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Wednesday 10 August 2016

London Marathon: Making It ALL About My-Elf

I was doing the walk of shame. Trudging along the main road in Ruislip, not making eye contact with any of the motorists or pedestrians and dressed in clothes one doesn’t usually see at 7am.

Although this walk of shame was down to the massive elf ears, the pointy hat and the curly elf shoes. Oh and the red and green tutu covered in pom-poms. NOT for any misbehaving. I’d been WELL-behaved. In fact I’d COMPLETELY behaved my-elf.

There were two other runners and a lady dressed in St John’s Ambulance outfit on the platform when I finally got to Ruislip Gardens train station. All of us obviously going to the marathon, so we started to do the ‘Ooh! More runners!’ then remembering this is was London we did *Shifty eyes*  and didn’t say anything. Until we ended up in the same train carriage and we all went ‘Ooh London marathon’. Which opened the floodgates for swapping running stories.   

As we got closer to central London and I swapped lines, the carriages became more crowded. I’m not a Londoner but even I know to hold onto the handles as landing on someone else’s lap tends to offend. Or worse, to suggest. And god forbid you might make eye contact. 

I got slightly worried when a lady built like Giant Haystack (of British Wrestling fame) and with a massive backpack wedged herself into the carriage in front of me. She kept turning around to talk to her friends and her massive backpack kept knocking me sideways. She really was more suitcase than woman. I prepared my best English ‘disapproving stare’ and got the ‘tut’ ready to go but suddenly realised she was so busy chatting to her friends she had neglected to hold the bar ready for the train to move off. 

Oh God. I need my feet, I thought. I’ve got a marathon to run. I just had enough time to ready my pointiest elbow (I’m all about the love) and sure enough as the train lurched forward like Frankenstein’s monster, Mrs Haystack careened back into me. Luckily the massive backpack hit me first, knocking me backwards and saved my toes - and pointy elf shoes - from being flattened into non-marathon-running shape. To her credit, she did apologise but turning back to her friends, she hooked herself into the strap of my bag and pulled me off my feet again. 

Bloody woman.  I had no doubt she’d probably also be in the toilet queue in front of me later on.

Navigating the underground is easy on London Marathon day. The hordes in lycra and trainers are all heading in the same direction. Like lemmings heading for the cliff. But a cliff that we’ve spent 4 months training for. A really COMPLICATED cliff. 

I position myself like a good lemming at the edge of the platform. And standing next to me is my friend Fiona. And her friend Helen. What are the chances. Of all the lemmings ... We have a chat, get a quick snap and manage to position ourselves next to the train loo (as though this will save us from the compulsory 5 minutes before start time wee requirement) until we part ways for our separate starts.

As the train pulls into Maze Hill station, I get the sparkles of anticipation I remember from last time. I’m nearly at the start of the London Marathon! My friends are there! I get to run and chat with my friends for 3 and a half hours! It’s going to be bloody brilliant! I leap off the train and get a hug from my super-speedy friend Alex (who ran A100 with me) and we set off up the hill – WALKING up the hill. I’m pleased to confirm that Alex has finally conceded the marble rule on marathon day. 

We set out for the red start where we were meeting Mike and Simon. It’s easy to find the different start pens as there are coloured dirigibles each bearing the colour of the start they float above. I was however, slightly (VERY) disappointed that the London Marathon theme song (Ron Goodwin: The Trap) wasn’t playing on repeat but it is difficult not to have a massive smile here. The excitement and the atmosphere is very unique to the London marathon and everyone is so excited to be here. To get into the London Marathon you either had to raise money for a charity (usually about £1900), get a ballot or club place (estimated chances are 1 in 17) or a Good For Age or Championship place which means you had to run a faster than average time. So however we each got here, it was beating the odds.   

We found Simon quickly but couldn’t spot Mike in the crowds. Alex called Mike but couldn’t spot him despite Mike assuring Alex on the mobile that he was twirling and wearing his finest Union Flag tutu. And a cape. We were all gazing around and then someone said, “Look that man’s wearing a skirt!” 

Actually it was a tutu. A union flag tutu. And the wearer was twirling.

Yep we’d found our missing runner.

Mike was talking to one of his running clubmates, Ann. SHE was trying for a Boston Qualifying time and WE were going to be running 8 min/miles. Ann needed sub 3:35 and we were going to be coming in at about 3:30. A perfect fit. Our team of 4 was now a team of 5.

