On April 28 2019, I joined 42,000 other runners and ran the London Marathon. This was my 6th marathon but my first since my diagnosis with a craniopharyngioma (a rare benign brain tumour) in March 2017. The last two years have seen me go through complicated neurosurgery and 6 weeks of daily radiation therapy plus deal with endocrinological issues. It has been a tough journey for both me and my family but keeping my fitness through running has helped enormously. My daughter Rose is doing her GAP year in the UK so I decided to take the plunge and see if my body was capable of one more marathon.
I put off training until January and did the most conservative training plan I could find – Hal Higdon Novice 1 – which built up very slowly and had one 32km run. I knew this would make for a tough slow race but I only had one goal – to finish with a smile. A couple of weeks before the race London Marathon had posted on their Instagram site that 97% of runners that made the start line made the finish line and that was my focus.
I enter the London marathon ballot every year (2020 is open now!) but never have any luck. The other options are a Good For Age entry, a charity place or to go through an International travel partner. I went through Travelling Fit – I had used them before for the NYC marathon and they were great.
The expo was easy to get to but a bit of a trek so I got there at opening on the Thursday morning as it gets very busy. I was excited I got to meet Martin Yelling as I’ve listened to his “marathon talk” podcast every week for years. I restrained myself from buying too much gear but did pick up a cute tank. Rose and I spent the next couple of days enjoying London – shopping, museums, the theatre and not one but two Ottolenghi restaurants!
Travelling Fit arranged a pasta dinner on the Saturday night which was a great opportunity to meet fellow runners. They had a bus out to the start line leaving the hotel at 7:30am. For those travelling independently there’s free transport and the start line at Greenwich takes about 45 minutes to get to. My race time wasn’t until 10:48am so I huddled with a group of Travelling Fit runners in my disposable layers and sat on a copy of the Evening Standard. It was pretty cold. The porta loo situation was excellent –only short queues and also they had female urinals! There were trucks to take your kit to the finish line.
Finally we were ready to start and I put myself behind the 5 hour pacer to make sure I wouldn’t start out too fast. One aspect I loved about the London Marathon was the recognition of slower runners with pacers right out to the 7 hr 30 mark. Sydney could certainly learn from that! I made sure to appreciate my dream coming true as I set off over the start line.
The first part of the course weaves around Greenwich. It’s very green and leafy, with pretty suburban houses and families standing outside cheering. We went past an amazing looking palace – “The Queen’s House” at Greenwich and then at 10km ran around the Cutty Sark where there were huge crowds cheering. I Kept running along, taking in the crowds, then at the 20km mark turned a corner and saw the Tower Bridge. This is the part I had really looked forward to! It is such a beautiful bridge and to run across it – wow. Even better one of my fellow Travelling Fit runners found me at that point and gave me a hug! I thought of my other friends Denise, Kim and Amy who had crossed the bridge in 2017 and 2018 and knew how special it was for me.
After crossing Tower Bridge we turned right (away from the finish line!) and pushed out towards Canary Wharf. To our left we could see the faster runners coming back – they were 12 km ahead of us! During my training I’d listened to “Running Like a Girl” on audiobook by Alexandra Hemminsley which was incredibly motivating and I knew from her description that the next section around Canary Wharf would be the toughest part of the race mentally. She had posted on her Instagram page the following thought which was really helpful:
“2. Pain is for a reason – of course you will recognise the pain of a genuine injury, and make your own judgement about whether you need to stop. But then there is the pain of repeated pounding on the pavements for a good few hours. It really hurts. And it is very easy to think it will hurt forever. But feeling that pain is not a problem, it’s your body working perfectly – you are putting it through something exceptional, for many of you you’ll be doing something it has never experienced before. Pain is an alert, your feet don’t know you’ll be stopping in five miles for a massage in a weird hotel near the ICA! Your hips don’t know you’ll be in the bath in four hours time and have take two days off work to catch up on the Game of Thrones! Your knees have no idea that that noise is the roar of the crowds as you approach the Mall – they all think you’re going on indefinitely! So don’t fear the pain, let it remind you what a magnificent thing your body is.”
This part of my race is where I dialled into my mantra “I am here now”, willing myself to be in the moment and to know that I would get through the race, not to panic about the aches and pains but to “stay” (another mantra). The crowds were enormous – enjoying their beers from the many pubs along the course and were screaming for us. Although I was running in a tank and capris it certainly wasn’t warm (around 14 degrees) but there were misting fountains set up every few kilometres. Water was handed out in small flip top bottles which were much easier to drink from than the usual race cups. St John’s Ambulance were on hand with volunteers passing out gobs of Vaseline. I laughed when we ran through the spots were Lucozade was handed out, it gets so sticky underfoot which I’d experienced before in the NYC marathon.
Finally we turned back from Canary Wharf towards the finish area and I started looking out for my daughter Rose – she had texted me that she had found a bright blue floral headband and would be there. I finally saw her around kilometre 36 and gave her a hug. At this stage of the race there are a lot of people walking and it takes a lot mentally to keep running. At the 23 mile mark I was keen to try an “ooho” which is edible seaweed packaging filled with sports drink. I’m a sports nutritionist and a foodie so I love this kind of innovation! It was great – it burst easily and was about the right amount of liquid to easily absorb. I also saw my friend Pat from America in the crowd who managed to take a photo.
Finally the sights I’d been waiting for were in view, the London Eye on my left, Big Ben (shrouded in scaffolding though) on my right and the Birdcage Walk towards Buckingham Palace. That said when you see the 1km to go sign – it’s still ONE kilometre and felt like a long way! Finally finally finally the finish line, the enormous medal around my neck and a big cry. Thanking my body and God for the strength to get around the course, my brilliant medical team and my family and friends for their love and support. An element of the London marathon that is really special is the amount of fund raising – nearly every runner seemed to have a charity t-shirt. I had discussed my marathon with my brilliant neurosurgeon and he suggested I raise money for the Garvan Institute of Medical Research and I’m proud to say I raised $3600 to help the Garvan predict, diagnose and treat disease.
That night Travelling Fit put on a lovely champagne reception where we got to rehash the race with the other travellers. I noticed in our discussion that the people who enjoyed the race most didn’t have a time goal. I think for these big bucket list goals it’s sometimes better just to enjoy them and finish with a smile on your face (and maybe a cry!) than beat yourself up over a missed 3 minutes.
Rachel is a university qualified nutritionist based in Balmain, NSW. She is also a busy working mum of two teenagers, so is practical and realistic with her advice. You can follow her on Facebook and Instagram.
If you’d like to know more about her health journey I’ve written about it here: