After a very early 4.30am start at the hotel, I packed in as much granary toast, Nutella and peanut butter as I could and grabbed a banana on the way out to the coach to Blackheath. We got there at 7.15am and had to hang around waiting for the 10.10am start. I think this probably hampered my performance, I am a finely tuned athlete and standing around in the cold and rain must have affected my muscles in some way!
I waited in a tent with thousands of other runners of different sizes, shapes and nationalities. The Swedish corner looked very serious and highly competitive, there was a French group that all looked like film stars, there was a group from Italy who were all very well dressed and presented and there was an English running club all wearing matching kit and looked as lean as whippets.
So I started my own corner and claimed it for the "normals". I was joined by a really friendly family from China who travel the world running marathons. There were three generations of runners from the grandmother with Disney running trainers, the grandfather who had rabbit ears on and the youngest member who was absolutely freezing cold and shivering the whole time we were there. We were joined by a group of younger lads from London who turned up in clothes as if they had just come in from a night out. They then proceeded to take off those clothes and put their running kits on. Worryingly, they all had nipple protectors and tubs of Vaseline that they were happily applying in front of a tent full of people. I think the one lad must have had doubled his body weight the amount of Vaseline he hid in his shorts.
At 9.30am I wandered out for a final taste of the atmosphere and a trek down to Zone nine of the start for my grouping. Zone one was the "good for age" group, followed by the "not bad for age" group which frankly looked like professionals. Through zones three, four, five we started to see the amateur runners but still a fit looking bunch. So I am getting a little nervous at that point. Past zones six, seven, eight and then as I looked around the corner my nerves all disappeared. My grouping had a man in a huge phone costume, a walking jazz band, a group of circus clowns and a great atmosphere among people who just wanted to finish and get through it for their causes. I couldn't have asked for a better matched bunch.
10.10am comes and we're off. Well not quite. I could see the start from zone nine but it takes a good 20 minutes to get there. At 10.30am we really were off, people cheering and shouting and an unbelievable feeling of everyone in it together. I think there were more people shouting us through than there were for the Elite runners.
I am really glad I had my name printed on my vest because the people of London were amazing, everyone really getting behind you and shouting your name as if you were their best friend, it was a truly amazing experience. I can honestly say from start to finish I heard my name being called person after person.
Miles one to fifteen were no problem. From Blackheath, around the right hand part of the Eastenders intro and across Tower Bridge, it was a great atmosphere. Running past pubs with bands outside, people having barbecues, people on balconies shouting your name, children holding their hands out for high fives and people holding signs up.
Mile fifteen I made a bad mistake. I stopped to use the toilet and waited in a queue for about fifteen minutes in one of the tunnels. When I came back out I just couldn't get my legs going again. I knew straight away that I shouldn't have stopped but I was absolutely determined to carry on.
I found out after finishing that my son had been tracking me at home and had "lost me" at mile fifteen. My wife then thought I had taken a pit stop in a St John tent with a twisted ankle which, as time ticked on,changed to thinking the worst and that I had passed out and was being revived. The combination of queue time and being in a GPS black hole meant I disappeared off the map and reappeared three miles later. Insurance policies back in the drawer
I fast walked mile sixteen like trying to push start a car. My music was replaced by the crowd noise, I took my headphones off and finally realised that I wasn't running to win anything, I was running for the experience and for Tŷ Hafan. So I finally managed to kick start the car and very slow jogged the rest. There were parts where I stopped to talk to people or stopped for a drink at one of the drink stations. I think that was probably my wall moment. It didn't really come in mile twenty or twenty two because I had brought it forward by stopping.
The day was a real mix of emotions. The more emotional bits for me were the people on the roadside and the other runners. People would pass me or be running with me that had pictures of their lost children, parents, spouses or pictures of their cause that really brought home why they were doing it. The further you get into the marathon the more your guard is brought down and the emotions really kick in and it becomes easier to just enjoy things but it also becomes easier to get emotional. The support from people there was genuine, unbiased and caring. It didn't matter what cause you were running for, everything was appreciated. I don't think I have ever experienced an atmosphere like it.
At around mile twenty two the crowd really starts to build and support you. I had an elderly lady shout "Matt, where've you been, I've been waiting all day for you", another shouted "Matt, where've you been all my life" and a man outside a pub ran alongside me for 100 yards or so shouting "you're amazing, what you're doing is amazing and everyone appreciates it. There was a genuine admiration from supporters that normal people had put in so much effort to do something good for others.
It was around this distance that the St John Ambulance teams started to offer gloves full of Vaseline. There was a very awkward moment when a St John volunteer and I looked at each other, then at his Vaseline and burst out laughing. That was one of my quicker miles I think.
At mile twenty three I thought I had gone mad when a woman jumped out and shouted "Matt, it's me!” I thought I had been running so long that some people had dropped out of my. Then a young girl with her shouted "Mum, it's the wrong Matt". Phew, sanity still intact, just.
At mile twenty five a young woman on the side lines offered to run alongside me for a mile. No idea why but that was the sort of support there was. Everyone was just willing us on to the finish. Some of the people who had finished earlier in the day were then lining the final mile to shout support and show the medals to us to spur us on.
Then, joy of joy, I saw the 800 metre marker! I am almost there, run past the marker and round the corner and there's the 600 metre marker. When it's so close and you've run so far, it is unbelievable how far two hundred metres is. Past the four hundred metre marker and round the final corner and you can see the finish line. Please don't let my dead legs give way now. One final push and cross the line we go. As I crossed the line Joe phoned me and I was able to share a real experience, even if only over the phone with him, amazing!
Interestingly, I actually ran over twenty eight miles which is due to the fact that the roads are so wide and you do so much dodging between people that you run more than you need to. So the two miles I had to walk cancel those out.
Through the line, pick up my medal, pick up my goodie bag and collect my kit bag off the van. Then off to Horseguard's Parade to find my wife. I wander around the corner and there are still lots of people milling around but as I walk across the grounds I spot her running towards me and I think the relief of me not being dead or in A&E was enough to earn a hug. I have never been so glad to have had her support as the trip back to the hotel was cold and I would have really struggled to get back to the hotel and then the train in the short time we had.
The memories I will take away with me:
- people are amazing
- the phenomenal London atmosphere
- my amazing family who support me
- the fact that not everything is a race and it's ok to slow down and enjoy the experience
To make a donation, visit Matt’s JustGiving page: https://www.justgiving.com/26er/
Something someone told me a while ago when I registered, "it's not the time it takes, it's the impact you make".