Virgin Money London Marathon – an Abbott World Marathon Major

Virgin Money London Marathon – an Abbott World Marathon Major

London Marathon has always been near the top of my wish list for marathons. I’d wanted to run it for a few years however it’s very difficult to gain a ballot entry and good for age was also out of reach especially considering I’d run 16 marathons in 12 months in 2016 rather than focussing on gaining one standout time. I’d tried and missed the ballot for 2017 and had entered the ballot once again for 2018 but knew it was going to be a miracle to be chosen as one of the lucky few.

Knowing this I made an early decision to contact some UK based charities and ask about obtaining one of their guaranteed entries. I contacted perhaps 10 charities and accepted the place with the one that responded to me first – WellChild, which is the national charity for sick children. Their marathon team was around 150 people all of whom pledged to raise 1600 pounds each for the charity. I did miss out on a ballot spot in the marathon, so was so pleased I’d taken the charity entry as it allowed me to book flights and plan a longer trip around the date. Thus Craig and I were going to London for April 2018!

Craig had made some statements in Berlin about feeling a little left out, standing on the road holding my jacket, while I ran. At the same time he was looking for a new fitness goal and I suggested, quite strongly and persistently, that he consider coming out of marathon retirement and running London with me. I’ve come a long way from the days of wanting to achieve PBs in marathons and honestly these days I think of marathons as events rather than races. I reassured Craig that I’d be very keen to complete the course at a pace that was right for us both with the primary goal being to experience the event and achieve the goal together. He eventually agreed that he was willing to start training and aim to run in the event, knowing there were some big hurdles in terms of fitness and physical issues that would need to be addressed. By this time the results of the ballot for London were already known and the competition to gain a charity place was fierce. We contacted maybe 25 charities and eventually he was offered a spot with Oasis, a Christian charity delivering housing, education, training, youthwork and healthcare. This all happened by October 2017, just after Berlin, with London set for six months later! Couch to 5km by  Christmas (eight weeks), and then essentially couch to marathon in 18 weeks!

First parkrun after gaining the charity entry

Thus training for London was completely different for me than any other marathon. I broke out an 18 week Beginner marathon program and stuck it to the cupboard in the kitchen. I ran either alone or with Craig for the entire program, often going out earlier than him to run hills and then swinging by home to pick up Craig for us to run flat together.

Christmas in New Zealand

I’d taken up rowing in October 2017 and tried to fit in several sessions of rowing each week as well as the running, meaning I’d also frequently run from home to rowing; row for an hour; and then Craig would drive me home, having arrived himself earlier by car and run on his own on those mornings. Runs at times were split, with home to rowing – rowing – parkrun with Craig. Craig’s fitness returned very quickly. The problems he’d had with his ankle resolved with a change in shoe type – the Altra, and in general he was very pleased with the progress he’d made in the course of training.

First long run, finishing with parkrun
“Ice bath” post long run during the summer

I found quite quickly that the slower pace of training with Craig seemed to be compromising my running style, and I began to experience severe pain in the second toe on my right foot around 7km of every run. I’d stop and stretch the toes forward and the pain would resolve, only to return each 1km or so. It was awful and I was eventually driven to embrace the change I’d thought of making for some time, away from the Saucony Fastwitch shoes. I researched alternatives, and taking advice from an expert runner and from Craig’s experience with the Altras, I ordered the Altra Escalante sight unseen. They arrived, I put them on, and never looked back! Amazing. Wish I’d had them years ago. What’s better with them than the Fastwitch? The room in the toe box – my toes aren’t squished together on the outside of my foot and this has fixed the blister problems while at the same time the pain in my second toe has disappeared! And they don’t let the water in, which after a few years of dodging puddles in the Fastwitch is going to take a long time to get used to.

Our last long run of 32km our 15 year old daughter came along on her bicycle and carried supplies in a pack for us.

Last 32km with Verity in front on her bike

So we completed the 18 week program fairly well, only missing maybe one long run which couldn’t be helped, and as I kept saying, we were going to London to finish the event and it didn’t matter whether we ran or walked!

