Let me take a few seconds…

First, and most importantly, I made it around the course.  Here’s a photo of me in quasi-delirious state (with wild hair pointing out of hat to accentuate the point):

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I even managed, through my mystery angel fabulous donors, to once again break my fundraising goal.

Honestly, I am sitting here a bit stunned that I actually did it.  I’ve completed three marathons.  Me, the girl who once finished a 12 mile race, crawled to her car, crawled into her home and thought, “I’m never going to finish the half marathon.”  Me, the girl who cried the entire last mile of her first half marathon.  I’m now a three-time marathoner.

Some important race things things – I did not have an emotional hiccup on the course!  Those who have read my tales know that it is pretty standard that at some point I cry, but I didn’t.  I worked very hard on my mental state this race.  I also worked on rhythmic breathing, which I literally discovered the night before and so want to work more on because when I got it going I felt like I could go and go!  I spent so much time focused on the breath I frankly didn’t have a moment to think of anything else… so it was like I was marathoning in active meditation mode.   My knee started acting up at mile 23, which meant the last 5k was walking, but I decided to spend it singing so in the end I was probably quite an entertaining thing to witness.

Some important other things – The marathon expo was way improved over 2013 – it felt like a celebration of running and fundraising, which was so much fun.  I scored an extra £5 donation for dancing around like a silly person, but I will not speak of my bowling skills.  Also, the support – wow.  I don’t remember so many water stations, gel stations, paramedics there to assist if you needed them (I didn’t, whew!).  It felt like London showed up in full force to make sure everyone had the best race possible.

And some super important things:

To my friends and family (especially the hubby and the kiddo) – thank you for putting up with me.  I was either out running, talking about running, or doing some form of other training to help my running.

To the National Autistic Society, wow, what can I say?  I felt like I had a whole extended family this time around the course!

And finally, I wish to officially announce I have retired from London… but not marathoning.  I know that people have gone years upon years wanting to run those 26.2 miles and as I have been blessed to experience this twice it is time for me to step aside and let someone else slot in.  As it appears I like to do this every 3 years shall we say Disney 2019?

I think by then I’ll just about have recovered.

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How to Spectate the London Marathon

Blogger’s Note (12/4/11): Due to sparkling statistics I notice people are looking for the best tips to spectate.  Below is my experience of last year’s marathon, which is witty and wonderful and you should read it three times.  However, for those who want in, out, and on with their lives listen up:

  • Signs on bamboo sticks.  Or stakes, or tree trunks.  No joke.  Make a sign, a really simple sign on a very bright background (or with very bright paint) and put it on bamboo sticks.  This is because you will generally be crammed into a very small area with LOTS of people.  Show this sign to your runner before hand.  Don’t bother surprising them.  There are LOTS of people running, and they will know where you are and be grateful for it.
  • There is NO FOOD on the course.  At least, not last year.  So if your runner needs food you need to pick spots where they can get their bananas, power gels, etc.  It needs to be obvious, down to the side of the street you plan to be on.  If you have a sign like above, it will make it easier for them.
  • If you want to have a pack of people, dress the same.  Bright colours, pom-poms, noise makers, all out.  In the places I went I found myself sometimes four people deep.  So if you get trapped back, they see your sign and flashes of colour they will know where you are.
  • DO NOT EXPECT TO SEE YOUR RUNNER MORE THAN TWICE.  If they are fast, you’ll only see them once.  Travel is difficult and time consuming because everyone is there to cheer on their respective people.  Pick your spot WELL IN ADVANCE and camp there.  If your runner needs lots of support spread out the family and friends.  Paint them neon, have them carry signs on sticks.
  • Pick your meet up spot WELL IN ADVANCE.  The entire St. James Park is the finish area and it will be crawling.  They go by letter.  Pick your letter, meet there.
  • BRING FOOD.  Snacks, picnic, you name it.  For you and your runner.  This will keep you and your runner happy until you get home/to the after party.
  • BRING A CAMERA.  The stuff you’ll witness is incredible.
  • HAVE FUN.  It’s seriously the most intense experience I’ve had, and I wasn’t running!  It’s a lot to take in.  And if you have food, neon, and signs you can enjoy the experience in a very stress-free manner.  Be there for your runner!

