Though it seems like forever, it’s only been a little over two weeks since I finished the Virgin Money London Marathon. I’ve started a recap post multiple times, but with so much to talk about I never got it done. While we (my son Mark, my daughter-in-law Holly, and I) were in London for only five days, we did and saw a ton and ate and drank even more! Fearing London will go the way of a BMW Berlin Marathon recap (which I never did because I got bogged down with all the details of the entire three week trip to Europe), I will spare you the details and give you the condensed version.
Knowing the slim chance of getting into London via the lottery, and knowing time is not on my side, Mark and I decided to run London for charity. I signed up with Whizz-Kidz, an organization that provides wheelchairs and mobility devices to children and young people, and Mark signed up with Sense, an organization that provides help for the deafblind. Each is a wonderful organization and we were thrilled to have the opportunity to run with them.
We flew from Chicago to London the Wednesday before the race, departing at 6:00 p.m. and arriving in London at 8:30 a.m. on Thursday morning. As someone who can sleep pretty much anywhere at any time, I planned to get a good amount of sleep on the plane. Ah, the best-laid plans. As some of you may have seen on my Instagram post, I had an amazing aisle seat with a ridiculous amount of open space in front of me. I even scored a small overhead bin with just enough room for my stuff only. Long story short, after just a couple of hours I gave my seat to a sick passenger to give her better access to the bathroom. I wound up crunched up in her middle seat for the remainder of the flight. Needless to say, I didn’t get a moment of shuteye on our eight hour flight.
We landed at Heathrow, deplaned, and headed for the train. It took two trains and almost an hour and a half to get to our stop, and then another half mile or so walk to our hotel. I was already wishing I hadn’t packed so much as I dragged my roller bag on the uneven sidewalks. On our way to the hotel we witnessed two men arguing, which escalated into a physical altercation. Welcome to London. We arrived at the hotel too early to check in, so we dropped our bags and were on our way to what would be five days of non-stop activity.
The first thing on the agenda was attending the expo. Having experienced the complete clusterf**k that is the Berlin Marathon expo in September, I didn’t know what to expect. We arrived by train at Excel at around noon on Thursday. The expo was amazing and it was not crowded at all. After bib and timing chip pickup the expo entrance led to a huge New Balance race gear store. There were very few people and there was tons of merchandise available in every size but unfortunately I didn’t love any of it so we kept on moving. We walked around and eventually found our charity booths and chatted with them for a while.
My charity had inadvertently sent me a men’s tank to wear and I was able to switch it out for the proper size. The expo had several games set up and Mark, Holly, and I each bowled a strike and earned donations for Mark’s and my charities. We didn’t fare so well at the game that had us move a metal item without touching another – sort of like the game Operation. As we exited the expo (again through the New Balance store) I felt obligated to buy something. I spent a ridiculous amount of time trying things on but in the end didn’t like anything so we left empty-handed.
Mark was wearing a Chicago Marathon hoodie and on our way out of the building he was approached by two gentlemen. We chatted for a while and discovered they were none other than Carey Pinkowski, the Bank of America Chicago Marathon Race Director, and his business partner Mike Nishi. Seriously, folks, it felt as if we had just met a couple of rock stars! You can read about how they turned the Chicago Marathon into the world-class event that it is today here! Mike snapped a couple of photos of Carey with Mark and me and we were on our way. What fun and personable guys! We left the expo area and so began our whirlwind tour of London.
By the time we made it to bed on Thursday evening I had been awake for 36 hours and on Friday morning I woke up with a horrible cold, hence the alternate title to this post: London Marathon Recap: Overweight, Under-trained, and Sick as a Dog
With all the walking and touring we did, between Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, I logged over 57,000 steps on my phone! Race morning arrived and I was already exhausted. Mark was in an earlier wave than me, but we headed to the venue together that morning because I was seriously afraid I would get lost on the way. The race started in Greenwich Park and runners were assigned to one of three zones. Luckily we were in the same start zone though he was in the first wave and I was in the last. The scheduled difference between the two start times was only 40 minutes, so it was no big deal for me to arrive a little early. The atmosphere was fun and festive with music blaring and a jumbo screen showing highlights of last year’s race and ultimately the starts for the Elite and Para-athlete participants.
One of the first things I noticed was the porta-potty area where there were zero, I said ZERO people in line! How does that happen with a race this big? Eventually lines would form, but the porta-potties were set up in such a way that they moved fast and we never had to wait long.
Before the start I met up with my awesome Chicago Pacer Tom who would be pacing the 5:30 group. I knew I wouldn’t be able to keep up, but I ran with him for the first 3-1/2 miles and we were able to catch up before I dropped back starting at about mile 4. From there I would do run/walk intervals until I approached the Tower Bridge, which was a little past the 12-mile mark. My eyes welled up with tears as I reached the bridge! It was such an amazing experience and the crowd support was out of this world! I slowed to a walk and took it all in before I made my descent on the other side. I ran down the bridge and continued to run until I reached the halfway point.
Once I reached the halfway point, I decided it wasn’t worth killing myself so I decided to walk the remainder of the race. After all, the elites had already finished, so there was no way I was going to beat them! Besides, I was so overwhelmed with the opportunity to be in this race, I wanted to savor every moment! The crowd support was absolutely amazing with only a few ‘dead zones’ along the way.
I took in the sights, snapped some photos (which I never do during a marathon), and took it all in. I was doing mental math the whole way and for the final five miles I decided to resume the run/walk intervals until the finish. I was again overwhelmed about 25-1/2 miles in as I headed straight towards Big Ben. I didn’t think it could get any better, until I made that turn towards Buckingham Palace. Uh. Maz. Ing. We had seen Buckingham Palace a few days earlier, but running toward it near the end of the race was an experience I will never forget. We made the final turn toward the home stretch and as I always do, I ran to the finish with whatever I had left in me.
The volunteers handing out medals were so polite, offering a sincere ‘well done’ to all of us as we finished. I had some photos taken by the race photographers and approached the area where we would pick up our finisher’s shirts. This is where I experienced my one disappointment with the race. The only sizes left were XS and XL. Seriously? I begrudgingly took the XS and made my way to where Holly and Mark were waiting. We took some more photos, and then were on our way to our amazing dinner at a Michelin Star restaurant that Holly had arranged. Ah, the perks of having a daughter-in-law whose finger is on the pulse of the restaurant scene!
The following morning we got up, did some last-minute touring, then headed back to Healthrow for our trip home. We flew back on an Airbus A380, the world’s largest passenger plane. This might have been the highlight of the trip for Mark! When we checked in at the airport, we were able to move to the upper level and were given amazing seats. There were four seats in a center bulkhead row. We were given three of them and the fourth was left unoccupied. A nice consolation prize after my sleepless flight on the way to London.
As a Chicago native I will probably always consider the Chicago Marathon my absolute favorite, but the London Marathon is as close a second favorite as any race could be. The entire experience was absolutely amazing and I am so grateful to have had this experience. I’ve now earned my third of the six stars; halfway to goal!
Have you run the London Marathon? Are you going for the Six Star Finisher medal? How close are you to that goal?
#ThanksaBillion was the theme for this year’s race. In its 39th year, fundraising at the 2019 London Marathon exceeded the £ Billion mark. I am so proud to have been a part of that process! If you’d like to contribute to my fundraising efforts, you can still do so by clicking on the link below. Any donation, big or small, will help and is greatly appreciated!