TCS London Marathon 2024

TCS London Marathon 2024

On Sunday, I completed the 2024 TCS London Marathon, in a time of 3:47:59.

It was both exhilarating and exhausting.

As long-time readers of this blog may know, I started running – or more accurately re-started – during lockdown. In particular, I began with Couch to 5K, the app developed by the BBC and the Department of Health to get people running. In time, I got beyond 5K and towards 10K and later half-marathons (21.1KM), but marathons were still quite daunting.

I kept the running up, alongside my cycling, and then last year I discovered a local running club. I think I had spotted some of the club out on a run when I was going in a different direction, and a bit of Strava-snooping revealed that they met weekly for runs in the area. I couldn’t not join them really, especially once the Instagram algorithm started pushing them into my feed!

In due course, I was doing two runs a week with the club, a weekly social run on Wednesdays where you can choose between a 5K or an 8K run, and then Monday training sessions. Eventually, some of those Monday training sessions started to take place at the local Queen Elizabeth Stadium running track. I was running on a track for the first time since the occassional school trip!

Then the club entered the Hertforshire Cross Country league, and now I was wearing a running vest in the club colours, and racing in places like Watford, Stevenage and Trent Park. Again, cross-country was something I’d not done since school, and now I somehow owned a pair of running spikes and was getting very muddy on midwinter Sunday mornings.

At the same time, I was meeting lots of new people from the area. When the club moved to start its runs at a local pub, it was natural that a number of us would get a drink afterwards. Beyond that there were food bank runs and a day spent planting trees as part of a local reforesting scheme. An episode of club member, Marcus Brown’s A Running Life podcast gets into the club’s ethos.

And then I was lucky enough to get an entry into the 2024 London Marathon.

The good thing about being in a club is that there are runners of all ages and abilities, some of whom have done multiple marathons, whilst others would be doing a marathon for the first time. Not all London – just this spring, runners from the club were running in Paris, Manchester, Brighton, Boston and London. Some were doing two marathons (Manchester or Boston and then London) within a single week!

That meant, lots of experience and camaraderie to fall back on. Marathon training invariably involves weekend long runs, and these can be toughest parts of it all. But if you can find someone to go with you on a long run, then it can help enormously.

Now technically, I was not a marathon first-timer.

Back in 1999 when I worked for Virgin Radio, we were offered places via the radio station. Chris Evans was the breakfast show presenter (he also owned the station at the time), and he was – and is – a keen runner. I was doing precisely no running at the time, so the training plan we were given by Chris’ then coach had to start us from very light loads right through until the event itself. Think of it as not Couch to 5K but Couch to Marathon in 16 weeks or so. I did the training, and went for the long runs. But although my longest run of about 18 miles went fairly well, come marathon day itself, everything went wrong. I remember that my family had positioned themselves just the other side of Tower Bridge, at around the half-way point. But I was already walking at by the time I reached them. It was a run-walk for the rest of the marathon, and although, yes, I finished it, my time was 6 hours 17 minutes.

Twenty-five years later I was back.

I was already a much stronger runner than I had been in 1999, having a number of half-marathons under my belt, including a 1:35 PB from the Paddock Wood Half Marathon back in early March. The long runs had gone better, although I’d not quite managed a 34KM run that my plan had called for – with me peaking at 32KM. But I was moderately confident that I would be “OK” because that had been a hilly run around the coast.

I also had a fancy new pair of carbon-plated “super shoes” to run my marathon in. For those who aren’t aware, so-called super shoes have taken the running world by storm. First developed by Nike, but quickly adopted by all the big running shoe manufacturers, a carbon plate is inserted into the thick foam sole of the shoe which acts as a kind-of spring, allowing you to get more energy return from the downforce of your foot on the ground. Added to the increased stack height of these shoes with various kinds of foam, super shoes also mean that road-running becomes slightly better for your legs. And remarkably, it seems that even amateurs can benefit from these shoes. On the roads on Sunday, I saw (and heard) them everywhere!

I took advice on carbo-loading in the lead-up to the marathon. That’s not just eating a big bowl of pasta the night before, but in the days leading up to the event. How much you eat is very much weight dependent.

The one thing that was worrying me as I “tapered” in my training for the final two weeks was a niggling soreness in my muscles. I was stiff whenever I started moving, and although I wasn’t injured per se, I was hopeful that the soreness would disappear ahead of the main event. But it was still there.

Also at the back of my mind, I was concerned about the weather. Friends from my running club who had run the Boston Marathon the previous week had really come unstuck by unseasonably warm weather on the course that day, which when added to the “undulating” nature of the route, hurt just about all of them. And that had only been a 20C day.

A week out from the marathon, the weather forecast was suggesting a mid-afternoon maximum of 16C, but by the time the day came around, it looked closer to 11/12C at most, and a nippy 5/6C at the start.

