By Hortencia McKechnie
I came to the Virgin London Marathon this year off the back of a brilliant couple of months of running. I’d recently taken 23 minutes off my previous half marathon PB (finally getting a sub 2 hour time) and was feeling fitter than ever. All this meant that my expectations were higher than ever, but also that my pacing was radically different to what I’d managed in the Milton Keynes and Yorkshire marathons in 2014.
Walking to the start zones I got butterflies in my stomach. I haven’t experienced that since my first ever race. But the London Marathon isn’t like any other race. London Marathon is the race you watch when you’re a kid. It’s an event that gets the whole country talking. To me, personally, I feel I would have never even considered becoming a runner if it wasn’t for the years I spent first-aiding the marathon at 24.5 miles along the route. Having seen the determination of ordinary people who just loved running, no matter how fast or slow, was incredibly humbling. On top of that, this is my local marathon. This is the race that friends and family want to come to the streets to see, that nan wants to try and spot you in on the telly. People, who can’t make it to the streets, tracking you on their phones and computers. I have never had so much support in a race before.
The conditions on the morning were perfect for me. A little chilly and overcast (no danger of me getting a sun tan, thankfully). I set off at 9:30 pace, trying to balance all the advice in my head. “Don’t go off too fast” but “you’ve got potential to run a good time”. Running through South London, I saw places I recognised and could watch for landmarks. Turning towards the Cutty Sark and seeing it for the first time had an amazing effect on the crowd. There was no way you couldn’t enjoy the atmosphere as you turned tightly around the 180 degrees of The Cutty Sark.
I was still maintaining my 9:30 minute mile pace over Tower Bridge as I approached the half way mark. It was one of those moments where you think to yourself “I’m running down the middle of the road, over an iconic landmark. There would be no way I’d get to do this if I wasn’t a runner”. As the route turned towards the Isle of Dogs, we ran alongside the fast runners. I always find it inspiring to see the astonishing athletic ability of the front runners. This kept me going for a bit longer. However, by mile 16, I was beginning to struggle. My legs started protesting and my pace slowed. I kept pushing but started having to make deals with myself. Just thinking about the next landmark or mile marker.
The most important thing to me was to get to mile 24.5 and the Temple Gardens St. John Ambulance post. I needed to show my fellow first aiders that I really do run and that I do it well. So I kept pushing round the City and back towards the Embankment. The crowd were unbelievably loud. So many people cheering “Go vegan!” and even the odd person saying quizzically to their friends “There are vegan runners?”. Somehow I got the Embankment and from there I knew it wasn’t far. Soon I was waving to my first aider friends who had spent the day cheering on all the vegans (between making sure everyone was safe and well, of course). At this point, I was practically at Big Ben. One big corner to turn and then up towards her majesty’s humble abode. My legs felt like there was absolutely nothing left to give by this point, but it was 1 more mile to go. One last, little push. It seemed like the longest mile I’ve ever run. Seeing the 800 meter marker, a distance so familiar to me from track training, I knew I was nearly there but I could barely pick up speed. I do love a good sprint finish, but all I could muster was 200 meters. Two hundred meters till home. Turning the final corner and seeing the finish line, that smile I had misplace somewhere on the Isle of Dogs came back. I was going to finish the London Marathon and cut 45 minutes off my PB. Push harder, lengthen stride, sprint!
4 hours 34 minutes and 59 seconds. I’m happy with that for now, but next time I want to go faster. I always want to go faster.
I got my medal and I went to meet all my lovely vegan friends at the meetup point. Because if there’s anything you deserve after running a marathon it’s vegan cake and good company.