Since I will be leaving for New York in mere days (DAYS!) for the 2019 TCS New York City Marathon, I thought I’d take a look back at my first 26.2-mile run.
The 2019 Virgin Money London Marathon.
I chose to run my first marathon in jolly old England, because it was a place that held great significance for me.
I studied abroad there in 2011, I started talking to my now-husband there (he, having lived there once upon a time, was giving me recommendations), and I absolutely fell in love with the city and its history.
London is, also, one of the six Abbott World Marathon Majors.
Completing all six, Tokyo, Boston, London, Berlin, Chicago, and New York City, would put me in a very special group of runners called Six Star Finishers.
To put it into perspective, there are currently only 6,401 Six Star Finishers in the world.
You can get into the London Marathon a few ways.
- Elite (i.e. super fast people)
- Good for Age (U.K. residents only)
- Running clubs (U.K. only)
- Competitions (rare)
- Sponsor organizations (again, rare)
- Travel agencies with marathon/tour packages
- Ballot (lottery drawing of sorts)
I did not enter the ballot but, instead, opted to go straight for the charity route. Which is not to be taken lightly.
Fundraising is hard.
Interesting fact: The London Marathon holds the Guinness world record as the largest annual fundraising event in the world. That means A LOT of people run for charity!
After a look at all of the awesome charities, I applied for three that spoke to me.
I got invited to join two but, ultimately, went with the first one to accept me. It was “Get Kids Going!” (https://www.getkidsgoing.com/aboutus.htm).
Get Kids Going is a U.K.-based charity that gives disabled children and young people the opportunity to participate in sports by providing them with specially built sports’ wheelchairs.
“Fancy Dress”/World Record:
The London and Berlin Marathons have a special incentive for runners wanting to run in costume or “fancy dress”.
These two majors have teamed up with Guinness World Records to wave the application fee and have an adjudicator onsite to validate your attempt.
Because running my first full while completing my MBA didn’t seem like enough, I decided to go for this. I wanted something distinctly British, that went with a “kids in sports” theme for my charity and, most importantly, that hadn’t been done before.
I didn’t want the added pressure of trying to beat a specific time on my first time out.
Thus, the Golden Snitch was born.
The Golden Snitch is one of the balls in the game of Quidditch played by school-age witches and wizards. Quidditch was introduced in a little book series by British author J.K. Rowling called Harry Potter. You may have heard of it.
While I later found that I didn’t qualify for a record, I do not regret my choice of “fancy dress”!
I stayed at the Holiday Inn Express London-City. This was a race partner hotel. It was about halfway between the start and the finish, but everything I wanted was an Underground ride away (Tip: get an Oyster card) and I got an early breakfast and coach ticket as part of their marathon package.
More on that later!
I studied abroad in London, as I mentioned, so I didn’t do some of the traditional tourist sites.
Since I was dressing as the Golden Snitch, I decided to “run” with the Harry Potter theme by going to the play “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” and the Warner Bros. Studio Tour (Tip: get the Butterbeer ice cream).
Neither of these were available when I was last there and were brilliant (pardon my British!).
I had considered a trip to St. Paul’s Cathedral, but I decided the stairs you have to climb to get the prized view of the city were not pre-marathon friendly.
In fact, with all the walking I was doing (probably too much), I opted not to do a shakeout run.
If you had never been to London before and wanted to fit in a couple of sites that wouldn’t be too taxing on the tootsies, I would recommend taking in a tea time (I, personally, loved tea at The Orangery) and a double-decker bus tour.
I went to the Expo the day before the race.
I know, I know, not smart.
However, that was the only time that really worked in my schedule. We were there as the doors opened, though, and it wasn’t too bad crowd-wise until we were about ready to leave.
Crowds are to be expected, though, with over 40,000 runners in the race!
The Expo had race-day merchandise (you run the risk of this running out if you go too late), vendors, local race booths, a café, multiple speakers (including Martin Yelling who hosted extremely helpful pre-race Q&A sessions via Facebook), race charities, a race wall to sign, and games.