The original plan had been to run all together but we’d hit a snag. We were starting in different places. London has 3 starts, red, green and blue and all of them have different tube stations and different starting areas and they don’t converge until a couple of miles into the race. And with 30,000 runners and different times crossing the line, it was going to be difficult to spot each other. However Organised Alex had found a solution. Scanning the route using Google maps, he had spotted a tower at mile 3.8 which he’d promptly screenshot and sent to me and Mike with a big red arrow drawn on it and strict instructions for us all to meet here. Good plan. And excellent arrow drawing. 

Ann and I got into the queue for the portaloos in the hope of avoiding the ridiculous start pen queues. And then we stayed in the queue. And stayed in the queue some more. We knew the queues were long but this was ridiculous. By the time we’d reached the front of the queue, we knew which races we’d both done, our current PBs, bucketlist races, lists of childhood pets and life stories. 

After finally escaping the queue and the loo, I made my way back to the others. Mike was still wearing his Union Flag kit and finest tutu, but Alex had acquired the cape. He was starting at the front of the Fast-Good-For-Age start and thought he’d show the elites how to do it. 

With a cape on. 

We all split off to our different start areas. Strolling into the green start area, a tannoy immediately announced that the baggage trucks were leaving. What? They were over the other side of the area and we were still dressed in jackets and trousers due to the freezing weather! Managing a quick-change a magician would have been proud of, I whipped off the jacket while securing my elf hat and ears and ensuring my flouncy tutu had lots of bounce and no pompoms were missing. So busy flouncing I almost forgot to take my gels and belt out of my drop bag. Finally sorted, I flung my bag onto the luggage lorry which pulled away about 30 seconds later. 

Luckily no one in the portaloo queue in front of me earlier had decided to stay in their little plastic toilet 30 seconds longer to try for one last wee ...!

I felt like a bit of a tit dressed as an elf, although thankfully the weather was very cold so the hat was keeping me warm even if I couldn’t hear properly due to my massive rubber ears and looking at some of the other fancy dress entries I reckoned I’d got off lightly. Bagpuss – MASSIVE Bagpuss - something the size of a small elephant that would terrify any child despite his smiling face, a hugely tall lady in a pink spangly dress and a dinosaur like one of the toothily scary ones from Jurassic park. Why did all the fancy dress entries look terrifying? I clutched my massive pink ears and tried to look child-friendly rather than ‘Child Catcher’. 

The horn blew signalling the start and we all surged forwards into the typical walk … run … shuffle of a marathon start while we’re trying to start running but there’s no space. We got moving soon enough but the congestion was unbelievable. We tried to keep at 8 minute miles but we were having to move around people carefully who were running slower and yet try to keep together at the right pace. It was very difficult. Some people managed it better than others. One woman dressed all in black tried to cut inside me at a corner, pushed past and caught her foot on my leg, I luckily managed to stay upright but she tripped herself over and scowled at me as though it was my fault. I tried to help her up but she ignored me and carried on pushing past people. A few moments later, we heard a shout and she had tried the same thing again and had tripped an older man over who had gone down heavily on both knees. He didn’t rise again and she didn’t stop to help him, instead shouting over her shoulder “I fell over too earlier …” Most runners seem to be nice people, but in 30,000 people there are bound to be a few idiots I guess … I didn’t find out what happened to the man she knocked over but I hope he wasn’t as badly hurt as he appeared to be and finished his race.

Our green start joined together with the blue start at mile one and there were a few good natured boos as the runners came together. The congestion which had briefly eased slightly became worse as more runners tried to run in the same space. We were slightly under our pace target as it was so difficult to move through the crush of people. It hadn’t felt so congested in 2014. At mile 3 the red start joined the pack and for the first time all the runners were together. We were keeping an eye out for the big tower where we would meet Alex and Simon. 

At exactly mile 3.8 we spotted two runners leaning against a wall. One appeared to be taking selfies while dressed in a cape. It turned out Alex was doing periscope videos and would be doing these and broadcasting them to Twitter every time we passed a landmark. Ann, Simon and I were going at almost PB pace, yet Alex was relaxed enough to be recording videos and taking phone calls. He was also looking remarkably relaxed considering he’d run the first 5k of the marathon in NINETEEN minutes. That’s a minute faster than I can manage even without having another 23 miles to go. 