Last long run in Narooma during Easter

We flew Sydney to Hong Kong with a 10 hour stopover, and then on to London. As always we packed our running gear in the carry on baggage and this time wore the running shoes which was not altogether ideal but we knew the padding would have plenty of time to fluff back up with the three days of rest in London prior to the event after we arrived.

The tasks of the first day in London, the Thursday, were to get from Heathrow to the accommodation; then out to the Expo; and to Oasis to meet the charity representative. We both managed to rest quite well on the flight and inspired by our daughter Emily having conquered the London Tube, we successfully found our way to the Expo where we had a lot of fun having photos, looking around, and meeting the WellChild organisers. There was talk of a rail strike and also of course huge numbers of people registering on the Saturday so I think we did really well getting it all done sooner rather than later. From there we made our way to Oasis and had a lovely interaction with Matthew their fundraising organiser.

At the Expo there was a stand where they took a Polaroid of you and stuck it to their wall with message. I’d used #goCraig a lot during our training, so what better to use for the wall?!

Friday morning I went for a little 5km run around London which I am sure really helps with jet-lag, and on Saturday we went to Highbury Field parkrun, which consists of five laps of the park. There were quite a view visitors to the parkrun that day from all over the world. As expected parkrun runners were welcoming and friendly, and it was lovely to run a parkrun in England. We followed up a few weeks later with one in Scotland as well – Kirkwall parkrun in the Orkney Islands, only weeks old.

Highbury FIelds parkrun

We did the tourist thing the next couple of days and on Saturday night had a carb-loading dinner at Al Duca in St James which I’d booked in March in anticipation that Italian restaurants would be in heavy demand. While having dinner we struck up a conversation with Fabianna and Paulo from Brazil. Fabi was running her fourth Abbott Major, having completed the three in the USA and with plans to run Tokyo in 2019. It was a lovely evening and we’ve stayed in touch ever since. It’s wonderful meeting other runners at these events!

I’d spent some time that afternoon trying to get the iron-on transfers with letters of our names onto the running singlets. It was a fine line between not having the iron hot enough and having the iron melt the singlet. I’d assumed Craig would run under his pseudonym Wom and purchased the letters accordingly – but more on that later.

Race morning dawned with a lot of noise in the street below. Tow trucks were shifting cars off the streets around the accommodation which was only 500 metres from the finish area. We didn’t have enough time to have the breakfast at the accommodation as it started too late so instead we ate the oats we’d purchased from the grocers, donned the KMart throwaway tops, asked the concierge to take a photo of us, and headed off to Green Park to the tube station. We were staying at the East India Club in St James where the dress regulation is essentially suit and tie for every meal and every situation except entering and leaving the accommodation. Imagine the surprise of the concierge when we moseyed down the stairs wearing shorts, bright singlets and runners, and asking for a photo!

There was something really reassuring about the masses of runners converging on the station. I knew we were going the right way! Our start group was Green and we simply followed the other Green numbers off the train and then the directions of the numerous volunteers to the start area. Easy.

The Green start was in the Greenwich Park which had been really well set up with refreshment stations, plenty of places to sit, and more portable toilets than I’ve ever seen in my life. We walked to the refreshment station and I asked whether they had decaf coffee, which they did! We had a selection of toilets to use which was nice too! And there was a big screen TV showing footage of the wheelchair athletes and the Queen who started the event. She wasn’t on site but it was still pretty special.


There had been constant updates from the race organisers about the forecast high temperatures for the day. The forecast was for 24 degrees Celsius in a city where only four weeks earlier the temperatures had peaked at 2 degrees Celsius. We’d trained through the Australian summer and knew the importance of running in the shade where possible, adjusting pace according to the heat, wearing visors, and drinking appropriately. Our training runs were generally pre-dawn so at least the sun wasn’t making things worse, but our start group in London was set for 10:30am meaning we weren’t going to finish until the peak of the heat. Crazy stuff. Marathons in Australia often commence around 6:30am to try to beat the heat so I was a bit anxious about how we would feel starting so late and running so late as well.

