Despite suffering from a chronic knee injury and having to have physio and cortisone injections prior to the start, Elizabeth D'Andrea still managed to run a fantastic race in London and finish her first marathon. Here's how she got on.
I did it. I'm a marathon runner.
On the Saturday before the race, I got the DLR over to Greenwich to time how long it would take me to get to the start line. It was a glorious day so my husband and I picked up some lunch on the way and sat on a bench on the path that I knew less than 24 hours later I would be walking up to the start line of my first ever marathon. As I had a walk around the start area, I saw a fence with a sign on it saying “female urinals” and curiosity got the better of me so I went to take a look. I walked out mouth agape! Does anyone actually use those?!
The rest of Saturday went by in a blur; a quick walk around the Cutty Sark, then a large plate of pasta, set my running kit out, pinned on my number, attached my timing chip to my shoe and got an early night.
My alarm was set for 6:15 and I awoke at 6:05. I forced down some Weetabix and a banana but I felt totally sick, it was the hardest meal I have ever eaten. My groin was hurting so I did some last minute foam rolling and tried to keep calm. At this point, all I kept thinking was that over the last 2 weeks, all I had managed was a 2 mile walk/jog and a very slow painful 3 mile jog - and I’m about to go to the start line of a marathon! Part of me was getting very excited – I knew I had put all the hard work in training-wise over the last 9 months, so as long as it wasn’t so painful that I couldn’t actually run at all I’d be fine. Another part of me was petrified I was making a huge mistake.
I got my kit on and my husband took the obligatory photos. We got outside – wow what a glorious day! More photos. Right – let’s do this. There were not many other runners on the train to the start, I was feeling quite proud in my kit with my red bag. Each stop on the DLR more and more lycra-clad, red bag-carrying runners got on. There was lots of nervous chatter but I just sat in quiet contemplation sipping my water.
We walked to the start line, and just before saying goodbye – disaster – I turned my ankle on the kerb! What an idiot! There were gasps from all the people around me and I burst out crying, but luckily no damage done! Phew. Must pay more attention from here on in!
I said good bye to my husband; he had been by my side for the whole of my preparation for this, but from here on in I must go it alone.
I dropped my bag off and headed straight for the toilet queue. I got into my starting pen quite near the 4:30 pacers, my initial target time, but I knew I was no longer going to be able to keep to this pace.
The gun went off and we slowly started edging forward. My thigh was really hurting and I was trying to stretch it out as much as possible. Edging forward, it took 20 minutes until the start line was in sight. Oh god, here we go. I started my running watch and that was it – I was running a marathon.
I took it very slowly, aiming to go no faster than 11 minute miles. I was moving forward, I wasn't in pain! The support from the very start was incredible. After a mere 5 minutes it suddenly dawned on me that I would now have to keep going for a full 26.2 miles.
The first few miles went by in a blur; I was being overtaken by people of all shapes and sizes and plenty of fancy dress costumes, but I didn’t care. This was just me against the clock and I knew my game plan was to go slow and steady.
I finished my first 5km in 34:04, not the fastest, but in line with my new target time. It started getting hot. Very hot! Just keep moving forward, soak up the atmosphere. 10km – 33:21 – I’d sped up! I knew I had some friends waiting by the Cutty Sark so that gave me a boost – although the crowds were so immense that I didn’t see them, I’d hoped they’d seen me; they later told me they didn’t see me either.
Keep going. I felt a tap on my back. A guy in a fairy costume asked if I wouldn’t mind keeping to a straight line – sorry mate, I thought I was! Then I heard lots of jingling bells – what on earth is that? Oh – a Morris Dancer! He ran off ahead of me.
