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!
Sunday 29th July 2018 was the day of the annual Prudential Ride London - Surrey 100 mile sportive. I had entered it months ago and was adamant I would still take part even though I was due to go into hospital the following day for a procedure.
An early start time of 7am meant I had to be in Stratford at the start by 6:15am. Leading up to this day, the weather was scorching hot with temperatures exceeding 30 degrees Celsius, however race morning saw the most rainfall the country had had in months!
Minutes before my wave started, the heavens opened. I was cold and miserable before I even started! Thankfully, once we started the camaraderie amongst the riders and the shouts from the very committed supporters really got me in a positive mood. I actually started to really enjoy myself and was pushing an easy, steady rhythm at 19/20mph. I made a decision early on that I would try not to stop due to the weather. I knew fuel-wise I was okay, but water-wise I may not be, I would just have to see how things went.
Leading up towards the hills of Surrey, I started cycling with a lad from Leeds who was holding a similar pace to me. This really helped as we could work together to hold onto the back of packs of other riders. Before I knew it, we had cruised through the 50-mile mark at an average speed of 19.5mph.
Then we started hitting the hills! Leith Hill was first and by far the hardest. There were a few nasty accidents and as we heard in the press later, a fatality at Leith Hill. It was easy to see how and why accidents happen: the roads were wet, gritty, slippy due to the lack of rain and there were 100s of cyclists - some more experienced and patient than others - all trying to get from point A to B in the quickest time. They say it’s not a race, but every cyclist out there had their own target, so it becomes a race against the clock or your own goals in some respect.
Descending down from Leith Hill I lost my ride partner as I was more comfortable descending at speed than he was, so I held on to a few new riders as we approached Box Hill, the last of the big climbs in the Surrey countryside.
Although my legs were hurting, I was loving it! My love for cycling has really come out over the winter when I started cycling with the lads from Essex Roads CC. They really push me over 3-4 hour rides and I literally get home and fall into a heap exhausted but the fitness improvements have been huge from this weekly ride!
Coming back into London, the rain was still falling and the roads were starting to get busier as we approached the meeting point on the course for the merging of the 19, 46, and 100-mile courses. There were lots of stop/starting at this point and lots of nasty accidents where people had cycled into bollards or curb-sides etc. The rhythm started to get interrupted a bit at this point and the legs were starting to feel heavy! The last few miles went past in a daze and before I knew it, I could see the finishing arch on the Mall. I pushed on and found I finished in a time of 5 hours 34 minutes, which smashed my own target of 6 hours! I was so chuffed but now I suddenly realised I had to cycle back to the car in Stratford...those 7 miles really hurt!
About the author: Louise Douglass is a Team GB Age Group triathlete and Sundried ambassador.