And while wearing a cape. 

We had a lovely group to run with. We all chatted and swapped stories - and what a setting to run in! It was SO lovely being able to share the London Marathon with friends! It was difficult staying as a group though. Three people running together had been awkward with the congestion and five was very difficult. However thanks to circumstances - someone dressed as an elf, Mike wearing a Union Jack tutu and twirling every couple of minutes and Alex at 6’2 and wearing a bright red cape - we were fairly easy to spot. I hit a problem though. I HATED running 8 minute miles. Faster - fine. Slower - fine. But 8s? Horrible. Everyone has a pace that doesn’t seem to work for them and 8 minute miles appeared to be mine. Great. Only another 22 odd miles to go at that pace then. Ugh. 

We’d all also spent so much time high-fiving children, stirring up the crowd for tutu dances (Mike), chatting and periscoping (yes I’m looking at YOU, Alex) that by the time our GPS watches were beeping for 5 miles and confirming we were running 8 minute/mile pace, we were significantly in front of the 5 mile marker. In fact we were about 100 metres in front and about a minute down on time. 

We didn’t worry about this for the first few mile markers, assuming that maybe there was a little bit of variance on the mile markers but as the time pulled away from us and the gaps between the GPS mile beeps and the London Marathon mile markers grew larger we got a bit worried. And Mike announced that we were going to have to be running 7:45 min/miles or quicker for the rest of the race to stay below 3:30 to keep up with the mile markers. We’d run so much extra distance by about halfway that when our GPS watches beeped for the miles, the mile arches weren’t even in sight.

I sulked slightly at this realising there wasn’t an additional medal for an ultra run within the course of the London Marathon. Or even a badge. 

London is such a great marathon, the sights, the atmosphere, the theme tune ... but as anyone who has run it knows, it is the spectators who make it amazing. Your name is shouted “Elf! Go elf” (or at one particular point when I was working particularly hard and obviously not looking my best; “Go Gremlin”) and the cheers makes your legs go faster. The signs are brilliant, particularly the ‘Touch here for POWER’ signs which I SWEAR actually work but my very favourite sign this year proclaimed "Run like Donald Trump's toupee is chasing you!"


There were particular points where the crowd were particularly brilliant. Around the Cutty Sark there were plenty of cheers and shouts and you could hear the noise from half a mile away despite the spectators appearing to be caged behind the high metal barriers. It made them look as though they were particularly dangerous specimens of spectators that weren’t allowed too close. Tower Bridge was another brilliant point. Running over that and with friends - love love LOVED it!! I remembered to smile for Taff’s photo at the 20km point but me not quite remembering where the 20km point actually was turned it into a rather terrifying gurn - apologies for that, Taff. Couldn’t have been a particularly pleasant sight! 

I thoroughly enjoyed running London Marathon with Alex, Mike, Ann and Simon (even though we lost Simon when he decided to run his own race). We got to chat and enjoy the atmosphere together and running over London Bridge as a group was something very special. However London marathon was a lot more congested than I remembered it. Maybe it was because we were trying to stay as a group of 4 rather than running at our own paces but I found miles 1 - 19 very hard work and we were all constantly ducking and diving around people and speeding up and slowing down. It meant you couldn’t really stay at one speed and were constantly checking your pace on your watch. 

We did however, all get treated to Alex singing a chorus of “Alllll by my-elffffff ...” which obviously made up for all the additional mileage. Lovely. *cough* Don’t give up the day job, Alex.

I don’t think I’m designed for shorter distances. I’ve got to the age where I need a 4 mile warm up to run a 5k race. Which quite frankly hardly seems worth it. It wouldn’t be except for there’s invariably cake after parkrun and short races which almost makes up for the pain. This does however keep with my theory that my body is a diesel engine - not fast but will keep on going - and as soon as I got to 20 miles my legs woke up. And from 20 miles onwards I thoroughly enjoyed it. With only 6 miles to go you’re practically on the home stretch, right? So with that in mind we sped up a bit, and and were able to move away from the horrible 8 min/miles. Unlike the other time I ran London, I saw all the sights – Tower of London – twice, Buckingham palace, Big Ben. I danced to the music and high-fived all the children and had a BRILLIANT time.