I knew my husband and my mum, dad, aunt and uncle were somewhere around mile 9. I saw the Hollywood Bowl come into sight – I’d run round this section on every long training run so I knew it well. There were my family – right next to Pizza Hut! “I’M TOO HOT! IT’S SO HOT!” I yelled. They looked so proud. I was surprised at this point at how many people were already walking, but I still felt strong. I knew exactly how much further there was to Tower Bridge. I was over taken by a camel and shepherd. As it happened, we would overtake each other about 5 times in total – the last time I saw them, they were walking through the Blackfriars underpass – I’m still not sure who made it to the finish line first!
15km: 33:49 – still keeping pace! I was a few minutes ahead of the 4:50 pacers. Hoorah! Oh – there’s that Morris Dancer again! “I’ve caught up with you!” I shouted “It’s only taken me 4 miles”. He laughed.
Running up Jamaica Road, wow the crowds really were immense. Lots of “go Lizzy” being shouted. “ I am going!” I shouted back. I turned the corner and Tower Bridge came into sight. I gave a wave up to the balcony of International House where my husband's colleagues were. I turned off the bridge and saw the elites going in the opposite direction towards the finish– wow they really looked like they were suffering! A few people limping, but they must have been on target for a sub 3 hour finish!
My patch I thought, a stone’s throw from my flat! Yet I was really starting to struggle. It was just so hot. My arms were getting pink from sunburn. I knew the friends that I missed at the Cutty Sark would also be here, but alas I didn’t see them again! 20km: 33:51 – well I’m still going! Half way: 2:22:38.
Running from Limehouse to Westferry I suddenly got some energy back – lots of people walking – but I was still going. COME ON! I did a few fist pumps. Turning right at Westferry, through the underpass. Suddenly feeling really hot and really fatigued. I need some lucozade – where is the next station? I poured lots of water over my head and face....aaaaah precious water. Mistake – what am I going to drink now?!
Mile 16 was a real battle. I really didn’t want to walk and I didn’t. I knew my family would be at mile 17 and I was not going to let them see me walk! THERE THEY WERE! And by pure coincidence, the group of friends that I had missed at the Cutty Sark and mile 13! “IM SO HOT!” I yelled again, “Where’s the next water station?” My husband ran up along the side of the road with me behind the spectators for a good half a mile until the next water point, cheering me on, if it wasn’t for that I do think I would have stopped. At this point it suddenly dawned on me that maybe I was out of my depth.
More water. Yes, a little downhill bit. Let’s go!
At mile 18 I was jogging so slowly that walkers were overtaking me. It dawned on me that I could probably go quicker if I power-walked. It was a real mental battle to allow myself to start walking, I felt like I was failing. I worried if I started walking I would not start running again. But without even realising I stopped jogging and started walking. I started crying. I felt like I’d let myself and my husband down. A guy in a bright orange t-shirt with Clive written on it who was also walking put his arm on my shoulder and said “come on”. I then realised that actually this was helping and that my legs were still moving and I felt much better. At this point I knew I could get to the end, even if I walked the rest of the way. 25km: 36:38, 30km: 38:48
5 miles to go. I was marching as fast as I could and I saw the 4:58 pace makers go past – I jogged to catch up – “how long did it take you cross the start line?” I asked – 16.5 minutes. Right – must keep up with them. I jogged ahead and then walked, they caught up. This happened 5 times until finally I couldn’t keep the pace. “Come on, you can do it” they said with a friendly pat on the shoulder. But at this point I couldn’t.
The last 4 miles went in a blur of walking and jogging. That darn camel again! Come on you can do this!
200 meters to go. My running watch said I had already run 26.2 miles, 4:55 – I’m going to make sub 5 hours after all! I sped up as much as I could. I crossed the line. I saw the two 4:58 pace makers and rather over-animatedly showed them my watch– 4:57:19 – I DID IT, I BEAT YOU! They both smiled and shook my hand. I’ll be back, I told them, to achieve the time I had initially set out to do.
A woman named Lisa gave me my medal. I told her I loved her. I’m a marathon runner.
Oh, and as it’s my first marathon – that’s a PB!