With more than 60,000 people running at London, and expected 50,000 finishers, all runners have to collect their running “bib” – i.e. the number pinned to their tops – from a big expo running from Wednesday to Saturday prior to the main event. This is held in the ExCel conference centre out in Docklands. Fortunately, it’s very to easy to get there these days, because the Elizabeth Line runs straight there. I met up with several of my running club friends after work on Thursday, because Friday and Saturday are the two busiest days.

Collecting your bib is easy, and then it’s into the main event where multiple running brands, charities and other marathons offer their wares. Each of the marathon “majors” tends to have a sporting goods sponsor from one of the big athletic brands, and New Balance have the deal with London. That means event clothing, shoes and everything else is New Balance branded. I had decided that I needed a new running vest for London, because although I have a club vest, it can get very sweaty on me, even when I’m running for an hour. That becomes uncomfortable. So I bought a super-lightweight one to wear on Sunday, thereby breaking the cardinal rule that you never change anything ahead of a marathon. The vest was absolutely fine on the day incidentally.

One really helpful stand was that of a company called Hyperice. They had set-up that let you try out their air compression leg massagers. Essentially you sit in chair with your feet up, and you get your legs massaged via a pump system. After a short queue, I got a 15 minute session and my legs really felt refreshed afterwards. Whilst I’m not quite ready to spend £800 or so on the system at home, I certainly saw the benefit at the time, and the smaller electric massagers they had on their stand also looked – and felt – very good.

I also found my name on their “wall” of entry names. Although I’m not entirely sure having all the names alphabetically ordered, but across a 40m long wall, going line by line, was the best way to do things. It led to a lot of confusion.

After a carb-heavy meal we headed home, now just a couple of days out from the race.

Some people do “shakedown” runs ahead of the big day. Essentially a very easy 5KM or so run at a slow pace, just to keep the body ticking over. I did a “shakedown bike ride” to Sainsburys. Close enough. It would rest the legs a little more.

On the morning of the marathon, it was all systems go bright and early.

I sorted my kit out the day before, and remarkably had actually gotten a fairly reasonable night’s sleep. Once I’d established that my train was on time, and having eaten a breakfast of porridge and a banana, it was off to Blackheath and my start gate.

There are four differently coloured starting areas for the London Marathon, and each has its own suggested station to go to. Within each colour, there are multiple waves with start times ranging from 10am for the fastest competitors who would be starting just behind the elite men, right through until 11.30am for the slowest runners. Everyone had been asked to submit their expected finish time online a few weeks earlier, and I’d put down 3:40. That meant a start at around 10:20 or so.

Although the mobile reception up on a chilly Blackheath was patchy, I managed to meet up with a running club friend who was the only other person I knew starting in the same wave as me. In the event, we would run together for the first few miles, although we got separated at a drinks station. In the end, she finished just 90 seconds behind me, so we really could have run the whole race together.

There are acres of toilets in the assembly area and every runner probably needs to go at least once. Indeed, I ended up going three times. Nerves get to you; what can I say?

Then, having dropped off your bag at your allocated truck, it’s into the starting pen. I’d brought an old t-shirt to wear until the last minute. Others wore plastic bin liners or those disposable rain ponchos. It was chilly, and there was a wind. That said, I knew that the moment we started running the cold would dissipate, and that was the case. Discarded clothing at this point can’t be returned to you, so is collected for the Salvation Army.

Before we knew it, we had crossed the line and started. I’d set my Garmin Forerunner watch to use PacePro, to help me keep tabs on my hoped for 5:13/km pace. I knew that going off fast could easily be an issue. People sprint off like idiots because it’s so exciting. And there’s a hill not too far from the start as well, which also makes running fast a little too easy.

In the end, the early pacing went pretty well, and it was more about taking in the sights and sounds of the marathon.

I saw first a woman and then a man each, separately, carrying fridges. Another lady was dressed as Rey, Daisy Ridley’s character from the later Star Wars films. She was swinging around a light-sabre as she went. Someone shouted, “May the force be with you,” to which her response was, “I certainly hope so!”

But what I really noticed was the friendliness of the crowds, and I hadn’t seen anything yet. Just about every metre of the course had spectators, in some places 5 or 6 people deep.

As we ran through Charlton the numbers grew, and then we reached Greenwich, turned towards the Cutty Sark and… Wow!

The roar I heard as turned that corner was enough to make me feel goose bumps. There were thousands of people cheering on the runners. We swept around the famous tea clipper and the noise continued all the way through the middle of Greenwich.

It was awe inspiring.

And then, having continued through Surrey Quays, Rotherhithe and Bermondsey, the course takes you right and you reach Tower Bridge, where everything goes up yet another level. The crowds are fantastic, and runners were actually slowing to take photos of the scenes.