That’s right. Games!
These were so much fun and you could win money for your charity.
I highly recommend taking a bit of time and trying these out.
After playing a few, getting my bib and some pictures, stopping by my charity’s booth, buying a bear, mug and, of course, race-branded clothing, it was off to relax a bit before dinner!
Speaking of dinner, I met up with a group at Limoncello and would recommend it…plenty of carbs!
While the Tube was free for runners that day, I preferred not to fight the masses or worry about connections.
Especially with a costume.
This is where my choice of hotel came into play. We were given a coach bus to the start. It was very calming and one less thing to worry with on the day. The coach dropped us within walking distance of each of the colored starts.
I was in the Red Start, Zone 7.
It was a bit cold and breezy that morning, but I had a blanket from the airplane and some other layers ready to discard before the race. The start area had screens showing the other areas and the race, entertainment, some food and drinks (I think…I was too busy trying not to lose what I’d already eaten), lines and lines of “lorries” (gear bag trucks), and even more port-a-potties.
I kept my bag with me for a while then hopped in the bathroom line.
Going to the bathroom in a Golden Snitch was an interesting experience.
Then, they started “corralling” us to our zones. This is where I had discovered that, despite all of my Body Glide applications and bathroom visits, I had forgotten to put on deodorant…oops!
I loved (almost) every second as I ran by the infamous Rhinos, the Big Pink Dress, and over Tower Bridge.
The course support was amazing with lots of water and “loos” available starting after mile three and continuing to the end.
The atmosphere was nothing short of electric with people cheering everywhere (other than a tunnel they weren’t allowed in at Mile 15…that was a definite walk break for me).
Luckily, I was able to see Catherine, the person that inspired me to start running in the first place and my roomie for the week, a few times on course! O, and I was “caught” by a spectating “Seeker”. Wish I would’ve gotten a picture of that, but I will always remember it. Always.
Aw, the moment I had dreamed about for months and months.
The finish line.
Turning by Buckingham Palace to the Union Jack-lined street was truly a sight to behold.
I was ready for my moment and my picture. However, there was a guy in front of me that “camped out” on the mat which took away a bit from that last part (Tip: don’t be like that guy).
Nothing could take away from this fact, though.
I was a marathoner!
After that, a lovely volunteer handed me my medal, I took a few more pictures, collected my finisher’s shirt and goodies (They were out of my size by the time I got there, but they were fielding exchanges a few days later), and went to collect my gear bag. All of this was seamless and very well organized.
This was where I got lost.
I am not sure if it was the signs or my “marathon mind”, but I could not figure out where the Overseas Runners meet-up area (where Catherine and I had agreed to meet) was.
I walked a bit and had to sit down. I couldn’t call her as I didn’t have a cellular plan…I had been doing everything over free Wi-Fi…and after a bit (and asking a local to borrow her phone only to hand it right back remembering that an international call would cost her) decided to go back to the hotel.
I figured, even if she didn’t go back, I could use the room’s phone (they had a cell phone for free use) to get in touch with her.
We eventually reunited and, while it took us a while to find a place that was still serving food, I got my celebratory fish and chips!
I immediately put my legs up on a wall, showered, foam rolled, and napped.
After dinner, mentioned above, I packed for the flight home and slept in a pair of compression socks.
Once home I was right back to studying for my finals. However, pictures came in from MarathonFoto (I had pre-ordered their package and am so happy that I did) over the next couple of weeks keeping the marathon excitement alive.
I was fortunate to have quite a few, but still had to search for a couple that had been added later.
Bonus Tips: Stay an extra day after the marathon, if possible, as some places have deals (wish I had! Do as I say, not as I did) and grab a free paper in the airport as a souvenir!
Well, I think that about covers it. Please comment below if you have any questions!
YouTube London Marathon Video:
Go Find Your Awesome London Marathon Podcast:
Star #1 Done!
Next up: The 2019 TCS New York City Marathon