London Marathon - from couch to 26 miles
Updated: Feb 8, 2021
Alice Baker has kindly written the following on her journey from couch to London Marathon 2019.
I was quite happy bumbling along with parkruns, cycling and a bit of swimming until I rather impulsively entered the VCAC ballot for the London Marathon club space. Never in a million years thinking it would be my name pulled out the hat. It was like winning the scariest lottery prize ever!
The end of 2018 was all about improving my speed – getting my parkrun pb down to 22.45 in October and my 10k pb at the Brighton 10k down to 47.48 in November. I promised myself I would work on my endurance and some proper marathon training after all the Christmas binging! It was time to get serious in January! I did lots of training with my local running club including the dreaded hills, fartlek, pyramids and intervals and by the end of January, I had run my furthest ever distance of 14.5 miles – that seemed like a really long way at the time! Luckily, my husband was also training for his own marathon so I had a solid running buddy and February followed with further longest distances of 16 and 17 miles.
I decided to take up yoga along with aqua-fit classes to work on stretching, fitness and flexibility and even ‘treated’ myself to some torturous sports massages. March quickly came around and I broke further distance pbs of 17, 19 and the all-important 20 miles, all the while practising pacing, fuelling and eating en-route.
At the beginning of April it was time for tapering, which felt like a wonderful excuse to do far less running and far more eating! Counting down to the marathon was like counting down to Christmas as a kid – the build-up, excitement and waiting was unbearable, all the time mixed with a feeling of nerves and fear of the unknown.
We headed to the Expo on the Saturday to collect my number and it all got very real – I was actually going to run the London Marathon! I had set myself a goal of 4.45 and decided to pick up a pacing wristband at the Lucozade stand only to find a choice of 4.50 or 4.40 so I decided to stress myself out further by trying to knock off another 5 minutes and going for 4.40. All the advice said to rest as much as possible the day before the marathon yet when I finally hit the hay in my hotel room, I had done over 20,000 steps walking around London!
The hotel had organised a coach to the start line which they had very thoughtfully arranged for 6am meaning a 5am alarm call! Having only fallen asleep around 4.30am due to pre-race nerves, I was feeling a little tired but still buzzing for the event. I made up my tailwind and packed my tissues, spare plasters, sweets, salt sticks and flapjack into my hydration pack and headed for the coach ride to Blackheath. I quickly found my area (blue start, zone 7) and started eating the breakfast I had packed and taped my knees up. There was a real air of excitement and everyone was chatting and stretching. Just before my call to the starting pen, I decided on a quick last-minute toilet stop only to find queues for the portaloos to be 20 people deep. However, the female urinal queue was non-existent so I decided to bite the bullet and have my first ever go with a cardboard shee-wee. Total success and a great way of beating the queues!
While waiting for the starting klaxon, shivering in my starting pen because it was freezing, I got chatting with another runner and although he was after a slower time, we ended up running the first 8 miles together at a comfortably steady pace and it was nice to pass the miles with a new friend. I then lost him in the throng and focused on looking out for my husband around mile 9. Luckily, he was wearing a bright yellow jacket so was easy for me to spot and a quick kiss and ‘well done’ gave me a real boost.
Mile 12 had me turning right onto the iconic Tower Bridge. Being a total show-off, I dug out my mobile for a quick ‘Facebook live’ session, showing everyone the sights and sounds of London and assuring my friends and family I was nearly halfway and feeling great. Due to careful pacing, I hit the halfway mark exactly on 2.20 so right on target for a 4.40 finish.
Along the way, I saw lots of inspirational charity runners, motivational and sometimes hilarious signs and some fantastic fancy-dress including some runners taking on a Guinness world record attempt. I saw the Thunderbirds, a girl dressed as a marathon chocolate bar (who it turns out is actually vegan!), a spoon, a car, a shoe, the baked bean man, the giant nurse, Big Ben and quite a few rhinos. My husband even managed to see some of the EastEnders squad running for the dementia revolution charity.
Mile 20 came round quickly and I found myself in unknown territory, having surpassed my furthest ever training run but I was still feeling strong and in good spirits, boosted by the party atmosphere and orange slices being handed out. I was feeling so good in fact, that I managed to finish the second half faster than the first, overtaking over 7,000 runners and storming up The Mall to a finish of 4.33.
Despite my fears, there was no wall to hit and I didn’t have to walk – I could officially call myself a marathon runner, with a very chunky gold medal to prove it!
My aching muscles the next day could never detract from the fantastic experience I had running the 2019 London Marathon for the VCAC, proving you do not need to eat meat to be fit, healthy and strong!