when I saw him, willing me on and sharing everything with me on the roads of London. They gave me energy, belief and the pure joy of living in the moment, loving everything that was around me and doing exactly what I love. Without doubt, that gave me something special to power our greatest marathon so far.
Terry and friends, this one was for you, thanks you for the sunshine, blue skies, colour and Dolly magic.
#DreamBig #BeyondBarriers #LondonMarathon