And now, the bloggy:

I thought it was no big deal.  I mean, I knew the London Marathon was THE BIGGEST marathon anywhere.  51,000 registrants, and of that 39,000 would cross that start line for sure.  You average two supporters per runner and you are looking at 78,000 people.  You add people on top of that, who love watching races and live in the city, you’re looking at 100,000 people.

All in 26.2 miles.  52.4 if you consider both sides of the course lined, though they don’t let people line up a few places.

But I had spectated before.  I’d done Houston.  I’d done Disney.  Both have extensive entrants and supporters.  But it was nothing, absolutely nothing, compared to the London Marathon.

First, let us chat about the Expo.

They say it is the biggest anywhere, and I think it is just in floor space.  Truth be told if a running store wanted to bring their entire stock, they could’ve, and sold it right there on the floor.  The selection was incredible, and I’m grateful I left my purchasing power at home.  For samples, you had every imaginable power/energy bar and bean (which we considered mashing together into a super bar/bean, capable of the energy of the sun).  There was drink powders, apples, and … beer.

That’s right, go to the London Marathon Expo.  Get beer.

It wasn’t like they were handing out pints (well, they were handing out coupons to get pints and if you were a runner a pint can was in your goody bag).  But, if you were up to it, you could feasibly work your way through the floor with a 1/4 pint of beer, grab bits of energy bar and an apple, then loop back again.  I don’t know what to say about this being pre-race nutrition, however, if you are in a pinch remember: beer is a carb.

As for spectating:

You should show up several days early and, this is imperative, bring a mobile phone that works.

Several days of advance planning (if not weeks) is essential if you are going to properly spectate.  They were kind enough to provide several pages of spectating in a Virgin London Spectators Guide.  However, even though they listed approximate trains and boats and teleportation they were more concerned with the 72 pubs along the course, and less about you moving from one point to the other.  Sure, they wrote paragraphs on “the best way” and listed every station and foot tunnel closed, but,  unless you are a regular traveler to the central and east side of London, it sounded like a posh form of travel Twister.

Granted, since there are 100,000 – 200,000 people just crammed into the area they probably should have written:

“Transportation on the day of the marathon is somewhat like trying to squeeze yourself through a small rubber tube filled with people: You just don’t want to do it.  Instead, why not pick a place (relatively close to a pub) and paint yourself and a sign neon orange.  Attach balloons to that sign, and, if possible, shoot off fireworks every 5 minutes.  This is so your runner(s) know where you are.”

And that is because when they let the masses go, it is a never-ending mass.

My mobile phone had the very unfortunate task of dying on me as I made my way to the 10K mark.  This means that, despite my little painted shirt and my total lack of signage (due to rain, which destroyed the paper) it would not be easy to find my husband.  However, I hoped that my years of spectating experience would help me to find a place where I could stand out and be seen.

Nope.

As there is a never-ending mass of runners so there is a never-ending mass of spectators.  And the smart ones who painted themselves neon orange with neon signs saw all their friends.  They also put their signs on cloth on bamboo sticks.  I must remember that.

Lesson learned.

However, I can tell you that if you are caught in a bind and cannot use a mobile phone consider standing just outside of a water station, which I did at mile 19.  Provided the missile sounds of water bottles whizzing by your ears doesn’t bother you much, you’ll be a-okay, and people will clear the area.  Magically, this produced a meeting between myself and my husband.  Though we did decide in the future, should phone death occur, two pre-determined spots will be selected along with side of the road.  More than two and it’s just too darn difficult to travel.

Finally, when you have to get to the finish area (which one must… hopefully) do so with patience.  The British can queue.  Serious, hardcore queuing.  They bring lunch (which I was stupid enough not to).  My years of “meeting under the letter” are common.  Just not the “meeting under the letter with 300 of your closest friends” common.  Seriously, what is little tents lettered A-Z at most races are entire St. James Parks to the London Marathon.  Agree on a letter way in advance.  Thankfully my husband and I magically picked the same one.

So there you have it.  One day I’ll run the London Marathon, but until then I shall spectate it.  Preferably with neon.  And food.  And a phone that works.  Congratulations to all the runners.  I watched you and man, you looked awesome.