I was relieved that the outfit was holding up too. I’d run London once before and loved it so when I got the opportunity to run it again this year, I’d decided that as I wouldn’t be going for a PB time, I’d wear an outfit instead. I liked the idea of an elf as I could tell people with a deadpan expression that I was running for ‘elf and fitness. After all, who doesn’t like a truly dreadful pun? 

Thankfully the curly shoes weren’t falling apart. My first attempts had been made out of foam and had disintegrated on the treadmill at the gym as I tested them out. What worried me most though was that I was AT THE GYM IN AN ELF OUTFIT and not one person asked me what the hell I was doing. I was dressed as an elf complete with pointed hat and massive rubber elf ears. I got a few sidelong glances but nothing more. They obviously just assumed they shared the gym with the local crazy woman. 

Thankfully the elf ears had stayed on during the marathon and I’d tied the hat under my chin with a big bow of yellow ribbon. If I lost even one item, then my crack at the Guinness World Record was off as I had to complete the entire marathon wearing the entire outfit. However the shoes were staying curly, the ears were attached, the hat was still on and I hadn’t lost a single ruffle OR pompom. 

My dignity was LONG gone. But the elf apparel was all still attached. 

Most people spend the night before a marathon snoozing or snacking. I had spent mine sewing elf shoes.  It was like some kind of parody of the fairytale Elves and the Shoemaker. But with shit shoes and running. 

Despite knowing I’m on the home stretch, mile 22 is typically my most difficult mile in a marathon and once I get past mile 22 I know that the worst is over. This year I dedicated my hardest mile - number  22 to my father-in-law Julian who had passed away the month before. He was the inspiration who made me take up running and who entered me for my first marathon. He started his own running at age 60 and completed multiple marathons showing me how much was possible if I was willing to work for it. Last time I’d run London he had driven all the way here from Cirencester to be at mile 24 (I didn’t know) and had bellowed my name and I had completely missed him. This time I have no doubt he would have been here if he could have been.  

Mile 22 passed … eventually. I’d started it at mile 22 on my GPS watch … which was by now at least half a mile in front of the marathon mile markers. Longest mile EVER.

We did spot one BIG problem with the London Marathon though. We were at mile 23 and realised that we hadn’t heard the London Marathon theme tune AT ALL. Rubbish. Only one way to solve that. So we get our best singing voices on and all sing it. 

“Duh, duh, duh, duh, duh, duh, duh, duh, duh …!”

At mile 23 of a sub 3:30 marathon. Dressed in capes, tutus and elf outfits. We were obviously having far too much fun.

It was wonderful hearing the wonder in the children’s voices when they saw the elf outfit especially the little ones. “Elf! Look Mummy! An elf!” Although I did get a bit concerned when I heard several people say ANOTHER elf. What? There’s an elf in front of me? Well there wasn’t much I could do about that except stick to the plan and the pace. If there was a faster lady in front of me dressed as an elf then she deserved the record. At least I’d have some REALLY AWESOME race photos this year! 

I’d had such a lovely time and actually got to see the sights this year – Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, The Embankment, Tower Bridge, the gherkin, London eye, Cutty Sark, Tower of London – twice! although one thing I did miss was the mile 26 mile marker … apparently this is a horrible joke by the marathon organisers who don’t put one in. 

As we came up to Buckingham Palace and rounded the corner we spotted the finish gantries - lots of them! We all wanted to finish together so grabbed hands and did a quick check which one we were all aiming for and we WENT! Arms up and finishing hand in hand with my friends.

The perfect finish to a great marathon.

And just to top it off up our finish was broadcasted on TV.


Mini Marathon Facts:
  • Liz Yelling had signed my London Marathon number after I went all fangirl on her in the expo. 
  • It is completely impossible to take a phone call to find your family with an elf hat and massive rubber ears on especially when said hate is secured under your chin with a massive yellow ribbon. 
  • Despite running the easiest marathon splits ever (8 min/miles) my parents completely failed to spot me but I got to see the sign at Trafalgar square at the finish. Thanks M&D!

  • A great day for seeing friends as we met Sarah Cooke at the finish and Tracy at the start! Also got to see Sarah C, Anna, Josh, Simon and Lily supporting and we saw club friends Claudie, Amy and Rachel running!  

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