Beyond Tower Bridge you turn right and head east in the direction of Canary Wharf. At this point you are halfway, and now you perhaps begin to feel it in your legs a little. This is where I’d already found myself walking years earlier. Now things were beginning to stretch out a little, and it was time to get my head down and begin to countdown the miles or kilometres.

I’m very much a metric person, and for me, it was about counting down every kilometre that ticked by. Both miles and kilometres are marked, and there are mats every 5KM that you run over which updates the live timing. Yes, you’ve covered more than 20KM now, but beyond halfway, you can start to countdown in your head.

I was trying to be a bit better about eating the gels that I’d brought with me. In the end I think I only ate four, and I probably should have managed all six that I was carrying. I was still broadly speaking on-pace, but once you get beyond Wapping and closer to Canary Wharf, the tall buildings tend to “play” with your watch’s GPS fix a little, and you get some “funny” pacings. I was wearing some bone conducting headphone which let my Garmin tell me each kilometres pace in a voice. I did have some music queued up to listen to but it really wasn’t worth it. The sounds of the race were enough to keep me going.

I was also making sure that I was getting enough water. Although it was relatively cool, drinking enough is important. There were plentiful water stations where you could grab a small plastic bottle of Buxton. Yes – the plastic is wasteful, but they do collect all the bottles afterwards for recycling. And bottles are easily the most efficient way to hand out water if you don’t want to spill most of it. Some drinks stops had Lucozade sports drink and these came in compostable paper cups. I used the pinch and drink method to ensure no spillage, and I was mostly successful. But once you were past a Lucozade table, there was a sticky schlepping noise for a few hundred metres and thousands of rubber shoe soles stuck slightly to the sugary drink spilt all over the road.

Once around Canary Wharf – the centre of which was another massively noisy area – it was back the way we’d come. Indeed for a short while you pass runners on the other side of the road still to complete their loop of Canary Wharf. Then the decibels increased and it was past the Tower of London, under Blackfriars’ Bridge and onto the Embankment.

Somewhere around here were members of my running club, set up to support me. I confess I was too “in the zone” to notice them, even though I had hoped to look out for them. I think some people in Canary Wharf had shouted for me, and I found out subsequently that others on the course had seen me, but I was oblivious to all that now.

My pace had slowed, and I just needed to get to the finish. Counting down from 8 to 7 to 6 to 5 kilometres to go. Then it was down to three. 3000 metres.

I was slowing, I knew. I was 10KM beyond the furthest I’d run, and I knew that if I stopped for any reason, I’d not be likely to start up again. I was passing more and more walkers. Once the Houses of Parliament are reached it’s a right turn into Parliament Square, across it and then onto Birdcage Walk. A massive sign says 600 metres to go. Another says 400m.

You turn around the corner at Buckingham Palace. The roads are wider now, and we can fan out. But throughout I’d been sticking to the blue line – the dashed line that indicated the shortest route and the route that measured exactly 26 miles and 385 yards.

Obviously I hadn’t at all been able to stick to it, and by the end of the race, I was getting kilometre alerts from my watch a full 500-600m ahead of the official signs. That’s why my Strava says I ran 42.84KM and not 42.2KM!

Around the bend, you can hear the music, see the stands and most importantly, the finish line in front of you.

Over the line. Stop the watch. You’ve done it.

I swapped pictures with a woman the other side of the line, collected my medal, took some selfies, then got some official pictures, before getting a foil blanket and finding the truck with my bag.

I stumbled over to the park nearby and then couldn’t work out how I was going to get down onto the ground. I got a call from my brother who had been tracking me and seen me finish on the iPlayer’s finish line camera.

Then I managed to get on the ground, get my shoes off, get my vest off and a dry t-shirt and hoodie on, and slowly think about what was next.

My phone was blowing up with messages in various WhatsApp groups I’m part of, and just general support.

My Strava had updated, and kudos was already being dealt.

In the end, I decided to head back to home, a slight trial because I had to get down some steps in Charing Cross, and then use three different tube lines and finally a taxi. A warm shower, some massaging of the legs, and more fresh clothes, and it was out to celebrate the culmination of many of the club’s runners’ marathon seasons at the local pub. I was there until closing time, hobbling home as I ordered from Uber Eats.

What a day!

PS If you so choose, you can still sponsor me!





3 responses to “TCS London Marathon 2024”

  1. Kevin Spencer avatar

    Many many congratulations! That’s really quite the achievement Adam. And with this epic blog post to accompany it, I feel all rather inspired.

    Because (gestures at the desert outside my window) I run indoors on a treadmill. I run between 4-5 miles 3 to 4 times a week. Once summer is over I think I’m going to see how I take to proper outdoor running again. With this blog post to thank for it.

  2. adambowie avatar

    Thanks Kevin!

    It sounds like you’ve got a very decent base under you if you’re running that far, that regularly. I’m sure you’d be fine outdoors once the temperatures subside, or unless you start getting up *very* early!

    Anyway, good luck either way.