A week on and last Sunday still feels quite surreal.
I went into the race knowing I was in great shape, probably the best shape I’ve ever been in. The Saturday before I’d done my usual final 5k track tempo and it was 43 seconds faster then pre VLM. So I knew I was in very good shape.
A 2pm start time was totally different to what I’m usually used to for a marathon but food etc was adjusted accordingly. I’d decided it would be best to split my breakfast so that I didn’t over eat but also didn’t leave myself hungry waiting until 10.30 to eat breakfast. I saw Alex the physio to get my stiff ankle mobilised at 8am then headed down for some banana on toast and a coffee at 8.30 before having my Porridge and another coffee at 10.30.
The race start and finish were on Tower Bridge which is about 1km from our hotel so we strolled across at about 12pm. Warm up for a marathon is really short, 1 mile jog, change shoes, a stride then I’m ready. However with it being a championship race we had a call room to go through where we get our timing transponders so timings had to be changed accordingly to fit that in. Call room closes 25 mins before the race starts and if you are not inside by then you miss the race.
Call room was the usual chaos but once out on the Bridge we had time for a stride then we were ushered onto the start line. There was a bit if a rush for prime positions on the start line but I was happy to stand 2 or 3 rows back. There was 26.2 miles ahead of us, it wasn’t going to make that big a difference. When the gun went the pack moved off at quite a sedate pace. I found myself up near the front and just relaxed and waited for the pack to settle to see where I ended. Like I say, the pace was quite sedate so I found myself sitting comfortably up front. The 1st mile was only 5.44 so perfectly within my comfort zone.
My race was neither brave nor gusty. All I did was follow my pre-set race plan. That plan was to try and run splits around the 5.35-45 zone through to 30km and then hopefully pick up a little for a strong finish and try to get a low 2.28 clocking. Training suggested I was in around 2.27 shape so given the course 2.28 was a good target.
One Portuguese girl went off the front and opened up a sizeable lead early on but the main lead pack seemed quite happy to run around this pace and let her go so I settled in and enjoyed it. The crowds were fantastic giving lots of vocal support and I managed to spot a few familiar voices along the way and acknowledged them when I did.
As usual feed stations were a bit chaotic but I managed to get my bottle without mishap. As we weaved through the City section of the course I took a mental note of the twists and turns and the 3 or 4 little climbs that there were. Watching the race coverage back on iPlayer someone fell on one of the corners. This was one of my big fears about running in the middle of a big pack and one of the reasons why I had gone to the front – it’s a little safer there!
Approaching 9k we caught the Portuguese girl and I thought to myself if I can just hold it here until the 10k split I will always have an official race split saying I was leading the World Championships Marathon. Little did I know that I would go on to have 3 of these by the end of the race!!
I knew I was leading, obviously, but I thought that the rest of the pack were right on my shoulder and were going to come past and swallow me up any second. I hadn’t really increased the pace dramatically, a little surge at the feed station as usual to get a clear run at my bottle but other than that still hitting my planned splits. I was constantly checking my watch to make sure I was on pace and doing nothing silly but the rest of the field just didn’t come with me.
By the time I got down to the bottom turn around point someone shouted I had about 30 second gap. I just laughed at that and thought they were crazy then coming round the cones I looked over and realised they weren’t!!
Still I wasn’t running anything fast. Just sub 2.29 pace, well within my capabilities and actually slower than I’d done in London Marathon back in April. I was loving the crowd support and egging them on to get even louder. It helped me take my mind off splits etc whilst also pushing me along. All the time I was waiting for the pack to come and swallow me up.
I never for a minute thought I was going to run away from these girls, they are world class marathoners, I’m not. All I was doing was running my race plan and enjoying myself doing so. Yes, I could have sat back with them running outside 2.30 pace but I’m the type of athlete who find it’s hard to do a huge increase in pace over the last 5-10k and I knew that if I wanted to run a PB that the best way to do it, for me, was to try and run equal halfs.
In terms of trying to finish as high up as possible, I also knew that I wouldn’t be able to live with the increase of pace of most of that pack come the last 5-10k. They were capable of lifting it to 2.24 pace or faster, I wasn’t.
My biggest mistake of the race was when they caught me at around 30k. Instead of just sitting in the pack and going along for the ride for a few miles, I stupidly kept fighting and went back to the front of the pack. Mile 20 ended up a 5.15 Mile!! And mile 21 wasn’t much slower at 5.23. I knew I couldn’t keep that up so eased back and hoped that I hadn’t done myself any damage but it was too late. I settled back into my pace but mile 25 the wheels came off and I dropped to 7.02! For the first time in the race my head went down and I was in survival mode. There were times during that mile when I thought my legs weren’t going to make it to the end.
The crowds were still incredible and they knew that I’d given the race my best shot. Coming back past the Tower of London they managed to lift me, my head came up again and I was using every last bit of energy I had left to get myself to the finish line.
Coming on to Tower Bridge someone stuck their hand out for a high 5 and I responded. Next thing I know there’s hundreds of hands sticking out! I managed to spot my sister and best mate in the crowd and they handed me a flag. I was nowhere near a medal or even the top 10 but I took the flag and proudly waved it across the line.
I was nowhere near a medal or even the top 10 but the crowd made me feel like a champion. I’m only 5 foot tall but I felt 7 foot for those last few hundred metres. My body was wrecked. I stumbled across the line and went down like a sack of potatoes. The amazing Amy Cragg was still celebrating her fantastic bronze medal (inspiration right there!) Came over to check that I was ok and poured some water over my head before I was carted off in a wheelchair to medical. A medicinal can of coke and a mars bar and I was fine to make the long walk back across the Bridge to the media zone.
The smile never left my face. My ‘A’ goal had been to finish in the top 15. I’d just missed that but considering I was ranked 23rd going into the race I still over performed to finish 18. I had wanted to run a lot faster than the 2.31 I ended up with. I know I am in far better shape than that but those fast 2 miles at mile 20 & 21 put pay to that, not the first 19 miles.
But would I change anything? Honestly, no. I stuck to my race plan and had a blast doing so. Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think I would be anywhere near leading the World Championships Marathon, Never mind being out there in front for over an hour.
I know some people have criticised the BBC commentary team for being ‘negative’ towards me saying it was only a matter of time before I got caught and that I wouldn’t win a medal but what they were saying was completely true. Paula and Steve know me well enough to know that I was under no illusion that I could run away from these girls and that I was just running my own race plan. Paula has seen me train the last few weeks, she’s jumped on a bike and played waterboy on my long runs and Gary, her husband, has paced my track sessions. She knows what shape I’m in and knows how I like to run races. She was almost reading my mind when she said I would be counting down the miles waiting for them to catch me.
I firmly believe that life is about seizing the moment, taking your chances when they come as you’ll never know if you’ll get the same opportunity again. Im 39 next month, this was most likely my last World Championships so I wanted to give it my very best shot. I did just that. I finished knowing that I had left everything out there on the road. Not sitting back thinking what if.
The support and messages ice received has been overwhelming. I’ve been to the stadium every night this week to cheer on my teammates and every night people have stopped me and said how brilliant it was to see a Brit out in front for so long and how I made what could have been a dull race very exciting! I appreciate each and every message I receive. But I don’t do any of this for the game and fortune, I do it because I LOVE it. I’m not an athlete who finds it a chore or a sacrifice to do what I do. I LOVE what I do. I LOVE training. I LOVE competing. And last Sunday I loved the feeling of, for 90 minutes, leading the World in the classic, icon distance…