Behind us
Looking forward toward the start

It was pretty clear that there were a lot of British charity runners who had no idea about how to handle the conditions despite the information being provided to them. Some appeared to be in the same layers in which they’d trained, with no hats. No shade-seeking behaviour. A lady I spoke with briefly at the start had on a tight fitting technical t-shirt with her charity singlet over the top. I asked her why she wasn’t just in the singlet as she said she was already feeling the heat, and she said she’d gone out specially to purchase the t-shirt as it was labelled “cooling” and she figured it would cool her down when she ran whereas the singlet was quite tight and wasn’t “cooling” fabric…….

So the run was hot. The organisers had brought in additional water and we heard they’d had to restock drink stations with emergency supplies. They use bottled water in the London marathon and Craig read something that said they’d used 800000 bottles of water that day! I’d drink half of each one and tip the rest over my head or on my front or back, or squirt it at Craig. We made good time at our usual training pace and it really was quite thrilling to have all of the crowd support the entire journey. People were calling out “Go Anne”, reading the name on the front of my shirt; and back to those iron-on letters saying Wom – it was funny hearing people call out “Go Wom” but if we ever do names again I’ll think I’ll make sure it says Craig.

There was a lot of fancy dress and multiple attempts at World Records in fancy dress. We saw someone running with a tumble dryer on his back!
Craig in the throng

Clearly I’m someone who doesn’t always learn by mistakes or who, when running a marathon, stops thinking. I was worried about the heat and so at one drink station I picked up their sports drink – something orange and relatively tasty. I drank the entire contents quite slowly over maybe 8km and by 21km I’d developed terrible stomach cramps and nausea. Reading back over some of these blogs I see some events where I’ve drunk the sports drink and become sick, and some, like Berlin, where I haven’t and I’ve been fine. So it was actually me who was under performing first in the event, and Craig who was supporting me. We found a wonderful toilet stop in a tunnel under a road where lots of people were using toilets and that helped a bit, but it was probably until 35km that we ran and walked with me feeling very nauseous. I sat down for a while as I started getting quite panicky and Craig was very patient with me.

Crossing Tower Bridge

7km to go I started feeling a bit better and we started running a bit more, overtaking a lot of people. Unfortunately other runners were dropping like flies in the heat and the medical people were very stretched. We heard later a younger man had suddenly died while running which was very very sad. Craig and I had a miscommunication toward 39km when he wanted to walk a hill and then thought I wanted to keep walking (and I kept walking as I thought he wanted to keep walking), so we could probably have run that kilometre, but in general those last few kilometres were really good. The crowds had not faded at all over the 42.2km and of course grew even larger toward the end. Running along the Thames with the London Eye in view I knew we weren’t far from the finish, but it seemed it would never come!

We had hoped to see William, Catherine and Harry giving out water bottles at the final drink stop as they  did in 2017 but they weren’t there, and it was only the next day she gave birth to Price Louis so I suppose she was somewhat preoccupied on marathon day.

Anyway running toward Buckingham Palace and the Queen Victoria statue was very special.

We crossed the line in 5hours 22min which was a PB for Craig – awesome!

The finish area was nice with heaps of photographers and provisions for runners.

We had the options of finding the Oasis tent; going to a nearby Indian restaurant to find the WellChild people; or going back to the East India Club. Craig was struggling by this time having completed the event in good form but suffering for it once he stopped running. We trudged back to the Club and he had a shower and lay down. I went out to the  grocery store and bought chocolate milk, Up-N-Go style drinks, yoghurt, and grapes, and that’s what we had for dinner. There may have been some apple cider in the mix as well.

So what did I think of the London marathon? I think it is probably the best event I’ve done. The crowd support was tremendous and probably only rivalled by Tokyo with the important difference being the former was yelling support in English which made all the difference. It really is nice having people call you by name or hold up signs in English or yell out encouraging words and making jokes. The start and finish areas were on par with Berlin in terms of excellence. The course was not hugely scenic until the last few kilometres with the exception of course of crossing the Tower Bridge! But again the crowd made up for this and I think it was wonderful. I’d go back next year to be in the crowd if we lived there. But the most special thing about the whole day was having Craig there on the course, running with me. Couch to marathon in 18 weeks! How amazing. I was super proud of him and grateful he’d committed to something that doesn’t come easily to him because of his size and injuries, so we could do this thing together.

London Marathon was number 24.

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